An Exceptional Man and an Inspiration: Theodore Roosevelt IV

And continuing the account of Theodore Roosevelt’s career as police commissioner of New York City in the mid-1890s. Lets take it from the point where he innovatively muzzles an anti-Semitic preacher visiting the city.

~~ Roosevelt announced that all promotions would be strictly on merit and not political pull, then spent the next two years proving he meant what he said. He also invited the press into his office whenever he was there, and if a visiting politician tried to whisper a question so that the reporters couldn’t hear it, Roosevelt would repeat and answer it in a loud, clear voice.

As police commissioner, Roosevelt felt the best way to make sure his police force was performing its duty was to go out in the field and see for himself. He didn’t bother to do so during the day; the press and public were more than happy to report on the doings of his policemen.

No, what he did was go out into the most dangerous neighbourhoods, unannounced, between midnight and sunrise, usually with a reporter or two in tow, just in case things got out of hand. (Not that he thought they would help him physically, but he expected them to accurately report what happened if a misbehaving or loafing cop turned on him.)

The press dubbed these his “midnight rambles”, and after a while the publicity alone caused almost all the police to stay at their posts and do their duty. They never knew when the commissioner might show up in their territory and either fire them on the spot or let the reporters who accompanied them expose them to public ridicule and condemnation.

(And this is a part I like best about him) Roosevelt began writing early and never stopped. You’d expect a man who was governor of New York and president of the United States to write about politics, and of course he did. But Roosevelt didn’t like intellectual restrictions any more than he liked physical restrictions, and he wrote books – not just articles, mind you, but books – about anything which interested him.

While still in college he wrote The Naval War of 1812, which was considered at that time to be the definitive treatise on naval warfare.

Here’s a partial list of the non-political books that followed, just to give you an indication of the breadth of Roosevelt’s interests:

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman
The Wilderness Hunter
The Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open
The Winning of the West, Volumes 1-4
The Rough Riders
Literary Treats
Papers on Natural History
African Game Trails
Hero Tales from American History
Through the Brazilian Wilderness
The Strenuous Life
Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail

He’d be a pretty interesting guy to talk to. On any subject. In fact, it’d be hard to find one he hadn’t written up.

Roosevelt believed in the active life, not just for himself but his four sons – Kermit, Archie, Quentin, and Theodore Junior – and his two daughters – Alice and Edith. He built Sagamore Hill, his rambling house on equally rambling acreage, and he often took his children – and any visiting dignitaries – on what he called “scrambles”, cross-country hikes that were more obstacle course than anything else.

His motto: “Above or below, but never around.” If you couldn’t walk through it, you climbed above it, but you never circled it. This included not only hills, boulders, and thornbushes, but also rivers. And frequently he, the children, and the occasional visitor who didn’t know what he was getting into, would come soaking wet from swimming a river or stream with their clothes on, or covered with mud, or their clothes torn to shreds from thorns.

These wet, muddy, and torn clothes were their badges of honour. It meant that they hadn’t walked around any obstacle.

So the true power-walking president was Theodore Roosevelt. He took to walking as he viewed everything: as a challenge and a conquest. He not only walked long distances many days, but planned his walks to encounter a large number of obstacles. The ambassador of France once decided to accompany the president on one of these obstacle walks. It is likely he did not understand exactly what he was getting into or the nature of the course. He followed Theodore Roosevelt off at his normal rapid pace and when they came to a pond was informed of the rules of the march. You could go through or over something, but never around. Having said this, Teddy and the others promptly waded into and through the pond. Not to be outdone, the ambassador, who must have been stubborn or a very good sport, followed. All were wearing their shoes and pants, soaking them. The ambassador finished the ‘”bully” hike a bit worse for wear and even wore his gloves to the end so that he would be properly attired should they meet a lady.

To be continued….

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