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The Night Teddy Came to Dinner to Salute Lincoln

Wendy Swanson via Lincolnian

Washington D.C.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

From the Lincoln Group Archives

That whirlwind of energy and wit known as Teddy Roosevelt blew into the Lincoln Group’s October 2017 dinner to pay tribute to his “own great hero,” Abraham Lincoln. Teddy being Teddy, and ever the politician, he personally greeted those in attendance well before the formal program began. Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand who embodied Teddy for our event gave new meaning to the phrase “working a room.”

Teddy did take time to introduce himself and some of his policies to the audience before proceeding with his Lincoln salute. He related how earlier in his visit a youngster who had seen him dressed in his typical garb with hat had identified him as “that Monopoly dude” when, in reality, the term should have been that “non-Monopoly dude.” He told of his southern roots and his father’s role as allotment commissioner during the Civil War. He admitted he did not learn much that mattered at Harvard. Perhaps, more importantly, unlike more recent presidents, he does not golf.

Mr. Roosevelt then turned to the subject of Lincoln and his own two close encounters with the Sixteenth President. The first was a sad occasion – he saw Lincoln’s funeral train. Two small boys – Teddy and his brother Elliott - looking from the window of the family viewed the procession. Teddy’s future bride Edith was also present but the boys locked her in a closet in an effort to stifle her crying. He then admitted that Lincoln was present at his own inauguration. Actually, Lincoln was not present but his hair was. John Hay, who served as Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, presented Roosevelt with a ring containing a lock of Lincoln’s hair and Teddy wore the ring at the inauguration.

Teddy shared that once in office he often would think of what Abe would do. The speaker, often given credit for the national park system, related that when he thinks of Yosemite, he thinks of Lincoln, who signed legislation creating the “Yosemite Grant” which set aside land in the Yosemite Valley for preservation and public use.

The heart of his Lincoln tribute came from Roosevelt’s speech on February 12, 1909, at Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky. The occasion marked the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and Roosevelt was present for the dedication of the cornerstone of the birthplace monument. Teddy/Joe Wiegand read from a copy of the speech to ensure his words were as he originally uttered them. Here is the first paragraph of that speech:

We have met here to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of one of the two greatest Americans; of one of the two or three greatest men of the nineteenth century; of one of the greatest men in the world's history. This rail splitter, this boy who passed his ungainly youth in the dire poverty of the poorest of the frontier folk, whose rise was by weary and painful labor, lived to lead his people through the burning flames of a struggle from which the Nation emerged, purified as by fire, born anew to a loftier life. After long years of iron effort, and of failure that came more often than victory, he at last rose to the leadership of the Republic, at the moment when that leadership had become the stupendous world-task of the time. He grew to know greatness, but never ease. Success came to him, but never happiness, save that which springs from doing well a painful and a vital task. Power was his, but not pleasure. The furrows deepened on his brow, but his eyes were undimmed by either hate or fear. His gaunt shoulders were bowed, but his steel thews never faltered as he bore for a burden the destinies of his people. His great and tender heart shrank from giving pain; and the task allotted him was to pour out like water the life-blood of the young men, and to feel in his every fiber the sorrow of the women. Disaster saddened but never dismayed him. As the red years of war went by they found him ever doing his duty in the present, ever facing the future with fearless front, high of heart, and dauntless of soul. Unbroken by hatred, unshaken by scorn, he worked and suffered for the people. Triumph was his at the last; and barely had he tasted it before murder found him, and the kindly, patient, fearless eyes were closed forever.

[Photo credit:]


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