Deeper into Jeopardy! XXXVI: The Spanish-American War – $400

Jeopardy! category: THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR (19-1-2015)

$400 clue: This Assistant Secretary of the Navy resigned his office to fight the war on horseback

Correct response

The gist: He always was up for an adventureFuture 26th president of the U.S. (1901-1909) Theodore Roosevelt had been fascinated with the military life long before he entered it. During his higher education at both Harvard and Columbia Law School, for example, he reportedly spent most of his time writing a book on the naval battles of the War of 1812, and these studies led, after stints in New York politics and law enforcement, and cattle-raising in North Dakota, to his appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President McKinley. He immediately began pushing for a stronger American navy and actively protecting American interests in the Caribbean and Philippines. After the explosion of the Maine, he actively pushed for open war with Spain. Resigning as Assistant Secretary as soon as war was declared, he and Army Colonel Leonard Wood formed the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, dubbed by the media the “Rough Riders.” After a few weeks of training in Texas they set sail from Florida, and arrived in Cuba on June 23, 1898. Their most famous engagement was the Battle of San Juan Hill, where Roosevelt personally led his regiment’s charge atop the only available horse, an act of valour that brought him much press and admiration back home… although the press at the time ignored the Buffalo Soldiers, several regiments of black cavalrymen, who did most of the battle’s heavy fighting. While American troops ended up taking the hill, they also suffered very heavy casualties.

The Spanish-American War had a profound influence on Roosevelt, and he would later recall his time on the island, and in particular San Juan Hill, as among the greatest moments of his life. In his later political career he would rely heavily on his popularity as a daring adventurer and soldier. It was a heavy theme in his campaign for Governor of New York and in the 1900 presidential campaign as McKinley’s running mate, when he contrasted William Jennings Bryan‘s opposition to American imperialism in the Philippines with what he portrayed as the valour of the American soldier who had fought hard to win the possessions that Bryan didn’t support. It was as Vice President that he first uttered his immortal aphorism on diplomacy and military might: “speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Rough Riders’ uniform and trademark pince-nez

The clue: Eschewing mention of the Rough Riders by name, or his later presidential office, this clue, like the last one, doesn’t take the easy road either. Although many Jeopardy! contestants are likely to know about Roosevelt’s role in the Spanish-American War, and the reference to “horseback” is a nod to his regiment, it still strikes me as tough even for a $400 clue, although not as egregiously as the USS Maine clue. Either way, it was the same contestant who got both of them, so it wasn’t too hard for him, at least.

In Jeopardy!: Theodore Roosevelt? Yeah, too many clues to go into here. Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War, on the other hand, gives just eight results, either asking for the war, the Rough Riders, or the man himself. There’s also six about San Juan Hill and three about Cuba. The thing to remember, though, is that a question about the Spanish-American War and a president can be either McKinley or Roosevelt. If it’s about action, it’s Teddy; if it’s about politics, it’s probably Bill.

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