By Darryl Alder
Feb 15, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt on Doing Hard Things

Roosvelt in fringe

Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly young boy afflicted with asthma. As a teenager, he decided that he would “make his body,” and he undertook a program of gymnastics and weight–lifting, which helped him develop a rugged physique. Thereafter, he became a lifelong advocate of exercise and the “strenuous life.” He always found time for physical exertions including hunting, hiking, riding horses, and swimming.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Theodore Roosevelt

For President Day, let’s consider Theodore Roosevelt, who was no longer president when BSA was organized, but who used his image as a robust outdoorsman and other influence to push the new organization forward. His was a hope for America’s boys to become strong men. In his own youth, he was seen as frail, but with hard work, he overcame his infirmities and went on to become a national icon of manliness.

While president, Roosevelt established a relationship with James West, the man who would become BSA’s first Chief Scout Executive. In 1902, the President appointed West to the Board of Pension Appeals in the Department of the Interior. Their associations would continue after that.

When the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, Roosevelt became an ardent booster of the organization. Only two years into the life of BSA, Roosevelt joined with the National Rifle Association to lobby West and the Executive Board to reissue the marksmanship merit badge, which had been taken down for a time due to an accident.

Roosevelt also served as the first council commissioner of Nassau County Council. As a former president, he was elected honorary vice president of the Boy Scouts of America and through his active involvement in the fledgling organization, Roosevelt was made the only man ever to be designated as Chief Scout Citizen. 

The former president was a committee member for Troop 39 in Oyster Bay, New York. For many years after his death in 1919, several thousand Scouts and leaders in the New York area made annual pilgrimages to his grave in Oyster Bay.

Of Scouting he said:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“More and more I have grown to believe in the Boy Scout movement. I regard it as one of the movements most full of promise for the future here in America. The Boy Scout movement is distinctly an asset to our country for the development of efficiency, virility, and good citizenship. It is essential that its leaders be men of strong, wholesome character; of unmistakable devotion to our country, its customs and ideals, as well as in soul and by law citizens thereof, whose wholehearted loyalty is given to this nation, and to this nation alone.”

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill by Frederic Remington.

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill by Frederic Remington. Roosevelt is pictured center in khaki.

Of doing hard things, Roosevelt challenged boys and men:

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

What hard things with you do with your Scouts this month? Tell us about it below or on Facebook.

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2 thoughts on “Theodore Roosevelt on Doing Hard Things

  1. AvatarMike

    Troop 420 from Washington State will be embarking on a 260 mile bike + camping trip this Summer as part of their High Adventure program. This will include 5 continuous days of riding with about 50 miles per day and over 16,000 feet of elevation gain. If you want to learn more about this trip, our Troops HA program, or support this year’s adventure, check out our site.

  2. Pingback: Wild Places – Psychology and Empire

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