Back Theodore Roosevelt, “A Very Sad Thing”

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
From Theodore Roosevelt: Letters & Speeches

Left to right: Quentin, President Roosevelt, Ted, Archie, Alice, Kermit, First Lady Edith, and Ethel, July 12, 1903, at their summer home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, New York. Hand-colored photograph by the Pach Brothers studio. (Prints and Photographs division, New York Public Library)

As we conclude Presidents’ Day Week, we commemorate the centennial this year of the death of Theodore Roosevelt, our twenty-sixth President.

When President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, 42-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest man to assume the office. When he died at the beginning of 1919, he was only sixty years old. His health had been in decline since an expedition to Brazil five years earlier, when he suffered from abscesses, high fever, delirium, and severe dysentery after a serious injury to his left leg became infected. A number of biographers believe that what may have hastened his end is the death of Quentin, his youngest (and, as was obvious, his favorite) child.

Famous as a war hero in Cuba during the Spanish American war, Roosevelt had built his reputation on a strong commitment to America’s imperial might. His militarism influenced his four sons, all of whom enlisted after America declared war on Germany in 1917. Both Theodore Jr. and Archie were seriously injured in combat, and in July 1918 came word that Quentin, a pilot with the U.S. Air Corps, had been shot down and killed while on a mission.

Roosevelt consistently wrote to friends that Quentin “proved his truth by his endeavour,” but his many letters after Quentin’s death also betray his grief and devastation in subtle ways. Toward the end of the year, when he was asked to consider running for president again, he declined and admitted, “Since Quentin’s death, the world seems to have shut down upon me.”

We present four of the letters Roosevelt sent in the weeks immediately after Quentin’s death as our Story of the Week selection, along with an introduction with additional information about his four sons.

Read “A Very Sad Thing” by Theodore Roosevelt

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