[lbo-talk] Southern vs. Northern violence

Carl Remick carlremick at hotmail.com
Mon May 7 09:41:48 PDT 2007

>From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com>
>In the U.S., and maybe elsewhere, there's a long tradition of
>sissifying the upper class - most recently, and absurdly, Bush did it
>to Kerry in 2004. Teddy Roosevelt spent much of his life trying to
>change that image.

Yes, I've read quite a bit about TR -- whose home at Sagamore Hill, Long Island, is near me and I've visited several times -- and I've decided that GOP honcho Mark Hanna was correct in writing TR off as "that damn cowboy." TR had an incredibly conflicted personality: On the one hand, he helped engineer the end of the Russo-Japanese War and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. On the other, he was a warmonger's warmonger. He played a prime role in starting the Spanish-American War and rejoiced in taking part in its violence. Leading the famous Rough Riders charge in the battle of San Juan Hill/Kettle Hill, as one web source notes, TR reached the top of Kettle Hill "alone except for his orderly, he shot a Spaniard dead with a pistol salvaged from the battleship The Maine . The man went down [TR said] 'neatly as a jackrabbit.' Roosevelt was exultant. 'All men who feel any power of joy in battle,' he wrote later, 'know what it is like when the wolf rises in the heart.'"

TR was a raving loony in large part because the US Civil War split his family right down the middle. His father, Theodore Sr., (nicknamed "Thee") was a prominent NY philanthropist and Northern sympathizer but took no part in the fighting, paying for a substitute to take his place in the Union Army. TR's two maternal uncles, conversely, took direct part in the war in the service of the Confederacy officers, and his mother, though living in NYC, remained a staunch Southern sympathizer throughout. All in all this created enough cognitive dissonance to fry TR's brain circuitry irreparably.

Consider: On the one hand, TR worshipped his old man, stating: "My father ... was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness." On the other hand, he was clearly ashamed of his dad for not taking direct part in the Civil War like his Confederate uncles. Wikipedia paints a vivid picture of the soap opera that was the Roosevelt family household during the Civil War:

"Theodore Sr. was an active supporter of the Union during the Civil War. He was one of the Charter Members of the Union League Club, which was founded to promote the Northern cause. He has not been listed as such, probably because his wife was a loyal supporter of the Confederacy. It was perhaps because of her active support of the Confederate Army that Theodore Sr. hired a replacement to fulfill his draft obligation in the Army of the Potomac. During the war, he and two friends, William E. Dodge, Jr. and Theodore B. Bronson, drew up an Allotment System, which amounted to a soldier's payroll deduction program to support families back home. He then went to Washington, lobbied for, and won acceptance of this system, with the help of Abraham Lincoln himself. Theodore Sr. and Mr. Dodge were appointed Allotment Commissioners from NY State. At their own expense, the two men toured all NY divisions of the Army of the Potomac in the field to explain this program and sign interested men up, with a significant degree of success. In 1864, the Union League Club recruited money and food to send Thanksgiving Dinner to the entire Army of the Potomac. Theodore Sr. served as Treasurer for this generous outpouring of support for the troops. The elder Roosevelt meticulously listed every donation received in a Union League Report dated December 1864.

"Despite all these works by Thee for his country and for the northern soldiers, one aspect of his life always remained a source of regret by his son and future president, Theodore (TR). Thee never personally served in the military. Instead, Thee paid for another soldier to take his place. This was perfectly legal, but something was the one seemingly contradictory aspect of his character that Theodore Jr. could never really accept. It did not matter to his son that Thee often was far more exposed to hostile action while visiting front-line troops than many soldiers who never saw a shot fired in anger. It would influence his son's own decision to actively seek a combat role in the Spanish-American War ....

"This lack of military service needs to be understood within its context. Thee was married to a true southern belle, the former Martha 'Mittie' Bulloch, a beautiful and wonderfully gay woman ... not unlike Margaret Mitchell's fictional Scarlett O'Hara ... [who was probably modeled in part on Mittie]. (Mitchell had interviewed Mittie's best childhood friend and bridesmaid for a story in the Atlanta Journal newspaper in the early 1930s. In that interview Martha's remarkable beauty, charm and fun-loving nature was laid out in detail.) At her worst, however, Mittie was a highly sensitive and emotionally fragile woman. At the least provocation, Mittie would withdraw for days into a self-imposed isolation. During these times, she would be invisible both to the family and to her social life, withdrawing to her room, taking one bath after another and suffering from a host of illnesses. ...[Aggravating her emotional fragility], Mittie was terrified for her brothers, James and Irvine Bulloch, who were both involved in the Civil War on the Confederate side. James was a Confederate agent in Britain and Irvine was the youngest officer on the CSS Alabama, firing the last gun before the ship sank in battle off the coast of France. These emotional crises were mitigated somewhat by the incredible maturity and management abilities of the eldest daughter, Bamie, who often stepped into a leadership role, especially when her father, "Thee," was often out of town in Washington, visiting Lincoln and lobbying Congress for programs to support the northern troops in the field and their families back home. Nevertheless, had Thee left his delicate home situation to literally fight against his wife's brothers and her southern kinfolk, the emotional consequences to his already fragile wife would probably have been catastrophic."

It's amazing TR wasn't wackier than he was.


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