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Diplomacy on Horseback

Jul 01, 2011

As part of their time with us, we ask our digital cataloging interns to write a blog post to share some of their experiences and “finds” while working in the Roosevelt collections. As they start to wrap up their internship hours, we will start to share their blog entries with you. This one is from Kelsey in Chicago.

As a TR fangirl, I’ve taken it as my duty to preach the glory of our twenty-sixth president to my friends, loved ones, casual acquaintances, and grocery store cashiers. Now I know I’m doing my job well because the eye-rolling and sighing has (nearly) stopped, and instead they answer my leading “Speaking of birds. You know who was an accomplished ornithologist?” outbursts with properly enthusiastic replies of “TR?”

For all of my admiration, occasionally I find myself in a panic that I—and countless others throughout the historiography—have over-hyped the man into a caricature of his most notable features. Until I took this internship, so much of what I read by Theodore Roosevelt had been heavily filtered through some other source, collection, or author. In those darkest of moments, I doubted whether Theodore Roosevelt was as awesome, in the truest sense of the word, as he had become in my mind. It didn’t take long to dispel these worries.

Roosevelt’s letters quickly reveal that he cannot contain his love for the family, hobbies, and work that fill his days. Whether he discusses Groton football, an upcoming hunting trip, or a U.S. Marshal appointment, Roosevelt brings such genuine passion to the writing that one can only assume his physical reaction would be a delight to experience.

Even when presidential duties arose which he did not enjoy, he made the most of them. Roosevelt frequently wrote that he and Edith believed all the pomp and ceremony of monarchy was unnecessary. When Prince Heinrich of Prussia visited in early 1902, Theodore and Edith acted out their parts in the public events dutifully. However, left to his own devices after the ceremonies ended, Roosevelt had different plans for his royal guest. The president later wrote that he particularly enjoyed two moments of the Prince’s visit: “one was when he came here quietly to dinner; the other was a two hours’ ride in the rain on which I took him.” So recently dressed in their finest attire, the president and Prince Heinrich, now filthy and wet, rode their horses through the rain. This so accurately represents the Theodore Roosevelt that I’ve come to know through his and historians’ writings that I couldn’t help but smile at his methods of diplomacy. Roosevelt took it upon himself to find a way to form a personal connections to the people he met in his role as president.

In a follow-up letter to Prince Henry, Roosevelt thanks him for the ride and encloses a picture of himself and his horse jumping. Henry replied with photos of himself playing polo and his sincere wish to repeat the ride “under the same circumstances” (emphasis his).

Detail, Letter from Prince Heinrich of Prussia to Theodore Roosevelt, 30 May 1902.

Detail, Letter from Prince Heinrich of Prussia to Theodore Roosevelt, 30 May 1902. From the Library of Congress Manuscript division

Though the politician’s voice commanded much of his writing, Roosevelt’s personality permeates each letter. However, occasionally some bit of correspondence opens a view into an especially compelling facet of TR. The exchange with Prince Henry exposes the president as a man with uncontrollable boyish pride in his adventures. This natural passion is infectious and it is, I believe, what draws so many historians to Theodore Roosevelt. It is the reason I find him so captivating as a historical figure.

And for those of you who share my guilty secret, I leave my favorite find from my time with the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Next time a doubt creeps into your mind, banish it with the knowledge that TR himself wrote these words. For this president, knifing a grizzly is simply a matter of course.

Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Paul Morton, 21 April 1902.

Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Paul Morton, 21 April 1902. From Library of Congress Manuscript division.

Transcription of detail:
For heaven’s sake, don’t give that man the impression I want to knife a grizzly [bear]! Knifing depends more upon the dogs than the man.

Kelsey is a second-year Public History MA student at Loyola University Chicago. Originally from Georgia, she has worked for archives in Atlanta and is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia.

Posted by Kelsey Walsh on Jul 01, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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