During the summer of 1915, Theodore Roosevelt, much like nations across Europe, was discovering who his true friends were. In late spring, Roosevelt’s wife recovered from surgery at their home in Oyster Bay, while Roosevelt attended the Supreme Court in Syracuse, New York. The court case was the Barnes vs. Roosevelt libel trial. As the case entered its third week, headlines around the world delivered news of the German torpedo of the passenger ship the Lusitania. The sinking of this ship, the deaths of American citizens, and President Wilson’s humble response encouraged Roosevelt to speak loudly. Telling the United States to carry a big stick, Roosevelt increasingly spread the word of military preparedness, no matter the personal cost.
The cost of speaking out could have included losing the expensive libel suit. After all, German Americans sat among members of the jury that presided over the case. Nonetheless, Roosevelt felt moved to publish “Murder on the High Seas!” in the Metropolitan. Although Roosevelt spoke out against Germany, his writings did not directly affect the on-going trial. By the end of May, the libel case concluded, surprisingly, in favor of Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s objectives for the next few months focused on rallying support for American preparedness, setting his own sons up for military service, and finding small ways to distract himself by enjoying life outdoors, as he always had. In June, Roosevelt and his wife took a trip south, to Louisiana and Mississippi. He joined an Audubon Society boat trip in the Gulf of Mexico, including a visit to the Breton Island Reservation, the second bird refuge created during his presidency. (Video footage from the trip was taken and is available through the Theodore Roosevelt Center Digital Library.)
In July, Roosevelt traveled from the Canadian Rockies down to California. Here, his speaking engagements included the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and a War Department instruction camp. Military training camps became a favorite of Roosevelt’s; they provided a way for young men to prepare their skills for serving the allied nations. In August, three of Roosevelt’s own sons attended Colonel Leonard Wood’s civilian military training camp in Plattsburgh. Near the end of the month, Colonel Roosevelt himself was invited to deliver an address to the trainees. Roosevelt’s address was critical of President Wilson and, unfortunately, was presented on federal property. This combination of “unpatriotic” actions upset the Wilson administration. However, regardless of criticism, Roosevelt continued to be a vocal part of the preparedness campaign.
After defending his speech and seeing his youngest son off to college, the old “Bull Moose” took some time off to hunt a bull moose. Roosevelt spent most of September hunting moose and caribou with Dr. Alexander Lambert in Quebec Province. Roosevelt described the events of the hunting trip thoroughly in a letter he wrote to his son, Kermit, upon returning home to Oyster Bay, on the first day of October, 1915.
Learn more about the Barnes vs. Roosevelt libel trial and Roosevelt’s lifelong commitment to justice at the
Special thanks to the work of Robert Moore, whose Theodore Roosevelt chronologies provide detailed information on the president’s whereabouts from day to day. While unpublished, the chronologies can be found in print within the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. New York: Random House, 2002.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kermit Roosevelt. October 1, 1915. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (259). Harvard College Library. http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record.aspx?libID=o281205. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.
Miller, Nathan. Theodore Roosevelt: A Life. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992.
Moore, Robert, J., Jr. Chronology, 1858-1919. Unpublished.
Murder on the high seas!. May 9, 1915. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (316). Harvard College Library. http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record.aspx?libID=o280106. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.
Roosevelt, Theodore. The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt. Vol. 7. Elting E. Morison, ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951-1954.