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Posted on August 18th, 2012, by

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most outstanding and famous figures in the history of the US of the 20th century.

His political life produced a profound impact on the development of the US and its growing significance in the international politics. At the same time, another side of his life, which is not directly linked to his political career, but, which nonetheless, constituted not less important part of his personal life, was also quite significant. In this respect, it should be pointed out that Theodore Roosevelt was not only a successful politician but he proved to be a gifted naturalist and explorer who really admired wild life and paid a lot of attention to the research of natural history. On the other hand, this less known part of his life produced a profound impact on the formation of his ideals and values, which, in their turn, defined political views of Theodore Roosevelt.

In such a situation, it is extremely important to research this part of life which is less known to the mass public nowadays since traditionally Theodore Roosevelt is viewed as a politician and one of the successful Presidents of the US who headed the country in one of the most difficult periods in its history. It is obvious that his non-political activities could hardly fail to affect his political views and this is why it is necessary to research his naturalist adventures and formation of his conservationist philosophy which consistently influenced his political views. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the work “Theodore Roosevelt: the explorer naturalist and conservationist”¯ by H. Paul Jeffers who suggests quite original view on the life of the US President and the formation of his views and ideals.

Theodore Roosevelt as explorer naturalist

As a rule, Theodore Roosevelt is depicted as a serious politician whose major concern was his political career. Many of his biographers focused their attention on the political life of Theodore Roosevelt (Brands, 253) that naturally led to the ignorance of his non-political life. However, it is obvious that such an approach to the biography of any person and to the analysis of his life and work is totally wrong because not a single politician can be isolated from the world beyond politics, especially such a person as Theodore Roosevelt. At the same time, even though biographers who attempted to uncover the personal life of the US President and his life, which was not directly related to politics, often viewed this part of his life as secondary (Cooper, 184). At any rate, it is traditionally believed that Theodore Roosevelt admired hunting, wild life and it is considered to be his major hobby or a kind of relaxation from the political life or, at least, it had practically never been viewed as a significant part of his life.

In stark contrast, H. Paul Jeffers views the life of Theodore Roosevelt as a harmonious combination of his personal life, his development and his political career. In this regard, he views the non-political part of the life of the US President as very important and the author tends to emphasize that his love to nature actually shaped his preservationist views which inevitably affected the political views of Theodore Roosevelt. At the same time, it should be pointed out that unlike many other biographers (Brands, 341), H. Paul Jeffers does not attempt to show Theodore Roosevelt as an enthusiastic hunter whose only interest was to get as much trophies and kill as much animals as possible. Instead, the author attempts to show that Theodore Roosevelt was a real connoisseur of the wild nature and wild life, which he highly appreciated. Moreover, H. Paul Jeffers emphasizes the fact that killing animals was not the ultimate goal of his natural adventures or even hunting itself. In actuality, the US President rather viewed hunting as a part of the process of the unification with the wild nature. In such a way, he could find that harmony with the nature which had been lost in the result of the development of the modern civilization.

This fact is very important because it provides an opportunity to view Theodore Roosevelt’s love to hunting from a different angle and, what is more important, it uncovers the philosophy of the US President which was traditionally hidden and unknown to the mass audience. In this respect, it should be pointed out that Theodore Roosevelt was not only the hunter, as many of his biographer tend to represent him, but, as H. Paul Jeffers emphasizes, he was also a really gifted and successful naturalist explorer (47). In fact, the exploration of the wild nature was not just a hobby for Theodore Roosevelt, but it was also a serious scientific work. To put it more precisely, he explored North America, South America, and Africa. He organized expeditions throughout the American continent, he even managed to visit Africa as a naturalist, but not a politician that is also a very important fact. In such a way, he was really focused on this scientific work because he participated in these expeditions not only for his own pleasure but, as a rule, he had definite scientific goals to explore wild nature of different regions of the world, many of which had never been explored in depth before him. In this regard, his naturalist explorations of the Amazon basin are considered to be particularly important because this region is one of the most under-researched (81) and even nowadays there are a lot of areas which are simply not explored by scientists.

Naturally, the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt to research this region are really significant and prove the fact that the exploration of the wild nature was not only a hobby but mainly a significant part of his life and it was actually a real scientific work. In such a situation, it is quite important to underline the fact that among 35 books written by Theodore Roosevelt a considerable part of his literary and scientific heritage comprises books on outdoor life, natural history, and the exploration of the wild nature (95). Consequently, the significance of the naturalist work of Theodore Roosevelt can hardly be underestimated.

Finally, it is worthy of mention the fact that Theodore Roosevelt did not simply explore the wild nature in the regions he visited but he also got closer to the nature. In fact, these expeditions helped him better understand the surrounding world and naturally shaped his unique perception of the world.

The impact of Roosevelt’s adventures of wilderness on his ideals and values

Naturally, such activities as hunting and exploration of the wild nature could not fail to affect the formation of the ideals and basic values of Theodore Roosevelt. As the matter of fact, it is possible to estimate that it is due to his regular contact with the wild nature he developed a very specific view on the world and life at large which probably distinguished him from many of his colleagues, politicians. It should be pointed out that the exploration of the wild nature brought in the absolutely new view on the surrounding world which differed from the traditional view of a politician. To put it more precisely, Theodore Roosevelt, due to his explorations and expeditions, got closer to the nature that made him more concerned on the preservation of the great natural heritage the mankind started to destroy systematically.

What is meant here is the fact that H. Paul Jeffers in his work “Theodore Roosevelt: the explorer naturalist and conservationist”¯ argues that the US President was conscious of the extent to which the wild nature was fragile and unprotected in face of the threat of the growing human activities and human intervention in the wild life. As a result, Theodore Roosevelt became a convinced supporter of the idea of the conservation of the wild nature and its protection against the further destruction and the negative influences of human activities on nature. In such a way, it possible to say that such a conservationist position was determined by the profound knowledge and the great experience Theodore Roosevelt acquired in the result of his expeditions in North America, Africa, and especially in the Amazon Basin in the South America.

In fact, he was a person who was conscious of the fact that the nature is very dependent on human interference and it is very sensitive to any changes. At the same time, he observed that the extent of human intervention in nature was constantly growing. The wild nature he observed in the Amazon Basin as well as in different parts of North America was dramatically contrasting to the areas where the industrialization had already produced its destructive, if not to say disastrous effect.

In this respect, it was really important that Theodore Roosevelt spent a considerable part of his life in the urban areas while his expeditions to different regions of the world could be viewed as a kind of return to the wild nature.

Obviously, the contrast between the wild nature and the civilized life could not fail to affect the US President views, ideals and basic values. He became really concerned on the problems of the environment and he perfectly realized the fact that the wild nature is gradually disappearing. In fact, being a very intelligent person, he could easily forecast the disastrous effects of the further industrial growth in the US as well as in other parts of the world on the wild nature that made him really anxious about the problems of preservation of the natural richness of his own country as well as of the entire world.

At the same time, his expeditions and exploration of the wild nature dramatically affected his personality since he learned to value the wild nature and respect as well as he realized that people are just products of the nature and they constitute an essential part of it. Hence he developed his own perception of the surrounding world and his own conservationist philosophy that affected his views and basic values. This is probably why he became rather cautious person who attempted to live in the harmony with the surrounding world. He did not really accept the domination of the materialist culture, instead he insisted that the material wealth and prosperity should not be dominant (158).

Consequently, instead of the pursuit for the growing wealth people should rather be focused on the changing their life style in such a way that they could not cause any harm not only to the surrounding nature but also to other people. No wonder that he paid a particular attention to the ideas of social balance and harmony. It is not a secret that he attempted to construct a society where people could feel the support of each other and the care of the state over its citizens.

The impact of Roosevelt’s ideals and values on his political life

Naturally, the ideals and values of Theodore Roosevelt shaped under the impact of his explorations and expeditions played a very significant role in the political life of the US President. It is not a secret that Theodore Roosevelt was substantially influenced by naturalist theories and ideas, especially those of Darwin and other outstanding explorer of the natural world. At the same time, his experience, his expeditions and knowledge he acquired in the result of his scientific work in different parts of the world made him a convinced supporter of these naturalist views. As a result, on analyzing the research of H. Paul Jeffers, it is possible to estimate that the author stands on the ground that basic political values and principles of Theodore Roosevelt were shaped under the impact of his exploration activities and his naturalist experience. To put it more precisely, the author argues that the US President was actually a supporter of the social Darwinism (182). His political views were really affected by his experience as a naturalist and it seems to be quite that logical that Theodore Roosevelt attempted to extrapolate his experience he acquired in his numerous expeditions on his political work. In other words, he viewed the political and social life of his country as well as of the entire world as a model of the natural process he observed in the wild nature during his expedition. Therefore, he naturally believed that there should be the competition between people within a society and between peoples in global terms that could be viewed as a kind of natural selection. However, it is necessary to underline that it did not make him a kind of racist or simply intolerant person.

In stark contrast, he paid a particular attention to the balanced social policy in terms of the state. He stood on the ground that the state was responsible for the well-being of its citizens and he also insisted on the necessity of the development of a socially responsible policy (Dalton, 292). In this respect, it is possible to estimate that his conservationist views played an important role in such approach of the US President to the social policy in his country.

At the same time, in the relationships of the US with other countries Theodore Roosevelt was quite aware of possible threats to his country from the part of its rivals. As a result, his foreign was also based on the principles of the natural selection but, unlike his domestic policy, it was far from idealistic and often was characterized as quite aggressive, especially in relation to the neighbors of the US. Nevertheless, this aggression in the foreign policy may be viewed as a part of his naturalist views and ideals.

Furthermore, it is hardly possible to underestimate the significance of his naturalist experience and his explorations to the political struggle Theodore Roosevelt as a politician had participate in. In this respect, his deep understanding of nature at large and human nature in particular was particularly important because it really helped him to get success in situations when his ability to remain really strong was the determinant factor of success, for instance, during the presidential campaign.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to think that Theodore Roosevelt based his policy on Darwinist principles solely. In fact, due to his huge experience of exploration and his numerous contacts of inhabitants of remote regions of North and South America as well as Africa gave him a lot of important experience of communication and life in the primitive communities and societies. Similarly to some of other Americans, such as James F. Cooper he idealized the wild nature and the life of people in the wilderness.

Moreover, Theodore Roosevelt also highly appreciated the experience and observations he made concerning the life of Native Americans. Probably, it is a bit biased view of H. Paul Jeffers, but the author underlines in his work that Theodore Roosevelt paid attention to the organization of social life of Indian communities to the extent that he viewed this communities as potential models of the future American society deprived of a considerable control from the part of the state and law enforcement agencies where the life of the community is defined by the particular community itself, by its needs as well as needs and interests of each individual within this community.

However, it should be said that it is just another evidence of some idealism that was present in political views of Theodore Roosevelt and that was shaped under the impact of his ideals and values he had in the result of his exploration activities and expeditions in different regions of the world where he was very close to the wild nature.

Contradictions of Theodore Roosevelt

In spite of all positive characteristics that could be found in the result of the analysis of the political work of Theodore Roosevelt and reflection on his personal qualities and his basic ideal and values, it is necessary to underline that his political work, his actions as well as his personality at large were extremely controversial. In fact, on researching his biography it is hardly possible to get rid of an impression that Theodore Roosevelt often tended to some extremes which often contradicted to each other.

First of all, it should be said that the personality of Theodore Roosevelt is quite contradictive. In this respect, it is possible to refer to H. Paul Jeffers, who reveals the fact that, in actuality, Theodore Roosevelt was a bit infantile and, as the matter of fact, he remained a child even when he had already grown up (204). Basically, this infantilism of Theodore Roosevelt could be traced in his idealistic views and in his lifestyle. In fact, his strife for adventures, his expeditions and explorations could be viewed as a kind of the realization of a childish dream. In his explorations, he discovered for himself as well as for the world new territories and attempted to research them. In such a way, his scientific and exploration work in the adulthood may be viewed as the continuation of his childish desire to make some great discoveries and leave a significant trace in the history. In this regard, his Presidency may be also viewed as the realization of his ambitions, while the fact that he supported conservationist views proves the fact that the high position itself was not important to him but the contribution he made to the development of his country and his heritage were really meaningful to Theodore Roosevelt that may be interpreted as a bit childish and altruistic desire of making something good for his nation and his people.

At the same time, his adult life and habits he had as well as his interests and inclinations were also quite contradictive. On the one hand, he really liked hunting that meant that he killed animals. In the modern world, as well as in the epoch of Theodore Roosevelt, hunting is viewed as a kind of entertainment, it is considered to be a kind of very cruel sport and evokes numerous arguments and opposition of the opponents of hunting who insist on the necessity of its total ban. Nevertheless, Theodore Roosevelt was quite a good hunter and he really enjoyed this activity.

On the other hand, as H. Paul Jeffers underlines, Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist (237). In fact, after his numerous expeditions and exploration of the wild nature he was conscious of the fact that the richness of the wild nature should be preserved that naturally implied that the intrusion of humans in the wild nature should minimal. In such a situation, it was quite strange that he continued hunting and did not really view it as a harmful activity or as an activity that contradicted to his beliefs and basic values. However, it would be more logical to stop hunting because this activity caused a direct harm to the wild nature and consistently undermined the natural balance if hunting was organized on a large scale. For instance, he could not be ignorant of the negative consequences of hunting of people in the US leading to the almost total disappearance various species, including buffaloes. On the other hand, it is possible to argue that hunting was just a part of the lifestyle of Theodore Roosevelt since it gave him ample opportunities to feel that he was a part of the wild nature and that he could really live in this world. Probably, it was another manifestation of his infantilism for he could view hunting as a kind of an adventure, a test of his abilities to survive in the wild nature being one on one with a wild animal.

The contradictions in the actions and personality of Theodore Roosevelt become even more obvious when his political views, actions and achievements are analyzed. To put it more precisely, Theodore Roosevelt is well-known for his peacekeeping activities and, in general, he traditionally supported the idea of the balance in the world similar to the balance existing in the wild nature. He often searched for harmonious relations and social life in his country and attempted to appease other countries. In the result of such peacekeeping efforts he was rewarded by the Noble Peace Prize for his contribution to the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1906 (Cooper, 137).

On the other hand, in stark contrast to the peaceful policy in relations between other countries, Theodore Roosevelt developed quite aggressive and very pragmatic foreign policy of the US known as the policy of the Big Stick. In terms of this policy, the US protected its national interests even though it was necessary to oppress neighboring countries.

It is not a secret that Theodore Roosevelt was an active supporter of the Spanish-American War and during his Presidency his foreign policy may be characterized as aggressive and imperialist. For instance, he understood the strategic significance of the Panama Canal and he used all possible means to negotiate the US to take control over its construction that was one of the proofs of imperialist policy of the US since it was direct intrusion into domestic affairs of another, formally independent country. Nevertheless, Theodore Roosevelt viewed the win of the Panama Canal competition as one of the major accomplishments of his Presidency. In this respect, it is possible to explain such a contradictive policy of Theodore Roosevelt by his naturalist experience and the influence of the ideas of social Darwinism. Hence he could view the taking control over strategically important regions as a constituent part of the natural struggle between nations for the survival and better position in the international arena.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Theodore Roosevelt played a very important role in the life of his country as a politician, but, as H. Paul Jeffers proves in his work, he was also a scientist who dedicated a considerable part of his life to exploration and the research of the natural history. At the same time, his scientific and naturalist work contributed considerably to the formation of his basic ideals, beliefs, values and principles based on conservationist position, which he applied not only in his personal life but also in politics. However, his beliefs and values did not prevent him from some quite contradictive actions which reveal the fact that often personal interests and the national interests proved to be more important to Theodore Roosevelt than his beliefs and ideals.

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