“A combination of St. Paul and St. Vitus.”
—Ascribed to John Morley
The world could use a few more volumes devoted to Grover Cleveland; it has little need for more books about Theodore Roosevelt. But if more there must be, at least the two under consideration here explore terrain not yet strip-mined. Patricia O’Toole begins her biography at the point where most encomiasts of the Rough Rider lose interest, with his departure from the White House in 1909. James R. Holmes argues—with limited success—that Roosevelt articulated a special understanding of international police power in his letters, speeches, and acts, both as president and before. Each book, authorial intent notwithstanding, shows why Roosevelt, who possessed some real virtues, was nonetheless a man whose vision of government, and of foreign policy in particular, was even more pernicious than that of Woodrow Wilson.
O’Toole’s book, the more accessible of the two, opens with the aftermath of the 1908 election, which had posed a quandary for Roosevelt. Had he wanted to run for reelection, he almost certainly could have won. But he had already served nearly eight years in the White House, and to run again would be in breach of the spirit of Washington’s two-term precedent.