THEODORE ROOSEVELT, “THE STRENUOUS LIFE” (10 APRIL 1899)
- Theodore Roosevelt criticized the imperialists of his day who advocated overseas expansion simply to expand markets or to exploit the resources of underdeveloped countries–that is, those who advocated expansion for economic reasons. Instead, he invoked the “strenuous life” as the rationale for a foreign policy of active international engagement. What sorts of arguments and evidence does he use to make the case for and against each position?
- Go to the “Sound Recordings of Theodore Roosevelt’s Voice” at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/troosevelt_film/trfsnd.html (the Library of Congress American Memory Collection). Click on one of the links and listen to Roosevelt. How does his delivery (e.g., rate of speech, inflection, tone) influence your perception of his message?
- Roosevelt made a number of references to the wealthy in “The Strenuous Life,” describing some of them as “unfit,” “well-to-do hucksters,” and generally implying that they were weak and cowardly. Does this constitute what we might today call “mud-slinging,” and do you suppose any members of his audience at the Hamilton Club might have been insulted by such comments? What purposes do you think were served by Roosevelt’s criticisms of the wealthy in America?
- Roosevelt praised the Cubans for fighting vigorously against Spain during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Would the Cubans fit his definition of people who have demonstrated the “strenuous life”? What about the Filipinos, who actively resisted the American occupation of their island homeland following that war? In other words, did Roosevelt’s definition of the “strenuous life” include all people who demonstrated valor and courage in combat, or was there something more to that definition that excluded more “backwards” people or people who fought against the United States?
- Roosevelt invoked the past to argue about the present. What are the pitfalls of using the past as evidence or as a source of “lessons” to guide current policies? What “lessons” did Roosevelt derive from the history of America’s wars against Native Americans, or from the Civil War? How did he apply those lessons to the domestic and foreign policy issues of his own day? Are there different “lessons” that one might have learned from those historical examples? Are those “lessons” still relevant today?
- Theodore Roosevelt’s self-exile to the West after the deaths of his mother and his first wife helped transform him into a cowboy. His book, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, chronicled his adventures. Use his book to write a research paper identifying the traits of the cowboy, contrasting it to modern images of the cowboy. Use the Internet to find information about the historical and present-day lifestyles of the American cowboy.
- Write a paper about the Theodore Roosevelt’s conception of masculinity. Specifically, use Roosevelt’s book, The Rough Riders, to evaluate how he defined masculinity and how his conception of masculinity influenced his views about war. Also read Harvey Mansfield’s discussion of Roosevelt in Manliness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
- Use the Internet to find cartoons of Roosevelt and of his political opponents–other politicians, the corporate leaders he criticized, etc.–both before and after Roosevelt’s speech. How did cartoonists portray him and his opposition?
- Suppose you had to write an obituary for Roosevelt. What would you include as the most important elements of his life?
- Search for newspapers that reported on Roosevelt’s speech at the Hamilton Club. Did the newspapers discuss how well received the speech was by the members of the club? How did the newspapers describeRoosevelt’s speech and the reaction to it?
- Look through newspapers and magazines from Roosevelt’s era about the effects of “nervous illness” on middle-class workers. You will no doubt find doctors warning of the health hazards that resulted from too much stress, the fast pace of life, and the overload of information that people in business encountered everyday. How do those warnings compare to what we hear today about the dangers of a stressful and fast-paced lifestyle? How have the diagnoses of stress and its causes changed since Roosevelt’s day? And do we have different “cures” today than they had in Roosevelt’s era?
- Roosevelt claims that the “strenuous life” demands that America fulfill its destiny as a world power. One manifestation of the “strenuous life” today might be the current “War on Terror.” Use newspaper, newsmagazines, and the Congressional Record to investigate how supporters of the War on Terror justify their position. Are there speakers today who make the same sort of arguments that Theodore Roosevelt made about our obligations in the Philippines, for example? Are there speakers today who speak out against what Roosevelt described as the “strenuous life”?
- Roosevelt’s discussion of the need for increased birthrates was a response to reports that fewer white women were having babies during that era. Do you hear similar concerns expressed by political advocates today? What are the key controversies surrounding population growth in America today, and does ethnicity or race still play an important role in those arguments? Does the issue of population growth and the racial composition of American society also play a role in debates over immigration reform? Investigate the immigration debates that took place in 2006-2007 and discuss how population growth and the racial make-up of American society were addressed during that debate.
Last updated May 16, 2016