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Theodore Roosevelt on His Presidency: "In the End the Boldness of the Action Fully Justified Itself"

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Theodore Roosevelt was the second president of United States to write a book-length autobiography, but he was the first to give a lengthy account of his presidency or to give details about the private life of an American head of state.

Abraham Lincoln had written a few brief sketches of his life, and Ulysses S. Grant was the first to compose a full autobiography. But, written while the penniless Grant was dying of throat cancer in an attempt to ensure that his family would have a means of support after his death, his Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (published posthumously by Mark Twain) deals primarily with his military career.

Roosevelt's Autobiography, which begins with an account of his birth and boyhood, is peppered with detailed personal anecdotes and theoretical asides (one chapter concludes with an appendix on socialism). He opens the foreword acknowledging that "Naturally, there are chapters of my autobiography which cannot now be written," and perhaps the most glaring omission is the absence of any reference to his first wife, who died (coincidentally on the same day as his mother) two days after giving birth to their daughter Alice. But it is overall a lively read -- describing an incident chasing loose cattle in the "Wild West," he reports "...the next moment the horse and I went off a cut bank into the Little Missouri. I bent way back in the saddle, and though the horse almost went down he just recovered himself, and, plunging and struggling through water and quicksand, we made the other side."

Three years after it was published, Theodore Roosevelt presented the original typescript of the Autobiography to Mr. J. P. Morgan, Jr. At nearly 750 pages (that's a ream and a half of standard printer paper!), it was specially bound into two large red-leather volumes.

Roosevelt had used a never-quite-sharp pencil to edit the typed draft -- nearly every page contains extensive revisions, corrections, and additions in his hand. Here, he deemed it judicious to cancel a concluding paragraph alleging that, before his assumption of the presidency in 1901, "The work of the Executive Departments was disorganized, without spirit, and without coordination..."

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And while many contemporary political accounts are co-authored (or ghost written), Roosevelt seems to be responsible for most of his lengthy work. One chapter, however, sticks out -- about a third of "The Natural Resources of the Nation" was initially drafted in the third person. This section concerns Roosevelt's reclamation and conservation efforts during his presidency, and he has painstakingly edited away every instance of the third person narrator. On this page, he substitutes "me" for "Roosevelt Administration" and, defending the disregarding of red tape and subsequent "criticisms of alleged illegality and haste" that followed the Reclamation Act (as well as the acquisition of Panama, the settlement of the coal strike, and the suits against the big trusts), memorably concludes that "in the end the boldness of the action fully justified itself." Bully!

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For more information about Roosevelt's Autobiography, click here.