True Stories of Our Presidents - Charles Morris

Theodore Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt

The Man of a Strenuous Life

What do you think of the miserable men who go around trying to kill kings and presidents? Do you not think they are great fools as, well' as great villains? I do. Why, as soon as they kill one king or president, another takes his place, and all goes on just the same as ever. So they do a great deal of harm and no good at all.

It was that way when President McKinley was shot. All it did was to make a new president. Vice President Roosevelt became President, and the country was not a minute without a head. And if Roosevelt had been killed there were half a dozen cabinet officers ready to take his place. So you see that shooting presidents is just a waste of powder and bullets. Nobody but a fool or an idiot would think of doing it.

Now we are to talk about the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. He was a very different kind of a man from McKinley. He was not at all like any president we have ever had. He was a great worker, a great bunter, a great fighter but not a great politician. He was too honest and straight-forward for politics. He never said anything but just what he meant, and when he put his foot down whatever was under it was going to be hurt. There was no slipping round corners with the new President. He always went straight to the mark. That is not the way with politicians.

Theodore Roosevelt was a New York boy. He was born in that great city on October 27, 1858. He was not a poor boy. His parents were wealthy, and he could have all the good things that money can bring. But he was brought up in a very different way from many sons of the rich. He was taught at home to be active and industrious. He tells us himself: "My father, all my people, held that no one had a right to merely cumber the earth; that the most contemptible of created beings is the man who does nothing. I imbibed the idea that I must work hard, whether at making money or whatever. The whole family training taught me that I must be doing, must be working—and at decent work. I made my health what it is. I determined to be strong and well, and did everything to make myself so. By the time I entered Harvard College I was able to take my part in whatever sports I liked. I wrestled and sparred and ran a great deal while in college, and, though I never came in first, I got more good out of the exercise than those who did, because I immensely enjoyed it and never injured myself."

That is the kind of boy he was. He never hurt himself by trying to do too much, but did all that he had strength for. That is a thing it would be well for some college boys to remember. One who helps himself by running a mile, may hurt himself a great deal by trying to run two miles.

When a little fellow Theodore was thin, pale and delicate. No one thought he would make much of a man—if he lived to be one. He was taught at home and in private schools, for his parents were afraid to trust him to the rough play of the public schools. He did not like that. He wanted to be strong and to do what other boys did, and when he was old enough he began to do all he could to make himself strong. "I was determined to make a man of myself," he says.

There was not much he did not try. He learned to swim, he learned to row, he learned to ride. He climbed, he jumped, he ran, he tramped over the hills. If any one asked him to ride, he said he would rather walk. If asked to take a sail, he said he would rather row. That is the way the delicate child grew to be a hardy boy and a man with muscles like steel. He showed what nearly any weak boy might do, if he chose to take the trouble.

Theodore Roosevelt


He was always fond of stories of animals and adventure. When he was only six years old he used to tell such stories to his little brother and sisters, All his animals talked and acted like boys or men, and his men were as strong as giants.

When he got older he did not let anybody impose on him. One day, when he was only a little fellow and went to a private school, he set out with his churn in a fine new sailor suit. Some of the public-school boys got in his way and called him a "dude." But they did not stay long, for Teddy and his chum went at them with their fists and fought their way through. Every day for a week it was the same thing. One day, after a hard battle, Teddy said to his chum: "Let's go round the block and come back and fight them again." He seemed to like fighting as much as he did later on.

He was always ready to fight for his rights. One day he came home from school with his clothes covered with mud and his face and hands scratched and bleeding.

"What is the matter, Teddy?" asked his father.

"Why, a boy up the street made a face at me and said, 'Your father's a fakir.' He was a good deal bigger than me, but I wouldn't stand that; so I just pitched in. I had a pretty hard time, but I licked him."

"That's right; I'm glad you licked him," said his father. You may see that old Roosevelt was a good deal like young Roosevelt.

When he was old enough the boy was sent to Harvard University. He studied well and graduated in 1880, and then spent a year in Europe. When he came to Switzerland and saw the Alps, the first thought he had was to climb them. He did it, too; he went to the top of the Matterhorn and the Jungfrau, two of the hard ones to climb.

When he came home in 1881 he was twenty-three years old. Nobody would have thought that this young fellow, with his strong frame, stout shoulders, and square jaws, had ever been delicate. He had fought his way to health and strength. He had plenty of money, and he might have spent the rest of his life in having; a good, easy, lazy sort of time, but that was not Teddy Roosevelt's way. He was already at work, writing a book. It is called "The Naval War of 1812," and a good book it is, too. It shows that he was then a thinker, and that he had read a great deal about the wars of the world.

That was only home work. Out of doors he at once went in for politics. And he did it so well that he was quickly elected to the New York Legislature. He took his seat there in 1882, the youngest member in the House. Many of the old members looked on him with scorn and called him "silk stocking." They thought he was a rich man's son who had come there to play at politics. They did not dream what he meant to do. He went at their little games, "hammer and tongs." In two months' time he had all the reformers on his side, and was going for the political tricksters as he had gone for the school-boys. He stayed six years in the Legislature, and in that time he carried through a number of very useful bills.

This is only one side of Theodore Roosevelt's life. I have told you that he was fond of stories of animals and wild life from the time he was six years old. When he grew older he read all the books he could get on the subject of hunting and natural history, and was very fond of Cooper's novels of Indian life. And when he reached manhood he became a hunter himself, going every year to the "Wild West," where he had splendid times in hunting the big game of that region. There were no lions and tigers to hunt, but there were bears and catamounts, and they were bad enough.

After he left the Legislature he was several years out of office, and these he spent in the West, hunting, fishing, ranching, and doing all sorts of rough work. He started a cattle ranch of his own, and put up a rough log building on which he worked himself. It was so far in the wilderness that he shot a deer from his own front door. Here he had herds of cattle, and acted as cowboy as well as hunter. He would dress in a flannel shirt and overalls tucked into alligator boots, and would help his own cowboys in rounding up the cattle, riding with the best of them. Then he would go home to sleep in bear-skins and buffalo robes, whose old wearers had fallen under his own rifle.

Mr. Roosevelt has always been very short-sighted and has had to wear glasses. They called him "Four Eyes" in the West, and looked on him as a "tenderfoot"—that is, a man from the East who knows nothing of Western life.

One day, when it was snowing and he had been out looking for lost cattle, he stopped at the hotel of a village in North Dakota. Here there was a "bad man" who wanted some one to fight with. He settled on Roosevelt.

"Here, you, take a drink," he said roughly.

"No, thank you. I don't want to drink," said Roosevelt, smiling.

"You've got to drink."

"I guess not," said Roosevelt, with another smile.

"I say you have." And the bad man "pulled his pistol.

In a second he thought a sky-rocket had struck him, but it was Teddy Roosevelt's fist, which knocked him sprawling.

"Where was I shot?" he asked, when he came to.

It took a good hour to make him believe that he had been shot by a "tenderfoot's" fist. After that the wild folks had too much respect for "Four Eyes" to meddle with him.

But he had a quarrel with one of his neighbors. There was a Frenchman, the Marquis de Mores, who owned a ranch next to his, and a quarrel broke out between the cowboys of the two ranches. Roosevelt heard the story and backed up his own cowboys, for he thought they were right. This made the Marquis very angry, and he said some ugly things about his neighbor, adding that he would shoot him the next time he met him. As soon as Roosevelt heard of this, he sprang on his horse and rode off at full speed to the Marquis's house. He strode in to where the Frenchman was sitting.

"I understand you said you would shoot me the next time you saw me," said the visitor. "Here I am, you can have the chance now."

The Marquis didn't shoot. In fact, after a talk over the quarrel, the two became very good friends.

"I am not so fond of 'bronco busting' and riding wild horses as some people think," said Roosevelt, in later days. "It wasn't because I liked that kind of work that I did it. But I always took just what came, and if it happened to be the wildest animal in the bunch, I got on, and stayed on, too, for when I got on I made up my mind to stay, and I have yet to see the bronco that could make me give in."

Now let us go back to his political life. In April, 1897, Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He liked the position, for it began to look very much like war with Spain, and he saw that there was plenty of work to do. That always suited him—plenty of work.

He jumped into it. The ships wanted fitting up. The gunners needed to be taught how to aim and fire. He made things boom. He asked for $800,000 for ammunition. It was given to him, and a few months later he asked for $500,000 more. "What have you done with the $800,000?" he was asked. "Spent every cent of it for powder and shot and fired it all away." And what are you going to do with the $500,000?" "Use it the same way, to teach the men how to shoot."

In less than a year after that the men showed the good of Roosevelt's work, by their splendid aiming and firing in the battles of Manila Bay and off Santiago coast.

Roosevelt Storming San Juan Hill


But when war actually came, in May, 1898, wild horses could not have kept Roosevelt at office work. He offered his resignation at once and asked to be appointed on General Lee's staff. Then came the idea of the "Rough Riders'' Regiment—to be made up of cowboys, whom no horse could throw, and of daring riders from any quarter. "Roosevelt's Rough Riders" they were called, and the title hit the popular fancy. The papers were full of it.

No doubt, you know something of how he fought in Cuba, at Las Guasimas and in the terrible charge up San Juan Hill, in the face of the Spanish works. He was a fighter, out and out. He did not know what it was to be afraid. "You'd give a lifetime to see that man leading a charge or hear him yell," said one of his soldiers. "Talk about courage and grit and all that—he's got it." This is what a reporter says of the charge up San Juan Hill:

"Roosevelt was a hundred feet ahead of his troops, yelling like a Sioux, while his own men and the colored cavalry cheered him as they charged up the hill. There was no stopping as men's neighbors fell, but on they went, faster and faster. Suddenly, Roosevelt's horse stopped, pawed the air for a moment, and fell in a heap. Before the horse was down Roosevelt disengaged himself from the saddle and, landing on his feet, again yelled to his men, and, sword in hand, charged on afoot."

Colonel Roosevelt was the popular hero of the war. Everybody was talking of him, his boldness, his free and easy ways, his kindness to his men, his genial manner. When he got back to the United States, he found that men were talking of making him the next Governor of New York. They did, too. He went on the stump himself and made many speeches. On the night after the election he went to bed, not waiting for the returns, and was roused up about two o'clock in the morning by men knocking hard on the front door.

He came to the door with sleepy eyes.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"You're elected by eighteen thousand."

"Am I? That's bully. Come in and tell me about it."

But after a few minutes he bade them good night, saying that he was so sleepy that he must go to bed again.

We need not say that Governor Roosevelt did his work as well in the capitol as he had done in the legislature. "Jobs" could not get past him. He put his foot down heavy on all sorts of rascality. He did not stay long in Albany, for he was soon wanted at Washington. When the Republican convention to nominate a candidate for President was held in 1900, McKinley was the man wanted. But for Vice-President Roosevelt's was the most popular name.

He did not want the office. He was coaxed to accept, and was fairly forced into it. He made a campaign of the country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, speaking for McKinley. Of course, McKinley won—he was bound to win—and Roosevelt won with him. This was in November, 1900. In September, 1901, the President was shot, and there came a great change in Roosevelt's career. On Friday morning, September 13th, being told that the wounded President was out of danger, he left the hotel in the Adirondacks, where he was staying, for a long tramp in the mountains. Then came news that the President was dying and the Vice-President was wanted. It took hours to find him. It was nearly night when the guides and hunters came up to him, many miles away.

He was filled with surprise and grief when he was told the news. All that night he rode in a stagecoach to the nearest railroad station. When he got there he was startled to learn that McKinley had died three hours before and that he himself was now President of the United States. He had jumped from a do-nothing to a do-everything.

No man ever liked better to go where he pleased and do what he pleased. It was felt necessary to keep guards and detectives near him, for fear some wretch might try to kill him as they had done McKinley. He hated this. He was afraid of nothing, and thought he could take care of himself, and the poor guards had a hard time keeping him in sight. Sometimes he would give them the slip and ride away without their knowing it. Then he was happy.

His first message to Congress, in December, 1901, was a great state paper, which gave everybody satisfaction. After reading it, people all over the country said, "Roosevelt is a safe man. We can trust the country to him."

Roosevelt summoned


And that feeling has not died away yet, for he soon showed he meant to do all he had promised, and in his first term of office he proved himself a hard worker, an able statesman, and a man of the strictest integrity. When the great coal strike took place in 1902 and people were afraid of freezing in the wintry chill, President Roosevelt did what no President had ever done before. He took a hand in the settlement of the strike and soon had the men at work again.

There were many who said this was wrong, that it was unconstitutional, and all that; but the President only smiled. He felt satisfied he had done right, and most of the people said the same. In the spring of 1902 he went to Charleston, South Carolina, to see the great exposition there. He was very well received by the people of the South, and made a number of speeches with which they were greatly pleased. During the next spring he made a great journey all over the country, giving fine speeches everywhere, and telling the people just what he thought on a hundred subjects. Crowds came to see and hear him, he was wildly greeted and cheered, but through it all he was the same simple, plain Theodore Roosevelt. When, a crippled boy was brought to see him, he leaned down ands took his hand and spoke kindly words to him. When a little child offered him some flowers, he lifted her up and kissed her. And this was not done for show, but was the earnest feeling of a great, warm heart.

Theodore Roosevelt


President Roosevelt's home is near Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. The house is full of trophies of his many hunting trips. It is situated on Cove Neck, three miles by carriage from the village of Oyster Bay. It is approached by a steep, winding roadway, which takes the visitor through a dense wood before revealing to him the house itself. Once on the crest of the little hill which he has selected for his home, the visitor has a beautiful view in every direction, especially to the north and east, where the waters of the Sound and Cold Spring Harbor are seen. Around the house on all sides is a closely cropped lawn, studded with shade trees, big and little, and of many kinds.

Mrs. Roosevelt, "the lady of the White House," is rather small, has brown hair and eyes and a clear complexion, but her chief beauty is her mouth, which is highly expressive, She is one of the women who have the art of making themselves popular, and is very well fitted for her high position, to which she does honor on every public occasion. I have no doubt she is very proud of her husband, and so are the people of the United States, whatever party they belong to.