Article: Theodore Roosevelt and the bullet speech


In my home office, behind my computer monitor and at the front of my desk, is a board of various quotes that help me think. Most of them sit outside of my view tonight, in the dark of the evening, but one in particular from Theodore Roosevelt stands out in the light from my lamp.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Roosevelt, 2012)

For me, Theodore Roosevelt is the inspirational leader that means the most to me. Not only the many brilliant things that he said in his quite verbose speeches, but in the way he lived his life. Full of energy, full of determination, and living every moment as if nothing could ever stop him.

This article was originally written for my classwork with CSU-Global, a profile of an event in a leader’s life.

It wasn’t always that way in his life, which makes him even more extraordinary. He was a frail child growing up, overcoming it both physically and mentally (Luce, 2013). Working to become strong in body, he eventually led soldiers in the Spanish-American War. From a mental standpoint, he wrote nearly a book a year from his youth, and “would think nothing of composing 3,000-word letters to his favorite writers” (Luce, 2013). Something that would help later in his life, as he encouraged America’s golden age of journalism.

Most of the citations seen about Roosevelt pertain to his political life, one that set the stage for much of the world we have today. His ambitions are the stuff of legends, from the Panama Canal, to his Nobel Peace prize for helping to end the Russo-Japanese war, to breaking up the corrupted oil empires of the time. (Luce, 2013).

Where Roosevelt passes into real legend, though, is in the 1912 assassination attempt by John Schrank. It is the point where the determination, the sheer mental and physical strength of such a man, were put to the test. It’s a testament to finishing what you’ve started.

Schrank stalked Roosevelt on the campaign trail for several weeks, before shooting him point blank in the chest as he was getting in his car. Speeding away, Roosevelt countermanded his doctor’s order to go to the hospital, instead ordering his driver to get him to his speech (Arkansas Business, 2016).

Being a verbose speaker may have saved Roosevelt’s life. His 50-page speech, combined with his glasses case, slowed down the bullet. It entered his chest just short of his heart, stuck in his ribs. Bleeding profusely, he told the crowd, “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” (Arkansas Business, 2016). Roosevelt then went on to his full speech, nearly an hour and a half, before finally leaving the stage and heading for the hospital (Devlin, 2010).

Looking at the Roosevelt quote on my wall, and knowing the world-changing effort he put in to everything he accomplished, it’s hard to think that my goals are all that difficult. Learning from his accomplishments, from his sheer will to make things happen, makes me believe that there are no obstacles that I can’t try to cross. At the very least, the attempts will mean that my place “shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” (Roosevelt, 2012).


  • Luce, E. (2013). The bully pulpit, by doris kearns goodwin. FT.Com, Retrieved from
  • Be like teddy – just a little. (2016). Arkansas Business, 33(7), 22. Retrieved from
  • Devlin, R. (2010, Feb 21). Another glasses case slowed bullet, saved roosevelt.McClatchy – Tribune Business News Retrieved from
  • Roosevelt, Theodore. “Citizenship In A Republic” (PDF). Retrieved from 2012-10-14.
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