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The Most Christian of American Presidents

Presidents’ Day here in the USA. A holiday one of whose aspects I abhor: its mush-brained attempt at “inclusiveness.” Beyond a thank-you for the time certain presidents served, and sacrifices they probably made – already covered by various grade schools named for them, and the pensions they received – simply doing one’s job should not be justification for a federal holiday.

A Theodore Roosevelt cartoon from 1912

To honor all is a way of honoring none. For historical embarrassments like James Buchanan, sharing a national holiday with Abraham Lincoln is to knock the latter off a pedestal. Historical mistakes like John Tyler and Millard Fillmore should not be mentioned in the same hemisphere as George Washington. Some few presidents did great things in great ways.

The impetus for President’s Day was provided by unions and retailers, who desired another long weekend on the standard calendar. The result? Our civic saints live in the popular image, now, as Abe Lincoln impersonators hawking used cars on TV commercials; and George Washington (his talking portrait on animated dollar bills), not the Father of His Country, but the Father of the President’s Day Weekend of Unbelievable Bargains and Sales.

Americans used to reject, but now embrace, the Marxian mindset of mediocrity – everything, and every one, must be leveled. It once was the French who, in the name of equality, sought to abolish First-Class seats on their trains. “Why is it that the Socialists never abolish the second-class?” a French friend of mine once moaned. Now in America we pull down some of humankind’s greatest figures, like Washington and Lincoln, in order to – what? not hurt the feelings of Franklin Piece and er Alan Arthur? There’s a lesson for our schoolchildren: grow up to be elected president, have a Chestpulse, and you, too, will have post offices close a day in your honor.

Obviously I am eager to honor Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays, this month, officially have been homogenized, as have their reputations. I do honor them, frequently, in my writing, and in discussions, and conversations with children, and in my reading and my studies. So should we all do with people and causes that we revere, more so when the culture obscures them from our vision.

I my case I hold Theodore Roosevelt in particular regard. I am finishing a biography of him (for Regnery, to be published this October), and one thing I have come to appreciate about TR is something that largely has been neglected by many history books. That is, the aspect of his fervent Christian faith. In some ways, he might be seen as the most Christian and the most religious of all presidents.

Such a list would be (admittedly) subjective, and a difficult one to compute and compile. TR’s name at the top might surprise some people, yet that surprise might itself bear witness to the nature of his faith: privately held, but permeating countless speeches, writings, and acts. His favorite verse was Micah 6:8 – “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

He was of the Dutch Reformed Church. He participated in missions work with his father, a noted philanthropist. He taught weekly Sunday School classes for his four years at Harvard. He wrote for Christian publications.

He called his bare-the-soul speech announcing his principles when running in 1912, “A Confession of Faith.” Later he closed perhaps the most important speech of his life, the clarion-call acceptance of the Progressive Party nomination that year, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” That convention featured evangelical hymns and closed with “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

He titled one his books Foes of Our Own Household (after Matthew 10:36) and another, Fear God and Take Your Own Part. He once wrote an article for The Ladies’ Home Journal, “Nine Reasons Why Men Should Go To Church.” After he retired from the presidency, he was offered university presidencies and many other prominent jobs. He chose instead to become Contributing Editor of The Outlook, a small Christian weekly magazine – tantamount to an extremely popular ex-president today (if we had one) choosing to edit WORLD Magazine or ASSIST News Service instead of higher-profile positions.

He was invited to deliver the Earl Lectures at Pacific Theological Seminary in 1911, but declined due to a heavy schedule. But, knowing he would be near Berkeley on a speaking tour, he offered to deliver the lectures if he might be permitted to speak extemporaneously, not having time to prepare written texts of the five lectures, as was the custom. It was agreed, and TR spoke for 90 minutes each evening – from the heart and without notes – on the Christian’s role in modern society.

… and so on. TR was not perfect, but he knew the One who is. Fond of saying that he would “speak softly and carry a big stick,” it truly can be said, also, that Theodore Roosevelt hid the Word in his heart, and acted boldly. He was a great American because he was thoroughgoing good man; and he was a good man because he was a humble believer. Remember him on President’s Day. Remember him on his own birthday, Oct 27. Remember him every day – we are not seeing his kind any more.

There are two videos celebrating Theodore Roosevelt: Photos of TR accompany the Black Irish Band in a contemporary song about this great American. To watch “The Ballad of Theodore Roosevelt,” please go to:

Also, a clip from the movie “The Lion and the Wind”: “The world will never love the US; it might respect us; it might come to fear us; but it will never love us.” To see “The Affinity of America and the Grizzly Bear — Brian Keith as TR) please go to:

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