Teddy Roosevelt’s Very Full Life

Look up the word “peripatetic” in the dictionary and you will — or you should — find Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s picture next to it.  The man could not sit still, unless, of course, he was reading Plutarch or Plato, or writing one of the more than 35 books or 150,000 letters he penned during his lifetime.

Before becoming our 26th president he was a New York state assemblyman, writing more bills than any other legislator; New York City’s police commissioner, where he rooted out systemic corruption; assistant secretary of the Navy, a position he quit in order to lead the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War; and New York’s governor.

Elected vice president with Republican president William McKinley in 1896, Roosevelt became president in 1901 upon McKinley’s assassination.  As president, Roosevelt established a progressive agenda that included the famous “trust busting,” in which he fought to reduce the power of large corporations and increase their regulatory oversight.  He also was America’s first “conservation president,” preserving more than 200 million acres of land for national parks, forests and preserves (which earned him his spot on Mt. Rushmore); and in 1906 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

Roosevelt’s post-presidential years — after winning his own term in a landslide in 1904, he chose not to run in 1908 — included traveling the world, both on hunting safaris and trips of exploration.  He was a scientist, a naturalist, a historian, an editor and a popular speaker on countless topics.

Yet he returned to politics in 1912, running for president because he was unhappy with the performance of his chosen presidential successor, William Taft.  When Taft captured the Republican nomination, Roosevelt formed a third party, the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, and with his typical energy he stumped the country, campaigning, giving speeches and writing articles promoting his progressive beliefs. Alas, his campaign split the Republican vote, ensuring victory for the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

That ended his political career but not his peripatetic life, which historian Edmund Morris touches upon in his splendid biography, Colonel Roosevelt.  Morris writes, “Roosevelt had gone on four grand tours of Europe and the Middle East before he was thirty … He could converse in three languages and read in four.  He had been blessed by a Pope, honored by the mullahs of Al-Azhar, and asked to mediate an international war.”

An admirer labeled him “a writer who knows how to fight and a warrior who knows how to write … And all this with a frank gaiety and lack of pomposity …”

Teddy Roosevelt died this week (Jan. 6) in 1919. Although just 60 years old, he had lived a life twice that long.