Monday, November 27, 2017

Michael Patrick Cullinane's "Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost"

Michael Patrick Cullinane is Professor of U.S. history at Roehampton University, London, and the author of Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898–1909, and coauthor of The Open Door Era: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Alice and Ted presumed that they could preserve a particular memory of their father's legacy, but it was the Democratic Roosevelt who captivated public attention and redefined "Rooseveltian." Historian Richard Collin argues that Franklin's presidency relegated TR to the position of a "forgotten man," that FDR produced a "historical obliteration" of TR, but this claim does not ring true. Franklin eclipsed Theodore, and Henry Pringle's critical biography certainly revised the historical impression, yet TR endured, even thrived, in public memory. FDR and Pringle changed TR from a "unique, isolated" presidential icon "beyond confusion with anybody else" into a puzzling figure with a political association with Franklin. Hardly obliterated, TR's ghost adapted and remained pertinent in a new context.
When asked to open my book to the 99th page, I worried and wondered what I would find. But, true to the hypothesis of that magic number, the 99th page does not disappoint. One of TR's greatest admirers was his cousin Franklin who, soon after TR's death, began mimicking his most famous oratorical phrases such as "Bully" and "Dee-lighted." Franklin's campaign for vice-president in 1920 was characterized by a wholesale invocation and co-option of his dead cousin's popular memory. TR's family detested Franklin for this, particularly his eldest daughter Alice and eldest son Ted who spent their lives attempting to discredit FDR's reinterpretation.

Chapter 4 of Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost, where page 99 falls, examines the ways in which Franklin changed popular conceptions about the name "Roosevelt." It is an example of how the past is re-imagined, and it exemplifies the purpose of the book. Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost is an analysis of a character that haunts American history. Every president has invoked TR; you can find his likeness carved into Mount Rushmore, in the performance of Robin Williams in Night at the Museum​, or as a giant bobble-head racing around National's Park in the intermission of the fourth inning of a Senators' game. Theodore Roosevelt endures as a figure with substantial meaning, be it for politics or pop culture.

The page 99 test has exposed one of several historiographical contributions. The rise of FDR did not erase TR from memory; it merely changed perceptions. The changing nature of TR's posthumous image closely follows the historical context of the American Century. The Great Depression launched FDR's career and focused greater attention on TR's progressive legacy. It did not obscure the Rough Rider, however, and when the Cold War prompted a surge in nationalism and anti-communism, TR's legacy as an advocate of Americanism re-emerged. The contemporary green movement has reminded a new generation of TR's conservation credentials. Likewise, personal agency played a role in shaping his legacy, as FDR demonstrates. Other individual stories come to light in the book, such as the rationale for Mount Rushmore and the person responsible for TR's place on the mountain (spoiler: it was not the artist Gutzon Borglum, but Peter Norbeck).

Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost​ details the most important commemorative activities over a century of relentless depictions with the aim of showing how memories of the past are used to serve the present.
Learn more about Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue