Theodore Roosevelt: The American Boy

In my work recreating Theodore Roosevelt, I have come to the belief that he looked upon his role as a leader as he did as a father.  His job, if done well, was to leave the world better for his family (which in his mind included the American people) and leave a good family name.    His own Father, Theodore Roosevelt was the man he admired most and trying to emulate him by his own actions would be consistent with his beliefs.

“My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness. As we grew older, he made us understand that the same standard of clean living was demanded the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right in a man. With great love and patience, and the most generous sympathy and consideration, he combined insistence on discipline. He never physically punished me but once, but he was the only man of whom I was ever really afraid. I do not mean that it was a wrong fear, for he was entirely just, and we children adored him.”

Roosevelt felt strongly that family was important and that we all held a responsibility as Americans to bring up children in a way that promoted the opportunity to be a solid citizen.  In an article he wrote in 1900 published in St Nicolas, he wrote:

“Of course, what we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man. Now, the chances are strong that he won’t be much of a man unless he is a good deal of a boy. He must not be a coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig. He must work hard and play hard. He must be clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own under all circumstances and against all comers. It is only on these conditions that he will grow into the kind of American man of whom America can be really proud.”

What is the lesson we should learn from Roosevelt?  That each of us contributes to the fabric of our shared country, and that it starts with how we treat our children and our neighbors children.  We are the ones who help create the kind of men and women who have strong morals, strong ideals and ultimately, concern for one another.

Could we lose our National Parks and Monuments?

Speaking to the importance of our public lands

During my presentations, many are surprised by the loose protections of our public lands.  They should not be surprised – they should be alarmed!

President Roosevelt was a visionary who looked far ahead in the future and decided that he had a moral obligation to do his best to protect our wilderness areas so that future generations could enjoy them.  The first step was meeting with Congress to persuade them to expand our National Parks.  During his time, the number of Parks would double, but not all of those parks still exist.  In fact, 2 out of the 5 he signed into law no longer function as “National Parks” but rather have been reassigned to different categorization.  In fact, our 2nd National Park, Mackinaw Island, no longer exists as a National Park at all.  What Congress creates, they can take away.  They can, and given the chance, they will.  They will because they will look at the value not for it’s beauty but rather the resources under the grandeur.  The only people who can potentially stop it are the owners of the land – you and I.  The only way we can do so is by being vocal to our representatives.  They do listen.  It’s your vote that employs them.

Roosevelt understood that Congress wasn’t saving the land faster than those looking to grab the resources. Because of this, the Antiquities Act of 1906 allowed the President to declare certain land already owned by the government special status as a National Monument.  The idea was to protect them for all future generations.  This past week I was in Washington D.C. to listen to a group of lawyers, a Senator and Congressman who are fighting to undue the Antiquities Act.  It is a shame that these people cloak their actions on behalf of a privileged class into a fight to undue “Big Government”.

What we sometimes fail to understand about “Big Government” is that many times it became big because there are people who chose to either bend, test or break the rules. Each time that happened, new laws or nuance in the law needed to be created to curb the abuse. There will never be a lack of those who see their duty on earth to test the rules for their personal interests.   It is happening now, and your voice is needed if you cherish your public lands.

Do not be swayed by headlines.  Be swayed by your conscious to protect our public lands for the next generations. “For of all the questions that can come before our great nation, there is none that compares in importance to the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us”  Theodore Roosevelt.



The Inauguration of a President

TR’s Address in 1905.  

My fellow-citizens, no people on earth have more cause to be thankful than ours, and this is said reverently, in no spirit of boastfulness in our own strength, but with gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessed us with the conditions which have enabled us to achieve so large a measure of well-being and of happiness. To us as a people it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life in a new continent. We are the heirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties which in old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization.We have not been obliged to fight for our existence against any alien race;and yet our life has called for the vigor and effort without which the manlier and hardier virtues wither away. Under such conditions it would be our own fault if we failed; and the success which we have had in the past, the success which we confidently believe the future will bring, should cause in us no feeling of vainglory, but rather a deep and abiding realization of all which life has offered us; a full acknowledgment of the responsibility which is ours; and a fixed determination to show that under a free government a mighty people can thrive best, alike as regards the things of the body and the things of the soul.

Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither.We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity in a nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak but by the strong. While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, we must be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace,but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish i because we think it is right and not because we are afraid. No weak nation that acts manfully and justly should ever have cause to fear us, and no strong power should ever be able to single us out as a subject for insolent aggression.

Our relations with the other powers of the world are important; but still more important are our relations among ourselves. Such growth in wealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during the century and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied by a like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that rises to greatness. Power invariably means both responsibility and danger. Our forefathers faced certain perils which we have outgrown. We now face other perils, the very existence of which it was impossible that they should foresee. Modern life is both complex and intense, and the tremendous changes wrought by the extraordinary industrial development of the last half century are felt in every fiber of our social and political being. Never before have men tried so vast and formidable an experiment as that of administering the affairs of a continent under the forms of a Democratic republic. The conditions which have told for our marvelous material well-being, which have developed to a very high degree our energy, self-reliance, and individual initiative, have also brought the care and anxiety inseparable from the accumulation of great wealth in industrial centers. Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn. There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright.

Yet, after all, though the problems are new, though the tasks set before us differ from the tasks set before our fathers who founded and preserved this Republic, the spirit in which these tasks must be undertaken and these problems faced, if our duty is to be well done, remains essentially unchanged.We know that self-government is difficult. We know that no people needs such high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern its affairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who compose it. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories of the men of the mighty past. They did their work, they left us the splendid heritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children’s children. To do so we must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practica lintelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who founded this Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preserved this Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln.

The importance of positive influence


2016 has been a whirlwind year of presentations across the country on the wit, wisdom and leadership of Theodore Roosevelt.  As I have traveled during this turbulent political year, I have purposely focused on bringing a positive message to my audiences.

One of hope.

My emphasis has been on the importance of overcoming our obstacles in life (TR and his asthma).  I speak often on Roosevelt’s skill of making friends across a spectrum of interests, status and experience (TR had friends from Cowboys to Kings).  I stress the importance of a good handshake and an honest look in the eye.

We need positive inputs, because I believe we are being conditioned to react only to negative ones. If we believe as a society that the only way to progress is to beat down those next to us, we are missing the message that TR wanted us to learn: The idea that we all deserve a square deal in this country.

A square deal is one built on the positive.  Work hard, be honest and do your part – and in the end, you will live a good life and leave a good name. But it is larger than that.  In the end, if we all do it right, we leave behind a stronger country for our children and their children.

You have impact.  Your children are watching you and taking cues from how you behave towards others.  They watch your actions and will model what they see.  Do it right, and the reward will be large.  A legacy of great generations after you.



Presenting history while making history

Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone to the building that would house the Lincoln cabin on Feb 12 1909, the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  To celebrate this event, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park allowed me the honor of giving the speech that Roosevelt gave on that historic day.

To be part of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park service celebration and more specifically to be given this privilege  on the 100th birthday of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, was an amazing experience.  Roosevelt’s words were as poignant today as they were then.

As I spoke, I was fortunate to have something Roosevelt did not – the memorial in front of me, the 56 steps leading to a magnificent building that holds a small log cabin that reminds us that great leaders come often from humble beginnings.  A tribute to a true leader who forever saved this nation.

I was fortunate to be joined with many great speakers that day, including an amazing FDR, Einsenhower, Lincoln and Mark Twain.    More importantly, I was assisted by a park staff that was passionate, committed and who truly love their jobs, their parks and their country.

I will be forever humbled by the opportunity to recreate history while becoming part of the history of this amazing place.   Thank you Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park and the National Park Service.


America the Wonderful

Celebrating our heritage

Celebrating our heritage

The Declaration of Independence was a bold move by our forefathers to push forth an idea that has become an ideal across the globe.  Of course, jealousy of our system means that we must constantly defend it against those who would want to change it to their will.  This protection of our liberty is accomplished by brave men and women who serve our Country everyday. Elected officials and those who promise to protect and serve, both in the military and our police forces do an important job. Most importantly, by each of us, who are vigilant to remember that what we have is unique and worth saving and protecting.

This 4th of July, as you celebrate with family, food and fireworks, stop and take a moment to reflect on how truly fortunate you are.  America is an amazing place, and it is made up of mostly hard working people who care about their fellow man.  It is made of people of Character, who help those in need and celebrate differences.  It is made up of all colors and races and genders.  A common people who live, work and play together with an understanding that together we stand, divided we fall.

Celebrate your 4th with joy and appreciate America the Wonderful.


The future is ours to fix


I was teaching at a school the other day about Roosevelt when I decided to ask them about their perception of the current political turmoil.  This is a pretty common discussion among my adult programs, but I had never brought it up to 3rd and 4th graders before.

I decided to get the conversation started by asking them what they thought made a good leader.  Like all classrooms,  hands shot into the air:


“Good at giving directions”

“Tells people what to do”

“Has a following”

The words were painfully shy of the words and concepts I teach when I do Corporate programs on Leadership:




“Looking out for other’s best interests”

It made me realize that we are not teaching our children the baseline of what is important – the skills that make each of us not only influencer’s in our small local world, but leaders the greater world.   It concerns me when Honesty is not on a child’s list of important attributes for a leader.  Shouldn’t we start there if we want to have the best future for our next generation?

We teach our children how to compete in almost everything they do – perhaps it is time we find a way to make honesty a competition instead of an anomaly.


Springtime comes to Teddy Roosevelt Camp

TR writing table

TR writing table

I have to admit that while I enjoy traveling by snowshoe or ski in the winter, I find myself daydreaming for the spring, so I can spend some days in camp.

My first TR Camp of the season is usually in Nebraska at an Outdoor Expo.  Here, local school children are bused in to explore activities that hopefully will excite them into a life time of outdoor pursuits. These include kayaking, archery, fishing, identifying animal tracks, camping, shooting and many more.  During the day, TR Camp gets very busy, with children visiting me and sharing their adventures of the day as I share mine of a lifetime. By the time they visit me they get an idea of how those experiences can come together to create a life-long adventure, which helps in the overall development of that wonderful attribute – Character.  I try to embody that lesson so that they understand how those elements came together to create the leader we appreciate as Roosevelt, and the importance he placed on the natural environment in doing so. Based on the feedback, thankfully that message is being well received.  But as much as I enjoy TR Camp during the hustle and bustle during the morning and afternoon, I appreciate it as much for its solitude at the end of the day.

When the crowd leaves, camp becomes eerily quiet. I am often the only one there, other than the occasional Park Ranger making sure everything is secure.

This time of year, it is not unusual for a storm cloud to pass over, quickly cooling the air and dropping rain that taps lightly on my canvas roof. The cool air finds me stoking the wood stove and settling by my writing desk to read or jot my notes from the day. The view out my door is a park – an open field or river that gurgles as I read or write.  Sometimes, spring winds whistle through the tree branches or if the sun peaks out it alerts the birds to squawk and explore.

The crowd, including the other exhibitors have left. Most are booked into a warm hotel room back in town with a bath, electricity and multiple television channels of nothing to watch.  When they come back in the morning they find me sitting by my fire with a hot cup of coffee.  Each seems shocked when I answer “yes” to their question “Do you sleep here”?  I have never questioned my sanity for “roughing it”.

I invite them into my warm tent and pour them a steaming cup of coffee and we talk for a bit about the day before and the day to come.  When they leave I pity them for missing the sunset the past evening or the amazing sunrise that morning or the squall that pulled at my tent pegs during the night.

I will let Roosevelt finish this best.   “Nowhere, not even at sea, does a man feel more lonely than when riding over the far-reaching, seemingly never-ending plains; and after a man has lived a little while on or near them, their very vastness and loneliness and their melancholy monotony have a strong fascination for him.”

The American Boy

One of my favorite Roosevelt speeches is entitled “The American Boy”.

Boy Scouts at Sagamore Hill

The American Boy speech supports the idea of raising young men of virtue and character.  It supports the idea that in order to be a good man, he must first be raised to be a good boy.

I suspect a great deal of the speech echos his father’s sentiments to young Thee.    His father was a true role model of manly virtues that provided a path for his son to later lead a nation.    I believe Roosevelt considered his job as President as akin to that of a father.   His role was to provide the best guidance as possible as the national grew.

“What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man.

The boy can best become a good man by being a good boy–not a goody-goody boy, but just a plain good boy.

I do not mean that he must love only the negative virtues; I mean that he must love the positive virtues also. ‘Good,’ in the largest sense, should include whatever is fine, straightforward, clean, brave and manly.

The best boys I know–the best men I know–are good at their studies or their business, fearless and stalwart, hated and feared by all that is wicked and depraved, incapable of submitting to wrongdoing, and equally incapable of being aught but tender to the weak and helpless.

Of course the effect that a thoroughly manly, thoroughly straight and upright boy can have upon the companions of his own age, and upon those who are younger, is incalculable.

If he is not thoroughly manly, then they will not respect him, and his good qualities will count for but little; while, of course, if he is mean, cruel, or wicked, then his physical strength and force of mind merely make him so much the more objectionable a member of society.

He can not do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to every one else if he does not have a thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice and fair dealing.

In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard: don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard.”


The Pledge of Allegiance

When I visit schools, I am always pleased when they say “The Pledge of Allegiance”.

TR at Roosevelt Elementary

The future is watching.

I believe there should be a flag at each business and place of worship with a requirement that each day start with that pledge.   I do not say this as mere patriotic symbol, but as a way for all of us to reflect on the country we share. The pledge is meant to remind us why we all must interact with each other with human decency.

I fear decency is the thing that is being removed from our democratic process and has tainted our perceptions of acceptable treatment to our fellow citizens.  Equally worse, it has poisoned how those across the globe view our country.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands

This Republic can be an amazing place when our people work together, but when we lose sight of being United and instead separate ourselves into fractional divisions, we threaten the very fabric of the pledge and nation alike.

“One Nation under God, Indivisible”

We are becoming divisible.  Our fellow citizens are telling us so.  Black lives do matter  – and it is sad state when any group feels the requirement through violence to remind us.  The realty is that all lives matter and all voices matter as well.  We must co-exist and work together to solve these issues and appreciate the others viewpoint.  That is not easy to do but it is necessary to do.

Roosevelt himself warned us:

“The death-knell of the republic IS rung as soon as the active power becomes lodged in the hands of those who seek, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

“With Liberty and Justice for All.”

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” (TR)

How can we teach our children to treat each other with decency when we don’t lead by example?  How can children believe in the future when the people who want to lead us cannot demonstrate decency to each other?

Perhaps it is time to take a pledge to do so.  I have a suggestion of a place to start, and almost any grade school student would be happy to teach it.