Nathan Miller
Nathan Miller
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life
ISBN: 0688132200
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life
Mr. Miller discussed his biography of President Theodore Roosevelt entitled, "Theodore Roosevelt: A Life," published by William Morrow and Company. He spoke on his research into the former president, and recounted anecdotes on the colorful president's political career.
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TRANSCRIPT
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life
Program Air Date: February 14, 1993

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nathan Miller, author of the new biography called, "Theodore Roosevelt: A Life," one of those moments where I said, "I did not know that," was where you come across your description of when Theodore Roosevelt was shot.
NATHAN MILLER, AUTHOR, "THEODORE ROOSEVELT: A LIFE Yes. In 1912 he was campaigning for a third term as President as an independent candidate, the Bull Moose candidate. And he was in Milwaukee towards the end of the campaign, and he was climbing into his car in front of a hotel on his way to give a speech. And as he got into the car, he turned and suddenly a man in the crowd pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. And as Roosevelt later said, he felt like he'd been kicked by a horse, fell back into the car. Then he remembered what he'd once been told when he was in the Army, to cough up blood and see if he'd been wounded internally. So he did, and he did not cough up blood, so he knew that it was not a very serious wound.

And he immediately demanded to be taken to the hall where he was to give the speech and stood up for 90 minutes giving the speech while he had a bullet in his chest. Blood was pouring over the front of his shirt. Then he allowed himself to be taken off to the hospital. He said it takes more than that to kill a bull moose.
LAMB: Was that the first time he ever said that?
MILLER: No, he had always talked about bull moose. "I feel like a bull moose," he had often said at various parts of his life. As you know, he was a big game hunter and the bull moose was a symbol, you know, of large animals and royal animals. And he often said, "I feel like a bull moose," and that gave the name to the third party, to the Progressive party, which was known as the Bull Moose Party.
LAMB: And you say that he even held the speech up to prove that a bullet had gone through the speech, the copy or ...
MILLER: Oh, yes, in fact, the bullet had been deflected by a copy of the speech. The speech was quite long. It was 50 pages folded over in his chest. There was a bullet right through the speech. And also his glass case, which was metal, had also deflected the bullet. When the doctors examined him, they were quite surprised that he'd not been seriously hurt. It was just this immense muscular development of his chest that had stopped the bullet from really entering and doing serious damage.
LAMB: Did you ever find out why he was shot in the first place?
MILLER: Oh, yes. The man who shot him was a man by the name of John Schrank, and he was somewhat deranged, and an anti-third term fanatic. And he thought that Roosevelt should not be elected to a third term and he was not executed because he had not killed the ex-president. He was placed in an insane asylum and he died in the year 1940, the same year which Franklin Roosevelt won a third term.
LAMB: Now right on the cover it says: "Author of "F.D.R.""
MILLER: Yes, I ...
LAMB: You're into the Roosevelts.
MILLER: Yes, I've done a biography of FDR which appeared about 10 years ago. And I've also done a book called "The Roosevelt Chronicles," which is history of the Roosevelt family, which is coming out in paperback, I think, this year.
LAMB: Where did this cover come from?
MILLER: That's a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt that's in the National Portrait Gallery. It was painted by an English painter, I think Ladislaz Ferago -- I forget the name of the man who painted it, but it was painted for Arthur Lee, who had been the British military attache in Cuba. And Roosevelt had met him there and they became close friends. And Lee had the portrait painted while Roosevelt was president and then gave it to him. And Edith Roosevelt, TR's wife, said it was the best likeness of Roosevelt -- TR, her husband -- that she had seen.
LAMB: Inside you have a bunch of photographs, and here is one that you say that was the only time that FDR and TR were photographed together.
MILLER: Yes, it was during the trial. TR was sued for libel by one of the New York political bosses. TR had said that the man was a crook, and he sued for libel and TR, of course, won the case hands down. And Franklin Roosevelt went up to Syracuse, where the trial was held, and appeared as a witness on TR's behalf. And that picture, which has only recently been discovered, is the only known picture of the two men together.
LAMB: Thirty years since there was a single-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt?
MILLER: Yes, that's correct. The last single-volume biography of TR was done in the late 1950s. There have been other books on him. Of course, there are the two very good works, one by David McCullough, "Mornings on Horseback," and the other by Ed Morris, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." But that's only the first of a three-volume life of TR, although Morris is now engaged in embalming Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: And where do you live?
MILLER: I live here in Washington.
LAMB: What do you do for a living?
MILLER: I write books. That was my 12th book.
LAMB: Why this book at this time?
MILLER: Well, I had done the biography of Franklin Roosevelt, and while doing the biography of Franklin Roosevelt, I got interested in TR. And as you should know, TR was FDR's fifth cousin. He was also Eleanor Roosevelt's uncle. And I think one of the attractions for Eleanor as far as FDR was concerned, that he was -- she was the President's niece, and he came to the White House and he saw TR in action. And in reading about TR, I got very interested in him and I began investigating and found out that the last one-volume life had been touched on many, many years ago. And there had been new material, new studies, which meant that there could be a new one-volume life. And I think the Morris and the McCollough books had also intrigued the public, and I think they wanted to know more about TR.
LAMB: What's new in this book?
MILLER: Well, what is new is -- I think basically I am the first to use the correspondence between TR and his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. After she died in childbirth in 1884, it was thought that TR in his anguish had destroyed all the letters that they had written during their courtship and marriage. But as it turned out, he had not. And they'd been put away and they'd come into the possession of Alice's and TR's daughter, who became Alice Longworth. And after her death in 1980, it was found that she had all these letters, had been sitting on them. And she just thought they were too sentimental to be shown to the public and had just not reported their existence.

And after their death, they went to Harvard and they were sitting in a box. And there I opened them and there they were, and there's just some lovely material in it and some tragic material, too. There's a note in there in which Alice announces that she is pregnant for the first time. She had some difficulty becoming pregnant, and there she announces her pregnancy and she's so enthusiastic. And you read it and you know that she's going to die in childbirth and, you know, it's just so sad to read this. Also I found a little bundle in the box of tissue paper. And I unwrapped it and there there was a lock of Alice's hair carefully wrapped up and preserved for so many years.
LAMB: You have a picture here that's never been seen before.
MILLER: That's the first general publication of TR's favorite picture of his wife, Alice. It was taken when she was 14 years old, and that's the first general publication of the picture.
LAMB: Where'd you get it?
MILLER: It was in the box.
LAMB: How about the picture next to it?
MILLER: That's the standard picture of Alice Lee, and this was taken probably about the time of Alice's and TR's courtship when she was about 18. And that, of course, is in the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard.
LAMB: Where was Theodore Roosevelt born and what year?
MILLER: He was born in New York City -- in fact, he was the only President born in New York City -- in 1858. And his parents were quite distinguished people. His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was a philanthropist. He had inherited $1 million from his father, C.V.S. Roosevelt, and he spent his time doing good.
LAMB: Who's this?
MILLER: That's Theodore Roosevelt Sr., a very handsome picture of him. And TR had that picture both in his home at Oyster Bay and in the White House. The picture came to Eleanor Roosevelt, and Eleanor and Franklin had it in their house when they went to the White House. And Eleanor asked Franklin what should they do with the picture, and Franklin said, "Come on. We can't leave your grandfather here. Let's take him to the White House." So they had this copy -- I suppose it was a copy of the picture, because I think the original is at Oyster Bay, Theodore Roosevelt's home.
LAMB: New York City where?
MILLER: On East 28th Street, right off Broadway in the Gramercy Park area. They had a brownstone house. A replica of the house exists today. It's run by the National Park Service, and it's well worth seeing. You can see how the well-to-do in New York lived at that time. This was before the building of the great mansions along Fifth Avenue, the Renaissance palaces. And this is not a luxurious house, but it's a comfortable house. When it was originally built, it was three stories. Now it's four stories, and this has some of the original furniture in it. It has the bed in which Theodore Roosevelt was born. And you get some idea of the way the people ho had money lived at that time.
LAMB: If you were to describe the best things about Theodore Roosevelt, what would they be?
MILLER: I'd say it's his exuberance and his sense of fun, his sense of joy in everything he did. He believed that life was a great adventure and the great sin was not living life as a great adventure. He also, of course, did a number of things for the country. I think the greatest thing that he did for the country was the fact that he understood that the presidency is, as he said -- these are his words -- "a bully pulpit." Everybody copies those words today. And he believed the job of the president should be to lead and to educate, and he tried to educate the American people into the needs of the day.
LAMB: Is there any way to describe briefly what he stood for?
MILLER: Yes. Roosevelt was not liberal or conservative in the sense that we use the terms today. He believed that the government should be used as a buffer to meliorate the conditions of the time. It should stand to prevent the conservatives of the day from taking over the country and also prevent radicalism from getting a stranglehold on the country. So he served, I should say, as a buffer.
LAMB: What new things were adopted during his Presidency?
MILLER: The basic thing was his sense of con -- he started the conservation movement insofar as the federal government is concerned. He took millions of acres out of the grasp of speculators and put them aside for the nation. He was the first conservationist President. He probably knew more about conservation than any green person today. But at the same time he was not a tree-hugger in the sense that he believed these things should be just put away and not used. He believed that if resources could be used in a fashion which did not destroy them but could be replenished, they could be used for the benefit of the public. He also, of course, brought in the Pure Food and Drug Act, the meat inspection acts, a lot of other things that we take for granted today.
LAMB: And you say he was from New York City. Where'd he go to school?
MILLER: In the beginning he did not go to school. He was taught by his aunt, Aunt Gracie. He was considered too delicate. His health was too bad. He had asthma. He did go to a private school. He did not see any organized school until he went to Harvard at the age of 18. Until then he studied, as I said, with his aunt and with various tutors.
LAMB: How long was he at Harvard?
MILLER: Four years.
LAMB: What did he study?
MILLER: He studied natural history -- in those days natural history was more than it is today. It covered a long system and a lot of fields, a lot of things that we wouldn't consider natural history today. He intended to be a natural scientist, but I think he met Alice, he realized that he would have to go to Germany to study for several years, he did not want to leave her and he stretched from the study of natural history when he graduated to the study of law. But he never graduated. He was too bored with law to stay with it. He left law school after two years. He wrote a book at the age of 24 that became a great success. It was "The Naval History of the War of 1812." And more than a century later it's still the standard work on the subject. He got into politics and was elected to the state legislature of New York, and he was in Albany at the age of 25.
LAMB: In the back you list all the books by Theodore Roosevelt. If I counted right, I count 40.
MILLER: That's correct.
LAMB: Were they full books?
MILLER: Yes, they are full-size books. Some of them are collections of speeches and magazine articles, but there are 40 books there. Some of them are quite important books even today. As I said, the first book, "The Naval War of 1812," was the standard work on the subject. His "Winning of the West," which is the first four volumes of an intended eight-volume history of American expansion, is very readable today. It's gone out of style because we look for other things in our Western history today. We put more emphasis, of course, on women's roles and other things -- on the Native American -- than Roosevelt did, so these works are quite unfashionable today, but they're extremely readable, even under the circumstance we view them today.
LAMB: What kind of a writer was he?
MILLER: He was a very good writer. He labored hard over his writing. He said he was not a facile writer. He envied Owen Wister, his very good friend who wrote the novel "The Virginian," who was a facile writer, and he said, "I wish I could write as easily as he do." But he struggled with his writing, but he was a good writer.
LAMB: Now he went to law school where for those two years?
MILLER: At Columbia. So he had married Alice in the meantime and so ...
LAMB: Where'd he meet her?
MILLER: He met Alice at Chestnut Hill, outside of Boston. He was attending Harvard. His close friend at Harvard was Richard Saltonstall. And Saltonstall lived in Chestnut Hill, invited Roosevelt home for the weekend, and the Lees lived next door and he met Alice one day on the garden path between the two houses. And as he said, it was love at first sight.
LAMB: And how long did she live from that moment forward?
MILLER: Well, he met her about 1878 and she died in 1884.
LAMB: And they had how many children?
MILLER: One, Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
LAMB: And Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a name in this town, quite prominent until, you say, 1980, when she died. How old was she when she died?
MILLER: She was in her 90s. I guess she'd be 96.
LAMB: When did he marry again?
MILLER: He married Edith Kermit Carow about three or four years after the death of Alice. He had been friendly with Edith throughout his childhood. He had first known Edith when they were both about five years old. The Carows had lived near the Roosevelts in downtown New York. And there is a picture of Edith taken shortly before their marriage. And they had had a falling out. At one time it is believed that TR had asked Edith to marry him and she had refused. After that he had met Alice and he'd fallen in love with her, and they had married.

Edith, of course, had run into difficulties. Her father had drank up most of the family money. They had grown quite poor. They were planning to move to Europe, where living costs were cheaper. And just about before the time that they were to leave the country, she met TR at TR's sister's house and they renewed their acquaintanceship and finally became engaged and married.
LAMB: How many children did they have?
MILLER: Five.
LAMB: How did Alice get along with the other five?
MILLER: Not very well. They had different mothers and they did not get well along at all. She says they teased her about having a different mother and there was no fun, as she put it. There was, you know, quite a sibling rivalry for the attention of their father, too. They all wanted to be near the father, and they were rivals among themselves for his attention. Alice also suffered from a mild case of polio and one leg was longer than the other. And she recalls wearing a very horrible brace during her childhood, tripping over it periodically, but she grew out of it through the treatments that Edith gave her. And she never showed any effects of polio in later life.
LAMB: On your back flap -- "Advance praise for 'Theodore Roosevelt' -- you have three lines here by someone by the name of Tweed Roosevelt.
MILLER: Yes, Theodore Roosevelt's great-grandson.
LAMB: Still alive?
MILLER: Oh, yes. He's about in his 40s, lives in Boston.
LAMB: He says, "To capture all my great-grandfather's diverse interests in one book is a feat in itself, but this masterful synthesis is also a great read." Was that hard to get somebody in the family to say something like that?
MILLER: Well, the family was quite friendly. The wife of Theodore Roosevelt IV also read my book in manuscript and she liked it very much.
LAMB: And how much of the family is still around and active and available to you? And did you interview any of them?
MILLER: No, I didn't interview any of them because, of course, most of them alive today were not alive when Theodore Roosevelt was alive, and I worked primarily from TR's papers. And incidentally, he wrote 150,000 letters in his 60 years of life, plus the 40 books, plus tons of magazine articles. He was constantly at work. Incidentally, TR also read a book a day. He would pick up a book in the morning and finish it by evening. He kept a book near the door of the White House -- had one ...
LAMB: Oh, I want to ask you about that one because I read the first part of this: "He read a book a day." Now look at this book right here. That's got 500 and something pages in it, I believe. Would he read a book that big a day?
MILLER: Yes. He speed-read. You didn't have speed-reading in those days, but he read very quickly. He had a photographic memory and he could just whip through a book. He kept a book, as I said, at the door of the White House while waiting for guests to arrive. And he'd pick up the book, read a page or two while he was waiting. When the guests arrived, he'd put the book away on the stand, and the next time he was in that area, he'd pick up and start reading it again till he'd finished it.
LAMB: What kind of books did he read?
MILLER: He read everything. He read fiction, he read poetry, he read natural history, he read history, he read biography, he read books on fiscal policy. You name it, he read it.
LAMB: How much did he retain? Is there any evidence?
MILLER: Oh, he retained all of it. As I said, he had a photographic memory and he could just recite long passages from books that he had read.
LAMB: Have you ever met anybody else that read a book a day?
MILLER: No, I have not.
LAMB: And I hate to belabor this, but what proof do you have that he actually read a book a day?
MILLER: He said it. His friends said it. His wife said it. One has to go on the witnesses.
LAMB: You said earlier that he lived to be 60?
MILLER: Sixty years old.
LAMB: In the end, what did he die of?
MILLER: An embolism, but he was worn out from the various things that he had done throughout his life. As I said, he was a very frail child. He had asthma. At the instructions of his father, he built himself up, and in doing so, he strained himself. One of the doctors who examined him before his first marriage, at the age of 22, advised him to be very careful how he lived the rest of his life -- in fact, advised him against running up and down stairs. And TR said, "If I have to live a life like that, I'd rather not live it," and proceeded to live a very vigorous and active life. By the time he was 60, though, of course, he had worn himself out and he looked like an old man. But the thing that really did him in, I think, was his trip through the Brazilian jungle. He went out to explore the River of Doubt, which no one really knew the beginning or the end of, hiked it through the Amazon region of Brazil in 1914. He caught malaria; he injured himself; he had an abscess during the trip; he lost 50 pounds on the trip and did considerable damage to himself; and, as one friend said, he had taken 10 years off his life.
LAMB: Is this the picture taken after the trip?
MILLER: This is the picture taken after he'd lost 50 pounds, and across from it there is a picture of TR at the time of the inauguration of Taft, and you show the difference in their figures -- a full figure at the time of the inauguration of Taft and the 50-pounds-lighter picture of TR. Edith, of course, thought he looked better with the 50 pounds off.
LAMB: By the way, William Howard Taft was -- what? -- 300 pounds?
MILLER: Three hundred and fifty.
LAMB: Three hundred and fifty pounds?
MILLER: Yes.
LAMB: How big was TR when he was the biggest?
MILLER: About 200 pounds, but he was only 5-foot-8.
LAMB: And you were explaining how he died.
MILLER: Yes, he had had an embolism in January of 1919, and he died in his sleep.
LAMB: Let's go back -- I did this because -- trying to keep track of all the jobs he had, and I can help if you can't remember every one right after another. But let's go back. You started earlier by saying -- and I think if I calculated right -- at age 23, he was elected to the state assembly of New York?
MILLER: Yes, I think so.
LAMB: He was born October 27th that year, so my addition might not have been accurate. How long was he a state assemblyman? And how important was that in his career?
MILLER: Well, he was a state assemblyman for six years and it was extremely important in his career. This was the beginning of his career in politics, and in his second term in the state assembly, he advanced to the point where he was the minority leader. He was the leader of the Republicans in the state assembly, only after serving two years in the state assembly. From there he went on, of course, to other jobs, but the job as state assemblyman made him a prominent public figure in the state, because he led reforms against the traction companies in New York City and against crooked judges in New York City, and this gave him tremendous publicity and made him -- he was the most famous politician in New York state.
LAMB: At 31 he was the Civil Service commissioner in Washington?
MILLER: Yes.
LAMB: How did he get that job?
MILLER: He was appointed to that job by President Harrison. He had done yeoman's service for Harrison's campaign in 1880 and this was his reward. He had gone West, as I said, after the death of Alice, had been out of politics for a number of years; had come back and become a writer. As he said, "I've become a literary fellow now," and began his magnum opus, "The Winning of the West" and then he decided he wanted to go back into politics.
LAMB: At 37 he was the police commissioner of New York City?
MILLER: That's correct, and he served in that position for two years.
LAMB: How'd he get it?
MILLER: He was appointed by the mayor. He had worked for the election of the mayor -- in fact, the Republicans had wanted him to run as mayor, but Edith said they couldn't afford to have him run as mayor. They needed the money and they could not afford to put it into the campaign. And he had decided not to run, and that his reward for campaigning for the victor was a job as police commissioner, which also increased his fame because he shook up the very corrupt New York City Police Department of the time.
LAMB: Now was he independently wealthy?
MILLER: No. His father had left him well-fixed; Edith had no money. And he lived, for a man of his position, quite extravagantly. He invested $50,000 in his Western ranch, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days. And during the Great Blizzard of '88, his holdings in the West were wiped out and he lost all that money. Then he had all these children to educate, so they always faced the money crunch.
LAMB: At 39 he was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy?
MILLER: Yes, he was appointed to that position by President McKinley in reward for campaigning for McKinley in 1896.
LAMB: What was his job?
MILLER: His job was actually to run the Navy. The Secretary of the Navy at the time, John Long, was a nice old man who knew very little about the Navy, whereas TR was an expert on naval affairs. He'd written this tremendous book on the history of the Navy and the War of 1812. He'd followed naval affairs, he'd lectured at the Naval War College and at the Naval Academy, and he knew quite a bit about the Navy, so Long was content to let Theodore run the Navy, and Long held the position.
LAMB: And did FDR take that same job years later?
MILLER: Yes, FDR followed along TR's path to fame and fortune to a very great extent. In fact, he, well, had that in mind. He became a member of the state assembly, as TR had been. He became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He ran for the Vice Presidency. TR, of course, became vice President to McKinley in 1900, whereas FDR's candidate in 1920, James Cox, was defeated, so FDR did not become Vice President. And then he followed him, of course, into running for governor of New York and being elected governor and into the Presidency. So he based his path to the Presidency on Theodore Roosevelt's path to the Presidency.
LAMB: How close were they personally?
MILLER: Well, of course, FDR was married to TR's favorite niece. Eleanor was the daughter of TR's only brother and Eleanor was quite close to her uncle. And Franklin often visited the President in the White House and at Sagamore. And they corresponded. In fact, when FDR ran for the state assembly in 1912 as a Democrat, he asked TR not to come into the district, you know, to campaign, and TR promised that he wouldn't because TR was a Republican and Franklin was running as a Democrat. TR said, "I'm sorry that you've chosen to become a Democrat, but I will not do anything to harm you." Franklin became a Democrat because his father had been a Democrat. His father had been a loyal supporter of Grover Cleveland, a Democratic President -- not because that there was any great differences between the parties -- that was the basic reason.
LAMB: You mentioned Sagamore, and here's a picture of it. What is it?
MILLER: It's a huge house built on along the ocean -- on the bay -- on the Long Island Sound at Oyster Bay, New York. It's a tremendous house that was originally built by TR for Alice, but she died, of course, before they could live in it, and he came there with his second wife and originally the place was called Lee Home, but after he married Edith he decided to change it to Sagamore Hill, which is the -- Sagamore was the name of the Indian chief who had owned the land long ago. And in this house, of course, he had his collection of animal heads and furs that he had shot over a period of time, and his tremendous collection of books. And he lived there, surrounded by his children, and was quite happy there.
LAMB: At 39 he was assistant Secretary of the Navy, as we just talked -- then then at 40, governor of the state of New York.
MILLER: That's correct.
LAMB: How do you jump that fast?
MILLER: Well, you jump that way by going to Cuba and leading the charge up San Juan Hill.
LAMB: How'd he get to Cuba?
MILLER: Well, he volunteered for the Army at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. He always had this idea of having a regiment of mounted riflemen. And when the war broke out, he put this idea forward to the government. It was accepted. There were three regiments of mounted riflemen organized -- the First Volunteer Cavalry. The Rough Riders were the only ones that got into action, and when they went into action, they did not go into action on horseback. Their horses were left back in Florida, where they debarked from, and they went up San Juan Hill on foot, except for TR, who partially went up on horseback and was a target for every Spanish rifleman in the area. Finally they reached barbed wire, and he got off the horse to hack at the barbed wire and went up the rest of the way on foot, too.
LAMB: What was the whole battle in the first place?
MILLER: Well, they were trying to take Santiago, which is on the south shore of Cuba and where the Spanish fleet was holed up. They wanted to get at the Spanish fleet. And the Navy was blockading Santiago, but couldn't go into Santiago after the Spanish fleet because of the mine fields. So they thought if they could capture the city, the fleet would be forced to go out and be destroyed by the Navy, which actually did happen.
LAMB: Let me go back over this again -- at 39 he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy ...
MILLER: Right. He resigned from that position to go into the Army.
LAMB: How long had he been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy?
MILLER: About two years.
LAMB: Two years. How does that work? He was 39, then 40, became governor -- when did he become ...
MILLER: That fall. The war only lasted about 90 days.
LAMB: OK. Then he became governor of New York. How much time was there between the ...
MILLER: He got out of the Army in September and he was elected governor of New York in November, and he began his administration as governor on the 1st of January, 1899.
LAMB: And then he turns right around and, just a year or so later, becomes Vice President of the United States?
MILLER: That's correct. The terms of governor at that time were only two years, and at the end of his first term, the political boss at the time of New York state, Tom Platt, wanted Roosevelt out of Albany. He was just causing too much trouble. He was too much of a reformer. Platt decided to elevate him or kick him upstairs to the Vice Presidency, as he put it, to have TR "take the veil."
LAMB: And he was whose Vice President again?
MILLER: McKinley.
LAMB: And at age 42 he became President ...
MILLER: He was the youngest man ever to become President of the United States, because McKinley was shot in 1901 and TR became President. He'd only presided over the Senate for three days. That was his only service as Vice President.
LAMB: Why only three days? He came in in March, but McKinley was shot in ...
MILLER: No, they came in in March. They had a special session, they met very briefly. In those days, Congress did not stay in session, as they do now, on a year-round basis; they had three sessions a year, because remember, there was no air-conditioning in Washington in those days, so Congress tried not to meet in Washington in the summer. They tried to avoid Washington in the summer like the plague. And so they met for these brief sessions and then left town. So they met for a brief session, TR presided for two or three days, Congress left town and he was left to his own devices. He thought about going back to law school and studying law during his off hours. He thought about beginning to to write books again to kill time. But he didn't know how he was going to pass time as Vice President. He said it's the fifth wheel to the coach.
LAMB: He was still 42 on September 23rd, 1901, when President McKinley was shot. Can you tell us those circumstances?
MILLER: Yes. McKinley was visiting the Pan-American exhibition at Buffalo, and the place had been thrown open, anyone who wanted to could greet the President in person. And there was a line of people lined up, and a man came up to the President with a bandage over his hand. The President stuck out his right hand to shake hands with this fellow. The fellow raised the hand with the bandage, and there was a gun in the hand covered by the bandage, and he fired into McKinley's stomach twice or three times. McKinley fell back seriously wounded and died about 10 days later.
LAMB: And where was Theodore Roosevelt during this time?
MILLER: He was giving a speech on an island in Lake Champlain when the word was received.
LAMB: New York?
MILLER: In New York state when word was first received the President was shot. And he hastened off to Buffalo and remained there for several days. And it appeared that the President was recovering and they thought it was a good idea that if the Vice President left, it would show the country that the President was doing better and confidence would be restored. So TR left and then he went off into a hunting expedition in upstate New York -- or Vermont, I think. And while there he received word that the President was dying and he should come back to Buffalo.

And there was a wild ride -- a buckboard to get him to the nearest train station, which was 50 miles away. They covered 50 miles in a night, this tremendous ride through the mud, around the mountainsides, and Roosevelt's account of it is quite vivid. And then they reached the train and -- while waiting for the train to to leave for Buffalo -- he received a telegram which expressed everything in one sentence: the President died at such-and-such an hour this morning, and he was now President.
LAMB: You know, if something were to happen to our President now and Vice President Gore were to take over, everybody'd know who he was. Back in those days, no television, no radio ...
MILLER: Well, they knew who TR was because of the tremendous publicity he'd gotten from the various positions that he'd been in. As I said, he'd been in all the newspapers while a member of the state Assembly. He'd been in all the newspapers as Civil Service commissioner because of his fight against the grafters while in the Civil Service Commission. He'd been in all the newspapers as police commissioner because every paper in the country practically sent a reporter to New York to cover the doings of Theodore Roosevelt in New York City. He was the subject of innumerable articles during the Spanish-American War. In fact, he had his own private correspondent, Richard Harding Davis, who practically made Theodore Roosevelt President -- his articles on TR's conduct in Cuba just made him a hero. In a sense, as people have said, TR charged up San Juan Hill into the White House.
LAMB: The Davis writings were where?
MILLER: In the New York Herald and in Scribner's Magazine and other publications.
LAMB: Could you read those in Missouri?
MILLER: Yes, because Scribner's Magazine circulated everywhere. It was a popular magazine for -- you know, those were like Rolling Stone or something like that today. Everybody read these magazines or the newspapers, and so people knew about Theodore Roosevelt.
LAMB: He was then inaugurated for President in 1905.
MILLER: The second time.
LAMB: I mean, in other words, he became President ...
MILLER: Became President in 1905 -- on his own right, as he said.
LAMB: I mean, he became President because of the assassination. What was that period -- what was his first few years in office after the assassination like?
MILLER: Well, in the beginning he tried to cultivate the Republican Party and the Republican bosses, led by Marc Hanna, but then he began to move out more and more on his own, tried to build his own political strength in the country, particularly in the South, where Hanna had control of the delegates. He made his first really independent move in the coal strike -- the anthracite strike -- sorry on that word -- I should say hard coal; it's easier -- and he settled the strike almost single-handedly. Until then, a President had never intervened in a labor dispute except to send the troops to shoot down the strikers. And TR believed that the strikers had a good argument. They were underpaid, overworked, and he took a hand in settling the strike and seeing that the strike was arbitrated and that the coal miners got a fair shake -- as he put it, a square deal. And, of course, the Square Deal became the symbol of his administration, just as the New Deal became the name for Franklin Roosevelt's administration and the New Frontier John F. Kennedy's.
LAMB: What did the Square Deal mean?
MILLER: That everybody got a fair shake, that everybody was treated equal.
LAMB: Is that any different than what we've had over the last -- what is it? -- we're now in 1993 -- in the last 90 years?
MILLER: Well, I would say, until the 1930s, until the New Deal, labor suffered under numerous handicaps. They were not permitted to organize, strikes were broken. It was the New Deal that gave labor the right to organize most industries and to strike. You had the tremendous sit-down strikes in the automobile industry in the middle '30s and these were all part of it. Until that time, troops were usually sent to put down large strikes, such as the steel strike in 1919. So what TR did in settling the hard coal strike was something radical and revolutionary. One of those who thought it was a radical move was Franklin Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt's father had made a large amount of money in the coal mines and Franklin thought that the President intervening in the coal strike was a radical move.
LAMB: "Walk softly and carry a big stick' -- where'd that come from?
MILLER: That came from the McGuffey Reader. TR said, "Oh, no one can really find it in the McGuffey Readers." People have gone back and ...
LAMB: What's the McGuffey Reader?
MILLER: The McGuffey Reader was a standard text given to schoolchildren of the day. It had certain little articles in it that the children read, teaching them, you know, to wash their hands, not to curse, to obey their parents. And there were a whole series of these McGuffey Readers as a child progressed in age and in class. And TR said that he'd gotten this phrase from the McGuffey Readers and it meant, in foreign policy, the idea the United States should negotiate, should arbitrate, but always have a big stick at hand in case reasonableness would not be met. And in his case, the big stick was the Navy. He built up the Navy to a large and important force that became the third or the fourth-largest Navy in the world.
LAMB: What do you think we'd see if he were sitting right here today and you were interviewing him? What kind of a persona?
MILLER: Well, he would bubble over -- his energy was so tremendous that he never seemed to sit down. He bounded -- he did not walk, he bounded. He would leap out of his chair, you know, to talk to people. A perfect example would be the way he gave news conferences. There were no formal news conferences when TR was President. News conferences did not come in until later. But every day he would meet the White House press corps, the six or seven reporters covering the White House, informally. He would be shaved at noon, and he would walk into the room, he would sit down in the chair, the barber would put a sheet over him to cover him, lather up his face and the President would answer questions. But periodically, you know, he'd get so excited while answering a question he'd jump out of a chair while the barber was all set to shave him and -- to answer these questions, then sit down, smile at the barber. And the barber would try again to shave him. And as one correspondent said, it was like a three-ring circus, watching the President be shaved.
LAMB: What kind of a relationship did he have with his second wife, Edith?
MILLER: Very good. He was very much in love with her, but Edith was somewhat of a difficult woman. She had a mind of her own. She was subject to migraine headaches, and people said that when she had these headaches, people did not know what to expect. She also, as I said, had been faced with the problem of poverty after her father died, and she was always worried that they were going to be broke and she was very tight with money. And they really did not become free with money until after they entered the White House and they had the Presidential salary and the Presidential living expenses. Edith also was his closest adviser. I mean, people talk about Hillary Clinton being Bill Clinton's close adviser. Edith also advised the President and as one story said, whenever he took Edith's advice, he did not go wrong. Sometimes he did not take her advice, did not ask her, and he made tremendous mistakes.
LAMB: A name we hear, you know, not too many years ago is Henry Cabot Lodge, but it's a different one. Who is this Henry Cabot Lodge?
MILLER: That's the father of the Henry Cabot Lodge that we heard about. The Henry Cabot Lodge that we heard about ran for vice President with Nixon in 1960, was a senator from Massachusetts and I think was ambassador to Vietnam at one time during the buildup. That Henry Cabot Lodge is Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., who was TR's closest friend and Senator from Massachusetts.
LAMB: Why were they close friends?
MILLER: Well, they had met during the various Republican reform campaigns and they were very similar in personality, although Theodore was a much more open personality than Lodge. They both wrote history, they both had similar views in a number of respects, and I think that Lodge was slightly older than TR, and I think that TR, in the beginning, viewed Lodge as the older brother he never had. He took his advice in politics.
LAMB: You dedicate this book, "Happily again to Jeanette."
MILLER: Jeanette is my wife, and I've dedicated other books to her and I'm very happy to be able to do this one, so ...
LAMB: Where'd you meet her?
MILLER: Actually, we met in Baltimore. We're both native Baltimoreans. I was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and her family ran a bar -- quite famous bar in Baltimore called Martick's Bar. And she was a social worker, working, I think, in Detroit at the time. And she was home visiting, and I'd come in, as a number of the reporters did, for a beer, and we got to chatting and one thing led to another. Then I was assigned to Latin America and went to Brazil, and she came down to Brazil and we were married, in fact, 30 years ago next month.
LAMB: Kids?
MILLER: No.
LAMB: Looking at the books by Nathan Miller, they're all over the place, and I just want to ask you why and what they're all about, "Stealing from America: Corruption in American Politics from Jamestown to Reagan." When did you write that one?
MILLER: Originally, I wrote that book in 1976. It appeared in time for the bicentennial. What I wanted to do was flip over the flat rock of American history and see what was underneath, and I found out that corruption really was the red thread that ran through American history. The new version of it is "Stealing from America," and that brings the book up from 1976 actually to the Bush administration.
LAMB: Are we worse off or better off today when it comes to corruption?
MILLER: It's a different form of corruption than it was in the earlier period. In those days, it was primarily money corruption. You had the Whiskey Ring, Teapot Dome, the Credit Mobilier -- I mean, people were interested in stealing money. Today other things are taken -- power such as in Watergate; influence, which you see -- you have such situations as misuse of government, as in Iran-Contra -- and so it's a little different ballgame today than it was in the earlier period. It's much more sophisticated and subtle, but you still see aspects of it. You see BCCI -- money is the root of evil there.
LAMB: You have a book called "The US Navy: A History."
MILLER: Yes, that's a new updated version of a very pretty book which was done with the US Naval Institute and American Heritage, one of these large cocktail table books. And it came out, I think, in 1977. And "The US Navy" is an update, in paperback, of that book, bringing the history of the Navy up to the end of the Reagan period.
LAMB: You've got "Spying for America: The Hidden History of US Intelligence"; you've got "The Naval Air War, 1939-1945"; you've got "The US Navy: An Illustrated History"; but then you've got also "FDR: An Intimate History," which we talked about a little bit earlier. How'd that book sell?
MILLER: Did very well. It did very well. It came out in a mass-market paperback -- Dell paperback. I think it sold 75,000 copies. It was a Book of the Month Club selection. It's still in paperback, and it's done rather well.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
MILLER: At the University of Maryland. I have a BA and a master's in history.
LAMB: When did you write your first book?
MILLER: My first book was a book called "Sea of Glory: The Continental Navy Fights for Independence," and I began that book in 1970 because I wanted to do something for the bicentennial. I really wanted to do a book, period, and with the bicentennial coming up, I thought a naval history of the Revolution would be a good subject because there hadn't been one since about 1910. And I wrote the book and it was quite successful, and it got me started in my writing career. I wrote three books after that. The third book, "The US Navy: An Illustrated History," was very successful and I left my job -- at that time I had a job on Capitol Hill with the Senate Appropriations Committee and I've been writing full-time since 1977.
LAMB: Who were you working for at the Appropriations Committee?
MILLER: I was working on the staff of Senator John McClellan of Arkansas.
LAMB: How did you get into that?
MILLER: Well, I was working as a journalist in the beginning on Capitol Hill, and I was offered a position as an investigator with the permanent investigating subcommittee, of which Senator McClellan was chairman. And when he moved to the Appropriations Committee, I went along with him.
LAMB: What'd you do for him?
MILLER: I was his speechwriter.
LAMB: And he's been gone for how long?
MILLER: He's been gone since '77, when he was going to retire in '77, but he died about three weeks before his retirement. At that time, my Navy book was coming out. It was going to be quite successful, with 80,000 copies printed, and I knew that I was going to be able to do full-time writing, and I left Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Ever thought about doing a book on John McClellan?
MILLER: No, because I don't think that McClellan today is a household name. He was a household name 20 years ago doing the Hoffa investigations, doing the investigations of the Mafia, but it's not today and I think it would be quite difficult to interest a publisher in McClellan, although he has a very interesting career.
LAMB: You also have a book called "The Roosevelt Chronicles." What's that?
MILLER: That's a book on the Roosevelt family. I did that book when "Roots" came out because I thought people were interested in family history, and I had gotten interested in the Roosevelt family and I did this book on the family. And as I said earlier, it's coming out in paperback later this year, a revised edition, and that's what led me into the biography of Franklin Roosevelt. In looking for books on Franklin, I realized that there had not been a one-volume life of Franklin Roosevelt since the 1950s, and I got there first. I got there before the centennial of Roosevelt's birth in 1983.
LAMB: There's another one here called "The Founding Finaglers."
MILLER: That was the early version of the corruption book.
LAMB: "A History of Corruption in American Society."
MILLER: Yes. That title was given to the book by the Washington Post. I'd done a long article for the Post. The Post had brought out a special issue on Watergate, and I was asked to do this piece on corruption in American history, and the headline placed on the article was The Founding Finaglers, and from that article I developed the book.
LAMB: When Theodore Roosevelt ran on his own terms in 1904 and then was elected, who'd he run against?
MILLER: Judge Alton Parker.
LAMB: What was the outcome of the election?
MILLER: Oh, it was a hands-down victory for TR. It was an overwhelming victory for the Republicans. In fact, on the inaugural parade, Alice looked at it and said it looked like a triumphal march, and she expected to see Parker and the Democrats being led along in chains, in the triumph.
LAMB: What happened then in 1908?
MILLER: In 1908 TR decided not -- he could have run because technically it was not a third term. After all, he had succeeded McKinley as Vice President and he could have run again in 1908 as President, but he thought that too many people were claiming that he was a dictator and he thought it was best to step down. And he turned the Presidency over to his hand-selected choice, which was William Howard Taft, who had been Secretary of War and his very close friend.
LAMB: An Ohioan.
MILLER: Yes.
LAMB: What did he think of him?
MILLER: He liked him very much. He called him Will and they were Will and Ted, and they were very close, and as I said, he liked Taft -- in fact, it was very difficult not to like Taft. As we pointed out, he was 350 pounds and he was a very jovial fellow. And it was very difficult not to like him. In fact, TR went away, off on a Western trip, and he said that he was leaving Taft sitting on Washington, and then he pointed to Taft more or less to emphasize his weight and said, "He's sitting on Washington," and everyone just burst out laughing.
LAMB: But he started to get frustrated.
MILLER: Yes. After he left office, he went off on an African tour, and while he was on the African tour, rumors began to reach him, reports began to reach him of the difficulties that Taft was having, and he felt that Taft was betraying his positions, particularly in the case of conservation. Taft was no conservationist. He turned some of the reserves that Roosevelt had established over to the exploiters and they were being exploited. Taft was more conservative than Roosevelt. Roosevelt had not really realized how conservative Taft was. I think that he saw what he wanted to see, as he often did with people. He was not a particularly good judge of character, and he projected his image of what the person should be upon them. Edith was a much better judge of character than TR was in that respect.
LAMB: He went to Africa. How long was his safari?
MILLER: Well, the safari lasted about a year, and then he went from Africa he went to Europe, on a European tour. And he was ...
LAMB: Was Edith with him?
MILLER: Yes, she joined him -- after he left the big-game hunt she joined him in the Sudan and they went up the Nile and then went on to Africa and to Vienna, to Paris, to London and to Oslo, where he picked up his Nobel Peace Prize. He had won the Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. He was the first American President to win a Nobel prize and the first American President to win the peace prize.
LAMB: In 1912, the election. What happened?
MILLER: Well, he had become so frustrated with Taft that he decided to run for the Republican nomination. As you know, there's no rule against a President running for a third term, just the unwritten Washington rule. But TR figured that Taft ...
LAMB: You mean then compared to now?
MILLER: Yes, since Franklin Roosevelt -- the Republicans, of course, put in the 23rd Amendment and it was in revenge against FDR, barring a second, a third or a fourth term. And he was frustrated with Taft, and he decided to run for the Republican nomination. But the Old Guard controlled the nominating process. TR ran in every primary, he won every primary, he tried to influence every delegate that he could influence that was not elected by the primary, but the Old Guard controlled a majority of the Republican Convention, and when they got to Chicago, TR was counted out by the Old Guard, and he stormed out of the convention, threatening revenge. And in the meantime, of course, some of the more progressive Republicans and Democrats had gotten together and sponsored TR as a Progressive party candidate, a third-party candidate. He resisted at first. He knew that if he split the party vote that the Democrats would win. Woodrow Wilson had been nominated by the Democrats and Roosevelt knew that if he split the party, Wilson would win. But he resisted up to a certain point, and then he was convinced and told by Progressives that they had put all their hopes in him. They had abandoned the party and he owed it to them, out of loyalty, to run in 1912 as a third-party candidate, which he did. Some people, of course, attribute TR's running in 1912 as to pique or to jealousy of Taft or some even say he was insane -- a lot of people used to say that TR was insane because of his violent motions and fast talking and things like that. Of course, this was the only way they could explain it. A lot of people used to say that he was a drunk but, of course, he didn't drink.
LAMB: At all.
MILLER: At all. He might have a glass of champagne now and then or he might have six mint juleps during the summer. That was his limitation on drinking. But he did not do this out of pique, he did not do it out of jealousy of Taft. He did it out of loyalty to his fellow Progressives. At least that's my interpretation. My interpretation, incidentally, in the book is somewhat radical. Some historians now will not agree with me in this matter. They prefer the other version.
LAMB: Do you consider yourself a historian or a journalist?
MILLER: I consider both. What I try to do is combine the research of the historian with the writing style of the journalist. And so far I've been quite successful, I think.
LAMB: What do the historians think of the work you do?
MILLER: Some like it, some don't. In fact, I picked up a new book on Franklin Roosevelt the other day and just happened to look in the bibliographical essay at the back, and this fellow mentions my book and says, "Sound and well-written."
LAMB: OK. 1912, the election was held, Wilson wins. What happens to TR and what happens to William Howard Taft?
MILLER: Well, Taft is out of office and ...
LAMB: How many votes did he get? Do you remember?
MILLER: Oh, yes. In 1912, TR ran second to Wilson; Taft ran third. He's the only incumbent President to run third in an election. As you know, Bush ran second. TR won 28 percent of the vote; Perot only won at 19 percent, as you recall.
LAMB: Is there any similarity between what Theodore Roosevelt was saying back then and what Ross Perot was saying this last election?
MILLER: Definitely not. TR was a professional politician. He believed that politics could work. He believed that government could work. Perot's argument and presentation was completely opposite. He was against politics and he believed government is unworkable.
LAMB: You tell a story about Theodore Roosevelt coming into a hotel somewhere and finding out that William Howard Taft is in the dining room -- this is after they're both out of office?
MILLER: This is after they're both out of office. There had been quite a bit of acrimony during the campaign. They had not talked or written to each other for a number of years. This was in World War I, and Roosevelt's sons were at the front fighting, and Taft's only son, Charlie, was at the front. And TR was in Chicago, came into the Blackstone Hotel, into the dining room and was told that Taft was also in the dining room. No, I'm sorry. I have it just about backwards. Taft came into the dining room, TR was there, and Taft went over to Roosevelt. Roosevelt was reading the paper, and suddenly he looked up and saw this hulking figure, and it was Bill Taft -- Will Taft. And he immediately stood up and grabbed Taft by the hand, and they shook hands and smiled, patted each other on the back, and sat down and chatted. And everyone in the dining room turned and just applauded the scene because it was the first time the two men, who had been such good friends earlier on, since bitter enemies, had gotten together again.
LAMB: What did Theodore Roosevelt think of President Wilson?
MILLER: He hated Wilson. In fact, TR did not use curse words, but he could say Woodrow Wilson or William Jennings Bryan with such a curl of the lip that he did not need profanity.
LAMB: I noticed there was some language used in here like "stupid," things that ...
MILLER: Well, those were the words that -- no, "stupid" was the word that Roosevelt used for Taft -- fathead and things like that. He did not use such language about Wilson, because Wilson was by no means stupid.
LAMB: Did he use things like fathead in public?
MILLER: Yes. That's why I say there was such bitterness between the two men after the campaign and, of course, Taft had called Roosevelt a congenital liar in public.
LAMB: Now we had a President that called his opponent Bozo this time around. Compare those two, Bozo to stupid and Bozo to fathead. Are they in the same ballpark when you're throwing language around?
MILLER: I would say the language in 1912 was much rougher than anything we saw last year. They unleashed much stronger language against each other because when friends fight, the situation is much more difficult, it's much bitterer, and this was a case of friends fighting. In fact, in the campaign, except for the denunciations of Taft, TR openly ignored Taft. He fought against Wilson. He looked upon Taft as a nonentity in the campaign. And, of course, this was true because Taft was just beaten so badly. TR, as I said, ran second to Wilson.
LAMB: You talk also about a meeting that Woodrow Wilson had with Theodore Roosevelt early in their career somewhere.
MILLER: Well, earlier on ...
LAMB: Did they all know each other?
MILLER: Yes, everybody knew each other in those days. Was a very small circle, and don't forget Wilson was a quite prominent college professor before he became President of Princeton, governor of New Jersey and President. And he was a very well-known political scientist, and when TR was governor of New York, he had various experts come up to Albany to discuss policies and procedures, and one of those people that he brought to Albany was Professor Wilson.
LAMB: By the way, you suggest -- and we're running out of time, that's why I have all these quick questions -- that Theodore Roosevelt didn't think much of Thomas Jefferson.
MILLER: Yes, well, don't forget TR was a Republican, Jefferson was a founder of what today is the Democratic Party. TR was a strong Federalist. He believed in the policies of Hamilton and a strong federal government. Jefferson believed in a weak federal government, and also, Jefferson, of course, had not been a supporter of a strong Navy. And when TR wrote his book about the naval war of 1812, he blamed the failure to have a strong Navy on the Democratic regimes of Jefferson and Madison.
LAMB: Why do you quote Cecil Spring Rice so often?
MILLER: Cecil Spring Rice was a British ambassador to Washington before World War I and he was also TR's close friend. They'd met as young men and, in fact, Spring Rice was best man at the wedding of TR and Ethel, which was in London.
LAMB: Even after he was President, people called TR "Colonel." How come?
MILLER: Well, this was a title he preferred. He had been colonel of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, and he preferred the title of Colonel to Mr. or to Governor or Mr. Secretary or Mr. President. He preferred the title Colonel.
LAMB: If you had to vote for FDR or Theodore Roosevelt -- had to make a choice -- which one would you pick?
MILLER: Well, it's a difference in circumstance -- depending on the circumstance. I think if you asked me in whose company I would rather spend an afternoon, it'd be TR, definitely.
LAMB: What's your next book?
MILLER: I'm doing it now. I'm on the fourth chapter of my next book. It's called, "The Sea Aflame: A Naval History of World War II."
LAMB: Got any more biographies in you?
MILLER: I don't think so.
LAMB: This is the current book, in your bookstores. It's called "Theodore Roosevelt: A Life," by our guest, Nathan Miller. And we thank you very much for joining us.
MILLER: Delighted to be here.
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