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Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, by William Roscoe Thayer

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never blustered or bullied, who would neither inflict nor suffer
any wrong, and who had a limitless fund of fortitude, endurance,
and indomitable resolution upon which to draw when fortune proved
adverse. His self-command and patience, his daring, restless love
of adventure, and, in time of danger, his absolute trust in his
own powers and resources, all combined to render him peculiarly
fitted to follow the career of which he was so fond."*

* Winning of the West, 1, 137, 138 (ed. 1889).

Roosevelt contributed two volumes to the American Statesmen
Series, one on Thomas Hart Benton in 1886, and the other on
Gouverneur Morris in 1887. The environment and careers of these
two men--the Missouri Senator of the first half of the nineteenth
century, and the New York financier of the last half of the
eighteenth--afforded him scope for treating two very diverse
subjects. He was himself rooted in the old New York soil and he
had come, through his life in the West, to divine the conditions
of Benton's days. Once again, many years later (1900) he tried
his hand at biography, taking Oliver Cromwell for his hero, and
making a summary, impressionistic sketch of him. Besides the
interest this biography has for students of Cromwell, it has also
interest for students of Roosevelt, for it is a specimen of the
sort of by-products he threw off in moments of relaxation.

More characteristic than such excursions into history and
biography, however, are his many books describing ranch-life and
hunting. In the former, he gives you truthful descriptions of the
men of the West as he saw them, and in the latter he recounts his
adventures with elk and buffalo, wolves and bears. The mere
trailing and killing of these creatures do not satisfy him. He
studies with equal zest their haunts and their habits. The
naturalist in him, which we recognized in his youth, found this
vent in his maturity. And long years afterward, on his
expeditions to Africa and to Brazil he dealt even more
exuberantly with the natural history of the countries which he

Two other classes of writings make up Roosevelt's astonishing
output. He gathered his essays and addresses into half a dozen
volumes, remarkable alike for the wide variety of their subjects,
and for the vigor with which he seized on each subject as if it
was the one above all others which most absorbed him. Finally,
skim the collection of his official messages, as Commissioner, as
Governor, or as President, and you will discover that he had the
gift of infusing life and color into the usually drab and
cheerless wastes of official documents.

I am not concerned to make a literary appraisal of Theodore
Roosevelt's manifold works, but I am struck by the fact that our
professional critics ignore him entirely in their summaries or
histories of recent American literature. As I re-read, after
twenty years, and in some cases after thirty years, books of his
which made a stir on their appearance, I am impressed, not only
by the excellence of their writing, but by their lasting quality.
If he had not done so many other things of greater importance,
and done them supremely, he would have secured lasting fame by
his books on hunting, ranching, and exploration. No other
American compares with him, and I know of no other, in English at
least, who has made a contribution in these fields equal to his.

Throughout these eight or ten volumes he proves himself to be one
of those rare writers who see what they write. As in the case of
Tennyson, than whom no English poet, in spite of nearsightedness,
has observed so minutely the tiniest details of form or the
faintest nuance of color, so the lack of normal vision did not
prevent Roosevelt from being the closest of observers. He was
also, by the way, a good shot with rifle or pistol. If you read
one of his chapters in "Hunting the Grizzly" and ask yourself
wherein its animation and attraction lie, you will find that it
is because every sentence and every line report things seen. He
does not, like the Realist, try to get a specious lifelikeness by
heaping up banal and commonplace facts; he selects. His
imagination reminds one of the traveling spark which used to run
along the great chandelier in the theatre, and light each jet, so
that its passage seemed a flight from point to point of
brilliance. Wherever he focuses his survey a spot glows vividly.

The eye, the master sense of the mind, thus dominates him, and I
think that we shall trace to its mastery much of the immediate
power which he exerted by his writings and speeches on public,
social, and moral topics. He struck off, in the heat of
composition or of speaking, phrases and similes which millions
caught up eagerly and made as familiar as household words. He
even remembered from his extensive reading some item which, when
applied by him to the affair of the moment, acquired new
pertinence and a second life. Thus, Bunyan's " muckraker" lives
again; thus, "the curse of Meroz," and many another Bible
reference, springs up with a fresh meaning.

No doubt the purist will find occasional lapses in taste or
expression, and the quibbling peddler of rhetoric will gloat over
some doubtful construction; but neither purist nor peddler of
rhetoric has ever been able in his writing to display the ease,
the rush, the naturalness, the sparkle which were as genuine in
Roosevelt as were the features of his face. On reading these
pages, which have escaped the attention of the professional
critics, I wonder whether they may not have a fate similar to
Defoe's; for Defoe also was read voraciously by his
contemporaries, his pamphlets made a great rustle in their time,
and then the critics turned to other and spicier writers. But in
due season, other critics, as well as the world, made the
discovery that only a genius could have produced Defoe's
"every-day," "commonplace" style.

His innate vigor, often swelling into vehemence, marks also
Roosevelt's political essays, and yet he had time for reflection,
and if you examine closely even some of his combative passages,
you will see that they do not spring from sudden anger or scorn,
but from a conviction which has matured slowly in him. He had not
the philosophic calm which formed the background of Burke's
political masterpieces, but he had the clearness, the simplicity,
by which he could drive home his thoughts into the minds of the
multitude. Burke spoke and wrote for thousands and for posterity;
Roosevelt addressed millions for the moment, and let posterity do
what it would with his burning appeals and invectives. He was not
so absolutely self-effacing as Lincoln, but I think that he
realized to the full the meaning of Lincoln's phrase, "the world
will little note, nor long remember what we may say here," and
that he would have made it his motto. For he, like all truly
great statesmen, was so immensely concerned in winning today's
battle, that he wasted no time in speculating what tomorrow, or
next year, or next century would say about it. Mysticism, the
recurrent fad which indicates that its victims neither see clear
nor think straight, could not spread its veils over him. The man
who visualizes is safe from that intellectual weakness and moral
danger. But although Roosevelt felt the sway of the true
emotions, he allowed only his intimates to know what he held most
intimate and sacred. He felt also the charm of beauty, and over
and over again in his descriptions of hunting and riding in the
West, he pauses to recall beautiful scenery or some unusual bit
of landscape; and even in remembering his passage down the River
of Doubt, when he came nearer to death than he ever came until he
died, in spite of tormenting pain and desperate anxiety for his
companions, he mentions more than once the loveliness of the
river scene or of the massed foliage along its banks. Naturalist
though he was, bent first on studying the habits of birds and
animals, he yet took keen delight in the iridescent plumage or
graceful form or the beautiful fur of bird and beast.

The quality of a writer can best be judged by reading a whole
chapter, or two or three, of his book, but sometimes he reveals a
phase of himself in a single paragraph. Read, for instance, this
brief extract from Roosevelt's "Through the Brazilian
Wilderness," if you would understand some of the traits which I
have just alluded to. It comes at the end of his long and
dismaying exploration of the River of Doubt, when the party was
safe at last, and the terrible river was about to flow into the
broad, lakelike Amazon, and Manaos was almost in sight, where
civilization could be laid hold on again, Manaos, whence the
swift ships went steaming towards the Atlantic and the Atlantic
opened a clear path home. He says:

'The North was calling strongly the three men of the North--Rocky
Dell Farm to Cherrie, Sagamore Hill to me; and to Kermit the call
was stronger still. After nightfall we could now see the Dipper
well above the horizon--upside down with the two pointers
pointing to a North Star below the world's rim; but the Dipper,
with all its stars. In our home country spring had now come, the
wonderful Northern spring of long, glorious days, of brooding
twilight, of cool, delightful nights. Robin and bluebird,
meadow-lark and song-sparrow were singing in the mornings at
home; the maple buds were red; windflowers and bloodroot were
blooming while the last patches of snow still lingered; the
rapture of the hermit thrush in Vermont, the serene golden melody
of the wood thrush on Long Island, would be heard before we were
there to listen. Each was longing for the homely things that were
so dear to him, for the home people who were dearer still, and
for the one who was dearest of all.' *

* Through the Brazilian Wilderness, 320.


I have said that Roosevelt devoted the two years after he came
back to New York to writing, but it would be a mistake to imagine
that writing alone busied him. He was never a man who did or
would do only one thing at a time. His immense energy craved
variety, and in variety he found recreation. Now that the
physical Roosevelt had caught up in relative strength with the
intellectual, he could take what holidays requiring exhaustless
bodily vigor he chose. The year seldom passed now when he did not
go West for a month or two. Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow were
established with their families on the Elkhorn Ranch, which
Roosevelt continued to own, although, I believe, like many
ranches at that period, it ceased to be a good investment.
Sometimes he made a hurried dash to southern Texas, or to the
Selkirks, or to Montana in search of new sorts of game. In the
mountains he indulged in climbing, but this was not a favorite
with him because it offered less sport in proportion to the
fatigue. While he was still a young man he had gone up the
Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, feats which still required endurance,
although they did not involve danger.

While we think of him, therefore, as dedicating himself to his
literary work--the "Winning of the West" and the accounts of
ranch life--we must remember that he had leisure for other
things. He watched keenly the course of politics, for instance,
and in 1888 when the Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison as
their candidate for President, Roosevelt supported him
effectively and took rank with the foremost Republican speakers
of the campaign. After his election Harrison, who both recognized
Roosevelt's great ability and felt under obligation to him,
wished to offer him the position of an under-secretary in the
State Department; but Blaine, who was slated for Secretary of
State, had no liking for the young Republican whose coolness in
1884 he had not forgotten. So Harrison invited Roosevelt to be a
Civil Service Commissioner. The position had never been
conspicuous; its salary was not large; its duties were of the
routine kind which did not greatly tax the energies of the
Commissioners, who could never hope for fame, but only for the
approval of their own consciences for whatever good work they
did. The Machine Republicans, whether of national size, or of
State or municipal, were glad to know that Roosevelt would be put
out of the way in that office.

They already thought of him as a young man dangerous to all
Machines and so they felt the prudence of bottling him up. To
make him a Civil Service Commissioner was not exactly so final as
chloroforming a snarling dog would be, but it was a strong
measure of safety. Theodore's friends, on the other hand, advised
him against accepting the appointment, because, they said, it
would shelve him, politically, use up his brains which ought to
be spent on higher work, and allow the country which was just
beginning to know him to forget his existence. Men drop out of
sight so quickly at Washington unless they can stand on some
pedestal which raises them above the multitude.

The Optimist of the future, to hasten whose coming we are all
making the world so irresistibly attractive, will be endowed, let
us hope, with a sense of humor. With that, he can read history as
a cosmic joke-book, and not as the Biography of the Devil, as
many of us moderns, besides Jean Paul, have found it. How long it
has taken, and how much blood has been spilt before this or that
most obvious folly has been abolished! With what absurd tenacity
have men flown in the face of reason and flouted common sense! So
our Optimist, looking into the conditions which made Civil
Service Reform imperative, will shed tears either of pity or of

As long ago as the time of the cave-dweller, who was clothed in
shaggy hair instead of in broadcloth or silk, prehistoric man
learned that the best arrow or spear was that tipped with the
best piece of flint. In brief, to do good work, you must have
good tools. Translated into the terms of today, this means that
the expert or specialist must be preferred to the untrained. In
nearly all walks of life this truth was taken for granted, except
in affairs connected with government and administration. A
President might be elected, not because he was experienced in
these matters, but because he had won a battle, or was the
compromise candidate between two other aspirants. As it was with
Presidents, so with the Cabinet officers, Congressmen, and State
and city officials. Fitness being ignored as a qualification to
office, made it easy for favoritism and selfish motives to
determine the appointment of the army of employees required in
the bureaus and departments. That good old political freebooter,
Andrew Jackson, merely put into words what his predecessors had
put into practice: "To the victors belong the spoils." And since
his time, more than one upright and intelligent theorist on
government has supported the Party System even to the point where
the enjoyment of the spoils by the victors seems justified. The
"spoils" were the salaries paid to the lower grade of placemen
and women--salaries usually not very large, but often far above
what those persons could earn in honest competition. As the money
came out of the public purse, why worry? And how could party
enthusiasm during the campaign and at the polls be kept up, if
some of the partisans might not hope for tangible rewards for
their services? Many rich men sat in Congress, and the Senate be
came, proverbially, a millionaires' club. But not one of these
plutocrats conducted the private business which made him rich by
the methods to which he condemned the business administration of
the government. He did not fill his counting-room with shirkers
and incompetents; he did not find sinecures for his wife's poor
relations; he did not pad his payroll with parasites whose
characteristics were an itching palm and an unconquerable
aversion to work. He knew how to select the quickest, cleverest,
most industrious assistants, and through them he prospered.

That a man who had sworn to uphold and direct his government to
the best of his ability, should have the conscience to treat his
country as he did not treat himself, can be easily explained: he
had no conscience. Fashion, like a local anaesthetic, deadens the
sensitiveness of conscience in this or that spot; and the
prevailing fashion under all governments, autocratic or
democratic, has permitted the waste and even the dishonest
application of public funds.

These anomalies at last roused the sense of humor of some of our
citizens, just as the injustice and dishonesty which the system
embodied roused the moral sense of others; and the Reform of the
Civil Service--a dream at first, and then a passionate cause
which the ethical would not let sleep--came into being. But to
the politicians of the old type, the men of "inflooence" and
"pull," the project seemed silly. They ridiculed it, and they
expected to make it ridiculous in the eyes of the American
people, by calling it "Snivel" Service Reform. Zealots, however,
cannot be silenced by mockery. The contention that fitness should
have something to do in the choice of public servants was
effectively confirmed by the scientific departments of the
government. The most shameless Senator would not dare to propose
his brother's widow to lead an astronomical expedition, or to
urge the appointment of the ward Boss of his city as Chairman of
the Coast Survey. So the American people perceived that there
were cases in which the Spoils System did not apply. The
reformers pushed ahead; Congress at last took notice, and a law
was passed bringing a good many appointees in the Post Office and
other departments under the Merit System. The movement then
gained ground slowly and the spoilsmen began to foresee that if
it spread to the extent which seemed likely, it would deprive
them of much of their clandestine and corrupting power. Senator
Roscoe Conkling, one of the wittiest and most brazen of these,
remarked, that when Dr. Johnson told Boswell that "patriotism is
the last refuge of a scoundrel," he had not sounded the
possibilities of "reform."

The first administration of President Cleveland, who was a great,
irremovable block of stubbornness in whatever cause he thought
right, gave invaluable help to this one. The overturn of the
Republican Party, after it had held power for twenty-four years,
entailed many changes in office and in all classes of
office-holders. Cleveland had the opportunity, therefore, of
applying the Merit System as far as the law had carried it, and
his actions gave Civil Service Reformers much though not complete
satisfaction. The movement was just at the turning-point when
Roosevelt was appointed Commissioner in 1 889. Under listless or
timid direction it would have flagged and probably lost much
ground; but Roosevelt could never do anything listlessly and
whatever he pushed never lost ground.

The Civil Service Commission appointed by President Harrison
consisted of three members, of whom the President was C. R.
Procter, later Charles Lyman, with Roosevelt and Hugh Thompson,
an ex-Confederate soldier. I do not disparage Roosevelt's
colleagues when I say that they were worthy persons who did not
claim to have an urgent call to reform the Civil Service, or
anything else. They were not of the stuff which leads revolts or
reforms, but they were honest and did their duty firmly. They
stood by Roosevelt "shoulder to shoulder," and Thompson's mature
judgment restrained his impetuosity. Roosevelt always
acknowledged what he owed to the Southern gentleman. In a very
short time the Commission, Congress, and the public learned that
it was Roosevelt, the youngest member, just turned thirty years
of age, who steered the Commission. Hostile critics would say, of
course, that he usurped the leadership; but I think that this is
inaccurate. It was not his conceit or ambition, it was destiny
working through him, which made where he sat the head of the
table. Being tremendously interested in this cause and
incomparably abler than Lyman or Thompson, he naturally did most
of the work, and his decisions shaped their common policy. The
appeal to his sense of humor and his sense of justice stimulated
him, and being a man who already saw what large consequences
sometimes flow from small causes he must have been buoyed up by
the thought that any of the cases which came before him might set
a very important precedent.

Roosevelt acted on the principle that the office holder who
swears to carry out a law must do this without hesitation or
demur. If the law is good, enforcing it will make its goodness
apparent to everybody; if it is bad, it will become the more
quickly odious and need to be repealed. Roosevelt enforced the
Civil Service Law with the utmost rigor. It called for the
examination of candidates for office, and the examiners paid some
heed to their moral fitness. Its opponents tried to stir up
public opinion against it by circulating what purported to be
some of its examination papers. Why, they asked, should a man who
wished to be a letter-carrier in Keokuk, be required to give a
list of the Presidents of the United States? Or what was the
shortest route for a letter going from Bombay to Yokohama? By
these and similar spurious questions the spoilsmen hoped to get
rid of the reformers. But "shrewd slander," as Roosevelt called
it, could not move him. Two specimen cases will suffice to show
how he reduced shrewd slanderers to confusion. The first was
Charles Henry Grosvenor, an influential Republican Congressman
from Ohio, familiarly known as the "Gentle Shepherd of Ohio,"
because of his efforts to raise the tariff on wool for the
benefit of the owners of the few thousand sheep in that State. A
Congressional Committee was investigating the Civil Service
Commission and Roosevelt asked that Grosvenor, who had attacked
it, might be summoned. Grosvenor, however, did not appear, but
when he learned that Roosevelt was going to his Dakota ranch for
a vacation, he sent word that he would come. Nevertheless, this
gallant act failed to save him, for Roosevelt canceled his ticket
West, and confronted Grosvenor at the investigation. The Gentle
Shepherd protested that he had never said that he wished to
repeal the Civil Service Law; whereupon Roosevelt read this
extract from one of his speeches: "I will vote not only to strike
out this provision, but I will vote to repeal the whole law."
When Roosevelt pointed out the inconsistency of the two
statements, Grosvenor declared that they meant the same thing.

Being caught thus by one foot in Roosevelt's mantrap, he quickly
proceeded to be caught by the other. He declared that Rufus P.
Putnam, one of the candidates in dispute, had never lived in
Grosvenor's Congressional district, or even in Ohio. Then Mr.
Roosevelt quoted from a letter written by Grosvenor: "Mr. Rufus
P. Putnam is a legal resident of my district, and has relatives
living there now." With both feet caught in the man-trap, the
Gentle Shepherd was suffering much pain, but Truth is so great a
stranger to spoilsmen that he found difficulty in getting within
speaking distance of her. For he protested, first, that he never
wrote the letter, next, that he had forgotten that he wrote it,
and finally, that he was misinformed when he wrote it. So far as
appears, he never risked a tilt with the smiling young
Commissioner again, but returned to his muttons and their

A still more distinguished personage fell before the enthusiastic
Commissioner. This was Arthur Pue Gorman, a Senator from
Maryland, a Democrat, one of the most pertinacious agents of the
Big Interests in the United States Congress. Evidently, also, he
served them well, as they kept him in the Senate for nearly
twenty-five years, until his death. They employed Democrats as
well as Republicans, just as they subscribed to both Democratic
and Republican campaign funds. For, "in politics there is no
politics." Gorman, who knew that the Spoils System was almost
indispensable to the running of a political machine, waited for a
chance to attack the Civil Service Commission. Thinking that the
propitious moment had come, he inveighed against it in the
Senate. He "described with moving pathos," as Roosevelt tells the
story, "how a friend of his, 'a bright young man from Baltimore,'
a Sunday-School scholar, well recommended by his pastor, wished
to be a letter-carrier;" but the cruel examiners floored him by
asking the shortest route from Baltimore to China, to which he
replied that, as he never wished to go to China, he hadn't looked
up the route. Then, Senator Gorman asserted, the examiners
quizzed him about all the steamship lines from the United States
to Europe, branched off into geology and chemistry, and "turned
him down."

Gorman was unaware that the Commissioners kept records of all
their examinations, and when Roosevelt wrote him a polite note
inquiring the name of the "bright young man from Baltimore,"
Gorman did not reply. Roosevelt also asked him, in case he shrank
from giving the name of his informant, to give the date when the
alleged examination took place. He even offered to open the files
to any representative the Senator chose to send. Gorman, however,
"not hitherto known as a sensitive soul," as Roosevelt remarks,
"expressed himself as so shocked at the thought that the veracity
of the bright young man should be doubted, that he could not
bring himself to answer my letter." Accordingly, Roosevelt made a
public statement that the Commissioners had never asked the
questions which Gorman alleged. Gorman waited until the next
session of Congress and then, in a speech before the Senate,
complained that he had received a very "impudent" letter from
Commissioner Roosevelt "cruelly" calling him to account, when he
was simply endeavoring to right a great wrong which the
Commission had committed. But neither then nor afterwards did he
furnish "any clue to the identity of that child of his fondest
fancy, the bright young man without a name."

Roosevelt must have chuckled with a righteous exultation at such
evidence as this that the Lord had delivered the Philistines into
his hands; and his abomination of the Spoils System must have
deepened when he saw its Grosvenors and its Gormans brazen out
the lies he caught them telling.

When the spoilsmen failed to get rid of the Commission by
ridicule and by open attack, they resorted to the trick of not
appropriating money for it in this or that district. But this did
not succeed, for the Commission, owing to lack of funds, held no
examinations in those districts, and therefore no candidates from
them could get offices. This made the politicians unpopular with
the hungry office-seekers whom they deprived of their food at the
public trough.

The Commission had to struggle, however, not only to keep unfit
candidates out of office, but to keep in office those who
discharged their duty honestly and zealously. After every
election there came a rush of Congressmen and others, to turn out
the tried and trusty employees and to put in their own
applicants. Such an overturn was of course detrimental to the
service; first, because it substituted greenhorns for trained
employees, and next, because it introduced the haphazard of
politicians' whims for a just scheme of promotion and retention
in office. Roosevelt lamented bitterly over the injustice and he
denounced the waste. Many cases of grievous hardship came to his
notice. Widows, whose only means of support for themselves and
their little children was their salary, were thrown upon the
street in order that rapacious politicians might secure places
for their henchmen. Roosevelt might plead, but the politician
remained obdurate. What was the tragic lot of a widow and
starving children compared with keeping promises with greedy
"heelers"? Roosevelt saw that there was no redress except through
the extension of the classified service. This he urged at all
times, and ten years later, when he was himself President, he
added more than fifty thousand offices to the list of those which
the spoilsmen could not clutch.

He served six years as Civil Service Commissioner, being
reappointed in 1892 by President Cleveland. The overturn in
parties which made Cleveland President for the second time,
enabled Roosevelt to watch more closely the working of the Reform
System and he did what he could to safeguard those Government
employees who were Republicans from being ousted for the benefit
of Democrats. In general, he believed in laying down certain
principles on the tenure of office and in standing resolutely by
them. Thus, in 1891, under Harrison, on being urged to retain
General Corse, the excellent Democratic Postmaster of Boston, he
replied to his friend Curtis Guild that Corse ought to be
continued as a matter of principle and not because Cleveland,
several years before, had retained Pearson, the Republican
Postmaster of New York, as an exception.

At the end of six years, Roosevelt felt that he had worked on the
Commission long enough to let the American people understand how
necessary it was to maintain and extend the Merit System in the
Civil Service. A sudden access of virtue had just cast out the
Tammany Ring in New York City and set up Mr. Strong, a Reformer,
as Mayor. He wished to secure Roosevelt's help and Roosevelt was
eager to give it. The Mayor offered him the headship of the
Street Cleaning Department, but this he declined, not because he
thought the place beneath him, but because he lacked the
necessary scientific qualifications, and Mayor Strong, was lucky
in finding for it the best man in the country, Colonel George E.
Waring. Accordingly, the Mayor ap pointed Roosevelt President of
the Board of Police Commissioners, and he accepted.

The Police System in New York City in 1895, when Roosevelt took
control, was a monstrosity which, in almost every respect, did
exactly the opposite from what the Police System is organized to
do. Moral values had been so perverted that it took a strong man
to hold fast to the rudimentary distinctions between Good and
Evil. The Police existed, in theory, to protect the lives and
property of respectable citizens; to catch law-breakers and hand
them over to the courts for punishment; to hunt down gamblers,
swindlers, and all the other various criminals and purveyors of
vice. In reality, the Police under Tammany abetted crime and
protected the vicious. This they did, not because they had any
special hostility to Virtue--they probably knew too little about
it to form a dispassionate opinion any way--but because Vice paid
better. They held the cynical view that human nature will always
breed a great many persons having a propensity to licentious or
violent habits; that laws were made to check and punish these
persons, and that they might go their pernicious ways unmolested
if the Police took no notice of them. So the Police established a
system of immunity which anybody could enjoy by paying the price.
Notorious gambling-hells "ran wide open" after handing the
required sum to the high police official who extorted it.
Hundreds of houses of ill-fame carried on their hideous traffic
undisturbed, so long as the Police Captain of the district
received his weekly bribe. Gangs of roughs, toughs, and gunmen
pursued their piratical business without thinking of the law, for
they shared their spoils with the supposed officers of the law.
And there were more degenerate miscreants still, who connived
with the Police and went unscathed. As if the vast sums collected
from these willing bribers were not enough, the Police added a
system of blackmail to be levied on those who were not
deliberately vicious, but who sought convenience. If you walked
downtown you found the sidewalk in front of certain stores almost
barricaded by packing-boxes, whereas next door the way might be
clear. This simply meant that the firm which wished to use the
sidewalk for its private advantage paid the policeman on that
beat, and he looked the other way. As there was an ordinance
against almost every conceivable thing, so the Police had a price
for making every ordinance a dead letter. Was this a cosmic joke,
a nightmare of cynicism, a delusion? No, New York was classed in
the reference books as a Christian city, and this was its

Roosevelt knew the seamless bond which connected the crime and
vice of the city with corrupt politics. The party Bosses,
Republicans and Democrats alike, were the final profiters from
police blackmail and bribery. As he held his mandate from a
Reform Administration, he might expect to be aided by it on the
political side; at least, he did not fear that the heads of the
other departments would secretly work to block his purification
of the Police. A swift examination showed him that the New York
Police Department actually protected the criminals and promoted
every kind of iniquity which it existed to put down. It was as if
in a hospital which should cure the sick, the doctors, instead of
curing disease, should make the sick worse and should make the
well sick. How was Roosevelt, equally valiant and honest, to
conquer this Hydra? He took the straight way dictated by common
sense. First of all, he gained the confidence and respect of his
men. He said afterwards, that even at its worst, when he went
into office, the majority of the Police wanted to do right; that
their instincts were loyal; and this meant much, because they
were tempted on all sides by vicious wrongdoers; they had
constantly before them the example of superiors who took bribes
and they received neither recognition nor praise for their own
worthy deeds.

The Force came very soon to understand that under Roosevelt every
man would get a "square deal." "Pulls" had no efficacy. The Chief
Commissioner personally kept track of as many men as he could.
When he saw in the papers one morning that Patrolman X had saved
a woman from drowning, he looked him up, found that the man had
been twenty-two years in the service, had saved twenty five
lives, and had never been noticed, much less thanked, by the
Commission. More than this, he had to buy his own uniform, and as
this was often rendered unfit for further use when he rescued
persons from drowning, or from a burning house, his heroism cost
him much in dollars and cents. By Roosevelt's orders the
Department henceforth paid for new uniforms in such cases, and it
awarded medals. By recognizing the good, and by weeding out as
fast as possible the bad members of the Force, Roosevelt thus
organized the best body of Police which New York City had ever
seen. There were, of course, some black sheep among them whom he
could not reach, but he changed the fashion, so that it was no
longer a point of excellence to be a black sheep.

Roosevelt rigorously enforced the laws, without regard to his
personal opinion. It happened that at that time the good people
of New York insisted that liquor saloons should do no business on
Sundays. This prohibition had long been on the statute book, but
it had been generally evaded because the saloon keepers had paid
the Bosses, who controlled the Police Department, to let them
keep open--usually by a side door--on Sundays. Indeed, the
statute was evidently passed by the Bosses in order to widen
their opportunity for blackmail; but in this they overreached
themselves. For the liquor-sellers at last revolted, and they
held conferences with the Bosses--David B. Hill was then the
Democratic State Boss and Richard Croker the Tammany Boss - and
they published in the Wine and Spirit Gazette, their organ, this
statement: "An agreement was made between the leaders of Tammany
Hall and the liquor-dealers, according to which the monthly
blackmail paid to the force should be discontinued in return for
political support." Croker and his pals, taking it as a matter of
course that the public knew their methods, neither denied this
incriminating statement nor thought it worth noticing. For a
while all the saloons enjoyed equal immunity in selling drinks on
Sunday. Then came Roosevelt and ordered his men to close every
saloon. Many of the bar-keepers laughed incredulously at the
patrol man who gave the order; many others flew into a rage. The
public denounced this attempt to strangle its liberties and
reviled the Police Chief as the would be enforcer of obsolescent
blue laws. But they could not frighten Roosevelt: the saloons
were closed. Nevertheless, even he could not prevail against the
overwhelming desire for drink. Crowds of virtuous citizens
preferred. an honest police force, but they preferred their beer
or their whiskey still more, and joined with the criminal
classes, the disreputables, and all the others who regarded any
law as outrageous which interfered with their personal habits.
Accordingly, since they could not budge Roosevelt, they changed
the law. A compliant local judge discovered that it was lawful to
take what drink you chose with a meal, and the result was that,
as Roosevelt describes it, a man by eating one pretzel might
drink seventeen beers.

Roosevelt himself visited all parts of the city and chiefly those
where Vice grew flagrant at night. The journalists, who knew of
his tours of inspection and were always on the alert for the
picturesque, likened him to the great Caliph who in similar
fashion investigated Baghdad, and they nicknamed him Haroun al
Roosevelt. He had for his companion Jacob Riis, a remarkable Dane
who migrated to this country in youth, got the position of
reporter on one of the New York dailies, frequented the courts,
studied the condition of the abject poor in the tenement-houses,
and the haunts where Vice breeds like scum on stagnant pools, and
wrote a book, "How the Other Half Lives," which startled the
consciences of the well-to-do and the virtuous. Riis showed
Roosevelt everything. Police headquarters were in Mulberry
Street, and yet within a stone's throw iniquity flourished. He
guided him through the Tenderloin District, and the wharves, and
so they made the rounds of the vast city. More than once
Roosevelt surprised a shirking patrolman on his beat, but his
purpose they all knew was to see justice done, and to keep the
officers of the Force up to the highest standard of duty.

One other anecdote concerning his experience as Police
Commissioner I repeat, because it shows by what happy touches of
humor he sometimes dispersed menacing clouds. A German
Jew-baiter, Rector Ahlwardt, came over from Berlin to preach a
crusade against the Jews. Great trepidation spread through the
Jewish colony and they asked Roosevelt to forbid Ahlwardt from
holding public meetings against them. This, he saw, would make a
martyr of the German persecutor and probably harm the Jews more
than it would help them. So Roosevelt bethought him of a device
which worked perfectly. He summoned forty of the best Jewish
policemen on the Force and ordered them to preserve order in the
hall and prevent Ahlwardt from being interrupted or abused. The
meeting passed off without disturbance; Ahlwardt stormed in vain
against the Jews; the audience and the public saw the humor of
the affair and Jew-baiting gained no foothold in New York City.
Although Roosevelt thoroughly enjoyed his work as Police
Commissioner, he felt rightly that it did not afford him the
freest scope to exercise his powers. Much as he valued executive
work, the putting into practice and carrying out of laws, he felt
more and more strongly the desire to make them, and his instinct
told him that he was fitted for this higher task. When,
therefore, the newly elected Republican President, William
McKinley, offered him the apparently modest position of Assistant
Secretary of the Navy, he accepted it.

There was general grieving in New York City--except among the
criminals and Tammany--at the news of his resignation. All sorts
of persons expressed regrets that were really sincere, and their
gratitude for the good which he had done for them all. Some of
them protested that he ought not to abandon the duty which he had
discharged so valiantly. One of these was Edwin L. Godkin, editor
of The Nation and the New York Evening Post, a critic who seldom
spoke politely of anything except ideals which had not been
attained, or commended persons who were not dead and so beyond
reach of praise.

Since Roosevelt himself has quoted this passage from Godkin's
letter to him, I think it ought to be reprinted here: "I have a
concern, as the Quakers say, to put on record my earnest belief
that in New York you are doing the greatest work of which any
American today is capable, and exhibiting to the young men of the
country the spectacle of a very important office administered by
a man of high character in the most efficient way amid a thousand
difficulties. As a lesson in politics I cannot think of anything
more instructive."

Godkin was a great power for good, in spite of the obvious
unpopularity which an incessant critic cannot fail to draw down
upon himself. The most pessimistic of us secretly crave a little
respite when for half an hour we may forget the circumambient and
all-pervading gloom: music, or an entertaining book, or a dear
friend lifts the burden from us. And then comes our
uncompromising pessimist and chides us for our softness and for
letting ourselves be led astray from our pessimism. His jeremiads
are probably justified, and as the historian looks back he finds
that they give the truest statement of the past; for the present
must be very bad, indeed, if it does not discover conditions
still worse in the past from which it has emerged. But Godkin
living could not escape from two sorts of unsympathetic
depreciators: first, the wicked who smarted under his just
scourge, and next, the upright, who tired of unremittent censure,
although they admitted that it was just.

Roosevelt came, quite naturally, to set the doer above the
critic, who, he thought, quickly degenerated into a fault finder
and from that into a common scold. When a man plunges into a
river to save somebody from drowning, if you do not plunge in
yourself, at least do not jeer at him for his method of swimming.
So Roosevelt, who shrank from no bodily or moral risk himself,
held in scorn the "timid good," the " acidly cantankerous," the
peace-at-any-price people, and the entire tribe of those who,
instead of attacking iniquities and abuses, attacked those who
are desperately engaged in fighting these, For this reason he
probably failed to absorb from Godkin's criticism some of the
benefit which it might have brought him. The pills were bitter,
but salutary. While he was Police Commissioner one of Joseph
Choate's epigrams passed current and is still worth recalling.
When some one remarked that New York was a very wicked city,
Choate replied, "How can you expect it to be otherwise, when Dana
makes Vice so attractive in the Sun every morning, and Godkin
makes Virtue so odious in the Post every afternoon?" Charles A.
Dana, the editor of the Sun, the stanch supporter of Tammany
Hall, and the apologist of almost every evil movement for nearly
thirty years, was a writer of diabolical cleverness whose
newspaper competed with Godkin's among the intellectual readers
in search of amusement. At one time, when Godkin had been
particularly caustic, and the Mugwumps at Harvard were unusually
critical, Roosevelt attended a committee meeting at the
University. After talking with President Eliot, he went and sat
by a professor, and remarked, play fully, "Eliot is really a good
fellow at heart. Do you suppose that, if he bit Godkin, it would
take?" So Roosevelt went back to Washington to be henceforth, as
it proved, a national figure whose career was to be forever
embedded in the structural growth of the United States.


When Roosevelt returned to Washington in March, 1897, to take up
his duties as a subordinate officer in the National Government,
he was thirty-eight years old; a man in the prime of life, with
the strength of an ox, but quick in movement, and tough in
endurance. A rapid thinker, his intellect seemed as impervious to
fatigue as was his energy. Along with this physical and
intellectual make up went courage of both kinds, passion for
justice, and a buoying sense of obligation towards his fellows
and the State. His career thus far had prepared him for the
highest service. Born and brought up amid what our society
classifiers, with their sure democratic instincts, loved to call
the "aristocratic" circle in New York, his three years in the
Assembly at Albany introduced him to the motley group of
Representatives of high and low, bank presidents and farmers,
blacklegs and philanthropists, who gathered there to make the
laws for New York State. There he displayed the preference,
characteristic of him through life, of choosing his intimates
irrespective of their occupation or social label. Then he went
out on the Plains and learned to live with wild men, for whom the
artificial distinctions of civilization had no meaning. He
adapted himself to a primeval standard in which courage and a
rough sense of honor were the chief virtues. But this experience
did still more for him than prove his personal power of getting
along with such lower types of men, for it revealed to him the
human extremes of the American Nation. How vast it was, how
varied, how intricate, and, potentially, how sublime! Lincoln,
coming out of the Kentucky back woods, first to Springfield,
Illinois, then to Chicago in its youth, and finally to
Washington, similarly passed in review the American contrasts of
his time. More specific was Roosevelt's training as a Civil
Service Commissioner. The public had been applauding him as a
youthful prodigy, as a fellow of high spirit, of undisputed
valor, of brilliant flashes, of versatility, but the
worldly-wise, who have been too often fooled, were haunted by the
suspicion that perhaps this astonishing young man would turn out
to be only a meteor after all. His six years of routine work on
the Civil Service Commission put this anxiety to rest. That work
could not be carried on successfully by a man of moods and
spurts, but only by a man of solid moral basis, who could not be
disheartened by opposition or deflected by threats or by
temptations, and, as I have before suggested, the people began to
accustom itself to the fact that whatever position Roosevelt
filled was conspicuous precisely because he filled it. A good
while was still to elapse before we understood that notoriety was
inseparable from him, and did not need to be explained by the
theory that he was constantly setting traps for

As Police Commissioner of New York City he continued his familiar
methods, and deepened the impression he had created. He carried
boldness to the point of audacity and glorified the "square
deal." Whatever he undertook, he drove through with the
remorselessness of a zealot. He made no pretense of treating
humbugs and shams as if they were honest and real; and when he
found that the laws which were made to punish criminals, were
used to protect them, no scruple prevented him from achieving the
spirit of the law, although he might disregard its perverted

Ponder this striking example. The City of New York forbade the
sale of liquor to minors. But this ordinance was so completely
unobserved that a large proportion of the common drunks brought
before the Police Court were lads and even young girls, to whom
the bar-tenders sold with impunity. The children, often the
little children of depraved parents, "rushed the growler";
factory hands sent the boys out regularly to fetch their bottle
or bucket of drink from the saloons. Everybody knew of these
breaches of the law, but the framers of the law had taken care to
make it very difficult to procure legal evidence of those
breaches. The public conscience was pricked a little when the
newspapers told it that one of the youths sent for liquor had
drunk so much of it that he fell into a stupor, took refuge in an
old building, and that there the rats had eaten him alive.
Whether it was before or after this horror that Chief
Commissioner Roosevelt decided to take the law into his own
hands, I do not know, but what he did was swift. The Police
engaged one of the minors, who had been in the habit of going to
the saloons, to go for another supply, and then to testify. This
summary proceeding scared the rum-dealers and, no doubt, they
guarded against being caught again. But the victims of moral dry
rot held up their hands in rebuke and one of the city judges wept
metaphorical tears of chagrin that the Police should engage in
the awful crime of enticing a youth to commit crime. The record
does not show that this judge, or any other, had ever done
anything to check the practice of selling liquor to minors, a
practice which inevitably led thousands of the youth of New York
City to become drunkards.

How do you judge Roosevelt's act? Do you admit that a little
wrong may ever be done in order to secure a great right?
Roosevelt held, in such cases, that the wrong is only technical,
or a blind set up by the wicked to shield themselves. The danger
of allowing each person to play with the law, as with a toy, is
evident. That way lies Jesuitry; but each infringement must be
judged on its own merits, and as Roosevelt followed more and more
these short cuts to justice he needed to be more closely
scrutinized. Was his real object to attain justice or his own

The Roosevelts moved back to Washington in March, 1897, and
Theodore at once went to work in the office of the Assistant
Secretary of the Navy in that amazing building which John Hay
called "Mullett's masterpiece," where the Navy, War, and State
Departments found shelter under one roof. The Secretary of the
Navy was John D. Long, of Massachusetts, who had been a
Congressman and Governor, was a man of cultivation and geniality,
and a lawyer of high reputation. Although sixty years old, he was
believed never to have made an enemy either in politics or at the
Bar. Those who knew the two gentlemen wondered whether the
somewhat leisurely and conservative Secretary could leash in his
restless young First Assistant, with his Titanic energy and his
head full of projects. No one believed that even Roosevelt could
startle Governor Long out of his habitual urbanity, but every one
could foresee that they might so clash in policy that either the
head or the assistant would have to retire.

Nothing is waste that touches the man of genius. So the two years
which Roosevelt spent in writing, fifteen years before, the
"History of-the Naval War of 1812," now served him to good
purpose; for it gave him much information about the past of the
United States Navy and it quickened his interest in the problems
of the Navy as it should be at that time. The close of the Civil
War in 1865 left the United States with a formidable fleet, which
during the next quarter of a century deteriorated until it
comprised only a collection of rotting and unserviceable ships.
Then came a reaction, followed by the construction of an
up-to-date fleet, and by the recognition by Congress that the
United States must pursue a modern policy in naval affairs.
Roosevelt had always felt the danger to the United States of
maintaining a despicable or an inadequate Navy, and from the
moment he entered the Department he set about pushing the
construction of the unfinished vessels and of improving the
quality of the personnel.

He was impelled to do this, not merely by his instinct to bring
whatever he undertook up to the highest standard, but also
because he had a premonition that a crisis was at hand which
might call the country at an instant's notice to protect itself
with all the power it had. Two recent events aroused his
vigilance. In December, 1895, President Cleveland sent to England
a message upholding the Monroe Doctrine and warning the British
that they must arbitrate their dispute with Venezuela over a
boundary, or fight. This sledgehammer blow at England's pride
might well have caused war had not sober patriots on both sides
of the Atlantic, aghast at this shocking possibility, smoothed
the way to an understanding, and had not the British Government
itself acknowledged the rightness of the demand for arbitration.
So the danger vanished, but Roosevelt, and every other thoughtful
American, said to himself, "Suppose England had taken up the
challenge, what had we to defend ourselves with?" And we compared
the long roll of the great British Fleet with the paltry list of
our own ships, and realized that we should have been helpless.

The other fact which impressed Roosevelt was the insurrection in
Cuba which kept that island in perpetual disorder. The cruel
means, especially reconcentration and starvation, by which the
Spaniards tried to put down the Cubans stirred the sympathy of
the Americans, and the number of those who believed that the
United States ought to interfere in behalf of humanity grew from
month to month. A spark might kindle an explosion. Obviously,
therefore, the United States must have a Navy equipped and ready
for any emergency in the Caribbean.

During his first year in office, Assistant Secretary Roosevelt
busied himself with all the details of preparation; he encouraged
the enthusiasm of the officers of the New Navy, for he shared
their hopes; he added, wherever he could, to its efficiency, as
when by securing from Congress an appropriation of nearly a
million dollars--which seemed then enormous--for target practice.
He promoted a spirit of alertness--and all the while he watched
the horizon towards Cuba where the signs grew angrier and

But the young Secretary had to act with circumspection. In the
first place the policy of the Department was formulated by
Secretary Long. In the next place the Navy could not come into
action until President McKinley and the Department of State gave
the word. The President, desiring to keep the peace up to the
very end, would not countenance any move which might seem to the
Spaniards either a threat or an insult. As the open speeding-up
of naval preparations would be construed as both, nothing must be
done to excite alarm. In the autumn of 1897, however, some of the
Spaniards at Havana treated the American residents there with so
much surliness that the American Government took the precaution
to send a battleship to the Havana Harbor as a warning to the
menacing Spaniards, and as a protection, in case of outbreak, to
American citizens and their property.

But what was meant for a precaution proved to be the immediate
cause of war. Early in the evening of February 15??, 1898, the
battleship Maine, peaceably riding at her moorings in the harbor,
was blown up. Two officers and 266 enlisted men were killed by
the explosion and in the sinking of the ship. Nearly as many
more, with Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, the commander, were
rescued. The next morning the newspapers carried the report to
all parts of the United States, and, indeed, to the whole world.
A tidal wave of anger surged over this country. "That means war!"
was the common utterance. Some of us, who abhorred the thought of
war, urged that at least we wait until the guilt could be fixed.
The reports of the catastrophe conflicted. Was the ship destroyed
by the explosion of shells in its own magazine, or was it blown
up from outside? If the latter, who set off the mine? The
Spaniards? It seemed unlikely, if they wished war, that they
should resort to so clumsy a provocation! Might not the
insurgents themselves have done it, in order to force the United
States to interfere? While the country waited, the anger grew. At
Washington, nobody denied that war was coming. All that our
diplomacy attempted to do was to stave off the actual declaration
long enough to give time for our naval and military preparation.

I doubt whether Roosevelt ever worked with greater relish than
during the weeks succeeding the blowing-up of the Maine. At last
he had his opportunity, which he improved night and day. The Navy
Department arranged in hot haste to victual the ships; to provide
them with stores of coal and ammunition; to bring the crews up to
their full quota by enlisting; to lay out a plan of campaign; to
see to the naval bases and the lines of communication; and to
cooperate with the War Department in making ready the land
fortifications along the shore. Of course all these labors did
not fall on Roosevelt's shoulders alone, but being a tireless and
willing worker he had more than one man's share in the

But the great fact that war was coming--war, the test-- delighted
him, and his sense of humor was not allowed to sleep. For the
peace-at-any-price folk, the denouncers of the Navy and the Army,
the preachers of the doctrine that as all men are good it was
wicked to build defenses as if we suspected the goodness of our
neighbors, now rushed to the Government for protection. A certain
lady of importance, who had a seaside villa, begged that a
battleship should be anchored just outside of it. Seaboard cities
frantically demanded that adequate protection should be sent to
them. The spokesman for one of these cities happened to be a
politician of such importance that President McKinley told the
Assistant Secretary that his request must be granted.
Accordingly, Roosevelt put one of the old monitors in commission,
and had a tug tow it, at the imminent risk of its crew, to the
harbor which it was to guard, and there the water-logged old
craft stayed, to the relief of the inhabitants of the city and
the self-satisfaction of the Congressman who was able to give
them so shining a proof of his power with the Administration.
Many frightened Bostonians transferred their securities to the
bank vaults of Worcester, and they, too, clamored for naval watch
and ward. Roosevelt must have been made unusually merry by such
tidings from Boston, the city which he regarded as particularly
prolific in "the men who formed the lunatic fringe in all reform

It did not astonish him that the financiers and the business men,
who were amassing great fortunes in peace, should frown on war,
which interrupted their fortune-making; but he laughed when he
remembered what they and many other vague pacifists had been
solemnly proclaiming. There was the Senator, for instance, who
had denied that we needed a Navy, because, if the emergency came,
he said, we could improvise one, and "build a battleship in every
creek." There were also the spread eagle Americans, the
swaggerers and braggarts, who amused themselves in tail-twisting
and insulting other nations so long as they could do this with
impunity; but now they were brought to book, and their fears
magnified the possible danger they might run from the invasion of
irate Spaniards. Their imagination pictured to them the poor old
Spanish warship Viscaya, as having as great possibility for
destruction as the entire British Fleet itself.

At all these things Roosevelt laughed to himself, because they
confirmed the gospel of military and naval preparedness, which he
had been preaching for years, the gospel which these very
opponents reviled him for; but instead of contenting himself by
saying to them, "I told you so," he pushed on preparations for
war at full speed, determined to make the utmost of the existing
resources. The Navy had clearly two tasks before it. It must
blockade Cuba, which entailed the patrol of the Caribbean Sea and
the protection of the Atlantic ports, and it must prevent the
Spanish Fleet, known to be at the

Philippines, from crossing the Pacific Ocean, harassing our
commerce, and threatening our harbors on our Western coast.
Through Roosevelt's instrumentality, Commodore George Dewey had
been appointed in the preceding autumn to command our Asiatic
Squadron, and while, in the absence of Governor Long, Roosevelt
was Acting-Secretary, he sent the following dispatch:

Washington, February 25,'98. Dewey, Hong Kong:

Order the squadron, except the Monocacy, to Hong Kong. Keep full
of coal. In the event of declaration of war Spain, your duty will
be to see that the Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic
coast, and then offensive operations in Philippine Islands. Keep
Olympia until further orders.


I would not give the impression that Roosevelt was the dictator
of the Navy Department, or that all, or most, of its notable
achievements came from his suggestion, but the plain fact is,
wherever you look at its most active and fruitful preparations
for war, you find him vigorously assisting. The order he sent
Commodore Dewey led directly to the chief naval event of the war,
the destruction of the Spanish Fleet by our Asiatic Squadron in
Manila Bay, on May 1st. Long before this victory came to pass,
however, Roosevelt had resigned from the Navy Department and was
seeking an ampler outlet for his energy.

Having accomplished his duty as Assistant Secretary--a post which
he felt was primarily for a civilian--he thought that he had a
right to retire from it, and to gratify his long-cherished desire
to take part in the actual warfare. He did not wish, he said, to
have to give some excuse to his children for not having fought in
the war. As he had insisted that we ought to free Cuba from
Spanish tyranny and cruelty, he could not consistently refuse to
join actively in the liberation. A man who teaches the duty of
fighting should pay with his body when the fighting comes.

General Alger, the Secretary of War, had a great liking for
Roosevelt, offered him a commission in the Army, and even the
command of a regiment. This he prudently declined, having no
technical military knowledge. He proposed instead, that Dr.
Leonard Wood should be made Colonel, and that he should serve
under Wood as Lieutenant-Colonel. By profession, Wood was a
physician, who had graduated at the Harvard Medical School, and
then had been a contract surgeon with the American Army on the
plains. In this service he went through the roughest kind of
campaigning and, being ambitious, and having an instinct for
military science, he studied the manuals and learned from them
and through actual practice the principles of war. In this way he
became competent to lead troops. He was about two years younger
than Roosevelt, with an iron frame, great tenacity and endurance,
a man of few words, but of clear sight and quick decision.

While Roosevelt finished his business at the Navy Department,
Colonel Wood hurried to San Antonio, Texas, the rendezvous of the
First Regiment of Volunteer Cavalry. A call for volunteers,
issued by Roosevelt and endorsed by Secretary Alger, spread
through the West and Southwest, and it met with a quick response.
Not even in Garibaldi's famous Thousand was such a strange crowd
gathered. It comprised cow-punchers, ranchmen, hunters,
professional gamblers and rascals of the Border, sports men,
mingled with the society sports, former football players and
oarsmen, polo-players and lovers of adventure from the great
Eastern cities. They all had one quality in common--courage--and
they were all bound together by one common bond, devotion to
Theodore Roosevelt. Nearly every one of them knew him personally;
some of the Western men had hunted or ranched with him; some of
the Eastern had been with him in college, or had had contact with
him in one of the many vicissitudes of his career. It was a
remarkable spectacle, this flocking to a man not yet forty years
old, whose chief work up to that time had been in the supposed
commonplace position of a Civil Service Commissioner and of a New
York Police Commissioner! But Roosevelt's name was already known
throughout the country: it excited great admiration in many,
grave doubts in many, and curiosity in all. His friends urged him
not to go. It seemed to some of us almost wantonly reckless that
he should put his life, which had been so valuable and evidently
held the promise of still higher achievement, at the risk of a
Spanish bullet, or of yellow fever in Cuba, for the sake of a
cause which did not concern the safety of his country. But he
never considered risks or chances. He felt it as a duty that we
must free Cuba, and that every one who recognized this duty
should do his share in performing it. No doubt the excitement and
the noble side of our war attracted him. No doubt, also, that he
remembered that the reputation of a successful soldier had often
proved a ladder to political promotion in our Republic. Every
reader of our history, though he were the dullest, understood
that. But that was not the chief reason, or even an important
one, in shaping his decision. He went to San Antonio in May, and
worked without respite in learning the rudiments of war and in
teaching them to his motley volunteers, who were already called
by the public, and will be known in history, as the "Rough
Riders." He felt relieved when "Teddy's Terrors," one of the
nicknames proposed, did not stick to them. At the end of the
month the regiment proceeded to Tampa, Florida, whence part of it
sailed for Cuba on the transport Yucatan. It sufficiently
indicates the state of chaos which then reigned in our Army
preparations, that half the regiment and all the horses and mules
were left behind. Arrived in Cuba,, the first troops, accustomed
only to the saddle, had to hobble along as best they could, on
foot, so that some wag rechristened them " Wood's Weary Walkers."
The rest of the regiment, with the mounts, came a little later,
and at Las Guasimas they had their first skirmish with the
Spaniards. Eight of them were killed, and they were buried in one
grave. Afterward, in writing the history of the Rough Riders,
Roosevelt said: "There could be no more honorable burial than
that of these men in a common grave--Indian and cowboy, miner,
packer, and college athlete--the man of unknown ancestry from the
lonely Western plains, and the man who carried on his watch the
crests of the Stuyvesants and the Fishes, one in the way they had
met death, just as during life they had been one in their daring
and their loyalty." *

* The Rough Riders, 120.

I shall not attempt to follow in detail the story of the Rough
Riders, but shall touch only on those matters which refer to
Roosevelt himself. Wood, having been promoted to
Brigadier-General, in command of a larger unit, Theodore became
Colonel of the regiment. On July 1 and 2 he commanded the Rough
Riders in their attack on and capture of San Juan Hill, in
connection with some colored troops. In this engagement, their
nearest approach to a battle, the Rough Riders, who had less than
five hundred men in action, lost eighty-nine in killed and
wounded. Then followed a dreary life in the trenches until
Santiago surrendered; and then a still more terrible experience
while they waited for Spain to give up the war. Under a killing
tropical sun, receiving irregular and often damaged food, without
tent or other protection from the heat or from the rain, the
Rough Riders endured for weeks the ravages of fever, climate, and
privation. To realize that their sufferings were directly owing
to the blunders and incompetence of the War Department at home,
brought no consolation, for the soldiers could see no reason why
the Department should not go on blundering indefinitely. One of
the Rough Riders told me that, when stricken with fever, he lay
for days on the beach, and that anchored within the distance a
tennis-ball could be thrown was a steamer loaded with medicines,
but that no orders were given to bring them ashore!

The Rough Riders were hard hit by disease, but not harder than
the other regiments in the Army. Every one of their officers,
except the Colonel and another, had yellow fever, and at one time
more than half of the regiment was sick. A terrible depression
weighed them down. They almost despaired, not only of being
relieved, but of living. To face the entire Spanish Army would
have been a great joy, compared with this sinking, melting away,
against the invisible fever.

The Administration at Washington, however, although it knew the
condition of the Army in Cuba, seemed indifferent rather than
anxious, and talked about moving the troops into the interior, to
the high ground round San Luis. Thereupon, Roosevelt wrote to
General Shafter, his commanding officer:

To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a
division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of
thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping
practically the entire command North at once ....

All of us are certain, as soon as the authorities at Washington
fully appreciate the conditions of the army, to be sent home. If
we are kept here it will in all human probability mean an
appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half
the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die.

This is not only terrible from the standpoint of the individual
lives lost, but it means ruin from the standpoint of military
efficiency of the flower of the American Army, for the great bulk
of the regulars are here with you. The sick-list, large though it
is, exceeding four thousand, affords but a faint index of the
debilitation of the army. Not ten per cent are fit for active

This letter General Shafter really desired to have written, but
when Roosevelt handed it to him, he hesitated to receive it.
Still Roosevelt persisted, left it in the General's hands, and
the General gave it to the correspondent of the Associated Press
who was present. A few hours later it had been telegraphed to the
United States. Shafter called a council of war of the division
and brigade commanders, which he invited Roosevelt to attend,
although his rank as Colonel did not entitle him to take part.
When the Generals heard that the Army was to be kept in Cuba all
summer and sent up into the hills, they agreed that Roosevelt's
protest must be supported, and they drew up the famous "Round
Robin" in which they repeated Roosevelt's warnings. Neither
President McKinley nor the War Department could be deaf to such a
statement as this: "This army must be moved at once or perish. As
the army can be safely moved now, the persons responsible for
preventing such a move will be responsible for the unnecessary
loss of many thousands of lives."

This letter also was immediately published at home, and outcries
of horror and indignation went up. A few sticklers for military
etiquette professed to be astonished that any officer should be
guilty of the insubordination which these letters implied, and,
of course, the blame fell on Roosevelt. The truth is that
Shafter, dismayed at the condition of the Fifth Army, and at his
own inability to make the Government understand the frightful
doom which was impending, deliberately chose Roosevelt to commit
the insubordination; for, as he was a volunteer officer, soon to
be discharged, the act could not harm his future, whereas the
regular officers were not likely to be popular with the War
Department after they had called the attention of the world to
its maleficent incompetence.

Washington heard the shot fired by the Colonel of the Rough
Riders, and without loss of time ordered the Army home. The sick
were transported by thousands to Montauk Point, at the eastern
end of Long Island, where, in spite of the best medical care
which could be improvised, large numbers of them died. But the
Army knew, and the American public knew, that Roosevelt, by his "
insubordination," had saved multitudes of lives. At Montauk Point
he was the most popular man in America.

This concluded Roosevelt's career as a soldier. The experience
introduced to the public those virile qualities of his with which
his friends were familiar. He had not endured the hardships of
ranching and hunting in vain. If life on the Plains democratized
him, life with the Rough Riders did also; indeed, without the
former there would have been no Rough Riders and no Colonel
Roosevelt. He learned not only how to lead a regiment according
to the tactics of that day, but also--and this was far more
important--he learned how disasters and the waste of lives, and
treasure, and the ignominy of a disgracefully managed campaign,
sprang directly from unpreparedness. This burned indelibly into
his memory. It stimulated all his subsequent appeals to make the
Army and Navy large enough for any probable sudden demand upon
them. "America the Unready" had won the war against a decrepit,
impoverished, third-rate power, but had paid for her victory
hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives;
what would the count have mounted to had she been pitted against
a really formidable foe? Would she have won at all against any
enemy fully prepared and of nearly equal strength? Many of us
dismissed Roosevelt's warnings then as the outpourings of a
jingo, of one who loved war for war's sake, and wished to graft
onto the peaceful traditions and standards of our Republic the
militarism of Europe. We misjudged him.


While Roosevelt was at Montauk Point waiting with his regiment to
be mustered out, and cheering up the sick soldiers, he had direct
proof that every war breeds a President. For the politicians went
down to call on him and, although they did not propose that he
should be a candidate for the Presidency--that was not a
Presidential year--they looked him over to see how he would do
for Governor of New York. Since Cleveland set the fashion in
1882, the New York governorship was regarded as the easiest
stepping stone to the Presidency. Roosevelt's popularity was so
great that if the matter had been left in the hands of the
people, he would have been nominated with a rush; but the Empire
State was dominated by Bosses--Senator David B. Hill, the
Democratic State Boss, Senator Thomas C. Platt, the Republican
State Boss, and Richard Croker, Boss of Tammany,--who had
intimate relations with the wicked of both parties, and often
decided an election by throwing their votes or withholding them.

Senator Platt enjoyed, with Senator Quay of Pennsylvania, the
evil reputation of being the most unscrupulous Boss in the United
States. I do not undertake to say whether the palm should go to
him or to Quay, but no one disputes that Platt held New York
State in his hand, or that Quay held Pennsylvania in his. By the
year 1898, both were recognized as representing a type of Boss
that was becoming extinct.

The business-man type, of which Senator Aldrich was a perfect
exponent, was pushing to the front. Quay, greedy of money, had
never made a pretense of showing even a conventional respect for
the Eighth Commandment; Platt, on the other hand, seems not to
have enriched himself by his political deals, but to have taken
his pay in the gratification he enjoyed from wielding autocratic
power. Platt also betrayed that he dated from the last generation
by his religiosity. He used his piety as an elephant uses his
proboscis, to reach about and secure desired objects, large or
small, the trunk of a tree or a bag of peanuts. He was a
Sunday-School teacher and, I believe, a deacon of his church.
Roosevelt says that he occasionally interlarded his political
talk with theological discussion, but that his very dry theology
was wholly divorced from moral implications. The wonderful
chapter on "The New York Governorship," in Roosevelt's
"Autobiography," ought to be read by every American, because it
gives the most remarkable account of the actual working of the
political Machine in a great American State, the disguises that
Machine wore, its absolute unscrupulousness, its wickedness, its
purpose to destroy the ideals of democracy. And Roosevelt's
analysis of Platt may stand alongside of Machiavelli's portraits
of the Italian Bosses four hundred years before--they were not
called Bosses then.

Senator Platt did not wish to have Roosevelt hold the
governorship, or any other office in which the independent young
man might worry the wily old Senator.* But the Republican Party
in New York State happened to be in such a very bad condition
that the likelihood that it would carry the election that autumn
was slight: for the public had temporarily tired of Machine rule.
Platt's managers saw that they must pick out a really strong
candidate and they understood that nobody at that moment could
rival Roosevelt's popularity. So they impressed on Platt that he
must accept the Rough Rider Chief, and Mr. Lemuel Quigg, an
ex-Congressman, a journalist formerly on the New York Tribune, a
stanch Republican, who nevertheless recognized that discretion
and intelligence might sometimes be allowed a voice in Machine
dictation, journeyed to Montauk and had a friendly, frank
conversation with the Colonel.

* Platt and Quay were both born in 1833.

Quigg spoke for nobody but himself; he merely wished to sound
Roosevelt. Roosevelt made no pledges; he defined his general
attitude and wished to understand what the Platt Machine
proposed. Quigg said that Platt admitted that the present
Governor, Black, could not be reelected, but that he had doubts
as to Roosevelt's docility. Republican leaders and local chairmen
in all parts of the State, however, enthusiastically called for
Roosevelt, and Quigg did not wish to have the Republican Party
split into two factions. He believed that Platt would accede if
he could be convinced that Roosevelt would not "make war on him."
Roosevelt, without promising anything, replied that he had no
intention of making "war on Mr. Platt, or on anybody else, if war
could be avoided." He said:

'that what [he] wanted was to be Governor and not a faction
leader; that [he] certainly would confer with the organization
men, as with everybody else who seemed to [him] to have knowledge
of and interest in public affairs, and that as to Mr. Platt and
the organization leaders, [he] would do so in the sincere hope
that there might always result harmony of opinion and purpose;
but that while [he] would try to get on well with the
organization, the organization must with equal sincerity strive
to do what [he] regarded as essential for the public good; and
that in every case, after full consideration of what everybody
had to say who might possess real knowledge of the matter, [he]
should have to act finally as [his] own judgment and conscience
dictated, and administer the State Government as [he] thought it
ought to be administered.' *

* Autobiography, 295.

Having assured Roosevelt that his statements were exactly what
Quigg expected, Quigg returned to New York City, reported his
conversation to Platt, and, in due season, the free citizens of
New York learned that, with Platt's consent, the Colonel of the
Rough Riders would be nominated by the Republican State
Convention for the governorship of New York.

During the campaign, Roosevelt stumped the State at a pace
unknown till then. It was his first real campaign, and he went
from place to place in a special train speaking at every stop
from his car platform or, in the larger towns, staying long
enough to address great audiences out of doors or in the local
theatre. In November, he was elected by a majority of 18,000, a
slender margin as it looks now, but sufficient for its purpose,
and representing a really notable victory, because it had been
expected that the Democrats would beat any other Republican
candidate but him by overwhelming odds. So, after an absence of
fifteen years, he returned to dwell in Albany.

Before he was sworn in as Governor, he had already measured
strength with Senator Platt. The Senator asked him with amiable
condescension whether he had any special friends he would like to
have appointed on the committees. Roosevelt expressed surprise,
supposing that the Speaker appointed committees. Then Platt told
him that the Speaker had not been agreed upon yet, but that of
course he would name the list given to him. Roosevelt understood
the situation, but said nothing. A week later, however, at
another conference, Platt handed him a telegram, in which the
sender accepted with pleasure his appointment as Superintendent
of Public Works. Roosevelt liked this man and thought him honest,
but he did not think him the best person for that particular
work, and he did not intend as Governor to have his appointments
dictated to him, because he would naturally be held responsible
for his appointees. When he told Platt that that man would not
do, the Senator flew into a passion; he had never met such
insubordination before in any public official, and he decided to
fight the issue from the start. Roosevelt did not allow himself
to lose his temper; he was perfectly polite while Platt let loose
his fury; and before they parted Platt understood which was
master. The Governor appointed Colonel Partridge to the position
and, as it had chiefly to do with the canals of the State, it was
most important. In deed, the canal scandals under Roosevelt's
predecessor, Governor Black, had so roused the popular conscience
that it threatened to break down the supremacy of the Republican

Jacob Riis describes Roosevelt's administration as introducing
the Ten Commandments into the government at Albany, and we need
hardly be told that the young Governor applied his usual methods
and promoted his favorite reforms. Finding the Civil Service
encrusted with abuses, he pushed legislation which established a
high standard of reform. The starch which had been taken out of
the Civil Service Law under Governor Black was put back,
stiffened. He insisted on enforcing the Factory Law, for the
protection of operatives; and the law regulating sweat-shops,
which he inspected himself, with Riis for his companion.

Perhaps his hottest battle was over the law to tax corporations
which held public franchises. This touched the owners of street
railways in the cities and towns, and many other corporations
which enjoyed a monopoly in managing quasi-public utilities. "In
politics there is no politics," said that elderly early mentor of
Roosevelt when he first sat in the Assembly. Legislatures existed
simply to do the bidding of Big Business, was the creed of the
men who controlled Big Business. They contributed impartially to
the Republican and Democratic campaign funds. They had Republican
Assemblymen and Democratic Assemblymen in their service, and
their lobbyists worked harmoniously with either party. Merely to
suggest that the special privileges of the corporations might be
open to discussion was sacrilege. No wonder, therefore, that the
holders of public franchises marshaled all their forces against
the Governor.

Boss Platt wrote Roosevelt a letter--one of the sort inspired
more by sorrow than by anger--to the effect that he had been
warned that the Governor was a little loose on the relations of
capital and labor, on trusts and combinations, and, in general,
on the right of a man to run his business as he chose, always
respecting, of course, the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code.
The Senator was shocked and pained to perceive that this warning
had a real basis, and that the Governor's "altruism" in behalf of
the people had led him to urge curtailing the rights of
corporations. Roosevelt, instead of feeling contrite at this
chiding, redoubled his energy. The party managers buried the
bill. Roosevelt then sent a special message, as the New York
Governors are empowered to do. It was laid on the Speaker's desk,
but no notice was taken of it. The next morning he sent this
second message to the Speaker:

'I learn that the emergency message which I sent last evening to
the Assembly on behalf of the Franchise Tax Bill has not been
read. I, therefore, send hereby another. I need not impress upon
the Assembly the need of passing this bill at once .... It
establishes the principle that hereafter corporations holding
franchises from the public shall pay their just share of the
public burden.'*

* Riis, 221.

The Speaker, the Assembly, and the Machine now gave heed. The
corporations saw that it would be suicidal to bring down on
themselves the avalanche of fury which was accumulating. The bill
passed. Roosevelt had set a precedent for controlling corporate

While Roosevelt was accomplishing these very real triumphs for
justice and popular welfare, the professional critics went on
finding fault with him. Although the passage of one bill after
another gave tangible proof that, far from being Platt's "man,"
or the slave of the Machine, he followed his own ideals, did not
satisfy these critics. They suspected that there was some
wickedness behind it, and they professed to be greatly disturbed
that Roosevelt frequently breakfasted or dined with Platt. What
could this mean except that he took his instructions from the
Boss? How could he, who made a pretense of righteousness, consent
to visit the Sunday School political teacher, much less to sit at
the table with him? The doubts and anxieties of these
self-appointed defenders of public morals, and of the Republic
even, found a spokesman in a young journalist who had then come
recently from college. This person, whom we will call X., met Mr.
Roosevelt at a public reception and with the brusqueness, to put
it mildly, of a hereditary reformer, he demanded to know why the
Governor breakfasted and dined with Boss Platt. Mr. Roosevelt
replied, with that courtesy of his which was never more complete
than when it conveyed his sarcasm, that a person in public
office, like himself, was obliged to meet officially all kinds of
men and women, and he added: "Why, Mr. X., I have even dined with
your father." X. did not pursue his investigation, and the
bystanders, who had vague recollections of the father's
misfortunes in Wall Street, thought that the son was a little
indiscreet even for a hereditary reformer. The truth about
Roosevelt's going to Platt and breakfasting with him was very
simple. The Senator spent the week till Friday afternoon in
Washington, then he came to New York for Saturday and Sunday.
Being somewhat infirm, although he was not, as we now reckon, an
old man, he did not care to extend his trip to Albany, and so the
young and vigorous Governor ran down from Albany and, at
breakfast with Platt, discussed New York State affairs. What I
have already quoted indicates, I think, that no body knew better
than the Boss himself that Roosevelt was not his "man."

One other example is too good to omit. The Superintendent of
Insurance was really one of Platt's men, and a person most
grateful to the insurance companies. Governor Roosevelt,
regarding him as unfit, not only declined to reappoint him, but
actually appointed in his stead a superintendent whom Platt and
the insurance companies could not manage, and so hated. Platt
remonstrated. Finding his arguments futile, he broke out in
threats that if his man was not reappointed, he would fight. He
would forbid the Assembly to confirm Roosevelt's candidate.
Roosevelt replied that as soon as the Assembly adjourned, he
should appoint his candidate temporarily. Platt declared that
when it reconvened, the Assembly would throw him out. This did
not, however, frighten Roosevelt, who remarked that, although he
foresaw he should have an uncomfortable time himself, he would
"guarantee to make his opponents more uncomfortable still."

Later that day Platt sent one of his henchmen to deliver an
ultimatum to the Governor. He repeated Platt's threats, but was
unable to make an impression. Roosevelt got up to go. "You know
it means your ruin?" said the henchman solemnly. "Well, we will
see about that," Roosevelt replied, and had nearly reached the
door when the henchman, anxious to give the prospective victim a
last chance, warned him that the Senator would open the fight on
the next day, and keep it up to the bitter end. "Yes," replied
the Governor; "good-night." And he was just going out, when the
henchman rushed after him, calling, "Hold on! We accept. Send in
your nomination. The Senator is very sorry, but will make no
further opposition."* Roosevelt adds that the bluff was carried
through to the limit, but that after it failed, Platt did not
renew his attempt to interfere with him.

* Autobiography, 317.

Nevertheless, Roosevelt made no war on Platt or anybody else,
merely for the fun of it. "We must use the tools we have," said
Lincoln to John Hay; and Lincoln also had many tools which he did
not choose, but which he had to work with. Roosevelt differed
from the doctrinaire reformer, who would sit still and do nothing
unless he had perfectly clean tools and pure conditions to work
with. To do nothing until the millennium came would mean, of
course, that the Machine would pursue its methods undisturbed.
Roosevelt, on the contrary, knew that by cooperating with the
Machine, as far as his conscience permitted, he could reach
results much better than it aimed at.

Here are three of his letters to Platt, written at a time when
the young journalist and the reformers of his stripe shed tears
at the thought that Theodore Roosevelt was the obsequious servant
of Boss Platt.

The first letter refers to Roosevelt's nomination to the Vice
Presidency, a possibility which the public was already
discussing. The last two letters, written after he had been
nominated by the Republicans, relate to the person whom he wished
to see succeed himself as Governor of New York.


February 1, 1900

First, and least important. If you happened to have seen the
Evening Post recently, you ought to be amused, for it is
moralizing with lofty indignation over the cringing servility I
have displayed in the matter of the insurance superintendent. I
fear it will soon take the view that it cannot possibly support
you as long as you associate with me!

Now as to serious matters. I have, of course, done a great deal
of thinking about the Vice-Presidency since the talk I had with
you followed by the letter from Lodge and the visit from Payne,
of Wisconsin. I have been reserving the matter to talk over with
you, but in view of the publication in the Sun this morning, I
would like to begin the conversation, as it were, by just a line
or two now. I need not speak of the confidence I have in the
judgment of you and Lodge, yet I can't help feeling more and more
that the Vice Presidency is not an office in which I could do
anything and not an office in which a man who is still vigorous
and not past middle life has much chance of doing anything. As
you know, I am of an active nature. In spite of all the work and
all the worry, and very largely because of your own constant
courtesy and consideration, my dear Senator,--I have thoroughly
enjoyed being Governor. I have kept every promise, express or
implied, I made on the stump, and I feel that the Republican
Party is stronger before the State because of my incumbency.
Certainly everything is being managed now on a perfectly straight
basis and every office is as clean as a whistle.

Now, I should like to be Governor for another term, especially if
we are able to take hold of the canals in serious shape. But as
Vice President, I don't see there is anything I can do. I would
simply be a presiding officer, and that I should find a bore. As
you know, I am a man of moderate means (although I am a little
better off than the Sun's article would indicate) and I should
have to live very simply in Washington and could not entertain in
any way as Mr. Hobart and Mr. Morton entertained. My children are
all growing up and I find the burden of their education
constantly heavier, so that I am by no means sure that I ought to
go into public life at all, provided some remunerative work
offered itself. The only reason I would like to go on is that as
I have not been a money maker I feel rather in honor bound to
leave my children the equivalent in a way of a substantial sum of
actual achievement in politics or letters. Now, as Governor, I
can achieve something, but as Vice-President I should achieve
nothing. The more I look at it, the less I feel as if the
Vice-Presidency offered anything to me that would warrant my
taking it.

Of course, I shall not say anything until I hear from you, and
possibly not until I see you, but I did want you to know just how
I felt.


Oyster Bay, August 13, 1900

I noticed in Saturday's paper that you had spoken of my
suggesting Judge Andrews. I did not intend to make the suggestion
public, and I wrote you with entire freedom, hoping that perhaps
I could suggest some man who would commend himself to your
judgment as being acceptable generally to the Republican Party. I
am an organization Republican of a very strong type, as I
understand the word "organization," but in trying to suggest a
candidate for Governor, I am not seeking either to put up an
organization or a non-organization man, but simply a first-class
Republican, who will commend himself to all Republicans, and, for
the matter of that, to all citizens who wish good government.
Judge Andrews needs no endorsement from any man living as to his
Republicanism. From the time he was Mayor of Syracuse through his
long and distinguished service on the bench he has been
recognized as a Republican and a citizen of the highest type. I
write this because your interview seems to convey the impression,
which I am sure you did not mean to convey, that in some way my
suggestions are antagonistic to the organization. I do not
understand quite what you mean by the suggestion of my friends,
for I do not know who the men are to whom you thus refer, nor why
they are singled out for reference as making any suggestions
about the Governorship.

In your last interview, I understood that you wished me to be
back in the State at the time of the convention. As I wish to be
able to give the nominee hearty and effective support, this
necessarily means that I do have a great interest in whom is


Oyster Bay, August 20, 1900

I have your letter of the 16th. I wish to see a straight
Republican nomination for the governorship. The men whom I have
mentioned, such as ex-Judge Andrews and Secretary Root, are as
good Republicans as can be found in the State, and I confess I
haven't the slightest idea what you mean when you say, "if we are
to lower the standard and nominate such men as you suggest, we
might as well die first as last." To nominate such. a man as
either of these is to raise the standard; to speak of it as
lowering the standard is an utter misuse of words.

You say that we must nominate some Republican who "will carry out
the wishes of the organization," and add that "I have not yet
made up my mind who that man is." Of one thing I am certain,
that, to have it publicly known that the candidate, whoever he
may be, "will carry out the wishes of the organization," would
insure his defeat; for such a statement implies that he would
merely register the decrees of a small body of men inside the
Republican Party, instead of trying to work for the success of
the party as a whole and of good citizenship generally. It is not
the business of a Governor to "carry out the wishes of the
organization" unless these wishes coincide with the good of the
Party and of the State. If they do, then he ought to have them
put into effect; if they do not, then as a matter of course he
ought to disregard them. To pursue any other course would be to
show servility; and a servile man is always an undesirable--not
to say a contemptible--public servant. A Governor should, of
course, try in good faith to work with the organization; but
under no circumstances should he be servile to it, or "carry out
its wishes" unless his own best judgment is that they ought to be
carried out. I am a good organization man myself, as I understand
the word "organization," but it is in the highest degree foolish
to make a fetish of the word "organization" and to treat any man
or any small group of men as embodying the organization. The
organization should strive to give effective, intelligent, and
honest leadership to and representation of the Republican Party,
just as the Republican Party strives to give wise and upright
government to the State. When what I have said ceases to be true
of either organization or party, it means that the organization
or party is not performing its duty, and is losing the reason for
its existence.*

* Washburn, 34-38.

Roosevelt's independence as Governor of New York, and the very
important reforms which, in spite of the Machine, he had driven
through, greatly increased his personal popularity throughout the
country. To citizens, East and West, who knew nothing about the
condition of the factories, canals, and insurance institutions in
New York State, the name "Roosevelt" stood for a man as honest as
he was energetic, and as fearless as he was true. Platt and the
Machine naturally wished to get rid of this marplot, who could
not be manipulated, who held strange and subversive ideas as to
the extent to which the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code
should be allowed to encroach on politics and Big Business, and
who was hopelessly "altruistic" in caring for the poor and down
trodden and outcast. Even Platt knew that, while it would not be
safe for him to try to dominate the popular hero against his own
preference and that of the public, still to shelve Roosevelt in
the office of Vice-President would bring peace to the sadly
disturbed Boss, and would restore jobs to many of his greedy
followers. So he talked up the Vice-Presidency for Roosevelt, and
he let the impression circulate that in the autumn there would be
a new Governor.

Roosevelt, however, repeated to many persons the views he wrote
to Platt in the letter quoted above, and his friends and
opponents both understood that he wished to continue as Governor
for another two years, to carry on the fight against corruption,
and to save himself from being laid away in the Vice
Presidency--the receiving-tomb of many ambitious politicians. In
spite of the fact that within thirty-five years, by the
assassination of two Presidents, two Vice-Presidents had
succeeded to the highest office in the Nation, Vice-Presidents
were popularly regarded as being mere phantoms without any real
power or influence as long as their term lasted, and cut off from
all hopes in the future. Roosevelt himself had this notion. But
the Presidential conventions, with criminal disregard of the
qualifications of a candidate to perform the duties of President
if accident thrust them upon him, went on recklessly nominating
nonentities for Vice-President.

The following extract from a confidential letter by John Hay,
Secretary of State, to Mr. Henry White, at the American Embassy
in London, reveals the attitude towards Roosevelt of the
Administration itself. Allowance must be made, of course, for
Hay's well-known habit of persiflage:


Teddy has been here: have you heard of it? It was more fun than a
goat. He came down with a sombre resolution thrown on his
strenuous brow to let McKinley and Hanna know once for all that
he would not be Vice-President, and found to his stupefaction
that nobody in Washington, except Platt, had ever dreamed of such
a thing. He did not even have a chance to launch his nolo
episcopari at the Major. That statesman said he did not want him
on the ticket--that he would be far more valuable in New York--
and Root said, with his frank and murderous smile, "Of course
not--you're not fit for it." And so he went back quite eased in
his mind, but considerably bruised in his amour propre.

In February, Roosevelt issued a public notice that he would not
consent to run for the Vice-Presidency, and throughout the
spring, until the meeting of the Republican Convention in
Philadelphia, on June 21st, he clung to that determination.
Platt, anxious lest Roosevelt should be reelected Governor
against the plans of the Machine, quietly--worked up a "boom" for
Roosevelt's nomination as Vice-President; and he connived with
Quay to steer the Pennsylvania delegation in the same direction.
The delegates met and renominated McKinley as a matter of course.
Then, with irresistible pressure, they insisted on nominating
Roosevelt. Swept off his feet, and convinced that the demand came
genuinely from representatives from all over the country, he
accepted, and was chosen by acclamation. The Boss-led delegations
from New York and Pennsylvania added their votes to those of the
real Roosevelt enthusiasts.

Happy, pious Tom Platt, relieved from the nightmare of having to
struggle for two years more with a Reform Governor at Albany!
Some of Roosevelt's critics construed his yielding, at the last
moment, as evidence of his being ruled by Platt after all. But
this insinuation collapsed as soon as the facts were known. As an
episode in the annals of political sport, I should like to have
had Roosevelt run for Governor a second time, defy Platt and all
his imps, and be reelected.

As I have just quoted Secretary Hay's sarcastic remarks on the
possibility that Roosevelt might be the candidate for
Vice-President, I will add this extract from Hay's note to the
successful candidate himself, dated June 21st:

As it is all over but the shouting, I take a moment of this cool
morning of the longest day in the year to offer you my cordial
congratulations .... You have received the greatest compliment
the country could pay you, and although it was not precisely what
you and your friends desire, I have no doubt it is all for the
best. Nothing can keep you from doing good work wherever you
are--nor from getting lots of fun out of it.*

* W. R. Thayer: John Hay, II, 343.

The Presidential campaign which followed, shook the country only
a little less than that of 1896 had done. For William J. Bryan
was again the Democratic candidate, honest money--the gold
against the silver standard--was again the issue--although the
Spanish War had injected Imperialism into the Republican
platform--and the conservative elements were still anxious. The
persistence of the Free Silver heresy and of Bryan's hold on the
popular imagination alarmed them; for it seemed to contradict the
hope implied in Lincoln's saying that you can't fool all the
people all the time. Here was a demagogue, who had been exposed
and beaten four years before, who raised his head--or should I
say his voice?--with increased effrontery and to an equally large
and enthusiastic audience.

Roosevelt took his full share in campaigning for the Republican
ticket. He spoke in the East and in the West, and for the first
time the people of many of the States heard him speak and saw his
actual presence. His attitude as a speaker, his gestures, the way
in which his pent-up thoughts seemed almost to strangle him
before he could utter them, his smile showing the white rows of
teeth, his fist clenched as if to strike an invisible adversary,
the sudden dropping of his voice, and leveling of his forefinger
as he became almost conversational in tone, and seemed to address
special individuals in the crowd before him, the strokes of
sarcasm, stern and cutting, and the swift flashes of humor which
set the great multitude in a roar, became in that summer and
autumn familiar to millions of his countrymen; and the
cartoonists made his features and gestures familiar to many other
millions. On his Western trip, Roosevelt for a companion and
understudy had Curtis Guild, and more than once when Roosevelt
lost his voice completely, Guild had to speak for him. Up to
election day in November, the Republicans did not feel confident,
but when the votes were counted, McKinley had a plurality of over
830,000, and beat Bryan by more than a million.

By an absurd and bungling practice, which obtains in our
political life, the Administration elected in November does not
take office until the following March, an interval which permits
the old Administration, often beaten and discredited, to continue
in office for four months after the people have turned it out. As
we have lately seen, such an Administration does not experience a
death-bed repentance, but employs the moratorium to rivet upon
the country the evil policies which the people have repudiated.
This interval Roosevelt spent in finishing his work as Governor
of New York State, and in removing to Washington. Then he had a
foretaste of the life of inactivity to which the Vice-Presidency
doomed him.

After being sworn in on March 4, 1901, his only stated duty was
to preside over the Senate, but as the Senate did not usually sit
during the hot weather, he had still more leisure thrust upon
him. Of course, he could write, and there never was a time, even
at his busiest, when he had not a book, or addresses, or articles
on the stocks. But writing alone was not now sufficient to
exercise his very vigorous faculties. Perhaps, for the first time
in his life, he may have had a foreboding of what ennui meant. He
consulted Justice White, now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,
whether it would be proper for him to enroll himself as a student
in the Washington Law School. Justice White feared that this
might be regarded as a slight to the dignity of the
Vice-Presidential office, but he told Roosevelt what law-books to
read, and offered to quiz him every Saturday evening. Before
autumn came, however, when they could carry out their plan, a
tragic event altered the course of Roosevelt's career.


During the summer of 1901, the city of Buffalo, New York, held a
Pan-American Exposition. President McKinley visited this and,
while holding a public reception on September 6, he was twice
shot by Leon Czolgosz, a Polish anarchist. When the news reached
him, Roosevelt went straight to Buffalo, to attend to any matters
which the President might suggest; but as the surgeons pronounced
the wounds not fatal nor even dangerous, Roosevelt left with a
light heart, and joined his family at Mount Tahawrus in the
Adirondacks. For several days cheerful bulletins came. Then, on
Friday afternoon the 13th, when the Vice-President and his party
were coming down from a climb to the top of Mount Marcy, a
messenger brought a telegram which read:

The President's condition has changed for the worse.


The climbers on Mount Marcy were fifty miles from the end of the
railroad and ten miles from the nearest telephone at the lower
club-house. They hurried forward on foot, following the trail to
the nearest cottage; where a runner arrived with a message, "Come
at once." Further messages awaited them at the lower club-house.
President McKinley was dying, and Roosevelt must lose no time.
His secretary, William Loeb, telephoned from North Creek, the end
of the railroad, that he had had a locomotive there for hours
with full steam up. So Roosevelt and the driver of his buckboard
dashed on through the night, over the uncertain mountain road,
dangerous even by daylight, at breakneck speed. Dawn was breaking
when they came to North Creek. There, Loeb told him that
President McKinley was dead. Then they steamed back to
civilization as fast as possible, reached the main trunk line,
and sped on to Buffalo without a moment's delay. It was afternoon
when the special train came into the station, and Roosevelt,
having covered the distance of 440 miles from Mount Marcy, was
driven to the house of Ansley Wilcox. Most of the Cabinet had
preceded him to Buffalo, and Secretary Root, the ranking member
present Secretary Hay having remained in Washington asked the
Vice-President to be sworn in at once. Roosevelt replied:

'I shall take the oath of office in obedience to your request,
sir, and in doing so, it shall be my aim to continue absolutely
unbroken the policies of President McKinley for the peace,
prosperity, and honor of our beloved country.'

The oath having been administered, the new President said:

'In order to help me keep the promise I have taken, I would ask
the Cabinet to retain their positions at least for some months to
come. I shall rely upon you, gentlemen, upon your loyalty and
fidelity, to help me.'*

* Washburn, 40.

On September 19, John Hay wrote to his intimate friend, Henry

'I have just received your letter from Stockholm and shuddered at
the awful clairvoyance of your last phrase about Teddy's luck.

Well, he is here in the saddle again. That is, he is in Canton to
attend President McKinley's funeral and will have his first
Cabinet meeting in the White House tomorrow. He came down from
Buffalo Monday night--and in the station, without waiting an
instant, told me I must stay with him that I could not decline
nor even consider. I saw, of course, it was best for him to start
off that way, and so I said I would stay, forever, of course, for
it would be worse to say I would stay a while than it would be to
go out at once. I can still go at any moment he gets tired of me
or when I collapse.'*

* W. R. Thayer: John Hay,II, 268.

Writing to Lady Jeune at this time Hay said:

I think you know Mr. Roosevelt, our new President. He is an old
and intimate friend of mine: a young fellow of infinite dash and

In this manner, "Teddy's luck" brought him into the White House,
as the twenty-sixth President of the United States. Early in the
summer, his old college friend and steadfast admirer, Charles
Washburn, remarked: "I would not like to be in McKinley's shoes.
He has a man of destiny behind him." Destiny is the one artificer
who can use all tools and who finds a short cut to his goal
through ways mysterious and most devious. As I have before
remarked, nothing commonplace could happen to Theodore Roosevelt.
He emerged triumphant from the receiving-vault of the
Vice-Presidency, where his enemies supposed they had laid him
away for good. In ancient days, his midnight dash from Mount
Marcy, and his flight by train across New York State to Buffalo,
would have become a myth symbolizing the response of a hero to an
Olympian summons. If we ponder it well, was it indeed less than

In 1899, Mr. James Bryce, the most penetrating of foreign
observers of American life had said, in words that now seem
prophetic: "Theodore Roosevelt is the hope of American politics."


To understand the work of a statesman we must know something of
the world in which he lived. That is his material, out of which
he tries to embody his ideals as the sculptor carves his out of
marble. We are constantly under the illusions of time. Some
critics say, for instance, that Washington fitted so perfectly
the environment of the American Colonies during the last half of
the eighteenth century, that he was the direct product of that
environment; I prefer to think, however, that he possessed
certain individual traits which, and not the time, made him
George Washington, and would have enabled him to have mastered a
different period if he had been born in it. In like manner,
having known Theodore Roosevelt, I do not believe that he would
have been dumb or passive or colorless or slothful or futile

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