Name:  Robert Barnwell Roosevelt

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Born:  August 7, 1829
Died:  June 14, 1906
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Robert Roosevelt was born in New York City to Margaret Barnhill Roosevelt, from a prominent Philadelphia family, and Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, a wealthy merchant and banker. Young Roosevelt was christened Robert Barnhill, but in adulthood changed his name to Robert Barnwell. He received the best preparatory education that money could buy, then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1850. That same year he married Elizabeth Ellis; they had four children. They lived next door to his brother Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and his family.

Robert Roosevelt's law practice was very successful and involved him in several cases that generated public attention. He served as secretary of the Citizens' Association, a reform organization, and prosecuted cases for them that put negligent health officers behind bars and cleared the way for a reformed board of health. He also edited the organization's publication, the New York Citizen. During the Civil War he identified with the War Democrats and helped found the Loyal National League and the Union League Club. After the war he pushed for a professional fire department and helped organize the Committee of Seventy which proved instrumental in driving the city's corrupt Tweed Ring from power. In 1870 he was elected to Congress as a Democrat and served one term (1871-1873), where he exposed a corrupt political ring in the District of Columbia.

Roosevelt was an avid sportsman and an early conservationist, writing several books on the subjects and organizing sportsmen's associations that promoted conservation. He pressed for the passage of a law creating a state fishery commission. The New York legislature complied and other states passed similar laws. He chaired the commission for twenty years (1868-1888) and oversaw the development of artificial breeding methods and the protection of waterways from industrial pollution. He also authored other books, including satires and a novel.

After his father died in 1871 Roosevelt's inheritance allowed him to retire from practicing law. He was appointed to the board of directors of several industrial and railroad companies. He served as a commissioner of the Brooklyn bridge (1879-1881) and an alderman (1882), working for passage of a pure-food ordinance. He wanted to be mayor of New York City, but his commitment to reform alienated him from Tammany Hall, the dominant Democratic organization, and his espousal of Democratic principles ruled out Republican support. When his wife died in 1887 he married Marion O'Shea Fortescue in August 1888. Later that year he was appointed by Democratic president, Grover Cleveland, as the U.S. minister to The Netherlands (1888-1890). He worked on relief committees for both the Spanish-American War and the Boer War. He lived long enough to see his Republican nephew, Theodore, who shared much of his reformist philosophy, become president of the United States.

Sources consulted: Dictionary of American Biography; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.











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