Who was the youngest man to serve as president of the United States?
Which president was a Rough Rider during the Spanish-American War?
Who was the first president to win the Nobel Peace Prize?
Which president unsuccessfully ran for a third term in office as the standard-bearer of the Bull Moose party?
Which president’s name is a nickname for stuffed toy bears?
The answer to all of these questions is the 26th president of the United States, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.
Many consider Roosevelt, who became president after the death of William McKinley, to be the first modern president. He helped to expand the role of the president, making the presidency a more central part of the United States government.
Interested in learning more about this complex leader? The Library recently completed digitizing a portion of Roosevelt’s papers, considered to be the largest collection of original Roosevelt documents in the world. Included within the materials available online are his diaries, drafts of his books, scrapbooks, and letters to and from family, friends and colleagues. These papers document his many interests and his experiences as a cavalry officer during the Spanish-American War, commissioner of the New York City police department, governor of the state of New York, and vice-president of the United States.
As with other Library of Congress manuscript collections, Roosevelt’s papers are arranged in series based on the type of document and then by date. For example, series one through four contain correspondence, and series five contains speeches and copies of executive orders. It’s easy to flip through a file online in the same way that one would flip through a physical file folder or the pages in a book. Reading across series, for example Roosevelt’s correspondence relating to an event and then his diary, offers a more complete understanding of Roosevelt.
Students can read the diary entries from February 14, 1884 and February 16, 1884 and the letter to Henry L. Sprague written in January 1900. What differences do they see in between the items? What do they think may have happened during the sixteen years between these events that may have shaped Roosevelt?
On September 2, 1901, shortly before President McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt made a speech where he used the words, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Share the text of the speech with students. What events had taken place that may have influenced Roosevelt’s words? Ask students to focus on the section of the speech where he uses the famous phrase, “speak softly but carry a big stick.” What do they think Roosevelt is trying to say in his speech? What does it tell them about Roosevelt? Do they think those reading the article after McKinley’s assassination felt that Roosevelt will be a good president? Why or why not?
Students can read the January 17, 1905 letter from Roosevelt to Robert Underwood regarding problems at Yosemite National Park and the article from the Rocky Ford Enterprise titled “To Save Yosemite.” Why was it important for Roosevelt to become involved in the problems at Yosemite?
As your students explore the papers of Theodore Roosevelt, encourage them to think about what they learned about the man and the presidency from studying his diaries and correspondence. Share student responses in the comments.