“I’ll do the best I can, but there is a bullet in my body.”
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest while on the way to give a speech during his ill-fated campaign for a third presidential term as head of the newly-formed Progressive Party. He gave the speech anyway. He was shot in the chest by a thirty-six-year-old New York bartender named John Schrank, a Bavarian immigrant who feared that Roosevelt’s run for a third term was an effort to establish a monarchy in the United States. Roosevelt’s heavy overcoat, folded manuscript and spectacle-case he carried in his pocket saved his life, but the bullet had traveled five inches deep near his rib cage. As the always-dramatic Roosevelt delivered his speech, his coat unbuttoned to reveal a bloodstained shirt and his speech held so that all could see the two holes made by the bullet, he cried “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” Because of the incident, the party became known as the Bull Moose Party :
“To Roosevelt, it was an old, old story; monotonous hours on the train, forced enthusiasms, crowds, too many speeches, factional quarrels that had to be ironed out, idiotic local politicians and fanatics who had to be seen. And behind all this lay the depressing realization of [eventual] defeat. … Roosevelt’s throat bothered him and he complained, to his confidants, of being weary. During a trip through the Middle West and the South reports reached headquarters that his speeches were not as effective as they once had been, and that his throat was growing worse. It is not improbable that the condition of his voice might have made further speeches impossible.
“Roosevelt reached Chicago on Sunday, October 13, from Iowa. It had been necessary to cancel addresses in Indiana and Wisconsin because of the candidate’s throat. He insisted, however, upon making a scheduled speech in Milwaukee on Monday, October 14, and on the evening of that day, as he was leaving the Gilpatrick Hotel to go to the hall, Roosevelt was shot in the right breast by a fanatic, John Schrank, who shouted something about a third term. The crowd fell on the assassin and would probably have lynched him, had not Roosevelt directed that the man be brought before him. ‘The poor creature,’ he said, and turned away.
“The extent of the wound was not known. It might have been fatal, as far as Roosevelt knew. He was very white, as the crowd pressed about him. But when physicians said that he must go at once to the hospital, he brushed them aside and ordered the automobile, in which he had been standing when he was shot, to proceed to the hall. ‘I will make this speech or die,’ he said. ‘It is one thing or the other.’
“It was found that the bullet had passed through the right breast, and had caused a wound that might be serious. He again insisted on speaking and went to the platform while the audience sat, rigid with horror and alarm, and heard an announcement that the colonel was wounded but would speak. He started in a low tone. ‘It is true,’ he said. ‘I am going to ask you to be very quiet and please excuse me from making a long speech. I’ll do the best I can, but there is a bullet in my body.’ He paused for a second. ‘It is nothing,’ he added. ‘I am not hurt badly. I have a message to deliver and will deliver it as long as there is life in my body.’ …
” ‘It matters little about me but it matters about the cause we fight for,’ Roosevelt said, in a statement to his followers. ‘If one soldier who carries the flag is stricken, another will take it from his hands and carry it on. Tell the people not to worry about me, for if I go down another will take my place. For always, the army is true. Always the cause is there.’
“A degree of lethargy in the [ill-fated] campaign shifted to sincere sympathy for Roosevelt and admiration for his courage.”
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