Theodore Roosevelt Roosevelt, Theodore - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919

American politician, historian, naturalist, biographer, essayist, journalist, and orator.

The twenty-sixth president of the United States of America, Roosevelt is largely remembered as a politician and speech-maker, but he is also a respected man of letters who left behind a considerable literary corpus. His political record reflects the ideals of Progressivism which marked the era of his presidency in the years 1901-1908. An active domestic reformer, Roosevelt fought for social justice, especially on the side of labor, against the abuses of the wealthy and of big business, helping to forge the modem welfare state in America. A naturalist and staunch conservationist, he sought to preserve the na-tion's natural resources from exploitation by the private sector, nearly doubling the amount of land set aside for national parks during his administration. In foreign policy, Roosevelt combined an interest in military affairs and a belief in expansionism with a great degree of political acumen, particularly in his Far Eastern diplomacy. He strengthened the U.S. army and expanded the navy to protect America's presence in the Pacific and the Caribbean. In addition, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. As a writer, Roosevelt is remembered for his historical accounts of American exploration, especially The Winning of the West; An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of Our Country from the Alleghanies to the Pacific (1889-1896).

Biographical Information

Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City into a prestigious and wealthy family. Afflicted with asthma and weak eyesight, he actively engaged in sports such as boxing and horseback riding in order to strengthen himself. Likewise, his youthful fascination with nature led him to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Educated by private tutors until entering Harvard University, Roosevelt graduated in 1880, and while there had begun work on his first historical work, The Naval War of 1812 (1882). Beginning in 1881 he served three consecutive one-year terms as a member of the New York legislature, but left his home state for the Dakota territory soon after the deaths of his wife and mother in 1884. Two years of writing and research ended in 1886 with a return to New York City and a failed campaign for mayor. Roosevelt's return to politics came in 1889, however, with his appointment to the Civil Service Commission by then-president Benjamin Harrison. He quickly rose to the position of commission head and served for six years. His next office was that of New York City's police board president during the years 1895 to 1897. Named Assistant Secretary to the Navy by president William McKinley in 1897, Roosevelt resigned his post the following year to organize the 1st Regiment of U. S. Cavalry Volunteers, the "Rough Riders," during the Spanish-American War. As colonel of the force Roosevelt led the now famous charge up San Juan Hill and returned to New York a war hero. Elected governor in November of 1898, he launched a campaign of social reform that would later be reflected on a wider scale in his presidency. In 1900 he appeared as McKinley's vice-presidential running mate, and became president in September of 1901 when McKinley was assassinated. In his first term, Roosevelt used his powers to increase the size of the U.S. military and applied the Sherman Antitrust Act against the Northern Securities Company in February of 1902 to destroy its railroad monopoly. That year Roosevelt also interceded in the national coal strike on the behalf of labor, forcing the coal companies to arbitrate. Reelected in 1904 by an overwhelming popular majority, Roosevelt continued to implement his Progressivist ideas on social reform, and to pursue his foreign policy, expanding U. S. protective influence in Latin America by invoking the so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. In the election of 1908 Roosevelt gave his support to the successful campaign of William H. Taft, and left for an extended African safari in early 1909. In the following presidential election, Roosevelt, feeling that Taft's conservatism had grown excessive, ran as a member of the independent Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party. The resulting split in the republican vote gave Woodrow Wilson, the democratic candidate, victory in 1912. For the next several years Roosevelt remained a vocal part of public life—he called for U. S. military involvement on the side of the Allies at the outbreak of World War I in 1914—and continued to travel and write until his death on January 6, 1919.

Major Works

Among Roosevelt's earliest writings are several works of naturalism on highly specific subjects, such as The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y. (1877). His first significant work, The Naval War of 1812, was published in 1882 and elicited modest but favorable reviews. In this essentially patriotic monograph, Roosevelt offers his esteem for the courageousness of U.S. naval officers and sailors who fought in the conflict, while criticizing the lack of military astuteness he observed in Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As an historical biographer, Roosevelt produced works on Thomas Hart Benton (1886) and Oliver Cromwell (1900) among others. His literary representations of the American senator and the Puritan leader, however, have been observed by critics to lack depth and verve. The Winning of the West remains one of Roosevelt's most highly esteemed works. Covering the period from Daniel Boone's crossing of the Appalachian range in 1767 to Zebulon Pike's expedition to the Rocky Mountain region (1807) in its four volumes, the work's strengths are said to lie in its personality sketches, accounts of Native American culture, and socioeconomic analysis of historical events. Roosevelt's history of New York (1891) represents an early concern with the varied ethnic character of the city and the sociological dynamics of immigration and eco nomic inequality operating there. Another of his favorite topics, exploring, hunting, and general outdoor life, appeared as the subject of several works including Ranch Life and the Hunting-trail (1888), The Wilderness Hunter (1893), and Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914). Lastly, Roosevelt's essays and oratory, from fiery political speeches to literary reviews, have been published separately and in collections, among them, The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (1900) and Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (1926).

Critical Reception

Theodore Roosevelt's character and reputation have been the subject of much critical attention, in large part due to his long and varied political career. An immensely popular politician typically associated with the reforms of Progressivism, he is often remembered for his rugged individualism and personal integrity. His literary works, though generally well accepted in his day, have been lauded for their patriotic evocations of historical figures, but have typically been criticized for excessive moralizing. Nevertheless, Roosevelt remains a compelling subject for historians and biographers, and is widely considered an outstanding figure in twentieth-century American politics.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y. (naturalism) 1877

Notes on Some of the Birds of Oyster Bay, Long Island (naturalism) 1879

The Naval War of 1812; or, The History of the United States Navy during the Last War with Great Britain [republished as The Naval Operations of the War Between Great Britain and the United States] (history) 1882

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (essays) 1885

Thomas Hart Benton (biography) 1886

Essays on Practical Politics (essays) 1888

Gouverneur Morris (biography) 1888

Ranch Life and the Hunting-trail (essays) 1888

The Winning of the West; An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of Our Country from the Alleghanies to the Pacific (history) 1889-1896

New York (history) 1891

The Wilderness Hunter: An Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase With Horse (naturalism) 1893

Hero Tales from American History (history) 1895

American Ideals, and Other Essays, Social and Political (essays) 1897

The Rough Riders (personal history) 1899

Oliver Cromwell (biography) 1900

The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (essays and speeches) 1900

California Addresses (speeches) 1903

Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter (essays) 1903

Addresses and Presidential Messages of Theodore Roosevelt, 1902-1904 (speeches) 1904

Good Hunting (essays) 1907

Addresses and Papers (speeches and essays) 1908

The Roosevelt Policy; Speeches, Letters and State Papers, Relating to Corporate Wealth and Closely Allied Topics, of Theodore Roosevelt (speeches, letters, and essays) 1908

Outlook Editorials (journalism) 1909

African and European Addresses (speeches) 1910

African Game Trails, An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist (essay) 1910

Realizable Goals (The Earl Lectures) (speeches) 1912

History as Literature, and Other Essays (essays) 1913

Progressive Principles: Selections from Addresses Made During the Presidential Campaign of 1912 (speeches) 1913

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (autobiography) 1913

Life-histories of African Game Animals (naturalism) 1914

Through the Brazilian Wilderness (naturalism) 1914

Americanism and Preparedness, Speeches, July to November, 1916 (speeches) 1916

A Book-lover's Holidays in the Open (essay) 1916

The Great Adventure: Present-Day Studies in American Nationalism (essays) 1918

Newer Roosevelt Messages: Speeches, Letters and Magazines Articles Dealing with the War, Before and After, and Other Vital Topics (speeches, letters, and essays) 1919

Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star: War-time Editorials by Theodore Roosevelt (journalism) 1921

Literary Essays (essays) 1926

Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (essays and speeches) 1926

The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (history, biography, essays, and speeches) 1926

Theodore Roosevelt's Diaries of Boyhood and Youth (diaries) 1928

Colonial Policies of the United States (history) 1937

The Hunting and Exploring Adventures of Theodore Roosevelt (essays) 1955

Gansey R. Johnston (essay date 1899)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Writings of Theodore Roosevelt," in Book Buyer, Vol. xviii, No. 1, 1899, pp. 5-10.

[In the following essay, Johnston considers the varied subject matter of Roosevelt's writings.]

As a man of action rather than a man of letters, Colonel Roosevelt has in our American year of 1898 appeared in the public eye. Some of his deeds have been so dramatic that when we come to view his books it will no doubt be difficult to place them in proper perspective. We cannot separate them from the man, whose character is stamped upon all their pages, of whose faults and virtues they partake, of whom, indeed, they have much to say; but by the association we should not be led...

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Theodore Roosevelt (essay date 1913)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt: From History As Literature," in Style, Vol. 13, No. 1, winter, 1979, pp. 1-4.

[In the following essay, originally published in History as Literature in 1913, Roosevelt argues that historical writing should retain a distinct literary aspect as exemplified by the works of the great historians of the past.]

Because history, science, and literature have all become specialized, the theory now is that science is definitely severed from literature and that history must follow suit. Not only do I refuse to accept this as true for history but I do not even accept it as true for science.

Literature may be defined as that...

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Henry A. Beers (essay date 1919)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt as Man of Letters," in Four Americans: Roosevelt, Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman, Yale University Press, 1919, pp. 7-31.

[In the following essay, Beers praises Roosevelt for his ability to translate his experiences as a man of action into a body of literary works.]

In a club corner, just after Roosevelt's death, the question was asked whether his memory would not fade away, when the living man, with his vivid personality, had gone. But no: that personality had stamped itself too deeply on the mind of his generation to be forgotten. Too many observers have recorded their impressions; and already a dozen biographies and memoirs have appeared. Besides, he...

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Brander Matthews (essay date 1919)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt as a Man of Letters," in The Tocsin of Revolt and Other Essays, edited by Brander Matthews, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919, pp. 229-50.

[An American critic, playwright, novelist, and educator, Matthews wrote extensively on world drama. In the following essay, originally published in 1919, he examines Roosevelt's multifaceted character as expressed in his writings.]


The more closely we scrutinize Theodore Roosevelt's life and the more carefully we consider his many ventures in many totally different fields of human activity, the less likely we are to challenge the assertion that his was the most interesting career...

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H. L. Mencken (essay date 1920)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt: An Autopsy," in Prejudices: Second Series, edited by H. L. Mencken, Alfred A. Knopf, 1920, pp.102-35.

[Mencken was one of the most influential figures in American literature from the First World War until the early years of the Great Depression. His strongly individualistic, irreverent outlook on life and his vigorous, invective-charged writing style helped establish the iconoclastic spirit of the Jazz Age and significantly shaped the direction of American literature. In the following essay, Mencken condemns what he considers unjustifiably favorable portrayals of Roosevelt by his early biographers.]

One thinks of Dr. Woodrow Wilson's biography of...

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Raymond C. Miller (essay date 1938)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt, Historian," in Medieval and Historiographical Essays in Honor of James Westfall Thompson, edited by James Lea Cate and Eugene N. Anderson, Kennikat Press, Inc. 1966, pp. 423-38.

[In the following essay, Miller offers a critical view of Roosevelt's historical works.]

The career of historian was the first to which young Roosevelt, newly graduated from Harvard, turned his attention. He had considered the life of a naturalist, but reasons either sentimental or temperamental led him to abandon it. Probably it was a fortunate decision, for the earlier impulse came more from a healthy love of outdoors and an extension of his boyhood collecting...

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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (essay date 1951)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Pragmatic Hero," in Partisan Review, Vol. 18, No. 4, July/Aug., 1951, pp. 466-71.

[Schlesinger is a prominent American historian and an influential figure in liberal politics. As a special assistant to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, he was instrumental in formulating the "New Frontier" and the "Great Society," the two major social reform movements of the 1960s, which promoted Medicare, the war on poverty, and extensive civil rights legislation. Schlesinger has twice been the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize: the first for The Age of Jackson (1945), an examination of Jacksonian democracy as the genesis of American liberalism, and the second for A...

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Merrill E. Lewis (essay date 1963)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "History as Melodrama: Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West," in The American West: An Appraisal, edited by Robert G. Ferris, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1963, pp. 201-10.

[In the following essay, Lewis explains his reasons for considering The Winning of the West a failure both as literature and as history.]

The incongruity of Harvard-educated Theodore Roosevelt in the Bad Lands of North Dakota has been the source of numerous stories. As one of his biographers said: "His somewhat precise tones still flavored by exposure to Harvard culture rang strangely in [the ears of westerners]. He did not smoke or drink. His worst profanity was...

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Ellen Moers (essay date 1963)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Teddy Roosevelt: Literary Feller," in Columbia University Forum, Vol. 6, No. 3, Summer, 1963, pp. 10-16.

[An American educator and critic, Moers is the author of The Dandy: Brummel to Beerbohm (1960) and Literary Women (1976). In the following essay, she documents Roosevelt's relationship to New York's literati during his term as police commissioner of that city.]

In the 1890s New York became the literary center of America as it had never been before and perhaps would never be so effectively again. As the center of a publishing revolution, the city could offer three things to men of talent: a living (on newspapers and magazines), an...

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James W. Tuttleton (essay date 1965)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The President and the Lady: Edith Wharton and Theodore Roosevelt," in Bulletin of The New York Public Library, Vol. 69, Jan/Dec., 1965, pp. 49-57.

[In the following essay, Tuttleton investigates the significance of a reference to Theodore Roosevelt in Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence as well as the author's lifelong acquaintanceship with Roosevelt.]

The facts of our literary history suggest that, in general, the American novelist has not been absorbingly concerned with the interaction of politics and society. Very few American writers, as Irving Howe has rightly observed, "have tried to see politics as a distinctive mode of social existence,...

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David H. Burton (review date 1968)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt and Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Common…," in The Personalist, Vol. 49, No. 3, Summer, 1968, pp. 331-50.

[In the following review, Burton discusses a likeness he perceives in the attitudes and ideas of Roosevelt and the poet Edward Arlington Robinson.]

Theodore Roosevelt's chance reading in 1905 of Edwin Arlington Robinson's The Children of the Night was the occasion of a well-known episode in the lives of both men. The President liked what he read in Robinson, though he had to admit there was that in the poet's work which eluded him, and when he learned of his dire financial need provided a position for him at the New York Customs...

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Harold Zyskind (essay date 1968)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Case Study In Philosophical Rhetoric: Theodore Roosevelt," in Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1968, pp. 228-54.

[In the following essay, Zyskind studies Roosevelt as an example of a public figure who embodied conflicting views and qualities whose source of may be found in the nature of philosophic rhetoric.]

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I. Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The minds of many men of action are opaque, or so they seem when we seek their logic. It is reasonable and important to ask whether the thought of a political figure had an intelligible pattern; but the question seems to admit of opposed answers. Plato shows this in his treatment of Pericles: In the Phaedrus Pericles is an exemplar of intellectual coherence. But in the Gorgias he exemplifies irrationality. What makes him subject to this variable treatment is that he was so excellent a rhetorician; the problem of intellectual integrity is nowhere more acute than in those men of action who owe most to their hold on the people.

Is it possible to grasp and formulate how such a mind...

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William M. Gibson (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "TR and Mark Twain," in Theodore Roosevelt: Among the Humorists, W. D. Howells, Mark Twain, and Mr. Dooley, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1980, pp. 24-42.

[In the following essay, Gibson outlines the affinities and conflicts between Roosevelt and Mark Twain.]

Although in 1906 Mark Twain remarked that he had known Theodore Roosevelt "for certainly twenty years," dining in his company on occasion and enjoying Roosevelt's heartiness and gusto, it was not until his return from several years of round-the-world lecturing, in the fall of 1900, that Clemens began to take a strong, lasting interest in the Vice President soon to become President. That the...

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Harry Gershenowitz (essay date 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Natural History Controversy Between Theodore Roosevelt and Jack London…," in Jack London Newsletter, Vol. 14, No. 2, May-Aug., 1981, pp. 80-2.

[In the following essay, Gershenowitz defends the authority of Jack London as a naturalist with respect to Roosevelt's criticism of him as a "Nature-Faker."]

The controversy between President Theodore Roosevelt and Jack London concerning animal strength and ability to survive in battle has not been resolved. It is possible that the disputation was fueled by the decreasing popularity of President Roosevelt's writings dealing with his wild-life adventures and the mounting interest in London's stories of the land in...

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John Milton Cooper, Jr. (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt: On Clio's Active Service," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, 1986, pp. 21-37.

[In the following essay, Cooper traces Roosevelt's development as a historian.]

The most casual visitor to Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's home at Oyster Bay, cannot fail to grasp two of the owner's greatest interests. The most immediately striking impression of the interior of the house comes from the plethora of animal trophies—mounted heads, antlers, tusks, stuffed birds and small game, and elephants' feet made into footstools. Even someone who knows nothing about Theodore Roosevelt can see that he was an enthusiastic outdoorsman and an...

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David H. Burton (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt: Learned Style," in The Learned Presidency, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988, pp. 39-88.

[In the following essay, Burton examines the influences that formed Roosevelt's prose style.]

On 7 June 1910, in the Sheldonian Theatre of the University of Oxford, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the Romanes Lecture. He called it "The World Movement—Biological Analogies in History." The invitation by Lord Curzon, the chancellor of the university, to give the address was recognition accorded Roosevelt as a distinguished man of letters as well as a former American president. His reputation in each regard was understood and...

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Daniel Aaron (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodore Roosevelt As Cultural Artifact," in Raritan: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1990, 109-26.

[In the following essay, Aaron charts the declining image and reputation of Roosevelt as a public figure.]

Four gigantic presidential heads, the work of the American-born sculptor Gutzon Borglum, look out from the granite wall of South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln cluster clubbably on their mountain eminence, but does the head of Theodore Roosevelt, replete with a cleverly simulated pince-nez, belong in this godlike company? Borglum thought so, and not merely because he believed in and practiced the Rooseveltian gospel of the...

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Marcus Klein (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Easterns, Westerns, and Private Eyes," in Easterns, Westerns, and Private Eyes: American Matters, 1870-1900, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994, pp. 78-87.

[In the following essay, Klein discusses the figure of the cowboy as portrayed in various works by Roosevelt.]

Imperialism was a principle. In his Foreword to the 1900 edition of his The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt would justify the invasion of Cuba in 1898 as an extension, to the east, of the western continental expansion which in turn, he said, "has been the central and all-important feature of our history." In the four large volumes of the book itself, 1889-1896, he had...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Burton, David H. Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1972, 236 p.

Endeavors "to discover in Roosevelt's mind, in his thought, and in his values … truths about him which either have been ignored, or more commonly, misunderstood."

Harbaugh, William Henry. The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Collier Books, 1967, revised edition, 540 p.

Biography designed for the general reader, based upon primary sources and scholarly appraisals of his career.

Putnam, Carleton. Theodore Roosevelt, Volume One: The Formative Years 1858-1886. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,...

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