There’s Washington, Lincoln, then Teddy. Get to know one of the most influential and originial presidents of the last century.
Leaders: made, not born
Theodore Roosevelt was the runt of his family. He was small, constantly sick, a bit of a homebody — and while he came from privilege, he built a life that tested his limits.
If privilege keeps someone soft to “real life” — Roosevelt never used privileged as a way to keep out hard things. Part of this was due to the fact that his dad had done just that. Theodore Sr. avoided serving in the Civil War by simply paying another man to go in his place. Teddy loved & respected every single part of his father, save that one fact.
Plagued with bouts of asthma as a boy, he made a conscious decision to better himself. Young Theodore instituted a strict workout regiment. He strengthened his lungs, among other things, and beat back the sickliness that had stuck with him for as long as he could remember. He’d keep the habit of a strenuous life until his death. Here is Teddy in his own words in 1899, from a speech appropriately titled, “The Strenuous Life”:
We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
Theodore Roosevelt, the man, became not just a President, but also a historian, author, police commissioner, cowboy, conservationist, naturalist, explorer, and soldier.
Get dirty, take responsibility.
Roosevelt was always in the trenches. As police commissioner of New York City, he knew that in order to make any real changes, he’d have to understand the life and beat of the average patrolman.
In a style reserved for reality TV today, Roosevelt would walk the late night beats himself, seeing which officers were slouched back in bars instead of on street corners, and commending officers who were vigilant.
He did the same as a Rough Rider, rejecting the higher position of Colonel, and instead embraced the lower rank of Lieutenant Colonel — the difference being: the lower your rank, the closer you came to combat. So it was Teddy who led a charge up San Juan hill in Cuba, and bucked all the high society expectations for a privileged boy from New York City.
Even as a former President, Roosevelt would embrace responsibility over the little things. On a trek down an uncharted Amazon tributary, one of the expedition’s men committed murder and ran off. Even though he was a former President, and nursing an infected wound in his leg, Theodore Roosevelt grabbed his gun and hobbled off into the darkness to defend the unarmed men bringing up the rear. Nobody asked him, he just did it — which sums up the man himself.
For more on Teddy Roosevelt, check out these books: