Where Have the “Tough as Nails” Presidents Gone?

There have been several courageous or (I dislike the term) “Badass” Presidents in our history.

They are missed.

January 30, 1835:

Outside the Capitol building in DC a man with two pistols approached President Andrew Jackson…and fired both pistols. Fortunately both misfired and war-hero Jackson, not knowing if the would-be assassin had other weapons, proceeded to use his heavy cane to beat the laundry off of the bad guy until other arrived to secure him.

August, 1864:

President Lincoln had a habit of relaxing at the “Soldier’s Home” to get away from the madhouse. One night he was riding back to the Executive Mansion, by himself, when someone took a shot at him, putting a hole through his hat.

As Lincoln loped up to a young sentry, the sentry noticed the President was missing his trademark hat. Lincoln explained what happened…and then swore the youth to secrecy. No point working the people (and I’m sure the excitable Mary Lincoln) up and causing a panic.

October 14, 1912:

Theodore Roosevelt is running for a third term in Milwaukee. As he enters his car in front of his hotel, the madman pointed a pistol and shot TR in the chest.

Wounded, TR had the where-with-all to save the Assassin from lynching by the angry supporters who captured him. Then TR inspected his injuries…a thick manuscript and glasses case slowed down the bullet, but it still entered his chest. Being a hunter and combat vet, he took note that he wasn’t coughing up blood. Thus assured he wasn’t shot through the lung, he insisted on finishing a lengthy speech before going to the hospital. “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”

February 15, 1933:

The President-elect Franklin Roosevelt is in Miami riding with the Chicago mayor (Cermak) when a man fires numerous shots at them. FDR is not hit. However, though handicapped he emulated his cousin, seeing to the care of the assassin and staying by the side of the dying Cermak.

March 30, 1981:

Ronald Reagan is in DC when an assassin approached and began shooting, striking the elderly enigmatic Chief Executive and others. Seriously wounded, Reagan is rushed to George Washington hospital where he entertains the medical staff with one-liners. “Honey, I forgot to duck!” And “I hope there aren’t any Democrats in the operating room”. The chief surgeon assured him, “Mr. President, today we are ALL Republicans.”

Where have such men gone? I believe they are out there. We just have to advance them.

“Oh…Do You Remember the Fun of Him?”

Today in History, January 6, 1919:

“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

-Vice President Thomas Marshall.

President Theodore Roosevelt dies at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York in his sleep of a heart attack. “Teddy” had taken every last drop of adventure and worthiness that he could squeeze out of life in the preceding 60 years.

Roosevelt had been a sickly child; constantly plagued by breathing problems, he could rarely play with the other children. His father, Theodore Sr., a remarkable man himself, told “Teedie” that if he wanted to have a successful life, he would have to take charge and force his body into the form he needed to match his intellect. Roosevelt did just that. He took exercise as his “raison detre” until he was barrel chested and of vigorous health. Each time he became sick during his life, he would simply work through it.

As a young man, while serving in the New York Assembly, Roosevelt was called home from Albany by an urgent message. After the train ride to NYC, he arrived home to be met at the door by his brother, “There is a curse upon this house.”

Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day…February 14, 1884, within hours of each other. Writing in his diary only a large X and the words “The light has gone out of my life”, Roosevelt fled into the west, becoming a rancher and for a time a lawman in the Dakota Territory. The experience would strengthen him and give him a background people respected.

During his life he was a state rep from New York, the Police Commissioner for New York City, Governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (he oversaw the building of a modern US Navy while his boss was not paying attention), he led the “Rough Riders” (1st Volunteer US Cavalry) up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, became Vice President, and the President after President McKinley was assassinated.

As President he defined the modern presidency, breaking up monopolies, seeing that mistreated workers got a fair shake, sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world establishing American as a world influence, saw the Panama Canal built, saw the establishment of the National Parks Service, and countless other accomplishments.

He worked tirelessly for the American people. After the Presidency he traveled extensively, going on an African Safari, and exploring an unknown region of South America, “The River of Doubt”; a region so treacherous that it was considered a no-man’s land. He nearly died in the mapping of the river, now called “Rio Roosevelt” in his honor.

All of his male children fought in WWI, and the only reason Teddy didn’t was because the Democrat President (Wilson) refused to let him, afraid Roosevelt would run against him in the next election and win. One of his sons, Quentin, would be shot down over France and be killed. That was the last straw for the “Old Lion”. He mourned dreadfully until his death.

One of his other children, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would be the only General to go ashore with the troops at D-Day in WWII; Teddy Jr would die of a heart attack himself several weeks after the Normandy invasion. The entire world would mourn President Roosevelt’s passing; he had become larger that life, a hero to people the world over. The quintessential American. And in case you couldn’t tell, my favorite Hero.

At TR’s funeral at Oyster Bay, what I believe is the best, most heartfelt eulogy was spoken in passing. Walking from the church a New York City Police Captain who had served with Roosevelt more than 20 years earlier when he was Police Commissioner, was overcome with emotion. He turned to TR’s sister and asked, “Oh…do you remember the FUN of him?”

“The American People, in Their Righteous Might, Will Win Through to Absolute Victory…”

Today in History, December 8, 1941:

As the Japanese continued their invasion of the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other Allied interests in the Pacific, President Franklin Roosevelt gives his famous “Day of Infamy” speech asking Congress to declare that a state of war had existed since the bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor the day before.

Former President Appointed to Supreme Court!!

Today in History, June 30, 1921:

President Warren G. Harding nominated former President William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States after the death of the previous Chief Justice, Edward Douglass White…who Taft had nominated when he was President.

The irony is that Taft never wanted to be President…he became such as the result of the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt…one of his closest friends.

TR then turned on him vociferously when Taft didn’t carry out TR’s policies to his liking. Taft was crushed by the attacks by his friend…but in the end, he obtained the job he had wanted since he was a child…Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States…years after being President.

Taft’s history in the law and government made him very well qualified for the job.

Citizenship in a Republic

Today in History, April 23, 1910:

“The Man in the Arena” speech. After his presidency, President Theodore Roosevelt took a tour of Europe and was received with great fanfare and accolades, both from the common man and royalty. On this date he gave a 35 page speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic” about the responsibilities involved at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. A segment on page 7 became an inspirational and historic passage.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Historic Connections: Lincoln-Hay-Roosevelt

Today in History, March 4: 1861 (Lincoln Inauguration) / 1905 (Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration) – A very special connection between two Presidents, 40 years apart. As a young man in Illinois, John Hay got the chance of a lifetime. His friend John Nicolay was working at the law firm of Abraham Lincoln, Presidential candidate. When Lincoln was elected, Hay and Nicolay became his private secretaries in the Executive Mansion and became his confidants…he would stay up nights sharing stories with them and came to trust them; they helped to keep him balanced through the trials and tragedies of the Civil War. They, in turn nearly idolized him, referring to him as the Ancient One. When Lincoln was assassinated it devastated Hay. He recovered and went on to serve in numerous posts within the government, including the Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England); he was a successful author and journalist (remarkably understated..but I must keep this somewhat brief). He served several other presidents, becoming Secretary of State for President William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated, Hay stayed on to serve in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. He was largely responsible for the Open Door Policy in China and negotiated the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty to build the Panama Canal. He initially thought TR a rogue cowboy, but as he grew to respect the President, they became fast friends. TR came to respect Hay’s experience and wisdom, and came to depend upon him. The night before TR was to be inaugurated for his second term, his first in which he was elected, John Hay sent TR a gift. A ring containing a strand of President Lincoln’s hair under glass, taken during his autopsy. Hay included a note:

“Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

(Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!)

Yours affectionately, John Hay”

TR replied:

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow. I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years?

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”

What a life! A integral part of the story of two of our best presidents, and a key player in numerous historic decisions and events. Aside from the photos of the ring, there are photos of Hay in his youth, as an older man (he would die later in 1905), and even the photo of Lincoln’s funeral procession through New York City is important…in a window of one of the buildings to the left are two small boys watching the procession go by…young Theodore Roosevelt, Jr and his brother Elliott.

Assassination Connections

Today in History, February 15: 1933 –

Assassination; Courage; and links between courageous Presidents. President elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt gives a speech, from his car (he is crippled, though few know it), in Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida. Standing on the running board of the car was a political ally, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.

Nearby a 5 foot, unemployed Italian immigrant bricklayer stands on a chair so that he can see the soon to be president, and fires his revolver. Instead of FDR he strikes Cermak before a woman standing beside him attacks him…and his next four shots injure standersby instead.

Within weeks Cermak dies…and the assassin will die by execution. Stories will go forward about whether FDR was the intended target, or Cermak, who was at the time fighting the Chicago mob.

What I find most interesting is the extended story. The crowd was about to beat the assassin to death in a bloodlust…Franklin calmed them…the suspect should face a court of law. FDR then directed that the Chicago mayor be loaded into his car, and cradled him in his lap as he was rushed to a nearby hospital. Cermak would die, the assassin would be executed…but FDR’s courage would inspire the nation.

FDR had adored his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. TR had been shot in the chest while campaigning for the Presidency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (by an insane immigrant)discouraged the crowd from abusing the would-be assassin…and continued on to finish a lengthy speech before seeking medical attention…he was a Bull Moose.

When he was a young boy in 1865 in New York, Teddy Roosevelt had watched from the window of a New York apartment as the body of his idol, President Abraham Lincoln, passed by in a funeral escort after he was assassinated in Washington, D. C. Lincoln had been discouraged from public appearances, including at Ford’s Theater, and responded to the effect that if someone wanted him dead, they would find a way. Our history is not nearly as disconnected as we think, and courage comes from knowledge and perspective.