Last night I finished Edward P. Kohn’s new book Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt. In my Interp at the TRB one of the things I stress is that it was New York City that most shaped Roosevelt. For starters he was the only president born in NYC, and his family traced traced its roots back to the original Dutch settlers of the seventeenth century. There are Roosevelts still living in New York City.
Roosevelt as New Yorker is an important point to make because the perception of him is that he is of the West. I guess when you write a four volume history called The Winning of the West that is bound to happen. And of course there was the ranching, the conservationism, and the mammoth bust carved into Mount Rushmore as well.
Part of these perceptions are the fault, if that is the right word, of Roosevelt himself, who as a national candidate had an interest in fostering a national image. Thus, he campaigned in, say, Kansas as a Westerner and in Georgia, the state of his mother’s birth, as a Southerner once removed. That’s what good candidates do.
That said, it was in New York State that TR took on Tammany Hall as an assemblyman, in New York City that he was police commissioner, and in Albany where he served in the executive mansion before becoming vice-president. As Kohn describes so well, the national policies he pursued through his Square Deal–immigration reform, the safety of our foods and drugs, labor negotiations & worker safety, government corruption–came from the challenges he faced here in the Empire State. It is something to remember.
(image/Library of Congress)