Birthplace and Ancestry of Theodore Roosevelt—His Father’s Philanthropy—City and Country Home—Days at School—Religious Training
“Our country calls not for the life of ease, but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us not shrink from strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided that we are certain that the strife is justified; for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.”
These words, taken from President Roosevelt’s remarkable speech on “The Strenuous Life,” show well the character of the man, his lofty ideals, his sterling courage, his absolute honesty, and unwavering patriotism. He is a typical American in the best sense of the word, and his life is worthy of careful study. From it American boys of to-day, and in generations to come, may gain lessons that will do them much good.
Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of our country, was born in New York City, October 27, 1858. The place of his birth was the old family mansion at 28 East Twentieth Street, in a neighborhood which, at that time, was the abode of wealth and culture. The building is one of a row, of a type to be seen in hundreds of other places, of brick and stone, four stories and a basement high, the upper floor being an attic. A heavy railing runs from in front of the basement up the broad front steps to the doorway. Inside, the rooms are large and comfortably arranged, and there was, in those days, quite a nice garden in the rear.
It can truthfully be said that Theodore Roosevelt comes from a race of soldiers and statesmen, and that Dutch, Scotch, French, and Irish blood flows in his veins. This being so, it is no wonder that, when the Spanish-American War broke out, he closed his desk as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, saying, “My duty here is done; my place is in the field,” and went forth to win glory on the battle-field of San Juan Hill.
Five generations of Roosevelts lived in or near New York previous to the birth of Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the President, in 1831. Nearly all were well-to-do, and many served the city and the state as aldermen and members of the legislature. During the Revolution they followed under Washington’s banner, and their purses were wide open to further the cause of independence.
Theodore Roosevelt the elder was a merchant and banker; a man broad in his views and filled with the spirit of genuine philanthropy. He founded one of the hospitals of the city and was at one time chairman of the State Board of Charities. A story is told of him which is probably true. One day Charles Loring Brace came to him for financial assistance in establishing homes for the little waifs of the city.
“I will see what I can do,” said Mr. Roosevelt. “But you know that just at present I am busy with other charitable works.”
“I know that,” said Mr. Brace. “But what I ask for is very much needed. The waifs and poor, homeless newsboys have no shelter.”
The next day, when returning from the establishment in which he was a partner, Mr. Roosevelt came upon a newsboy sitting on a doorstep, crying bitterly.
“What is the matter, my little man?” he asked.
“I lost me money; it dropped down into de sewer hole!” sobbed the ragged urchin. “Every cent of it is gone.”
Mr. Roosevelt questioned the lad and found out that the boy had no home and that his only relative was a longshoreman who was hardly ever sober. He gave the lad some money to replace the amount lost, and the next day sent word to Mr. Brace that he would do all he possibly could toward establishing the waifs’ shelters that were so much needed. The Newsboys’ Lodging House of New York City is one of the results of Mr. Roosevelt’s practical charities. He also did much to give criminals a helping hand when they came from prison, stating that that was the one time in their lives when they most needed help, for fear they might slip back into their previous bad habits.
In 1853 Theodore Roosevelt the elder married Miss Martha Bullock, of Roswell, Cobb County, Georgia. Miss Bullock was the daughter of Major James S. Bullock and a direct descendant of Archibald Bullock, the first governor of Georgia. It will thus be seen that the future President had both Northern and Southern blood in his make-up, and it may be added here that during the terrible Civil War his relatives were to be found both in the Union and the Confederate ranks. Mrs. Roosevelt was a strong Southern sympathizer, and when a certain gathering, during the Civil War, was in progress at the Roosevelt city home, she insisted upon displaying a Confederate flag at one of the windows.
“I am afraid it will make trouble,” said Mr. Roosevelt; and he was right. Soon a mob began to gather in the street, clamoring that the flag be taken down.
“I shall not take it down,” said Mrs. Roosevelt, bravely. “The room is mine, and the flag is mine. I love it, and nobody shall touch it. Explain to the crowd that I am a Southern woman and that I love my country.”
There being no help for it, Mr. Roosevelt went to the front door and explained matters as best he could. A few in the crowd grumbled, but when Mrs. Roosevelt came to the window and looked down on the gathering, one after another the men went away, and she and her flag remained unmolested.
Theodore Roosevelt, the future President, was one of a family of four. He had a brother Elliott and two sisters. His brother was several years younger than himself, but much more robust, and would probably have lived many years and have distinguished himself, had he not met death in a railroad accident while still a young man.
In the years when Theodore Roosevelt was a boy, New York City was not what it is to-day. The neighborhood in which he lived was, as I have already mentioned, a fashionable one, and the same may be said of many other spots near to Union Square, where tall business blocks were yet unknown. The boys and girls loved to play in the little park and on the avenue, and here it was that the rather delicate schoolboy grew to know Edith Carew, who lived in Fourteenth Street and who was his school companion. Little did they dream in those days, as they played together, that one day he would be President and she his loving wife, the mistress of the White House.
Mr. Roosevelt was a firm believer in public institutions, and he did not hesitate to send his children to the public schools, especially his boys, that they might come in direct personal contact with the great outside world. So to a near-by institution of learning Theodore and Elliott trudged day after day, with their school-books under their arms, just as thousands of other schoolboys are doing to-day. But in those days there were few experiments being tried in the schools, and manual training and the like were unknown. The boys were well grounded in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as spelling, history, and geography, and there was great excitement when a “spelling-bee” was in progress, to see who could spell the rest of the class or the gathering down.
It is said upon good authority that Theodore Roosevelt was a model scholar from the start. He loved to read Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales,” and works of travel, and preferred books above anything else. But when he found that constant studying was ruining his constitution, he determined to build himself up physically as well as mentally.
In the summer time the family often went to the old Roosevelt “out of town” mansion on Long Island. This was called “Tranquillity,” a fine large place near Oyster Bay, set in a grove of beautiful trees. The journey to “Tranquillity” was in those days a tedious one, but the Roosevelt children did not mind it, and once at the old place they were certain of a good time so long as their vacation lasted. Here it was that Theodore Roosevelt learned to ride on horseback and how to handle a gun. And here, too, the boys would go boating, fishing, and bathing, to their hearts’ content.
Mr. Theodore Roosevelt the elder was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and the religious teaching of his children was not neglected. At an early age the future President became a member of that denomination and has remained a member ever since. The church was on the East Side, and had high-backed pews, and here were delivered sermons that were as long as they were full of strength and wisdom. That these sermons had their full effect upon the future President is shown by his addresses delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association of New York City and a church community of the West, years later. In addressing the Young Men’s Christian Association Mr. Roosevelt, who was then governor of the State, said:—
“The vice of envy is not only dangerous, but also a mean vice, for it is always a confession of inferiority. It may provoke conduct which will be fruitful of wrong to others; and it must cause misery to the man who feels it. It will not be any the less fruitful of wrong and misery if, as is often the case with evil motives, it adopts some high-sounding alias. The truth is, gentlemen, that each one of us has in him certain passions and instincts which, if they gain the upper hand in his soul, would mean that the wild beast had come uppermost in him. Envy, malice, and hatred are such passions, and they are just as bad if directed against a class or group of men as if directed against an individual.”
Golden words, well worth remembering. A person who believes in them with all his heart cannot go far wrong in his actions, no matter what his station in life.
Categories: English Literature