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It's A Gray Area: Consider the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt

November 22, 2013|By James P. Gray

Today we conclude our short series about classic American patriots with a discussion about Theodore Roosevelt, who was known for his exuberant personality and large range of interests and achievements.

For example, he was awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize for having negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and, posthumously, the Medal of Honor for his fighting during the Spanish–American War. Roosevelt also was one of our most accomplished presidents, which, as you know, earned him a place on Mt. Rushmore, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Roosevelt began life inauspiciously in New York City as a sickly child who was asthmatic (often fatal at that time) and nearsighted. But he overcame these ailments by implementing a body-building program of boxing, weightlifting, hiking and mountain climbing. This in turn made him a tireless champion of what he called "the strenuous life."

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Nevertheless, his goal in life was to be a public servant, so he went into politics. During his early career, Roosevelt was a member of the New York state Legislature, the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the New York City Police Commission. He was also secretary of the Navy.

But when the Spanish-American War broke out, he resigned his position as secretary of the Navy and volunteered to put together and lead a combat group to fight the Spanish in Cuba. This group later famously became known as the Rough Riders.

After the war, when he was involved in a campaign for governor of New York, one of his Rough Riders got so emotional when he was introducing Roosevelt at a political rally, that he gushed that "Teddy Roosevelt led us up San Juan Hill like lambs to the slaughter — and, if elected, he will do the same for you!" Nevertheless, Roosevelt won.

In fact, Roosevelt was so successful and popular with the public that many powerful political bosses decided to get him out of the way by sponsoring him to run as vice president on the ticket with William McKinley. It worked, for a time. But when President McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt became our nation's 26th president.

During his presidency, Roosevelt did his best to get rid of corruption and introduce consumer protections through his Square Deal. And he also believed in a strong military, which he exemplified by his slogan, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

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