When the United States entered the first world war, its 26th President was itching to get into the fight. Theodore Roosevelt wanted to raise a regiment of volunteers to ship out to Europe and fight in the same way he did during the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately for Roosevelt, the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, turned him down.
But across the Atlantic Ocean a future world leader had big plants for Teddy. He wanted the Triple Entente powers to enlist the former president on a mission to Moscow that only a man with Roosevelt’s personality could pull off.
In 1917, Winston Churchill had just left the British Army and was simply a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. A new prime minister had just taken office and appointed the young Churchill Minister of Munitions as the war in Europe raged on.
Churchill and Roosevelt had met on one occasion, when Roosevelt was still Governor of New York. Churchill admired the hero of San Juan Hill, but Roosevelt did not return the admiration. In fact, Roosevelt was not a fan of Churchill but enjoyed reading about the Englishman’s travel in Africa, in Churchill’s book, “My African Journey.”
Then, as former President, Roosevelt admired the way Churchill mobilized the Royal Navy at the onset of World War I. Churchill was then the First Lord of the Admiralty, and Roosevelt extended his congratulations to Churchill.
As the war dragged on, it began an upheaval in some Entente countries, particularly in Russia, where the government of the Tsar was toppled by the Bolsheviks. Vladimir Lenin, then in power in Russia after the fall of the Russian government, pulled the Russians out of World War I. This was not good for the Entente allies on the Western Front.
Churchill believed that Russia could be persuaded to rejoin the war if the Entente powers sent a single diplomat vested with the full powers of the Entente governments to appeal to Lenin in Moscow. He wanted Theodore Roosevelt to go to the Russian capital and meet with Lenin to get the Russians back into the fight.
In return, Churchill argued, Roosevelt could reassure Lenin that the Western allies would not interfere with the Bolshevik Revolution taking place in Russia at the time. The bolsheviks had not fully secured power in the country at the time and were fighting the Russian Tsarists all over the newly-formed Soviet Union.
When Churchill proposed the idea to Soviet officials, it was met with complete silence. The reply (or non-reply) he received for his idea created and cemented Churchill's opinion of the new Russian government, one he would keep for the rest of his life, despite becoming wartime allies with the USSR many years later, as prime minister during World War II.
Roosevelt may never have known that Churchill threw the former president’s hat into the ring for such a mission. Theodore Roosevelt was still alive when Churchill floated the idea, but it never got back to Roosevelt because of the reception it received from the Soviet Union. The war would end later that year, regardless of Soviet participation and the 26th president would die in January 1919.
No one is quite sure how Roosevelt might have responded to Churchill’s idea.