Presidential Material

Of the many photographs taken of Theodore Roosevelt reading, this one is perhaps the most beguiling.  It was taken in 1905, when the president was on vacation.  He used his time off to go bear hunting in Colorado on horseback with a small group of friends.  While there, he stayed in the “West Divide Creek ranch house,” a simple log cabin.

Roosevelt was famous as a man of action. Few presidents had his love of ‘roughing it,’ though many were endowed, as he was, with physical courage and military zeal.  Roosevelt’s love of adventure sprang from wanting to prove himself by facing elemental challenges.  This passion fueled his love of sport (such as boxing) as well as his famous excursion toward the end of his life to find the headwaters of the Amazon.  As president, he was resolute, tackling the prickliest dilemmas in a forthright, all-out way.

At the same time, Roosevelt’s effectiveness derived from his great intellectual capacities.  He was a  voracious reader, devouring information and knowledge like a large fish feeding with mouth open wide.  He read and wrote compulsively, regardless of his official duties.  Being intellectual was intrinsic to his identity.  Knowledge clarified the problems he confronted, undergirding Roosevelt’s confidence and leadership skills.

Photographers accompanied Roosevelt on his Wild West vacation.  This allowed the public to see another side of the president, barren of conventional symbols of prestige.  Yet beneath the ratty clothes and ridiculous hat, Roosevelt’s big-heartedness, joie de vivre, and seriousness remained much in evidence.  The dog on his lap joined the Roosevelt household, when Teddy took him back to the White House to stay.   

Image: from this source.

2 responses

  1. Geez, what an unusual picture of T. Roosevelt. At first, I thought it was a fellow down on his luck, reading in his poverty-stricken home. His clothes are tattered and mostly worn out. But TR himself: HA! Terrific photo. I wonder why he would don such raggedy clothes?

    • TR was very sickly as a child; in the face of the omnipresent threat of death, he challenged himself to grow vigorous. He became athletic, to the point where his exploits and adventures redefined for the Gilded Age what it was to be manly.

      Visiting Chicago in April 1899, Roosevelt gave a famous speech called “The Strenuous Life,” extolling virile qualities as a component of national greatness and an alternative to “selfish ease”. By then Roosevelt had become famous as a “Rough Rider,” leading soldiers under his command up San Juan Hill, a pivotal victory in America’s quest to free Cuba from Spain.

      Throughout his life, TR acted intrepidly. He loved wilderness. Paradoxically, his habit of overdoing it, combined with his underlying weak constitution, may have contributed to his relatively early death at age 60. He died unexpectedly in his sleep on January 6, 1919.