The life of Theodore Roosevelt has inspired many fine biographies. "When Trumpets Call" is one of the best. Not a whole life biography, it tells the story of TR's life after leaving the White House. For TR, it was a time of disappointment and frustration, but for the reader it is a fascinating story.
Although not bound by constitutional constraints, or necessarily custom, Roosevelt chose to voluntarily relinquish the presidency after the 1908 elections. Although the two term limit had been honored, he could have made the case that he had only been elected once and, therefore, would not break the two term limit by seeking reelection to a second full term. For whatever reason, he did extend the two term tradition and chose William Howard Taft as his successor. Wanting to give Taft a free hand, TR immediately left for safari in Africa.
The safari with his son, Kermit, is the first adventure story of this book. Although this work does not get into the detail possible in a work limited to the safari, it does contain enough facts to enable the reader to marvel at the extent of the undertaking. The number of personnel and animals killed is staggering. The role of the safari as not merely an adventure, but also a specimen collecting enterprise of the Smithsonian Institution puts it into a different perspective.
As TR returned to civilization, he was met with reports of Taft's deviation from the Progressive line. On his way through Europe, he was treated like royalty, represented the President at the funeral of King Edward VII and collected the Nobel Peace Prize which had been awarded to in 1906.
The return to America brought pressure to bring Taft around or to challenge him. Eventually concluding that he had let the people down when he selected Taft, Roosevelt challenged the President and got into a feud with the other leading Progressive, Robert M. LaFollette. Taking his case to the people, TR won in states with primaries, but lost the nomination in states in which party leaders chose the delegates. Author Patricia O'Toole presents excellent analysis in rejecting the claim that Taft stole the nomination.
The loss of the Republican nomination in 1912 brought Roosevelt to a cross-roads. Standing at Armageddon and battling for the Lord, he took up the Progressive campaign, knowing that it would be unsuccessful. In this quixotic campaign, the Bull Moose advanced liberal, almost radical positions.
After the disappointment of defeat in 1912, TR again sought solace in the wilderness, this time along Brazil's River of Doubt, again with Kermit, to chart an unexplored tributary of the Amazon. Almost dying during the trip, Theodore emerged sick and emaciated, never to return to his former health.
Upon returning to Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt gradually regained his strength. He turned his attention to politics. Declining an invitation to run for governor, he hit the campaign trail in support of Progressive candidates. The Progressives were unsuccessful and TR was left to contemplate a future with neither an office nor a party. The outbreak of World War I provided a new cause for which he could struggle. Having long been suspicious of German intentions, the Bull Moose became a leader for preparedness and U. S. entry into the war. In 1916 he declined the Progressive nomination for president and supported the Republican, Charles Evans Hughes, who barely lost to Woodrow Wilson.
As tensions rose with both Mexico and Europe, TR offered his services as an army officer in either theatre. The refusal of the Wilson administration to grant him a commission added to his frustration and resentment. Unable to go himself, all four of TRs sons wore the uniform, three were injured and Quentin was killed. Quentin's death sapped much of the strength left after a life of war, strife and exploration. Although weakened, TR continued to plan for a return to the White House in the election of 1920 until hours before his death in his sleep the evening of January 6, 1919.
"When Trumpets Sound" tells an excellent story in exemplary prose. This portion of TR's life is one of frustration as, after voluntarily surrendering power, struggled to get it back. Unable to stay out of the fray, his struggle to get back into the action was a failure. Although continuing to lead an active and influential life, the decision not to run in 1908 seems like a personal tragedy and one of the great "What ifs?" of history. No study of Theodore Roosevelt is complete without this book. For any TR fan or adventure lover, it is a must.