Colonel America

Edmund Morris is a difficult man to characterize.  In one light, Morris is the man who squandered a fortune when, having been named the official biographer of Ronald Reagan, he offered nothing more than Dutch.

In another light, Edmund Morris is merely the latest immigrant intellectual to make his fortune in his new country by describing Americans as "an insular people who are insensitive to foreign sensibilities, who are lazy, obese, complacent and increasingly perplexed as to why [Americans] are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined."

But no matter how ill Edmund Morris thinks of his adopted land's inhabitants, the man has given America a treasure in his chronicling the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt.  Morris concludes his three-volume biography of the 26th president with Colonel Roosevelt, the gripping story of TR's post-presidency.

Of immediate interest is Morris's description of the man who attempted to murder Roosevelt during the 1912 presidential campaign.  Morris foreshadowed the role John F. Schrank would play in Roosevelt's life in the earlier books in the series, specifically Schrank's bizarre dreams in which the assassinated William McKinley sits up in his coffin, points at TR, and demands that Schrank avenge his death by taking out the Rough Rider.

Schrank is described as having "the dull-eyed, unmistakable expressionless of insanity."  He was eventually given over to the custody of a "lunacy commission" of psychiatrists, who diagnosed him as paranoid and called for his detainment at a Wisconsin asylum.  The early twentieth-century episode vividly described by Morris is a timely reminder that the violence of the demented upon the political class is by no means novel -- nor is overheated rhetoric the cause of such violence, nor the particular province of any political group.

Morris writes of Roosevelt's insistence on having the insane Schrank brought directly to him so as to literally ask the assassin why he did it.  This is followed by Roosevelt's even more audacious insistence that he be taken to his scheduled speaking engagement, whereupon he orated in perhaps the most dramatic of circumstances ever seen in American politics, a superhuman effort that Roosevelt knew would resonate throughout the country.

Prior to all of that, Morris is exquisite in his description of the frenzied tumult of the 1912 Republican National Convention and the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party's convention just a few weeks later in the very same Chicago hall.  Morris vividly describes the political maneuvering involved in President Taft's nomination and the possible theft of that nomination from Roosevelt.  He reconstructs like a novelist the messianic fervor surrounding Roosevelt's appearance at the Progressive convention, a convention that culminated with Roosevelt and his running mate standing before 10,000 people singing the Doxology.  Morris manages to present a tableau that is simultaneously attractive and alarming, and it is amusing to contemplate the appeals to and uses of Christianity that would make a modern-day "progressive" apoplectic.

As it is with the other books in the trilogy, Morris wraps the narrative around exhaustive research that provides as intimate and engrossing look at Roosevelt and his family, his literary efforts (including a stint as an art critic), and his exotic expeditions as has been published.  Morris presents the man and his story in full with as much talent as any contemporary biographer.

Morris's book reaches its peak in his description of the events surrounding the death of Roosevelt's beloved youngest child, Quentin, downed in a World War I air battle against the Germans.  Morris likens Roosevelt the ardent warrior to any other man who loses a son on the battlefield: unable to come to grips, the man of such loquacious energy  is reduced to sobbing into the mane of his son's pony.

Colonel Roosevelt closes one of the most important biographical series in American history.  It is a definitive portrait of one of the most distinctive Americans to ever grace this land.  Roosevelt embodied much of what was and is great and flawed about his country.  He built himself up into a tower of mental and physical strength through sheer will.  He was bold, energetic, and unafraid.  His prejudices and bombast sometimes clouded his judgment, but on the whole, he was a fair and decent man.  Roosevelt's life was an unceasing adventure of writing, wonder, discovery, physical courage, and the fortitude to overcome loss after devastating loss.  If Marvel or DC had conjured such a figure, he might well have been named Colonel America.

Edmund Morris may be incapable of offering more than tedium when delivering his impressions of the American citizenry, and he will always be partially remembered for allowing a golden opportunity to slip away as Reagan's biographer.  But Morris chose to make Theodore Roosevelt his life's work.  While at points during the trilogy Morris is quite obviously and perhaps inevitably enthralled with his subject, he presents Roosevelt's foibles and even his few unseemly qualities with a critical eye.  Morris chose his life's work well, and those who read his series about Theodore Roosevelt will surely find themselves enriched.

Matthew May is the primary author of the forthcoming Restoration: The God and Country Education Project.
Edmund Morris is a difficult man to characterize.  In one light, Morris is the man who squandered a fortune when, having been named the official biographer of Ronald Reagan, he offered nothing more than Dutch.

In another light, Edmund Morris is merely the latest immigrant intellectual to make his fortune in his new country by describing Americans as "an insular people who are insensitive to foreign sensibilities, who are lazy, obese, complacent and increasingly perplexed as to why [Americans] are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined."

But no matter how ill Edmund Morris thinks of his adopted land's inhabitants, the man has given America a treasure in his chronicling the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt.  Morris concludes his three-volume biography of the 26th president with Colonel Roosevelt, the gripping story of TR's post-presidency.

Of immediate interest is Morris's description of the man who attempted to murder Roosevelt during the 1912 presidential campaign.  Morris foreshadowed the role John F. Schrank would play in Roosevelt's life in the earlier books in the series, specifically Schrank's bizarre dreams in which the assassinated William McKinley sits up in his coffin, points at TR, and demands that Schrank avenge his death by taking out the Rough Rider.

Schrank is described as having "the dull-eyed, unmistakable expressionless of insanity."  He was eventually given over to the custody of a "lunacy commission" of psychiatrists, who diagnosed him as paranoid and called for his detainment at a Wisconsin asylum.  The early twentieth-century episode vividly described by Morris is a timely reminder that the violence of the demented upon the political class is by no means novel -- nor is overheated rhetoric the cause of such violence, nor the particular province of any political group.

Morris writes of Roosevelt's insistence on having the insane Schrank brought directly to him so as to literally ask the assassin why he did it.  This is followed by Roosevelt's even more audacious insistence that he be taken to his scheduled speaking engagement, whereupon he orated in perhaps the most dramatic of circumstances ever seen in American politics, a superhuman effort that Roosevelt knew would resonate throughout the country.

Prior to all of that, Morris is exquisite in his description of the frenzied tumult of the 1912 Republican National Convention and the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party's convention just a few weeks later in the very same Chicago hall.  Morris vividly describes the political maneuvering involved in President Taft's nomination and the possible theft of that nomination from Roosevelt.  He reconstructs like a novelist the messianic fervor surrounding Roosevelt's appearance at the Progressive convention, a convention that culminated with Roosevelt and his running mate standing before 10,000 people singing the Doxology.  Morris manages to present a tableau that is simultaneously attractive and alarming, and it is amusing to contemplate the appeals to and uses of Christianity that would make a modern-day "progressive" apoplectic.

As it is with the other books in the trilogy, Morris wraps the narrative around exhaustive research that provides as intimate and engrossing look at Roosevelt and his family, his literary efforts (including a stint as an art critic), and his exotic expeditions as has been published.  Morris presents the man and his story in full with as much talent as any contemporary biographer.

Morris's book reaches its peak in his description of the events surrounding the death of Roosevelt's beloved youngest child, Quentin, downed in a World War I air battle against the Germans.  Morris likens Roosevelt the ardent warrior to any other man who loses a son on the battlefield: unable to come to grips, the man of such loquacious energy  is reduced to sobbing into the mane of his son's pony.

Colonel Roosevelt closes one of the most important biographical series in American history.  It is a definitive portrait of one of the most distinctive Americans to ever grace this land.  Roosevelt embodied much of what was and is great and flawed about his country.  He built himself up into a tower of mental and physical strength through sheer will.  He was bold, energetic, and unafraid.  His prejudices and bombast sometimes clouded his judgment, but on the whole, he was a fair and decent man.  Roosevelt's life was an unceasing adventure of writing, wonder, discovery, physical courage, and the fortitude to overcome loss after devastating loss.  If Marvel or DC had conjured such a figure, he might well have been named Colonel America.

Edmund Morris may be incapable of offering more than tedium when delivering his impressions of the American citizenry, and he will always be partially remembered for allowing a golden opportunity to slip away as Reagan's biographer.  But Morris chose to make Theodore Roosevelt his life's work.  While at points during the trilogy Morris is quite obviously and perhaps inevitably enthralled with his subject, he presents Roosevelt's foibles and even his few unseemly qualities with a critical eye.  Morris chose his life's work well, and those who read his series about Theodore Roosevelt will surely find themselves enriched.

Matthew May is the primary author of the forthcoming Restoration: The God and Country Education Project.