Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

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"Theodore Roosevelt made himself the hero of his own strenuous life. He transformed himself from a sickly and fearful patrician boy into a fiercely adventurous - and always active - hunter, sportsman, writer, politician, and finally president. But one self-making was never enough for TR. He slowly fashioned himself into a man of the people, a defender of the poor and downtrodden, and a prophet of political ideas advanced for his day. This is the story of his personal and political development, of one man's struggle to conquer his own fears and to ...
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"Theodore Roosevelt made himself the hero of his own strenuous life. He transformed himself from a sickly and fearful patrician boy into a fiercely adventurous - and always active - hunter, sportsman, writer, politician, and finally president. But one self-making was never enough for TR. He slowly fashioned himself into a man of the people, a defender of the poor and downtrodden, and a prophet of political ideas advanced for his day. This is the story of his personal and political development, of one man's struggle to conquer his own fears and to build a greater nation out of a divided collection of states. He urged America to engage life to the utmost, as he did." "Kathleen Dalton's Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life incorporates the latest scholarship into a vigorous narrative. It stands as the only full-length biography to use manuscripts recently discovered in Roosevelt attics. Dalton sheds new light on young Theodore's life during the Civil War and his fascination with the new natural history, his shame over his father's failure to enlist in the Union army, his struggle to achieve manhood, and his desperate pursuit of and sometimes less than idyllic marriage to Alice Hathaway Lee, the daughter of a banking magnate, when she was seventeen. Her death four years later left Roosevelt a grieving widower and father at twenty-six, and he went west to make himself a cowboy and western writer before he could recommit himself to a new life and a new love in the East." Out of this biography emerges a new picture of the Progressive Era, of state-building and reform won in partnership between TR and activists such as Jane Addams and Frances Kellor. In his political maturity Roosevelt aspired to be the builder of the modern American welfare state in order to give industrial workers a better life and at the same time to stand more forcefully against the arrogance and greed of large corporations. Dalton shows how TR called for a revival of American arts and letters, and
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Teddy Roosevelt's larger-than-life personality and accomplishments have made him a popular figure for historians and biographers. What, then, distinguishes Kathleen Dalton's Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life? In contrast to other more idolatrous portraits of TR, this engaging volume offers up a less worshipful, perhaps more balanced biography of an exceptional man. Dalton acknowledges that TR accomplished great things, but she also makes abundantly clear that he was nonetheless very human, and prone to missteps and depression.

While the biography explores his life, both public and private, Dalton writes most passionately when detailing the development of TR's progressive consciousness. Not without criticism, she charts his rise from coddled child of a prominent family to fiery reformer to, finally, enlightened internationalist and traitor to his class. While the author condemns TR's lapses into demagoguery and "muscular Christianity," she nevertheless lauds his impressive roster of accomplishments as a conservationist and peacemaker. The skeptical author considers Roosevelt the first modern president: part imperialist, part populist. Surprisingly, the highlight of the book may be Dalton's rousing account of what may be TR's greatest failure: his post-presidential attempt to construct a progressive coalition through the Bull Moose Party.

In the near-glut of historical biography, Dalton's work offers readers an original perspective. Warts and all, her realistic portrait shows us a a man struggling to lead the United States (and himself) into the modern era. Dana Isaacson

Publishers Weekly
Dalton, a history instructor at Phillips Academy, Andover, seems determined to cut TR down to size and drain his life of color in this dry, questionably reasoned biography. She complains that other books about Roosevelt "are often rich with dramatic adventure and colorful scenes, just as the Bull Moose would have wanted." With this in mind, she sets herself apart from established TR biographers, who she believes have been duped into perpetuating the autobiographical canards of their self-mythologizing subject. Thus Dalton devotes vast chunks of prose to debunking many of the most popular Theodore Roosevelt images common from books by such writers as Edmund Morris and David McCullough. Unfortunately, the shaky foundation Dalton offers instead seems incapable of carrying so full a load as the life of Theodore Roosevelt. In the final analysis, Dalton offers an unsatisfying, one-dimensional definition of TR's complex psychology. She sees him as little more than an overgrown and preposterous boy: a boy who always gets into trouble, a boy who never asks for or follows advice, a boy who needs constant supervision. By the end of the book, it seems a wonder that Dalton's self-centered and fractious TR ever achieved the White House, wrote books that became classics, won the Nobel Peace Prize, set aside millions of acres for conservation, or loomed large on any stage other than that of his own imagination. 32 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 15) Forecast: Readers who made Edmund Morris's two-volume bio a bestseller may be sated with TR; they may further question Dalton's positioning herself as the only one to find "the real TR." Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As America's 20th-century Renaissance president, Theodore Roosevelt writer, naturalist, historian, rancher, explorer, and soldier was also a politician whom many scholars rank among the top five presidents. Dalton (history, Phillips Academy, Andover) establishes her niche as a major presidential biographer in this tour de force of Roosevelt's life from birth to death. Her stunning portrayal presents a realistic and balanced view that challenges traditional interpretations. With insight and skill she puts in perspective the influence of his lifelong asthma and moodiness. He did not abandon daughter Alice, nor did he refuse to talk about his first wife. After his African safari, TR toured Europe to learn about pioneering efforts in social legislation there, much of which he later tried to adapt to the United States. Contrary to the "Bully!" caricature, the author presents a rugged but complex individual who, though capable of serious blunders, thoroughly enjoyed life and politics. This book is certain to intrigue both scholars and the public. David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback leaves Roosevelt's story in 1886; Edmund Morris's study (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt; Theodore Rex) is two volumes and counting. Dalton's is the best one-volume biography on Roosevelt. A pleasure to read; highly recommended for all libraries. William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The renowned, larger-than-life politician comes in for respectful but critical treatment at the hands of debut biographer Dalton (History/Phillips Academy, Andover). Theodore Roosevelt wasn't exactly a self-made man-he came from wealth and what passed for aristocracy in mid-19th-century New York-but he did labor endlessly to improve in every conceivable way not only himself but also the record he would leave to history. One result of those efforts, Dalton observes, was his steady emergence as a cultural icon; he won hands-down, for instance, a contemporary magazine's poll of its readers to determine who was "the greatest man in the United States." Another result was a tangled, partial historical record through which his biographer bravely carves a path, tossing aside the merely worshipful on one hand and the merely damning on the other. Sorting fact from myth, she delivers a portrait that questions some of Roosevelt's stands (his glorification of war and early lack of interest in women's rights) even as it yields an admiring assessment of his accomplishments. The author turns up material that has not been widely discussed outside professional historical literature, including Roosevelt's dispatches from Cuba during the Spanish-American War, in which he called his commanding general an "unwieldy swine" and railed that "the President [McKinley] & Secretary [of War] are causing dreadful loss of life." Interestingly, she also charts Roosevelt's evolution from callow racist to human-rights champion, and from a privileged caricature out of the Gilded Age to a trust-busting crusader who urged that the US would remain forever backward unless it equalized wealth and curbed the power ofcorporations. These transitions make him very much a man for our time, one whom aspiring politicians would do well to study. Cast slightly in the shadow by the recent works of better-known biographers (Edmund Morris's Theodore Rex and Louis Auchincloss's Theodore Roosevelt, both 2001), this nonetheless ranks high among the available portraits of the rough-riding president.
From the Publisher
“Thoughtful. . . . Perceptive and entertaining. . . . A fresh look at TR.” –-The Boston Globe

“Offers an exquisite portrait of TR in a biography that towers over competing accounts for its shrewd insight into a complex American statesman.” —Flint Journal

“A fresh look at TR. . . . More than any other president, he embodied the virtues of energy, vitality and self-improvement.” —The Washington Post

“Provid[es] insights both original and important. . . . May be the best of a large number of very good biographies.” —Richmond Times –Dispatch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679446637
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 752
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Dalton is Cecil F.P. Bancroft Instructor of History and Social Science at Phillips Academy, Andover and a Consulting Historian for the National Park Service. She was formerly a Fellow at Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University and a Gilder-Lehman research fellow in New York. Educated at Mills College and Johns Hopkins University, she has been studying Theodore Roosevelt since 1975. She is the author of A Portrait of a School: Coeducation at Andover and several articles on Theodore Roosevelt and his times. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts, with her husband, the historian E. Anthony Rotundo, and their two children.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Handicap of Riches

A merican presidents are not supposed to start out in life the way Theodore Roosevelt did. His was not a rags-to-riches story begun in a log cabin. He lacked humble origins. He could make no steady climb from modest economic beginnings toward the apex of fame or fortune because he was born near the top in wealth and social standing. Unlike Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon, he also did not have the type of sainted, self-sacrificing mother who could inspire his aspirations for a better life.

Instead, TR was born blessed with a millionaire grandfather and a distinguished family name. When he remembered his childhood, he had his sainted patrician father to thank for guiding his ascent. His privileged station, however, did not insulate him from facing serious trials in life. TR was born to wage a different kind of battle. Ahead of him lay a fateful struggle for life and identity-a fight grueling enough to allow him to see himself as a classic American self-made man.

Roosevelt's task of self-making began with the work of living up to past greatness. Often, when TR told the story of his childhood he began not with himself, but with his family's high standing. Proud to tell of his elite origins he wrote: "I was born in New York, October 27th 1858; my father of old dutch knickerbocker stock; my mother was a Georgian, descended from the revolutionary Governor Bulloch."

TR's father, Theodore Roosevelt Senior (called Thee), gave his first son his name and admitted he loved him best of his four offspring. But with such favored love came the weight of familial expectations. The senior Roosevelt would look to young TR toprove he had enough "stern old Dutch blood" coursing in his veins to bring credit to the Roosevelt name.

Roosevelts had been men of consequence, members of the Knickerbocker elite who had provided New York with leadership for generations. The family rose to economic prominence after the American Revolution when Isaac Roosevelt added Tory farmland to the family's already large holdings. The Roosevelts became one of the city's "governing families." TR's grandfather C.V.S. Roosevelt, a conservative merchant who thought of little besides trade, turned the family hardware business into a plate-glass importing firm, using his profits to buy up more Manhattan real estate. He later became a founder and director of the Chemical National Bank. C.V.S. Roosevelt's brother, Judge James I. Roosevelt, had been a congressman and prominent member of the New York Democratic Party before he was appointed to New York's highest court. Wealth, power, and social standing were part of the heritage Theodore was expected to preserve.

Roosevelts, however, did not need to hold office to exercise power. The rise of popular voting rights in the Jacksonian age and the later arrival of vast numbers of immigrant voters, who were managed at the ballot box by Democratic Tammany Hall leaders and other competing bosses, challenged the old elite to fight harder than ever to shape their city's culture and politics. Businessmen eager for low labor costs initially welcomed rural and foreign newcomers, but they were thereafter unprepared to deal with competition in the political realm from bosses and their immigrant supporters and a large and often unemployed working class who hovered on the edge of starvation. In a chaotic city with a skyrocketing murder rate, twenty thousand prostitutes, an ineffective police force, gang rapes, highway robbery, and street fights, the old elite unfairly blamed the crisis on the wretched morals of the poor and the bosses who represented them in politics.

Men like the Roosevelts fought Democratic Boss Tweed when he insisted on fire protection by volunteer companies manned by his political cronies. The anti-Tweed forces won the right to hire a professional salaried fire company, and then further modernized Manhattan's government by creating a Metropolitan Board of Health that enforced new disinfectant codes and street-cleaning regulations. The anti-Tweed Citizens Association, so heavily funded and publicly led by Theodore's closest relatives that it was called a Rooseveltian oligarchy, finally ousted Tweed from power when Theodore was in his teens. Before he was old enough to shave, he had learned from his intensely political uncles and his father how to use newspaper exposés and scandals to arouse public outrage and bring about reform.

Thee worked in his father's plate-glass importing firm, Roosevelt and Son, where he also managed the family's immense real estate, stock, banking, mining, and insurance holdings. When Theodore was a boy, C.V.S. Roosevelt and his five sons owned Manhattan's Piers Nine and Ten, a farm on Staten Island, land in upstate New York, stock in the New York Central Railroad, and property all over lower Manhattan. Thee and his brothers managed all their business concerns well enough to save time for civic reform and philanthropy, ministering with heartfelt noblesse oblige to the less fortunate members of society. The power of Roosevelt money and beneficence reverberated through Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt Hospital, the Bellevue Training School for Nurses, the Children's Aid Society, and Thee's creation, the New York Orthopaedic Dispensary for the Deformed and Crippled.

As a young man Theodore wrote with aristocratic pride: "The older races of the city made the mould into which the newer were poured." He did not doubt the value of leadership by those who presumed they were "the best men," but in his mature years he would take the position that the cultural authority and political power which accrued to his kind because they were upper class was built upon a system of unjust privilege. During Theodore's boyhood the old elite worked hard to remain keepers of the "mould" by incorporating newer industrial elites into their businesses, clubs, philanthropies, and social circles, where they taught them to invest in the cultural future of the city. Together they hoped to make New York a grand and dignified city worthy of pride around the world, rather than the stink hole of greedy commercialism and crime it was reputed to be. Not that nouveau riche stock traders and magnates like Jim Fisk and Jay Gould who used bribery and deception to corner markets after the Civil War were easily remade morally. The old elite remained suspicious of the suddenly rich who were "vikings in energy, unscrupulousness and violence, who swept through the land in railroad land grabs, in mining speculations, in purchase of legislatures, in stock dilutions, in great corners on stocks and grains."

The striving industrial culture that emerged after the Civil War called upon elite women, presumed to be angelic repositories of morality, to elevate the moral tone of polite society by drawing clear social lines. When Caroline Astor stepped forward in the 1870s to form a bastion of gentility which became the socially select Four Hundred, Thee acted as one of her Patriarchs who extended invitations to grand balls to new and old worthies while excluding climbers with low morals. Edith Wharton in her Age of Innocence portrayed Knickerbockers like the Roosevelts as the van der Luydens, lofty patricians who expected to arbitrate a chaotic new society by speaking as the voice of cultural authority. Thee raised Theodore within the upper-class "mould" of old New York: he taught his son how to behave in receiving lines and when to wear patent leather shoes and a black tie. Most significantly, he provided him with a loving example of how one man can use his privilege to make society better.

Thee had traveled enough as an importer and on Grand Tours to see that New York was inferior to the great European cities that he regarded as the vanguards of advancing world civilization. To bring home to Manhattan the benefits of the British Museum and the Louvre, he helped to found the American Museum of Natural History and planned the first building and the fledgling collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His philanthropy applied science and art to the cause of making New York a more civilized city, and he favored the modernizing benefits of a cleaner water supply, less partisan police and firemen, and public health enforcement. Thee also hobnobbed with muscular Christians like Thomas Hughes in England, and became a convert to their belief that religion had become too feminized and ethereal and needed to be reformed by a spirit of aggressive manliness and athleticism. Rejecting the image of Jesus Christ as gentle, saintly, and long-suffering, muscular Christians reinterpreted him as a soldier of righteousness and vigor. They argued that training boys to see their bodies as one means of salvation, a "living sacrifice to God," was the best method to keep them away from sensuousness and self-indulgence. Not long after the Reverend Charles Kingsley began preaching muscular Christianity in England, his counterpart in the states, Bishop Phillips Brooks, spread his belief that "physical courage is a grand and precious thing" tied intimately with true Christian faith. The Reverend Thomas Wentworth Higginson popularized the idea further that men could be made soldiers in service to Christ by toughening themselves with sports, and Brooks' hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" spread the new muscular Christian cause across pews to schools and playing fields. Thee and his friends put the same spirit to use in reform and philanthropy to rejuvenate urban life in New York.

To help the poor man climb and the wealthy man resist sin, Thee promoted muscular Christianity through the Young Men's Christian Association, the Children's Aid Society, and later through Dwight L. Moody's urban revivals. Thee worried that in an era when many youths moved to the city and stopped attending church, $4 million was being spent each year on the newly commercialized vice industry-from billiard saloons and brothels to "gambling hells" and pornographic bookstands. Vice and sin on an individual level were bad enough, but moral reformers like Thee believed that new businesses designed to commercialize sex (via dance halls, pornography, and brothels) sought to make huge profits out of pandering to human weakness-and, in doing so, pulled the whole society down. "Satan's empire" had to be stopped.

For Theodore, his father's muscular Christian cures defined the terms of his upbringing and his own later diagnosis of what ailed American culture. Theodore learned at his father's knee that Christ himself was not a self-effacing saint but a "strong man physically, muscular, sinewy, enduring," a man who embodied moral purity and, in the Darwinian language of the day, "healthy animalism." Thee and his close friend William E. Dodge, Jr., saw to it that young clerks who moved to the city would have barbells and Bibles to help them withstand temptation in the new Y.M.C.A. building they erected in the Roosevelts' neighborhood. Thee often took Theodore with him when he preached manly fortitude and purity to the newsboys at his friend the Reverend Charles Loring Brace's Newsboys' Lodging House and his other missions. He made sure that Brace's houses provided boys with boxing gloves, horizontal bars, and exercise equipment because he believed they helped boys fight the "weakening of true masculine vigor, . . . [and] a hidden growth of secret and contagious vices" so rampant in their city. Thee's muscular Christianity argued not for dog-eat-dog social Darwinism or survival of the fittest, but for Christian obligation that man owed man across class divides. Like the rich benefactors in the popular stories written by Brace's other prominent patron, Horatio Alger, Jr., Thee felt obliged to be the deus ex machina who offered the poor a helping hand out of poverty-buying them a ticket to Albany to make a new start, sending them a winter's load of coal to heat their homes, or paying for their children's medical care. He even refused to acquire tenements because he did not want to profit from the meager earnings of the needy. Thee agreed with Brace's view that a boy could be made manlier and therefore purer if he could "gratify 'the savage in one's blood,' and lead a wild life in the woods," so the Children's Aid Society with Thee's help exported ninety thousand of New York's pauper children to the countryside of the Midwest and West.

Theodore learned that muscular Christian exercise and the nature cure were democratic forms of salvation insofar as they promised to revive any type of man, but none of the Roosevelts understood fully that the power of noblesse oblige enabled them to impose their cures on less powerful men and boys, who were not always eager to be saved in this fashion. Thee disliked those who did not practice what they preached, so he took his children to the countryside in the summer, and promoted his own manliness and morality by riding, camping, and playing active sports including polo, fox hunting, and tennis.

Theodore's atypical patrician boyhood, then, carried unusual lessons and examples. He was born into a clan who stood out among the New York elite as a strong, enduring, extended family self-assured in its outspokenness. His second cousin Nicholas wrote that "to be a Roosevelt was to be something distinctive-usually vital and energetic, often brilliant, generally intolerant, and always highly vocal. . . . they were openly and even zealously critical of each other." Their Hyde Park fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt later wrote that the longevity and "the virility of the Roosevelts" came from their "very democratic spirit," but Theodore's branch of the family allied themselves with the barely democratic remnants of the Federalist elite, the Jays, Livingstons, and Schuylers. Even though they accepted republicanism, civic virtue, and democratic participation as basic American ideals, the Manhattan Roosevelts were what TR's nephew Sheffield called "Dutch money-grubbers" who derived their clan identity from deep Hamiltonian, Federalist, and unequivocally aristocratic roots.

TR grew up with a double legacy, carrying the weight of the Bulloch heritage of manly heroism as well. His southern mother, Martha "Mittie" Bulloch Roosevelt, made sure that her son heard about the military feats of her grandfather General Daniel Stewart in the American Revolution and her father, Major James Stephens Bulloch, a hero in Texas' War for Independence.

Even the political leaders within the battling Bulloch clan were never content to let others do their fighting for them. Mittie's great-grandfather Archibald Bulloch, representative to the Continental Congress and commander in chief of Georgia at the outset of the American Revolution, personally led a war party against a Loyalist stronghold. Mittie's father, the "impetuous" Major James Bulloch, after his fighting days were over, married his stepmother-in-law, Martha Stewart Elliott, and in a flurry of scandal over the marriage left Savannah behind, packed up his wife, their children from previous marriages, and slaves, and moved to Roswell, Georgia. In Roswell the Bullochs settled on land which the Cherokees had recently held, before gold was discovered and President Andrew Jackson forced the native people to walk to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. Though much less blessed with commercial success than the Roosevelts, TR's cavalier southern kin made their mark as a more daring and adventure-loving people.

Copyright 2002 by Kathleen Dalton
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with KATHLEEN DALTON
A Strenuous Life

Q: Your book is entitled THEODORE ROOSEVELT: A Strenuous Life. Please
explain the subtitle to your book.
A: The strenuous life has two meanings in my book. I put a strenuous life in the title because TR used that phrase to summarize his philosophy of life. In his most famous speech called "The Strenuous Life" he urged Americans to turn their backs on the soft, easy indoor life they had been leading and embrace the challenges of the twentieth century with a spirit of adventure and courage. He praised physical activity—sports, mountain climbing, exploring, and fighting if necessary--and strenuous endeavor of all kinds, including building an empire and making America a major moral force in the world. He criticized spectators and urged them to participate in sports rather than merely watch them. He also argued that you could lead a
strenuous life by working politically to make your country a better place or by writing a book or a poem or by being a caring mother who raised good kids. If there is anything I want my readers to gain from my book, it is encouragement for them to lead their own type of constructive strenuous life.

But the title also has a second meaning because TR followed his own advice and lived his own kind of rugged strenuous life. He threw himself completely into each new endeavor--wrestling, bronco busting, mountain climbing, chopping trees, or exploring a dangerous uncharted river. He also led a strenuous life of struggle by making a new man of himself again
and again: he resisted illness and built a stronger body, he proved himself atrue man by holding his own among western ranch hands and cowboys, he made himself a writer and reformer, and he made himself a leader and a political prophet without losing his sense of ethics. This biography chronicles the drama and the difficulty of being Theodore Roosevelt.

Q: How do you think Roosevelt's years in the West after the untimely death of
his first wife shaped him as a man and further as a politician?
A: When he went west in 1884 TR was still a callow patrician—only 26, had never done rough manual labor or rubbed shoulders with the average worker. In the Dakota territory he learned he could survive without his valet. And he learned about how hard most people worked to scrape together a living. He sat at the kitchen table and listened to farm wives and lived through
icy winters on the range with people who came from the same background as his servants back home. The experience made him different from other elite men of his time, and even though he went East to play polo and fox-hunt with other aristocrats his western experience gave him a deep affection for plain folks.

Q: Do you think Teddy Roosevelt would be as popular or as influential as a
politician today as he was in his time?
A: Candid, honest, and morally aroused politicians can win a following in any era, but his views from 1910 on would place him too far to the left to be elected president in today's political climate. Republican and Democratic leaders have in recent years complained that government is not the solution but the problem. Enough voters agreed with them to usher in an era of public sector contraction, followed by tax cuts that in turn brought weaker public service—police cutbacks, teacher firings, and library closings. TR would be needed more than ever in this time of corporate corruption when we see corporate boards stealing money from stockholders by fraudulent accounting practices. The last quarter of the twentieth century has resembled the Gilded Age, 1865-1900, in corporate crime and in the political ascendancy of defenders of limited, ineffectual government. If the political pendulum after September 11th swings again toward using government to seek solutions to domestic problems (including, for example, severe environmental crises like melting polar icecaps caused by global warming) a TR might be a welcome leader again. If voters decide they want leaders who use government vigorously as a referee to stop corporate crime and make a level playing field by passing tax laws that do not favor the richest people, then America might want another Theodore Roosevelt.

Q: Can you talk briefly about the influence of Edith Carow, Roosevelt's second wife?
A: On the surface, Edith and Theodore Roosevelt's marriage was a loving, traditional arrangement in which the wife kept in the background with her needlepoint. But the real story of their marriage was full partnership. TR talked over most of his writings and political positions with Mrs. Roosevelt. Though she was shy in public, Edith had a strong sense of herself and her values. She was well-read and interested in politics. When TR flew into a rage or put on the political boxing gloves too hastily she calmed him down. She and his best friend Henry Cabot Lodge worked together behind the scenes to move TR's political career along and to encourage him to behave less like a street-fighter and more like a statesman. Together they groomed him to be president.

Q: Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life is the only one volume biography to use all the recently discovered Roosevelt manuscripts. How did you come upon these manuscripts?
A: It took me many years to find everything! Some of the manuscripts were listed in catalogues, and it was just a matter of driving to places like upstate New York and North Carolina and staying there long enough to read them. When I would interview members of the Roosevelt family, sometimes they would run upstairs and bring down old letters or diaries they still had at home. When PBS did its TR documentary the family found Theodore Roosevelt Senior's letterbook which the family generously gave to Harvard.
TR's granddaughter Edith Derby Williams (the wonderful baby TR is hugging on the back cover of my book) and her sister found Edith's diaries and letters in the 1980s and donated them to Harvard where I eagerly read them. Archivists also helped me dig up new letters in manuscript collections that other historians had ignored—one set of letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society described TR's unruly behavior as a college student. I also looked at published Roosevelt letters and compared them with original manuscripts, only to find that many had been published in edited or expurgated form. Fortunately, my husband is also a historian so he was willing to spend our savings so I could take three years off from work to do archival work full-time and another two years of working part-time which helped me read
everything. In the history profession, we call people like me "archive rats," people who love to do research.

Q: How would you define the "Progressive Era" in our nation's history?
A: Briefly, it was an era of reform at the turn of the last century. In the 1890s reformers began trying to improve public services and the quality of life in America's major cities. Progressives came in different sizes and shapes—some supported direct election of Senators (state legislatures still elected them in those days), others advocated woman suffrage, others favored the minimum wage, some stood up for public ownership of water, sewer, and electrical power systems, others defended pure food and drug regulations. They did not constitute a tightly organized movement, but reform was certainly in fashion in TR's later years. Progressives still matter today. If the hamburger you eat is not poisonous, thank a progressive. If you have good playgrounds in your city, progressives probably lobbied the city to build them. If you are a woman and can vote, thank the progressives for their hunger strikes and marches on your behalf. If you were a Boy Scout, Girl Scout, or Camp Fire Girl, you belonged to organizations made popular by progressives. If you have ever benefited from a minimum wage, thank Florence Kelley and Theodore Roosevelt for helping to spread the minimum wage movement to many states. Of course, the progressives weren't perfect (many of them were fairly obsessed by the captive prostitution or white slave trade and by bad books and immoral
movies). Furthermore, their aims were larger than their accomplishments. It took the New Deal of the 1930s to make some progressive reforms national. Progressives wanted to fix everything, but they couldn't get it all done before America's involvement in World War I interrupted their work!!!

TR wrote in his Autobiography that a stronger federal government under his leadership had saved America from "a riot of uncontrolled and greedy individualism" of big business dominance and cruel treatment of workers. But it is more accurate to say that, working together, progressive reformers set new rules for acceptable business practices and reformed many
of the worst injustices of the previous Gilded Age. TR was perhaps the most important of the progressive reformers; certainly he is today the most beloved.

Q: Tell us how you first became interested in researching TR. What inspired you to write a biography of TR?
A: My grandfathers were on opposite sides in World War I—one was a radical who opposed America entering the war and the other was a super patriot who could not wait for America to fight against what he called "the Huns" (so like many other Americans he enlisted in the Canadian army and was gassed in France). As a small child I attended World War I reunions with my super patriot grandfather, and ever since that time I have always been especially interested in the time period when America became modern, 1865-1920. I like the music, the art, the architecture, the personalities, and most of all the history of this era. So when it came time to write a Ph. D. dissertation I chose the most misunderstood and important character
I could find--Theodore Roosevelt. TR is so interesting by himself, and he has helped me explore and reinterpret the early years of the twentieth century.

Q: What lessons can we take from TR?
A: Of course, he is first and foremost an inspirational figure for many people who struggle to live an active, purposeful life. Asthma patients are often told stories about TR's brave struggles to breathe, and people who have fought against any serious illness, as I did once, find his example gives them courage.

He also overcame his privileged birth and learned to understand the experiences of people outside his own elite class. Like his beloved niece Eleanor Roosevelt he believed that all human beings deserved respect and a chance to lead a decent life.

Although Jimmy Carter may be a more vivid example, TR shows us that ex-presidents can still weigh in as loud and influential political voices and as public servants long after they have left the White House. TR as ex-president helped win women the vote; as ex-president he still argued against child labor and for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, health insurance, public housing, and pensions. He did not stop fighting for what he believed in even when he was near death.

Theodore Roosevelt's nationalism was not simple patriotic flag-waving; nor was he a "my country right or wrong" patriot. He believed that love of country and patriotic pride should be tied to a sense of obligation to help other Americans and to a civic responsibility to see that life was livable for all the people in the nation. In other words, his nationalism was
founded upon his sense of social justice and fairness. He was a great patriot and encouraged people to think hard about what Americanism meant.

In foreign policy we need to remember that his motto was not "Shoot first and ask questions later" but it was "Speak softly and carry a big stick"—be prepared but do get into unnecessary fights.

Presidential leadership from TR helped progressives face daunting changes much like the ones we face today. In the late nineteenth century Americans adjusted uneasily to new technology—telegraph and railroads—which created national markets and turned their local communities upside down. Then waves of immigration crowded the cities and a naval arms race threatened a world war. We face globalization, technological innovation which makes nations
and their peoples newly interdependent, economic disruption, and terrorism. TR's generation coped and so can we.

Q: What would TR say about terrorism?
A: TR would be outraged by the attacks of September 11th, and would see them as an uncivilized assault on innocent civilians. His response would probably be forceful, both diplomatically and militarily. He was the president who tried hard to upgrade military intelligence and strategic planning. He was good at cutting through red tape and had no patience for
the kind of FBI, immigration, and security fumbling that allowed so many terrorists inside the country for flight training. During World War I he was especially concerned about America's false sense of invulnerability because of being protected by two oceans: he even said it might wake Americans up to have a coastal city bombarded. He helped sponsor a film, "The Battle Cry of Peace," warning Americans that their east coast could be attacked--in his day by the Kaiser's army and navy.

Terrorism in his age was most often directed against the British Empire in Egypt, and he deplored it. TR was an imperialist who believed that more civilized western people were obliged to dominate less industrially advanced nations. He spoke out against the murder of a colonial governor by nationalist elements in Egypt, and he warned that anti-colonial militants would only bring "murderous chaos upon the land." Roosevelt was quite blind to the aspirations of the third world to throw off the dominance of the imperialist nations, nor was he ever able to understand why peaceful nationalists might make better leaders for their
own countries than colonial governors.

Q: What advice would TR give President Bush as he puzzles over what to do
about Iraq?
A: The Saddam Hussein of his time—Kaiser Wilhelm II—struck TR as a dangerous man to be handled carefully. He flattered, cajoled, and even fooled the Kaiser early in the century, letting him think he had been the pivotal figure in making peace in the Russo-Japanese War. Diplomatically TR as president worked hard to prevent war, but he also frightened the Kaiser by building up America's army and navy and by sending the Great White Fleet around the world. TR's military planning did not work to calm down the growing arms race in the years before World War I, but his efforts to resolve problems diplomatically were temporarily helpful in keeping the peace.

TR's motto "Speak softly and carry a big stick" meant that the president should avoid war by using diplomatic finesse whenever possible but as a last resort have the nation ready to fight and win. His diplomatic record shows he was sometimes capable of being multilateral and
cooperative with other nations, but he did not have the benefit of structured United Nations dialogues to help him. He advocated a league of nations in 1910 and favored nations working together to isolate and if needed punish what he called the burglars and criminals of the world's household.

Q: What does TR have to teach us about corporate crime and the role the government can play in cleaning up business ethics?
A: TR lived in a time when many political figures were outright critics of all corporations—the Populist Party demonized railroads and distrusted eastern business magnates as a group. Anti-corporate politicians William Jennings Bryan and Robert M. LaFollette railed against the trusts all the time, and Woodrow Wilson promised to return business conditions to the
competitive days before big business existed. Newspapers and magazines were filled with
sensational stories about railroad misdeeds, sinister holding companies,senators bought by railroads to do their bidding, and the evil Ice Trust and Beef Trust. Some congressmen were so anti-big business that they proposed in 1906 to deny mailing privileges to all corporations.
TR's contribution was to accept the reality of large scale business as part of modern industrial life and to begin the process of defining acceptable business ethics. His trust-busting and regulation had the moral power of the federal government and the will of the people behind it.
Anti-competitive practices such as bribery, arson, spying, and sabotage were prosecuted and so were monopolistic behaviors that strangled the market and left the consumer vulnerable to price gouging and poor service. He made it appealing and heroic to work for the federal government and attracted able people to work for him. He had only partial success because
regulation and trust-busting were discontinued later, and they were only partial solutions to the problems created by the rise of big business. TR tried to make the government work as the agent for the American people, not just for millionaires. TR teaches us that the government can set moral boundaries for big business behavior--if it has the will to do so.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2006

    A New Respect For TR

    This book really changed my perception of TR in ways I couldn't possibly describe. It turned an 'above-average' president into a hero for America yesterday and today in my mind. I could feel TR's personality flowing through this book to a point where TR's foes became my foes, and TR's betrayors became my betrayors. TR will always be special in my mind for decades to come.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2002

    A Teddy Roosevelt for Our Times

    A Strenuous Life is a very impressive work, delightful in the way it spins its tale, exciting in its revelations of TR as a human being surrounded by other human beings at home as well as at work, and important in the parallels it leads us to draw between the real Roosevelt and the image current politicians conjure up of him to support their goals. Kathleen Dalton weaves a fascinating tale of a complex individual--scientist, politician, leader, husband, father, idealist and pragmatist. In many ways the most intriguing "plot line" is Roosevelt's insistence on fairness and justice. As a young man, in one of those fascinating confluences of history, he was introduced to the squalid conditions of New York City immigrants by photographer/journalist Jacob Riis. That revelation enflamed Roosevelt's already strong sense of justice and led him to crusade for the underprivileged, laying the groundwork for his courageous stands against the abuses of big business. Roosevelt's career almost seems the stuff of fiction with its improbable career story line--naturalist to politician to cowboy to soldier to president to explorer to third party challenger; and Dalton's writing has the lilt of the best fiction. But TR was real and Dalton's incredibly detailed and documented history provides an important reality check to the glibly portrayed Roosevelt of myth and legend. After reading A Strenuous Life one almost feels one knows Roosevelt well enough to say to some current politicians, "I knew Theodore Roosevelt...and you, sir, are no Theodore Roosevelt."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2002

    Roosevelt Lite

    When I read a modern biography, I expect to learn about the times, people and issues. This bio cites names, issues, etc, but provides no depthful explanation. I put it down after the Spanish American war. Maybe it got better

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