Theodore Roosevelt’s death came quickly and suddenly in the early morning hours of January 6, 1919 at his beloved Sagamore Hill estate on Long Island.  He was just 60 years old, but his health had never been the same after his almost fatal trip to South America.  As a young boy, he had been frail, and his father had admonished him that he must make his body.  He did, and he became a strenuous and vital man.  But now, after six decades of wear, the frailty had returned.

“I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill”
TR to wife, Edith, hours before his death.

TR in 1920 campaign?  Had he lived, TR would very likely have been the Republican nominee for president in 1920.  “I think,” he told his sister Corrine, “I should reserve my strength in case I am needed in 1920.”  Had his strength held, a Roosevelt candidacy would have spared the country the smoke-filled room that produced Warren Harding, who, while he looked presidential, certainly had no clue how to act presidential.  “I am not fit for this office,” Harding once confessed, “and should never have been here.”  Roosevelt, on the other hand, knew how to act as president, and had had the time of his life during his almost eight years in the White House. “I have had a bully time and enjoyed every hour of my presidency,” he once told friends.

Theodore Roosevelt in 1916

Second term already served:  To his dying day, Roosevelt rued his rash declaration on election night in 1904 when he had won a term as president in his own right.  He proudly declared to his wife, Edith, that he was “no longer a political accident.”  But then he spoke the words that would come to haunt him and shape the American political landscape for years to come:  “On the 4th of March next I shall have served three and a half years and this constitutes my first term.  The wise custom which limits the president to two terms regards the substance and not the form; and under no circumstances will I be a candidate for or accept another nomination.”

1912 campaign:  But he did seek another nomination in 1912.  Disappointed with the conservative William Howard Taft who he had anointed to follow him in the presidency, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican nomination, and failing that, launched the Bull Moose Party in which he and Taft split the Republican vote, ushering Woodrow Wilson into the White House.

Fading:  The death of his son, Quentin, in the Great War in Europe had been a big hit on TR. When TR breathed his last in those early morning hours of January 6, 1919, his son, Archie, cabled his brothers in Europe with the simple words that said it all:  “The old lion is dead.”

Mike Purdy’s Presidential History Blog 
© 2013 by Michael E. Purdy