January 6th is an important date – not because Nancy Pelosi, Liz Cheney, and Adam Schiff think so; they are destined for the “dust heap of history,” unremembered. But January 6th is important – because on this date 104 years ago, one of the greatest Americans ever to live concluded his life on earth, peacefully died, leaving an unrivaled legacy. That American was Theodore Roosevelt, emblematic of who we are.
Some think Theodore Roosevelt is somehow out-of-date, his life lessons no longer valuable, service to ideals, determination to overcome impairments, courage, decisions, and impact antiquated. They say great leaders are a thing of the past, not likely to reappear.
They are wrong, wrong as can be, do not know their history. America has produced our greatest leaders when most needed, as storm clouds build. The phenomenon repeats itself, Theodore Roosevelt’s life the living example.
The day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, July 4, 1926, a Kentucky boy who loved rural life was just 17, knew all about them. Six years later, he ran for state legislature in Illinois, lost, but did not give up.
Two years later he won. A dozen years later, he was in the US House. Twice he rolled the dice for the US Senate and lost. Suddenly, as if plucked by God for special assignment, he was nominated for the presidency. In 1860, he won, taking the helm as a nation lurching toward Civil War. That “boy turned man” was Abraham, Lincoln.
In April 1865, Lincoln was killed. News echoed through the family of a New York boy, then seven. The boy was sickly, but persistent. He loved history, nature, father, mother, God, and country. Hard worker, he entered Harvard, only to lose his father while a student, then marry and tragically lose his young wife and his mother on the same day, February 14, 1883.
Crushed, he converted pain to gold, battling city “bosses” in the New York legislature, then throwing it all to the wind to be a North Dakota cowboy for two years. Returning to New York, he became police commissioner, fired 10,000 police – forcing high moral and physical standards on the force.
That act terrified corrupt New York politicians, including “Boss Tweed,” who swore to destroy the maverick. Before he could, President McKinley appointed Theodore Roosevelt assistant secretary of the Navy.
When the nation went to war in Cuba, Theodore Roosevelt was 40, but jumped ship, formed the “Rough Riders,” stormed San Juan Hill – for which he later won the Congressional Medal of Honor. That propelled him to New York’s governorship in 1899 – reigniting the contempt of corrupt politicians.
Before Theodore Roosevelt could be reelected, in what many thought clever, city bosses forced him into a dead-end job, serving as McKinley’s running mate in 1900. A vice president had zero power then, was expected to go home, do nothing. Stripped of power, he could have no impact on New York politics.
McKinley won, sending the nettlesome Theodore Roosevelt to pasture. The onetime governor, centered on faith and family, now father of a tenacious daughter and four sons, decided to take his kids camping. In September 1901, looking down from the Presidential mountains in New Hampshire, he saw a pony rider screaming up the mountain.
He knew that could mean only one thing. Within days, Theodore Roosevelt was President. McKinley had been shot. Suddenly, everything changed. Corrupt politicians went to jail, monopolists had “trusts” busted, child labor laws were passed, strikes were ended, and the Panama Canal began.
Theodore Roosevelt ended the Russo-Japanese war, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, then a second term. He declined a certain third term, deferring to George Washington. Four years later, dismayed at Republican Taft’s blunders, he ran as a “Bull Mooser,” beating Taft, but losing to Democrat Wilson.
Integrity at the forefront, post-presidency he tried to convince Germany not to start World War I. When war seemed inevitable, he helped America prepare. Somehow, during in these years, he also managed to discover the headwaters of South American’s “River of Darkness,” lead an expedition through Africa bringing home 10,000 exhibits – now the Smithsonian Institutions’ Natural History Museum.
Most importantly, he and his wife Edith raised five children, youngest killed in WWI, other three boys highly decorated, the eldest a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism at Normandy.
Theodore Roosevelt was a force of nature, courage, and compassion, undeterred, a man of destiny. He wrote 37 books, was once wounded in the chest by a would-be assassin – yet finished his speech. Of natural causes, he died in 1919.
The day he died, his admiring fifth cousin was just 37, and another young patriot was just nine. That cousin was FDR, initially conservative, then slipping left. The nine year old, who admired Theodore Roosevelt and FDR’s conservative 1932 platform – later abandoned – was Ronald Reagan.
Reagan would come to embody the ideals of Jefferson and Adams, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt – making clear, as he brought the Soviet Union to its knees, that when God calls you answer, when hope fades you step up. America has had great leaders, an overlapping chain, and will again. That is where prayer meets prescience, and hope meets precedent in 2023 – and beyond.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.