With the assassination of President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, at 42 years old, became the youngest President in our nation’s history. The country needed a strong leader and Teddy Roosevelt had spent his entire life preparing for this moment.
Teddy was born to a wealthy family in New York City in 1858 but his life was full of struggle nonetheless. In fact, his entire life would be marked and molded by trials. He was a sickly child, short, poor eyesight and suffered from severe asthma. To overcome his health difficulties he made the decision to adopt a strenuous lifestyle of hard work and exercise. As a result, his strength and energy was exceptional. In college he was on the rowing team and was one of his school’s best boxers.
As a young man, his trials continued. At age 25, his wife and mother died on the same day, in the same house. After their death, he moved out west to see the country. He loved nature and being outside. He was a voracious learner and became skilled at riding, roping, hunting and many skills needed for life on the frontier. One of his most famous quotes sums it up well: “we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.”
In his late 20’s, his entire herd of cattle died in a harsh winter blizzard. He moved back east and ran for mayor in NYC but lost. He then took on the difficult task of Police Commissioner to clean up the notoriously corrupt NYPD. He was not well liked but within two years had radically reformed the police department. He was described as “an iron-willed leader of unimpeachable honesty…“
He was tough and determined. In 1912, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he was shot in the chest during a failed assassination attempt. He assessed the wound and decided to not go to the hospital and continue the campaign.
Roosevelt was also an avid reader and his psyche was shaped by the courageous men he read about:
“I was nervous and timid. Yet from reading of the people I admired – ranging from the soldiers of Valley Forge and Morgan’s riflemen, to the heroes of my favorite stories – and from hearing of the feats of my southern forefathers and kinsfolk and from knowing my father, I felt a great admiration for men who were fearless and who could hold their own in the world, and I had a great desire to be like them.”
When he died they found a book under his pillow. He was learning and reading until the very last breath. He is quoted saying:
“It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which in other crises enabled the men of that day to meet those crises.”
President Roosevelt’s life was full of ups and downs and these are just a few of the highlights. He accomplished much and is the only president to receive both the Nobel Peace Prize AND the Medal of Honor. He is consistently ranked as one of the best presidents in our history and his face is immortalized in the granite of Mount Rushmore.
Lessons from Teddy Roosevelt’s life:
- If anyone had an excuse to be pessimistic it was Teddy but he maintained a positive attitude.
- Despite physical inadequacies, he kept himself physically fit.
- He was honest.
- He was tough and determined.
- He was always reading and learning.
- He kept pressing forward in spite of great difficulties.