Friday, May 23, 2008


In 1927, the carving of Mount Rushmore began with the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt to be representative of the greatness of America’s first 150 years—representing the establishment, enlargement, and protection of our nation. Only eight years had passed since Roosevelt had passed away, so his greatness as a President and leader had not lost much of its power over the mind of the American public. Though there may be others who might have qualified to be included—Susan B. Anthony was actually considered early on by a certain faction—if the faces on the mount were limited to just four, then Theodore Roosevelt without doubt deserved to be there, if for no other reason than his exuberance, love for his country and power of persuasion at a pivital time in the nation's history.

Theodore Roosevelt
October 27, 1858—January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt, at his death was perhaps the greatest single personality of the time. He had been the model of masculinity and the dominant political figure in American politics and social justice for twenty years. The power of his personality and his willingness to take on formidable tasks had engendered both great love and respect from his supporters—these were the majority—and fear and loathing from his detractors. Not since Lincoln—as a child, Roosevelt viewed Lincoln’s funeral—had such a strong personality imposed its will on the nation and wielded such history-changing power. And, it could be argued that no other president of the United States, except perhaps Thomas Jefferson, had such varied talents and interests.

Roosevelt was sickly as a young child, but with the promptings of his parents—his father was his hero and “the best man I ever knew”, teaching by example the importance of combining strength, courage, gentleness and unselfishness—he built himself, through vigorous exercise and strenuous outdoor pursuits, into a powerful and vigorous physical specimen and endeavored to live up to his father’s ideals of character. He thrived on pitting himself against difficult physical and mental tasks. His interests were varied and many. As a youth he delved into zoology and taxidermy and wrote a scholarly paper on “The Natural History of Insects. His scholarly works later included some 35 publications on natural history, political history, the history of the Navy, frontier life and an autobiography. His college years at Harvard were spent in pursuit of athletic and scholastic excellence. He was the runner up in the Harvard boxing championship and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude.

After entering law school, Roosevelt felt the call to politics and became a New York assemblyman in 1881, where he began a career of trying to pull the Republican party towards progressive thought, and where he wrote more bills than any other assemblyman. After the death of his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, in 1884, Roosevelt was brokenhearted, and he fled from politics and New York, leaving his newborn daughter, Alice Lee, to the care of his sister, while he went off to become a rancher in the Dakotas. While ranching in the Dakota Territory, Roosevelt was elected sheriff, and as as such, made some courageous arrests of rustlers and outlaws, all while writing articles about western life for magazines published in the East. After his cattle herd was destroyed by a particularly bad winter, Roosevelt returned to New York where he ran for Mayor of New York city but lost. But, he also met and married his second wife, Edith Kermit Carow, whom he took to Europe in 1886 for their honeymoon. While there, the ever adventurous Roosevelt led a group of climbers to the summit of Mount Blanc, for which he was inducted into the British Royal Society.

Roosevelt supported Benjamin Harris in the 1888 presidential election and was appointed to the U.S. Civil Service Commission where he served until 1895—he had also been reappointed to the post under democrat Grover Cleveland. In 1895, Roosevelt became the head of the New York City Police Commissioners where he turned one of the most corrupt and disreputable police forces in America into possibly the nations best. He implemented rules and regulations that governed discipline, weaponry, entry exams, and physical and mental fitness. No longer was employment dependent on political persuasion or restricted by ethnic background. Even women were allowed to join the force. Roosevelt, himself, would walk the beats at night to verify that the officers were out performing their duties. He also instituted bicycle patrols and installed telephones in all police stations.

In 1897, President Mckinley appointed Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. This was an exciting opportunity for Roosevelt who, as an historian had written a history of the US Navy. He took the opportunity to do all within his power to prepare the Nay for any potential war—preparedness for war would be a focus throughout the rest of his political career—and was a leading voice in support of the United States’ war with Spain. When war began with Spain in 1898, Roosevelt personally organized and commanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, known as the “Rough Riders”, where he gained notoriety for leading victorious charges against the Spanish in Cuba. His service at the Battle of San Juan Hill was honored by a recommendation for the congressional medal of honor, but was initialy denied the medal, apparently, for voicing criticism of the military’s handling of the war. However, he did receive it posthumously—as did his son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. for his heroics at Normandy during World War II—more than a hundred years later in 2001 making him the only American President to have received the Medal of Honor.

Upon his return as a war hero, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York State in 1899. As governor of New York he worked so hard and effectively to root out political corruption, that the political bosses of the Republican Party, in order to get Roosevelt out of their political hair, convinced President McKinley to add him to his ticket as Vice President for his reelection campaign in 1900. Just six months after Roosevelt was sworn in as Vice President, President Mckinley was assassinated and Roosevelt, at the young age of 42, became the youngest President in American history.

Roosevelt’s interest in nature and his love for the American West and it’s numerous resources created within him a desire to use his power as President to become the nation’s greatest conservationist. He pushed congress to set aside almost 200 millions of acres of land in the West as national parks, national forests and nature preserves, to protect them for future generations. As President, Roosevelt continued his proclivity towards progressive politics, taking on corporations which he felt were corrupt and were illegally working against the American people’s interest. He personally filed 44 law suits to bridle corporate misconduct. The results of his efforts to even the playing field between workers and business owners and protecting consumers, were the Hepburn Act of 1906, which allowed for the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to regulate transportation of people and goods and the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act of the same year, to regulate railroad rates, recognizing that the railroads had a monopoly, and to make food and drugs safer for public consumption. Roosevelt also stepped in, when he felt necessary, to mediate between labor unions and business, as he did during the coal strike of 1907, to protect the balance of fairness between industry, the work force and the American consumer, which he felt was vital to the American capitalist system and in the nation's interest as a whole. Roosevelt’s skills as a mediator also earned him the Nobel Peace Prize when he negotiated an end to the Ruso-Japanese War that same year, and a later dispute between Germany and France over Morocco, which might have escalated into a world war.

On the world stage, Roosevelt made the United States a super power. He dramatically increased the size of the navy and sent it around the world to show off—primarily for the benefit of the Japanese—the "Big Stick” part of his foreign policy: “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” In 1903, Roosevelt backed Panama in their break with Columbia and took over the building of the Panama Canal from the French who had contracted with Columbia to build it. The U.S. was able to accelerate the building of the canal by eliminating the swamps that were the breeding places of the mosquitoes which spread the yellow fever and malaria amongst the workers and had slowed greatly the progress of the building of the canal under the direction of Columbia and France. The United states became the protector and controller of the Canal by treaty until the Carter administration.

Roosevelt easily won the 1904 election for president in an electoral college landslide, 336 to 140. He made a promise not to run again in 1908, but he regretted the decision soon after his hand-picked successor and friend, William Howard Taft, became president and changed political direction from that plotted by Roosevelt. Roosevelt decided to run again in 1912 but was unable to grasp the nomination of the Republican party from Taft. So, Roosevelt broke with the Republican party and ran again, against his old friend, at the head of his own “Bull Moose Party. This split the party so badly that Woodrow Wilson won the White House back for the Democrats. During the 1912 presidential campaign, Roosevelt was shot in an assassination attempt prior to a speech, the bullet lodging in his chest muscle. Roosevelt assumed that since he was not coughing up blood, the bullet had not entered his lungs and that he would be able to give his ninety-minute speech. True to his nature, he did so before seeking medical treatment.

Roosevelt's years after his presidency were spent doing the things he enjoyed most; traveling to the wilds of Africa and South America, hunting and exploring. He sent home numerous examples of wild life from his trips around the world, which today can be viewed as exhibits in the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute. His explorations brought him into contact with many dangers as well. During his exploration of the Amazon, where he discovered a before unknown tributary to the great river, he contracted malaria and was so worried about the survival of his fellow explorers, as they endeavored to help him along, that he tried to convince them to leave him behind, so as not to delay their progress to safety. His son, Kermit, would not accede to his wishes, however, and he was brought safely home, but his health was so damaged by the ordeal that it declined from that point on until his death in 1919.

As World War I broke out in 1914, Roosevelt felt even greater frustration for the direction the leadrship of America was taking, as he watched from the sidelines, not being able to lead the country during, perhaps it’s greatest need in his lifetime. He attacked Wilson for being a weak leader, not entering on the side of the allies against Germany much sooner. He proposed organizing another volunteer force similar to the Rough Riders he led during the Spanish—American War, but Wilson refused his offer. When his youngest son, Quentin, an ace fighter pilot, was killed in combat behind enemy lines in July of 1918, Roosevelt’s health took a more aggressive decline and he died January 6, 1919.

Theodore Roosevelt was the quintessential American of his time. His desire for a robust and energetic life, excelling in all of his physical, mental and scholarly pursuits, was part of his identity as an American. He tried to be an example of character, defending the weak against the strong and endeavoring to protect America and the American way of life, as he saw it, for his family and all of his fellow countrymen. He criticized Americans who referred to themselves as German-Americans or Irish-Americans, or any other “hyphenated Americans.” He felt that hyphenated Americans were too willing to split their loyalty between a native country, or the homeland of their ancestors, and their current homeland of America. He believed that each American should see themselves as he did; 100% American. His great self confidence and charisma took him to the highest office in the land and to heights of popularity and respect perhaps unknown by any other American President during their own lifetime since George Washington. His father would have been proud of him too.

Friday, May 16, 2008


When we think of great leaders, we normally think in terms of people with great vision and oratory skills, who could lead by convincing others through word or deed to follow their example and perhaps change their way of thinking and inspire others to do important or necessary things. Often great leaders showed their greatness or their exceptional talents at an early age and perhaps greatness may have been expected of them by their contemporaries. Of course, we would err to ignore one great American who would never have been expected to excel in, or even accomplish, anything of great importance in their life. Who could expect anything from a young girl born in the 19th century, who was blind, deaf and dumb from infancy? That was the question that many of her intimates had, but because of a loving teacher and family and her own intellect and incredible strength of will, she would prove the doubters wrong.

Helen Adams Keller
(June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968)

Helen Adams Keller was born in reconstruction Alabama to a former Confederate Army officer, Captain Arthur H. Keller, and Kate Adams Keller, a cousin of Robert E. Lee and the daughter of General Charles Adams of the Confederacy. At about 19 months of age, Helen contracted an illness, probably scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her blind and deaf. Her only communication was through some simple signs within the family household. When Helen reached the age of six, her mother, hoping to help her daughter develop more ability to communicate with the outside world and be able to be more self sufficient, contacted experts in the field of teaching the deaf and blind. Her search ended with the arrival of Anne Sullivan, a recent graduate of the Perkins Institute of the Blind in Boston. The 20 year-old Sullivan became Helen’s instructor and eventually her governess and ultimately a companion for most of her life, until after she married and her health began to fail in 1914.

Understandably, Helen’s parents tended to spoil their handicapped child and inadvertently frustrated Sullivan’s attempts to create a disciplined learning atmosphere for the child. To help Helen focus on her studies without distractions from the family, Sullivan convinced Helen’s father to allow her to separate Helen from the rest of the family and reside in a small house on the family’s estate. As can be seen in the two films entitled “The Miracle Worker” which depict the early events in Helen’s and Anne’s relationship, Sullivan was able to make a break through with Helen by running water over water over their hands while repeatedly making the sign for water in the palm of Helen’s hand. When Helen realized that Sullivan was communicating the “name” for water, the child’s natural intelligence erupted with the desire for more. She nearly exhausted Sullivan with demands to know the signs for everything and everyone she could think of.

At the age of ten, Sullivan began to teach Helen to speak by letting Helen Sullivan’s lips and throat as she spoke and then showing her the signs of the words spoken. She then graduated to learning to read Braille, eventually learning French, German, Greek and Latin. Helen’s unstopped intelligence thrived. She moved with Sullivan to New York 1894 to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf and the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, and in 1896 they went to Massachusetts to attend the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. In 1900, Helen was admitted to Radcliffe College where, at 24, she was the first blind and deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude.

Helen’s accomplishments resulted in great notoriety, which she used to great profit for herself and the causes she chose to embrace. She was a popular author and speaker. Americans of note, including presidents from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson, and popular figures such as Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Alexander graham Bell, sought her acquaintance and called her friend. Though Keller’s politics were radical for her time—along with being a suffragist and a pacifist during World War I, she embraced socialism and helped found the ACLU—she is best known for her efforts to help people with physical disabilities. Her efforts were not for Americans alone. She traveled the world over, shedding light on the plight of the physically impaired and encouraging society to recognize their potential. She was a symbol of what can be accomplished by even the most crippling circumstances when love, respect and a helping hand is proffered.

In the decade or so before her death in 1968, Helen’s life and struggles were honored from various quarters. Though Helen’s and Anne’s story was brought to the silent film screen 1919 as “Deliverance”, their story was retold in the Broadway play The Miracle Worker in 1959 and the award winning feature film, by the same name in 1962. Helen was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Johnson 1964 and elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair later that year. Since her death on June 1, 1968, the world continued pay tribute to Helen Keller with the retelling of her story in on the big and little screens. And, we continue to marveling at her accomplishments with the help of others, and her will to overcome what seemed to be overwhelming physical handicaps.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Though I am very conservative in my politics and would be at odds with some of the political beliefs of some of the historical figures I am highlighting in the vignettes in my Leadership in America series, I think that the positives accomplished by these figures should be recognized and focused on. Much of their political ideas were born of their times and situations. As long as their positive impact on American life was not outweighed by any negative impact, I feel compelled to focus on the positives. This, I think, is especially true of Susan B. Anthony and Helen Keller, who had socialist leanings and are my next subjects.
When the Constitution of the United States was ratified it was a singular document. It was a simple document allowing for the governing of a diverse people with differing beliefs, interests and concerns. Perhaps its greatest attribute beyond the obvious compromise to create a union, was the mechanism included to allow for amendment. This gave the people the power to amend the Constitution in the future if the will of the people evolved to provide greater freedoms. It was the intention of the founding fathers that the constitution be flexible enough to meet future needs that they were unable to anticipate or that they felt the nation could accept in the future. This was the case with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments that ended slavery and gave former slaves the right to be full citizens with the men the power to vote. It would take the turn of the next century and the 19th amendment to provide all women the right to vote. The Constitution of the United States was an inspired document and it has worked, but it has needed inspired leadership to help it along.

February 15, 1820—March 13, 1906

Fourteen years before the 19th Amendment to The United States Constitution was established, Susan B. Anthony passed away. But she would have been grateful that her efforts and the efforts of others like her, for the equal right of a woman to vote had eventually born fruit. Anthony was born in 1820, the oldest of seven children born into a liberal Quaker family active in the abolition movement of the 1800s. An intelligent child, Susan learned to read and write at age three and was taken out of the local school at the age of six and taught at a home school by her father when her father learned that her teacher refused to teach her long division. At age seventeen she entered a Quaker boarding school but had leave later in the year because of her family’s financial crisis following the Panic of 1837. The family moved to Hardscrabble, New York, in 1839 and Susan left home to teach at a Quaker seminary to help pay off family debts. In 1846 she moved on to teach at the Canajoharie Academy where she became head of the women’s department. It was as a teacher that she began to lobby for equal pay for men and women doing the same job.

Anthony left teaching and moved to be with her family in Rochester at age 29 where she began attending a Unitarian Church. She later gravitated away from organized religion altogether. Despite feelings of inadequacy of her oratory talents and a view of herself as unattractive, she began to speak at events supporting the abolition of slavery and temperance and soon became a prominent spokesperson for progressive causes with fellow feminist leaders, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia bloomer. Anthony saw the abolition of slavery and the eventual equality between the races and the sexes as necessary for progress in America and she tried to combine the two in her movement. This, of course, created some distance between her and longtime friend Frederick Douglas, who championed equal rights for black men alone when the 15th Amendment to the constitution was passed and ignored the right of women to vote. Anthony was unable to enthusiastically applaud the progress that left women behind, and felt that there was much left to do and devoted herself to women’s suffrage from that point on.

Anthony had begun her weekly publication, The Revolution, in 1868 which supported equality for blacks and women, but after the 15th Amendment in 1869 it s pages were almost exclusively devoted to women’s issues, including the vote, equal pay, and divorce laws. In 1872 Anthony was arrested by federal law enforcement officers for illegally voting. She argued that the 14th Amendment which stated,” all persons born or naturalized in the United States” did not exclude women from the privilege of voting. Nonetheless, she was tried, convicted, and fined. However, she refused to pay the fine and used her trial and increase notoriety to give her arguments greater public exposure.

During her crusade for equality for women, Anthony endeavored to unionize women labor and combine it to suffrage and to align moderate and conservative women’s suffrage movements. In time she came to believe that a more moderate approach than her more radical friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, espoused would realistically gain more. Her position was to focus on the vote and leave other issues like “women’s religious and social bondage” to be argued later. Her efforts translated into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). History proved her to be right.
When Susan B. Anthony died on March 13, 1906, she may have thought that she had fought the good fight but had come up short, but her legacy was the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Though it came too late for her to take advantage of herself, her life's work benefited millions of American women in her wake. Since her death, she has been revered by many men and women alike and honored by her country’s government for her leadership tireless efforts for emancipation of the slaves and for the right of all citizens to cast a vote of conscience. In 1921, Anthony was honored with a sculpture in the nation’s capital and was the first woman to be immortalized on a U.S. coin, a quarter-sized dollar minted in the years 1977, 1980, 1981, and 1999.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Great leaders were not only needed for political and spiritual development in America, but also for entertainment, cultural, and technological development. Today’s culture and tastes in entertainment have developed over time, and for good or bad we must recognize the influence of the various industry pioneers. One of the greatest influences in popular film and television for a century was the image of the “Western Hero”. And, perhaps the greatest influence on the image was a typical western hero turned atypical showman.

William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody
February 26, 1846—January 10, 1917

As a child when I played “Cowboys and Indians”, more than often, I envisioned myself as Buffalo Bill, shooting buffalo and fighting Indians. Why? Because he was the hero of movies and television of my youth. But, he had also been a hero of many children’s youth in America and around the world for decades before his death until my childhood in the 1950s. Buffalo Bill combined many of the personas that we think of today as the Western heroes. He, at various times, was a Pony Express rider, big game hunter, Civil War soldier, Wagon Master, stagecoach driver, gold prospector, US cavalry scout/ Indian fighter, and Medal of Honor winner. He was one of the most famous characters of his time, but not only because of the things he did—many at the time could claim similar exploits—but because his last career move was into show business, where he tapped into a need of the public for heroes and heroic acts in the rapidly ending frontier of the West. He was the originator of the image we have today of the “Wild West” and the showman who started it all—without Buffalo Bill and his wild west shows, the western-themed movies and television shows that came later may not have come at all.

William Frederick Cody was born February 26, 1846, in the Iowa territory to Isaac and Mary Ann Cody. After the death of his older brother in a horse ridng accident around1853, the Codys moved to Kansas where they lived in a Log Cabin. In Kansas, William’s father became a vocal critic of slavery which brought considerable oposition from neighboring proslavery elements. Isaac was attacked by a mob and stabbed while speaking out against slavery at a political gathering and was pulled to safety by his son, William. Isaac never fully recovered from the wound and he died eventually in 1857 from complications, leaving his family in financial trouble.

After his father’s death, William left home at age eleven to help ease the family’s financial woes. He enlisted as a helper for the mule skinners traveling with Johnston’s army to put down a supposed Mormon Rebellion in the Utah Territory. During this trip He claimed that he had his first experience fighting Indians, felling an Indian warrior in Indian’s attempt to attack one of Cody’s fellows in the traveling company.

At 14 years of age, he gravitated to the gold fields of Colorado, but accepted a job as a pony express rider instead. When the Civil War began, young Cody tried to enlist, but because of his age he could only aquire work as a freight driver, taking supplies to outposts in the Wyoming Territory. In 1963, after his mother’s death, he was able to enlist in the 7th Kansas Cavalry and he served there for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Cody met and married Louisa Frederici, with whom he had four chidren. Two of his children died in early child hood and Cody’s marriage seemed to suffer for his dissapointment in his children’s deaths and his desire to follow a carreer as a hunter and Indian scout. Between 1868 and 1872, Cody divided his time between working as a scout for the US Cavalry and hunting buffalo to feed the workers for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. It was during an 18 month stretch as a buffalo hunter, where he killed 4,280 of the beasts, that he earned the name, “Buffalo Bill.” For “gallantry in action” during a battle with Inians, while serving with the 3rd US Cavalry in 1872, Cody received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If he had ended his exploits then an there, he would have enjoyed significant notoriety in his time and earned a footnote in history, but with the help of friends and supporters in the East, including Ned Buntline, the dime novel writer, Buffalo Bill was able to parley his colorful life into a New York Broadway Show, and later into a traveling Wild West extravaganza, which made him a household name. Publishers in the East had for some time made an industry of the “Western Dime Novels,” celebrating the exploits—some of which were real, but exaggerated, and others totally fictional—of characters from the western frontier. The East was hungry for almost anything portraying the Western Hero and Cody was the perfect speciman. He was tall, handsome, and was largely the “real deal”.

Cody’s shows were mainly based on his personal exploits, including mock Inidan fights, cavalry charges, pony express rides and buffalo hunts. Eventually, the show included spectatular events where people could see a stagecoach attacked by Indians, rodeo events, trick riding and trick shooting, and aeven a reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and a supposed revenge for Custer’s defeat led by Cody and company at the Battle of Warbonnet Creek. And, in his later shows of the early 20th Century he included a tribute to Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders. His show featured such noted attractions as Indian Holy Man, Sitting Bull, and woman sharpshooter, Annie Oakley. Cody took his show throughout the United States and Europe. He became one of the most famous and celebrated men in the world, making America’s “Wild West” a place and time that children around the world would fantasize about for generations. Though seen by many as the epitome of the rough and ready frontiersman, Cody was also obsessed with the conservation of nature, with preserving the American Indian’s culture, and protecting dwindling bison heards. He was also a staunch supporter of women’s sufrage.

He was unable to bring the”Wild West” directly into the home, but Cody got as close to it as technology at the time would allow. But, by exposing as many people as he possibly could to his vision of the American Frontier, through his live extravaganzas, he laid the ground work for future showmen and story tellers. Those men and women, with the movie and television technology capable of extending Cody’s vision to our day, would follow Buffalo Bill Cody’s lead and literally bringing it into every home. Because of Buffalo Bill and those that followed him, I spent many hours a week enjoying the images of the Old West on our television and at the movies, and playing cowboys and Indians with my brothers and friends. Quoting words of the young boy depicted at the end of the 1944 film, Buffalo Bill, starring Joel McCray, “God bless you Buffalo Bill.”