It took falling in love for him to regain some balance. In October of his junior year, T.R. met the beautiful Alice Hathaway Lee, and became completely infatuated. Alice was a notorious heartbreaker—a real beauty from a socially prominent Boston family—and, at seventeen, perfectly eligible. From the day he met her, Theodore committed himself fully to winning her over. His wild mood swings continued at first (he once became so insecure about his relationship with Alice, he had to be talked out of challenging a rival suitor to a duel), but as their relationship became closer, T.R. mellowed out.
He wasn't over his father's death, though. Instead, he just seems to have changed the way he dealt with it. Before meeting Alice, he had temporarily rejected what his father had stood for; after meeting her, he reassumed his father's convictions with more force than ever. Indeed, it almost looks like T.R. actively tried to particularly his father. The similarities between Alice, T.R.'s fiancée, and Mittie, T.R.'s mother, were striking. They were both known for their beauty, both from prominent, aristocratic families, and both completely uninterested in the traditional responsibilities of Victorian women. After T.R. and Alice married and moved to New York, T.R. began to replicate his father's life more exactly. He began moving in the same elite social circles his father had moved in. He became active in the Republican Party, just as his father had been. He even began signing his letters "Thee," his father's name! He broke from his father's habits only in his personal interests. (He had studied science at Harvard, and kept up his studies, but after moving to New York, he started coursework in law and history, too.) With respect to his public life, T.R. seemed to be reprising Thee's role wholesale.7
Whether or not T.R. noticed what he was doing, others did. In 1881, just a year after he returned to New York, the Republican Party exploited T.R's desire to perpetuate his father's legacy by convincing him to run for state assemblyman. The wealthy and prominent Theodore would, they knew, make a fine candidate, and Republican operatives needed one. From watching his father's defeat at Conkling's hands, T.R. understood how dangerous it was to cross the Party's powerbrokers, and so he agreed to run as a boilerplate Republican. His father's halo and the deep coffers of his family and friends propelled T.R. to an easy victory. He would spend the next several years working on what were called "good government" reforms—trying to expand and strengthen the civil service and reduce political cronyism—which raised few eyebrows, and left T.R. plenty of time to work on his writing.
By the winter of 1883, things were looking pretty good for the young assemblyman. After some initial medical troubles, his wife was finally pregnant. Although he had failed in his bid to become Speaker of the House of the state legislature, he was becoming increasingly prominent in Republican political circles. And his first book, a history of naval conflicts in the War of 1812, had just been published to stellar reviews. Although T.R. hadn't made much progress on his legal studies, it hardly seemed to matter. Five years after his father's death, T.R. finally appeared to have put his life back together.