11th Grade: Roosevelt and the Modern Presidency

Greetings

This week we had test review, and the test itself, so we did not cover a lot of new ground.  We did manage to start on what is known as ‘The Progressive Era’ in America (dated ca. 1880-1920), or the Victorian Era in England (ca. 1860-1900).

We first looked at how Teddy Roosevelt embodied this period in American history.  Born a bit sickly and weak, he transformed himself into a ‘healthy’ and physically vigorous man.  He believed that nothing good in life came easily.  Struggle was essential to growth and achievement, so he rarely backed down from either a personal or political challenge.  His relentless energy and enthusiasm reflected America’s ‘can do’ spirit of the time.  This is certainly revealed in some famous photos of him:

Teddy Roosevelt is known as the first ‘modern’ president for a variety of reasons.  He made the presidency the focus instead of Congress.  His energy and drive made him a national figure.  A keen and perceptive man, he also understand the power of the modern press to craft and publicize an image.  Of course with Roosevelt there was a strong connection between these images and reality, but he used them nevertheless.  These famous photos of him with his family garnered national attention, for example:
I handed out a sheet of quotes from Roosevelt that I hope accurately reflect his beliefs and personality.  While he was a Republican, you can see that he would probably not fit into the Republican party of today in some crucial ways.  These quotes are at the bottom of this update.  We also looked at the phenomena of expansion and imperialism.  While Europeans had been colonizing on some level since the age of exploration, we see a significant expansion throughout Europe and the United States at this time.  Clearly, something was in the air.  What made this period so focused on imperialistic pursuits?  I thought the students came up with some accurate hypotheses in class, among them. . .
  • Industrialization allowed for bigger and more powerful things to be built, which made sea travel over longer distances possible
  • Rapid industrialization would create the need for raw materials to be imported
  • England had always had an empire.  Industrialization meant that others could try and catch up.  England, wanting to keep its lead, would expand to do so.
  • Missionary efforts, while probably not the motive for imperialism, was certainly a by-product of it.
These are good answers, but they do not quite touch on what expansion reveals about the heart of western civilization at this time.There are two main schools of thought:
The traditional view states that expansion is the sign of health.  By 1900 western civilization controlled perhaps as much as half the globe.  Expansion requires energy and drive, and this in turn, requires health.   In this line of reasoning, western civilization peaks as its territorial and ideological expansion peaks.  Niall Ferguson adheres to this, arguing that western culture peaked around the turn of the 20th century.
The minority view states the opposite.  The first historian I am aware of to advance this theory was Oswald Spengler, a quirky German recluse who first published his ‘Decline of the West’ in 1926.  Spengler interpreted the life of civilizations much in the way we might view the life of an individual.  For Spengler, a civilization is healthy when it possesses a vibrant ‘inner-life’ and is at peace with their place in the world.  When a civilization exhausts its inner life, the only thing left is to extend the possibilities of the self outwardly.  So — expansion is sign of boredom, of weakness, of an actual lack of vitality.  Just as we would think that a person who needed constant variety would be bored, so too civilizations.

Spengler’s analysis was not greeted with wild enthusiasm at the time, as you might imagine.  His work generated a lot of controversy due to the variety of atypical opinions he espoused.  He also wrote sentences like, “So we see that historical investigation can be reduced to interpretation of morphological symbolisms” — sentences that might make you wonder if you’ve been had.  Still, his thesis would be picked up and reinterpreted later by AJ Toynbee, and to some degree by Kenneth Clark.  It deserves consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Mathwin
Teddy Roosevelt Quotes:
War
  • Preparation for war is the best guarantee of peace.
  • I killed a Spaniard with my own hand, like a Jackrabbit!
  • When I took my gun to Cuba, I made a vow to kill at least one Spaniard with it, and I did!
  • The most absolutely righteous foreign war of the century! – Opinion on the Spanish American War
  • I deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor, and I want it.
Business and Government
  •  The greatest corporations should be responsible to popular wish and government command.
  • . . .in no other country was such power held by the men who had gained these fortunes.  the government was impotent.   Of all forms of tyranny, the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of plutocracy.
  • As a people we cannot let any citizen live or labor under conditions which are injurious to the common welfare.  Industry, therefore, must submit to the public regulation as will make it a means of life and health.
  • We stand for a living wage.  Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide for those in industrial occupations.  A living wage must include . . . enough money to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during sickness, and to permit reasonable savings for old age.
Nationalism and Imperialism
  • Of course our whole national history has been one of expansion. . . . That the barbarians recede or are conquered. . . . is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace in the red wastes where the barbarians held sway.
  • We shall never be successful over the dangers that confront us; we shall never achieve true greatness, unless we are Americans in heart and soul, in spirit and purpose, keenly alive to the possibility implied in the very name American, and proud beyond measure of the glorious pleasure of hearing it.
  • It is, I’m sure, the desire of every American that the people of each island, as rapidly as they show themselves ready for self-government, shall be endowed with self-government.  But it would be criminal folly to sacrifice the real welfare of the islands . . . under the plea of some doctrine which, if it had been lived up to, would have made the entire continent of North America the happy hunting ground of savages. — TR urging that America put down the rebellion in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.
  • America’s duty to the people living in barbarism is to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can free them only by destroying barbarism itself.
TR the Conservationist
  • The lesson of deforestation in China is a lesson mankind should have learned already.  Denudation leaves naked soil, they gullying down to the bare rock.   When the soil is gone men must go, and the process does not take long.  What happened in other parts of the world will surely happen in our own country if we do not exercise that wise foresight which should be one of the chief marks of any people calling itself civilized.
  • Forests do not exist for the present generation alone.  They are for the people, [which] always must include the people unborn as the people now alive, or the democratic ideal is not realized.
  • As a people, we have the right and duty . . . to protect ourselves and our children against the wasteful development of our natural resources.
  • 512 — The number of animals Roosevelt and Kermit killed while on safari in Africa, including 17 lions, 11 elephants, 2 rhinos, 9 giraffes, 47 gazelles, and other creatures including the kudo, aardwolf, and klipspringer.
Being President
  • My view was that the executive officer was a steward of the people bound actively and affirmatively to do all he could for the people, and not content himself with . . . keeping his talents undamaged in a napkin.  I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the nation could not be done by the president unless he found some specific authorization to do it.  My belief was that it was not only his right but his duty to do anything the needs of the nation demanded unless it was forbidden expressly by the Constitution.
  • I do not believe any president has had as much fun as I have.
Miscellaneous
  •  ‘Why, that’s bully!’ — One of his favorite expressions
  • Why couldn’t they call them ‘Theodore Bears?’  — He hated the name ‘Teddy.’
  • I will make this speech or die.  — Said after an assassins bullet had passed through his lung while campaigning for president in 1912.
  • Father wants to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral — Remark attributed to one of Roosevelt’s sons.
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