It is almost refreshing to find that Theodore Roosevelt had as hard a time controlling his temper as most of us do when faced with intrusions on our privacy. He was, after all, a man of great self-control, determination and discipline.
In an engaging and surprisingly forthright letter to his son, Kermit, TR speaks candidly about his frustration with the media. Roosevelt often wrote openly to Kermit, who was then just fourteen years old and away at Groton School in Massachusetts. TR writes about the paparazzi hounding his daughter for photographs while she is at the races, and the Army and Navy Journal misrepresenting his brother-in-law William Sheffield Cowles. In fact, his piercing description of the “attack” on Kermit’s uncle Will clearly shows the intensity of TR’s disdain.
He writes, “It is awfully hard work keeping one’s temper in public life. Such infamous lies are told…and the Army and Navy Journal, which ought to be a reputable paper, has made as foul and dirty, and as false, an attack on uncle Will as ever was made by any dog in human form.”
“Dog in human form” is a powerfully derogatory phrase and brings TR’s sentiments into sharp focus. With gritty resolve, however, TR retains his customary control and turns his passionate fury into a lesson on proper conduct for himself and his son. This was, of course, particularly important given the letter was written during the 1904 election year. Soundly reflecting his core character, he continues his discourse by vowing to control his temper, regardless of the affront to his personal life.
“But of course my one safety at present and for the next seven months,” he writes, “is to refuse to be drawn into any personal controversy or betray any irritation, under no matter what provocation.”
Good words to live by, election year or not.