April 26, 2012


Theodore Roosevelt's Life-Saving Speech (Gilbert King, 4/25/12, Past Imperfect: Smithsonian)

Pushing through the crowd, Roosevelt made it to the car alongside his campaign advisers, stood on the floorboard and turned to acknowledge his admirers with a wave of his hat when Schrank pushed forward and raised his revolver. Already seated in the car, Albert H. Martin, Roosevelt's secretary and a former football player, caught a glimpse of metal in the air and leapt from the vehicle.

"Everything seemed to happen at once," Martin recalled. "There was a flash, the sound of a shot, and I was on the ground with the man. I threw one arm around his neck and held him fast.  At the same time I caught his gun hand with my free hand and wrenched the revolver from him."

Schrank strugged for a moment, "acting like a madman," Martin noted, until the crowd set upon the would-be assassin and began to beat him, amid cries of, "Lynch him...kill him!"  Martin managed to lift Schrank to his feet and hold him before Roosevelt.

"Don't hurt the poor creature," Roosevelt said, on his feet again and not yet aware that he'd been shot.

Martin and some police rescued Schrank from the angry crowd while Roosevelt and his advisers continued on, by automobile, to the auditorium.  On the way, an escort observed a bullet hole in Roosevelt's army overcoat, and Roosevelt touched it, finding blood on his fingertips. Despite efforts to persuade him to seek medical attention, Roosevelt was adamant that he speak to the people of Wisconsin, even if he died while doing so.

He took the podium to great cheering, then spoke softly to the thousands in attendance.  "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet--there is where the bullet went through--and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."

Roosevelt went on to speak of the importance of the Progressive movement.  He said he did not know the man who shot him, but that he was a coward and that the untruths printed in newspapers, on behalf of his opponents, had incited "weak and vicious minds" to acts of violence.

"Now, friends, I am not speaking for myself at all, I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap.... Friends, every good citizen ought to do everything in his or her power to prevent the coming of the day when we shall see in this country two recognized creeds fighting one another, when we shall see the creed of the 'Havenots' arraigned against the creed of the 'Haves.' When that day comes then such incidents as this to-night will be commonplace in our history."

The crowd alternatively roared and pleaded with him to rest. To the side, Roosevelt's advisers tried to persuade him to cut his speech short. Roosevelt would have none of it.

"My friends are a little more nervous than I am," he said. "Don't you waste any sympathy on me. I have had an A-1 time in my life and I am having it now."

Roosevelt spoke for more than an hour. Then he was rushed to the Johnston Emergency Hospital, where six surgeons prepared him on an operating table. Roosevelt insisted they were taking the wound, between the collar bone and the lower rib, too seriously. After they proved unable to locate the bullet, he was transported to a Chicago hospital, where X-rays helped surgeons see that it had lodged where it couldn't do further damage. They chose not to remove it.
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Posted by at April 26, 2012 5:27 AM

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