Theodore Roosevelt: The Sagamore Years

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site


Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, member of the New York State Assembly, Civil Service Commissioner, Police Commissioner of New York City, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President. He was all those things and much more – soldier, rancher, historian, conservationist, and writer on many different topics. Even now, his words and his image are all around us – here on an island on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. … and here at Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota… in New York City, the family home, where TR was born… and above all else, this place, Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s Home on Long Island, a place of history, a place of family and friends. TITLE: THEODORE ROOSEVELT: THE SAGAMORE YEARS This is the story of a man and a house, an association of over 30 years – a special man and a very special house. “At Sagamore Hill, we love a great many things: birds and trees and books and all things beautiful and horses and rifles and children and hard work and the joy of life.” Theodore Roosevelt and the Oyster Bay area. The association began early in his life and lasted throughout. First, there was “Tranquility,” the home his parents rented every summer. He spent his first summer here in 1874. As a young man, he was determined to have his own place and bought 100 acres at Cove Neck near “Tranquility.” He planned the house with his wife Alice Lee and decided to call it “Leeholm.” He wanted it to be a very special place. “I wished a big piazza where we could sit in rocking chairs and look out at the sunset, a library with a shallow bay window looking south, the parlor, or drawing room, occupying all the western half of the lower floor, big fireplaces for logs.” Above all, he wanted it to be a comfortable place. “I had to live inside, not outside.” Then his world fell apart. His wife Alice Lee died in 1884. Roosevelt decided to go ahead with construction but didn’t return to the finished house until later the next year. The name “Leeholm” would no longer do. He decided on “Sagamore Hill,” named after Indian chiefs who held councils of war on the land back in the 1600s. In 1886, he married Edith Kermit Carow and together, they made Sagamore Hill a family home, a retreat. Sagamore Hill was the Roosevelts’ full-time home, the only one they owned. There had been other they lived in in New York City, in the State Capitol in Albany, and in Washington, but this was the magnet bringing them back as often as possible. And when they came, they brought back mementos of their lives. They’re here, mostly in the North Room. Among them are reminders of Roosevelt’s sudden fame as a soldier. He resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War. He was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel and served in a volunteer regiment which soon became known as “The Rough Riders,” and led the famous charge up San Juan Hill… and he came home a national hero. He returned to Sagamore Hill to a hero’s welcome then laid plans to become Governor of New York, and he succeeded. Then, an even higher honor. In 1900, he was elected Vice President on the Republican ticket with William McKinley. A year later, President McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt assumed the presidency. He was only 42, the youngest president to take office. The family moved into the White House -- Children, pets, toys, and lots of visitors, all of them eager to pose with the President, and he willingly obliged. But returning to their own home at Sagamore Hill brought the greatest pleasure. “After all, fond as I am of the White House, there isn’t any place in the world like home, Sagamore Hill, where things are our own with our own associations and where it is real country.” But it was no longer possible to leave responsibilities behind. Sagamore Hill became the summer White House with visiting dignitaries, politicians, and groups of every kind and description. Roosevelt met them all and enjoyed the mixture of work and play. And of course, there was the press and, for the first time, a newsreel cameraman. Roosevelt posed in front of the house and asked, “How would you have me, in repose or in action?” They decided on action, and Roosevelt quickly obliged by demonstrating his skills at chopping down trees. As with anything else, he tackled the job with high energy and lots of enthusiasm. Still, though, there was work to be done and serious issues to be studied and acted upon. And this, too, was tackled with energy. Roosevelt took on the plight of factory workers. Conditions were filthy, the work week was 60 hours and yearly take-home pay was $600. TR’s concerns became known as “The Square Deal,” an issue he carried all across the nation, making people aware of the evils of the new industrialization. “No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living and hours of labor short enough to bear his share of the management of the community.” He went to bat for embattled coal miners, settled the long and bitter strike of 1902. There were threats of civil strife, even a revolution, but TR brought it to a close. He attacked big business, forcing the break up of big companies which were controlling industry. If Roosevelt understood the problems of America, he also understood the role it needed to play in the world: a leader of nations, strong and peaceful. “Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected of us. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with other nations of the earth. We must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities.” To demonstrate his point, he sent ships of the US Navy around the world, the “Great White Fleet.” He also demonstrated that America could assume greatness and make things happen. He built the Panama canal over the strong and justified objections of many. And in typical TR fashion, he went there himself on an inspection trip and minced no words about his intentions. “I took the Isthmus, started the canal, and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me. But while the debate goes on, the canal does, too. And they are welcome to debate me as long as they wish, provided that we can go on with the canal.” And it happened just that way. The result was an engineering marvel. Shipping could now move quickly from one ocean to another, and the United States controlled the moves. Roosevelt also achieved fame as a peacemaker. He served as the principal negotiator between the Russians and the Japanese, bringing to an end the Russo-Japanese War. For this, he was awared the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American to be so honored. And, in between, there were the personal moments and celebrations. At the White House, his daughter Alice married Nicholas Longworth. Theodore gave his daughter away and then joined the couple for the formal portrait. A year earlier, he performed the same role for his niece Eleanor, in her marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in the process stole the show. As Alice remarked, her father always wanted to be “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” Wherever he went, Theodore enjoyed being the center of attention. July 4th at Oyster Bay. The great American holiday in the typical American small town. He spoke to the crowds on patriotism, on America, and on the joys of a family. The crowds loved it, and so did he. Roosevelt refused a second elected term as President and soon after traveled to Africa with his son Kermit, collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. His family later joined him in Egypt… and they took the grand tour of Europe, following the path of other famous and wealthy Americans. He even reviewed the troops of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, the first American private citizen to be given such an honor. When he came back home, he sought the Republican nomination for President. He was turned down. As elected nominee to the Bull Moose Party, he lost to Woodrow Wilson. Then, another trip -- a grueling expedition to Brazil to explore an unknown river. It took its toll on his health and he was never quite the same. But still, he persisted. When the United States entered World War One, Roosevelt offered to raise one army division that could be in France in 90 days, but Wilson said no. All four Roosevelt sons did join the service. Quentin became a pilot and was shot down and killed in France. The dreams were fading away. But still, there was that spirit. He spent his days at Sagamore Hill reading and writing. Upstairs, the Gate Room provides the final chapter. This is where he died, peacefully, on January 6, 1919. He was 60 years old. Once again, the dignitaries, the statesmen, the politicians, made the trip to Oyster Bay for the last time. Now there are the monuments and the judgments of history. A friend at the time said that Roosevelt was “a stream of fresh, pure, bracing air from the mountains.” Thomas Edison called him “the most stirring figure in American life.” But Roosevelt himself said it best when commenting on manhood. “A man’s usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals as far as he can.” Theodore Roosevelt – solider, politician, and statesman, writer and scholar, conservationist, husband and father. He could live up to those ideals, and he did.


A look at Theodore Roosevelt's life and accomplishments. Run time: 17:58. Closed Captions.


17 minutes, 58 seconds



Copyright and Usage Info