Theodore Roosevelt, Critic of Thomas Jefferson

By Daniel Ruddy

Does Theodore Roosevelt seem angry as he stares out at us from atop Mount Rushmore? If so, it would not be surprising, stuck as he is in immovable granite next to Thomas Jefferson, a man he thoroughly despised.

Two Americans icons could never be more unlike than Roosevelt, the unapologetic jingo who charged up a hill in Cuba towards glory and fame during the Spanish-American War, and Jefferson, the peaceful idealist who charged down one escaping British troops, who were attempting to capture him at Monticello during the Revolutionary War.

Roosevelt never forgot Jefferson’s “cowardly infamy” as President in failing to build an adequate army and navy, and placed on his doorstep blame for the humiliating defeats inflicted by the British on the United States during the War of 1812. It was a just criticism. A nation of eight million people should have been able to defend its capital against a few thousand British invaders, who burned the White House and other public buildings to the ground.

Roosevelt had other reasons to despise Jefferson. He condemned Jefferson for creating the so-called “Nullification Doctrine,” which opened the door to a horrific Civil War that almost destroyed the United States. Jefferson was “the father of nullification and therefore secession,” said Roosevelt, and the historical evidence supports his assertion.

Roosevelt also accused Jefferson of “tortuous intrigues” against George Washington for secretly opposing his policies while serving as Washington’s Secretary of State. Washington came to distrust Jefferson, so Roosevelt is not the only President on Mount Rushmore who had issues with the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson is revered today as one of the greatest of our Founding Fathers for good reason, but there is some justice in Roosevelt’s denunciation of him as “slippery demagogue.” It is hard to find any important occasions when Jefferson took an unpopular stand in the larger interests of the United States. He believed in the American people (one of his greatest strengths), but he also seems to have slavishly followed them when they went wrong.

Daniel Ruddy grew up on Long Island, New York where a childhood trip to Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, triggered a lifelong interest in TR. He is a marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies, and he holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics. An avid researcher into U.S. History and the Presidency, Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States: His Own Words, Selected and Arranged by Daniel Ruddy is his first work.

IMAGE: Depictions of former President’s Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson on Mount Rushmore by Gutzon Borglum, et. al, circa 1927-1941

Congratulations to the winners of this book:

James, Jonathan, Gordon, Michael, and John

We’ll be contacting you soon!


  1. says

    It sounds like an interesting take on History. I know that its true, Jefferson talked a good game. His thoughts and writing are almost unequalled in defense of freedom and liberty. But he could not live up to his own words. For example, he never freed his slaves, as Washington did, and when he became president, Jefferson happily exceeded the powers in exactly the way the he had warned that Presidents would.

  2. John B. says

    My would and I would very much like a copy of this book. I just finished THE IMPERIAL CRUISE by James Bradley. To say it set my hair on fire (what little is left) would be an understatement. A series of secret and illegal agreements made for him in Asia set the groundwork for Pacific actions by the US. He comes across as an arrogant racist. I would like to read this book and compare the authors’ views of this larger than life individual.

  3. says

    I’m currently reading Evan Thomas’ book, “The War Lovers” and want to pick up Douglas Brinkley’s “The Wilderness Warrior.” T.R. is an endlessly fascinating character, and I find many parallels in T.R. time and our own in the radical changes in our economy and industry at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. Would love to add this book to my reading list too so that I can learn more. Please add my name to the hat.

  4. says

    Thanks everyone for the kinds words! The Wonders and Marvels winners of this book are: James, Jonathan, Gordon, Michael, and John!

  5. Charles Garcia says

    Yes, but please remember Jefferson was no longer president when the British burned the White House in the War of 1812. During his presidency the United States was still trying to pay off debt acquired during the revolution. Also, many people agreed with Jefferson that a large standing army was a threat to the country. Jefferson believed the state militias could be formed into a national force in a very short time…which is why he pushed for the formation of a military college, which we know call West Point. In short with what he had to deal with, he did fairly. Please remember he sent a force against the Barbary Pirates…and won. Though to be fair…he did decide that paying ransom was cheaper in the end. It should be noted that the Pirates did not take many American ships after that. Jefferson was slippery as he often leaked information to the press against President Washington’s policies. Then again…that seems to be a part of the national character at this point, don’t you think.
    T.R. like Jefferson in many ways shows the double face of the American character. He was a bully, rude, inable to take criticism even from friends. On the other hand he was a humanitarian, a loving father, a strong advocate of American defense and a Trust Buster (though for some reason he detested newsmen who uncovered unfair practices before he did). All in all, you wrote a fascinating piece.

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