Morton: Roosevelt had many impacts on society

Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

On this day (Jan. 6) in 1919, cowboy, historian, politician, “Rough Rider,” explorer and 26th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt died at age 60 in his sleep – apparently from a blood clot in his lungs – at his Sagamore Hill estate in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Born Oct. 27, 1858, in New York City into the wealthy family of philanthropist Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and socialite Martha “Mittie” Bulloch, Teddy (as he was called in his youth) overcame his early physical weaknesses and ailments by adopting a lifestyle that included strenuous daily physical workouts, learning to box, a willingness to take risks, and nurturing an intense, innate curiosity that had few bounds.

Roosevelt’s inquisitive hyperactivity resulted in becoming interested in – and even an expert in – a wide variety of fields and activities. Setting aside his obvious and well-known accomplishments and adventures as a politician, statesman, cowboy, diplomat, and “warrior,” Roosevelt could, and indeed should, be remembered and admired for his work as a conservationist, his historical writings, his expertise and contributions to the study of natural science, his interest in and contributions to the fine arts, and his many travel adventures (sometimes misadventures).

On many levels, the extraordinarily disciplined Roosevelt was a dynamo man of controversy, inconsistencies, broad intellectual interests, and great political acumen who used his manifold talents and abilities to make an impact (usually for good) on many facets of American society.

He is always ranked, by historians and political scientists, as one of the most interesting, intelligent, accomplished, and noteworthy presidents in U.S. history. During his threescore years, Roosevelt experienced numerous joys and more than his share of sorrows.

The joys included his loving parents and privileged upbringing, his devoted family (six adoring children), two happy marriages (first wife: Alice Hathaway Lee; second wife: Edith Kermit Carow), and the adoration, respect, and high regard of the American people.

The sorrows included the lamentable early death of his first wife, with whom he had one daughter – the incomparable future Washington socialite Alice Longworth – the death of his 47-year-old father whom he greatly loved and respected, the death of his 50 year-old mother (she died the same day as his first wife in 1884), and the death of his youngest son, Quentin, who was killed in France in 1918.

Despite the trials and tribulations of his extraordinarily active and exciting life, Roosevelt wrote after the deaths of his first wife and mother that “no man has ... a happier life than I have ... A happier life in every way.”

This “happier life” began as the somewhat spoiled oldest son of his wealthy, aristocratic parents. Primarily because of his weak physical condition (most notably severe asthma and poor eyesight), Roosevelt was home-schooled.

During these formative years, he displayed a keen interest and aptitude for his academic subjects, particularly zoology and history.

In 1876, Roosevelt entered Harvard, where he excelled academically and from where he graduated in 1880 (21st out of 177) with a Phi Beta Kappa key. A two-year stint at the Columbia University Law School ended mainly because he found his legal studies boring.

In reflecting upon her famous, adventurous father, Longworth called him “the perfect leader for an imperial age.” (The late 19th and early 20th centuries.) However, she went on to say, “We wonder, a bit ruefully, how he would fit into our own.” (Mid-20th century.)

• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Email him at demjcm@comcast.net.

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