How Discouragement Almost Cost Teddy Roosvelt the Presidency

One of the greatest challenges every leader faces is the temptation of discouragement. Obviously the experience of discouragement is not limited to those in leadership, however leadership with its myriad of responsibilities and life under the microscope of others does have a way of magnifying and multiplying its influence.

If it’s true that leadership multiplies discouragement then I can think of few people who have to deal with it more than the President. Don’t worry, I’m not going political on you. Rather I want to share an amazing story with you about President Theodore Roosevelt’s personal struggle with discouragement, and how it almost kept him from becoming President at all.

The story was a part of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s outstanding biography “The Bully Pulpit”, about the lives of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The story picks up in 1901 with Roosevelt serving as Vice President to President William McKinley. Then, as now, the office of Vice President was one of the least powerful political offices in the land, and Roosevelt was bored out of his mind.

As the excitement of the campaign faded and the extended days with little to do wore on, Roosevelt began to doubt his future in politics. He believed that he’d been nominated for the Vice-Presidency by the conservatives in the Republican party so that his reform agenda would be stashed away from the public for the next four years, thus stymying any chance of him securing the Republican nomination for President in 1904.

Roosevelt became so discouraged that he made plans to begin law school again in the fall, even making inquiries about becoming a history professor. He was so low that he recorded these words in his journal.

Of course, I may go on in public life…but equally of course it is unlikely, and what I have seen of the careers of public men has given me an absolute horror of the condition of the politician whose day has passed; who by some turn of the kaleidoscope is thrown into the background; and who then haunts the fields of his former activity as a pale shadow of what he once was.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in that place where your circumstances have convinced you that your best bet is to just give up, to just throw in the towel? I know that I have.

What’s so startling about Roosevelt’s story though isn’t this bout of discouragement, but what happened right after it. Shortly after recording those words of great frustration in his journal President William McKinley was assassinated, and Theodore Roosevelt became the nations youngest President at just 42 years old.

As I read the account the incredible nature of the timing of it all jumped off the page at me. One moment Roosevelt was ready to quit politics entirely, the next he was President. In a matter of days, not decades, Roosevelt was transported from a place of great discouragement to a place of great triumph.

Roosevelt would go on to serve an additional term and is still remembered as being one of the greatest men to fill the office. And his battle with discouragement almost kept him from seeing that incredible achievement realized.

But what’s it to you? You probably won’t ever be in position to be President, but if you allow the voice of discouragement to keep you from leading with courage wherever God has placed you who knows what it may cost. It almost cost Roosevelt his legacy, don’t let it cost you yours.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9

Question: Have you ever struggled with discouragement? How have you learned to deal with it?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • katie Ruelas

    Hi Grant, Katie Ruelas here. In my life I’ve seen that discouragement stems from fear. Fear of ending up with less than my expectation of what I thought life would be like, however when I begin to move and live in the expectation of what God Almighty will do through me, it takes away the discouragement and replaces it with a daily expectation of His power working around me. (2 Tim 1:7)

    • grantdiamond

      Hey Katie,

      Love this comment! Fear, discouragement, and expectation are definitely all related and can so easily work together to keep us from all God has for us. The notion of taking your focus off of all of that and onto God instead is so practical and helpful as well. Thanks for sharing! Praying for your family this week.