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The Teddy (Roosevelt) and Abe (Lincoln) Ring Connection

By David J. Kent

Washington, DC

Saturday, March 2, 2024





The twenty-sixth president of the United States, i.e., Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Jr., had some connections to the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. One of them involves a ring. And Lincoln's hair.


Teddy Roosevelt was six years old when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Following a state funeral in Washington, DC, Lincoln's body went on a 13-day, 1,654-mile train ride through seven states on his way back to Springfield, Illinois. One of the several stops along the way was in New York City, where on April 25, 1865, the casket made a long procession up Broadway from the train depot to city hall. One famous photograph shows the solemn parade passing young Teddy's grandfather's home, where Teddy can be seen watching the procession from the window.


Many years later, Roosevelt became president, ironically, by assassination. He had been President William McKinley's vice president when McKinley was shot twice in the abdomen by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Abraham Lincoln's former private secretary, John Hay, was McKinley's Secretary of State and remained so during Roosevelt's first term. Hay had paid $100 after Lincoln's assassination to obtain six strands of Lincoln's hair removed from the fallen president's head during the autopsy. He later had one of those hairs displayed under an oval piece of glass and mounted it in a ring setting.


And here's how Teddy ended up with the ring. Roosevelt was elected in his own right in 1905. The day before the March 4, 1905, inauguration, John Hay sent Roosevelt the ring with a note that said, "Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln." Teddy wrote back to Hay that evening, "Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow."


He wore the ring.


There are more connections between Roosevelt and Lincoln. Roosevelt greatly admired Lincoln and often referred to him. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Roosevelt caused a stir by inviting African American educator Booker T. Washington to the White house. Racial tension exploded in the Jim Crow nation, but Roosevelt countered by saying, "If I have erred, I err in the company with Abraham Lincoln."


Traveling out west, Roosevelt visited the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois on June 4, 1903. In his speech he said:


“It is a good thing for us, by speech, to pay homage to the memory of Abraham Lincoln, but it is an infinitely better thing for us in our lives to pay homage to his memory in the only way in which that homage can be effectively paid, by seeing to it that this republic’s life, social and political, civic and industrial, is shaped now in accordance with the ideals which Lincoln preached.”

Roosevelt returned to Springfield in 1912 to sit in Lincoln's old pew at the First Presbyterian Church and place a wreath at the tomb. He also visited Lincoln's home on Eighth Street. Later that same year, Roosevelt was the victim of an assassination attempt himself. The non-fatal bullet lodged in Roosevelt's chest and was never removed. "I have just been shot," Roosevelt told the crowd, "but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."


Roosevelt was president in 1909 during the Lincoln centennial celebrations. On February 12, 1909, he spoke at the Lincoln birthplace cornerstone ceremony in Hodgenville, Kentucky. During his speech he declared:


“As the years roll by, and as all of us, wherever we dwell, grow to feel . . . a peculiar sense of pride in the mightiest of the mighty men . . . the man whose blood was shed for the union of his people and for the freedom of a race, Abraham Lincoln.”

According to the NPS, Journalist Alfred Henry Lewis noted that Lincoln was critically important to Teddy Roosevelt:


“More than any other book or books, President Roosevelt has read and re-read the Life of Lincoln. Lincoln is his North Star; he steers by him. In those tangles which beset a president, his first silent inquiry is, ‘What would Lincoln have done?’”

Still today, politicians from both parties claim the mantle of Abraham Lincoln and ask, "What would Lincoln have done?" But only one president wore a ring containing a strand of Lincoln's hair to his own inauguration - Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.


[Photo credit: National Park Service, public domain]

2 Comments


Where is the ring now?

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The ring is at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site on Long Island, which was Teddy Roosevelt's "summer White House." https://www.nps.gov/sahi/index.htm

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