Andy Miller's Reviews > Colonel Roosevelt

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
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Nov 24, 12

Read in April, 2011

This is the final volume of Edmund Morris's three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, covering from the end of his Presidency to his death 11 years later.I found Morris's first two volumes to be too fawning, I suppose because I think that for the most part that Theodore Roosevelt has been over rated by history, especially concerning his personal traits. This volume certainly reflects Morris's admiration for Roosevelt, but is more even handed in its appraisal of a fascinating but flawed man.

The story of the 1912 campaign is perhaps central to this volume. Morris builds to the suspense of the 1912 Republican convention, contrasting the primary victories by Roosevelt with the slow delegate victories by Taft in the nonprimary states. The story of the convention itself is exciting and I was taken aback at the strong language used by the key players; Roosevelt publicly accusing old friends of his of "stealing" the nomination. The 1912 campaign itself was fascinating and I was impressed with Morris's treatment of Wilson as the superior candidate.

However, the most interesting part of the book was Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon adventure after his loss in the 1912 campaign. That was a true adventure, much more so than his extended African safari that he took shortly after his Presidency. Roosevelt's group traveled uncharted rivers far from civilization with four of the small party not making it back and there were times when it was questionable as to whether any of the party would make it out of the jungle.

After his return to America, Roosevelt largely abandoned his Progressive beliefs focusing instead on his militaristic desires for America to go to war. By 1916, Roosevelt stumped for Charles Evans Hughes and had made peace with those on Wall Street that he had so strongly criticized only four years earlier. It was telling that twelve of the key 19 advisers to Roosevelt in the 1912 campaign ended up parting ways with Theodore Roosevelt and endorsed Woodrow Wilson's reelection.

Much of the traditional Roosevelt biography is based on his reputation for vigor and exercise. Morris notes that this was not true at the end of his life, even though he was younger than Woodrow Wilson, he looked and acted much older. His physical decline was matched by his personal decline. He became bitter at the end of his life, his over the top personal attacks on Wilson during the 1916 campaign may well have helped re-elect Wilson.

However, one area where Roosevelt always excelled was as a husband and father. It was touching to read of his family life in his latter years and Morris does an excellent job here. His portrayal of Quentin and the foreshadowing of what happened to him in World War I was as touching as any novel.

Morris does an excellent job of quoting a vast spectrum of Roosevelt's contemporaries on Roosevlet. In the end, Morris allows the reader to decide. I came to adopt the summary written by Stuart Sherman, an editor of Nation magazine who wrote shortly after Roosevelt's death:

"Mr Roosevelt has attained satisfactions which he thought should console fallen empires, he has left heirs and a glorious memory. How much more glorious it might have been if in his great personality there had been planted a spark of magnanimity. If after he had drunk of personal glory like a Scandinavian giant, he had lent his geiant strength to a cause of the plain people not of his contriving nor under his leadership. If in addition to helping win the war he had identified himself with the attainment of its one grand popular object."
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