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Theodore Roosevelt on Americanism
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“The term American refers to what a man is, not to what his birth place was...”

Roosevelt’s essay, “Americans Past and Present and the Americanization of Foreigners,” appeared as the lead article in the second issue of the Chicago publication, America: A Journal for Americans, on April 14, 1888.  The correction Roosevelt requested in this letter was made, and the sentence appeared in print as “In the first place, ‘American,’ as a political term, has to do with what a man is, not with what his birthplace was; for many of the most honorable names in our history are those of men born outside of our limits.”

THEODORE ROOSEVELT. Autograph Letter Signed, to Charles P. Bryan, New York, March 18, 1888. 3 pp. on one folded leaf, 4 x 6 in.

Inventory #24502       Price: $5,500

Complete Transcript

689 Madison Av / New York

Mar 18th 88

Dear Mr Bryan,

            I enclose a slip containing a sentence I omitted. It comes in almost at the very end of the article. In the last paragraph, just after the sentence: “The term American refers to what a man is, not to what his birth place was, &c &c.” That is, it ends up the first of the “three things” <2> which in the last paragraph I speak of as being necessary for citizens to keep in mind. Will you insert it for me?

            By the way, I suppose of course that the articles will be my own for any future use I may make of them; such as printing them in a collection of essays &c. This is the <3> arrangement I have with the Century.

                                                                        Yours most truly

                                                                        Theodore Roosevelt.

Historical Background

In the fall of 1886, Theodore Roosevelt returned from the Dakota Territory and ran for mayor of New York City but lost by a three-to-two margin. On December 2, 1886, he sailed to England, where he married his second wife, Edith Carow. In the spring of 1887, they and his three-year-old daughter from his first marriage settled at his home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. Although Roosevelt received a small income from money his father had left him, he did not have a job, and he had a family to support. In 1886-1887, two-thirds of his cattle in Dakota froze or starved in the worst winter anyone could remember.

Roosevelt turned to writing to earn an income. In three months in 1887, he researched and wrote a biography of Gouverneur Morris. He also published a biography of Thomas Hart Benton that same year. After a trip west in the fall of 1887, Roosevelt realized that the survival of wildlife in many areas was threatened by development, and he wrote several articles encouraging conservation of natural resources.  He also planned a major writing project to chronicle American History from Daniel Boone in 1774 to Davy Crockett in 1836. He ultimately spent seven years writing this work, titled The Winning of the West. He also wrote articles on politics and the West for popular magazines.

The letter offered here demonstrates Roosevelt’s care with his essays, as he writes to editor Charles P. Bryan, who was one of the editors of a new magazine entitled America: A Journal of Today, later retitled America: A Journal for Americans. Founded by Slason Thompson and published in Chicago, America began on April 7, 1888.  Planned for the inaugural issue, Roosevelt’s essay, “Americans Past and Present and the Americanization of Foreigners” was “too long to be printed entire, and it was deemed better to publish it in a subsequent number.”  It appeared as the lead article in the second issue, on April 14, 1888.
Full text of article

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was born in New York City and graduated from Harvard University in 1880 and attended Columbia Law School. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1882 to 1884, and as president of the New York City Police Commissioners in 1895 and 1896, then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1898. After service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, he won election as Governor of New York and served from 1899 to 1900. He ran as Vice President to William McKinley in 1900 and became President in September 1901, when McKinley was assassinated. Reelected in 1904, Roosevelt was President until 1909. A prolific author and naturalist, Roosevelt was instrumental in the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, helped preserve the nation’s natural resources, and extended American power throughout the world with a focus on a modern navy.

Charles P. Bryan (1856-1918) was born in Chicago and attended the University of Virginia and received a law degree from Columbian University (now George Washington University). He worked as a lawyer in Colorado from 1879 to 1883, when he returned to Chicago. He served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1888 to 1897. President William McKinley appointed Bryan as minister to China in 1897, then as envoy to Brazil in 1898. He later served in diplomatic posts in Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, and Japan.


Minor repair and small stain to second leaf.


Collection of Dr. Julius Dintenfass

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