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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,934
September 20, 2018
The Soul of America - Part 2 of 3
By Mike McManus


We live in tumultuous times, with such hard divisions between Democrats and Republicans that we tend to forget there were worse times in America's past.

Think of what happened to Theodore Roosevelt at age 26 on Feb. 14, 1884. His wife and his mother died on the same day. His mother was only 50 and lived in his home. His wife, Alice, was just 22, and had just given birth to a daughter he named Alice.

In his diary Roosevelt wrote, "The light has gone out of my life." He refused to allow anyone to speak of his wife in his presence.

Yet in a few years he was elected governor of New York, then Vice President, and moved into the White House when President McKinley died in 1901.

As a boy, "Teedie," as he was known - was very weak and sickly. One day two boys beat him up and he decided to take up boxing. He willed himself to strength, lifting weights. He rode horseback, hunted, hiked and climbed.

Years later, his daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, said he was so irrepressible he wanted "to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral," reports Jon Meacham in his landmark book, The Soul of America.

A contemporary of TR's marveled at his raw energy, and wrote that Roosevelt was "a dazzling, even appalling, spectacle of a human engine driven at full speed."

He relished public life.

TR gave his most famous speech which his young cousin, Franklin, the future President, heard. He declared, "It is not the critic who counts...The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, but who does actually strive to do the deeds who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

This is great reporting by Meacham.

What were the great causes of TR? As Meacham puts it: "the rights of the worker to a living wage, to reasonable hours of labor, to decent working and living conditions, and to freedom of thought and speech and industrial representation - in short, in return for his arduous toil, to be a worthy and decent life according to American standards."

TR was very moved by the 1890 book of Jacob Riis, How The Other Half Lives, which photographed tenement and sweatshop conditions in the garment district, where he heard the whir of a thousand sewing machines "from dawn till mind and muscle give out."

TR wrote, "It is not unusual to find a dozen persons - men, women and children - at work in a single small room." He offered to help Riis "in any practical way to try to make things a little better."

Meacham writes, that after his unsuccessful 1912 campaign to reclaim the White House, "TR would fight against corrupt machine politics, against great business monopolies, and against abysmal working conditions...In all of this TR anticipated the work of his cousin, Franklin, and of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson."

Another key TR theme was his commitment to immigrants from every nation: "We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good fellowship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent to become a good United States citizen like the rest of us," Roosevelt wrote in 1894.

As he put it, "Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction, and purpose, not of creed or birthplace....A Scandinavian, a German, or an Irishman who has really become an American has the right to stand on exactly the same footing as any native-born citizen in the land."

As evidence of his commitment, on October 16, 1901, Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, the founder and president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to dinner at the White House, the first African-American in history to dine formally at the White House.

Southern whites were horrified. The Memphis Commercial Appeal sneered, "He might now just as well sleep with Booker Washington for the scent of that coon will follow him to the grave as far as the South is concerned."

Yet it Is the hero Teddy Roosevelt who is remembered - not his critics.

___________________________________

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

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