This last book of the three was just as good as the first. It detailed the rest of Roosevelt's life after he left the White House as President of the United States. When Roosevelt left the White House, he was at the pinnacle of his popularity. He could have easily ran for and won a third consecutive term and probably a fourth term as well. However, his hero in life was Abraham Lincoln and he stated that he would only serve two terms consecutively as Lincoln and Washington had set the standard in his mind. What he didn't realize was how much he would miss the office and how America would clamor for him to run again until the day he died.
Roosevelt ended his time in the White House with a year long safari into Africa to hunt wild game and do research for the Museum of National History. Towards the end of the safari, he was booked to speak at major cities all throughout Europe and the Middle East. Roosevelt dined with kings and queens and spoke to hundreds of thousands of people at many of the events. His message about democracy, capitalism, and what he referred to as righteousness did not change from city to city. He did not back down from his beliefs regardless of where he was. He was a big pusher for the Jews to have Israel and Palestine to themselves thus creating a state of Israel. With that belief, he stood outside of one of the Muslim holy places in Cairo, Egypt and expressed his deep belief that this should take place and that marked assassinations and underground attacks that were becoming common with some of the radical Islamists should not be condoned.
The European monarchies and governments treated Roosevelt as if he was a king and his wife the queen. They saw him as one of the finest Americans to have ever lived and respected his opinions on their own governments and countries. He was asked in almost every country to give his opinion to its leadership on government reform and progressivism. He found the same desire when he returned home to the United States. He would publish his adventure on the safari in a book deal and the book quickly became a best seller. He was invited to so many speaking engagements to share his thoughts on government and his successor to the White House, President William Howard Taft.
Taft was Roosevelt's Vice President and the two men were dear friends. However, with Roosevelt out of the picture, Taft proved to not be suitable, at least in TR's mind, for the job. Many of the progressive reforms Roosevelt had put in place became unraveled under Taft's watch. One of the crown jewel's of Roosevelt's presidency was his military build up and strengthening in which Taft allowed to decay. By the time Taft left the office in four year time, America's military collectively ranked #17 in the world. When Roosevelt left office, the army ranked in the top 3 and the navy was first in the world. To add insult to injury, Taft allowed an independent investigation of Roosevelt to go forward into the building of the Panama Canal. The investigation was an attempt to rid Roosevelt from taking credit for its building and to try and pin international crimes on him. The investigation failed, but Roosevelt was infuriated. The friendship split and Taft's numbers began falling among the American people. In Roosevelt's estimation, Taft had aligned himself with the GOP party bosses that TR had fought and kept at bay as he pushed his policies of progressivism. TR summed up his feelings about Taft as he told one confidant that Taft's backbone couldn't be any stronger than a banana.
As the election of 1912 approached, Roosevelt desired greatly to be the GOP ticket for the presidency. He performed speeches all over the country numbering well into the thousands. His popularity soared among the people as he preached what he called his "New Nationalism" policy in connection with his "Square Deal" that he ran off of while in office as president. Roosevelt saw many flaws that were beginning to show themselves in the American governmental system.
For one, Roosevelt noted that judges were beginning to create laws with their decisions. He complained that judges were given ultimate power in that they had lifetime appointments and could render decisions that would end up establishing and enforcing laws instead of interpreting the law as the Constitution said it should. This caused a major uproar, especially among the major money people and the party bosses of the GOP. Roosevelt also wanted women to have the right to vote. He commonly spoke of a day he hoped to see in which he and his wife could vote together in the polling booths. He also spoke out against the delegate elections of most of the states. Very few had primaries. Instead, the state parties in states without primaries would choose their delegates to go and vote for whoever they were told to vote for. Popular vote mattered very little in the "machine" politics. Roosevelt wanted to rebuild the military in a policy he would continue to refer to as "preparation." These among other policies caused many of the party bosses to resent Roosevelt.
The GOP knew that if Taft ran for a second term, there was literally no chance for him to win. His approval numbers were the lowest in some time for a sitting president. He was a lame duck running. As the GOP election season embarked, Roosevelt was picking up huge gains for the nomination. It was unheard of for a sitting president to not win the renomination of his party, but as the time for the GOP Convention came in Chicago, IL, numbers predicted that Roosevelt may very well have enough delegates through primaries and states to unseat Taft. He was leading Taft for sure in the popular vote among the nation 2:1. However, when the convention convened, the GOP party bosses began questioning whether the delegates for Roosevelt were able to be counted. They theorized that the delegates were uneducated and unable to aptly represent the people of the states they were sent from. In doing this, they disqualified a large number of delegates and ordered them replaced with new ones. Ironically or coincidentally enough, each new delegate pledged to vote for Taft. On the final day of the convention, Roosevelt's supporters saw what was taking place and knew that the nomination would go to Taft even though the popular vote and delegates, at least in the beginning, were all for Roosevelt. At what Roosevelt and others declared to be a theft, Taft was renominated for the GOP against the Democrats' candidate, Woodrow Wilson. A large number of progressives in the GOP spoke candidly with Roosevelt and encouraged him to bolt the party and start his own Progressive Party. Roosevelt obliged and pushed for the presidency on the brand new Progressive Party ticket.
His campaign was relentless and was filled at every stop. There were many however that feared Roosevelt. His policies would shake up the direction America was going politically and culturally. Roosevelt was considered to be friendly to African Americans which damaged him in the South still less than 50 years removed from the Civil War. Hate came crashing down on Roosevelt in Milwaukee, WI when an assassin came out of the crowd and shot Roosevelt in the chest. The shot dropped Roosevelt to the ground while his aides tackled the assassin. Fearing the worst, Roosevelt's aides were just about to kill the assassin when Roosevelt somehow picked himself off the ground and came to the now would-be assassin's aid. He stopped the aides from hurting the man further and instead picked the man off the ground himself. Roosevelt stared into his eyes and asked him why he shot him. When the man replied that the ghost of William McKinley told him to, Roosevelt dropped the man on the ground and let the police take him away. Roosevelt claimed the man was too deranged for him to have beat to death. Instead of going to the hospital, Roosevelt insisted on making his speech just as he had done several years earlier when a would be assassin shot him before making a speech. He spoke for an hour and a half before relenting to medical care. The bullet had barely missed a main artery but had broken several ribs. It was unable to retrieved and Roosevelt would carry the bullet in his chest the rest of his life.
For the first time in America's history, a minor party candidate finished second for the presidency. Taft, the GOP's nominee, finished a distant third. Roosevelt totaled well over a million vote more than Taft did and about a million votes less than Wilson did. It was clear; the American people had desired the progressive policies of Roosevelt but were given Taft as their party choice. Had Roosevelt received the GOP nomination, Wilson would have been defeated handedly. Wilson would remark that he was very appreciative of the GOP's nominating Taft because it paved his way to the White House. Wilson had barely received 40% of the vote for president with Roosevelt close behind. The schism in the GOP created landslide victories for the Democrats and Roosevelt was left to lick his wounds.
To conquer defeat, he typically scheduled some great excursion to conquer. The excursion he would eventually embark on however would play a great role in shortening his life. Roosevelt disappeared with his son into the southwestern US and visited the Grand Canyon of which his conservation policy had helped save and make a national park. He also visited several Native American reservations to learn about their lives. After his American excursion, Roosevelt put together a team to survey and hunt in Brazil and the Amazon river basin. He was scheduled to give several lectures in Brazil and Argentina and found the excursion to be just what he needed. Upon arriving though, he met an explorer, Colonel Rondon, who mentioned an expedition he had longed desire to embark on. It was one that may mean certain death as it was an expedition to discover the path of a river that had never officially been founded on a map. Though this was not the excursion Roosevelt had planned, the chance to conquer something that had never been done was too much to resist. Roosevelt convinced many in his party to rid themselves of their previous plans and the expedition on the "River of Doubt" began.
On the expedition, Roosevelt came very close to dying. Ever since contracting Cuban fever while leading his Rough Riders at San Juan, he would suffer reoccurring bouts at various times. To add to it, an injury he suffered to his shin shortly after being named president in his first term, constantly flared up when the fever hit. During the River of Doubt expedition, Roosevelt's shin was cut open in the river and became infected. He also contracted malaria and the Cuban fever began on top of it. At one point, Roosevelt begged the expedition to move forward and leave him behind to either make it out alone or die. When they refused, Roosevelt continued. The expedition ended up a success as it was able to put a brand new river on the map. Rondon and the other native Brazilians named the river after Roosevelt and to this day it is called Rio Roosevelt.
Roosevelt returned home sicker than he ever had been. He was prescribed four months of rest, but he barely took 4 weeks. He was busy making speeches about his expedition as well as making speeches to push his progressive agenda in politics. When the 2016 election came along, the divide in the GOP party was so severe that the party refused to even consider nominating Roosevelt. It didn't stop the people from clamoring for him though. Popular vote again soared for Roosevelt where he was available to be voted for. Nevertheless, he was passed over for Supreme Court Justice Charles Hughes. Wilson won re-election in landslide defeat.
Had things been different, fate would have allowed Roosevelt to be president during the first world war. Unfortunately, Wilson was and the phrase "American Neutrality" would come to the forefront of many Americans' minds. As the hotbed of activity began to erupt in Europe, Roosevelt cautioned that America needed to prepare for war. Wilson refused to even consider the notion as did the American people seemingly. Wilson was so convinced that America needed to stay out of the war, that when a German U-boat sunk the Lusitania killing Americans on board, he refused to react. German U-boats would eventually sink three other ships killing Americans before Wilson would react. His unfortunate reaction was little more than a request for an apology from Germany and an agreement to cease from doing it again. Roosevelt was outraged. He made speeches and wrote articles condemning the administration's policy and used great alliteration calling for justice for the women and children and babies who were drowned in the icy Atlantic and whose American lives deserved justice and much more than an apology. Roosevelt himself attempted for a solid year to enlist in the army and raise up another group of Rough Riders to go to the Front of the attack against Germany for all of their war crimes on the innocents of neutral European countries. Wilson and the administration refused to allow Roosevelt to fight and he was left to watch the war on the sidelines as his four sons enlisted and fought.
Roosevelt had called for "preparation" and building up American's military in a time where peace reigned and no one thought it necessary. He was called a warmonger and a lunatic for his constant insistence. When America was finally drawn into the war, America realized Roosevelt had been right. It took almost three years for troops to adequately be raised up and trained. There were not enough guns to go around by the time the recruitment and draft went into place. The lack of preparedness cost years of intervention leading to what Roosevelt called the "murder of more and more innocents like the women and children dying in the slime of the sea." Roosevelt would realize the casualty more so than anyone when his son Quentin was shot out of the sky by German fighters and died over France. When the Germans landed to scour the remains of the soldier, they found that it was Quentin Roosevelt. Because TR was so loved across Europe, even in Germany, the German fighter buried Quentin and gathered his belongings together to be sent back to Roosevelt in the USA.
Wilson had continued to respond to the war with attempts of peaceful negotiations. He proposed his famous "Fourteen Points" which called for a League of Nations to be assembled and called the members of the league to have certain responsibilities to abandon military pursuits among other things. The verbage of the point was so vague according to Roosevelt that peace could never come from it. The more the American people realized Roosevelt was right in all of his assessments of the war and his progressivism, Wilson's popularity plummeted. It was thought without question that Theodore Roosevelt would definitely be nominated for president on the GOP ticket in the 1920 election and would win hands down over whatever nominee the Democratic party could muster up. The main problem with the plan however was TR's health.
Learning of Quentin's death had almost destroyed Roosevelt. As depression sank in, his body also began to fail him. He refused to rest if he could muster up any strength at all to give speeches, write books and articles, or push his progressive policies. The two assassination attempts, the train accident that left his shin destroyed, the wartime activity and sickness contracted in Cuba, the sickness he experiencing in the Amazon, along with the constant pushing of his body finally caught up with him. The man who beat his asthma out of his lungs with exercise and training suffered a pulmonary embolism shortly after making a speech about the war and how Germany must be brought to its knees in surrender. Roosevelt stated that full surrender had to be in order so that America could help rebuild Germany and help its people. Otherwise, Roosevelt claimed, the next generation of Americans would no doubt meet another war with Germany that would probably be worse than what they had just experienced. As usual, Roosevelt's prediction would come true with World War II.
The pulmonary embolism ravaged Roosevelt's body, but he survived it. After weeks in the hospital, he was released to go home. His condition continue to worsen however and at 4:15 AM on January 6, 1919, Roosevelt died in his sleep. It was said by one of his long time friends that he had to die in his sleep for if death had come while he was awake, "the old lion would have took death by the throat and defeated it." He was buried near his home in Oyster Bay at a cemetery just outside of Sagamore Hill. The world mourned his death and accolades began pouring down on him. He has since been typically regarded as the third and fourth greatest president to have ever lived. Supporters immediately began plans after his death to erect a monument in Washington to his life and legacy. They were successful in buying a small island in the Potomac River separating Washington DC from Virginia and established an 18 foot tall statue of TR with his fist in the air lecturing all who will listen about the "righteous way." In addition, supporters pushed to establish some monument for him in the west as he was so instrumental to its establishment along with his love for it. Mount Rushmore got underway and Roosevelt would of course be chiseled onto the mountain with Washington and Lincoln, his two idols. He unfortunately has to share the mountain with Thomas Jefferson of which he despised.
If you can't tell, I loved the book. There's so much I've left out and I've admittedly hurriedly typed this as all that I've read keeps flooding my mind. Roosevelt was an amazing man and I couldn't help but wish against reality that the end of the book could end somehow differently. He has gone down in history as easily one of the greatest presidents America has ever seen. Unfortunately, many of his warnings have been unheeded and America has paid the consequences for them both in the short and long term. He was the author of more than 100 books and articles, many winning awards and becoming best sellers. I tend to agree with the author in his assessment that there has never been another American like Teddy Roosevelt before or after his time. I would absolutely agree and would love to see another man rise just like him. One who sought to be was none other than John F. Kennedy. A little known fact is that many had begun to refer to Kennedy as a "Roosevelt Republican." The speech Kennedy was set to make in Dallas the day he was shot was riddled with Roosevelt's quotes and foreign policies. Kennedy planned on enacting many of Roosevelt's own policies from the old lion's Square Deal for America during this presidency. Of course, we'll never know what would have happened.
For anyone who loves or is interested in Theodore Roosevelt, Morris' series is a must read. All three books were fantastic and I couldn't put them down once I got started. Thank you Mr. Morris for a tremendous series on a tremendous man!