Go West, Mr. President, by Michael F. Blake, TwoDot, Helena, Mont., and Guilford, Conn., 2020, $26.95
In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt took a “Great Loop” tour of the Midwest and Western states—traveling mostly by train but sometime on horseback—and though he would seek re-election the next year, his two-month trip was not a campaign tour. It was a rousing success, as detailed here by Michael Blake, who wrote the award-winning 2018 Roosevelt biography The Cowboy President and the October 2019 Wild West article “Roosevelt’s Posse.” Theodore (he didn’t like being called “Teddy”) left Washington, D.C., on April 1, 1903, and returned to the nation’s capital on June 5. “His charismatic personality and heartfelt words invited all the people to join him in pursuing their own dreams, as well as Theodore’s dreams for the country,” writes Blake. A Republican, Roosevelt largely avoided partisanship and shared grandstands with Democrats, several of whom later endorsed his re-election. “This,” the author writes, “was just one small demonstration of Theodore’s popularity and leadership.”
On April 5–7 he visited 20 towns in South and North Dakota, his old stamping grounds. Twenty years earlier he had hunted, ranched and worked cattle in Dakota Territory, and in 1903 cowboys, some of whom he’d known back in the 1880s, rode from as far as 150 miles away to greet him in Medora, N.D. “It is ironic that Theodore’s passion for conservation began because he wanted to hunt buffalo,” writes Blake. That passion developed further when he took a break from speechmaking to spend 17 days (April 8–24) in Yellowstone, speak on May 6 in Arizona Territory at the Grand Canyon (“Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it”) and spend a few days (May 15–17) with naturalist John Muir in California’s Yosemite Valley. In his many speeches Roosevelt talked not only about conservation but also about giving every man and woman a “square deal” (rich and poor, no matter one’s race), the importance of good citizenship and the value of a strong Navy.
“In the last analysis,” Roosevelt said May 28 in Pocatello, Idaho, “what America stands for more than for aught else is for treating each man on his worth as a man; if he acts well in whatever walk of life, whatever his ancestry, his creed, his color, give him a fair chance; if he acts badly, let nothing protect him from the hand of the law.” Blake acknowledges Roosevelt had his flaws like any other man, though readers will have to go elsewhere to learn more about those. “But in the end,” says Blake, “the positive actions he took far outweigh any of his missteps. We all owe Theodore Roosevelt a debt of gratitude for leadership by example. His actions are an inspiration to all of us.”
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