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Buy 2 or more classes at the same time and save 25% off the total.

Teddy Roosevelt

Save 25% when purchasing this with other classes from this Fall's semester.

$95.00

Instructor: Mick Chantler
Wednesdays, April 10 – May 15, 3:00 – 5:00 PM, Berger Center
6-week session. Cost: $95 

Course Description:
Teddy Roosevelt was one of perhaps five or six truly transformative presidents in American history. This six-week course will examine the career of this remarkable—if often abrasive and authoritarian—American statesman.

Course Detail:
Teddy Roosevelt was one of perhaps five or six truly transformative presidents in American history. A cultivated, scholarly aristocrat, Roosevelt entered politics during the nation’s “gilded age,” much to the dismay of his peers who regarded government as a tawdry affair dominated by saloon-keepers and greedy commercial types. In the course of his thirty years in public service, he resolved to restore the “heroic, manly virtues” and a sense of sublime destiny to American life. This course will examine the career of this remarkable—if often abrasive and authoritarian—American statesman.

Week 1: The Character of ‘Theodore Rex’

Writer Henry Adams applied this moniker to our 26th president, and both Roosevelt critics and supporters found it remarkably apt. There was something almost inhuman about the man’s manic energy and appetite for conquest. In this lecture we will drill down into the restless and constantly bubbling psyche of this young man on the march. Whether it was slaying animals by the score on his endless hunting trips, bullying Army Generals who displeased him, cleaning up the mean streets of New York, or cracking down on illegal monopolies, Teddy (he hated that nickname, but it stuck) was determined to impress his passionate will on all concerned.

Roosevelt’s massive ego and animal vitality impressed many and infuriated others, but bored no one. Henry Adams observed “Theodore is never sober, only he is drunk with himself and not with rum.” Given to uninhibited monologues on any subject, he could wear down the most patient listener. Yet, in most cases, he knew of what he spoke, and grounded his arguments soundly in facts. A voracious reader (Teddy never went anywhere without a book) with a prodigious memory, he could declaim with equal ease on ancient history or the anatomy of pigeons. Some have detected more than a whiff of narcissism in his makeup, and even worse. Historian Richard Hofstadter saw him as an authoritarian militarist with a dangerous propensity for physical violence. Yet this lover of war who idolized boxers and football players would win a Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Russo-Japanese War. He was undoubtedly racist in his attitudes toward Blacks and Native Americans, yet he invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner (and paid a heavy political price for this controversial outreach.) Clearly, we are dealing with a complex man who must not be judged too quickly. Our goal today will be to make sense of this kaleidoscopic personality.

Week Two: Roosevelt and “The Gilded Age”

TR came into this world 1858; hence he grew up during that period of American history which Mark Twain dubbed “The Gilded Age.” This era, stretching from about 1870 to 1900, was a time of rapid change: economically, politically, and culturally. By the turn of the twentieth century, America looked radically different from the still rather raw and primitive adolescent society into which Roosevelt was born. Swelled by a massive wave of immigration, the nation’s population soared dramatically. While we were still predominately an agricultural society, industrialization transformed the urban landscapes. Fantastically wealthy “Robber Barons” took control not only of the nation’s economic infrastructure, but of its governmental functions as well. Corruption in high places was the norm, not the exception. Powerful “bosses” ran urban politics; both parties seemed more interested in looting the public coffers than in providing services for their constituents.

A maturing Theodore Roosevelt viewed these developments with a mixture of satisfaction and alarm. As a member of the New York aristocracy, he thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of being a member of the privileged class. His station in life enabled him to acquire a first rate education at Harvard followed by rapid entry into the inner sanctum of The Empire State’s Republican Party. He seemed, as one reporter put it, a “man of destiny.” But he grew increasingly disturbed at the demoralizing effect of Big Business’s domination of politics, and as a young NYPD Commissioner he threw in his lot with the reformers who wanted to clean up the scandalous relationship between entrenched wealth and government. In this talk, we will explore the gradual awakening of Teddy Roosevelt’s sense of public duty.

Weeks Three and Four: The White House Years

Roosevelt became President more or less accidentally. Urged by the New York Republican establishment to run as McKinley’s Vice-President, Teddy rose to power simply by being in the right place at the right time. After just a few months squirming restlessly in the Vice-President’s chair (a do-nothing position he loathed) President McKinley was assassinated, and TR became our 26th President. Teddy began his administration cautiously, not wanting to upset Wall Street with any grand plans for reform. But privately, he was plotting a strategy designed to fundamentally change the course of American history. By 1902 he was ready to announce that “there was a new sheriff in town,” one determined to assault the hallowed maxims of Laissez Faire, minimalist government. That year he stunned

the business community—which for decades had enjoyed a cozy relationship with both state and federal governments, allowing it to do much as it pleased—by launching a suit against the giant railroad trust, Northern Securities. He also shocked conservative plutocrats everywhere by seeming to side with labor against management in that year’s potentially disastrous anthracite coal strike. Such a blasphemous departure from traditional norms shocked the likes of J.P. Morgan, Mark Hanna, and John D. Rockefeller, who fumed that there was now a “socialist demagogue” in the White House. Teddy would go on in the same vein for the next six years, winning him (a somewhat exaggerated) reputation as a “trust- buster.” But while the financial community fumed, the common people of America loved it. Teddy was undoubtedly our most beloved president since Andrew Jackson. Had he not abjured a third term (a statement he made after his landslide victory of 1904, and one that he would come to bitterly regret) he could easily have been re-elected to a third term in 1908, and possibly a fourth again in 1912. (Americans seem to love Roosevelts, don’t they?)

Today we will discuss the highlights—and some of the dismal failings— of Teddy’s seven years as POTUS.

Week Five: “Colonel Roosevelt” and The Bull Moose Campaign

Safe to say, Teddy did not handle retirement gracefully. How could he, given his superhuman energy, his determination to rebuild the very infrastructure of American government, and the never-ending demands of his own outsized ego? All of “the Colonel’s” biographers, as he liked to be called, agree that his last seven years (he would die at the relatively young age of 60, in 1919) were marked by pettiness, paranoia, and megalomania. Rather like a star athlete who didn’t know when to call it quits, an aging and not very healthy Teddy could never relinquish center stage. He turned cruelly on many of his old friends, and lashed out savagely at his political opponents, Woodrow Wilson in particular. He never recovered from his rejection by the GOP establishment at the 1912 nominating convention, (the process was “rigged against me” he churlishly complained in somewhat Trump- like fashion) and bolted from the party. He ran that year on the newly formed Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, a quixotic gesture that was doomed to failure. Third party rebellions don’t do well in presidential politics, as Teddy well knew. But he couldn’t contain his gall, and made a futile run anyway.

Week Six: Roosevelt and The Great War (1914-1918)

Even more embarrassing for Teddy’s admirers was his petulant and almost unhinged reaction to the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914. TR demanded that America enter the war on the allied side, and when Wilson demurred for some two and a half years, he attacked the president mercilessly, often using unseemly and undignified language. When we finally did get into the war in April 1917, Teddy shrieked “it’s about time!” and insisted that he be given command of a division of volunteers to go into the trenches at once. Indicating that his now monstrous ego was running out of control, he also called for the authority to choose his own staff and select officers as he saw fit (which doubtless would have included his four sons.) For Teddy, this was going to be his last hurrah, redolent of the Rough Rider Spirit of ’98. Needless to say, President Wilson and the regular military hierarchy nixed Teddy’s grandiose vision of either winning the war single- handedly, or going down in a blaze of glory.

TR’s last year was terribly painful, and rather pathetic. He sent his boys to France to win the acclaim that was denied him, and felt terribly guilty when one son was killed in action, and two others grievously wounded. His health declined precipitously, and Teddy died early in 1919. Historians agree that the cause of death was a broken heart.

Instructor Biography:

Mick Chantler has taught Life Long Learning classes for twelve years at several Bay Area Universities and independent programs. His primary interests include Early American History, the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and Twentieth Century American political history. Mick is also a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, and has taught several courses on baseball. He has lived in Sonoma for over sixty years.

Posting for Teddy Roosevelt class Mick Chantler

Week 1

Roosevelt’s fear of “Black Care”

Many of Roosevelt’s contemporaries—as well as some of his biographers—have speculated that Teddy was both manic and depressed.  His often out-of-control behavior does lead one to wonder if there was a bi-polar disorder present in this curious figure.  Mental illness runs through his family history, as the following reading indicates.  Alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide occur with alarming frequency in the Roosevelt clan.  Could it be that Teddy’s endless rages, his demonic blood lust, and his near-paranoiac suspicions of his many “enemies” were signs of  a sick mind?  Judge for yourself after reading this article by Kay Jameson.

Kay Redfield Jameson, one of the leading experts on bipolar disorder and a sufferer herself, has described Theodore Roosevelt as “hypomanic on a mild day.” Mark Twain warned that “we ought to keep in mind that Theodore, as statesman and politician, is insane and irresponsible.”  The quixotic campaign of 1912 caused Henry Adams to comment: “His mind has gone to pieces… his neurosis may end in a nervous collapse, or acute mania.”

Exuberant and childlike were two adjectives often used to describe our 26th president. The man bounced around like a rubber ball. Known at Harvard as a “locomotive in human pants,” one of his classmates noted of Roosevelt: “When it was not considered good form to move at more than a walk, Roosevelt was always running.” British diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice observed: “You must always remember that the president is about six.”

But Roosevelt was also tremendously productive. He wrote 40 books, read at least one book a day, wrote 150,000 or so letters, and lived a “strenuous life” with regular exercise. He acted impulsively and unpredictably — burning an official portrait of himself he didn’t like, going skinny dipping in the Potomac with the French ambassador, taking a plunge in a submarine and later hopping on an airplane, and participating in a seance with Harry Houdini. His tour of duty in Cuba early in his career was fraught with danger. His trip to South America was ill advised.

Roosevelt’s accomplishments were many.  He would become the only man ever with a Nobel Peace Prize and a Congressional Medal of Honor. He set aside millions of acres of forestland and national parks. He was responsible for the Panama Canal. He busted trusts. He steered the ship of state away from laissez-faire and toward progressivism. His legislative victories were impressive.

But years earlier, Roosevelt frittered away most of the considerable funds he inherited on a ranching venture out west. He had to write to make a living until he married Edith Carow, daughter of a wealthy shipping baron. Frittering one’s money is one of the things people with bipolar disorder do best.

Roosevelt at age 26 fell into the depths of despair, triggered by the deaths of his first wife and mother. Black care would follow him on an extended trip to the west.  He recovered from it, remarried, and resumed his political career. Although we know of no other major depressive episodes in his life, Roosevelt had suicidal ideations as he lay immobile in the Brazilian jungle in 1914. Depression would be ruinous to other members of Roosevelt’s family however.

We know that bipolar disorder is highly heritable. Genetic factors account for as much as 80 percent of its causes. Theodore’s mother Martha had exhibited signs of bipolar disorder.  Due to a history of alcoholism in his family, Theodore wisely avoided alcohol in favor of coffee or sarsaparilla. His brother Elliot was not so inclined.

Elliot would have all the classic features of full blown bipolar I disorder. Elliot’s drug use (laudanum and morphine) and alcoholism was epic, as was his son Hall’s.  Hall would be unable to hold down a job or a marriage.  Elliot never was able to attend college. His spending habits sent his finances into Theodore’s conservatorship. He fathered another son with a servant.  Theodore’s wife Edith described him in this manner: “He drank like a fish and ran after the ladies.  I mean ladies not in his own rank, which was much worse.” Theodore and Edith could barely hide their shame. One moment Elliot was secluded in a family estate in Virginia, another locked away in a sanitarium in Vienna, then after a wild trip to Paris, he was confined in an asylum there. At age 34 he committed suicide by jumping out of a window. Daughter Eleanor, the future first lady, was not taken to his funeral. There is scant literature connecting Elliot with bipolar disorder.

Theodore and Edith’s son Kermit was similarly tragic. Intellectually gifted like his father — he was a voracious reader, completed his Harvard degree in 2 ½ years, learned several languages, wrote a number of books, travelled the world extensively, and became a highly decorated military officer. It is a shame there is no biography of his truly fascinating life, although Kitty Kelly wrote one about his brother Ted. Kermit’s level of productivity was that of a bipolar genius. But like his Uncle Elliot, he was terrible with money, drank excessively, strayed from his marriage, had long bouts of depression, and committed suicide. Bipolarism clearly raged through the Roosevelt family.

Eccentric Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt would exhibit signs of bipolar, although she lived to age 96. She married House Speaker Nicholas Longworth, after whom a House office building is named. As a rambunctious teenager, Alice gave father Theodore and step-mother Edith a difficult time. Her father said he could be president or control Alice, but not both. He insisted that no daughter of his would ever smoke cigarettes under his roof. So she did it on the roof. She wore short skirts and drove at high speeds down Washington streets. She carried a snake in her purse. She was finally banned from the White House for burying a voodoo doll of Secretary of War Taft’s wife in the yard.

The bipolar legacy apparently continued through the generations. Kermit’s son Dirck committed suicide at the age of 28. Alice’s only child, Paulina, whom she conceived in an affair with Senator William Borah, was severely depressed, drug addicted, institutionalized, and given shock therapy. She would finally commit suicide after many attempts at age 31.

Much has been made of the “Kennedy Curse.” We should hesitate to say bipolar disorder was the curse of the Roosevelts. As with many other people, bipolar disorder is a mixed blessing. For Theodore, it was more blessing. For brother Elliot and other Roosevelts it was more curse.

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The War Lovers:  Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and Alfred Thayer Mahan

Teddy Roosevelt’s well documented veneration for martial glory must be seen against the backdrop of his times—a bellicose period in our history.  Congressmen, newspapermen, Harvard intellectuals, and many social scientists agreed with Teddy that war was a “bully” undertaking, one that would promote manly virtues in the citizenry and fulfil the Anglo-Saxon racial destiny to dominate the world. (“Race” was a word used rather loosely in that aggressive era.)  There was much fretting about the decline of honor, chivalry, and masculine prowess in America—after all, we had not had a really good, rousing bloodletting in over thirty years.  It was high time to remedy that deficiency.  Without a stirring call to arms, America would become “flabby,” and would lose its “fighting edge.” (These were two of Teddy’s favorite complaints about the new materialistic “Gilded Age” in America.)  Worst of all, men were becoming “effeminate,” and lacking in “the spirit of the wolf”—another of Roosevelt’s go-to charges against the peace advocates of his day.  Roosevelt was hardly a lone voice calling from the wilderness as he pounded the drums—the winds of war were blowing all across the land during the 1890s.  And it didn’t matter much to TR who we fought; at different times he opined that we should have a nice little dust-up with Chile, Germany, or even Great Britain.  (England??? She had fifty battleships to our three at the time!  No matter, said TR—even a defeat would “harden us,” and ready us for the next conflict. Besides, even in defeat we could probably seize Canada.) No casus belli was too trivial to attract Teddy’s notice:  the important thing was to open the gates to the temple of Mars. 

The imperialist bloc in Congress, led by Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, joined the chorus.  Lodge was Roosevelt’s closest friend and proved an astute political mentor to the younger man. Lodge preferred the term “expansionism” or “the large policy” to the term imperialism, which smacked too much of brutal old-world militarism.  (Americans have always bristled at the charge of “imperialism.”  During the Cold War the Russian charge of American imperialism raised our collective hackles.  When we invaded small countries in the Caribbean, or Southeast Asia, we hotly denied that we were pursuing selfish, imperial aims.  We were simply trying to defend freedom, or uplift the poor nations of the world.) 

The renowned naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of the seminal work The Influence of Sea Power on History and another close associate of Roosevelt, helped provide the intellectual rationale for war.  His enormously persuasive magnum opus helped convince Americans to build a huge two-ocean navy, one that would be capable of projecting national power across the globe, from the Mediterranean to the shores of Asia.  Mahan drew extensively on the Social Darwinist notions that were “in the ether” during the late nineteenth century.  Great Britain provided his prototype and inspiration.  Here was a small island-nation that became a major world power due to the strength of the Royal Navy.  The English used her military might to carry out “the white man’s burden” of carving up and dominating the “savage” peoples of the earth, and not incidentally fattening her coffers in the bargain.  Surely America, with our vastly superior resources, could do as well and join in the race for empire.  For TR, Lodge, and Mahan, world dominance was the prize, and while the cost would be high, we would surely recoup our expenses by the rewards to be gained.  Teddy and Lodge quoted Mahan the way William Jennings Bryan quoted Scripture, and to much greater effect.  Soon Congress was voting large naval budgets—although never as much as Roosevelt thought necessary.                                                                                  

Now all that was needed was a suitable excuse to “let slip the dogs of war.”  (This was a highly literate triumvirate, one that would have no trouble coming up with the right passage from Shakespeare.)  The Cuban Revolution of 1895 supplied the convenient pretext.  In that year rebels in Spain’s last new world colony rose up in defiance of that tottering, senile empire and initiated a guerrilla war against General “Butcher” Weyler’s army of occupation.  Like all such conflicts, it was a dirty, brutal conflict with heinous atrocities perpetrated by both sides.  The war could have gone on indefinitely, and in all probability would not have caused the United States any real problems.  After all, there had many such uprisings against the Spanish regime over the past fifty years, and Americans had never seen the need to intervene.  Why should this rebellion be any different?

Enter William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Journal and (along with Joseph Pulitzer) pioneer in the arts of “yellow journalism.”  Hearst knew a good story when he saw one.  When he ran the San Francisco Examiner for his father, he specialized in sensational coverage of hotel fires, grisly murders, and sexual violence.  Business boomed.  After taking over the Journal, Hearst hired the highly successful editor of his rival Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper The World, which specialized in “crime, underwear, and pseudo-science.”  Soon the Journal was running stories with headlines like ‘He Hiccoughed For Five Days!” and “White Woman Among Cannibals.”  New Yorkers gasped with delight when they read about “Pretty Annette’s Gauzy Silk Bathingsuit,” and “The Frightful Dreams of a Morphine Fiend.”  Circulation of the Journal rose from 20,000 to 150,000 in less than a year under Hearst’s leadership.  But nothing would match the allure of tales of slaughter and rape coming out of Cuba.  Hearst sent newsmen to the island to cover the conflict, and they obliged their employer by sending back (mostly fictionalized) reports of “Cuban Disciples of the Devil Have Hideous Midnight Orgies,” and “Wild Negroes On The March:  Snakes Are Their Gods.”  Again, subscriptions to the Journal soared.  When the U.S. battleship Maine was sent to Havana to keep order, Hearst sniffed an opportunity to score the journalistic coup of the century.  An American military intervention in the Cuban war would provide endless tales of “Fiendish Spanish Cruelty In Cuba,”  and “U.S. Troops Fight Alongside Machete-Wielding Amazon Women!”  When The Maine exploded in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances, Hearst seized his opening.  He demanded a war, and Congress—whipped  into a Jingoistic frenzy by such reporting—gave him one.  Secretary of State John Hay called it “a splendid little war;” TR said, in effect, “It will do.”  America had started down the primrose path of imperial adventure that later would take us into such wars of choice as Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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David Brooks on TR

In 2022 David Brooks wrote this fascinating piece in the NYT about a possible modern day Teddy Roosevelt bid for the White House.  I’m not sure I would support such a candidate, but Brooks makes a convincing argument for the old Rough Rider.  See what you think.

“I’d like you to consider the possibility that the political changes that have rocked this country over the past six years will be nothing compared with the changes that will rock it over the next six. I’d like you to consider the possibility that we’re in some sort of pre-revolutionary period — the kind of moment that often gives birth to something shocking and new.

Look at the conditions all around us:

First, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going. Only 13% of voters say the country is on the right track, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll published this week.

Second, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the leaders of both parties. Joe Biden has a 33% job approval rating among registered voters. About half of Republican voters want to move on from Donald Trump and find a new presidential candidate for 2024.

Third, inflation is soaring. Throughout history, inflationary periods have often been linked to political instability. As economist Lionel Robbins wrote about Weimar Germany, inflation “destroyed the wealth of the more solid elements in German society; and it left behind a moral and economic disequilibrium, apt breeding ground for the disasters which have followed.”

Fourth, the generational turnover is coming. The boomer gerontocracy that now dominates power is bound to retire, leaving a vacuum for something new.

Fifth, Americans are detaching from the two political parties. Far more Americans consider themselves independents than consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans, and independents may be growing more distinct. And there’s some research that suggests independents are increasingly not just closeted members of the two main parties but also hold different beliefs, which puts them between parties. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe a third party is needed.

Sixth, disgust with the current system is high. A majority of American voters believe that our system of government does not work, and 58% believe that our democracy needs major reforms or a complete overhaul. Nearly half of young adult voters believe voting does not affect how the government operates.

If these conditions persist, the 2024 presidential primaries could be wild. Sure, conventional candidates like Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Gavin Newsom may run for the nominations. But if the hunger for change is as strong as it is now, the climate will favor unconventional outsiders, the further outside the better. These sorts of oddball or unexpected candidates could set off a series of swings and disequilibriums that will make the existing party systems unstable.

Furthermore, if ever there was a moment ripe for a Ross Perot-like third candidate in the 2024 general election, this is that moment. There are efforts underway to prepare the way for a third candidate, and in this environment, an outsider, with no ties to the status quo, who runs against the establishment and on the idea that we need to fundamentally fix the system — well, that person could wind up winning the presidency.

These conditions have already shaken up the stereotypes we used to use to think about politics. We used to think of the Democrats as the party of the economically disadvantaged. But college-educated metropolitan voters continue to flock to it and reshape it more and more each year. In the Times/Siena poll of registered voters, 57% of white college graduates wanted Democrats to control Congress compared with 36% who favored Republican control. For the first time in the survey’s history, Democrats had a larger share of support among white college graduates than among nonwhite voters. These white voters are often motivated by social policy issues like abortion rights and gun regulation.

Republicans used to be the party of business, but now they are emerging as a multiracial working-class party. In the Times/Siena poll, Hispanic voters were nearly evenly split about whether they favored Republicans or Democrats in the midterms. That may be overstating how much Hispanics have shifted, but it does seem as if the Republicans are genuinely becoming a working-class white-brown coalition. These voters care about the economy, the economy and the economy.

In other words, we now have an establishment progressive party and an anti-establishment conservative party. This isn’t normal.

If I were a cynical political operative who wanted to construct a presidential candidate perfectly suited for this moment, I’d start by making this candidate culturally conservative. I’d want the candidate to show by dress, speech and style that he or she is not part of the coastal educated establishment. I’d want the candidate to connect with middle- and working-class voters on values and to be full-throatedly patriotic.

Then I’d make the candidate economically center-left. I’d want to fuse the economic anxieties of the working-class Republicans with the economic anxieties of the Bernie Sanders young into one big riled populist package. College debt forgiveness. An aggressive homebuilding project to bring down prices. Whatever it took.

Then I’d have that candidate deliver one nonpartisan message: Everything is broken. Then he or she would offer a slew of institutional reforms to match the comprehensive institutional reforms the Progressive movement offered more than a century ago.

I guess I’m looking for a sort of modern Theodore Roosevelt. But heck, I don’t know. What’s coming down the pike is probably so unforeseeable that I don’t even have categories for it yet.

Week 2

Theodore Roosevelt’s “Americanism” 

During his thirties, TR developed his theories and dreams for future national greatness.  Coming of age after the Civil War, he could see that his country was rapidly evolving into a major world power—on par if not superior to the great nation states and empires of the Old World.  He welcomed the coming age of American hegemony, and saw it as the workings of a biological destiny.  Warriors with “Anglo-Saxon blood” throbbing in their veins had remorselessly conquered the globe’s “waste spaces” and drove the degenerate and weak indigenous peoples inhabiting these stretches into hiding.  Never before in history had a “race” spread over such a vast area in such a brief period of time—a mere three centuries, Roosevelt calculated.  The winning of the West during the nineteenth century was “the crowning and greatest achievement” of Nordic civilization.    His much praised work on the subject shows the young author at his best—and his chauvinistic, racist worst.  In page after page, he records with blood-curdling gusto the heroic deeds of frontier warriors shooting down, stabbing, strangling, and drowning ‘savages’ who stand in the path of America’s Manifest Destiny.  It is clear whose side Teddy is on in these ruthless conflicts:  he unapologetically identifies with the fearless and passionate white pioneers.  Those dainty and fastidious religious types who lamented the treatment of the Native Americans were “warped, perverse, and silly moralists.”  The march of history was a brutal business, TR felt, and there was no room for effeminate sentimentalists who wanted to preserve the continent “for the use of a few scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts with whom they held joint ownership.”  He heaps contempt on those “selfish and indolent” Easterners who didn’t appreciate the “race-importance” of the accomplishments of those hardy English-speaking plainsmen spreading civilization over the last bastions of primitivism.

Teddy’s own words best summarizes his survival of the fittest philosophy as it played out beyond the Mississippi:  “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman.  The rude, fierce settler who drove the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him.  American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori—in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.  It is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.”  This dog-eat-dog rhetoric is hard to take in our hopefully more enlightened world.  Little wonder that many of Teddy’s critics during his lifetime and beyond labelled him a Jingoist, an authoritarian, and even a proto-fascist.  With such bombastic language Teddy eagerly embraced a cruel, John Wayne-like vision of America that would eventually embarrass many would-be admirers. 

The only defense one can muster today for such a cold and pitiless world-view is that Teddy was hardly alone in his outlook. Rudyard Kipling’s racial imperialism was in the intellectual atmosphere everywhere.  This was an age in which Englishmen blithely spoke of how enjoyable it was to go to Africa and give some unruly “wogs” a good bashing.  French and German imperialists gloried in running down pathetic tribesmen in their far-flung holdings as though it was some gruesome sport.  Teddy’s ethnically charged “Americanism” was hardly unique.  Still, one cringes.