Tags: Presidential History | biography of Theodore Roosevelt

Biography of Theodore Roosevelt: How Author Depictions Have Changed Through the Years

By    |   Friday, 22 May 2015 12:40 PM

Today, Theodore Roosevelt is seen as a progressive, pro-active, two-fisted leader credited with creating the modern, powerful presidency. But it wasn’t always that way.

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In fact, the progressive leaders of his day often criticized Roosevelt for dragging his feet, noted the media site Vulture.com in reviewing Ken Burns’s documentary, “The Roosevelts.”

“He governed as a pragmatic centrist and a mediator who preferred backroom deal-making to open warfare. At the time, many of his progressive contemporaries criticized him for excessive caution,” Vulture said.

That’s ironic, given Roosevelt was frequently odds with Republicans of New York, who arranged for him to be “kicked upstairs” into the vice presidency, where, the Miller Center of the University of Virginia noted, it was thought he could spend his energies to no avail. 

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Popular contemporary depictions of Roosevelt as president focused on the military hero of San Juan Hill, the adventuresome advocate of “the strenuous life,” referring to his speech by the same name, the two-fisted reformer – or, simply, the clownish man-child. Whatever the characterization, Theodore Roosevelt was an action figure, piloting the United States like a battering ram into the world spotlight.  

Writing in 1909, James Morgan, author of “Theodore Roosevelt: The Boy and the Man,” said an “eminent French advocate of arbitration” merely “voiced a universal sentiment” when he said Roosevelt “is the true statesmen of the twentieth century and, as such, deserves well of his county and all parts of the globe.”

But emerging alongside that, and solidifying as the years went on and Roosevelt went from a current event to a historical figure, was the image of Roosevelt the two-fisted, confrontational reformer: The man who set aside public lands for conservation, who “busted” the monopolistic trusts that controlled the economy, who saw a role for government – particularly the executive branch – in just about every aspect of life in the United States.

“Roosevelt is considered the first modern U.S. President because he greatly strengthened the power of the executive branch,” the Miller Center said.

That’s the picture of Roosevelt that, by and large, has held sway to the present day, and it’s not so much challenged as spun by the current crop of limited-government scholars who agree with that assessment, but are inclined to view it in a bad light rather than a good one – as, indeed, William Howard Taft did when battling Roosevelt’s challenge of him for the Republican nomination in 1912.

Jim Powell, author of “Bully Boy: The Truth About Theodore Roosevelt’s Legacy,” enumerated all the things that most of 20th century history has viewed in Roosevelt’s favor – the conservation, the regulation, the trust-busting, the aggressive foreign policy – and used them to make his case against Roosevelt.

“Contrary to what the many worshipful books written about him would have us believe, Roosevelt has proved to be a scourge rather than a salvation,” Powell wrote.

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Today, Theodore Roosevelt is seen as a progressive, pro-active, two-fisted leader credited with creating the modern, powerful presidency. But it wasn’t always that way.
biography of Theodore Roosevelt
Friday, 22 May 2015 12:40 PM
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