DAVID MCKEAN: Good afternoon. It’s great to see so many people here on Presidents’ Day. My name is David McKean. I’m the CEO of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, and on behalf of all my Library and Library Foundation colleagues, I thank you for coming. I’m pleased to acknowledge the underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums including lead sponsor Bank of America along with Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, The Boston Foundation, and our media sponsors The Boston Globe, WBUR, and the New England Cable News Network.
Today marks my two-week anniversary as the new CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. [Applause] Thank you very much. And this is my debut in introducing a Kennedy Library Forum. And lucky for me, today’s speaker happens to be an old friend of mine. Douglas Brinkley is currently a fellow in history at the Baker Institute for Public Policy and a professor of history at Rice University. After receiving his doctorate in history at Georgetown University, he taught at the Naval Academy, Princeton University and Hofstra University. While teaching at Hofstra, Professor Brinkley started the American Odyssey course, in which he took students across country visiting historic sites. He has also served as professor of history and Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization at Tulane University, and professor of history and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American studies of New Orleans.
Much like the subject of his latest book, Theodore Roosevelt, Doug Brinkley is a man of extraordinary energy. Although he doesn’t hunt grisly bears as far as I know, he, like Theodore Roosevelt, is a prolific writer with wide-ranging interests. He has written books about Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks, Hunter S. Thompson, and served as editor of President Reagan’s diaries.
His book on Hurricane Katrina titled The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was a New York Times best seller, recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage as well as a frequent contributor to the New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.
And if that isn’t enough, he is also the father of three children. I’m delighted to welcome his wife, Anne, who is here today with us. I’m glad she could make it. In his latest book, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Professor Brinkley focuses on President Roosevelt as an environmentalist and his fight to preserve America’s unique national spaces. He has written a sweeping tale of turn of the century American politics and the American frontier. There are vivid portraits of Sierra Club founder John Muir and Catskills poet John Burrow. But most importantly, he provides a new appreciation for the perseverance, the wisdom and the vision of our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, who by the end of his Presidency had designated 234 million acres as national treasure. The New York Times has called Wilderness Warrior―large hearted, full of vitality of its subject with a palpable love of the landscapes it describes.‖ The book is on sale in the museum store and Professor Brinkley will be signing books after the Forum in Smith Hall.
We are also fortunate today to have as our moderator Kathleen Dalton, who is the author of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. And just before we came down here today, Doug was saying that he thinks it is one of the best books he’s read on Theodore Roosevelt. Kathleen is the Cecil F.P. Bancroft Instructor at Phillips Academy Andover, as well as an external fellow of Boston University’s International History Institute. She is a graduate of Mills College and received her doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University.
So please join me in welcoming Doug Brinkley and Kathleen Dalton. Thank you. [Applause]
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, I think I can speak for both of us that we are delighted to be here today, as TR used to say. And one of the first questions I wanted to ask Doug in opening up the conversation is tell us how Theodore Roosevelt got started on nature. How did he get interested in it?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, first off, good afternoon. And I’m very excited to be able to be here with Kathleen Dalton. She is just one of the great Theodore Roosevelt experts. And David McKean here … you guys have a gem of a guy to have as your new head of the Kennedy Forums and running these. So I’m very honored to be the first one under his directorship.
Theodore Roosevelt was born 1858 in New York City. And if I say that year to you, what comes to mind? Should be the Civil War is coming soon. And TR in his house had a mother that was from Georgia, a father who was from an aristocratic family in New York for the Union Army, so there was a kind of tension there in the household between the Confederates and the Union. So there was redemption in the west. And I think young TR had an endemic view of the west because the boys’ magazines of the 1850s and 1860s were starting to promote life west of the Mississippi River.
You had the US Geological Survey going out and going to places like, in the 1870s, to Yellowstone with the Hayden Expedition, and pictures coming back for the first time, photography coming back, wildlife photography of animal life in the west, but also of places in Utah or geysers in Yellowstone, or pictures of Redwood trees. So this notion of the west enthralled young Theodore Roosevelt.
But it was really the fact that he had asthma. He had a hard time breathing in industrial New York. We forget today just how awful it used to be with pre- regulatory factories pouring soot into the air, the manure pollution of horses, the lack of sanitation, urban centers that were being destroyed in many ways by hyper-industrialization. And TR started noticing as a young boy that he felt healthier when he was going out, up to the Hudson River Valley and then the Catskills and then graduating to the Adirondacks. He physically felt better.
And as I looked to write my book, there was a lot of literature on nature as a curative. Some of you might be bird watchers or go on a nature hike or take a walk, and you kind of feel better. Roosevelt found the tramping in the woods just simply made him physically feel better. And then he developed a very keen, early interest in bird life. One of the first documents we have when he was a young boy is drawings of birds and writings about birds.
And on his deathbed in January 1919, he died writing a book review on a book on pheasants by the great ornithologist William Beebe. Birding was a big, big arc in his life. Now, many people have talked about TR as hunter, and we will be talking about that today. But he was from the early age, a foot soldier in the Audubon movement. He loved James Audubon. He started doing taxidermy, which they did back then, when he was a boy. And, in fact, he was a student of the taxidermist John Bell, who used to work directly for the great Audubon. And, finally, keep in mind when you are looking at the development of this young naturalist – TR -- Theodore Roosevelt’s father was a founder of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. And his Uncle Robert B. Roosevelt, who I write about in my book, his father’s brother, was an ardent conservationist, trying to save the shad in the Hudson River, writing very poetically and scientifically about Lake Superior and the birds there. He even wrote a book -- one of the first -- on Florida called The Water Fowl of Florida. This was Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert B. Roosevelt.
So he had the uncle. He had the father. He had the hikes in the Catskills and the Adirondacks, an interest in bird life. He found on a wharf in New York City a seal’s skull and he used that to begin his own Roosevelt Museum in New York, a natural history museum. And the capper is 1859; Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species and the book was a revolution. Roosevelt is born 1858. Darwin comes out in ’59. And anybody in the 1860s and 1870s that was interested in majoring at Harvard in naturalist studies -- basically TR wanted to be a wildlife biologist -- he was doing it in the wake of the Darwinian revolution.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Great. One of the things that I wrote about and that you wrote about too was the partnership between Theodore Roosevelt and his very extraordinary father who was interested in nature, too. And when TR looked back on his childhood, his sickly childhood, he almost died of asthma. Tell us a little bit about the bond and how these two Theodore’s shared a love of nature as TR was growing up.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, Theodore Roosevelt I think had one of the great fathers. Now, grant it, he was independently wealthy so he was a rich man. But yet he worked very hard to give his children great opportunities, to see the world. They would go over to Europe and visit all the museums and zoos and historic sites. He took them on the journey down the Nile River and went to what was called Palestine and tramped around there, all the while encouraging, introducing his son to zoologists and ornithologists.
Many of you here probably have children that like birds and animals when they are young. Imagine if they are having as their tutors the world’s best zoologist, the world’s great ornithologist. And his father then got him a gun and he started shooting the birds he loved so much. You have to understand -- back in those days before DNA, before bird banning movement, before video cameras to follow bird flocks, scientists would get a lot of a specimen to study. So if you wanted to study variations in bluebirds, you would need about 50, 100 bluebirds to study the beak difference, the feather difference, you know, all the little characteristics and traits. And so that is why Roosevelt started doing a lot of taxidermy on his birds and basically ended up donating them to the Smithsonian and the Museum of Natural History.
Also, and something I bring out in this book, his father was one of the founders in America of the Humane Movement, was an early funder of SPCA for ethical treatment of animals, was fighting for horse laws -- that it was illegal to beat your horse, to let your horse rot on the street because it created a health hazard, and was cruel. The kind of movement that became spading of your dogs that all of you are familiar with. Theodore’s father was big on that.
And, in fact, I write a little in the book -- but I had to cut a lot -- of a man named Henry Berg, who is the founder of the SPCA. And there was a huge case that TR’s father was involved in, because Berg claimed that turtles had feelings because they would come in with big sea turtles and green turtles from Florida into the waters of Manhattan. And there used to be a spike that would come out of the wharf. And they would take the turtles and jam them down over the spike. And so you would see the turtles kicking. And the argument of the sea captain that got sued was that turtles don’t have feelings and it’s an insect. And in the courts they had to argue that it’s not an insect. It’s a reptile. And it became the turtle case. Berg lost his case -- meaning TR’s father’s group lost -- but it opened up this kind of debate over animal rights and the feelings of animals sort of led to this animal movement of today. So his father was a good man, a decent man, a pious man and a great role model for his son.
KATHLEEN DALTON: TR went to a lot of dinners. I remember turtle soup was very popular at Delmonico’s in those days—not a good era for turtles. TR said, ―My father saved my life. He gave me life. He gave me breath.‖ And there is this moment in TR’s growing up where the famous, wonderful father says to him,―Shape up or ship out, son. Make your body. Throw off your ill health.‖ And can you talk a little bit about that, that crucial moment? Because that is a very dramatic moment in this very close relationship between these two Theodore’s.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, Kathleen writes about all of this quite brilliantly. But Theodore Roosevelt’s body was very weak as a boy and was sick. And this asthma that he had was terribly debilitating. He also had terrible eyesight and was what we would call puny or a weakling. And people called him that. There was one incident when he went up to Maine and the kids would haze him, beat him up. And he was having a crisis. And his father said to him, ―You’ve got to start developing your body. Get weight lifting. Get healthy.‖
So TR, young Theodore, started lifting weights and getting very physically in shape. And it’s the beginning of his belief in the strenuous life. Roosevelt said, ―I was once weak but I built my body.‖ And for the rest of his life in politics, Theodore Roosevelt was a great promoter of physical education classes, long strenuous hikes, outdoor adventures. For all of you, for your children, he believed that connecting to the outdoors built physical strength and that there was a great connection between body and mind. And the will of young Theodore Roosevelt to actually pull this off, so by the time we look at him living here in Massachusetts at Harvard, you can see these photos of him showing off, flexing his guns, like photographing himself with a lot of hard work that he did to get that way.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, one of the things I especially liked about your book is that nobody has ever chronicled the camping trips, especially as President, in as much detail as you did. And some of those trips … I was a Campfire Girl, maybe you were a Boy Scout, and I do believe still today that being in the out of doors is really a wonderful part of a childhood education. But some of his camping trips were pretty rough, were pretty dangerous. And some of his early snowshoeing in Maine with Bill Sewall. You tell that wonderful story about TR just doesn’t seem to know when to stop.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, that’s right. And he would do these arduous camp trips. He did all the Catskill and Adirondacks while he was writing his first book as an undergraduate at Harvard; Theodore Roosevelt wrote a book called the Summer Birds of the Adirondacks. It’s more of a pamphlet than a full-fledged book. But nevertheless, there it is, his first by-line a book. It tells you how much he cared about the bird life.
But he was studying laboratory science at Harvard, and he didn’t have the personality to be stuck in a lab coat. He was too gregarious, too antsy, too energetic. And he kind of had an epiphany when he went to the very North Woods of Maine. And, in fact, this group of people is trying to make it a national park right now, the North Woods National Park. This is where Thoreau made his famous sojourn, went to the north of Maine and spoke about it so eloquently. And he went up. There were some rough and ready types -- people that were lumber jacks, out bank, forest people -- and he started spending time with those people. And he found out that a lot of these back woodsmen actually knew more about trees, more about bear, more about moose than did the people at Harvard.
And his genius was to connect both. He had the scholarly training that you can only get as a science education at Harvard. But he also realized, ―You know what? These out banks people are living in nature and they know more about it than these people in Cambridge.‖ And I argue in my book that it’s the morphing of the two that made him such a great conservation president, because he always brought in the chief scientists for forestry or fish or mammals. But he also appointed rangers to a lot of our early parks, people that were from those western areas that knew the land, that hiked and camped and slept in the snow.
He ended up having -- a very unusual quality of TR -- of never being able to shut his mind off. He ended up drinking a gallon of coffee a day. His brother Elliot had a depression, ended up dying a kind of alcoholism depression-types of symptoms. And TR would exhaust himself outside. Even though he didn’t look as strong, he seemed to outlast a lot of even these outdoors people because he never complained. Dean Acheson used to have a saying that, ―Complaints are a bore and a nuisance to all and undermine the serenity essential to endurance.‖ And that was TR.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, he said once that you really learn a man’s character by going camping with him. And I have the feeling that a lot of the people who went camping with TR noticed that he was a generous camper. He would do the dishes. He would cook. He thought about other people so that some of the selfishness that was there in other campers wasn’t there with him.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: That’s true.
KATHLEEN DALTON: But his stamina often, I think, was intimidating to other people, hard to keep up with.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: He had kind of a crazy stamina. And to address your first point, as President he would go on these whirlwinds, disappearing into the wild. I’ll give you one example when he got into politics. When he was Governor of New York, he started really wanting to do a lot to save areas around the Adirondacks, also the Catskills, Palisades, Niagara Falls, but he then became Vice President. And, as you all know, William McKinley was shot in Buffalo and was rushed to, basically, his deathbed and was still alive but barely, and nobody could find Vice President Theodore Roosevelt. The New York Times bannered, ―Lost in the Wild.‖ He was climbing to the top of Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in New York State, and was lost somewhere on the top of the peak and people couldn’t find him. I use that as one example.
He would disappear into the wild for inordinate amounts of time. As President, even, he would go to Colorado and be gone for three weeks and nobody would know really, fully where he was. There would be a rolling White House. They would set up shop there and off he would go into some of the most beautiful territory in America, and usually ended up declaring it a national forest after he was done shooting a cougar. [Laughter]
KATHLEEN DALTON: So we’ve talked a little bit about TR as a sickly child, as an enthusiastic camper, as a Harvard student who liked to go up to the Maine woods. Then tragedy hits him as a young man. He falls in love with Alice Lee, beautiful daughter of Boston Brahmins. And she and his mother, Mittie, died on the same day. Can you tell us a little bit about that very sad episode in TR’s life?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, in Theodore Roosevelt’s diaries, and he kept diaries for quite a bit of his life -- he also wrote over 150,000 letters -- so we have this great, written record of Theodore Roosevelt for scholars to tap into. But in his diaries that day his mother, as you mentioned, his mother died on one floor of a New York brownstone and his wife on another. He lost his mother due to typhoid and his wife the kidney failure caused by Bright’s Disease. And he put a big X through his diary and said something -- I’m paraphrasing here -- but something to the effect of, ―The light’s gone out of my life.‖
He had been up in Albany when he got the news that they were both sick, rushed down and going back and forth, up and down stairs, checking on fevers. And she died after giving birth to Alice Longworth, the famous Washington socialite. So his wife died while giving him his first child. A very gloomy scene because he had to bury both of them in a New York-kind-of-cold day like this, gray but drizzling, dual funeral for his mother and wife.
And he was the young dude, sitting down in New York. And it was his sister, I think, who started urging him to reconnect with the west. He had gone, after Harvard, grouse hunting in Iowa. And people think of Iowa as the Midwest, but they went all the way out to Carol, Iowa, western, very western-most Iowa. And then he went up to Minnesota on the Red River country up there, right around Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota, great birding area up there. So he then returned to the west and it became his touchstone place to write about his North Dakota. He went there after his wife and mother died and really, as he said,―I never could have been President without North Dakota.‖ He fell in love with the Badlands as an ecosystem. He did cowboy ranching and business out there. He wrote wilderness books, one illustrated by Frederick Remington, about hunting.
But the thing about TR as a hunter, his writing, his outdoor writing was populated with wildflowers and birds and butte descriptions. So it’s really, even today, some of our finest, naturalist writing that he did about the badlands of North Dakota. My wife and I love Medora, North Dakota. We go out there quite a bit. If any of you really want to do a great western vacation and you don’t want to do the Yellowstone, Yosemite because the parks are so crowded, go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. You are guaranteed to see buffalo, antelope, prairie dog. And they didn’t develop it with commercialized places, so it is meant for kids. And it is the gateway town of the national parks. It is quite quaint and authentic, and I can’t urge you enough. It was the part of the world Roosevelt liked. And it is great for asthmatics because in Montana -- Canada, north of Montana, you get the forest fires up there and you get bad air in the summer. From the Badlands of North Dakota it is straight up to the Arctic Circle and the air is so pure. And you start even being able to catch a type of aurora borealis or northern lights there when the earth as a metal meets with gases and sun particles and creates these incredible skies up there. And that is the western landscape he fell in love with. And some people would argue his conservation ideas cohered there along the Little Missouri River.
KATHLEEN DALTON: In October I was there at one of his ranches to give a talk. And you can walk into the trail and walk right where his ranch was and look out at the river. And Clay Jenkinson, who is one of the many Theodore Roosevelt impersonators Doug and I have met in our travels, he is actually, he is quite eloquent. And he read from TR’s nature writing to the group of us there. And it was a magical moment, I have to say. And I’m trying to drag my family out there, too.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Good.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, I haven’t succeeded yet.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: This gentleman, Clay Jenkinson, that she is mentioning is a Rhodes Scholar who has moved back to North Dakota and is an imitator of Theodore Roosevelt. So suddenly, if we were giving our talk like this, you would do a double take because he would be in the front row, dressed exactly like TR. And then in the Q and A he will imitate Roosevelt’s voice. But all of you here probably have a place that is special to you, either on Cape Cod or in the Berkshires or Maine or whatever.
And Roosevelt developed this great fondness for the Badlands of North Dakota. And he caught it at the end of the so-called Wild West era because Lincoln connected the east to the west with the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War. But the next one was the northern Pacific, which connected Puget Sound to Duluth. And TR essentially would leave Manhattan and take the train out to St. Paul and then take the line through North Dakota. He got off in the Badlands because that was the end of the line. They were building from both ends. So he was simply getting off on the last railroad spot and happened then to stumble into all these old buffalo hunters and Dakota cowboys and ne’er-do-well drifters and Plains Indians and was able to get a feel for the end of that great era of our western frontier.
And the great hero for Theodore Roosevelt -- and is my favorite historian by far -- is Francis Parkman and a book Parkman wrote, The Oregon Trail. You will do yourself a treat. If you have never read Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail, you will find a lot of who Theodore Roosevelt was in that book, because Parkman actually went across the Oregon Trail and wrote about the prairie.
The last point about that region—Roosevelt used to get seasick a lot. So even though he would go out to sea, he would throw up and be very ill and turn green. He did not have sea legs. The mountains he would like and would climb. But it was more of a test like Bobby Kennedy did, testing himself to go up. He felt most happy on the prairie, on the plains, on the back of a horse when he could see everything in front of him. That was the part of this country that he loved, what is today the Dakotas and Minnesota and then down to Nebraska and Iowa. That is part of a region, and it went all the way down to Texas to the Rio Grande Valley. He liked that middle swath of the country.
KATHLEEN DALTON: They really love him in North Dakota. They really love him there. Well, they also love him on Long Island and in Buffalo, I would say. Those are kind of the hot spots for TR fans. How about, you wrote, which I thought was really an interesting thing to write that, ―TR was one of the most astute wildlife observers our country has ever produced.‖ And he was sort of in a league with a nature writer like John Muir, John Burrows, and I was very much taken with the way you put him in the context of all these other nature writers.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, Theodore Roosevelt wanted to be judged not as our naturalist president but as one of the great naturalists of his era. So he was a fiercely competitive man and he was competing with people like John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club -- John of the Mountains they would call him out there-- who had traveled to Alaska and wrote about the calving glaciers there and would hike all over.
And John Burrows—how many people, just curious here, know who John Burrows is? We’ve got to do better in this country of keeping Burrows in the mix because he was a brilliant naturalist, the last of the Transcendentalists, was with Whitman when he died and wrote a book with Whitman, and wrote these beautiful books -- kind of Emily Dickinson-like -- the universe is in your backyard that you can study, you know, an ant hill or blades of grass or a flock of geese and find intrinsic value right in your backyard. You don’t have to go stand at the lip of the Grand Canyon to get your nature high. It’s all around you. Open up your perceptions. And he wrote beautifully. And Roosevelt learned to love John Burrows. He would call him Uncle John. And TR didn’t do that with many people. He was not like our recent President Bush who threw a nickname to everybody. So this was a deep term of affection. And Burrows had the big, old gray beard and knew so much about American wildlife that when Roosevelt was President -- it’s been written about quite a bit -- he took John Burrows with him to Yellowstone and they went all over Yellowstone together.
But also Roosevelt has his summer home in Charlottesville, Virginia called Pine Knot. And it is a little rustic cabin with no plumbing or electricity. And the only person he would bring there -- he would go with his wife, Edith -- they would have John Burrows with them. And a funny, funny scene—they would go bird watching there as President. It was his Camp David, a little, rustic cabin. And Burrows was Mr. Naturalist, knew everything about all the animals. But they got to TR’s Pine Knot cabin and Roosevelt had a family of flying squirrels that lived in the cabin. And Burrows wanted them removed and TR was acting like they were his kinfolk. And they would have horrible arguments. And, eventually, Roosevelt moves a nest out of Burrows room and the flying squirrel bit TR, fang marks. And TR, in typical fashion said, ―Bully, look at the little bugger got me!‖ [laughter] while he is sitting there bleeding with the flying squirrel. And that’s when Burrows said, ―Okay. I’ve had enough. If I come back, I’m staying at the inn in Charlottesville.‖ [Laughter]
But they would go bird watching and, in fact, one of the fears of Roosevelt was that we were wiping out species. There used to be, at the time of the American Revolution, a billion passenger pigeons. The skies would black out with them. John Adams here would write in Massachusetts seeing these huge amounts. We have no passenger pigeons any more. The last one named Martha died in 1913 at the Cincinnati Zoo. And our last recorded witnessing of a passenger pigeon in the wild was Theodore Roosevelt who saw a flock by his summer White House and wrote an ornithological report and issued it. And it is considered the last, serious sighting of passenger pigeons in the wild.
We were losing flamingos from Florida; the Caroline Parakeet used to be ubiquitous at the time of Andrew Jackson’s Presidency, all over South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee. It is now an extinct species. You know, the dodo bird is a famous one that went out. But there was this fear, this panic that we were losing a lot of these species. And that became a mission for Roosevelt: how do we bring them back? How do we create habitat for them? And he did many unusual things, including being one of the founders of the Bronx Zoo, the first Darwinian Zoo where people could learn about species, sub-species.
KATHLEEN DALTON: That’s great. One of the really good parts of your book is TR’s love of birds and his bird list. The only President in American history who took the time to make a bird list of the birds he saw on the White House lawn. That’s a great story. And the story of John Burrows’ camping trip I really loved in your book, too.
Well, many of us remember Theodore Roosevelt as a war hero from the war of 1898. And as he was charging up Kettle Hill saying, ―Follow me, men.‖ There is another side of that story. And I think Doug Brinkley is the only person who ever told another story about TR as a war hero. And I was completely taken in by this version of TR and the Rough Riders. Do you want to tell us a little bit about this?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: There are so many great books, and people have done great work on Theodore Roosevelt. And I was doing the Spanish American War. I was trying to argue what Edward O. Wilson here at Harvard, our great naturalist, calls biophilia: that some of you in the audience cannot live without animals or nature. There are people who have to have a dog or have to have a parrot, and there are some of you who don’t. TR was deeply biophilic and surrounded himself with animals. Like we were debating a year ago what dog the Obamas had -- TR had seven dogs, had a badger name Josiah that used to bite congressmen’s ankles… [laughter]
KATHLEEN DALTON: Good for him. [Laughter]
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: … had snakes and turtles and hamsters, a menagerie. So when he was a Rough Rider in the Spanish American War, it only fit that he wasn’t going to be animal-less to deal with the depravations of war. So he had three mascots for the Rough Riders. He had a golden eagle named Teddy. He had a little, Yorkshire-like mutt that he picked up, which was named Cuba. And, most famously, he was given from an Arizona territory Rough Rider, a baby cougar name Josephine.
And TR, again, used to write hysterically about the cougar getting good sized. And it would go in the men’s tent at night and play. It liked biting toes, not to hurt but just to play. The men would wake up in the middle of the night with the cougar at their toes. And it gave them a rush. And Roosevelt always found this high humor. [Laughter] And these were the mascots and, in fact, they all came back. After the heroics of Kettle Hill, the Rough Riders were quarantined because of the fear of yellow fever in Montauk in Long Island. And the three mascots were there with the men.
Also, I write a passage about the Spanish American War of his almost fanaticism of men who treated their horses well. This is a hallmark in, you know, the great western book, The Virginian, by Owen Wister. If you read that, it’s the prototype for John Wayne, the white hats. But what that book really is about, The Virginian by Owen Wister as the archetypical western novel, was that all this lawlessness was going on in the west and the new male, the new, white hat-ed sheriff type was not going to poach, not respect federal forest boundaries, and was going to always treat their horses well.
So when they charged, the boat opened up in Cuba and the horses had to come in. Many of them started drowning. The salt water was getting in the horses’ faces. And it is one of these rare times Roosevelt just went into a tirade of swear words. You know, ―Stop that animal torture. Get the horses, dah, dah, dah,‖ because he couldn’t bear to see these horses suffering. And so I went with that angle on it, culminating that chapter when the Rough Riders gave him the great Remington statue at Montauk with the three mascots there, which is Remington’s ―The Bronco Buster.‖ And that statue of Remington is now in President Barack Obama’s Oval Office.
KATHLEEN DALTON: That’s great. Well, I think you make a very compelling argument throughout your book about the centrality of nature and conservation to TR’s identity and his political life. That is very compelling. One of the other things I really liked about the book was that it is sort of a buddy movie. It is TR and how do you change American consciousness about conservation? Well, it seems daunting in the late 19th century. And it seems overwhelming because so many people in Congress said, ―Not a cent for scenery.‖ They didn’t understand conservation. It seemed like an impossible task.
So for us, in our day, as we continue another generation of conservation battles, in one way … I put down your book, which was hefty, a hefty load, and I thought, well, there is a recipe in here for how to fight in another generation. And it is a series of friendships and partnerships. TR had certain conservation buddies that he worked with. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about some of his conservation buddies.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, for starters, she was mentioning how fat the book is, and you will see it out there. I had to endure going on The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart going, ―O-oh, I can’t lift it to show it.‖ [Laughter] And, of course, I got ―How many Sequoias have you killed to publish this book?‖ I’m a veteran of all these remarks. But the reason it is that long is I didn’t want to cut out some of these figures. Because if I just focused on Theodore Roosevelt and I cut those figures, I could have had a more slender book.
I thought it was for this era appropriate to bring some of these other characters in the play, ranging from a man named William T. Hornaday, who wrote an incredible book called Our Vanishing Wildlife, which is what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was for meat packing, this was for movement of wild animals. TR reviewed the book in Outlook, which was a progressive magazine back then. But Hornaday and Roosevelt were like this [fingers entwined], and it began the Endangered Species Act that we know today.
There is a man named Frank Chapman I write about. He was the head of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History. But Chapman’s mother retired due to arthritic conditions to Gainesville, Florida. And he would go and visit his mother and then started writing about the bird life of northern Florida. You know, the thing about birds, you guys here can have an activist Massachusetts Audubon and bird life of Massachusetts. What good does it do you if they go to Florida and they are getting slaughtered?
And there, off of Vero Beach at Pelican Island, is the birthplace of U.S. Fish and Wildlife. And birds nest offshore a lot because it is Darwinism at work. They are worried about predators, so raccoons, for example, don’t eat their eggs on an offshore island. And they can patrol the whole … the smaller the island, the tighter, they form it as an incubator.
Well, a hundred years ago, every woman here today would have come with a bonnet on her head with an ornamental feather, maybe even a dead hummingbird. And that was the style. And Chapman was starting to stop it. He wanted to stop women from using rare bird feathers in their bonnets. And it used to be a feather mafia. Now, we had new, semi-automatic weapons. They would go up to the birds breeding and just gun them all down. So you would have rotting mounds of heron or egrets. And they would pluck some feathers and then go. And we were slaughtering the bird life of Florida.
So Chapman is a big hero because he goes to see TR at the White House. Now, here is the President who had an open door strategy if you were an ornithologist. [Laughter] ―Come on in.‖ And Chapman just told TR what was going on in Florida. Roosevelt was aware of all the bird life of Florida. And he then said, ―What’s stopping me?‖ He got a lawyer, some White House lawyer, and said, ―I’m going to declare Pelican Island a Federal Bird Reservation.‖ And literally said, ―I so declare it by Executive Order that the government controls this.‖ And he started what I call in my book a string of pearls led by ornithologist Frank Chapman to save the Dry Tortugas, Key West, Passage Key. They saved the entire Ocala National Forest in the middle of Florida mainly to preserve bird life down there. And it’s an ornithologist that is influencing public policy. And I just gave you two examples in Hornaday and Chapman. But the book has many. The point is it wasn’t just Roosevelt himself. It is that he was open to hearing about it from these other grassroots people.
He went to Oregon, met with William Finley, head of Oregon Audubon. Then he invited him to the White House. TR loved wild life slide shows. So people would show pictures they took of the wild. And he immediately saved the coast of Oregon, all the iconic places if you look on a map for bird life of Washington and Oregon. He saved the Aleutian Island chain for birds. He saved the western-most Hawaiian islands.
In Puerto Rico he heard about the life of the parrot, Puerto Rican parrot, which is an endangered species today, and also was very worried about deforestation. And he created the El Yunque Key National Forest in the middle of Puerto Rico, which has allowed Puerto Rico to survive. Because without that forest, San Juan wouldn’t have any water. And the problem in Haiti today is deforestation. You fly over it, you will see the Dominican Republic has trees; Haiti is completely deforested.
Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, his chief forester, were trying to save forests for sustainable use. So without forests you don’t have water supplies and you can’t create sustainable living.
KATHLEEN DALTON: I have to say, the stories about Frank Chapman and the Feather Wars, the wars in Florida over these bird poachers were some of the best parts of the book. And this fellow Guy Bradley is murdered by poachers. And TR can’t do much about it. And your book is the only one that ever told the whole story of the Feather Wars. And that’s a really wonderful part of the …
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: What I would like you guys to get from this … Hey, we are having arguments about the federal government. Imagine 100 years ago, in Florida -- which wasn’t just a Confederate State, it’s where all the rogue Confederates fled to. And it was known for lawlessness, Florida. It was a wild west. Do whatever you want in the swamp state. The President of the United States is telling Floridians, ―You will go to jail if you shoot a bird.‖
KATHLEEN DALTON: Not a popular move. [Laughter] No. No.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: And so what do you think? He appointed his first four game wardens to Florida; two are murdered patrolling the bird reserves. Nasty stuff. These places in our country didn’t come just in a dainty way. It came out of the Presidency of Roosevelt fighting for these places, putting his Presidency on the line and deeding land. We have 500 U.S. wildlife refuges in America.
You never think of it this way but Roosevelt was the first person to give land to species, ―Oh, this belongs to you guys.‖ People thought that was nuts; and many people still do. But they called him Crazy Teddy for doing it because why does land belong to bear or elk or caribou? He created game reserves in Oklahoma for buffalo, in Montana for antelope reserves. He created a moose reserve for Alaska called Fire Island. Three days in office, Warren Harding did away with the moose reserve because it wasn’t done officially by an Executive Order the way Roosevelt did it. It was a battle between the big business Republicans and the Progressive Movement. And in the Progressive Movement, Roosevelt was the avatar of conservation.
KATHLEEN DALTON: How about the Grand Canyon?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Grand Canyon. President Roosevelt visits in 1903. Stands on the lip of it and says, ―Do not mar it. Do not touch it. God made it. Leave it alone as it is. It is perfect.‖ 1903. In 1908, Congress votes to mine it for zinc, asbestos and copper. Roosevelt uses an Executive Order -- it infuriates Congress -- to save the Grand Canyon.
And he did it by using a law called the Antiquities Act of 1906, which a Congressman, John Lacey of Iowa, created. Because Lacey was the head of the Congressional Land Committee and an ardent conservationist. And a lot of guys wanted deals for oil or for mineral rights in the west. And everything came through Lacey’s desk. So Lacey said, ―Look. Everybody was finding dinosaur bones in the southwest and west and T-rex’s and Indian pottery.‖ We had all these pottery thieves, people stealing and raiding Indian ruins and villages. So the Antiquities Act of ’06 said that the President of the United States, for scientific purposes, can declare the federal government controls a patch of land. It was mainly meant for Indian artifacts and dinosaur bones, meaning 16 acres—if you took that yellow plastic, you can almost picture them doing 16 acres, ―No trespassing. Federal Property. Archeologist at work.‖
Roosevelt, stymied by Congress in 1908, uses the Antiquities Act to put aside 600,000 acres at the Grand Canyon. They said, ―But it’s an abuse of that law. That’s not what it was meant for.‖ He said, ―This is science. It’s erosion at work.‖ [Laughter]
KATHLEEN DALTON: So many good stories like that in this book. Is TR our greatest conservationist president?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: There is nobody even close. It’s the only time conservationists had one of their own in the game, meaning you had a naturalist president. Now, others have been good. Franklin Roosevelt was a great lover of forestry and was very influenced by TR, and working with Harold Ickes and others, does a spectacular job of the CCC and expanding Theodore Roosevelt’s vision.
John F. Kennedy had an eclipsed presidency, but he had a great love of nature and the outdoors and brought Stewart Udall in as Secretary of the Interior. Mr. Udall is today in his nineties, lives in Santa Fe, was probably our most pro- preservationist Secretary of the Interior ever. And, of course, people that enjoy Cape Cod can see the wisdom of John F. Kennedy in his preservation there.
Lyndon Johnson was a great conservationist president … and Jimmy Carter right before he left office with his famous Alaska Lands Act. Others are piecemeal. Some presidents were good outdoors people. Grover Cleveland was a great outdoorsman. Benjamin Harrison had a conservationist streak. Calvin Coolidge did and people didn’t really realize it with Coolidge. But there are some presidents that are ardently opposed, largely our recent President Bush and Warren Harding, where there are people that almost viscerally don’t like the idea of the federal government putting anything aside.
A tradition got started around the time of TR that presidents, when they leave office, like to show that they saved some places. It is good legacy stuff. A non- apocryphal story: Bill Clinton didn’t do all that much for conservation his first term. And Bruce Babbitt, his Secretary of the Interior, couldn’t even get him to focus on it. So Babbitt took a note card and wrote, ―Theodore Roosevelt‖ and laundry listed all these places saved. And the other card said, ―Bill Clinton.‖ That got Clinton’s attention. And at the last part of his administration he started becoming quite a conservationist president to places out in California and Nevada, and Utah in particular.
KATHLEEN DALTON: That’s great. Maybe for the sake of balance we could also ask you if you think TR, as a nature lover or as a conservationist, had flaws.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, all people have flaws. Roosevelt was a larger- than-life figure and his flaws were immense. The main one, and there are many, and we can go on a policy basis, but he lacked humility to be great, in the sense of Lincoln. And so there was a lot of certitude on his part on things. He came with it. He was unique in politics because he didn’t care. Somehow he had processed death, I believe, into realizing how -- as the poet Alan Ginsberg said -- ―We are all just hairy bags of water.‖ [Laughter] And our soul is going to go. And that you push yourself out every day as hard as you can and fight.
Most politicians try to avoid fights. Roosevelt woke up every morning, ―Who do I fight today? Bring it on!,‖ almost to the point of being brutal if you were an adversary of his. He took no prisoners. It was a very hard, brutal act and he would then start circumventing Congress. He had no patience for Congressional slowness. So there was an imperial side to him. And he’s been associated in foreign policy with imperialism. And it’s a bigger topic than we have time for on a forum on TR as a conservationist. In fact, John Burrows actually wrote in his diary, I saw an entry once. ―It’s such a pity that TR has no humility or he would have been as great as Lincoln.‖ That void hurt him a lot because he could be quite an arrogant player.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Very complicated man. I think it’s time for us to open the floor. Thank you very much for that, by the way. [Applause]
I want to open up the floor to questions. I believe there are microphones in a couple of places. We invite the audience to ask Professor Brinkley some questions.
QUESTION: Well, this was a fascinating discussion. You describe in great detail Roosevelt’s love of nature and the environment, conservation, wildlife at a time when New York City, you mentioned, the people were in ubiquitous industrial pollution and the smell of manure. So my question is how did the average person react to this? Did they just accept pollution and this unhealthy life as a way of life or did they second Theodore Roosevelt in his mission?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: It’s an excellent question. All I will tell you is that people were excited about the Industrial Revolution. I mean the North beat the South because of its ability to produce armaments and factories humming. We were just starting to learn the health consequences of pollution in an unregulated activity. Conservation was not in the air. Theodore Roosevelt and his gang of friends created it.
And he largely did it through hunting in the cowboy mystic. Because when he would go out to places that he was going to save, he would always be going on a bear hunt. The teddy bear became his symbol from his Mississippi bear hunt, where he wouldn’t shoot the bear because it was tied up or somebody bugled him to shoot it. And he wouldn’t. And the teddy bear became the ubiquitous thing, the great toy.
Incidentally, since it is Presidents’ Day, it sounds easy to have a toy named after you -- the teddy bear. William Howard Taft tried to have the Billy possum, stuffed possum, [Laughter]. You can’t find one on eBay today. [Laughter] Nobody wanted a Taft possum.
So there was some magic in TR being able to do this. But he was so advanced in understanding that the world is one, pulsing, biological organism. It came from his deep studies in Darwin and Huxley and Muir and George Perkins Marsh. And there was a literature about it. And he had tapped into that literature and recognized much that we are doing here. I mean he left office in 1909 and called for a global conservation congress of all the countries in the world a hundred years ago because pollution knows no borders. It doesn’t do us any good to make sure we don’t pollute our side of the Rio Grande if Mexico is going to dump sewage in it. Or China is going to pollute. What good does it do for Japan? And so he wanted global standards on industrialization.
Roosevelt is a skeptic on the values of hyper-industrialization and of over- urbanization. His vision is more medium sized towns surrounded by green belts. And he saw the west as an opportunity for that, today’s kind of Boulder or Santa Fe or Provo or Ogden or Eugene. You know, these kind of smaller types of things—not the big, vast urban sprawl, because it brought with it heavy stresses on the environment, not to mention the crime problems and many other factors.
QUESTION: You hinted at this but you talked about his attitude toward the presidency, especially preserving the Florida islands. Could you discuss a little bit about how his very aggressive view of the role of the president and the Article II powers of the president worked hand in glove with his conservation efforts?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Another fine question. There is no president that loved executive power quite like Theodore Roosevelt. [Laughter] And the downside of it -- imagine if this energy wasn’t directed toward conservation but to something nefarious -- it would be a great problem. His hero, political hero, was Abraham Lincoln. But he started thinking, ―If Lincoln could emancipate the slaves and use federal authority, then I can.‖
He is the one who names the White House, the White House. It was the Executive Mansion before TR. He calls it the White House. And he is a big proponent of strong, federal government. He is much more of a Hamilton. He is both, but he prefers Alexander Hamilton to Jefferson’s visions.
Yet there is a strange and appealing romantic streak in TR that makes him not as dictatorial as it might sound. And that romantic streak was he had kind of a transcendentalist side to him, of nature and life in general. There was a great romanticism about him, which brought him into the kind of Arts and Crafts world, in a way, as a writer, as a lover of poetry and all that made him, that softened him.
But if you strip away that, he is a fist, a presidential fist. I noticed the other day President Obama … If he doesn’t have the 60 votes in Congress, you are at 59 and Congress in disarray, do you need a President Obama that uses Executive authority in new ways? That would be an Obama going to Theodore Roosevelt, not to, say, a Lyndon Johnson, who he is compared to because Johnson always liked to use the legislative process. TR was all about what Arthur Schlesinger called the imperial presidency. He loved it.
QUESTION: I know you mentioned a few places that have a concentration of TR fans. I want to thank you for the book because it certainly opened my eyes to Teddy Roosevelt, and I feel guilty that I never read much about him. Am I unique? And if I’m not, why is it that people haven’t focused on him?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, there have been many great books. The conservation, naturalist part, including in Kathleen Dalton’s book, everybody talks about it. I had the advantage of just sort of focusing on it. I think it didn’t get done until the Wilderness Warrior in this kind of way because you had an odd cycle by the time he left.
In the 1960s when the modern environmental movement really caught fire with President Kennedy, Stewart Udall, Rachel Carson Silent Spring, it was the emerging new left in the academic world. And they didn’t like to fit Theodore Roosevelt into their narrative of environmental history because of his hunting.
And because in foreign affairs he was such a big power advocate. And the environmental movement coincided with the Vietnam War. And it became a big thing in the academic circles to be opposed to Vietnam, hence opposed to the War of 1812 and our engagement in the Philippines, opposed to imperialism. Roosevelt is a symbol for that and he was a hunter and a bully to boot. He didn’t fit in with that John Muir or Burrows or some of those proto, early conservationists due to that particular era.
Now we are having a more, kind of an adult look at early conservation and the narratives. We’re allowed to have a lot more people in. I believe we need to get over this notion that it is Gifford Pinchot who believed in fair use forestry versus John Muir the preservationist. It was both. Both of them were great men, Muir and Pinchot. You don’t have to pick one or the other. And the truth of the matter is they were more on the same side on most issues.
The Sierra Club started fundraising a lot on John Muir. And while Muir and Roosevelt were famous friends and got along great and camped together and all of this, Roosevelt did not come down decisively on Hetch Hetchy in California, which was after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. San Francisco needed water. Roosevelt had saved the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, which is part of Yosemite National Park. But he never put his voice and listened to Muir, who said, ―Also save Hetch Hetchy.‖
So by the time Taft comes in, there is a movement to fill the reservoir, make it a reservoir of water. One of our beautiful valleys in America is Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with water for San Francisco. The fact that Roosevelt didn’t join Muir in that big fight has also alienated some of the left-leaning scholars.
But the new environmental history has plenty of room for George Bird Grinnell -- a co-founder of the Boon and Crockett Club and other hunters -- because a lot of sporting magazines did a lot to promote conservation, including these field and forest and stream magazines. Many of them were early believers and wanted to save the deer so they could shoot the deer; save the elks so they could shoot the elks. But, nevertheless, their campaigns were to repopulate America with its wildlife.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Can I also add … I mean, you are raising the question why is Theodore Roosevelt not more appreciated in the larger sense. I think Doug’s book really helps a lot putting on the record TR as the greatest conservationist president, and people should really pay attention to it.
My book, in a smaller way, argued for him as the grandfather of the modern American welfare state. He thought it was manly to protect mothers and give them pensions, and it was manly to give old age pension and unemployment insurance. And a good federal government would provide security, social security. And he was friends with Frances Perkins who is, of course, the mother of social security. So he was a progressive reformer. But many of our colleagues in the history profession will give him absolutely no credit for anything other than being a nasty imperialist. And so, come to historical conventions and see us fight for Teddy. [Laughter]
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: And at Harvard, he was not just for women’s right and became a great suffragist, but actually thought that it was wrong for women to have to give up their name when they got married. He thought that they should always keep their name, that it was giving the male too much credit. And then later he became great friends with Jane Addams. And in the Progressive Bull Moose Party platform in 1912, he was cutting edge -- really for a male figure -- of that era on the women’s movement. He is a figure that demands a lot of study and not stereotype work.
QUESTION: I have two questions. One: you haven’t talked at all about his African safaris and so on. And I am just wondering your thoughts on that and what Africa thought of him, and if he had any influence on African policy in this country? And number two: I’ve read that he was somebody who barely needed any sleep. And so if you gave him a book, he would probably have read it by the morning. So how did he survive?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, Africa … it’s hard. He did not see himself as a politician, Theodore Roosevelt. He saw himself as a naturalist explorer. And so he could have easily won presidential reelection in 1908. He had won in ’04. He could have won in ’08 because he came in because McKinley was shot. He ran on his own and won in ’04. He could have won ’08 but he begged off to go on an African safari. And he went for ten months to British East Africa, Uganda, Kenya and wanted to collect and did collect, in my view over collected, for the Smithsonian Institute. He wanted our museums to compete with the British Museum and others and have what they had. Winston Churchill had shot a white rhinoceros; he was going to get one for America. And so in Africa he disappeared again, lost kind of away from the heartbeat of politics. While he was in Africa … it is very important.
He had saved in Alaska these huge, national forests. Gifford Pinchot, he left behind his chief forester to keep the Rooseveltian conservation movement going. Taft was TR’s hand picked successor, his Secretary of War; he gave him the presidency, basically. While he was in Africa Taft, by pressure, by Republican big business who hated Roosevelt, ended up giving sweetheart deals to what’s known as the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate -- J.P. Morgan and Charles Guggenheim -- and investment banks to get sweetheart deals in Roosevelt reserved lands for coal. And Pinchot publicly blew the whistle on Taft because his loyalty was to Roosevelt. And it’s a famous affair -- the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair. Don’t have time for it now. But the end result is Pinchot got fired by Taft and angry Pinchot goes to Europe, meets TR, and it’s over Alaska lands that you start getting the beginnings of what will become the Bull Moose Party, the most successful third party run in American history in 1912. Roosevelt destroys the Republican Party and causes electoral defeat for Taft.
And the initiator of it was the firing of his chief forester and the encroachment of business onto his Alaska reserves. And the amount of lands that he saved in Alaska will make your head spin. And it is still hugely controversial today because the boomers went up there for the Klondike gold rush in ’98 and ’99. And their view was Alaska was one, big place to grab resources from.
Roosevelt’s view was that last, great wilderness belonged to the American people, so our children’s children could see Mt. McKinley or the Arctic Refuge or see polar bears or golden eagles. He saw it as almost a place to renew the frontier spirit in the common people in the coming decade. He is very foresighted on Alaska. And the battle up there between Rooseveltism and Taftism, if you like, it is still very fierce up there.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Do you want to just mention what your next book is?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: I’m writing a book right now called The Quiet World, about the fight for ANWR, or the Arctic refuge, which Dwight Eisenhower saved, a wildlife refuge. He signed it in December 6, 1960 before leaving office. The coastal area there is the main area for polar bear denning. We have our herd of caribou, 150,000 head. It is the spectacularly beautiful area on the Beaufort Sea. There is tension whether to drill because oil was found there in the sixties. So when Sarah Palin says, ―Drill baby, drill,‖ it’s the Arctic refuge that she has been talking about because they feel the oil there is closed off. There is also an argument that Rooseveltians have been fighting to save that place for 100 years. Bob Marshall, who is founder of the Wilderness Society, wrote a book called Artic Village. He became a great FDR New Dealer. So you had an intense movement up there.
QUESTION: Yes. Sleep.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: He didn’t sleep much, TR. And it burned his body out. There is a psychiatrist, Kay Jamison at Johns Hopkins University, who says the Roosevelt was afflicted with ―exuberance,‖ which she claims is a form of manic depression. The archetype of it is in Winnie the Pooh -- Tigger bouncing in and out of every room. The best line on TR, maybe ever is that Roosevelt had to be ―the groom at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.‖ [Laughter]
QUESTION: Well, evidently this ―exuberance‖ led to him possibly dying in South America on one of his expeditions, and was wondering if you could comment on that as the previous question alluded to. Is there any sort of result from his work in that area, that region with all the American dominance in Central and South America that would have resulted in any kind of conservation or programs?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, after his Africa trip, he came back, ran as a third party candidate for president, Bull Moose. Remember, he was shot in Milwaukee. It is interesting, too, to talk about the symbol of his party is the bull moose, an animal. And he gets shot and is bleeding in Milwaukee and essentially says, ―It takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose.‖ He keeps talking while he was bleeding. He stood at the podium bleeding and talked, kept lecturing.
He then got a little depressed because he left, and he went camping in the Grand Canyon in Utah with his son and nephew. And he actually lived with the Hopi Indians and took part in a rattlesnake handling ceremony in a kiva up there. He also, as ex-president, went to Florida and wrote an article about gopher tortoises and tarp and different types of Florida wildlife.
But his most famous one after that was going to South America when he went to Brazil and went to explore, which was a very difficult journey through the Amazon, through what is now called Rio Roosevelt in his honor. But while he was there he almost died. His body got infected. He also developed a kind of malarial condition. And there are some people that think he never really recovered from Brazil. He came back to the United States and never was able to get that malarial bug out of him.
Meanwhile, he got very frustrated with Woodrow Wilson, and he was more and more angry with Wilson. And he died in January ’19. He made it to 60 years old. I find it a miracle he lived to 60 the way that he abused his body with no sleep and no rest and go, go, go. And that’s the problem with ―exuberance‖ as a form of manic depression. You burn your organs out. And it creates heart attack, heart disease and many things. I asked the psychiatrist or asked some people what he could have done. And it’s vacation and Ambien. [Laughter]
KATHLEEN DALTON: But he liked being the way he was.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: He liked being the way he was. He wasn’t going to change that.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Teddy Roosevelt had a father who was a wonderful role model for him. I’m curious. What kind of father was he?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Why don’t you answer that?
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, in my book I spent a lot of time on his family life. And he was a very loving and expressive father. He was also a very nice uncle to Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote in her memoirs that Uncle Theodore would read poetry to her and spend time with the children and hug her so enthusiastically that her buttons on her dress would pop. But he would also throw Eleanor and his own children in the pond at Sagamore Hill and say, ―Swim. Sink or swim,‖ and would play fairly rough games with them sometimes. So he was a very devoted father and encouraged his children to bring in animal specimens from the territory around Sagamore Hill. But he was absent a lot, too.
And with his sons, there was the expectation that they would prove themselves in war. And so there was no staying home in World War I. And one of his sons very tragically, Quentin, was killed. And that was a real tragedy for TR because TR said, very close to the end of his own life, ―It’s a serious thing for a father to have encouraged his son to go to war and then to have him killed.‖ And certainly he did say about his sons, ―I’d rather have one of them die than to have any of them be weaklings.‖ So there was definite pressure on the family. And I think the girls felt stoicism was required by the father. But they all adored him.
And in some ways, when he died, the whole family felt the huge loss of TR’s enthusiasm. He was very loving. And his daughter Ethel wrote extensive diaries about the last years of his life when she lived in Sagamore Hill. And it is a real document of what a loving grandfather he was and very much a kid person. Not true of many of our presidents. Very engaging.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: His son, Ted Roosevelt, incidentally, went on to become the oldest person at D-Day. And he was a Brigadier General and he was there on the first wave of D-Day, and he was 56 years old on D-Day and died of a heart attack and was buried there at the Normandy cemetery.
QUESTION: Hi, there. I just wanted to say I love both your work. I think, Professor Dalton, that Strenuous Life is probably the best single-volume biography of TR I’ve ever read. I remember John Gable saying that it was the first book in a long time where he learned things about TR that he hadn’t known. And Professor Brinkley, thank you for dedicating your book to Professor Gable, too.
My question is kind of one that both of you can probably answer. And that is you’ve mentioned Gifford Pinchot today and the Bull Moose Party. And I know there was a split in the Bull Moose Party over the role of George Perkins and the trusts and stuff. And Amos Pinchot had a falling out with TR. How was Gifford Pinchot’s relationship with TR affected with the falling out with Amos, if at all?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Gifford Pinchot stayed very loyal to Pinchot. In fact, when TR died he wrote a very moving piece on feeling the pressure of keeping -- and he specifically dealt with Alaska -- but on the need to keep the conservation movement alive. There are accounts of Gifford Pinchot in his old age -- and he became quite a Washington figure—there was only one person that mattered in his life and that was the Colonel. People that loved Theodore Roosevelt -- incidentally, he preferred to be called the Colonel. He liked to be called Mr. Roosevelt, and he liked to be called Theodore. He did not like to be called Teddy. And yet that was sort of the term of endearment that they had.
But there were great strains around that whole Bull Moose situation with Amos and also with … Roosevelt didn’t like to lose. He didn’t enter the third party candidacy in ’12 to lose. It wasn’t just a dissent. He thought he could win.
Interestingly enough, there is a lot of evidence to support that when he died in 1919 he very likely could have gotten the Republican nomination in 1920. He was still held in that high an estimate by the American people that he was considered the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee as late at 1920. American people had a love affair with him. They would go up and down with him. But he was such a force. And it proved that his belief that we had to enter World War I early turned out to be true. And, of course, we had a victory there. And he was opposed, TR, to the League of Nations and with Henry Cabot Lodge because that kind of global governance didn’t interest him as much as a kind of Americanism.
QUESTION: I’m one of these that have often said there are only three Republicans I would have voted for: Lincoln, Grant and TR. How did TR square being a Republican with everything that he did? It seems to me, and maybe it is just hindsight of the 20th century, the late 20th century?
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, one of the challenges that we have as history teachers is that the Republican and Democratic parties of 1901 are not the Republican and Democratic parties of today. And so, if you are going to look for white supremacy, segregation and states rights, it’s the Democratic Party of 1901.
KATHLEEN DALTON: So to be a Democrat in the early 20th century was to still have a little Confederate taint and some of those beliefs about you. The Democrats forced disenfranchisement on the South. The Democrats were slow to incorporate urban reform northerners into their party. I think they are really the more conservative party until, I don't know, 1908.
Now, in 1912, Woodrow Wilson campaigns on the new freedom, which is let’s go back to individual competition and argues for, really, a weak central government. Now, we know that Woodrow Wilson created state socialism and took over the railroads, and in World War I read your mail, and tapped your phones, and told you not to dissent. So his statement about the idea that the Democratic Party should be the party of liberty and small business was not true at all. In fact, he became more of a reformer.
But the Republican Party was the more progressive party, especially in 1912. Taft was a progressive reformer on some issues. He believed in trust busting. Again, let’s not brand them with the parties that we have today. You know, I’m sure I’d like to put myself back in time. I would have voted Republican in 1912, well, Bull Moose in 1912, certainly for Teddy. And the progressives were in both parties. It is not really until FDR that you get the modern Democratic Party, at least that is what I think. I don't know if you agree with me.
KATHLEEN DALTON: The Democratic Party of FDR and Lyndon Johnson that we know is not the party of TR’s time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I would like first to congratulate Kathleen Dalton on her book. I thought it was marvelous, especially your insights into Edith Roosevelt’s relationship with TR and the children. I thought that was a very special part of that book.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Thank you
QUESTION: I would like to ask Professor Brinkley about the Panama Canal. Roosevelt always claimed that he took the Isthmus and built the Canal single handedly through the jungles of Panama, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What were the implications of building that canal on the environment of Panama and was that not a destructive act, in a way?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: It was not seen as a destructive act. Ironically, he did go down there and would take naturalist notes about the Canal Zone when he went to visit it as president. That was about connecting the east to the … Remember, one of the downsides of probably talking about a side of somebody -- a president and civil rights, or a president and conservation -- Roosevelt was a big Navy, a big forest but he was also a very big Navy. And they thought that we needed to secure our Pacific coast and had to have a canal. And the belief that Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and Long Beach and San Diego were going to be big port cities for both trade … and that we had to have a fleet, not one fleet but we had to eventually have a Pacific fleet and an Atlantic fleet. It was a major hallmark of his presidency. I think it is in character with him that he wanted to build this and did it.
In fact -- it used to get him laughs -- he said, ―They say that I stole Panama. I didn’t steal the Panama Canal. I built the Panama Canal.‖ I almost hear Ronald Reagan in that last line. Reagan was a great admirer of some of the public theatrics of TR and that kind of, you know, ―I did it. I built it.‖ It’s an interesting thing.
But the Navy was huge for him. He had also written … of course, I mentioned the Summer Birds of the Adirondacks, but that was a slight book. His big work was the Naval War of 1812, two volumes. He, of course, was an assistant secretary of the Navy and developed the Great White Fleet to go around and show the rest the world how big our guns were. So because somebody is a conservationist or even an environmentalist does not mean that he was not also an American militarist in some ways. And it is just another side of this multisided figure.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, one of the other questions I’ve asked my class: you can have questions about American imperialism, but was it a good thing for America to become a world power? And was there another way for America to become a world power? Those are questions that you, as a foreign policy expert, another time we could talk about. I think it was a good thing for America to become a world power, and I’m sorry that Panama was one of the things that he had to step on to get there. There may have been other ways. He is a really important person in world history in terms of making America a world power.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: If I could just add to that and then I think we probably have to wrap it up here, I mean the last question, maybe. The reclamation of the west is another big thing. It wasn’t just saving places. They would do drainage things, build big dams. You know, if he didn’t do the dam that built the Salt River in Arizona, there probably wouldn’t be Phoenix today, meaning Phoenix is very stressed on the landscape there because there is no water.
I mean Roosevelt didn’t do a perfect job of all of this in the west. From an environmental point of view, many of his reclamation projects in the west have been very damaging. And, so, I just wanted to put that on the table. Not just the Panama Canal but he did these big dam and construction projects all over the American west.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Last question, then.
QUESTION: First of all I wanted to say I’ve admired your work since The Majic Bus, which I think—was that your first work?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: No, but it was an early one. My first book was … I wrote a biography of James Forrestal and then Dean Acheson and then that came.
QUESTION: Interesting. I wonder if there is a next step to, like a Ken Burns video chronology of TR’s naturalist movement. It seems like a next, progressive step to really maybe reinvigorate, as I think your book will do, but just to visualize what you have presented in your work?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: It might be a good way to end because it actually connects to Kathleen Dalton’s work on TR. Ken Burns is doing a documentary right now on the Roosevelt family. And that is his next, big thing. I don't know. He always says maybe something in between it. But I know it is a major thing, looking at the whole family as a great American family. So some of the stories— obviously, the family environmentalism will be, I’m sure, part of that tale.
QUESTION: I will look forward to it. Thank you very much.
KATHLEEN DALTON: Well, thank you. [Applause]
Thank you everyone for coming and Doug for a wonderful conversation. This has been great fun. And I’m to remind the audience that Doug’s book is for sale in our store and that Doug is available for signing the book. So thanks again. [Applause]