There’s no denying that Teddy Roosevelt was a badass and total man’s man — he was a hero of the Spanish-American War, the 26th President of the United States and the survivor of an assassination attempt — but, as one newspaper editor learned the hard way, he was not a drunk. Although today we have this notion of Teddy Roosevelt as a mustachioed colossus with a big stick in one hand and an even bigger glass of whiskey in the other, the truth is, Teddy was almost a teetotaler.
As we’ve shared before, Teddy occasionally drank wine or champagne on special occasions or used some of the mint from the White House garden to make a reportedly weak mint julep, but he never drank to excess and could certainly not be considered a drunk by any stretch of the imagination. Still, his impassioned speeches led many to gossip about his love of alcohol, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Teddy long ignored the rumors of his drinking but by the time he ran for a third term in 1912, he was fed up with the lies. He vowed, for the sake of his legacy and his good name, to take action the next time he was called out for being a drunkard. And on October 12, 1912, he got that chance when Michigan’s Iron Ore newspaper published the following:
Roosevelt lies and curses in a most disgusting way; he gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently, and all his intimates know about it. All who oppose him are wreckers of the country, liars, knaves, and undesirables. He alone is pure and entitled to a halo. Rats. For so great a fighter, self-styled, he is the poorest loser we ever knew!
Talk about fake news! And true to his word, Roosevelt was determined to take Iron Ore publisher George Newett to court for libel. On May 26, 1913, the trial began in Marquette, Michigan and Teddy had his chance to set the record straight.
Dozens of the former president’s friends and colleagues testified in court that they seldom, if ever, saw him take a drink, but it was Roosevelt himself who really drove the point home with his detailed testimony of his limited drinking habits:
I have never been drunk or in the slightest degree under the influence of liquor… I do not drink either whiskey or brandy, except as I shall hereafter say, except as I drink it under the direction of a doctor; I do not drink beer; I sometimes drink light wine… I never drank liquor or porter or anything of that kind. I have never drunk a high-ball or cocktail in my life. I have sometimes drunk mint juleps in the White House. There was a bed of mint there, and I may have drunk half a dozen mint juleps a year, and certainly no more… I never drank but one mint julep at a time; I doubt if I have drunk a half dozen a year; I doubt if I drank a dozen during the entire seven and a half years there; since I left the presidency, in the four years since I left, I remember I have drunk two; one at the Country Club in St. Louis, where I simply touched a mouthful, and one at Little Rock, Arkansas, where there was a dinner given by the governor of the state and others, and they passed a loving cup of mint juleps, and I drank from that as it passed… I don’t like beer, and sometimes I will go to a friend’s house where they will ask me to drink beer or whiskey, but instead of drinking beer or whiskey I will drink light wine, a glass or two glasses. At home, at dinner, I may partake of a glass or two glasses of white wine. At a public dinner, or a big dinner, if they have champagne I will take a glass or two glasses of champagne, but I take it publicly just as much as privately… In Africa the expedition took with it a case of champagne, a case of whiskey and a bottle of brandy. I never touched one drop of either the champagne or the whiskey. The champagne was used purely for certain members of the party who got dysentery and fever towards the end of the trip, and it was also used for certain elephant hunters and traders and missionaries whom we met who were sick with fever or dysentery, and it was only used for such purposes. The whiskey was used chiefly for such purposes, but some members of the party drank it otherwise. I never touched a drop.
Newett, who had pretty much no defense whatsoever, knew he had been beat. He read a statement of retraction before the court and Roosevelt, satisfied with his sobriety now being a part of court record, waived any damages. In a letter to his son Kermit, Teddy summed up the case:
…[T]he the evidence was so overwhelming that the defendant got up in court and publicly acknowledged not only the untruth of his statements, but the fact that he was convinced that even the witnesses whose depositions he he had taken were mistaken, and that although for six months he and his lawyers had followed every clew [sic] they could find, they had been unable to unearth even a single instance as to which they could get justification.
Newett wasn’t completely off the hook; the court ordered him to pay Roosevelt the minimum amount for damages, as per Roosevelt’s request. For his trouble, Teddy was rewarded six cents, a princely sum Teddy supposedly told reporters was “about the price of a good paper!” His point being that the Iron Ore cost just three cents at the time. And that is how you burn the fake, sad media.