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Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy

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The New York Times best-selling authors of Lincoln’s Last Trial take listeners inside the courtroom to witness the epic 1915 case in which Theodore Roosevelt, weighing one last presidential run, defended his integrity and challenged the political system.

“No more dramatic courtroom scene has ever been enacted”, reported the Syracuse Herald on May 22, 1915 as it covered “the greatest libel suit in history”, a battle fought between former president Theodore Roosevelt and the leader of the Republican party.

Teddy Roosevelt, the boisterous, mostly beloved, and legendary American hero, had accused his former friend and ally, now turned rival, Republican Party leader William Barnes of political corruption. The furious Barnes responded by suing Roosevelt for an enormous sum that could have financially devastated him. The spectacle of Teddy Roosevelt, back from his near-death adventures on the River of Doubt, defending himself in a lawsuit captured the imagination of the nation. More than 50 newspapers sent reporters to cover the trial, which dominated the headlines for six weeks. It’s these long-forgotten accounts from inside and outside the courtroom, along with the full trial transcript, that give us Roosevelt in his own words and serve as the heart of Roosevelt for the Defense, bringing the Rough Rider to life.

While the trial occurred more than a century ago, the partisan political climate, involving a former president who had angrily sued the media both during and after his presidency, is more timely and relevant than ever.

“The Colonel” spent more than a week on the witness stand, revealing hidden secrets of the American political system and then endured a merciless cross-examination where he was accused of improper conduct and rank hypocrisy. Witnesses including a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alfred E. Smith, and a host of well-known political leaders were questioned by two of the most brilliant attorneys in the country.

In the end, the trial wasn’t about money; this was Roosevelt’s final fight to defend his political legacy and perhaps regain his fading stature. He still harbored political dreams, and there were strong rumors that he intended to make one more run for the White House. Barnes had his own ambitions, planning to run for the US Senate. The hopes of both men depended on the outcome of this trial.

Following the case through court transcripts, news reports, and other primary sources, New York Times best-selling authors Dan Abrams and David Fisher present a high-definition picture of the American legal system in a nation standing on the precipice of the Great War, with its former president fighting for the ideals he held dear.

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