But recently I read that it was a speech given in 1915, during World War I, and before the United States had entered that conflict, to rouse the nation to join the battle against the Central Powers after the Germans had torpedoed an American tanker.
Whenever it was given or whatever the occasion, the photograph reminded me of many things, thoughts about Roosevelt, which I believe are not out of place in this presidential election year.
The great historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, whose first vote was cast in that 1912 election, said Roosevelt had a voice like a "shrilling fife," but clearly it was what he said and did that counted. And throughout his life, he spoke with vigor, conviction and in full sentences and paragraphs and not the way so many politicians speak these days.
It is an act of mercy to call today's politicians masters of "phraselets." Some of them can hardly get through a whole sentence without seeming to be exhausted - and that says nothing of the lack of sensible content in so much they say. With Roosevelt, you knew what he meant and you knew he meant it.
Roosevelt was the only native of New York City to become president. He was born Oct. 27, 1858 into an old, distinguished and well-off family. As a child he was physically not robust, but he overcame his problems with vigorous exercise. He was graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and he attended Columbia University's School of Law.
He was a great friend of Richmond Hill resident Jacob Riis, a fellow reformer. During his presidency, Roosevelt visited Riis in Richmond Hill and he made a number of public appearances here. At the time, Riis lived at what is now 84-41 120th St. and was in residence there for more than 20 years, until 1911.
Reform was "in the air" in the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. McClure's magazine led the way for the muckrakers, including Ida Tarbell, who took on Standard Oil; Ray Stannard Baker, who wrote about the plight of mine workers; and Lincoln Steffens, whose articles were turned into the powerful book "The Shame of the Cities," which was printed 100 years ago this spring.
Roosevelt served at a very early age in the New York state Assembly but gave up his political life when his wife and mother died on the same day. He was a rancher in the West for a few years. He returned to New York, remarried and started another family. (His famous daughter, Alice, was from his first marriage.)
Roosevelt was New York's president of the Board of Police Commissioners (where he introduced training for new recruits, the bicycle squad and a policy of politeness to the public), a federal civil service commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, a colonel and a hero in the Spanish-American War, governor of New York state and then vice president. When William McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt became president, the youngest person to hold the office.
He was hated by many members of his own Republican Party (the publisher of The New York Sun - no affiliation with today's newspaper - refused to allow Roosevelt's name to appear in that newspaper) because he was always a "reformer" and because he dared time and again to fight for "the little man" and to try to give a "square deal" to the farmer, the laborer and the small businessman. He preached a gospel of "civic virtue and intelligent democracy."
He took on the great industrial trusts and moguls of the business world and said this: "Our laws have failed in enforcing the performance of duty by the man of property toward the man who works for him, by the corporation toward the investor, the wage-earner and the general public." And he said that 100 years ago!
It's interesting to note that late last year William Donaldson, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said that the recent scandals on Wall Street represent "a fundamental betrayal of our nation's investors and are symptomatic of a disease that has afflicted far too many in the industry." Shades of Roosevelt!
Roosevelt was aggressive in making the federal government the source for the regulation of industry on behalf of the public welfare. He didn't fight or denounce the federal government - he made it the people's shield against greed and degradation of the natural resources of the country. Isn't that what it's supposed to be?
All his life he loved nature and was an outstanding conservationist. As a boy, he contributed exhibits to the American Museum of Natural History. As president, he saw to the establishment of hundreds of millions of acres of national forest reserve, national parks, game preserves and wild bird refuges. He fought against those who would destroy the wilderness for their own greedy purposes. Yes, they were around then, too.
He was a hunter and an explorer and has a river named for him in South America. He was a man of the world. He wrote many books on history, hunting, wildlife and politics - and he didn't use ghost writers. He helped settle the Russo-Japanese War and his efforts won him the Nobel peace prize.
Roosevelt was the first American to win a Nobel, and his name is inscribed with those of the other 270 Americans to win Nobels thus far, on a monument in Roosevelt Park behind the American Museum of Natural History.
He sent "The Great White Fleet" of 16 post-Spanish-American War battleships on a good-will trip around the world to show that America was no longer a country living in isolation from the rest of the world. His blunt maneuvering to win independence for Panama so that the canal could be built was not his finest hour. His twin principles were "social justice at home and vigorous leadership abroad."
More about this president from New York City and some lessons for today in the next column.
©2004 Community News Group
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