Presidential Speechwriting

Apr 17, 2015

Over the past couple of months, we have published a number of Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches, given during his two-month trip across the United States in 1903. Roosevelt traveled coast to coast – to Chicago and Milwaukee, on to Minneapolis and Bismarck, to Des Moines and St. Louis (for the World’s Fair), and on to Denver, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, and back.

As we began cataloging these speeches, the question arose whether TR made use of a speech writer. For those familiar with contemporary politics, it may be difficult to imagine a time when presidents actually wrote their speeches themselves. But in fact, TR did.

According to C. Edwin Vilade in The President’s Speech: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Presidential Addresses, the tradition of presidential speechwriters emerged after Wilson’s presidency. Warren Harding hired Judson Welliver as a congressional liaison, but Welliver’s role gradually changed into crafting the words Harding would deliver. Every president since has taken a different approach toward crafting speeches, with various degrees of influence in the process. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made sure he had the best possible speechwriters. Two members of his team held Pulitzer Prizes.

Theodore Roosevelt did everything in his life with passion and vigor, and preparing and giving speeches was no exception. Vilade compares Roosevelt’s verbosity to the spare style used by Abraham Lincoln, one of Roosevelt’s role models. He also comments on the fact that Roosevelt drew on the many books he read, using metaphors and descriptions from texts like John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

To find TR’s speeches in the digital library, use the advanced search, searching by “Resource Type” - “Speech.” For the 1903 cross-country trek, limit the dates to that year.



Posted by Pamela Pierce on Apr 17, 2015 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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