Monday, February 20, 2006
Theodore Roosevelt's Father: Patriotic Citizen or "Draft Dodger"?
President Theodore Roosevelt's father, Theodore Roosevelt, Senior (1831-1878), was described by his son as being "the best man I ever knew." Unfortunately, present-day historians tend to best remember the elder Theodore Roosevelt as a man who bought a substitute to fight for him in the Union Army during the Civil War. Yet his son, who posthumously won a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Spanish-American War, idolized his father. Other than having a son who was one of the best-loved American Presidents, what was Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.'s actual legacy?
He was married to a staunch Confederate supporter, Martha Bulloch, who smuggled supplies to the Confederate Army from their home in Manhattan. Two of her brothers were Confederate Naval heroes. Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. reluctantly avoided fighting his wife's family, partly due to tensions produced at home. He regretted not fighting for the North until his dying day, but he participated actively in the Union Cause in other ways. He set up and actively participated in an Allotment Commission, whereby Union soldiers sent portions of their paychecks home to their families before squandering it on alcohol and other things. He was a founding member of the Union League Club of New York, serving on the Executive Committee, and was one of a handful of Club members who organized the distribution of Thanksgiving dinners to the entire Union Army in 1864.
Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. was also known as one of nineteenth century New York City's most charitable and upright citizens. He helped found the NY Orthopaedic Dispensary (today the Orthopaedic Department of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center), the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Children's Aid Society. He was known personally to three contemporary US Presidents, namely, Lincoln, Grant, and Hayes. He was also active in a several mid-nineteenth century civic reform movements. Yet, he is only mentioned in indices of biographies of well-known statesmen and citizens. If you have any particular information on Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, or any questions or salient points to discuss, please E-mail me, as I am compiling as much information on him as possible in our information era.
For more information on President Theodore Roosevelt, please visit
Photo: "Theodore Roosevelt Senior. A Tribute. " Union League Club publication, 1902, depicting Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. at about age 45.
Information: Various sources, especially recommend McCullough, David, "Mornings on Horseback." NY: Simon & Schuster, 1981.