Review | Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

To read the first in Edmund Morris’ biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt (see my review here: “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt“), one might be left with the feeling that it was inevitable that Teddy someday become President. Individuals from his German tutor while he studied abroad to those who came into contact with him while he fought policy corruption in New York City, not to mention the men who served with him in the Spanish-American War.

With “Theodore Rex,” though, we see a man who is thrust into the Presidency without the opportunity to prepare mentally, as others had through the fire and course of a national campaign.

And yet, after a first term as Governor of New York, it became clear that those who controlled New York’s political machine would not allow Roosevelt another reform minded term. His name bandied around as a candidate for Vice President, Roosevelt was flattered, but convinced that he would be useless, bored, and stagnate. To Roosevelt, a man who above all was in perpetual motion, becoming Vice-President would doom him to irrelevance and uselessness. Unlike today, when Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have exercised greater responsibility and power than any Vice President in memory, the Office of the Vice President at the turn of the 19th century wasn’t “worth a bucket of spit,” at least to Roosevelt. It took wounded pride to change his mind–hearing that Senator Mark Hanna and President William McKinley did not want him on the ticket, he let supporters know he that he would serve if the Convention selected him.

Little did he know how short his term as Vice President would be. In the ides of September, President McKinley was killed by an assassin and Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.

That’s almost before the book even gets started.

Morris’ writing is, as in the first book in the series, novel-like. Theodore strides through his world like a giant, negotiating peace between the Japanese and Russians, supporting the secession of Panama in order to obtain a shorter path for the Panama, building and sending the Great White Fleet, ending a miners strike involving a quarter of a million workers, appointing three Supreme Court Justices, including the great dissenter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and hosting Booker T. Washington, the first time a black had been invited to dinner with a President at the White House.. Perhaps the only difference between this and the first book is that in feeling. Where the first tells was the life of an ambitious adventurer, “Theodore Rex” is the story of a man under constant scrutiny, on whom the stakes are much increased. At times I couldn’t help but wonder if it was also the change in the type of documents that Morris is able to rely upon, utilizing more official and government documents than in “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Theodore Rex” is a fascinating look at one of America’s most ambitious, most popular, and most effective Presidents. Coming to power at time when American power and wealth was growing and as yet unfathomed, Roosevelt took every advantage given to him to expand American power and influence. Morris’ “Theodore Rex” is entertaining, education, and compelling, especially for a Presidential biography.

[Previously posted at Publius Online]

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.