Of all the presidents of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt stands out as an exemplar of those qualities I consider the best features of the American character, and in this respect he perfectly represented the American people of his generation.  Please let me explain.

Theodore RooseveltTheodore Roosevelt was born at home in New York City on 27 October 1858.  He was neither strong nor healthy as a child.  Suffering from asthma as a boy, Roosevelt decided to defeat his congenital infirmity by force of will - by doing things in spite of his illness. As a boy and as a young man, he became a wrestler, a polo player, a boxer, a swimmer, a mountain climber, an explorer, a rancher, a history student, a writer, and many other things besides. 

When his country found itself unprepared for its war with Spain in 1898, he raised a regiment of friends and contemporaries, armed and equipped at their own expense, for battle in Cuba.  Officially known as "United States Volunteers," they are better known by their nickname "the Rough Riders."  As their Colonel, he led them personally, and from the front, in the battle of San Juan Hill, ending Spain's imperial period in the Western Hemisphere. 

Elected as Republican President William McKinley's Vice-President in 1900, Roosevelt became President after McKinley's tragic assassination at the hands of an anarchist.  At the age of 42, Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to serve as President.  In due course he ran for President in his own right and was re-elected in 1904.

Few men may match his accomplishments.  In 1903, President Roosevelt negotiated an end to a war between Russia and Japan, winning the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He was the first President to ride in a car, the first to fly in an aeroplane, and the first to travel in a submarine. A manly man - and yet, the teddy bear was introduced during his tenure and named after him. 

Two cats shared the White House with President Roosevelt. The first was Tom Quartz (named for the cat character in Mark Twain's book Roughing It), and the second was named Slippers.  Slippers was a large blue-grey polydactyl cat (hence his name), with all the dignity one would hope for in a White House cat.  At home with the heavy responsibilities of his station, his bearing and poise were recognised and respected internationally.  One example serves to illustrate. 

In 1906, the President hosted an important diplomatic dinner at the White House.  As the guests had their aperitif before dinner, Slippers joined the party by stretching out on the lush carpet in the hall between the guests and the dining room.  Presently, it was time for dinner. 

The President, leading his guests through the hall to the dining room, led them all to one side of Slippers as he lay in the hallway.  The President of the United States, and the following diplomats (representing the great powers of the world in 1906) yielded precedence formally in the hallway to Slippers, who, after all, was a very fine fellow indeed, and Theodore Roosevelt was a fine enough man and President to recognise it.

© Jared Kline, Belgium


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