Teddy Roosevelt did not go gently into the good night of postpresidential politics; rather, writes O’Toole, he made as much of a stir out of office as in it, and “the last decade of his life would blind him to distinctions between the public interest and his own.”
No law forbade Roosevelt’s running for a third term in 1908, notes O’Toole (Money and Morals in America, 1998), but custom prevented it; indeed, the two-term limit had been “a sacred American precept” since the time of George Washington, who warned that a president entrenched in office too long would become a tyrant. Roosevelt was no tyrant, but he liked exercising power at his sole discretion, as when he gave a customs post to poet Edward Arlington Robinson for the good of literature, a job that Robinson had to be reminded to go to long enough to collect his paycheck. When he left office, Roosevelt had difficulty adjusting to his newfound inability to issue ukases; he consoled himself by going to Kenya and shooting everything he saw—his party bagged 512 African animals, including 8 elephants—and then returning to New York to conspire against his sometime friend and successor William Howard Taft, who protested that Roosevelt’s called-for regulatory and welfare reforms would require rewriting the Constitution. Roosevelt responded, ere long, by accusing Taft of “violating every canon of human ordinary decency and fair dealing,” which caused poor Taft to break down in tears. But Taft had the last laugh when Roosevelt was denied the Republican nomination in 1912, after which it was Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s turn to rule—and to withstand Roosevelt’s petitions, including the demand that he be given a colonel’s commission when the US entered WWI. Roosevelt’s response on being denied was characteristic: “Our rulers were supple and adroit,” he thundered, quoting the Bible, “but they were not mighty of soul.”
A mighty—and mighty trying—soul, very capably and vigorously scrutinized here.