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Michael Burgan’s book, Who Was Theodore Roosevelt?, is a book that gives us a look into the life of our 26th President of the United States. The book takes us through his life from a sickly child to a physically strong and determined leader of our country. Theodore famously said “I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!” Theodore was absolutely a man built of great character.
On October 27, 1858, Theodore and Martha Roosevelt were blessed with a baby boy named Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore was their second born child. He had an older sister Anna Roosevelt, a younger brother Elliot Roosevelt and a younger sister Corinne Roosevelt. Theodore was called Teedie growing up by his mother and father. Teedie’s family had many generations that have lived in the states. The first Roosevelt to come to the United States traveled from the Netherlands to New York in 1644. The family had brought plates from Europe to North America to sell them and make a profit. The Roosevelt family was wealthy. Theodore Sr. believed in using the money to help people in need. Some people he helped were orphaned children. Growing up as a child, Theodore did not go to public school, he was homeschooled. His aunt was his teacher since she lived with the family for a period of time. His aunt taught him how to read. As a kid, Theodore was forced to stay inside because he had asthma. While he spent most of his time inside, he found his love for books. In the summertime, the Roosevelt family would go to the country outside of New York City which is known as Oyster Bay. This became the family’s second home. Theodore found his love for nature and animals while in Oyster Bay. At the young age of nine, he wrote a book. In the book, he described the insects that he had discovered. The Roosevelts had a passion for traveling. “Theodore had been to Europe twice and had also sailed down the Nile River in Egypt.” While on his trip on the Nile River, he found his lifelong passion for hunting. He learned many languages while traveling such as German, Latin, Greek, and French.
Martha and Theodore Sr. decided that Teedie should go to College at Harvard University. Theodore went with the hopes of becoming a natural scientist, but ended up switching careers and became a historian and public speaker. While speaking, people made fun of his teeth which led to a nickname of “Teethadore.” For his first public speech, Teedie was nervous. He rushed his words and had spoken in a high pitched voice that sounded like an old woman. Theodore spent time boxing, riding horses, and rowing while his time at Harvard. Theodore lost his father in 1878 due to cancer. Theodore admired his father. Theodore always had his dad in mind and thought about what he would say before he made the decision. He finished his time at Harvard in 1880. He then decided to further his education into law school at Columbia University in New York.
Theodore married Alice Lee, his college sweetheart. Theodore loved her deeply and bought her gifts. Teedie was always generous to his family. Before the two got married, Teedie and his brother Elliot took a hunting trip through Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. While on their trip, Teedie battled asthma, a snakebite, and cold weather. “Theodore loved life on the American frontier” and that is true.
Teedie found a passion for politics. He was a Republican and wanted to be a political leader. “Teedie thought wealthy, well-educated men had a duty to enter government and try to make it better for everyone.” Teedie was determined to succeed in what people called the “rough and tumble” of New York City politics. The leaders of the local association helped Roosevelt win his first political race which was for the New York State Assembly. He was elected in the fall of 1881 and became the youngest lawmaker at the age of 23. Roosevelt became a reformer. While serving his time in the State Assembly, he lived part time in Albany and on the weekends, he went to New York City to be with his wife. The two found out that they were expecting a baby in 1883. They decided that moving Alice to Teedie’s mother’s house was a good idea. This way his mother and sister could watch after Alice and the baby. In the fall of that year, Theodore ran for the State Assembly again and won and in January 1884. He returned to the capital. Alice and Mittie, a nickname that Teddie’s mother had, became very sick and Theodore realized that the two most important women in his life were slowly dying. On the morning of February 14, Alice and Mittie passed away. The Roosevelt’s baby, born a day earlier, was a girl and he named her Alice Lee after her mother.
Theodore went out and bought a ranch in North Dakota alongside the Missouri River. He spent a few months here while Anna watched baby Alice Lee back in New York. While spending his time in North Dakota, he set out alone, cooked animals that he killed, and he slept underneath the stars. He then bought land and had a new ranch built where he would fill the house with trophies, mounted heads, furs, and skins of the animals he killed. He spent much of his time the next several years in the Badlands. Theodore ran for mayor of New York City in 1886 but lost.
Theodore had reconnected with an old friend named Edith Carow. Teedie knew her as a child because she was bestfriends with his little sister Corinne when they were young. In the fall of 1885, they started a relationship and soon after they were married. They had Theodore in September of 1887. Teedie supported Benjamin Harris for president in 1888. In the fall of that year, they had their second child Kermit. The two had their third child Edith in 1891. Theodore got a job in the Government with the US Civil Service Commision which meant he had to go to Washington D.C. This job required that Teedie make sure that qualified people got government jobs, no matter what political party they were apart of and supported. The Roosevelts had their fourth child Archibald in 1894. Theodore made sure that his children got good educations and enjoyed an easy, comfortable life like the one that he had always known.
In 1896, Theodore strongly backed William McKinley for president. Theodore gave speeches in the midwest for McKinley. William McKinley won and then named Teedie the assistant Secretary of the US Navy. Teddie was determined to make the US Navy the strongest in the world and wanted it to be able to fight anywhere in the world.
Cuba was a country that concerned Theodore because it was a colony of Spain. Theodore wanted to help the Cubans gain their independence from Spain. The USS Maine was sent to the coast of Cuba to protect the Americans until in February the ship blew up. War was declared on Spain in April of 1898. During this time, the Roosevelts welcomed a fifth child named Quentin. Roosevelt quit his job in the Office because he wanted to be apart of the action and that is when he invented the group: The Rough Riders. The Rough Riders major battle was at San Juan Hill and after that battle, the Spanish left. The Cubans gained their independence. Teedie returned to the states and became a national hero. He ran for governor and won. People called him “ boy governor.” He fought for lawmakers to make laws such as new taxes on certain businesses and shorter working hours for women and children. “Speak Softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far” is a famous quote that Teedie said as governor and it means that you have to back up words with actions. He felt that hard work and determination earned respect.
Theodore ran for Vice President with WIlliam Mckinley during his second term. Roosevelt traveled the country and gave speeches in front of several million people 7-8 times a day. Mckinley and Roosevelt won in a landslide and Theodore became the Vice President in March 1901 at the age of 41.
On September 6, while spending time relaxing in Vermont, Theodore heard the news that William McKinley had been shot. McKinley passed away on September 14. Then Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into presidency as the 26th President of the United States, making him the youngest president in the nations history at the age of 42. The American people enjoyed having a youthful president who enjoyed life and knew how to communicate with the American people freely. Roosevelt challenged large companies that were harmful to the country. The government started a case against a railroad company that Roosevelt thought was too big and powerful and the government won and the company was called to a trust, giving Roosevelt the name “trust buster.”
Roosevelt wanted to buy a region of Panama which was owned by Columbia at the time, but they wanted more for the region than the government wanted to pay. Also, the people of Panama wanted to break away from Columbia. In November of 1903, Roosevelt sent warships to the coast of Panama and rebels in the region arrested Colombian leaders leading to Panama’s independence. Roosevelt bought land from Panama to build the canal that unfortunately was not built until after Roosevelt’s presidency. He visited Panama making him the first president to visit a foreign country.
Theodore ran for the presidency in 1904 with the support of the american people who liked his energy. He won the election. In June of 1905 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Roosevelt invited diplomats from Japan and Russia to discuss a possible peace between them. They signed a peace treaty and because of this, Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Roosevelt renovated the white house in 1902 to make it bigger. After the White house was fixed, Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, was married in the White House. She married an Ohio lawmaker, Nicholas Longsworth. Alice wore lace that her late mother wore when she married Theodore.
Roosevelt created laws that only allowed certain animals to be killed at certain times. Roosevelt did this to better the environment. Roosevelt created laws to protect Yellowstone National Park, to keep businesses and industries out of the park. Theodore also saw a danger in pollution. He created laws to limit pollution. Roosevelt helped create five new national parks and he preserved 150 national forests. In 1907, Roosevelt created a law to protect the forests before Congress could destroyed them.
Roosevelt did not want to run for presidency for the third time in 1908, so he supported William Howard Taft because they were both progressives. The Roosevelts left the White House on March 4, 1909. Theodore took his son Kermit on an African Safari, where they hunted lions, elephants, and rhinos. The two were greeted by big groups of people who cheered for them. Roosevelt came home and went around the country giving speeches. While traveling to one of his speeches, he became the the first president to ever fly in an airplane.
Roosevelt was not happy with the way that Taft was running the country. He created his own party to run against Taft in the next election. He created the Bull Moose Party. He tried to gain support from Americans by making speeches. He handed out little silver charm mooses to children. Roosevelt was going to give a big speech in Milwaukee on October 14. Roosevelt had his 50 page speech in his shirt pocket along with his glasses case when John Schrank shot him. The things in his shirt pocket saved his life. Roosevelt was determined to do his speech even though he was bleeding. He stood up and gave his speech. Edith went to see Theodore as soon as she found out that he had been shot. He lost to Woodrow Wilson in the election and then he took several weeks to rest and put politics aside. Roosevelt took Kermit on another trip to South America and this time, Edith went along. When Theodore returned, people thought he looked thin and tired.
Theodore argued with Woodrow Wilson about the war that started in 1914 in Europe. Roosevelt wanted to lead soldiers into battle but he was unable to because he suffered from Cuban Fever and from high blood sugar which lead to the US denying him. Ted, Archie, Kermit, and Quentin fought in the war even though their father could not. Quentin was killed in the war as a pilot. Theodore said “will ache for Quentin until she die.” He said this about Edith’s heart.
Theodore went out West for the last time. When he arrived home, he complained about pain in his left leg and foot. The doctor gave him medicine and he was told to rest. Around midnight on January 5, 1919 he went to bed. Several hours later, he passed away. The family had a small ceremony at Sagamore Hill. People agreed with each other that he was a great man and always knew how to enjoy life. The Roosevelt Family stayed active in politics to carry on his tradition.
If you are wanting to learn about a man that did great things for our country, this book is a great choice. Theodore Roosevelt served our country in war, became our 26th President of the United States, and was a pioneer for the protection of our environment. Michael Burgan gives us a great look at a man known as a reformer and a man who loved his country and worked hard to make it better.