Theodore Roosevelt

A Strenuous Life

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Defining Quote

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."



  • Wealthy: Roosevelt was born in 1858 into a wealthy family in Manhattan, New York. His grandfather was a successful glass merchant who was considered one of the five richest men in New York City. As a result, Roosevelt's father was very involved in charity work which instilled in TR a desire to serve the public.
  • Well-traveled: The Roosevelt family traveled extensively throughout TR's childhood. They visited Europe for a year when Roosevelt was ten years old, and they also visited the Middle East and other parts of Europe. The family also regularly visited a summer home in Oyster Bay where Teddy was exposed to the woodlands and wilderness which stimulated his lifelong love of nature.
  • Well-read: Roosevelt, who had a weak body due to intense asthma, had a very intelligent and curious mind. He constantly read from a variety of subjects; this was a habit that followed him throughout his childhood, into his time at Harvard, and throughout his adult life.
  • Sickly: Roosevelt was born with acute asthma which made his body very weak. Many believed that Roosevelt would not survive to mature into adulthood. Later, this played a role in encouraging his intellectual growth due to his physical shortcomings. However, his father eventually convinced him that Teddy needed to exercise and build up his physical strength. This is where the ideal of the "strenuous life" comes from.


  • Theodore Roosevelt Sr: Roosevelt's father, also named Theodore but more commonly known as Thee, was the youngest of the five sons of Cornelius Van Shaack Roosevelt, an extremely wealthy glass merchant in Manhattan. Thee was very involved in charity work. He staunchly supported the Union cause during the Civil War despite his wife's support of the confederacy; he supported efforts to aid amputees and injured veterans as a result of the Civil War. Thee also earned a reputation for his philanthropic work for the poor and for children. Diary account by Teddy Roosevelt recall his father as an extremely loving and admirable figure. When TR was young and stricken with Asthma, Thee would stay up late to carry his coughing child. When Thee died while Roosevelt was at Harvard, he described the loss as "if part of my life had been taken away..." and he felt trapped in a "hideous dream" (Goodwin).
  • William Howard Taft: Roosevelt met Taft in Washington and the two bonded over common political stances and a mutual admiration for the character of each other. Taft was a judge in his career but became a vital part of Roosevelt's cabinet during his Presidency. Taft was also Roosevelt's handpicked successor as President, however, Roosevelt disapproved of Taft's performance of continuing Roosevelt's agenda. The two ran against one another in the Election of 1912 and both lost the election to Woodrow Wilson. This strained the relationship of both men who did not reconcile until six months before the death of Roosevelt in 1918.


  • Disdain for Corruption: Shortly before his death, Roosevelt's father was nominated to be Collector of Customs for the Port of New York, a very prestigious position. However, he was blocked from this post by machine politicians. This deeply hurt Thee Roosevelt who said to his son Teddy, "The machine Politicians have shown their color. I fear for your future. We cannot stand so corrupt a government for any length of time." Additionally, in Roosevelt's early twenties when he was a member of the New York Legislature, his strong work ethic and oratory skills made him a very prominent member of the legislature despite being the youngest member, This created contempt among the older politicians who were members of the machine and attempted to bully Roosevelt. These incidents prompted Roosevelt to harden his grasp of his values and fight harder for his objectives and agenda. As famously said after his death, "Death had to take him sleeping. For if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight."
  • Love of Nature: As a child, Roosevelt was enamored with natural history. Excursions to the woodlands on Long Island were frequent and inspired him to take up the hobby of bird-watching and cataloging specimens. Later, visited to the Redwoods, Yellowstone, and Yosemite reinvigorated this love of nature and prompted him to include conservationist efforts as part of his "Square Deal" domestic policy.
  • Progressive Attitudes: Roosevelt had a progressive attitude from very early on; an essay he wrote at Harvard made the contention that men and women should be equal and it is unjust that women are expected to take the last name of their husbands. Despite this, his wealthy upbringing left him with a bias toward laissez-faire ideology. However, while serving as a New York legislator, he read reports on cigar manufacturing which shocked him and toured a cigar factory which confirmed his disgust. This initiative was the first of many that aligned with his Progressivist agenda that later succeeded in implementing vital regulations for consumer protection and breaking up trusts and monopolies to ensure the health of the overall economy.

The Bully Pulpit

TR in Modern-Day

If Roosevelt were a politician today...

Roosevelt would be perceived positively. Today's political atmosphere consisting of gridlock and lack of accomplishment would be well-countered by his boisterous and zealous demeanor. In many ways, Roosevelt reflects Senator Bernie Sanders; both Roosevelt and Sanders are relentless advocates for change, emphatic orators, and often times radical progressives. In today's world, Roosevelt would find himself committed to the improvement of the human condition in America and the resolution of inefficiencies in government. He would take action to reform campaign finance, education, and healthcare by mobilizing the public to put pressure on Congress to compromise and pass legislation

With Roosevelt's skillset, I would...

Roosevelt was very effective with using the press to help his agenda. Before Roosevelt, politicians often saw the media as a liability instead of an asset. Roosevelt switched this thinking and utilized journalists to advance his objectives. With Roosevelt's skills as a superb communicator, I would spread awareness on issues such as public health in order to encourage the public to pressure policymakers. Applying Roosevelt's utilization of the press to the digital age, I would use social media in a way to establish an emotional connection with members of the general public and create pressure for action.

Modern-Day Campaign Slogan: Courage. Compassion. Change.

"Man in the Arena" Speech

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least 4 Citizenship in a Republic, Theodore Roosevelt fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

  • Speaker: Theodore Roosevelt
  • Occassion: Visit to the Sorbonne in Paris, France
  • Audience: Americans and citizens of democracies
  • Purpose: Encourage audience to behave as good citizens'
  • Subject: Individual citizenship
  • Tone: Formal and Inspirational

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Historical Summation

Secondary Source: Dalton, Kathleen. “Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Progressive Reformer.” History Now. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.d. Web. 8 Jan. 2016. <>

In her analysis of the life of Theodore Roosevelt, Kathleen Dalton asserts that the accomplishments of Roosevelt’s life can be explained by his wide-ranging interests and forward-thinking personality. Roosevelt is commonly considered to be a man of many occupations, ranging from naturalist to politician to cowboy to soldier. Dalton contends that these various occupations were instrumental in Roosevelt’s ability to connect with the public; he understood the perspectives of a wealth of different kinds of people because he himself occupied numerous personalities. In addition, the breadth of Roosevelt’s interests and experiences account for the scope of the reforms he accomplished; the causes that were pursued by Roosevelt including reforming labor, fighting corruption, preserving nature, and regulating industry. Moreover, since Roosevelt held numerous vocations throughout his lifetime, he saw the merits of a wide range of people. This reinforced his ardent belief in equality, explaining his support for women’s suffrage during the election of 1912. Roosevelt’s convictions and his accomplishments are embodied by the versatility of Roosevelt as a person. Dalton conveys that Roosevelt the Reformer is best described and analyzed through the lense of Roosevelt the Renaissance Man.

Understanding Roosevelt as a politician through his personality of wide-ranging personas is very effective. First, his impacts consists of a broad range of different areas of society. His policies influenced both the domestic and foreign arenas. He addressed issues from political, economic, military, and cultural perspectives. He created change through a wide range of positions, such as governor, navy secretary, president, and more. To have this broad impact, Roosevelt had to have a broad support. This explains his use of the “bully pulpit” and using the public as a catalyst for change. He reached out and empowered women, minorities, and workers in an age where the vast majority of the power and influence was held by the corrupt facets of the political machines. Few words describe Theodore Roosevelt better than versatile; as Dalton argues, the impacts and interests of Roosevelt are parallel and similar due to the diversity of both.

"The Strenuous Life" Political Cartoon

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TR's American Experience

Theodore Roosevelt's American experience revolves around an irreplaceable foundation of the governance of the United States: government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Roosevelt fought to take political power from the corrupt machines and restore it to the American public. He sought to create a society in which all Americans are given a "square" deal and an opportunity to maximize their potential. He sought to produce an economy that moved from focusing on solely profits and revenues to an economy that operating in the interests of human development. Roosevelt's American Experience was committed to the betterment of the United States, the protection of rights and freedoms, and the transformation of America into the most remarkable country to ever exist.

Works Cited

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