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Essay: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (book review)

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  • Subject area(s): History essays
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  • Published: September 21, 2019*
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  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (book review)
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History 1302

01 August 2018

Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Random House, 2010.

Theodore Roosevelt’s meteoric rise to being a great political force began the day he was born. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is a series of narratives of the build-up to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, which were about influential people and the values he received from those experiences, and how those affected his political ideology. Morris argues that Roosevelt was greatly influenced by his personal experiences and those made his eventual leadership over the country inevitable. Morris provides a narrative through different scenes in Theodore Roosevelt’s life, building up to his presidency, as a Republican, which provides a unique look into the creation of his charismatic character; this affected his policies which greatly impacted future generations of America, such as the conservation of federal lands. Morris discusses how Roosevelt overcame his physical weakness,how loss of loved ones created weaknesses he had to overcome, to his sudden presidency through narrative scenes of his love for nature, loss of his father and wife, and examples of sheer will-power; all the while dealing with issues of great personal suffering and asthma. Furthermore, Morris explains how Roosevelt’s diverse challenges steadily increase his confidence to mold him into an assertive leader.

Morris supports his ideas by using scenes throughout Roosevelt’s life to portray his attitude of “doing whatever it takes” to ensure the strength of America. This attitude was born from his hardships with his past asthma issues; he worked extremely hard to become physically stronger, and he re-created himself as a strong man through his desire to do whatever it took, no matter the cost. He applied the same attitude to the safety of his beloved country. Through past scenes, Roosevelt is declared to be a believer in manifest destiny, and he viewed Spain’s occupation of Cuba as a threat to America’s freedom. After the presidential election of 1896, Roosevelt was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy where he began to push President McKinley to strengthen the navy to make sure America had adequate defenses, so that in the event of war, they would be well prepared. After an explosion on a navy ship harbored in Havana, Cuba, Roosevelt started “militarizing navy vessels and directing them to Cuba” (614), even without the permission of the President. Morris characterizes Roosevelt’s strong self-belief in his values by explaining Roosevelt’s decision to bypass the President’s authority to portray his insatiable will to do what is right for the good of the country, in this case-trying to remove Europe’s influence on the American dominion. Roosevelt influenced America well into the next century because of his strengthening of the navy, which established the United States as a the dominant navy power in the Americas and now it continues on the world stage.

Roosevelt’s decision to run for governor was a defining moment in leading up to his presidency. After the war in Cuba, Roosevelt returned as a war hero, and his campaign used that to advertise and improve Roosevelt’s probability of winning the election. Morris gives this scene much importance because he foreshadows how Roosevelt would run the country as president. His leadership as the Governor of New York signaled his policies on regulating trusts and conserving natural resources. He also started holding two press conferences a day, which helped him stay connected to the people of New York. The outcome of his governorship signaled his gain in experiences around handling economic and political issues. Furthermore, this lead to natural assumptions in the public about his candidacy for the Presidency. Roosevelt gained invaluable skills from his time as governor, and the resulting policies during his presidency left lasting impact on the United States of America, such as the creation of national parks.

In The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Morris references many articles and photographs during Roosevelt’s early life to provide an unbiased argument, and this also allows the reader to help see Roosevelt as he was seen during his time before presidency. For example, Morris cites a first-hand account of President McKinley’s staff telling Roosevelt how much he was admired by the administration (p577) to show that not only did the public admire Roosevelt, even the people in power did too because of his role in leading the Navy’s rough riders into Cuba battle successfully and his new policies as the Governor of New York. This is extremely important because it shows his overall worth to America from both the public and the government’s point of view. Morris also includes photographs to show that Roosevelt was a people person and most Americans could relate to him. For example, a photograph shows Roosevelt standing next to his rough riders, indistinguishable from the group (p589). These photographs help portray the argument that Roosevelt was a charismatic leader in part because of his belief that all men were equal, and that it was an honor for them to serve for the good of the country. This ideology that the photographs portrayed helped the American public see Roosevelt’s belief in serving his people in published articles leading to his presidency, and it is captured in this book.

Morris wrote this book in chronological order, starting with a prologue of Roosevelt at the height of his presidency, and moving to his childhood and proceeding to narrate different scenes to show his rise to presidency. Morris included many details about Roosevelt’s early life to help the reader gain a strong understanding of Roosevelt’s charismatic character. Due to this chronological order in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, it was uncomplicated to understand the larger picture as Morris moved from scene to scene, each one being incredibly detailed and including articles from that time period. Every narrative showed Roosevelt making a decision that had lasting effects on his character and method of leadership. Morris also made smart use of photographs to help visualize Theodore Roosevelt. They were very effective because it helped see what Roosevelt was surrounded by, and how he held himself equal, standing by them shoulder to shoulder, yet as a leader among other men.

I wish that the author addressed Roosevelt’s large family. During the narrative, Morris refers to Roosevelt’s large and powerful family. Roosevelt is greatly influenced by them but we never get any details about his “rich uncles [or] cousins.” As the narrative progresses, his family plays an even more important role, and due to his brother’s scandals, he gained the “resentment of family elders.” Morris already talked about how devastating effect of the deaths of Roosevelt’s father and first wife were, and how they greatly strengthened his character, but I believe if Morris had talked about the family, we could have seen another strong influence in the building of Roosevelt’s character. Expanding on Roosevelt’s family would also help me build a stronger relationship to him because I would understand the pressures he was put under to uphold his family name. Although Roosevelt is repeatedly portrayed as an independent, understanding why he cared so much about his family’s opinions would help build a whole new side of him and increase the personal connection that I feel to him, and it would bring more details about his family’s power and wealth to light.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is an extremely detailed narrative of the events leading up to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. Conveyed as a series of “scenes” through his life, each scene contains Roosevelt learning or displaying a trait that builds his charismatic personality. Through these scenes, Morris builds Roosevelt’s character in extreme detail. In comparison, The American Promise mainly talks about his contributions as the President of the United States. The textbook analyzes the effects of his policies and has little reference to his charismatic leadership. While Morris’s book answers every question in pertinence to the details of Roosevelt’s pre-presidency life, the textbook only focuses on his presidency, which is only a part of his contribution to US history.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Theodore Roosevelt, or what it took to build the charismatic leadership of one of the most famous presidents. Unlike textbooks or online resources that talk solely about his presidency, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt gives a deep insight and understanding of how Roosevelt’s personal experiences turned him into a charismatic and influential leader.

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