Edmund Morris begins Theodore Rex, the second installment of his biographical trilogy, within hours of where he ended of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. The prologue shows Roosevelt’s journey first to Buffalo then escorting his slain predecessor’s body to Washington for a public memorial. Morris transitions to the main text of the biography when Roosevelt’s main duty as President changes from “Chief Mourner” to Chief Executive, and the book then be divided in two corresponding to Roosevelt’s two terms.
The first section of the book, detailed the first three and a half years of Roosevelt’s presidency and is the strong section of the book. Morris not only relates Roosevelt’s innate political skill in dealing with older and more conservative members of the GOP in Congress he had to interact with, but also his belief that as President he needed to do things none of his predecessors had done including cultivating a relationship with the press on an unprecedented scale. Morris’ goes into great detail about both domestic and foreign topics that Roosevelt dealt with, in particular battling trusts and Panama. Throughout this period, Roosevelt also outmaneuvered any possible rival for the Republican nomination in 1904 then got elected in dominating fashion.
After the election of 1904, the book’s second section begins and there seems to be a shift that becomes noticeable as one reads. While the first section of the book is full of action, the second is sedate by comparison. As Morris explains in the book, because of the way Congress met basically all of 1905 was void of the anything meaningful happening on the domestic front while Roosevelt was active in foreign affairs. But even though this in mind, the fact that not until late 1907 or early 1908 does there seem to be as much activity as what happens in the first section. A important reason is that Morris’ touches upon Roosevelt most enduring legacy, his conservationism in establish national parks and monuments for future generations.
By the end of the book, Morris has imparted that the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt has transformative not only for the office but Constitutionally as well to the consternation of long-time legislators who believed Congress should have more power than the President. However Morris never outright states this, instead he gives all the evidence of this throughout the book giving the reader a clear picture of this transformative period in American history. If you are interested in Theodore Roosevelt, early Twentieth Century politics, or American history in general I wholeheartedly recommend this book.