Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "TR"
Asker emt4com Asks:
The other day you mentioned you thought LBJ might have lived through another term as president. I've thought the same about TR. He loved the presidency so much, even though he thought he had someone to carry on his policies for him, why did he step aside in 1908? If he had run in 1908, he would have won, right? Do you think he could have been like his cousin & served 11, 15, or even 19 years? Maybe even more as the job seemed to give him life?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Theodore Roosevelt stepped aside in 1908 because immediately after winning the 1904 election, he announced that he wouldn’t run for President in ‘08. It was one of those situations where he probably wanted to grab the words out of the air and take them back as he was saying them. TR loved being President and he regretted his 1904 declaration to not run in 1908 for the rest of his life. But Roosevelt also strongly believed that a person’s word is their honor and he couldn’t bring himself to break the promise he made in 1904, even if the electorate would have not only forgiven him for it, but would have preferred that he run again. 

TR definitely would have won in 1908, and if he had been re-elected that year, he would have probably implemented a progressive agenda and neuter the basis for Woodrow Wilson’s successful 1912 campaign for the Presidency. Plus, Roosevelt wouldn’t have had to torpedo poor William Howard Taft and split the Republican Party, which likely would have helped him win re-election again in 1912 because the electoral landscape would have been very different. TR probably could have been elected again-and-again if he had run in 1908 and held on to the job. Roosevelt was still popular and even though he kept his promise in 1908, many Republicans urged him to reconsider — including Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, Taft. Unfortunately for TR, keeping his promise in 1908 complicated his political future, especially because of the break with establishment Republicans and President Taft.

As it was, TR had a remarkable showing in 1912 considering his party split into separate factions and he had to run as a third-party candidate for a party that was basically just thrown together at the last minute when Taft was renominated by the GOP. TR didn’t run in 1916 because he still had to heal some wounds within the Republican Party and wanted to show solidarity by staying out of that race and supporting the GOP nominee, Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes lost that 1916 race to Wilson with one of the narrowest Electoral College margins in American history (Wilson 277, Hughes 254), so even with the lingering intraparty bad blood, Roosevelt probably could have won the 1916 election. He was not going to sit out the 1920 election and he was the clear frontrunner for 1920 basically from Election Day 1916. Roosevelt would have won the 1920 election — and won big considering the fact that the comparatively unknown (and exceedingly unqualified) Warren G. Harding ended up winning over 400 Electoral votes.

Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, and that shook up every projection of the 1920 Presidential election. We mention Roosevelt’s popularity as one of the reasons he could have been elected President on several occasions, but another important factor was his age. When TR assumed the Presidency upon the assassination of President McKinley, he was just 42 years, 322 days old; he was the youngest President in history. He’s still the youngest President in history. In fact, Roosevelt was younger when he LEFT office after 7 1/2 years as President (50 years, 128 days old) than most Presidents have been upon their inauguration! TR was 60 years, 71 days old when he died, meaning TEN Presidents were older on the day of their inauguration than Roosevelt was on the day that he died.

I imagine that you’re probably right and that Roosevelt’s health — like LBJ;s — would have benefited from TR staying active and engaged through the important work that he was doing everyday. There are a couple of differences, though. Roosevelt remained a lot more active than LBJ did after leaving office. TR was very involved in politics nationally and in New York; he continued his amazingly prolific output as a writer; he dedicated significant amounts of time and energy on his expeditions as a naturalist and hunter; and let’s not forget that he actually did run for President again (and was so active during that campaign that he was shot in the chest in an assassination attempt and then gave an hour-long speech before heading to the hospital). LBJ let himself go in a way, but TR couldn’t stop going full-steam ahead on multiple projects.

But in Theodore Roosevelt’s case, that active and adventurous lifestyle probably contributed to his death. In 1914, TR spent nearly eight months on a scientific expedition in Brazil exploring a destination so remote that it was called the River of Doubt since few explorers had ever successfully reached it (Brazil later renamed it “Rio Roosevelt” in TR’s honor). During the Brazilian expedition, Roosevelt suffered a nasty cut on his leg that became so infected that there were worries it might have to be amputated in the field. Even more worrisome was the fact that Roosevelt was stricken with malaria so severe that he was hallucinating and had a dangerously high fever which reached 106 degrees. Roosevelt was convinced that he was dying and urged the other members of his expedition, which included his son, Kermit, to carry on without him because he worried that he would hold the party back and expose all of them to further danger. The rest of the expedition refused and eventually got Roosevelt out of the Amazon and back home to New York.

TR had recurring bouts of malaria for the rest of his life and never fully recovered from that or the serious infection which nearly cost him his leg. Roosevelt was famously energetic and physically active — his exercise regiments in the White House often included boxing, wrestling, and jiujitsu (TR basically the first American mixed martial artist). But he was weakened by the illnesses from Brazil and was hospitalized for weeks at a time when he had relapses, even though he was not quite 60 years old. Roosevelt still had his eye on a run for the White House in 1920 despite his health problems, but he really began to decline rapidly after July 14, 1918. All four of his sons saw combat in World War I and made their father immensely proud; his three oldest sons, Theodore Jr., Kermit, and Archibald had been wounded in action. But on July 14th, the former President’s youngest son, 20-year-old Quentin Roosevelt, a fighter pilot in the early American Army Air Force was shot down by a German fighter in a dogfight over France.

Theodore Roosevelt had spent his life seeking military glory and praising the heroic action of “the man in the arena”, but when his son was killed in action, the horror of war truly came home for him. Roosevelt was devastated by Quentin’s death and his already-declining health seemed to fail even more quickly. The chronic health problems stemming from the expedition in Brazil, constant physical pain from a life filled with dynamic exercise of his body and mind, and a broken heart from the death of his youngest son sapped him of his strength and stripped him of two things that Theodore Roosevelt always had in abundance — endless energy and iron will. TR was only 60 years old when he died, but he was the oldest 60-year-old man who had ever lived.     

Asker plumberryjam Asks:
Which dead president had the best pets?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Does the President have to be dead? Because I was always a big fan of President Clinton’s dog, Buddy, who passed away not too long after Clinton left the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt’s menagerie was pretty impressive, too, and I think that it should be a misdemeanor if any conversation about Presidents and their pets fails to include Calvin Coolidge’s raccoon, Rebecca. Yes, you read that sentence correctly: President Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca. Seeing our more recent Presidents walking their dogs around the White House grounds is a familiar sight to us today, but if we had been around during the Coolidge Administration, we probably would have seen “Silent Cal” roaming the halls of the White House with Rebecca the raccoon hitching a ride by hugging the President’s neck.

(Incidentally, there is a fantastic website which focuses solely on Presidents and their pets — the Presidential Pet Museum! The website is a fun virtual destination for the history and stories of Presidential pets, but the curators are also in the process of building an actual Presidential Pet Museum in Virginia which is slated to open sometime in 2015.)  


26th President of the United States (1901-1909)

Full Name: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Born: October 27, 1858, 28 East 20th Street, New York City, New York
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: New York
Term: September 14, 1901-March 4, 1901 (Assumed the office upon the death of William McKinley)
Age at Inauguration: 42 years, 322 days
Administration: 29th (Completed the term of President McKinley) and 30th
Congresses: 57th, 58th, 59th, and 60th
Vice President: Charles Warren Fairbanks (1905-1909)
Died: January 6, 1919, Sagamore Hill estate, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York
Buried: Young’s Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 5 of 43 [↓1]

Theodore Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that you know is great, but very few people can name specific accomplishments that occurred during the Roosevelt Administration.  TR, despite being a bombastic leader, guided the country through a relatively peaceful, prosperous time and helped calm the country in the wake of President McKinley’s assassination even though he was the youngest President in history.  Because of his personality, Roosevelt helped expand American influence and power, and was something like a promoter for the American brand as this country became the great power of the 20th Century.  TR’s Progressive shift modernized industry, politics, civil rights, and immediately made the 20th Century seem like an advanced time, even in comparison to the 1890s.  Building the Panama Canal and mediating the peace talks between Japan and Russia (which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize) expanded American influence just as much as the Great White Fleet.  Where would TR be on this list if he had never made the pledge not to run in 1908?  It would have changed a lot of things, and possibly put TR in office as World War I broke out rather than Woodrow Wilson, which would have been good for the war effort and might have even improved his already-impressive position in the rankings..

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  7 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  7 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  4 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  5 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  6 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  4 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  3 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  5 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  4 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  2 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  5 of 40

McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.

Theodore Roosevelt on new President William McKinley, 1897.

In 1900, Roosevelt was elected as McKinley’s running mate, replacing Vice President Garret A. Hobart who had died in office in 1899

If it had been I who had been shot, he wouldn’t have got away so easily…I’d have guzzled him first.

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, on how he would have responded if Leon Czolgosz had shot him instead of President William McKinley.

Roosevelt was explaining this to the wagon driver racing to help him get to Buffalo on September 14, 1901 as McKinley was dying.

If [William Jennings] Bryan wins, we have before us some years of social misery, not markedly different from that of any South American republic…Bryan closely resembles Thomas Jefferson, whose ascension to the Presidency was a terrible blow to this nation.

Theodore Roosevelt, in a letter to Cecil Spring Rice, expressing his worries about a William Jennings Bryan victory in the 1896 Presidential election.

Roosevelt was obviously not a big fan of his Mount Rushmore colleague, Thomas Jefferson. On another occasion, TR said that Jefferson was “Perhaps the most incapable Executive that ever filled the Presidential chair…It would be difficult to imagine a man less fit to guide the state with honor and safety through the stormy times that marked the opening of the present century.”

Asker robofsydney Asks:
In reading "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" I see that he campaigned for the Governorship of New York in 1899 by barnstorming the state in "whistle-stop" mode. I always thought that the whistle stop campaigns came a little later, so was this one one of the first? If that worked for him in 1899, presumably Teddy used the same method when he ran for president in 1904.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

While Presidential candidates didn’t campaign as openly or actively for themselves during the 19th Century, there were examples of candidates campaigning from trains at that time.  It’s not clear how similar they were to Truman’s 1948 campaign or whistle stop campaigns as we know it today. Now, they probably weren’t as extensive as later whistle stop campaigns, and in some cases where it says that candidates campaigned by train, they may have simply traveled to an event or speech by train, but they did happen.

There are indications that William Henry Harrison campaigned by train as early as 1836 — his unsuccessful bid for the Presidency four years before he unseated Martin Van Buren.  Again, I’m not positive that he campaigned in the whistle stop method that we think of when we hear the term.  In 1836, the railroad network in the United States was very young and incomplete, so Harrison probably just used the train to travel to a speech, instead of stopping at various stations and speaking from the rear platform.

As for Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 campaign for President, not only did he not campaign by train, but he didn’t campaign at all.  His opponent was the least impressive major party nominee in American History, Alton B. Parker, whose highlight on his resume was being Chief Judge of the State of New York’s Court of Appeals.  So, TR stayed home and focused on his work and still routed Parker in the election.

Throughout the interview he was as disagreeable and suspicious of manner as well might be. He is a genial little runt, isn’t he?
Theodore Roosevelt, in a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge after meeting with President Benjamin Harrison, July 1, 1891.
I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.
Theodore Roosevelt, on his daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did Roosevelt and Taft ever make up? If not, did Taft regret not doing so when the former died?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, Roosevelt and Taft ran into each other at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel in 1918 and had a little reunion.  In the years since the 1912 election that caused the break in their relationship, Taft and Roosevelt had come across each other a couple of times and briefly shook hands, but things remained icy between them.  A few months before their reunion in Chicago, TR was in poor health and undergoing surgery and a telegram from Taft to Roosevelt began the thaw in their relationship and opened up communication between the former Presidents.  After their Chicago reunion, they kept in touch until TR’s death.

When Roosevelt died at the beginning of the next year, Taft attended his funeral and Roosevelt’s son, Archie, actually brought him up to the front of the church to sit with Roosevelt’s family.  Later, as TR’s casket was being lowered into his grave while snow fell, Taft lingered nearby and was visibly crying over the death of his old friend.

Asker ultra-pop Asks:
If Theodore Roosevelt lived to 1932, lets say Quentin lived and TR never ran again for office, would that have hurt or helped FDR's political career given they belonged to different parties? It's been a while since I read Colonel Roosevelt, and I've kinda forgotten how close they were.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know that it would have mattered.  FDR had launched his political career while TR was still alive (and active), and they remained close personally despite their political differences and despite the fact that FDR worked for TR’s hated rival, Woodrow Wilson.  FDR patterned his rise after TR — New York state legislature, Assistant Secretary of the Navy — while TR was still alive and tried to claim some of TR’s legacy while staking out his place amongst the Progressive Democrats.  If there had been a breach between the two of them or a rivalry had developed, I don’t think it would have mattered anywhere but in New York, and by the time FDR was rising in the political world, TR was already a national figure. Plus, they belonged to different parties, but Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt weren’t THAT different politically, at least prior to FDR’s nomination as Vice President in 1920 (when TR was dead). 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Where teddy and Franklin Roosevelt close or just distant relatives?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

They were only distantly related — fifth cousins.  In fact, James Madison and Zachary Taylor were more closely related to each other (second cousins) than Theodore Roosevelt and FDR.  TR was actually a closer relation to Eleanor Roosevelt (he was her uncle) than Franklin.   

Asker club-b Asks:
Are there any photos of TR & FDR together? Thanks!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

There is one photograph that I know of for sure but can’t find online for you — it’s of TR, FDR, and TR’s lawyer walking to a courthouse in Syracuse, New York when a New York politician sued TR for libel in 1915.

Other than that, I’m not sure. Seems like there would be photos of them at the wedding of FDR and Eleanor. Eleanor was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece (she was actually more closely related to TR than FDR was) and since Eleanor’s father (TR’s brother) had died, TR — who was President at the time — gave the bride away at the wedding. I’m sure that there must be photos of the wedding party, especially since TR was President then, but I don’t know that I have ever seen them.