Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The American Churchill

. Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (1858-1919), the greatest and youngest President of those United States of America.

Above: 1903 official portrait by John Singer Sargent (in T.R.'s words, a "man's portrait" by a "real man's artist").

TO CALL TEDDY ROOSEVELT the American Churchill might not be entirely perfect, comparisons never are, but does perfectly convey the esteem in which I hold him (on some qualities, I would rank T.R. the better). Like a biography on Churchill, a biography on Roosevelt leaves the reader with an heroic and implausible life's tale that is difficult to fathom and surprising to contrast. Animated by an indomitable spirit, both men seem larger than life and bigger than history.

To begin with, both served in their respective armies, headed their respective navies and led their respective countries; both were serious historians and gifted orators, and both read and wrote voraciously; both were Freemasons, Nobel laureates and Kipling imperialists; both were men of the greatest integrity, and possessed of the most irreproachable personal virtue, for whom loyalty was a core quality; both shared a fraternity to Anglo-Americanism and both were horrified and exasperated by the unwillingness of their opponents to save civilization when it needed to be saved - Churchill with Chamberlain, Roosevelt with Wilson. Isolated or ostracised, both stood virtually alone in a flood of filth against a tide of evil.

The image of Roosevelt rightfully stands alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore as a colossal figure of the American experience. This is astounding when you consider that the great man was neither a founding father, nor a serving president during a turbulent period in the Great Republic's history. Yet, on the list of greatest presidents, scholars consistently rank T.R. among the very top with an average placement score of 4.83 out of 42 presidents. Only Lincoln (1.58), F.D.R. (2.00), Washington (2.83) and Jefferson (4.42) rank higher, all of whom faced the titanic upheavals of revolutionary, civil or world war. Without an epic struggle by which to stake his claim with the best, Teddy was left to win it on his personality.

That legendary personality introduced America to the arena of international power politics, thrusting aside the American tradition of isolationism. Under Roosevelt's leadership (1901-1909), the American navy went from fourth largest in the world to largest after the grand British Imperial Fleet. Henceforth, the United States would "speak softly and carry a big stick" (his phrase), admittedly sometimes too softly (Wilson, Eisenhower, Carter), sometimes with too much stick (Johnson/Nixon, "Dubya"). Better than all his peers, T.R. exemplified manly virtue, understanding the delicate balance between manly restraint and manly assertiveness in the effective wielding of state power.

The great conservationist (way ahead of his time on that one) also exemplified conservative virtue with both feet firmly anchored to Nature's ground, who wasn't prone to Wilsonian liberal idealism that has affected most every president since, including the current incumbent in "making the world safe for democracy". Although Woodrow Wilson is ranked highly in his own right, it is nonetheless remarkable that Roosevelt is rated higher by scholars, even though Wilson led the United States through the Great War, albeit not until very late in the game. We know that Roosevelt thought the president "weak" up to 1917, that if it were up to him, America would have been in the thick of it in 1914. Knowing this, Churchill's "great Ifs accumulate" with untold American divisions irresistibly poring into Europe at the outset, becoming battle hardened in Flanders and Ypres in 1915 and marching on to Mons by 1916. No Verdun, no Somme, no Passchendaele, no mass disillusionment. A dramatic altering of the balance of power on the continent would have been impossible for the Germans to ignore. With the benefit of hindsight, we are entertained with the thought of Roosevelt at the helm, the idea that some semblance of the Old World just might have been maintained. But sadly we will never know. Like Churchill, I doubt we will ever see his likes again.

"Of all the public men that I have known, on both sides of the Atlantic (and there are few that I have not known in the past thirty years), he stands out the greatest, and as the most potent influence for good upon the life of his generation."
- Viscount Lee of Fareham, English statesman


Shaftesbury said...

Of the few Americans I admire, TR is certainly one of them - although I would take my Imperial bretheren over any American, on any day.

An interesting life to be sure, and more evidence that in the Victorian Age, men of means could impact their Nation if they had sufficient will and vigour.

Other Americans I have admired:

FDR (despite his anti-British machinations), RFK, and RWR up to 1986.

Americans I have despised:

Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and anything & anyone associated with Andrew Jackson. Also George W. Bush.

Sir Walter Scott said...

I must say I reserve a special distaste for Eisenhower, Truman and all the other short-sighted idiots who, through overt and covert machinations, brought the British Empire crashing down - leaving us with the charming legacy of a nuclear Pakistan and India, a lawless Burma, a genocidal Africa, and a Middle East slowly attempting to end the world around us.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

And see how deftly they deal with it all themselves!

Shaftesbury said...

Good point, Scott !

J.K. Baltzersen said...


Thank you for an interesting post on the 90th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's speach before Congress to declare war on Austria-Hungary, which, by the way, is also the 89th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson setting sail for the Versailles Conference.

Is the publishing date a coincidence?

I must say I have reservations about T. Roosevelt. He went on a tour of Europe in 1910, on which he paid a visit to Vienna and came to Christiania (today's Oslo) to deliver his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture.

I believe it was on this tour he asked the Emperor-King Franz Josef what role he saw for a monarch in the 20th century, to which HIRM answered "to protect my peoples from their governments."

T. Roosevelt was, as Wilson, a progressive. He ran against Wilson in 1912 as the Progressive Party nominee. You are perhaps right though, in that his progressivism was a better kind than Wilson's. Perhaps!

While it is true that Wilson did not take those United States of America into WWI before late, Wilson and those United States were with the Allies all the way, in more ways than just through mere moral support.

It has been argued that this support contributed significantly to the stranding of peace initiatives.

It has also been argued that it was American support and finally full participation that led to the end of the Old World.

That said, I find your scenario of the Old World surviving due to much earlier full participation of those United States very interesting.

Among the questions we must ask ourselves though, is whether a U.S. Congress declaration of war would have been possible without some sort of time-consuming justification process.

I don't think I would have supported any participation of those United States of America. However, if we assume genuine neutrality not to be an option, and we had to choose between immediate full participation as one option and behind-the-scenes support with subsequent late entry as the other, with the benefit of hindsight, as you say, I do believe I would have supported immediate full participation.

It might have given a shorter war, sparing Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany from the fatigue that together with Allied pressure brought an end to the Old World.

The Monarchist said...

I appreciate the comments.

We should all distaste "Ike's" betrayal in 1956, whether he regretted it or not. Talk about lasting damage.

I'm not sure I follow the logic to JKB's assertion that it was the United States that frustrated peace efforts during WWI. Europe did far more damage to itself and the Old World than America could ever dream of. The Great War was really only a European war, a war that would have been much shorter had it been for the United States' earlier entry.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

I'll explain a bit further.

Yes, the United States did not declare war until early April 1917. However, the United States were behind the Allies long before that through loans and sending munitions, etc. So the neutrality was not a genuine neutrality, while the U.S. were not a party to the war as a belligerent.

There were peace efforts made prior to U.S. entry, and these were rejected by the Allied Powers. It has been claimed that this was due to their knowing that the U.S. were behind them and would not allow Central Power victory, willing to enter the war if necessary to prevent such victory.

Historians have also argued that without U.S. entry at all, there would probably have been some sort of negotiated peace not long into 1917.

However, "total victory" was what the Allies stuck to, and it brought Europe into great peril.

Wilson's eventual unwillingness to talk to "unrepresentative" governments was also a major factor that brought an end to the Old World.

I hope this made it clearer.

That said, I do find the scenario presented by "Lord Beaverbrook" also plausible, and yes, I do believe the European powers were to blame for the war.

Tornadoes28 said...

I feel Lincoln was the greatest American President but I have long felt the TR was one of the greatest presidents American has had and I often wish that today's politicians (Dubya) would learn something from TR.

It would have been something to have seen TR lead during a time of great calimity or upheaval such as world war.

TR's accomplishments were great and his progressiveness was ahead of it's time for a president.

Lord Strathcona's Horse said...

T.R.'s favourite president was Lincoln too. We all know that had T.R. been in Lincoln's shoes, T.R. would be today's Lincoln!

Lord Best said...

Given that by 1917 the Germans had startedto develop proto-blitzkrieg tactics which could possibly have won them the war, or atleast left them in a far stronger position, I'm not sure its fair to say the war would have ended earlier without US involvement.

The Monarchist said...

The war would have ended earlier with U.S. involvement. Much earlier.

Lord Best said...

Oh indeed, had the US entered the wary in 1914 it is highly unlikely the Germans would have been ableto hold out. I say unlikely because it never pays to underestimate German military prowess.

Belloc said...

As someone who's had the privilege of acting as docent in both the house in which TR was inaugurated in Buffalo, and his home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island, I must say I dearly love TR as an individual, but I would've never voted for him. My 1912 vote would've gone to Taft.

As for great American presidents, we've had only three: George Washington, Jefferson Davis, and Ronald Wilson Reagan.

The Monarchist said...

No Lincoln or FDR? I beg to disagree.

Ronald Wilson Reagan, on the other hand, is the greatest American president of our time, moving from the baby boomers going forward.

Jeff said...

Lincoln is responsible for greatly diminishing states' rights and building the foundation for the overbearing federal monolith that currently plagues us.

On the same trajectory, FDR and his Keynesian co-horts instituted the modern welfare state, leaving only the icing on that cake to Lyndon Johnson.

Lord Best said...

I once read a speech delivered by one of the Confederate politicians shortly before or during the Civil War, I forget exactly. It was his belief that a triumphant Unin would throw America into Empire and ultimately result in the death of American culture and tyranny. I do not know enough about the time period to judge, but the chap seems to have been right on the money.

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Duke of York: The Royals are not "stuffed dummies". They should have their say
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty
Honouring Sir Edmund Hillary
The Queen versus an E.U. President
Going Solo: Prince William earns his Wings
James C. Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Future Peer: The life and times of Lady Victoria Beckham
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty


New York Times: Ever Backwards into the Royal Future
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Christopher Hitchens: An Anglosphere Future
Andrew Cusack: Republicanism is a traitor's game
Courageous Patrician: Rt Hon Ian Douglas Smith (1919-2007)
The Last Rhodesian: What began with Rhodes and ended with Ian?
Gentleman Journalist: The Lord Baron W.F. Deedes, 1913-2007
Not Amused: Blair's sinister campaign to undermine the Queen
Loyal Subject: Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country
Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary