Saturday, August 13, 2011

TR at church

The second volume of Edmund Morris's biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex - the book about the Presidential years, includes this account of a Sunday at Sagamore Hill near the end of TR's second term:
.... Edith Roosevelt's cool discipline held the big crowded house together, as it had the White House. She made no effort to cajole or criticize her children or guests, manipulating them simply by her own quiet example. Over breakfast on Sunday morning, she announced that she and the President were going to church, but expected no one to accompany them unless "conscience" so dictated. Captain Butt, who could take religion or leave it, could also take a hint.

Knowing them both to be Protestant, he ventured an anti-Catholic remark during the automobile ride to Christ Episcopal Church. Roosevelt gave him a quizzical look.

"Archie, when I discuss the Catholic Church, I am reminded that it is the only church which has ever turned an Eastern race into a Christian people. Is that not so?"

Forty little boys saluted as the President led the way into the little church on Shore Road. Captain Butt joined him and Mrs. Winthrop in the front family pew, while Edith, Ethel, and Kermit sat behind. Butt was intrigued to see that Roosevelt, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, bowed his head in prayer, "just as all good Episcopalians do," before the service started. He needed no prayer book, singing all the plainsong chants and the "Te Deum" by heart. He sang every hymn too, changing sometimes to a lower octave, somewhat surprising for a man whose speaking voice broke so often into falsetto. His only concession to the faith of his fathers, so far as Butt could see, was a refusal to bow his head during the Creed and again at the Gloria. "I came to the conclusion before the service was over that the President was at heart an Episcopalian, whatever his earlier training might have been."

Asked afterward what his favorite hymns were, Roosevelt listed "How Firm a Foundation," followed by "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Jerusalem the Golden," and "The Son of God Goes Forth to War."

He indulged in no sports that afternoon, explaining to Butt that although Sabbath observance meant little to him personally, it meant a lot to many Americans, and he felt an obligation, as President, to respect such common beliefs. ....
Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, New York, 2001, p. 532.