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Theodore Roosevelt Opposes Wilson and
Uses His Own Ancestry to Make a Case for “true Americanism.” (SOLD)
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I am a good example of the melting pot—and I am straight United States.

From his summer residence in Oyster Bay, Long Island, Theodore Roosevelt writes to historian Theodore C. Blegen.  While Blegen would go on to a prominent career in higher education, at this time, he was teaching high school in Minnesota.  Here, the former President criticizes Woodrow Wilson’s immigration policies while discussing his own family’s immigration experience.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT. Autograph Letter Signed, “Theodore Roosevelt,” to Theodore C. Blegen, Oyster Bay, N.Y., January 12, 1916, 5 ¾ x 7 ¾ in., 2 pp. Accompanied by a letter from the recipient presenting this letter to Professor Gregg M. Sinclair of Oakland, California, in 1920.

Inventory #22297.01-.02       SOLD — please inquire about other items


                                                                                    “Jan 12th 1916

Dear Mr. Blegen,

            I thank you for your interesting letter; the quotation from Lincoln is strikingly apt, both as regards the President, and as regards our proper international policy. We should stand by any nation, — Germany, England, France, Russia, Belgium — while it is right, and against it when it goes wrong. And we citizens should occupy the same position towards the President. I hold that as things are now we can not support <page 2>the cause of true Americanism and also support the President

            Two centuries and a quarter ago two of my ancestors, Germans, driven from the Palatinate by the armies of Louis XIV, came here and were among the nine founders of Germantown, Pennsylvania. At the same time one of my ancestors who was a Huguenot was driven from France; and others came from Ireland, Wales, and England; half a century previously others had come from Holland; and about two centuries ago others came from Scotland.I am a good example of the melting pot — and I am straight United States!

            Sincerely yours

                        Theodore Roosevelt”

Historical Background

American society was in a state of flux in the opening decades of the twentieth century.  African Americans were moving into the northern cities, heavy industry drove the economy, and southern and eastern European immigrants swelled urban populations.  World War I was on the horizon in Europe, but in 1916, the United States remained neutral and President Woodrow Wilson ran for reelection on an isolationist platform with the slogan “he kept us out of war.”  By contrast, Theodore Roosevelt thought we should stand with “any nation…while it is right” and was an early supporter of the United States fighting alongside Britain and France.  However, the “international policy” upon which Roosevelt disagreed with Wilson had nothing to do with entry into the war. 

Anti-immigrant sentiments had been on the rise for decades, and concerns that the new arrivals were not becoming sufficiently Americanized rose to the front of political and popular debates.  Some politicians feared anarchism and socialism, labor leaders claimed the immigrants took American jobs, and sociologists and old-stock nativists saw racial and cultural purity at risk.  Woodrow Wilson was no Progressive on immigration issues, but he was a masterful politico during his presidential campaigns.  He made substantial efforts to overcome statements from his 1901 book, A History of the American People, which disparaged southern and eastern European immigrants.  Once in office, Wilson threatened and then vetoed the 1915 Burnett Immigration Bill, which would have imposed severe restrictions on immigration and imposed a literacy test for new arrivals.  A similar bill would eventually gain passage, over his veto, in 1917.

Theodore Roosevelt objected to Wilson’s veto in this 1916 letter to Blegen by referring to “the cause of true Americanism,” an idea he first outlined in The Forum Magazine in 1894.  He is careful to claim that he has no inherent prejudices against immigrants from any nation, ethnicity, or religious group, so long as they become Americans once they arrived on our shores.  He has little use or patience for those who would retain their cultures, educational systems, and especially, native languages.  Roosevelt believes in immigration so long as the arrivals adopt American culture and values, but he also supported restrictions if they refused to acculturate.  In this letter from retirement, Roosevelt offers up himself and his own ancestry as a model of how it should be done.

Theodore C. Blegen (1891-1969) began his career as a high school history teacher and ended it as the Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota.  In between, he was a Professor at Hamline University from 1921 until he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1927, a Guggenheim Fellow in 1928, superintendent of the Minnesota Historical Society 1931 to 1939, President of the Mississippi Valley Historical Society in 1943 (now the Organization of American Historians), and a founder of the Forest History Society in 1946.  During World War II, he was Director of the National Historical Service Board.  He authored over twenty books and articles on Minnesota history and Norwegian immigration.

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 upon 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.


Formerly folded, somewhat soiled.


American President: A Reference Source, “Theodore Roosevelt.”

Theodore Roosevelt, “True Americanism.”

Don Wolfensberger,  “Woodrow Wilson, Congress, and Anti-Immigrant

Sentiment in America: An Introductory Essay.”

Minnesota Histrical Society, “Biography of Theodore Blegen.”

Forest History Society “Theodore Blegen”