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These seven biographies have one thing in common. Nope, they’re not all Presidents (see Benjamin Franklin). They were all written and illustrated by the incomparable Cheryl Harness. There is a different unity of purpose achieved when the illustrator is also the author of the text in a book. Harness is a master of both crafts. She tells a very good story – clear and straightforward, with an instinct that helps her to select the anecdotes and incidents that are intrinsically interesting and character-revealing about her main subject.
In George Washington, Harness shows Washington as a frontier surveyor, Virginia planter, commander of the militia, and quiet delegate to the colonial legislature. She shows the moment at which the Continental Congress selected him to command the Continental army, with the famous founding fathers looking on as a he addresses them, reading from his notes. She shows him crossing the Delaware, seated, cold and grim-faced as he is rowed across to New Jersey, gambling his small army in a surprise attack. Then she shows him in September of 1783, at the end of seven years of war, saying goodbye to his officers at Queen’s Head Tavern in New York after the last British warship had sailed away with the last of the British troops. Four years later, he reluctantly leaves Mt. Vernon and heads for Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention. It took another ten years, until the spring of 1797 before he could return to live at Mt. Vernon year-round. The last picture Harness gives us is of Washington, aged 68, in December of 1799 out riding through the fields of Mt. Vernon, making his rounds. The chill resulted in a cold which worsened and led to his death on December 14, 1799. This is an excellent biography. Text is written at a 5th-7th grade level and those are the ages who will enjoy the detailed pictures and notes the most, though older readers could learn much from the text as well.
You can tell that Harness feels a certain affection for John Adams by reading her introduction:
“In the nation’s capital, the sun glitters on stone monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams was every bit as brave as the former and as brilliant as the latter but there is – at this writing – no such monument for him. Perhaps this is fitting, because stone is cold, and he was anything but. The United States is a proper, living monument to intense, cranky, warm, heart-on-his-sleeve John Adams – America’s champion.”
Her drawings are, as usual, wonderful. There is a full-page portrait of Adams (is he smiling or smirking?). There are pictures of his families house in Braintree and of Adams as a boy skipping school and hiking to a hill overlooking Boston harbor. The developments in Massachusetts that brought Adams to the forefront are retold in a simple summary. In a delightful format (made possible my Adams’ lifelong, affectionate correspondence with his wife, Abigail) each page has at the bottom a line from a letter – usually one from Abigail on one page and one from John on the other. There are several wonderful pictures depicting Adams diplomatic mission to France during the Revolutionary war (where he served alongside Franklin – and was accompanied by his young son, John Quincy). The political triumph of Adams’ life was his service for eight years as George Washington’s trusted vice president (Thomas Jefferson was secretary of state). When Washington’s term ended, Adams was elected as the second President of the United States (with Jefferson as HIS vice president). The political tragedy which followed was his estrangement from Jefferson leading to their fiercely fought election contest of 1800, in which Adams was defeated for a second term and Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. Harness concludes with several pages depicting the Adams living in retirement back in Massachusetts, in a house they named Peacefield. Twelve years after their bitter election contest, Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson and began a fourteen year correspondence in which the two old friends and then rivals became friends again. Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy elected President in November of 1824, though he was unable to attend the inauguration in March of 1825. On July 4th, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – Adams died quietly at his home in Massachusetts.
Thomas Jefferson, in Harness’s tale is a tall, gangly, red-haired, brilliant Virginia planter, with piercing eyes transfix your attention in the portrait Harness has produced. She dwells a bit on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration having owned slaves – and repeats the historical gossip that Jefferson was the father of his slave Sally Hemings six children. It’s possible that he was – but I don’t think the matter is (or probably can be) settled conclusively. Harness does an excellent job depicting Jefferson’s child- and boyhood in colonial Virginia and the excitement he felt as a student in Williamsburg. The death of Jefferson’s wife in 1782, towards the end of the revolutionary war (and of three of his young children as well) had a profound effect on him – captured and poignantly portrayed by Harness. Jefferson departed in 1784 for Paris with one of his two surviving daughters (eight year old Polly) and a 14-year-old slave, Sally Hemings. After the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson stayed on in Paris until 1789. Just as the French Revolution was breaking out, he returned home to serve as George Washington’s Secretary of State. He resigned at the end of Washington’s first term. In the election of 1796, he finished second to john Adams, and thus became Vice President. He and Adams differed sharply on many things, mostly and more and more about France. Adams (and his supporters in New England) were angry with the French and appalled by the excesses of the Revolution there. The expected war with France. Jefferson and his supporters felt that the United States should continue it’s alliance with France, in spite of the Revolution (even with its excesses) He expected war with England. The presidential election of 1800 saw Adams vilified as an “insane monarchist,” and Jefferson denounced as “an atheist and a revolutionary.” Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington DC. For eighteen years he had been a widower, and his housekeeping at the executive mansion was “eccentric.” His scientific bent and natural curiosity led him to champion the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the dispatch of a “Corps of Discovery” under Lewis and Clark to explore the vast wilderness. After the conclusion of his second term in 1809, Jefferson returned to Monticello where he continued to collect books and scientific instruments. The last few years of his life he spent much time on the establishment of the University of Virginia – and in the renewed correspondence with his old friend and rival, John Adams. He and Adams both died on July 4th 1826.
Ben Franklin is a rich subject for Harness’ palatte, from his days as a printer and continental postmaster to the Continental Congress, the Court of Louis XV in France, and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin’s warm, wry visage is evident everywhere. The text and the images communicate strongly his role as the kindly grandfather of his country.
Abe Lincoln’s life has so many colorful anecdotes that it merits two books from Cheryl Harness. The first (Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837) covers his childhood and life until 1837 – in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois, on a flatboat on the Ohio and the Mississippi, keeping store, electioneering and finally moving to Springfield to begin his law practice in 1837.
The second volume on Lincoln (Abe Lincoln goes to Washington 1837-1865) begins with his life in Springfield, one term as a US Congressman, and his eventual election in 1860 as President of the United States. It is a remarkable story with a number of vivid and striking scenes: Lincoln dancing with Mary Todd at a formal ball in 1839, Lincoln debating Douglas in 1858, Lincoln traveling by train to Washington in March of 1861 (under threat of attack by secessionists); Lincoln and his wife at the bedside of their son Willie, who died in February 1862 at the age of 12; Lincoln as he looked the day of the Gettysburg address; and finally Lincoln’s funeral train on its journey back to Illinois.
Finally, Harness has chosen a delightful subject (dee-LIGHT-ful!) in Young Teddy Roosevelt. She does an excellent job of depicting and describing his remarkable childhood and the personal handicaps (especially his struggle with asthma) that he had to overcome – as well as the personal tragedies that he faced – especially the death of his wife and mother just a few days after the birth of his first child. Teddy’s remarkable political career (New York State assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, United States Civil Service Commission, under-secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York) is covered as well as his exploits out west on his cattle ranch and his service with the rough riders in the Spanish American war. The book ends with his inauguration as president in the fall 1901 following the death of President McKinley. One hopes that Harness will follow this volume up with one on Teddy’s equally remarkable career as president from 1901-1909.
Any or all of the nine Harness biographies can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press:
George Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Revolutionary John Adams, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Thomas Jefferson, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, by Cheryl Harness – $17.95 (HB)
Young Abe Lincoln, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Young Teddy Roosevelt, by Cheryl Harness – $18.00 (HB)
We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.
The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.
The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.
The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.
What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.
Was it World War One and World War Two? . . . or WW6 and WW7?
First, a bit of a rant. I’m currently reading three books, one each on the American Revolution, World War One, and World War Two. I started this post thinking I would do a book review of at least one of them. But instead, I’ve produced a longer excursion in “setting the context.” I think its a useful piece all by itself. Let me know what you think. Book reviews to follow in later posts.
Calling the conflict that occurred in Europe between 1914 and 1919 the “First World War” is completely illogical. From 1689 to 1815 there were a series of five global conflicts – all fought between England and her allies and France and hers.
1689 – 1697 King Williams War / War of the League of Augsburg
1702 – 1713 Queen Anne’s War / War of the Spanish Succession
1744 – 1748 King George’s War / War of the Austrian Succession
1754 – 1763 French and Indian War / Seven Years War
1805 – 1815 Napoleonic Wars
Each of these wars was fought in both hemispheres, on multiple continents and involved global alliance systems. In some ways, this series of conflicts could be called the Second Hundred Years War between England and France. There’s a wikipedia article on precisely that topic which is worth reading. So are the articles on the French and Indian Wars and on the Napoleonic Wars.
After a century of global warfare, the destruction of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna and the Holy Alliance (between Russia, Prussia, and Austria) led to a century of relative peace – in Europe to be sure, and for the rest of the world, mostly. At least, from 1815 to 1914, there were no further global conflicts.
Of course there were a few regional conflicts. The Chinese civil war (aka, the Taiping Rebellion) from 1850 to 1864 caused 20 million deaths. The American civil war (aka, the War for Southern Independence) from 1861 to 1865 caused 600,000 deaths. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 was a relatively short conflict that inflicted a humiliating defeat on the French (the Germans occupied Paris) and was the occasion for the unification of dozens of small German principalities with the kingdom of Prussia – the resulting state calling itself the Second German Empire.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 (with about 3,000 US casualties) was pronounced a “splendid little war” by the US Secretary of State. It featured the improbable six-month odyssey of the US assistant secretary of the Navy resigning, forming a volunteer cavalry unit, fighting in Cuba in the summer, and then returning home to be elected Governor of New York in the fall. After serving two years as governor, the local party bosses persuaded President McKinley to put him on the national ticket as vice-president in his 1900 re-election campaign. Six months after being sworn in for his second term as president, McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, and Teddy Roosevelt, six weeks before his 43rd birthday, became the youngest man ever to be president of the united states.
The Russians and the Japanese fought a nineteen month war between February of 1904 and September of 1905. Japan won an overwhelming victory, and Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the treaty that ended the conflict.
So… there were five global conflicts in the second hundred years war between 1689 and 1815, which by my reckoning would make 1914-1919 World War Six. And then 1939 to 1945 would be World War Seven. Unless you want to recognize the linkage between the two and call them collectively the Thirty Years War of the 20th century.
[sigh] That would make more SENSE, but I think at this point there’s very little chance that the names WW6 and WW7 will catch on. But now you know – and can amuse your friend by asking, “How many world wars have there been?”
Director, Schaeffer Study Center