Theodore Roosevelt and Americanism
Dr. Jeanne Petit, Hope College
Theodore Roosevelt was a man who defined an era of United States history. From 1881, when he was first elected into political office, until his death in 1919, Roosevelt expressed his views on national identity, Americanism, civic duty, and “the strenuous life” in personal letters and public speeches. The themes that Roosevelt expressed were consistent: be American and not anything else, find meaningful work and do it, be strong and bold, and above all strive to live a strenuous life fighting against a sedentary life. By examining his personal letters and public speeches, I show how Roosevelt’s ideas of hard work and national identity went hand in hand, and he believed that any man of European descent was capable of becoming a great American citizen no matter what his background. While he did support some racial limits to citizenship, his views on race and class challenged the Anglo-Saxon power structure of the time. Also, his sense of civic duty and nationalism never wavered. Theodore Roosevelt changed how Americans during the Progressive Era and World War I viewed themselves as Americans. By following Roosevelt’s example, America became the America it is today.
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