Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was born and raised in New York City. He died in 1919 in Oyster Bay, New York of a heart attack.
Roosevelt was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church. This denomination, now defunct due to a 2004 merger with the “Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands,” is one of the earliest versions of European Protestantism and is similar to Calvinism and Presbyterianism.
Roosevelt was a lifelong devotee to this faith. However, during large stretches of his life, he was unable to physically find a church to attend. Thus, he often attended Episcopal services, as his wife was an Episcopalian. He once said:
When I first came to Washington, I did not know there was any Dutch Reformed Church there, and went with my wife to the Episcopal Church. But, on becoming President, I learned that there was a little obscure, red brick building tucked away on the back of a lot, and I immediately selected that as my Church.
Furthermore, Roosevelt was involved with an Episcopalian denomination in Brazil during his travels to that country, and by the time he had largely retired from public life in Oyster Bay, Long Island, he was a regular attendee, with his wife, at an Episcopalian church there–the “Christ Church of Oyster Bay.” They still list Roosevelt as one of their former parishioners.
Roosevelt was a staunch defender of religious freedom and tolerance, even during a time when bigotry of all kinds was much more widely accepted. During the 1908 presidential campaign, Roosevelt supported William Taft, but some former Roosevelt supporters did not agree and he occasionally received letters to that effect. One letter-writer opined that, because of Taft’s family connections to the Catholic Church, he would not make a good candidate. Roosevelt wrote back, chastising the constituent for his intolerance and saying, among other things:
To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular Church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any Church, is an outrage against the liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.
And during his State of the Union Address in 1904, Roosevelt condemned Russia for its treatment of Jews and called for tolerance and equality for all races, religion and creeds.
If Teddy Roosevelt is not a hero of the left, he certainly should be. Perhaps it’s because he was a Republican, though modern-day liberals and Democrats frequently try to claim him as one of their own. Perhaps they are right to do so.
First, Roosevelt was fixated on equality, as the religious section above attests. But it wasn’t just religion. Roosevelt was a supporter of the growing suffrage movement that happened under his watch, though the 19th Amendment (giving women the right to vote) didn’t happen until a couple of years after he left office. Roosevelt also supported desegregation in the South, though it would be decades after his death until that occurred. Furthermore, he was the first president to invite a black person to the White House–Booker T. Washington.
Roosevelt was an advocate of the natural environment, and created the modern-day National Parks system. He once said:
Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.
Roosevelt challenged the nation’s vested interests as well. And his philosophy that business should be subject to strict state regulation would have any modern-day Republican foaming at the mouth. He once said:
The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are the creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them, but it is duty bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown.
However, in some ways, the modern-day right might agree with him. He was the first president to begin to build up America’s military forces and he felt that all immigrants should learn English upon arriving in the U.S.
And yet, all in all, he was quite progressive. So, he will be a first for the Hollowverse–a liberal Republican.