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Dixie Roots: Another View of Theodore Roosevelt

Last week’s Wordless image involved one of the several Lincoln funeral processions that took place as Lincoln’s body was taken from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. Now you may be thinking I use this image when my students study the Civil War or Reconstruction, but I don’t.

I wait and use the image to introduce Theodore Roosevelt because it actually works better content wise for me to do so. Take a look at the picture by clicking on the word “wordless” above. The large three-story building on the left is actually the home of Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, owner of a very profitable plate-glass company, the owner of various properties around New York and in 1865 when this picture was taken he was the patriarch of the Oyster Bay faction of the Roosevelt family in America.

Notice the windows on the side. Look closely at the second floor window.

Can you make out the two small figures at the window?

During the procession so many people wanted to pay their respects and get a view of Lincoln’s coffin that people were willing to pay as much as one hundred dollars to secure a good view. The two observers in Mr. Roosevelt’s window, however, did not have to pay for the priviledge because they were his grandchildren—Theodore, age 7 and Elliot, age 5. Elliot was Theodore’s younger brother and would one day be the father of Eleanor, wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My young students get excited about this. They like the fact that a young man who will one day be president is witnessing the funeral procession of another, as well as a future father-in-law of another president. Students begin our study of Theodore Roosevelt with interest levels at full tilt.

Theodore Roosevelt is a rather long name for my young students to write as they take notes so we decide early on to abbreviate his name to TR and that’s how I will refer to him throughout this piece. If I had to come up with a shortlist of presidents I would most like to have lunch with TR would be at the top of the list. His story is such a facinating one that it is easy to understand why so many people have tacked his life through biography, however, be warned…..a biography of TR can weigh as much as a five pound bag of sugar.

A Time Magazine article explains TR best:

They don’t hold White House lunches the way they used to at the beginning of the century. On Jan. 1, 1907, for example, the guest list was as follows: a Nobel prizewinner, a physical culturalist, a naval historian, a biographer, an essayist, a paleontologist, a taxidermist, an ornithologist, a field naturalist, a conservationist, a big-game hunter, an editor, a critic, a ranchman, an orator, a country squire, a civil service reformer, a socialite, a patron of the arts, a colonel of the cavalry, a former Governor of New York, the ranking expert on big-game mammals in North America and the President of the U.S.
All these men were named Theodore Roosevelt.

The quote aptly describes TR, but it leaves out one important factor about his life that I find extremely fascinating. TR had very deep Southern roots of the best kind in my opinion…the Georgia kind. Now that little tidbit of information always perks my young students a bit and they become very interested in their “homeboy”.

It’s at this point that I bring up my main question for students to focus on. What do you think would happen if your father felt very strongly about something and your mother felt just as strongly in an opposite manner? Since divorce is a common factor with the majority of my students you can imagine where the conversation turns, but through the process we determine that we all have been in that type of situation. I remind students that in war we have also seen situations where families are divided. During the American Revolution many of the citizens of Savannah, Georgia split along generational lines with regard to remaining loyal or joining up with the Liberty Boys. It was very common during the revolution for many families to split with some families having members fight on both sides. Every year a few students recall our earlier discussion regarding Benjamin Franklin and his son William. They opposed each other in their thoughts concerning liberty.

I consider it a great moment when I teach something in history that at first glance can be very remote to my students, yet by simply bringing up a seemingly insignificant detail I end up creating a firm connection to our own back door. Within Roosevelt’s parentage is that insignificant set of details that connects a heavily entrenched Northern family with an even more heavily entrenched Southern family.

While TR hailed from a an old Northern American family of Dutch ancestory that believed in the abolitionist cause and were rabid Lincoln Republicans, the young children in TR’s home were heavily influenced by the romanticism of plantation Georgia by the Southern women who lived under his roof in New York.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha or Mittie Bulloch and she hailed from Roswell, Georgia where she lived with her father, Major James Stephens Bulloch and his wife, Martha Stewart Elliott Bulloch.

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