Theodore Roosevelt was fond of quoting an old African proverb that admonished people to "speak softly and carry a big stick." Ironically, it was his thunderous voice that made him president, earned him enemies and brought him friends. That voice also made him the bulwark of the Progressive Movement.
On October 27, 1858, Roosevelt was born on East Twentieth Street in New York City to Martha Bulloch, who he described as a "sweet gracious, beautiful Southern Woman" and Theodore Roosevelt Sr., who he wrote was "the best man I ever knew." Roosevelt was born into wealth, with his father a henchman of the family firm, Roosevelt & Son. Roosevelt’s grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, had earlier redesigned the business so it focused on selling plate glass instead of retail hardware. When the financial Panic of 1837 struck New York, Roosevelt’s grandfather bought up land. The plate glass business was sold to a British firm in 1876 and it changed its focus again – this time moving into the private banking and investment business. As Roosevelt grew up, his uncle, James A. ran the business, but his father received a portion of the enormous profits. (Renehan, 16)
Roosevelt was a frail and asthmatic child who was teased and bullied. He gradually overcame his ailments be becoming physically active, learning to box and ride horseback. He looked forward to the long vacations his family spent in the country, where he could revel in the countryside and its wildlife. While he was still a young boy, he became interested in natural history and zoology. His interest in hunting and nature were a lifetime passion for Roosevelt.
In the fall of 1876, Roosevelt entered Harvard, where he graduated in 1880. "I thoroughly enjoyed Harvard," he wrote, adding "I am sure it did me good, but only in the general effect, for there was very little in my actual studies which helped me in after life." Roosevelt’s father died while he was a sophomore, but not before he gave his son permission to choose whatever profession he liked, as long as he did his best. After that conversation, Roosevelt "fully intended to make science my life work." He had not considered becoming a politician. Rather, he was hard at work on a book he would later publish on the War of 1812.
As time progressed, Roosevelt became bored with laboratory science. When he left Harvard, he studied law "but the law books … seemed to me to be against justice." Almost immediately, Roosevelt became interested in politics. He joined the Republican Party in 1880 when the party was treated like a "private corporation." Roosevelt had to muster his strength to "break into the organization."
And break into the party he did.
He was elected as the youngest legislator in fall of 1881 and reelected the next two years. Roosevelt would write, "three years’ experience convinced me, in the first place, that there were a great many thoroughly corrupt men in the Legislature, perhaps a...