Being English, I was never really taught much about American politicians. Our own are, of course, far more inspiring, with their legendary sang froid and phlegmatic approach to life and morality.
Would that it were as simple as that. America has produced heroes and legends alike. For me, Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) is a fascinating character. A true man. Politics is only part of his legend, he was also a brilliant naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, conservationist and soldier.
Sickly as a child – he suffered terribly from asthma – he fought back and “made” his body, with the help of a gym his father made for him and a huge amount of perseverance. When he graduated, Roosevelt underwent a physical examination and his doctor told him that, due to serious heart problems, he should find a desk job and avoid strenuous activity. He chose to embrace strenuous life instead. (the picture below is from his days at Harvard – he’s wearing a sculling costume, but also enjoyed boxing).
In 1861, he went through what no one should ever have to endure. His wife Alice gave birth to their first child, a daughter, but died two days later of undiagnosed kidney failure. If that wasn’t enough, his mother also died (of Typhoid), on the same day, in the same house. He was broken. In his diary he wrote a large X on the page and wrote “the light has gone out of my life.” Roosevelt wrote headed for the badlands of Dakota to heal. Working shoulder to shoulder with all kinds of men in the west he said, “took the snob” out of him. Working the ranch brought about a profound love of the open land, unique geography and animal species that were fast disappearing with increased settlement and development.
Eventually he remarried – his long-term friend, Edith – and moved back to Washington before heading to New York as Police commissioner. He was famous for prowling the streets at all hours learning more about the police as well as the worst corners of the city. He greatly reduced corruption, increased the use of technologies and created one of the first academies for police training. In 1898 he raised a volunteer troop of cowboys and college athletes – the Rough Riders – to help fight the Spanish in Cuba. He lead one charge on horseback and one charge on foot, inspiring his troops but exposing himself to enemy fire.
His exploits here, and the way he stood up for his men (he was a volunteer too) propelled him into politics, and when President McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt became, at 42, America’s youngest ever President. I’ll skip a chunk, as for the rest you should read books on and by him, but you should know that his life didn’t end with the presidency. He went on a mammoth safari in Africa, explored South America (mapping The River of Doubt, which flows into the Amazon, nearly died from malaria, oversaw the Panama Canal’s construction, fought for America to join the First World War… in short, he led the sort of life most of us can only ever dream of, but one we should all aspire to.
A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.
A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.
A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.
Appraisals are where you get together with your team leader and agree what an outstanding member of the team you are, how much your contribution has been valued, what massive potential you have and, in recognition of all this, would you mind having your salary halved.
Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.
Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.
Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.
I am only an average man but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man.
I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!
I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.
If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.
Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.
No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.
No people is wholly civilized where a distinction is drawn between stealing an office and stealing a purse.
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.
People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.
The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.
The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.
The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.
The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.
There has never yet been a man in our history who led a life of ease whose name is worth remembering.
When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.