Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Another Presidential Moment

Continuing a look at some US Presidential items in the leadup to the elections.  Today, something from 100 years ago . . .

The President: 

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) was the 26th President of the United States, 1901 – 1909, the youngest ever President (one year younger when he became POTUS than JFK) and the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. Born a sickly child who suffered from asthma, he engaged in strenuous physical activities to compensate. Before becoming President at age 42 he was a naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, rancher and soldier. In 1898 he formed the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry regiment that fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. (Interestingly, he was nominated for a Medal of Honour for his actions in that war but this was disapproved. In 2001 Congress granted the award posthumously). Elected Vice President in 1900, he became President on the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. His two terms as President were characterised by breaking up of large monopolies and regulation of business, fair treatment of citizens (“square deal”), conservation of the environment and an increasing American presence in world affairs. 

Roosevelt disliked being called and referred to as “Teddy”. He referred its use as “an outrageous impertinence”. Nonetheless he remained known as Teddy to the American public, even becoming the inspiration for the still popular Teddy Bear (a future Bytes). 

He remained active to the end of his life and died of a heart attack in his sleep in 1919. The Vice President, Thomas R Marshall, commented “"Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight." 

The Moment: 

Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft

Roosevelt’s Presidency came to an end in 1909 when his second term expired. He anointed William Taft as his successor and Taft was duly elected President, but Roosevelt became disillusioned with the directions in which Taft took the government and the Republican Party. He announced himself for nomination as the Republican candidate in the 1912 elections but was unsuccessful in securing the numbers to be appointed as the Republican candidate ahead of Taft, having left his run too late. Undeterred, Roosevelt left the convention hall and walked to a nearby theatre where he and his followers formed a new political party, the Progressive Party. 

While campaigning in Wisconsin on October 14, 1912 a saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot him in the chest. The bullet passed through Roosevelt’s metal eyeglass case and 50 sheets of paper before entering his chest. Roosevelt believed that because he was not coughing blood he did not need to go to the hospital immediately. He mounted the podium and gave a 90 minute speech, all the while blood seeping from the wound. His opening words were "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." 

Doctors decided against surgery and the bullet remained in his chest for the rest of his life. 

X-Ray of Roosevelt's ribcage showing the bullet at lower left 
The bullet-damaged speech and eyeglass case on display at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace 

The Progressive Party became popularly known as The Bull Moose Party and it adopted a Bull Moose as its emblem: 

In the 1912 elections Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was elected President, obtaining 42% of the votes as against Roosevelt’s 27% and Taft’s 23%. Roosevelt had 88 electoral votes to Taft's 8 electoral votes, Taft thereby becoming the only incumbent president to place third in a re-election bid. 

And what of John Schrank, the unsuccessful assassin? 

Schrank maintained that the assassinated President McKinley, whose death had elevated Roosevelt to the Presidency, appeared to him as a ghost in a dream. The ghost identified Roosevelt as his murderer and instructed Schrank to kill Roosevelt. Schrank spent the rest of his life in institutions for the insane. Whilst being taken by train to the Northern Hospital for the Insane at Oshkosh on November 25, 1912, Schrank gazed at the Wisconsin countryside. Someone asked him if he liked to hunt. He replied, "Only Bull Moose."

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