Today, Teddy Roosevelt is one of the least criticized presidents in US history. In fact, many people have lionized him and made him an ideal of what a good politician and a leader should be. They talk about Teddy as the trustbuster, the humanitarian, the nature lover, and the incredibly charismatic orator, whose speeches could inspire a crowd. However, few today talk about Teddy’s faults as a leader, and his shortcomings as a person. While Teddy was not an evil man, he was not quite the hero many think when his actions are viewed through a less ross-colored lens.
10. The Story About The Teddy Bear Leaves Out A Lot Of Details
Everyone knows what a Teddy Bear is, and most know the origin story behind it. Teddy Roosevelt had been on a hunting expedition looking for a bear and was having trouble. Someone got a young bear and tied it to a tree, and Teddy refused to shoot it because of how cute and cuddly it was — the bear was then released unharmed. In order to celebrate the president’s generous act of mercy, the Teddy Bear was created and soon became a hit nationwide. Sadly, the story that has been passed on is a lot grimmer and doesn’t paint Teddy in quite as friendly a light.
The bear that was tied up for him to kill was an adult bear, not a cute little cub, and in order to get it tied to the tree it had been badly wounded first. The president did not refuse to kill out of some sense of humanity toward a bear, or because he wanted to let it go live its bear life, or because it was cute and cuddly. He refused to shoot the bear because as a matter of pride he wouldn’t really be getting the kill if it was tied to a tree and already wounded — it wouldn’t count. The bear was not released, either. His companions finished it off.
9. Roosevelt Did Help Create Public Protected Parks, But Mostly Because He Wanted To Hunt
Now, it cannot be denied that we do largely have Teddy Roosevelt to thank for an incredible amount of protected public parks and lands. His work in that regard has left a legacy to this day, and was arguably the greatest thing he did during his time in office. However, Roosevelt was not really interested in environmentalism the same way that some who live that sort of life are today. Teddy was an outdoorsman and loved to hunt and fish, and he saw the loss of public lands as a loss of an ability to hunt game.
As we know today, hunting on many of the lands that Teddy protected allow little hunting much of the year (or even at all) in order to preserve the environment, and many environmentalists today are vegetarians or even vegans. The truth is that hunting for sport, and not true sustenance, is not nearly as popular a hobby as it once was, especially among those who are truly trying to protect the environment long term. Many of those today who live and push for a green agenda would be quite horrified by the animal body count Roosevelt left behind.
8. When It Came To Being A “Trustbuster” Teddy Was Mostly Playing Pretend
Teddy was known somewhat at the time, and somewhat even now as the “great trustbuster,” and he still gets a rather unnecessary amount of praise for it to this day. The truth is, another president might have been tougher on the rich tycoons and helped avoid the eventual gilded age and recessions that came with them not too long after Teddy’s time in office. Roosevelt was known for being a trustbuster in the papers, but only because that was a carefully cultivated image. He played nice with the richest business leaders and met them in private.
In private, he hashed out terms that would be favorable enough to sate the public, but keep the rich super rich, and break up their monopolies and power as little as possible. He was able to get away with so much, so easily partly by attacking the press. Like some leaders in the world today, he went after anything negative the press did and tried to smear it as a whole so that he could protect himself from criticism. In fact, Roosevelt popularized the terms “muckraking” and “yellow journalism” as ways to try to make the press irrelevant when they pointed out that he wasn’t the saintly trustbuster — or whatever else — that he made himself out to be.
7. Some People Forget, But Teddy Was The First To Attempt A Third Term In Office
While he’s one of the most beloved presidents in American history, some people have a certain disdain for Franklin Delano Roosevelt due to the fact he squashed the precedent set by George Washington by managing to run for — and win — not just a third term in office, but even a fourth (although he did not live to complete it). In fact, people were so upset about this, despite him being a relatively popular leader, that congress then made it a law that from then on, presidents could only run for two terms. Before, it had only been a formality.
However, many people forget that not only was Teddy Roosevelt related to FDR, but that he came before him, and if not for the voters making a different choice, he would have been the first to break the precedent. In fact, he was the first to truly make a real solid try at a third term, and got quite close with his progressive “Bull Moose” party. Apparently the Roosevelt family simply had no care for the country’s traditions when it came time to running for political office again.
6. The Controversy Over Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle Showed Who He Truly Was
Many of you may know of the novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, perhaps from reading it in either high school, college, or both. For those who aren’t aware of the novel or its contents, it’s a fictional story set in the early 1900s in Chicago’s meatpacking district. Upton Sinclair was a socialist and a political activist who actually went to work in a meat packing plant to see how bad it was, and wrote the fictional book to describe the horrors he saw. While the people and events were largely made up, the processes he saw at the plant were mainly accurate and were truly disgusting and uncouth. His book was published in 1905, and by 1906 it was a huge hit. But Sinclair was upset, because while people were disgusted by the lack of hygiene at the plants, no one seemed that worried about the fact that the workers there were in horrific and dangerous conditions with very little play.
Roosevelt was like the public at large. He didn’t see the big deal about the workers’ plight, but did find what was being done to produce the food disgusting. While he wasn’t callously against the workers or anything, he just didn’t see what Sinclair saw — the very real human suffering. Teddy did sign the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act that very year, however, which eventually led to the creation of the FDA. Roosevelt cared about making sure the public’s (and his, of course) food was safe, but the plight of a bunch of random meat packers was not particularly high on his list of priorities.
5. As Assistant Secretary Of The Navy, He Wrote An Extremely Warlike Statement
Before he was leading the Rough Riders, Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he wrote a statement that many today are unaware of during his tenure in that office. He wrote, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” This statement is a true look into the mind of Teddy Roosevelt, far before he began creating his manufactured persona to run for public office and gain power. He was a very war-like man who believed that any generation of young men, to be properly tested, needed to see what they could handle in a pitched battle.
Teddy himself had been plagued by various physical ailments his entire life, and had fought them as an outdoorsman in an effort to conquer his own weaknesses. In his eyes, war was the ultimate way to test his strength and see what he was capable of in the worst of circumstances. Unfortunately, that’s also an extremely warmongering outlook that can lead to unnecessary death and violence, especially when the person with that kind of attitude is making life or death decisions regarding others.
4. He Started The Rough Riders For Glory, And Took Risks For Self Aggrandizement
Back in 1898, one year after Teddy made his statement about welcoming a war, he got one. The Spanish American War was here, and President McKinley called for 125,000 volunteers to help fight since the army was not very large at the time. Roosevelt decided to abandon his post with the Navy, shirking the duty and responsibility given to him, to go seek glory. He did most of his recruiting in the Menger Hotel Bar in San Antonio, where he rounded up cowboys, workers, and other randoms to create what eventually became the “Rough Riders.”
As for San Juan Hill, some say that Roosevelt threatened to shoot anyone who didn’t follow him up the hill or tried to run, and specifically targeted this message to black soldiers who had been separated from their all-black units and were temporarily under his command. His Rough Riders were said to have jeered to the black soldiers that Roosevelt did indeed keep his promises, and would gladly shoot them if they didn’t join him in his reckless charge up the hill. He wasn’t just some (basically) lone hero leading a small group, but a chief commander making a dangerous decision that barely paid off.
3. He Was One Of The First Presidents To Make A Habit Of Denigrating The Press In General
Back in the early 1900s, a new kind of important and responsible journalist emerged. There had always been journalists who bravely stood up to the powerful, corrupt, and monied interests, but with so many big corporations popping up and so many scandals with politicians working almost openly with the richest businesses, many journalists stepped up to report on the most problematic issues of the day. The public was quite wide-eyed at the incredible amount of money being taken from them by the richest of the rich, and this type of journalist had quite an audience.
And for those who may not know Teddy as well, he was actually leading the charge against journalists who stood up to corruption. He labeled them muckrakers, which means exactly what it sounds like, and spoke of them disparagingly whenever possible. Roosevelt wasn’t trying to be complementary and suggest they were cleaning up corruption, but instead used it to belittle them by suggesting they only went after the powerful or corrupt because they wanted the attention and old timey “clicks,” and that there was something dishonorable about reporting on corrupt or otherwise dishonorable behavior. As part of his somewhat bully-ish rise to power, he did his best to squash the reputation and voice of the free press.
2. Teddy’s Remarkable Survival Of An Assassination Attempt Just Highlights His Narcissism
Back in 1912, during Teddy’s ill-fated attempt to gain a third term in office as a “Bull Moose,” he was shot by someone likely angry at him for both trying to break the two-term tradition and fracturing the Republican Party in an election year. He was saved by a heavy eyeglass case and a ridiculously thick 50-page speech that he had folded up in his coat pocket — presumably a speech prepared at that insane length specifically to bore the entire crowd to death. Now, we’re mostly kidding here, as Teddy was a man of great charisma and likely knew how to put on a show. But even then, many people tend to tire and get a little out of focus after even a few minutes of their favorite politician speaking.
Regardless, if people simply had better attention spans back in the day and didn’t mind listening to Teddy talk for a solid hour and a half after he was shot, the fact that he was more concerned with finishing his speech than the safety of the crowd (or himself) shows a lot about his character. He was so self-absorbed that having his latest missive heard by the masses trumped even his own long term health, which — if he actually thought he was the best man to run the country — was a lot more important than finishing a speech. And, if Teddy had known his health truly wasn’t in any serious danger, then he was just grandstanding for the crowd in order to gain sympathy and look tough, when it was only a minor wound in the first place.
1. Roosevelt’s Run For A Third Term Likely Cost The Republicans The Presidential Election
As we mentioned in a couple previous entries, Roosevelt decided to run for a third term in 1912 on the “Bull Moose” ticket. As some of you may know, this party was made up by Roosevelt that year for his own purposes, because he decided that he needed to run as a third party. What some don’t know as well is all the drama that led up to Teddy running as a third party candidate instead of as a Republican. He tried to run as a Republican at first, but was actually trying to primary the current Republican president, William Howard Taft.
Now as we know, trying to primary a sitting president will always be a huge source of drama and it usually doesn’t work. Even with Teddy’s magnetic personality, the attempt failed and Taft secured the nomination. Teddy was undeterred and created the progressive Bull Moose Party. Unfortunately, while Teddy did manage to outperform Taft, he also split the Republican vote enough that he almost certainly threw the election — with ease — into the hands of Woodrow Wilson, who won the electoral college by a gigantic margin. In the end, Teddy’s selfish attempt at a third term that year, breaking Washington’s time-honored tradition, guaranteed the Republicans would lose the White House for the next four years.