Theodore Roosevelt: The Man in the Arena

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Theodore Roosevelt building the Panama Canal
Theodore Roosevelt building the Panama Canal

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave a moving speech at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was titled the “Citizenship in a Republic” speech but the real takeaway, what it is famous for, is what is now known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote.

The speech was well-attended. Edmund Morris, in his biography Colonel Roosevelt, tells us, the crowd included “ministers in court dress, army and navy officers in full uniform, nine hundred students, and an audience of two thousand ticket holders.” The quote has become for some a daily affirmation, that is, said habitually on a daily basis. The quote is:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s Accomplishments and Highlights

  • He devised the domestic Square Deal program which had three basic ideas known as the “three C’s”: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
  • Working with Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt formed the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry. Known as the Rough Riders, their greatest victory came at the Battle of San Juan Hill, which was the decisive battle of the war.
  • Following the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901, at 42 years of age he became the 26th President of the United States. As of 2015 he remains the youngest person to assume the office of the President of U.S.
  • In 1902 by the United Mine Workers of America engaged in a strike that threatened the home heating supplies of tens of millions of Americans. President Roosevelt rolled up his sleeves and organized a fact-finding commission. He then threatened to use the U.S. Army to mine the coal and take over the mines. He convinced both the miners and the mine owners to accept the findings of the commission. The strike was suspended and never resumed. The miners got a 10% increase in wages and their working hours were set from 10 to 9 and as a concession to the owners, they didn’t have to recognize the trade union as a bargaining agent from that point on.
  • He imposed railroad regulation by pushing through the Elkins Act of 1903 and the Hepburn Act of 1906 to curb monopolistic power of the railroads.
  • He directed his Attorney General Philander Knox to bring a lawsuit on antitrust grounds against what was known as the “Beef Trust” that monopolized half or more of beef sales in the country. As the trial progressed it was shown that the “Big Six” leading meatpackers had formed a conspiracy to fix prices and divide the meat market among themselves resulting in higher profits.
  • He directed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, in 1906. The first banned food and drugs and medicine that were not pure or labelled falsely from being manufactured, sold, and shipped. It also mandated that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging and that drugs couldn’t go below the purity levels established by the U.S. Pharmacopeia. This was a huge win for consumers and reduced the likelihood of getting taken in by a scam.
  • He championed the conservation movement. The intention was to protect natural resources inclusive of animal, fungus, and plant species as well as their habitat for the future. He was the first president to put conservation far up on the national agenda. Roosevelt set aside and designated more Federal land for national parks and nature preserves than all prior presidents combined. He went on to establish the US Forest Service. It was signed into law and allowed for the creation of 5 National Parks and established the first 51 Bird Reserves and 150 National Forests.
  • Under his direction the Panama Canal was constructed. At first Colombia controlled Panama and objected to U.S. involvement. Roosevelt sent war ships to block the sea lanes from Colombia and insured that Panama got its independence.

It is clear that Theodore Roosevelt was a visionary, a man of action who stood up for American citizens, and protected their rights. His sense of what we should all strive for is encapsulated in his The Man in the Arena quote. We would all do well to focus on it habitually.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

4 Replies to “Theodore Roosevelt: The Man in the Arena”

  1. How far we’ve come. From a great accomplished president like this to a potential Joe Biden who can’t even remember where he is. Sheesh.

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