History Repeats Itself
Bob Edwards' Morning Edition interview with Edmund Morris.
Teddy Roosevelt Biographer Sees Parallels 100 Years Apart
Web Exclusive: Hear an extended version of the interview.
Nov. 27, 2001 -- Edmund Morris, as historians are wont to do, is quick to see parallels between past and present.
In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became president after William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist. Roosevelt -- the subject of Morris' new biography, Theodore Rex -- "always packed a pistol," the author tells Morning Edition's Bob Edwards. "It was very much consciousness of the fact that he was vulnerable. McKinley was the third president to be assassinated in less than 40 years."
Anarchists in those days were what terrorists are today, seeking to destroy the nation's institutions, Morris says. "So the threat in 1901 was precisely the same as the threat we perceive today. No one was more acutely aware of the threat than the new president of the United States."
Such insights made Morris a Pulitzer Prize winner for his 1980 volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. He put Roosevelt aside for a while to write Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, in which the author cast himself as an imaginary character. (Morris insists that he "enjoyed" the ensuing controversy.)
But he says it didn't take him very long to return to T.R., the eccentric Rough Rider, trust-buster and hunter-conservationist. "If he hadn't been such a funny man, such a comical man, I don't think I could have spent 21 years writing about him."
Morris is especially fond of recalling Roosevelt's skinny-dipping antics at a Washington, D.C., park. "Nothing delighted him more than a nude swim in Rock Creek Park in the middle of winter," Morris says. "He always included in these sadistic outings members of the diplomatic corps" and his Cabinet.
Of course, T.R.'s enemies on Wall Street and in the press used such incidents to feed the rumor mill that Roosevelt was a lunatic alcoholic. But Morris says the public never bought it.
"It was understood by the American people that he was actually a very sane man and a very balanced man," Morris says. "And despite his eccentric habits there was never anybody any more in control of himself."
Previous NPR News Coverage
More NPR News radio coverage on Edmund Morris.
• Read an excerpt of Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex.
• Read an excerpt of Edmund Morris' The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.
• Visit 'Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century,' from the Smithsonian Institution.
• Visit PBS's The American Experience, The Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.
• Visit the Theodore Roosevelt Association.
• View Theodore Roosevelt, His Life and Times on Film, from the Library of Congress. This site also includes sound recordings and timeline.