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“It is very hard for the old to stay when their deaths would make no matter one way or the other, whereas the young die in their glorious golden morning. It is bitter for me to sit at home in ease and comfort and have my four sons and my son-in-law and all the young kinsmen I have at the front facing death and enduring hardship. But it would be far more bitter for me if they were not doing just as they have done… of my four sons, two of them have been wounded in addition to the one who has been killed.”
A pair of letters relating to World War I, both sent by Roosevelt to French statesman and historian Gabriel Hanotaux. The first pledges Roosevelt’s support for France despite President Wilson’s policy of neutrality, and the second (excerpted above) a haunting but proud letter shortly after the combat death of his son Quentin Roosevelt. THEODORE ROOSEVELT.
Typed Letters Signed, Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y. May 21, 1916, with holograph corrections, Pledging his support for France, even though President Wilson has committed the nation to neutrality.
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With: THEODORE ROOSEVELT. Typed Letter Signed, Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y. July 24, 1918, to Gabriel Hanotaux, a French statesman and historian. 1p., with French translation in another [Hanotaux’s?] hand written in ink between the typed lines, with handwritten note in unknown script, instructing that the letter be delivered to Ambassador Jusserand in Washington [who would forward the letter to Hanotaux in France].
With: GABRIEL HANOTAUX, Signed and Inscribed Photograph, in French, showing him standing in French Academy uniform, signed on the mount verso, 7x5”. “Un souvenir de votre ami [a souvenir of your friend]Gabriel Hanotaux. A.G. Hanotaux”
July 24th, 1918.
My dear M. Hanataux:
I very deeply appreciate your cable. It is very hard for the old to stay when their deaths would make no matter one way or the other, whereas the young die in their glorious golden morning. It is bitter for me to sit at home in ease and comfort and have my four sons and my son-in-law and all the young kinsmen I have at the front facing death and enduring hardship. But it would be far more bitter for me if they were not doing just as they have done. You probably know that of my four sons, two of them have been wounded in addition to the one who has been killed.
Faithfully yours,/ Theodore Roosevelt/ M. Hanataux,/ Paris, France.
[Added in unknown hand:] Send to Mr Jusserand
Woodrow Wilson signed into law several domestic reforms, such as the Federal Reserve Act, in his first two years in office. However, his administration was thereafter dominated by the dawn of war in Europe in 1914. Invoking the tradition of George Washington, Wilson proclaimed American neutrality, but continued to trade with the European powers, particularly Britain. He thought the safest course for America was to remain neutral and to help broker an honest, fair peace. German submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean, including the sinking of the British liner Lusitania in 1915, and the death of 128 American civilians, challenged Wilson’s policy, but he negotiated understandings with Germany and used his commitment to neutrality to achieve reelection victory in 1916.
One of Wilson’s most persistent public critics was the ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, whom Wilson had defeated in 1912. After the Lusitania sinking, Roosevelt’s son, Ted (Theodore, Jr.) prophesied to his brother Kermit, “I believe war is thoroughly possible … Should war be declared of course we all will go.” Their father was an anglophile and a muscular nationalist, and favored immediate American intervention in Europe on the side of Britain and France. In 1915, Roosevelt delivered many pro-war speeches, an anthology of which was published in December under the title, Fear God and Take Your Own Part. Roosevelt sent a copy to Hanotaux, as noted in the first letter here, written on May 21, 1916.
Roosevelt and Hanotaux had met before the war when Roosevelt visited Paris in 1910 to receive honorary membership in the French Academy, of which Hanotaux was a member. Roosevelt addressed the Academy partly in French, and was treated like a celebrity in Paris. As the New York Times reported, “within the building enthusiasm was unbounded, the vast crowd in the amphitheatre interrupting again and again with storms of applause as the speaker defined the duties of individual citizenship in a republic.” Hanotaux and Roosevelt established a friendly correspondence as fellow scholars.
At the time of the first letter to Hanotaux, in 1916, many Republicans thought Roosevelt would make the most formidable presidential candidate to run against Wilson, despite the fact that T.R. had run as a “Bull Moose” Progressive four years earlier. Before U.S. entrance into World War I, Roosevelt supported the activities of the American Field Service in France, in which young Americans volunteered their services to the French Army. In 1916, Roosevelt exclaimed, “The most important thing that a nation can possibly save is its soul, and these young men have been helping this nation to save its soul.” Hanotaux later paid tribute to the Field Service, saying, “Friends of France! your every act, your every heartbeat of the past two years gives the proof! You have left everything to live among us, to share our sorrows and our joys, to aid our soldiers at the risk of your own lives.” Roosevelt also supported other “preparedness” organizations such as the American Rights Committee. However, Roosevelt discouraged all talk of a presidential run and rejected an entreaty from the “Draft Roosevelt” committee based on his “belief … that the country is not in [a] heroic mood (Renehan, 119).” He rejected the nomination of the Progressive Party, supported Republican Charles Evans Hughes, and gave speeches denouncing Wilson as “cowardly” and “ladylike.” But Hughes lost the election, 277-254.
Just a few months later, after Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare against American shipping, and after leakage of the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico, the United States was at war. Roosevelt, almost sixty years old, went to Washington to ask Wilson for permission to raise a company of amateur volunteers akin to the “Rough Riders” of 1898. Wilson denied the request, prompting Roosevelt to complain to Edward House, “I don’t understand. After all, I’m only asking to be allowed to die (Renehan, 129).” Wilson believed that the raising of high-profile celebrity units would alienate the populace once he put forth his plans for a compulsory draft. Roosevelt would be forced to remain in New York, while his four sons all went to the front lines in 1917. Ted and Archie secured officers’ commissions; Kermit volunteered for service in the British armed service, and became a transport officer and translator in Mesopotamia, earning a Military Cross; and young Quentin enrolled in flight training in preparation for service as a fighter pilot.
Quentin went on a transport to France, saying goodbye to his parents and his fiancé, Flora Whitney, clutching the verses of his favorite poet, fellow Harvard grad Alan Seeger, who had fought and died in the French Foreign Legion. Quentin was taken by Seeger’s verse, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.” The United States fought in Europe for little more than a year, and suffered very few casualties compared with the great powers of Europe. Whereas France suffered 5.5 million casualties, total American casualties were roughly 250,000. One of these, however, was Quentin Roosevelt, who fought in the 95th Aero Squadron. He shot down a German plane on July 10, 1918, but was himself shot down four days later. According to Eddie Rickenbacker, the most famous fighter ace of the war, Roosevelt’s “bravery was so notorious that we all knew he would either achieve some great spectacular success or be killed in the attempt.”
News of Quentin being shot down reached Sagamore Hill on July 17. Roosevelt and his family were “tortured for several days by conflicting reports and cables” on his fate, according to historian Edward Renehan (196). On July 18, Roosevelt betrayed his fears and his feelings in a speech to the Republican Convention in Saratoga, N.Y. A friend, Isaac Hunt, later said that “he had never seen a face marked by such extreme human misery as was Roosevelt’s when he mounted the … dais.” Roosevelt spoke, “When these gallant boys, on the golden crest of life, gladly face death … shall not we who stay behind, who have not been found worthy of the great adventure … try to shape our lives so as to make this country a better place to live in…” Two days later, on July 20, President Wilson wired a sympathetic note, informing his longtime rival of his son’s death.
The wound was still fresh when, on July 24, Roosevelt sat down to write this brief, yet deeply introspective letter to Hanotaux. He is haunted by his inability to take the place of his sons, in death and in suffering, but eminently proud of their service. “It is very hard for the old to stay … whereas the young die in their glorious golden morning. It is bitter for me to sit at home in ease and comfort and have my four sons and my son-in-law and all the young kinsmen I have at the front facing death and enduring hardship.” To Archie, writing on the same day as the letter to Hanotaux, Roosevelt wrote in very similar language, “it is very dreadful; it is the old who ought to die, and not fine and gallant youth with the golden morning of life still ahead; but after all he died as the heroes of old died, … If our country did not contain such men it would not be our country.”
Roosevelt added to Hanotaux, “You probably know that of my four sons, two of them have been wounded in addition to the one who has been killed.” Archie was wounded by shrapnel, shattering a kneecap. Ted rose to command of the 26th Infantry Regiment, and was gassed and shot in the leg at Soissons in 1918; he was later the only general to lead troops ashore in the first wave of assaults at D-Day in 1944, and would die of a heart attack a month later. These two letters mark the commitment of the Roosevelt family to protect the values of democracy and liberty in the First World War.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), a fervent nationalist, environmentalist, and reformer. He was the Republican leader of the New York Legislature in 1884 and president of the New York Police Board in 1895-1897, where he fought administrative corruption. Roosevelt organized and led a regiment, “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders,” in Cuba in the Spanish-American War. He used his newfound celebrity to win election as governor of New York (1898-1900) and then sought and earned nomination as vice president under William McKinley. In 1901, he became president on the assassination of McKinley and was re-elected in 1904. He insisted on a strong navy, civil service reform, national conservation efforts, and federal regulation of trusts, monopolies, and meatpackers. Roosevelt declined to run again in 1908, instead throwing his support behind William Howard Taft, but he decided to run as a third-party candidate against Taft in 1912 because he was disappointed in his successor’s performance. The split in the Republican Party enabled Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win in 1912. Though he was mentioned as a candidate in 1916, Roosevelt retired from politics, but was a strong advocate of entering World War I on the side of Britain and France.
Gabriel Hanotaux (1853-1944), a French statesman and scholar, who entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a civil servant and secretary, and rose to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which office he served from 1894-1898 (with a brief interruption). Hanotaux played a significant role in the construction of the famous diplomatic entente with Russia, which was one of the pretexts for World War I. He helped found the Comité France-Amériques (Committee on Franco-American Relations) in 1909, and was a member of the French Academy. He published several well-regarded histories of France, including Histoire de la Troisième République [History of the Third Republic] in 1904. After World War I, Hanotaux served as a French delegate to the League of Nations.
“History of the American Field Service in France.”
http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/memoir/AFShist/AFSTC.htm. Accessed 4-14-08.
Renehan, Edward J., Jr. The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and his Family in
Peace and War (New York, 1998).
Roosevelt to Archibald Roosevelt, July 21, 1918, Theodore Roosevelt Collection,
Houghton Library, Harvard University [cited in Renehan, 198].
New York Times, April 24, 1910.