Mornings On Horseback – by David McCullough

Very interesting approach to a biography. Examines how Theodore Roosevelt (Jr.) grew up and the various challenges he faced growing up that made him the man he was.

Started 3/25/2012
Finished 6/22/2012

“[Theodore Roosevelt Sr. ] had a passion for fine horses and to see him astride one of his own in Central Park was…to see the model of Christian manhood” (pg 32).

“Separated from home and the beloved ‘home faces,’ he could slip rapidly into abject homesickness and sounds, on paper at least, most uncharacteristically plaintive. He felt bereft of real friends” (pg 32).

“Then they turned south again, from Edinburgh to York, an exhausting, sooty eight hours ‘in the cars’ relieved by some of the most appealing scenery of the whole trip: distant blue glances of the Firth of Forth, small white beaches, rolling surf, rolling country; then red-tiled Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Tweed emptying into the North Sea; then fields of sheep and cattle followed by Newcastle-upon-Tyne with its huddled houses and tall chimneys and thick yellow smoke. After this everything became more soft and green, more thoroughly English, Mittie thought, the hawthorn ‘perfectly lovely.’ She adored landscapes with ‘everything like the most perfect picture'” (pg 80-81).

“[A friend of Theodore Sr.’s, George William Curtis wrote a novel] in the 1850s, a satire on New York society called The Potiphar Papers, [which was] high among Theodore’s favorite books” (pg 155-156).

“[Curtis on the duty of the educated class] While good men sit at home, not knowing that there is anything to be done, not caring to know; cultivating a feeling that politics are tiresome and dirty, and politicians vulgar bullies and bravoes; half persuaded that a republic is the contemptible rule of a mob, and secretly longing for a splendid and vigorous despotism – then remember it is not a government mastered by ignorance, it is a government betrayed by intelligence” (pg 156).

“Phelps, Dodge and Company, importers of copper, lead, zinc, and other metals, was among the most respected firms in New York. It was headed headed by William E. Dodge, Sr., and by his son, William E. Dodge, Jr., Theodore’s lifelong friend. In 1872 the senior Dodge was summoned to the office of a special agent at the Customhouse, a man named Jayne, and was informed privately that by undervaluing certain shipments his firm had been defrauding the government. Dodge, who had been an outspoken critic of Customhouse mores, was impressed with the extreme seriousness of the situation and given a choice. He could either settle out of court for the amount owed to the government, all of which had been figured down to the penny ($271,017.23), whereupon the case would be closed, or he could face a lawsuit and whatever costs and publicity that might entail, in addition to an ultimate fine that conceivably could exceed a million dollars. Never bothering to question the authenticity of the charge, Dodge paid up, only to learn that in actual fact the government had been cheated of nothing. The few undervaluations committed by his firm had been minimal, less than its errors of overvaluation. He had been the victim of an extortion. He spoke out at once, a congressional investigation resulted, and in 1874 Congress put an end to the moiety system. But the money paid by Dodge had been divided up meantime. The Collector, the Naval Officer, and the Surveyor of the Port – good Conkling men all – got some $22,000 each; special agent Jayne received roughly three times that for his part; and for legal services rendered, Senator Conkling received a sizable fee. Claiming he knew nothing of the details of the case, Collector [future US President Chester A.] Arthur survived the investigation untouched. Though the fixed salary of the Collector was $12,000, which was more than that of a Cabinet officer, Collector Arthur’s real annual income from his position ranged around $55,000. The present-day equivalent would be $500,000 or more. ‘We look back upon it, and we think . . . that we were fools,’ Dodge had told the congressional committee. The government, he said, must have intelligent men in the Customhouse, men of high character and standing. Theodore, Collector Arthur, and both Dodges were present with several hundred others at the lavish Chamber of Commerce banquet given for [US President Rutherford B. Hayes] at Delmonico’s the night of May 14. Dodge, Sr., in fact, was seated with John Jay, Schurz, and William Evarts at the head table. The Jay Commission was in its third week of hearings by this time and Schurz, the main speaker of the evening, was at his rousing best. The time had come for a ‘thorough reform of the public service of the country [loud applause] = the organization, I mean, of a public service upon sound business principles [renewed applause] . . . .The public service ought not to be a souphouse to feed the indigent, a hospital and asylum for decayed politicians [great cheering]. . . .’ The expression on Collector Arthur’s face through all this is not recorded” (pg 178-179).

“Long afterward [Theodore Roosevelt Jr.] was to write, ‘There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid'” (pg 345).

“[From Theodore Jr.’s 1886 Fourth of July speech in Dickinson, Montana] It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it. … All American citizens, whether born here or elsewhere, whether of one creed or another, stand on the same footing; we welcome every honest immigrant no matter from what country he comes, provided only that he leaves off his former nationality, and remains neither Celt nor Saxon, neither Frenchman nor German, but becomes an American, desirous of fulfilling in good faith the duties of American citizenship” (pg 359).

“[Theodore Jr.] read to [the five children from his second marriage] at night, told ghost stories (of which he knew many), joined headlong in their games (pillow fights, hide-and-seek, running obstacle courses down the halls of the White House) … ‘To be with him was to have fun,’ remembered one of the cousins, ‘if for no other reason than that he so obviously was having a good time himself.’ ‘I love all these children and have great fun with them, and am touched by the way in which they feel that I am their special friend, champion, and companion,’ [Theodore] wrote Edith’s sister [, his sister-in-law]” (pg 377).

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