Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt and the Crisis of Victorian Masculinity

I)                   Early life

A)    Childhood – Roosevelt was near-sighted, a sickly child who was kept home much of the time because of a series of illnesses; he was a child in a very rich family; in his teenage years, he convinced his father that he should spend time on a ranch in the West, where he dedicated himself to hard physical labor and robust living—the 98 lbs weakling of the Charles Atlas ads.

1)      Father – Roosevelt’s father was a well-to-do merchant in the city of New York—so well-to-do, in fact, that he was able to buy his way out of serving in the Civil War, a fact that TR was ashamed of and was one of the psychological reasons that he so wanted to prove himself on the field of battle

B)     Education – graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, participated in a number of vigorous sports; after graduation he wrote history, as well as various essays on morality and whatever else struck his fancy.

C)    Early career as a politician

1)      Elected to legislature

2)      Served as police commissioner in NYC

3)      Civil service commissioner in Washington, D.C.

4)      People who became progressives – the people who became associated with the Progressive Movement were members of the intelligentsia, people who would have been ministers (or ministers wives), except that they felt that they had no religious calling in a society that was becoming increasingly secular; ministers were no longer leaders of American society, that role was being filled by politicians and businessmen.

(a)    Middle class – these sorts of people usually came from comfortably well-off families, who had also received a college education; they were repelled by the crass, money-grubbing lifestyle of businessmen (which they had often had the opportunity to observe first-hand), and were often at a loss to come up with a reputable career.

(b)   New careers

(i)                  Journalists (the “muckrakers”)

(ii)                Social workers – settlement houses begin to proliferate, most famously Hull House, run by Jane Addams and associated in Chicago.

(iii)               Educators – especially in the growing role of college professors, whose expertise do progressively minded politicians who feel that these “experts” have something of value to contribute to solving these new problems utilize.

(iv)              Politics – previously, few middle class people involved themselves with politics, because it appeared unseemly; however, as the control of society spun more and more out of their hands, many began to turn to politics to regain that control.

D) Roosevelt and the Masculinity Crisis--in part because of his sheltered childhood, when his asthma condition left him in the care of his mother (herself suffering from mysterious illnesses, and often at spas to "take the cure"), and in part due to the contrast between his father (who dodged the draft during the Civil War) and his maternal uncle (a famous Confederate blockade runner), Roosevelt was very concerned about his own masculinity
1) Personal crisis--Roosevelt's wife, after giving birth to their daughter, immediately became ill and died (tragically, Roosevelt's mother died the same evening). In response, Roosevelt did not stay to raise his daughter in his wife's absence, but left her in the care of his eldest sister and moved to his ranch in the West, where he felt he had to prove himself as a man.

2) Roosevelt the cattle rancher—by most accounts, Roosevelt acquitted himself adequately as a cowboy. He demanded no more from his hired hands than he did of himself. There was never any doubt, however, that he was the man in charge because he paid the bills. Roosevelt was also quite proud of his pugilistic skills, and bragged of knocking down a drunk in a saloon because of an insult.

II)                 Mature political career

A)    Secretary of the Navy

1)      Influenced by Alfred J. Mahan – wrote The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, published in 1890, in which he argued that national greatness and prosperity flowed from a powerful navy, prosperous merchant marine, foreign colonies, and naval bases. Mahan advocated the continuation of “Manifest Destiny” to control the Western Hemisphere, build a canal to connect the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, and spread the benefits of Western Civilization to Asia.

B)     Rise of Imperialist Sentiment – advocates of imperialism in the US were not large in number, but because many of them held government office, their influence was much greater than their numbers should have indicated.

1)      Extending the benefits of Western Civilization
(a)    Hawaii – coup of the native ruling government engineered by white sugar and fruit growers on the islands.

(i)                  Role of Marines in overthrowing government – US minister to Hawaii brought in Marines to assist with armed takeover of the legally constituted government; this will become the overarching theme of US foreign policy for the next century—the use of US military might to protect the interests of and benefit US business interests. Analogy to the most recent attacks on the US?

(b)   Spanish-American War – the concept of Manifest Destiny writ large

(i)                  The “Yellow” Press – was this war sparked over the circulation war between two NYC newspapers?  The fight between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World to out scoop one another added pressure on high government officials to enter a war with Spain. (Hearst quote – “You supply the stories, I’ll supply the war.”)

(ii)                “Liberating” Cuba – Cuban nationals had long been attempting to liberate themselves from Spanish domination; in 1895 this attempt gains widespread notice in the US press; accusations of atrocities by “Butcher” Weyler of the Spanish army.

(i)      One of the most controversial images to emerge from the press’ battle to bring the United States to war was made by Frederic Remington, depicting the humiliation of a suspected female rebel sympathizer by a group of swarthy, leering Spanish army officers.

(ii)    “Remember the Maine” – recent evidence concludes that one of two things happened; either coal dust ignited, or a boiler exploded—in either case, it was not blown up by Spanish forces.

(iii)               “Liberating” the Philippines – Admiral Dewey was ordered by Naval Secretary TR to attack Spanish forces in Manila Bay for strategic purposes.  This attack was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams; while Filipinos hoped this would quickly mean independence for their country, its perceived importance for the dreamed of empire of the United States meant something else.

(iv)              TR and the Rough Riders – the Rough Riders were TR’s dream of a new America, and what the new American society should be.  He recruited members from a variety of white ethnic groups (pointedly excluding African Americans and Orientals), who were led by a coterie of Anglo-Saxon officers, with him at the helm.

(i)      The Legend of San Juan Hill – TR and RR never charged up San Juan Hill, which they were long credited with doing (and for which he was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor); instead, the foolhardy charge of the RR was up Kettle Hill, which was less strategically important and which they did not take alone, but in conjunction with the all-black 24th Cavalry, which after taking Kettle Hill had to then take the more important, and more heavily fortified, San Juan Hill after an all-white regiment from New York refused orders to do so.

1.      TR’s behavior after the war – in his published reminiscences after the war, TR gave slight credit to the 24th, although he alleged that he had to fire upon a soldier because of cowardice; the further he was removed from the events, however, the less the 24th received any credit for this battle.  In fact, TR did little to correct the perception that he led his men up San Juan Hill, rather than Kettle Hill.

(c)    The “White Man’s Burden” – the belief that it was the role of the Anglo-Saxon “race” to enlighten all of the masses, whether the wanted enlightenment or not.

(i)                  Manifest Destiny and Race Destiny – Southern politicians, who largely opposed the war with Spain, immediately saw the parallels between the drive for imperialist conquest and racism, and the convoluted reasoning for the denial of voting rights for a conquered people.

(i)      Rise of Jim Crow – during the Spanish-American War, the hold of Jim Crow laws in the South tightened, as did racial violence (literally)—there were a dozen lynchings in the south between February and November of 1898, as well as a white riot upon African American citizens in Wilmington, North Carolina (a major naval installation).

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