The Speech That May Have Saved Teddy Roosevelt’s Life

While running for an unprecedented third-term as U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt was shot at close range by a would-be assassin. Roosevelt not only survived but the wounded former president pressed ahead with a prearranged speaking engagement in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that same evening, prior to going to a hospital to receive medical attention. The bullet fired from the gunman’s weapon had passed through a steel reinforced eyeglass case as well as a fifty-page speech which had been folded in half inside Roosevelt’s overcoat pocket.

The 1912 Presidential race had been a highly confrontational one. Former President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt had challenged his friend and chosen successor William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination which had only served to deepen the divide between the progressive and conservative elements among the party. When Roosevelt lost out to Taft for the Republican nomination, he formed the Progressive Party, better known as the Bull Moose Party, and ran as a third-party candidate.

Roosevelt’s actions drew much criticism from his political opponents and also from the media who described him as a “power-hungry traitor willing to break the tradition of two-term presidencies.”

Roosevelt ran on a platform of what he coined as “New Nationalism,” which proposed greater government regulation of the economy to promote social justice and the economic welfare of the underprivileged. Roosevelt had been campaigning hard to win an unprecedented third campaign as President. He had embarked on a grueling schedule which would result in him campaigning in more states than any of his rivals, a remarkable 38 states in total.

Theodore Roosevelt. history.com

On the evening of October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee. He had just left the Gilpatrick Hotel shortly after 8 p.m. to travel to a speaking engagement. He got into an open-top car and rose to wave to a crowd of supporters and well-wishers that had gathered to catch a glimpse of him when suddenly a man burst from the crowd and shot Roosevelt from five feet away.

A stenographer on Roosevelts presidential campaign team managed to restrain the gunman. In the ensuing commotion, some members of the crowd began to attack the gunman. Despite having just been shot, Roosevelt remained the calmest man at the scene. He urged the crowd to stop, asking instead that they bring the gunman closer to him so that he could see him. Roosevelt asked the man who he was and why he had shot him but the gunman remained silent. Realising the futility of his attempts to ascertain the gunman’s motives, Roosevelt said, “turn him over to the police.”

Roosevelt’s eyeglass case shows where a bullet passed through. history.com

Roosevelt raised his hand to his mouth and coughed three times. Seeing that there was no blood in his hand he concluded that the bullet had not passed through his lungs. Despite the advice of an accompanying doctor to immediately go to a hospital, Roosevelt insisted on pressing ahead with his prearranged speaking engagement. In the inside pocket of Roosevelt’s heavy overcoat was a fifty-page speech folded over with two fresh bullet holes through each page. The bullet had also passed through his steel-reinforced eyeglass case in the same pocket.