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T.R. and the hyphenated American

During the final three years of his life, former U.S. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (R) gave considerable thought to the waves of European immigrants which were sweeping the nation; they had started in the mid-19th century and continued through the opening decades of the 1900s.

In most respects, these newcomers were T.R.’s idea of model immigrants of the era; that is, they quickly learned English and assimilated themselves unabashedly into the now sadly passé “melting pot.” They were eager to jump into the mainstream of American life and leave their impoverished past behind.

These mostly Roman Catholic Europeans-turned-Americans were not highly schooled, but they were far from being the “low information” voters we hear so much about today.

In an era before television and Internet, they gobbled up the news by reading newspapers and listening to the radio. They knew their stuff; they could tell you exactly where Montana was located on a USA map (never having visited the place), yet they endured the occasional insult from ignorant Protestant employers as well as passers by. No matter, they were a tough breed of late pioneers; they were happy to escape old Europe.

Roosevelt penned his thoughts about U.S. immigrants—and what it means to be an American—in two famous texts, dated 1915 and 1919. His statements are often quoted (and misquoted) by folks on both side of today’s immigration amnesty debate.

This newspaper first published Roosevelt’s words over a decade ago. In the intervening years, reader Shirley Whittman of Shoreham, Vt. kept the yellowed newspaper clipping of T.R.’s words and found some solace in reading it.

Last week, Mrs. Whittman called Denton Publications and wondered if it was time, again, to reprint the former President’s words.

Of course we’re always happy to respond to reader requests, so we have gone back and researched both Roosevelt’s 1915 letter to the Knights of Columbus of New York City and his 1919 letter to the American Defense Society. Both texts exhibit Roosevelt’s feeling on an emotional yet equally political and philosophical subject.

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