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American History
Teddy Roosevelt
contributed by Lu Hickey


Teddy RooseveltBorn into a wealthy family in 1858, Theodore Roosevelt was a frail asthmatic who built up his body, until he was a superb athlete and adopted for himself a strict moral code and a love of the mind.

T.R., as he was called, graduated from Harvard and married the beautiful Alice Lee in 1880. It seemed a fairytale life awaited Roosevelt, but on St. Valentine's Day 1884 both his wife and his mother died. Brokenhearted, T.R. headed west to ranch in the Dakota territories. There he began a lifelong association with rough and tumble cowboys. The cowboys gained respect for T.R., an Eastern dude who wore glasses, when he single handedly tracked three rustlers in a blizzard and brought them back for trial.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, T.R. helped organize the Rough Riders. They were a volunteer cavalry outfit consisting of wealthy young Easterners, cowboys from the West, Mexican-Americans from New Mexico, and Native Americans from what is now Oklahoma. The regiment became famous for its charge up Kettle Hill during the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba. T.R. led the charge and returned to the United States in July a national hero. By fall, he was elected Republican governor of New York.

Roosevelt was a reformer. He angered many of the political bosses, so in 1900, they nominated him as vice president to get rid of him. However in September 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated and T.R. became America's 26th President.

Roosevelt lost no time in putting his reform ideas, called progressivism, to work. He busted the powerful business trusts, which tried to control whole industries and backed mine workers in their strike against their employers. He was also the first environmental President, putting millions of acres of land into America's national forests.

Amazingly popular, T.R. was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1904. He began digging the Panama Canal and won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a war between Russia and Japan. He continued his attacks on the wealthy. Oh yes, he also managed to read a book each day.

In 1909, T.R. left the presidency and America a very different place than he had found it. In 1912, he ran again. When he couldn't get the Republican nomination, which went to incumbent president William Howard Taft, T.R. launched his independent Bull Moose candidacy.

So popular was T.R. that most Republicans went with him and the divided party made sure that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election with TR coming in second and Taft third.

By the time of his death on January 6, 1919, T.R. had already been rated as one of America's great Presidents. And that greatness was confirmed a few years later, when his face joined those of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

The first Master of Matinecock Lodge, William Lincoln Swan, was a close friend and neighbor of the Roosevelt family. William Jones Youngs, a charter member of Matinecock Lodge and the personal secretary to Theodore Roosevelt, proposed him for membership. At the time he completed his petition for membership, Roosevelt was Governor of New York and Vice-President-elect, having won election with Brother William McKinley a few weeks earlier. His petition was received accompanied by the usual $5.00 fee on November 28,1900. On his petition, a copy of which hangs in Matinecock Lodge, he listed his age as 42, place of birth, New York City, place of business, Albany, and his occupation, Governor. Master Theodore A. Swan referred the petition to a committee consisting of R:.W:.William L. Swan, Bro. Frank W. Bonifer, and W:.William S. Moore. The petition was favorably reported at the 357th communication on December 12,1900 and he was duly balloted and elected to membership that same evening.

At a regular communication on January 2, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was announced as being in readiness for the first degree. R:.W:.Bro. Frank E. Haff presided in conferring the degree, assisted by M:.W:.Bro. John W. Vrooman, Past Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York; R:.W:.Bro. E.M.L. Ehlers; R:.W:.Bro. Douglass Conklin; R:.W:.Bro. Frederick P. Morris; and M:.W:.Bro. John Stewart, Past Grand Master. Eighteen of the twenty lodges within the District were represented by delegations. There were very many visitors including several M:.W:.many R:.W:.s, and delegations from 46 lodges. The third floor lodge room in the Oyster Bay Bank building was very full that evening. Music was provided by a quartet for a fee of $25 which had been advanced by the Master, Theodore A. Swan. There is no mention in the minutes of any collation or banquet following. Arrangements were made for special trains to convey the many visitors to their respective destinations. A resolution of thanks to the president of the Long Island Railroad, William H. Baldwin, Esq., was adopted at the January 16th communication.

Three weeks after his inauguration as Vice President of the United States on March 4, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was announced as being in readiness for examination in the first degree at a regular communication-on March 27, 1901. After a "very satisfactory" examination the candidate was passed to the degree of fellowcraft. It was reported at the time that he knew the material so well that he corrected those conducting the examination when they erred. R:.W:.Bro. Frank B. Haff, Meridian #691, presided; with R:.W:.Bro. Douglass Conklin, Jephtha #494; R:.W:.Bro. John K. Dunn, Jamaica #546; W:.Bro. Joseph Fitch, Cornucopia #563; and W:.Bro. Joseph Cummings, Altair #601, assisting. The list of visitors included delegations from eleven lodges.

During the next few weeks many committees were appointed for the planning and arrangements for the upcoming raising of Theodore Roosevelt.

The evening of April 24,1901 was truly a "Grand Affair." The raising of Theodore Roosevelt was presided over by R:.W:.Edward M.L. Ehlers, Grand Secretary; with R:.W:.Frank B. Haff, District Deputy Grand Master-1st District; R:.W:.Theodore A. Taylor, Grand Treasurer; M:.W:.John Stewart, Past Grand Master; R:.W:.William A. Brodie, Past Grand Master; M:.W:.John W. Vrooman, Past Grand Master; M:.W:.Charles W. Mead, Grand Master; R:.W:.George R. VanDeWater, Grand Chaplain; and M:.W:.Wright D. Pownall, Past Grand Master assisting. In addition to the Grand Masters of New York and Connecticut being present, there were seven Past Grand Masters. The secretary, Walter Franklin, must have been somewhat overwhelmed by the visitor list, which was estimated at 500. Only those holding tickets were permitted entry into the lodge rooms. The narrow stairway leading to the third floor lodge room was said to have been so jammed with visitors trying to get in that the Vice President had to be raised up over the heads of the visitors and passed up the stairs. Considering Roosevelt's bulk this would seem to have been quite a task. The Secretary did not list any visitors below the level of R:.W:.

The rooms of Welfare Lodge No.695, I.O.O.F., were loaned to Matinecock Lodge for the evening for the use of visiting brethren. These rooms were located on the second floor of the "truck house" which was the home of the Hook and Ladder Company #1 on Bayles Hill (Summit Street), later to be known as Oyster Bay Fire Co. No 1. The building no longer exists, and the Wightman House, home of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, now occupies the site. The truck room of Hook and Ladder Company #1, on the first floor, was used for the collation. The minutes show that both Welfare Lodge and Hook and Ladder Company #1 donated the use of their facilities. The collation was organized and managed by Mr. Charles Weeks and Mr. Thomas Buchanan, who also donated their services, Among those mentioned as serving the guests at the collation were Mrs. R.F. Spicer, Mrs. Robert I. Ludlam, Mrs. Casper Bedell, and Miss Laura Baldwin. The organist for the evening was W:.Harry Alton Russell. Mr. John McQuade, the village constable, took care of "preserving order" and "refused to make any charge for his services." As at the first degree, special trains were provided by the LIRR.

The following September 6th an assassin shot Brother William McKinley in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and upon his death on September 14, 1901, Brother Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as 26th President of the United States of America. A few days later the following resolution was adopted and spread upon the minutes of Matinecock Lodge:

"The Master, Wardens and Brethren of Matinecock Lodge, No. 806, F.& A.M., assembled within their lodge room on this 18th day of September, 1901, unite with their fellow citizens throughout the nation and with the entire civilized world, in deploring the sad and tragic death of the late President of the United States, Brother William McKinley.

"They desire to express in the strongest terms their abhorrence and detestation of that lawless spirit which recognizes no authority either human or divine, and which, if unchecked in its mad career, will destroy order and civilization in all lands; and they call upon their brethren of the Masonic fraternity everywhere to use their utmost efforts to promote that respect for lawful authority which is the only safeguard of individual and national liberty and security.

"They would respectfully extend to Mrs. McKinley and the family of our late President their most sincere and heartfelt sympathy, and pray that God may comfort them in this hour of sorrow.

"They would express their high appreciation of the great honor which has come to Matinecock Lodge by the elevation of one of its members to the office of Chief Magistrate of the Nation; and they earnestly invoke upon Brother Roosevelt the blessing of Almighty God, that his administration may prove in the highest degree successful.

The life of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was one of constant activity, immense energy, and enduring accomplishments. As the twenty-sixth President of the United States, Roosevelt was the wielder of the Big Stick, the builder of the Panama Canal, an avid conservationist, and the nemesis of the corporate trusts that threatened to monopolize American business at the start of the century. His exploits as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War and as a cowboy in the Dakota Territory were indicative of his spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors. Reading and hunting were lifelong passions of his; writing was a lifelong compulsion. Roosevelt wrote more than three dozen books on topics as different as naval history and African big game. Whatever his interest, he pursued it with extraordinary zeal. "I always believe in going hard at everything," he preached time and again. This was the basis for living what he called the "strenuous life," and he exhorted it for both the individual and the nation.

Roosevelt's engaging personality enhanced his popularity. Aided by scores of photographers, cartoonists, and portrait artists, his features became symbols of national recognition; mail addressed only with drawings of teeth and spectacles arrived at the White House without delay. TR continued to be newsworthy in retirement, especially during the historic Bull Moose campaign of 1912, while pursuing an elusive third presidential term. He remains relevant today. This exhibition is a retrospective look at the man and his portraiture, whose progressive ideas about social justice, representative democracy, and America's role as a world leader have significantly shaped our national character.

Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in a brownstone house on Twentieth Street in New York City. A re-creation of the original dwelling, now operated by the National Park Service, replicates the tranquility of Roosevelt's earliest years. His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was a prosperous glassware merchant, and was one of the wealthy old Knickerbocker class, whose Dutch ancestors had been living on Manhattan Island since the 1640s. His mother, Martha Bulloch, was reputedly one of the loveliest girls to have been born in antebellum Georgia. Together the parents instilled in their eldest son a strong sense of family loyalty and civic duty, values that Roosevelt would himself practice, and would preach from the bully pulpit all of his adult life.

Unfortunately the affluence to which the young Theodore grew accustomed could do little to improve the state of his fragile health. He was a sickly, underweight child, hindered by poor eyesight. Far worse, however, were the life threatening attacks of asthma he had to endure until early adulthood. To strengthen his constitution, he lifted dumbbells and exercised in a room of the house converted into a gymnasium. He took boxing lessons to defend himself and to test his competitive spirit. From an early age he never lacked energy or the will to improve himself physically and mentally. He was a voracious reader and writer; his childhood diaries reveal much about his interests and the quality of his expanding mind. Natural science, ornithology, and hunting were early hobbies of his, which became lifelong.

In the fall of 1876, Roosevelt entered Harvard University. By the time he graduated magna cum laude, he was engaged to be married to a beautiful young lady named Alice Lee.  The wedding took place on Roosevelt's twenty-second birthday. Amid the intense happiness he experienced during his first year of marriage, he laid the foundations of his historic public career. "I rose like a rocket," he said years later. Ironically, when he chartered his own path for public office--the White House in 1912--he failed bitterly. When others had selected him--as they did for the New York Assembly in 1881, for the governorship in 1898, and for the vice presidency in 1900--his election was almost a foregone conclusion. Politics aside, Roosevelt shaped and molded his life as much as any person could possibly do. He could not control fate, however. On Valentine's Day, 1884, his mother died of typhoid fever and his wife died of Bright's disease, two days after giving birth to a daughter, Alice Lee. Amidst this personal trauma, Theodore Roosevelt was on the verge of becoming a national presence.

No event had a more profound effect on Theodore Roosevelt's political career than the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901. At the age of forty-two, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office, becoming the youngest President of the United States before or since. From the start, Roosevelt was committed to making the government work for the people, and in many respects, the people never needed government more. The post-Civil War industrial revolution had generated enormous wealth and power for the men who controlled the levers of business and capital. Regulating the great business trusts to foster fair competition without socializing the free enterprise system would be one of Roosevelt's primary concerns. The railroads, labor, and the processed food industry all came under his scrutiny. Although the regulations he implemented were modest by today's standards, collectively they were a significant first step in an age before warning labels and consumer lawsuits.

Internationally, America was on the threshold of world leadership. Acquisition of the Philippines and Guam after the recent war with Spain expanded the nation's territorial borders almost to Asia. The Panama Canal would only increase American trade and defense interests in the Far East, as well as in Central and South America. In an age that saw the rise of oceanic steamship travel, the country's sense of isolation was on the verge of suddenly becoming as antiquated as yardarms and sails.

A conservative by nature, Roosevelt was progressive in the way he addressed the nation's problems and modern in his view of the presidency. If the people were to be served, according to him, then it was incumbent upon the President to orchestrate the initiatives that would be to their benefit and the nation's welfare. Not since Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson before him, had a President exercised his executive powers as an equal branch of government. If the Constitution did not specifically deny the President the exercise of power, Roosevelt felt at liberty to do so. "Is there any law that will prevent me from declaring Pelican Island a Federal Bird Reservation? . . .Very well, then I so declare it!" By executive order in March 1903, he established the first of fifty-one national bird sanctuaries. These and the national parks and monuments he created are a part of his great legacy.

Only once in American history had a President vacated the White House and then returned to it again as President. This had been Grover Cleveland's unique destiny in 1893. That this had occurred within recent memory, and to a politician in whose footsteps Roosevelt had followed as governor of New York and finally as President, must have given Roosevelt reason to pause as he himself became a private citizen again in March 1909.  He was only fifty years old, the youngest man to leave the executive office. Cleveland had been just eighteen months older when he temporarily yielded power to Benjamin Harrison in 1889. For the record, Roosevelt claimed that he was through with politics. This was the only thing he could have said as William Howard Taft, his successor, waited in the wings. Theodore Roosevelt had enjoyed being President as much as any person possibly could. Filling the post-White House vacuum would require something big and grand, and with that in mind, Roosevelt planned his immediate future. The prospect of a yearlong safari in Africa brightened for him what otherwise would have been the dreary prospect of retirement. It "will let me down to private life without that dull thud of which we hear so much," he wrote.

Aided by several British experts, Roosevelt oversaw every preparation: itinerary, gear and clothing, food and provisions, weapons, personnel, and expenses. He had been an avid naturalist and hunter since the days of his youth. Because he was genuinely interested in the African fauna, he arranged for his safari to be as scientific as possible, and enticed the Smithsonian Institution to join the expedition by offering to contribute extensively to its fledgling collection of wildlife specimens. Roosevelt invited his son, Kermit, along for companionship, if the lad would be willing to interrupt his first year of studies at Harvard. Kermit needed no persuading.


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