As America rushes into the presidential campaign cycle, an article from the October 29, 1904, edition of The Outlook magazine captured my attention. In “Theodore Roosevelt: A Personal Sketch,” Outlook editor Lyman Abbott provides “a portrait” of Roosevelt for those considering whether to elect him President of the United States. Abbott addresses some of the common conceptions of Roosevelt’s character – his forthrightness, his perceived impulsiveness, and his reputation of being combative or a lover of war. I hope you enjoy these excerpts.
Mr. Roosevelt is, without any exception, the most outspoken man I have ever known. It would not be true to say that he wears his heart upon his sleeve, for this would give the impression of an emotional man whose acts and utterances are the product of his impulses. But it might be said that he carries his mind upon his sleeve. He is naturally without reserves, and absolutely without concealments. He can be silent, though he is not often so; but he cannot veil his meaning in ambiguous phrases, nor appear to be what he is not. My first impression was that his outspokenness would prove fatal to his political ambitions; but a somewhat careful observation has convinced me that between the childlike candor of Mr. Roosevelt and the sphinxlike silence of Mr. McKinley there is no safe middle ground. No one but his most intimate advisers knew what Mr. McKinley thought; every one who is admitted to half an hour’s conference with Mr. Roosevelt knows what he thinks. The safeguarding of the one lay in his almost impenetrable reserve; the popularity of the other is partly due to the fact that he treats every man as a friend worthy of his confidence; He has neither the inclination nor the ability to dissemble. He always is what he seems to be.
With this transparency of nature is coupled an extraordinary quickness of mental action. His mind is more rapid in its mental processes than that of any other man I have every personally known. If the reader…has ever seen an expert bookkeeper run his eye down a column of four figures and write the result at the foot with unerring accuracy and without hesitation, or an expert chess-player take in the whole field of action before him, appear to see in instant all the possible combinations and the probable outcome of every move, and without delay decide and act upon his course, he may form some idea of what I mean by quickness of mental action… It is the celerity of his mental processes, the unhesitating confidence he feels in the result, and the quickness of his action upon his conclusions, which, combined, have given him the reputation of impulsiveness. But in truth he no more acts upon impulse in his political decisions than the bookkeeper acts upon guess when he puts down the sum at the foot of his column, or the chess-player on chance when he moves his pawn or his queen….
His indomitable energy and his courage have given him, in certain quarters, the reputation of having a combative temperament and being a lover of war, and have made some men, who have not studied his character, unable to understand how Mr. John Hay could characterize him as a lover and maker of peace. Mr. Roosevelt has the temperament which leads him to enjoy overcoming obstacles. An easy life would be no joy to him. In 1200 he would have been a crusader, in 1700 a colonist, in 1800 a pioneer. With him, to see danger and difficulty is to covet the privilege of facing the one and endeavoring to overcome the other… He is a lover of life. And as long as there is a country to be saved, a humanity to be helped, a truth to be taught, a life to be enlarged and enriched, and obstacles to be overcome in the world’s work, so long he will be seen somewhere in the front, …ambitious…for an opportunity to do the hardest work, confront the greatest difficulty, and be wherever there is the greatest danger.
The Theodore Roosevelt Center gratefully acknowledges the friendship and generosity of Duane Jundt, who donated a copy of The Outlook magazine in which this article appears.