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Theodore Roosevelt and His Times,
a Chronicle of the Progressive Movement

by Harold Howland





There is a line of Browning's that should stand as epitaph for
Theodore Roosevelt: "I WAS EVER A FIGHTER." That was the essence
of the man, that the keynote of his career. He met everything in
life with a challenge. If it was righteous, he fought for it; if
it was evil, he hurled the full weight of his finality against
it. He never capitulated, never sidestepped, never fought foul.
He carried the fight to the enemy.

His first fight was for health and bodily vigor. It began, at the
age of nine. Physically he was a weakling, his thin and
ill-developed body racked with asthma. But it was only the
physical power that was wanting, never the intellectual or the
spiritual. He owed to his father, the first Theodore, the wise
counsel that launched him on his determined contest against ill
health. On the third floor of the house on East Twentieth Street
in New York where he was born, October 27, 1858, his father had
constructed an outdoor gymnasium, fitted with all the usual
paraphernalia. It was an impressive moment, Roosevelt used to say
in later years, when his father first led him into that gymnasium
and said to him, "Theodore, you have the brains, but brains are
of comparatively little use without the body; you have got to
make your body, and it lies with you to make it. It's dull, hard
work, but you can do it." The boy knew that his father was right;
and he set those white, powerful teeth of his and took up the
drudgery of daily, monotonous exercise with bars and rings and
weights. "I can see him now," says his sister, "faithfully going
through various exercises, at different times of the day, to
broaden the chest narrowed by this terrible shortness of breath,
to make the limbs and back strong, and able to bear the weight of
what was coming to him later in life."

All through his boyhood the young Theodore Roosevelt kept up his
fight for strength. He was too delicate to attend school, and was
taught by private tutors. He spent many of his summers, and
sometimes some of the winter months, in the woods of Maine. These
outings he thoroughly enjoyed, but it is certain that the main
motive which sent him into the rough life of the woods to hunt
and tramp, to paddle and row and swing an axe, was the obstinate
determination to make himself physically fit.

His fight for bodily power went on through his college course at
Harvard and during the years that he spent in ranch life in the
West. He was always intensely interested in boxing, although he
was never of anything like championship caliber in the ring. His
first impulse to learn to defend himself with his hands had a
characteristic birth.

During one of his periodical attacks of asthma he was sent alone
to Moosehead Lake in Maine. On the stagecoach that took him the
last stage of the journey he met two boys of about his own age.
They quickly found, he says, in his "Autobiography", that he was
"a foreordained and predestined victim" for their rough teasing,
and they "industriously proceeded to make life miserable" for
their fellow traveler. At last young Roosevelt could endure their
persecutions no loner, and tried to fight. Great was his
discomfiture when he discovered that either of them alone could
handle him "with easy contempt." They hurt him little, but, what
was doubtless far more humiliating, they prevented him from doing
any damage whatever in return.

The experience taught the boy, better than any good advice could
have done, that he must learn to defend himself. Since he had
little natural prowess, he realized that he must supply its place
by training. He secured his father's approval for a course of
boxing lessons, upon which he entered at once. He has described
himself as a "painfully slow and awkward pupil," who worked for
two or three years before he made any perceptible progress.

In college Roosevelt kept at boxing practice. Even in those days
no antagonist, no matter how much his superior, ever made him
"quit." In his ranching days, that training with his fists stood
him in good stead. Those were still primitive days out in the
Dakotas, though now, as Roosevelt has said, that land of the West
has "'gone, gone with the lost Atlantis,' gone to the isle of
ghosts and of strange dead memories." A man needed to be able to
take care of himself in that Wild West then. Roosevelt had many
stirring experiences but only one that he called "serious

He was out after lost horses and came to a primitive little
hotel, consisting of a bar-room, a dining-room, a lean-to
kitchen, and above a loft with fifteen or twenty beds in it. When
he entered the bar-room late in the evening--it was a cold night
and there was nowhere else to go--a would-be "bad man," with a
cocked revolver in each hand, was striding up and down the floor,
talking with crude profanity. There were several bullet holes in
the clock face, at which he had evidently been shooting. This
bully greeted the newcomer as "Four Eyes," in reference to his
spectacles, and announced, "Four Eyes is going to treat."
Roosevelt joined in the laugh that followed and sat down behind
the stove, thinking to escape notice. But the "bad man" followed
him, and in spite of Roosevelt's attempt to pass the matter over
as a joke, stood over him, with a gun in each hand and using the
foulest language. "He was foolish," said Roosevelt, in describing
the incident, "to stand so near, and moreover, his heels were
closer together, so that his position was unstable." When he
repeated his demand that Four Eyes should treat, Roosevelt rose
as if to comply. As he rose he struck quick and hard with his
right fist just to the left side of the point of the jaw, and, as
he straightened up hit with his left, and again with his right.
The bully's guns went off, whether intentionally or involuntarily
no one ever knew. His head struck the corner of the bar as he
fell, and he lay senseless. "When my assailant came to," said
Roosevelt, "he went down to the station and left on a freight."
It was eminently characteristic of Roosevelt that he tried his
best to avoid trouble, but that, when he could not avoid it
honorably, he took care to make it "serious trouble" for the
other fellow.

Even after he became President, Roosevelt liked to box, until an
accident, of which for many years only his intimate friends were
aware, convinced him of the unwisdom of the game for a man of his
age and optical disabilities. A young artillery captain, with
whom he was boxing in the White House, cross-countered him on the
left eye, and the blow broke the little blood-vessels. Ever
afterward, the sight of that eye was dim; and, as he said, "if it
had been the right eye I should have been entirely unable to
shoot." To "a mighty hunter before the Lord" like Theodore
Roosevelt, such a result would have been a cardinal calamity.

By the time his experiences in the West were over, Roosevelt's
fight for health had achieved its purpose. Bill Sewall, the
woodsman who had introduced the young Roosevelt to the life of
the out-of-doors in Maine, and who afterward went out West with
him to take up the cattle business, offers this testimony: "He
went to Dakota a frail young man, suffering from asthma and
stomach trouble. When he got back into the world again, he was as
husky as almost any man I have ever seen who wasn't dependent on
his arms for his livelihood. He weighed one hundred and fifty
pounds, and was clear bone, muscle, and grit."

This battle won by the force of sheer determination, the young
Roosevelt never ceased fighting. He knew that the man who
neglects exercise and training, no matter how perfect his
physical trim, is certain to "go back." One day many years
afterward on Twenty-third Street, on the way back from an Outlook
editorial luncheon, I ran against his shoulder, as one often will
with a companion on crowded city streets, and felt as if it were
a massive oak tree into which I had bumped. Roosevelt the grown
man of hardened physique was certainly a transformation from that
"reed shaken with the wind" of his boyhood days.

When Theodore Roosevelt left Harvard in 1880, he plunged promptly
into a new fight--in the political arena. He had no need to earn
his living; his father had left him enough money to take care of
that. But he had no intention or desire to live a life of
leisure. He always believed that the first duty of a man was to
"pull his own weight in the boat"; and his irrepressible energy
demanded an outlet in hard, constructive work. So he took to
politics, and as a good Republican ("at that day" he said, "a
young man of my bringing up and convictions, could only join the
Republican party") he knocked at the door of the Twenty-first
District Republican Association in the city of New York. His
friends among the New Yorkers of cultivated taste and comfortable
life disapproved of his desire to enter this new environment.
They told him that politics were "low"; that the political
organizations were not run by "gentlemen," and that he would find
there saloonkeepers, horse-car conductors, and similar persons,
whose methods he would find rough and coarse and unpleasant.
Roosevelt merely replied that, if this were the case, it was
those men and not his "silk-stocking" friends who constituted the
governing class--and that he intended to be one of the governing
class himself. If he could not hold his own with those who were
really in practical politics, he supposed he would have to quit;
but he did not intend to quit without making the experiment.

At every step in his career Theodore Roosevelt made friends. He
made them not "unadvisedly or lightly" but with the directness,
the warmth, and the permanence that were inseparable from the
Roosevelt character. One such friend he acquired at this stage of
his progress. In that District Association, from which his
friends had warned him away, he found a young Irishman who had
been a gang leader in the rough-and-tumble politics of the East
Side. Driven by the winter wind of man's ingratitude from Tammany
Hall into the ranks of the opposite party, Joe Murray was at this
time one of the lesser captains in "the Twenty-first" Roosevelt
soon came to like him. He was "by nature as straight a man, as
fearless, and as stanchly loyal," said Roosevelt, "as any one
whom I have ever met, a man to be trusted in any position
demanding courage, integrity, and good faith." The liking was
returned by the eager and belligerent young Irishman, though he
has confessed that he was first led to consider Roosevelt as a
political ally from the point of view of his advantages as a

The year after Roosevelt joined "the governing class" in Morton
Hall, "a large barn-like room over a saloon," with furniture "of
the canonical kind; dingy benches, spittoons, a dais at one end
with a table and chair, and a stout pitcher for iced water, and
on the walls pictures of General Grant, and of Levi P. Morton,"
Joe Murray was engaged in a conflict with "the boss" and wanted a
candidate of his own for the Assembly. He picked out Roosevelt,
because he thought that with him he would be most likely to win.
Win they did; the nomination was snatched away from the boss's
man, and election followed. The defeated boss good-humoredly
turned in to help elect the young silk-stocking who had been the
instrument of his discomfiture.


Roosevelt was twice reelected to the Assembly, the second time in
1883, a year when a Republican success was an outstanding
exception to the general course of events in the State. His
career at Albany was marked by a series of fights for decency and
honesty. Each new contest showed him a fearless antagonist, a
hard hitter, and a man of practical common sense and growing
political wisdom. Those were the days of the famous "black horse
cavalry" in the New York Legislature--a group of men whose votes
could always be counted on by the special interests and those
corporations whose managers proceeded on the theory that the way
to get the legislation they wanted, or to block the legislation
they did not want, was to buy the necessary votes. Perhaps
one-third of the members of the Legislature, according to
Roosevelt's estimate, were purchasable. Others were timid. Others
again were either stupid or honestly so convinced of the
importance of "business" to the general welfare that they were
blind to corporate faults. But Theodore Roosevelt was neither
purchasable, nor timid, nor unable to distinguish between the
legitimate requirements of business and its unjustifiable
demands. He developed as a natural leader of the honest
opposition to the "black horse cavalry."

The situation was complicated by what were known as "strike
bills." These were bills which, if passed, might or might not
have been in the public interest, but would certainly have been
highly embarrassing to the private interests involved. The
purpose of their introduction was, of course, to compel the
corporations to pay bribes to ensure their defeat. Roosevelt had
one interesting and illuminating experience with the "black horse
cavalry." He was Chairman of the Committee on Cities. The
representatives of one of the great railways brought to him a
bill to permit the extension of its terminal facilities in one of
the big cities of the State, and asked him to take charge of it.
Roosevelt looked into the proposed bill and found that it was a
measure that ought to be passed quite as much in the public
interest as is the interest of the railroad. He agreed to stand
sponsor for the bill, provided he were assured that no money
would be used to push it. The assurance was given. When the bill
came before his committee for consideration, Roosevelt found that
he could not get it reported out either favorably or unfavorably.
So he decided to force matters. In accordance with his life-long
practice, he went into the decisive committee meeting perfectly
sure what he was going to do, and otherwise fully prepared.

There was a broken chair in the room, and when he took his seat a
leg of that chair was unobtrusively ready to his hand. He moved
that the bill be reported favorably.

The gang, without debate, voted "No." He moved that it be
reported unfavorably. Again the gang voted "No." Then he put
the bill in his pocket and announced that he proposed to report
it anyhow. There was almost a riot. He was warned that his
conduct would be exposed on the floor of the Assembly. He
replied that in that case he would explain publicly in the
Assembly the reasons which made him believe that the rest of
the committee were trying, from motives of blackmail, to prevent
any report of the bill. The bill was reported without further
protest, and the threatened riot did not come off, partly, said
Roosevelt, "because of the opportune production of the
chair-leg." But the young fighter found that he was no farther
along: the bill slumbered soundly on the calendar, and nothing
that he could do availed to secure consideration of it. At last
the representative of the railroad suggested that some older and
more experienced leader might be able to get the bill passed
where he had failed. Roosevelt could do nothing but assent. The
bill was put in charge of an "old Parliamentary hand," and after
a decent lapse of time, went through without opposition. The
complete change of heart on the part of the black horsemen under
the new leadership was vastly significant. Nothing could be
proved; but much could be surmised.

Another incident of Roosevelt's legislative career reveals the
bull-dog tenacity of the man. Evidence had been procured that a
State judge had been guilty of improper, if not of corrupt,
relations with certain corporate interests. This judge had held
court in a room of one of the "big business" leaders of that
time. He had written in a letter to this financier, "I am
willing to go to the very verge of judicial discretion to serve
your vast interests." There was strong evidence that he had not
stopped at the verge. The blood of the young Roosevelt boiled at
the thought of this stain on the judicial ermine. His party
elders sought patronizingly to reassure him; but he would have
none of it. He rose in the Assembly and demanded the impeachment
of the unworthy judge. With perfect candor and the naked vigor
that in the years to come was to become known the world around he
said precisely what he meant. Under the genial sardonic advice of
the veteran Republican leader, who "wished to give young Mr.
Roosevelt time to think about the wisdom of his course," the
Assembly voted not to take up his "loose charges." It looked like
ignominious defeat. But the next day the young firebrand was back
to the attack again, and the next day, and the next. For eight
days he kept up the fight; each day the reputation of this
contest for a forlorn hope grew and spread throughout the State.
On the eighth day he demanded that the resolution be voted on
again, and the opposition collapsed. Only six votes were cast
against his motion. It is true that the investigation ended in a
coat of whitewash. But the evidence was so strong that no one
could be in doubt that it WAS whitewash. The young legislator,
whose party mentors had seen before him nothing but a ruined
career, had won a smashing moral victory.

Roosevelt was not only a fighter from his first day in public
life to the last, but he was a fighter always against the same
evils. Two incidents more than a quarter of a century apart
illustrate this fact. A bill was introduced in the Assembly in
those earlier days to prohibit the manufacture of cigars in
tenement houses in New York City. It was proposed by the
Cigar-Makers' Union. Roosevelt was appointed one of a committee
of three to investigate the subject. Of the other two members,
one did not believe in the bill but confessed privately that he
must support it because the labor unions were strong in his
district. The other, with equal frankness, confessed that he had
to oppose the bill because certain interests who had a strong
hold upon him disapproved it, but declared his belief that if
Roosevelt would look into the matter he would find that the
proposed legislation was good. Politics, and politicians, were
like that in those days--as perhaps they still are in these. The
young aristocrat, who was fast becoming a stalwart and aggressive
democrat, expected to find himself against the bill; for, as he
has said, the "respectable people" and the "business men" whom he
knew did not believe in such intrusions upon the right even of
workingmen to do what they would with their own. The laissez
faire doctrine of economic life was good form in those days.

But the only member of that committee that approached the
question with an open mind found that his first impressions were
wrong. He went down into the tenement houses to see for himself.
He found cigars being made under conditions that were appalling.
For example, he discovered an apartment of one room in which
three men, two women, and several children--the members of two
families and a male boarder--ate, slept, lived, and made cigars.
"The tobacco was stowed about everywhere, alongside the foul
bedding, and in a corner where there were scraps of food." These
conditions were not exceptional; they were only a little worse
than was usual.

Roosevelt did not oppose the bill; he fought for it and it
passed. Then he appeared before Governor Cleveland to argue for
it on behalf of the Cigar-Makers' Union. The Governor hesitated,
but finally signed it. The Court of Appeals declared it
unconstitutional, in a smug and well-fed decision, which spoke
unctuously of the "hallowed" influences of the "home." It was a
wicked decision, because it was purely academic, and was removed
as far as the fixed stars from the actual facts of life. But it
had one good result. It began the making of Theodore Roosevelt
into a champion of social justice, for, as he himself said, it
was this case which first waked him "to a dim and partial
understanding of the fact that the courts were not necessarily
the best judges of what should be done to better social and
industrial conditions."

When, a quarter, of a century later, Roosevelt left the
Presidency and became Contributing Editor of The Outlook, almost
his first contribution to that journal was entitled "A Judicial
Experience." It told the story of this law and its annullment by
the court. Mr. William Travers Jerome wrote a letter to The
Outlook, taking Roosevelt sharply to task for his criticism of
the court. It fell to the happy lot of the writer as a cub editor
to reply editorially to Mr. Jerome. I did so with gusto and with
particularity. As Mr. Roosevelt left the office on his way to the
steamer that was to take him to Africa to hunt non-political big
game, he said to me, who had seen him only once before: "That was
bully. You have done just what my Cabinet members used to do for
me in Washington. When a question rose that demanded action, I
used to act. Then I would tell Root or Taft to find out and tell
me why what I had done was legal and justified. Well done,
coworker." Is it any wonder that Theodore Roosevelt had made in
that moment another ardent supporter?

Those first years in the political arena were not only a fighting
time, they were a formative time. The young Roosevelt had to
discover a philosophy of political action which would satisfy
him. He speedily found one that suited his temperament and his
keen sense of reality. He found no reason to depart from it to
the day of his death. Long afterward he told his good friend
Jacob Riis how he arrived at it. This was the way of it:

"I suppose that my head was swelled. It would not be strange if
it was. I stood out for my own opinion, alone. I took the best
mugwump stand: my own conscience, my own judgment, were to decide
in all things. I would listen to no argument, no advice. I took
the isolated peak on every issue, and my people left me. When I
looked around, before the session was well under way, I found
myself alone. I was absolutely deserted. The people didn't
understand. The men from Erie, from Suffolk, from anywhere, would
not work with me. 'He won't listen to anybody,' they said, and I
would not. My isolated peak had become a valley; every bit of
influence I had was gone. The things I wanted to do I was
powerless to accomplish. What did I do? I looked the ground over
and made up my mind that there were several other excellent
people there, with honest opinions of the right, even though they
differed from me. I turned in to help them, and they turned to
and gave me a hand. And so we were able to get things done. We
did not agree in all things, but we did in some, and those we
pulled at together. That was my first lesson in real politics. It
is just this: if you are cast on a desert island with only a
screw-driver, a hatchet, and a chisel to make a boat with, why,
go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a
saw, but you haven't. So with men. Here is my friend in Congress
who is a good man, a strong man, but cannot be made to believe in
some things which I trust. It is too bad that he doesn't look at
it as I do, but he DOES NOT, and we have to work together as we
can. There is a point, of course, where a man must take the
isolated peak and break with it all for clear principle, but
until it comes he must work, if he would be of use, with men as
they are. As long as the good in them overbalances the evil, let
him work with that for the best that can be got."

>From the moment that he had learned this valuable lesson--and
Roosevelt never needed to learn a lesson twice--he had his course
in public life marked out before him. He believed ardently in
getting things done. He was no theoretical reformer. He would
never take the wrong road; but, if he could not go as far as he
wanted to along the right road, he would go as far as he could,
and bide his time for the rest. He would not compromise a hair's
breadth on a principle; he would compromise cheerfully on a
method which did not mean surrender of the principle. He
perceived that there were in political life many bad men who were
thoroughly efficient and many good men who would have liked to
accomplish high results but who were thoroughly inefficient. He
realized that if he wished to accomplish anything for the country
his business was to combine decency and efficiency; to be a
thoroughly practical man of high ideals who did his best to
reduce those ideals to actual practice. This was the choice that
he made in those first days, the companionable road of practical
idealism rather than the isolated peak of idealistic

A hard test of his political philosophy came in 1884 just after
he had left the Legislature. He was selected as one of the four
delegates at large from New York to the Republican National
Convention. There he advocated vigorously the nomination of
Senator George F. Edmunds for the Presidency. But the more
popular candidate with the delegates was James G. Blaine.
Roosevelt did not believe in Blaine, who was a politician of the
professional type and who had a reputation that was not
immaculate. The better element among the delegates fought hard
against Blaine's nomination, with Roosevelt wherever the blows
were shrewdest. But their efforts were of no avail. Too many
party hacks had come to the Convention, determined to nominate
Blaine, and they put the slate through with a whoop.

Then, every Republican in active politics who was anything but a
rubber stamp politician had a difficult problem to face. Should
he support Blaine, in whom he could have no confidence and for
whom he could have no respect, or should he "bolt"? A large group
decided to bolt. They organized the Mugwump party--the epithet
was flung at them with no friendly intent by Charles A. Dana of
the New York Sun, but they made of it an honorable title--under
the leadership of George William Curtis and Carl Schurz. Their
announced purpose was to defeat the Republicans, from whose ranks
they had seceded, and in this attempt they were successful.

Roosevelt, however, made the opposite decision. Indeed, he had
made the decision before he entered the Convention. It was
characteristic of him not to wait until the choice was upon him
but to look ahead and make up his mind just which course he would
take if and when a certain contingency arose. I remember that
once in the later days at Oyster Bay he said to me, "They say I
am impulsive. It isn't true. The fact is that on all the
important things that may come up for decision in my life, I have
thought the thing out in advance and know what I will do. So when
the moment comes, I don't have to stop to work it out then. My
decision is already made. I have only to put it into action. It
looks like impulsiveness. It is nothing of the sort."

So, in 1884, when Roosevelt met his first problem in national
politics, he already knew what he would do. He would support
Blaine, for he was a party man. The decision wounded many of his
friends. But it was the natural result of his political
philosophy. He believed in political parties as instruments for
securing the translation into action of the popular will. He
perceived that the party system, as distinguished from the group
system of the continental peoples, was the Anglo-Saxon, the
American way of doing things. He wanted to get things done. There
was only one thing that he valued more than achievement and that
was the right. Therefore, until it became a clean issue between
right and wrong, he would stick to the instrument which seemed to
him the most efficient for getting things done. So he stuck to
his party, in spite of his distaste for its candidate, and saw it
go down in defeat.

Roosevelt never changed his mind about this important matter. He
was a party man to the end. In 1912 he left his old party on what
he believed to be--and what was--a naked moral issue. But he did
not become an independent. He created a new party.


The four years after the Cleveland-Blaine campaign were divided
into two parts for Roosevelt by another political experience,
which also resulted in defeat. He was nominated by the
Republicans and a group of independents for Mayor of New York.
His two opponents were Abram S. Hewitt, a business man of
standing who had been inveigled, no one knows how, into lending
respectability to the Tammany ticket in a critical moment, and
Henry George, the father of the Single Tax doctrine, who had been
nominated by a conference of some one hundred and seventy-five
labor organizations. Roosevelt fought his best on a personal
platform of "no class or caste" but "honest and economical
government on behalf of the general wellbeing." But the
inevitable happened. Tammany slipped in between its divided
enemies and made off with the victory.

The rest of the four years he spent partly in ranch life out in
the Dakotas, partly in writing history and biography at home and
in travel. The life on the ranch and in the hunting camps
finished the business, so resolutely begun in the outdoor
gymnasium on Twentieth Street, of developing a physical equipment
adequate for any call he could make upon it. This sojourn on the
plains gave him, too, an intimate knowledge of the frontier type
of American. Theodore Roosevelt loved his fellow men. What is
more, he was always interested in them, not abstractly and in the
mass, but concretely and in the individual. He believed in them.
He knew their strength and their virtues, and he rejoiced in
them. He realized their weaknesses and their softnesses and
fought them hard. It was all this that made him the thoroughgoing
democrat that he was. "The average American," I have heard him
say a hundred times to all kinds of audiences,"is a pretty good
fellow, and his wife is a still better fellow." He not only
enjoyed those years in the West to the full, but he profited by
them as well. They broadened and deepened his knowledge of what
the American people were and meant. They made vivid to him the
value of the simple, robust virtues of self-reliance, courage,
self-denial, tolerance, and justice. The influence of those
hard-riding years was with him as a great asset to the end of his

In the Presidential campaign of 1888, Roosevelt was on the firing
line again, fighting for the Republican candidate, Benjamin
Harrison. When Mr. Harrison was elected, he would have liked to
put the young campaigner into the State Department. But Mr.
Blaine, who became Secretary of State, did not care to have his
plain-spoken opponent and critic under him. So the President
offered Roosevelt the post of Civil Service Commissioner.

The spoils system had become habitual and traditional in American
public life by sixty years of practice. It had received its first
high sanction in the cynical words of a New York politician, "To
the victor belong the spoils." Politicians looked upon it as a
normal accompaniment of their activities. The public looked upon
it with indifference. But finally a group of irrepressible
reformers succeeded in getting the camel's nose under the flap of
the tent. A law was passed establishing a Commission which was to
introduce the merit system. But even then neither the politicians
nor the public, nor the Commission itself, took the matter very
seriously. The Commission was in the habit of carrying on its
functions perfunctorily and unobtrusively. But nothing could be
perfunctory where Roosevelt was. He would never permit things to
be done--or left undone unobtrusively, when what was needed was
to obtrude the matter forcibly on the public mind. He was a
profound believer in the value of publicity.

When Roosevelt became Commissioner things began swiftly to
happen. He had two firm convictions: that laws were made to be
enforced, in the letter and in the spirit; and that the only
thing worth while in the world was to get things done. He
believed with a hot conviction in decency, honesty, and
efficiency in public as in private life.

For six years he fought and infused his fellow Commissioners with
some of his fighting spirit. They were good men but easy-going
until the right leadership came along. The first effort of the
Commission under the new leadership was to secure the genuine
enforcement of the law. The backbone of the merit system was the
competitive examination. This was not because such examinations
are the infallible way to get good public servants, but because
they are the best way that has yet been devised to keep out bad
public servants, selected for private reasons having nothing to
do with the public welfare. The effort to make these examinations
and the subsequent appointments of real service to the nation
rather than to the politicians naturally brought the Commission
into conflict with many men of low ideals, both in Congress and
without. Roosevelt found a number of men in Congress--like
Senator Lodge, Senator Davis of Minnesota, Senator Platt of
Connecticut, and Congressman (afterward President) McKinley--who
were sincerely and vigorously opposed to the spoils system. But
there were numbers of other Senators and Congressmen who hated
the whole reform--everything connected with it and everybody who
championed it. "Sometimes," Roosevelt said of these men, "to use
a legal phrase, their hatred was for cause, and sometimes it was
peremptory--that is, sometimes the Commission interfered with
their most efficient, and incidentally most corrupt and
unscrupulous supporters, and at other times, where there was no
such interference, a man nevertheless had an innate dislike of
anything that tended to decency in government."

Conflict with these men was inevitable. Sometimes their
opposition took the form of trying to cut down the appropriation
for the Commission.

Then the Commission, on Roosevelt's suggestion, would try the
effect of holding no examinations in the districts of the
Senators or Congressmen who had voted against the appropriation.
The response from the districts was instantaneous. Frantic
appeals came to the Commission from aspirants for office. The
reply would be suave and courteous. One can imagine Roosevelt
dictating it with a glint in his eye and a snap of the jaw, and
when it was typed, inserting a sting in the tail in the form of
an interpolated sentence in his own vigorous and rugged script.
Those added sentences, without which any typewritten Roosevelt
letter might almost be declared to be a forgery, so uniformly did
the impulse to add them seize him, were always the most
interesting feature of a communication from him. The letter would
inform the protesting one that unfortunately the appropriation
had been cut, so that examinations could not be held in every
district, and that obviously the Commission could not neglect the
districts of those Congressmen who believed in the reform and
therefore in the examinations. The logical next step for the
hungry aspirant was to transfer the attack to his Congressman or
Senator. In the long run, by this simple device of backfiring,
which may well have been a reminiscence of prairie fire days in
the West, the Commission obtained enough money to carry on.

There were other forms of attack tried by the spoils-loving
legislators. One was investigation by a congressional committee.
But the appearance of Roosevelt before such an investigating body
invariably resulted in a "bully time" for him and a peculiarly
disconcerting time for his opponents.

One of the Republican floor leaders in the House in those days
was Congressman Grosvenor from Ohio. In an unwary moment Mr.
Grosvenor attacked the Commission on the floor of the House in
picturesque fashion. Roosevelt promptly asked that Mr. Grosvenor
be invited to meet him before a congressional committee which was
at that moment investigating the activities of the Commission.
The Congressman did not accept the invitation until he heard that
Roosevelt was leaving Washington for his ranch in the West. Then
he notified the committee that he would be glad to meet
Commissioner Roosevelt at one of its sessions. Roosevelt
immediately postponed his journey and met him. Mr. Grosvenor,
says Roosevelt in his Autobiography, "proved to be a person of
happily treacherous memory, so that the simple expedient of
arranging his statements in pairs was sufficient to reduce him to
confusion." He declared to the committee, for instance, that he
did not want to repeal the Civil Service Law and had never said
so. Roosevelt produced one of Mr. Grosvenor's speeches in which
he had said, "I will not only vote to strike out this provision,
but I will vote to repeal the whole law." Grosvenor declared that
there was no inconsistency between these two statements. At
another point in his testimony, he asserted that a certain
applicant for office, who had, as he put it, been fraudulently
credited to his congressional district, had never lived in that
district or in Ohio, so far as he knew. Roosevelt brought forth a
letter in which the Congressman himself had categorically stated
that the man in question was not only a legal resident of his
district but was actually living there then. He explained, says
Roosevelt, "first, that he had not written the letter; second,
that he had forgotten he had written the letter; and, third, that
he was grossly deceived when he wrote it." Grosvenor at length
accused Roosevelt of a lack of humor in not appreciating that his
statements were made "in a jesting way," and declared that "a
Congressman making a speech on the floor of the House of
Representatives was perhaps in a little different position from a
witness on the witness stand." Finally he rose with dignity and,
asserting his constitutional right not to be questioned elsewhere
as to what he said on the floor of the House, withdrew, leaving
Roosevelt and the Committee equally delighted with the opera
bouffe in which he had played the leading part.

In the Roosevelt days the Commission carried on its work, as of
course it should, without thought of party. It can be imagined
how it made the "good" Republicans rage when one of the results
of the impartial application system was to put into office from
the Southern States a hundred or two Democrats. The critics of
the Commission were equally non-partisan; there was no politics
in spoilsmanship. The case of Mr. Grosvenor was matched by that
of Senator Gorman of Maryland, the Democratic leader in the
Senate. Mr. Gorman told upon the floor of the Senate the
affecting story of "a bright young man from Baltimore," a Sunday
School scholar, well recommended by his pastor, who aspired to be
a letter carrier. He appeared before the Commission for
examination, and, according to Mr. Gorman, he was first asked to
describe the shortest route from Baltimore to China. The "bright
young man" replied brightly, according to Mr. Gorman, that he
didn't want to go from Baltimore to China, and therefore had
never concerned himself about the choice of routes. He was then
asked, according to Mr. Gorman, all about the steamship lines
from America to Europe; then came questions in geology, and
finally in chemistry. The Commission thereupon turned the bright
young applicant down. The Senator's speech was masterly. It must
have made the spoilsmen chuckle and the friends of civil service
reform squirm. It had neither of these effects on Roosevelt. It
merely exploded him into action like a finger on a hair-trigger.
First of all, he set about hunting down the facts. Facts were his
favorite ammunition in a fight. They have such a powerful punch.
A careful investigation of all the examination papers which the
Commission had set revealed not a single question like those from
which the "bright young man," according to Mr. Gorman, had
suffered. So Roosevelt wrote to the Senator asking for the name
of the" bright young man." There was no response. He also asked,
in case Mr. Gorman did not care to reveal his identity, the date
of the examination. Still no reply. Roosevelt offered to give to
any representative whom Mr. Gorman would send to the Commission's
offices all the aid he could in discovering in the files any such
questions. The offer was ignored. But the Senator expressed
himself as so shocked at this doubting of the word of his
brilliant protege that he was unable to answer the letter at all.

Roosevelt thereupon announced publicly that no such questions had
ever been asked. Mr. Gorman was gravely injured by the whole
incident. Later he declared in the Senate that he had received a
"very impudent letter" from the young Commissioner, and that he
had been "cruelly" called to account because he had tried to
right a "great wrong" which the Commission had committed.
Roosevelt's retort was to tell the whole story publicly, closing
with this delightful passage:

"High-minded, sensitive Mr. Gorman. Clinging, trustful Mr.
Gorman. Nothing could shake his belief in the "bright young man."
Apparently he did not even try to find out his name--if he had a
name; in fact, his name like everything else about him, remains
to this day wrapped in the Stygian mantle of an abysmal mystery.
Still less has Mr. Gorman tried to verify the statements made to
him. It is enough for him that they were made. No harsh
suspicion, no stern demand for evidence or proof, appeals to his
artless and unspoiled soul. He believes whatever he is told, even
when he has forgotten the name of the teller, or never knew it.
It would indeed be difficult to find an instance of a more
abiding confidence in human nature--even in anonymous human
nature. And this is the end of the tale of the Arcadian Mr.
Gorman and his elusive friend, the bright young man without a

Even so near the beginning of his career, Roosevelt showed
himself perfectly fearless in attack. He would as soon enter the
lists against a Senator as a Congressman, as soon challenge a
Cabinet member as either. He did not even hesitate to make it
uncomfortable for the President to whom he owed his continuance
in office. His only concern was for the honor of the public
service which he was in office to defend.

One day he appeared at a meeting of the Executive Committee of
the Civil Service Reform Association. George William Curtis was
presiding, and Roosevelt's old friend, George Haven Putnam, who
tells the story, was also present. Roosevelt began by hurling a
solemn but hearty imprecation at the head of the Postmaster
General. He went on to explain that his explosive wrath was due
to the fact that that particular gentleman was the most
pernicious of all the enemies of the merit system. It was one of
the functions of the Civil Service Commission, as Roosevelt saw
it, to put a stop to improper political activities by Federal
employees. Such activities were among the things that the Civil
Service law was intended to prevent. They strengthened the hands
of the political machines and the bosses, and at the same time
weakened the efficiency of the service. Roosevelt had from time
to time reported to the Postmaster General what some of the Post
Office employees were doing in political ways to the detriment of
the service. His account of what happened was this:

"I placed before the Postmaster-General sworn statements in
regard to these political activities and the only reply I could
secure was, 'This is all second-hand evidence.' Then I went up to
Baltimore at the invitation of our good friend, a member of the
National Committee, Charles J. Bonaparte. Bonaparte said that he
could bring me into direct touch with some of the matters
complained about. He took me to the primary meetings with some
associate who knew by name the carriers and the customs
officials. I was able to see going on the work of political
assessments, and I heard the instructions given to the carriers
and others in regard to the moneys that they were to collect. I
got the names of some of these men recorded in my memorandum
book. I then went back to Washington, swore myself in as a
witness before myself as Commissioner, and sent the sworn
statement to the Postmaster-General with the word, "This at least
is firsthand evidence." I still got no reply, and after waiting a
few days, I put the whole material before the President with a
report. This report has been pigeonholed by the President, and I
have now come to New York to see what can be done to get the
evidence before the public. You will understand that the head of
a department, having made a report to the President, can do
nothing further with the material until the President permits."

Roosevelt went back to Washington with the sage advice to ask the
Civil Service Committee of the House to call upon him to give
evidence in regard to the working of the Civil Service Act. He
could then get into the record his first-hand evidence as well as
a general statement of the bad practices which were going on.
This evidence, when printed as a report of the congressional
committee, could be circulated by the Association. Roosevelt
bettered the advice by asking to have the Postmaster General
called before the committee at the same time as himself. This was
done, but that timid politician replied to the Chairman of the
committee that "he would hold himself at the service of the
Committee for any date on which Mr. Roosevelt was not to be
present." The politicians with uneasy consciences were getting a
little wary about face-to-face encounters with the young fighter.
Nevertheless Roosevelt's testimony was given and circulated
broadcast, as Major Putnam writes, "much to the dissatisfaction
of the Postmaster General and probably of the President."

The six years which Roosevelt spent on the Civil Service
Commission were for him years of splendid training in the methods
and practices of political life. What he learned then stood him
in good stead when he came to the Presidency. Those years of
Roosevelt's gave an impetus to the cause of civil reform which
far surpassed anything it had received until his time. Indeed, it
is probably not unfair to say that it has received no greater
impulse since.


In 1895, at the age of thirty-six, Roosevelt was asked by Mayor
Strong of New York City, who had just been elected on an
anti-Tammany ticket, to become a member of his Administration.
Mayor Strong wanted him for Street Cleaning Commissioner.
Roosevelt definitely refused that office, on the ground that he
had no special fitness for it, but accepted readily the Mayor's
subsequent proposal that he should become President of the Police
Commission, knowing that there was a job that he could do.

There was plenty of work to be done in the Police Department. The
conditions under which it must be done were dishearteningly
unfavorable. In the first place, the whole scheme of things was
wrong. The Police Department was governed by one of those
bi-partisan commissions which well-meaning theorists are wont
sometimes to set up when they think that the important thing in
government is to have things arranged so that nobody can do
anything harmful. The result often is that nobody can do anything
at all. There were four Commissioners, two supposed to belong to
one party and two to the other. There was also a Chief of Police,
appointed by the Commission, who could not be removed without a
trial subject to review by the courts. The scheme put a premium
on intriguing and obstruction. It was far inferior to the present
plan of a single Commissioner with full power, subject only to
the Mayor who appoints him.

But there is an interesting lesson to be learned from a
comparison between the New York Police Department as it is today
and as it was twenty-five years ago. Then the scheme of
organization was thoroughly bad--and the department was at its
high-water mark of honest and effective activity. Now the scheme
of organization is excellent--but the less said about the way it
works the better. The answer to the riddle is this: today the New
York police force is headed by Tammany; the name of the
particular Tammany man who is Commissioner does not matter. In
those days the head was Roosevelt.

There were many good men on the force then as now. What Roosevelt
said of the men of his time is as true today: "There are no
better men anywhere than the men of the New York police force;
and when they go bad it is because the system is wrong, and
because they are not given the chance to do the good work they
can do and would rather do." The first fight that Roosevelt found
on his hands was to keep politics and every kind of favoritism
absolutely out of the force. During his six years as Civil
Service Commissioner he had learned much about the way to get
good men into the public service. He was now able to put his own
theories into practice. His method was utterly simple and
incontestably right. "As far as was humanly possible, the
appointments and promotions were made without regard to any
question except the fitness of the man and the needs of the
service." That was all. "We paid," he said, "not the slightest
attention to a man's politics or creed, or where he was born, so
long as he was an American citizen." But it was not easy to
convince either the politicians or the public that the Commission
really meant what it said. In view of the long record of
unblushing corruption in connection with every activity in the
Police Department, and of the existence, which was a matter of
common knowledge, of a regular tariff for appointments and
promotions, it is little wonder that the news that every one on,
or desiring to get on, the force would have a square deal was
received with scepticism. But such was the fact. Roosevelt
brought the whole situation out into the open, gave the widest
possible publicity to what the Commission was doing, and went
hotly after any intimation of corruption.

One secret of his success here as everywhere else was that he did
things himself. He knew things of his own knowledge. One evening
he went down to the Bowery to speak at a branch of the Young
Men's Christian Association. There he met a young Jew, named
Raphael, who had recently displayed unusual courage and physical
prowess in rescuing women and children from a burning building.
Roosevelt suggested that he try the examination for entrance to
the force. Young Raphael did so, was successful, and became a
policeman of the best type. He and his family, said Roosevelt,
"have been close friends of mine ever since." Another comment
which he added is delicious and illuminating: "To show our
community of feeling and our grasp of the facts of life, I may
mention that we were almost the only men in the Police Department
who picked Fitzsimmons as a winner against Corbett." There is
doubtless much in this little incident shocking to the
susceptibilities of many who would consider themselves among the
"best" people. But Roosevelt would care little for that. He was a
real democrat; and to his great soul there was nothing either
incongruous or undesirable in having--and in admitting that he
had--close friends in an East Side Jewish family just over from
Russia. He believed, too, in "the strenuous life," in boxing and
in prize fighting when it was clean. He could meet a subordinate
as man to man on the basis of such a personal matter as their
respective judgment of two prize fighters, without relaxing in
the slightest degree their official relations. He was a man of
realities, who knew how to preserve the real distinctions of life
without insisting on the artificial ones.

One of the best allies that Roosevelt had was Jacob A. Riis, that
extraordinary man with the heart of a child, the courage of a
lion, and the spirit of a crusader, who came from Denmark as an
immigrant, tramped the streets of New York and the country roads
without a place to lay his head, became one of the best police
reporters New York ever knew, and grew to be a flaming force for
righteousness in the city of his adoption. His book, "How the
Other Half Lives", did more to clean up the worst slums of the
city than any other single thing. When the book appeared,
Roosevelt went to Mr. Riis's office, found him out, and left a
card which said simply, "I have read your book. I have come down
to help." When Roosevelt became Police Commissioner, Riis was in
the Tribune Police Bureau in Mulberry Street, opposite Police
Headquarters, already a well valued friend. Roosevelt took him
for guide, and together they tramped about the dark spots of the
city in the night hours when the underworld slips its mask and
bares its arm to strike. Roosevelt had to know for himself. He
considered that he had two duties as Police Commissioner: one to
make the police force an honest and effective public servant; the
other to use his position "to help in making the city a better
place in which to live and work for those to whom the conditions
of life and labor were hardest." These night wanderings of
"Haroun al Roosevelt," as some one successfully ticketed him in
allusion to the great Caliph's similar expeditions, were
powerful aids to the tightening up of discipline and to the
encouragement of good work by patrolmen and roundsmen. The
unfaithful or the easy-going man on the beat, who allowed himself
to be beguiled by the warmth and cheer of a saloon back-room, or
to wander away from his duty for his own purposes, was likely to
be confronted by the black slouch hat and the gleaming spectacles
of a tough-set figure that he knew as the embodiment of
relentless justice. But the faithful knew no less surely that he
was their best friend and champion.

In the old days of "the system," not only appointment to the
force and promotion, but recognition of exceptional achievement
went by favor. The policeman who risked his life in the pursuit
of duty and accomplished some big thing against great odds could
not be sure of the reward to which he was entitled unless he had
political pull. It was even the rule in the Department that the
officer who spoiled his uniform in rescuing man, woman, or child
from the waters of the river must get a new one at his own
expense. "The system" knew neither justice nor fair play. It knew
nothing but the cynical phrase of Richard Croker, Tammany Hall's
famous boss, "my own pocket all the time." But Roosevelt changed
all that. He had not been in Mulberry Street a month before that
despicable rule about the uniform was blotted out. His whole term
of office on the Police Board was marked by acts of recognition
of bravery and faithful service. Many times he had to dig the
facts out for himself or ran upon them by accident. There was no
practice in the Department of recording the good work done by the
men on the force so that whoever would might read.

Roosevelt enjoyed this part of his task heartily. He believed
vigorously in courage, hardihood, and daring. What is more, he
believed with his whole soul in men. It filled him with pure joy
when he discovered a man of the true stalwart breed who held his
own life as nothing when his duty was at stake.

During his two years' service, he and his fellow Commissioners
singled out more than a hundred men for special mention because
of some feat of heroism. Two cases which he describes in his
"Autobiography" are typical of the rest. One was that of an old
fellow, a veteran of the Civil War, who was a roundsman.
Roosevelt noticed one day that he had saved a woman from drowning
and called him before him to investigate the matter. The veteran
officer was not a little nervous and agitated as he produced his
record. He had grown gray in the service and had performed feat
after feat of heroism; but his complete lack of political backing
had kept him from further promotion. In twenty-two years on the
force he had saved some twenty-five persons from drowning, to say
nothing of rescuing several from burning buildings. Twice
Congress had passed special acts to permit the Secretary of the
Treasury to give him a medal for distinguished gallantry in
saving life. He had received other medals from the Life Saving
Society and from the Police Department itself. The one thing that
he could not achieve was adequate promotion, although his record
was spotless. When Roosevelt's attention was attracted to him, he
received his promotion then and there. "It may be worth
mentioning," says Roosevelt, "that he kept on saving life after
he was given his sergeantcy."

The other case was that of a patrolman who seemed to have fallen
into the habit of catching burglars. Roosevelt noticed that he
caught two in successive weeks, the second time under unusual
conditions. The policeman saw the burglar emerging from a house
soon after midnight and gave chase. The fugitive ran toward Park
Avenue. The New York Central Railroad runs under that avenue, and
there is a succession of openings in the top of the tunnel. The
burglar took a desperate chance by dropping through one of the
openings, at the imminent risk of breaking his neck. "Now the
burglar," says Roosevelt, "was running for his liberty, and it
was the part of wisdom for him to imperil life and limb; but the
policeman was merely doing his duty, and nobody could have blamed
him for not taking the jump. However, he jumped; and in this
particular case the hand of the Lord was heavy upon the
unrighteous. The burglar had the breath knocked out of him, and
the 'cop' didn't. When his victim could walk, the officer trotted
him around to the station house." When Roosevelt had discovered
that the patrolman's record showed him to be sober, trustworthy,
and strictly attentive to duty, he secured his promotion at once.

So the Police Commission, during those two years, under the
driving force of Roosevelt's example and spirit, went about the
regeneration of the force whose former proud title of "The
Finest" had been besmirched by those who should have been its
champions and defenders. Politics, favoritism, and corruption
were knocked out of the department with all the thoroughness that
the absurd bipartisan scheme of administration would permit.

The most spectacular fight of all was against the illegal
operations of the saloons. The excise law forbade the sale of
liquor on Sunday. But the police, under orders from "higher up,"
enforced the law with discretion. The saloons which paid
blackmail, or which enjoyed the protection of some powerful
Tammany chieftain, sold liquor on Sunday with impunity. Only
those whose owners were recalcitrant or without influence were
compelled to obey the law.

Now a goodly proportion of the population of New York, as of any
great city, objects strenuously to having its personal habits
interfered with by the community. This is just as true now in the
days of prohibition as it was then in the days of "Sunday
closing." So when Roosevelt came into office with the simple,
straightforward conviction that laws on the statute books were
intended to be enforced and proceeded to close all the saloons on
Sunday, the result was inevitable. The professional politicians
foamed at the mouth. The yellow press shrieked and lied. The
saloon-keepers and the sharers of their illicit profits wriggled
and squirmed. But the saloons were closed. The law was enforced
without fear or favor. The Sunday sale of liquor disappeared from
the city, until a complaisant judge, ruling upon the provision of
the law which permitted drink to be sold with a meal, decreed
that one pretzel, even when accompanied by seventeen beers, made
a "meal." No amount of honesty and fearlessness in the
enforcement of the law could prevail against such judicial aid
and comfort to the cause of nullification. The main purpose of
Roosevelt's fight for Sunday closing, the stopping of blackmail,
was, however, achieved. A standard of law enforcement was set
which shows what can be done even with an unpopular law, and in
New York City itself, if the will to deal honestly and without
cowardice is there.

So the young man who was "ever a fighter" went on his way,
fighting evil to the death wherever he found it, achieving
results, making friends eagerly and enemies blithely, learning,
broadening, growing. Already he had made a distinct impression
upon his times.


>From the New York Police Department Roosevelt was called by
President McKinley to Washington in 1897, to become Assistant
Secretary of the Navy. After a year there--the story of which
belongs elsewhere in this volume--he resigned to go to Cuba as
Lieutenant-Colonel of the Rough Riders. He was just as prominent
in that war for liberty and justice as the dimensions of the
conflict permitted. He was accustomed in after years to say with
deprecating humor, when talking to veterans of the Civil War, "It
wasn't much of a war, but it was all the war we had." It made him
Governor of New York.

When he landed with his regiment at Montauk Point from Cuba, he
was met by two delegations. One consisted of friends from his own
State who were political independents; the other came from the
head of the Republican political machine.

Both wanted him as a candidate for Governor. The independents
were anxious to have him make a campaign against the Old Guard of
both the standard parties, fighting Richard Croker, the cynical
Tammany boss, on the one side, and Thomas C. Platt, the "easy
boss" of the Republicans, on the other. Tom Platt did not want
him at all. But he did want to win the election, and he knew that
he must have something superlatively fine to offer, if he was to
have any hope of carrying the discredited Republican party to
victory. So he swallowed whatever antipathy he may have had and
offered the nomination to Roosevelt. This was before the days
when the direct primary gave the plain voters an opportunity to
upset the calculations of a political boss.

Senator Platt's emissary, Lemuel Ely Quigg, in a two hours'
conversation in the tent at Montauk, asked some straight-
from-the-shoulder questions. The answers he received were just as
unequivocal. Mr. Quigg wanted a plain statement as to whether or
not Roosevelt wanted the nomination. He wanted to know what
Roosevelt's attitude would be toward the organization in the
event of his election, whether or not he would "make war" on Mr.
Platt and his friends, or whether he would confer with them and
give fair consideration to their point of view as to party policy
and public interest. In short, he wanted a frank definition of
Roosevelt's attitude towards existing party conditions. He got
precisely that. Here it is, in Roosevelt's own words:

"I replied that I should like to be nominated, and if nominated
would promise to throw myself into the campaign with all possible
energy. I said that I should not make war on Mr. Platt or anybody
else if war could be avoided; that what I wanted was to be
Governor and not a faction leader; that I certainly would confer
with the organization men, as with everybody else who seemed to
me to have knowledge of and interest in public affairs, and that
as to Mr. Platt and the organization leaders, I would do so in
the sincere hope that there might always result harmony of
opinion and purpose; but that while I would try to get on well
with the organization, the organization must with equal sincerity
strive to do what I 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, I should have to act finally as my own judgment and
conscience dictated and administer the State government as I
thought it ought to be administered . . . . I told him to tell
the Senator that while I would talk freely with him, and had no
intention of becoming a factional leader with a personal
organization, yet I must have direct personal relations with
everybody, and get their views at first hand whenever I so
desired, because I could not have one man speaking for all.*

*Autobiography (Scribner), pp. 271-72.

This was straight Roosevelt talk. It was probably the first time
that the "easy boss" had received such a response to his
overtures. History does not record how he liked it; but at least
he accepted it. Subsequent events suggest that he was either
unwilling to believe or incapable of understanding that the
Colonel of the Rough Riders meant precisely what he said. But
Platt found out his mistake. He was not the first or the last
politician to have that experience.

So Roosevelt was nominated, made a gruelling campaign, was
elected by a small but sufficient majority, in a year when any
other Republican candidate would probably have been "snowed
under," and became Governor seventeen years after he entered
public life. He was now forty years old.

The governorship of Theodore Roosevelt was marked by a deal of
fine constructive legislation and administration. But it was even
more notable for the new standard which it set for the
relationship in which the executive of a great State should stand
to his office, to the public welfare, to private interests, and
to the leaders of his party. Before Roosevelt's election there
was need for a revision of the standard. In those days it was
accepted as a matter of course, at least in practice, that the
party boss was the overlord of the constitutional representatives
of the people. Appointments were made primarily for the good of
the party and only incidentally in the public interest. The
welfare of the party was closely bound up with the profit of
special interests, such as public service corporations and
insurance companies. The prevalent condition of affairs was
shrewdly summed up in a satiric paraphrase of Lincoln's
conception of the American ideal: "Government of the people, by
the bosses, for the special interests." The interests naturally
repaid this zealous care for their well-being by contributions to
the party funds.

Platt was one of the most nearly absolute party bosses that the
American system of machine politics has produced. In spite of the
fair warning which he had already received, both directly from
Roosevelt's own words, and indirectly from his whole previous
career, he was apparently surprised and unquestionably annoyed
when he found that he was not to be the new Governor's master.
The trouble began before Roosevelt took office. At a conference
one day Platt asked Roosevelt if there were any members of the
Assembly whom he would like to have assigned to special
committees. Roosevelt was surprised at the question, as he had
not known that the Speaker of the Assembly, who appoints the
committees, had yet been agreed upon by the Assemblymen-elect. He
expressed his surprise. But Mr. Platt enlightened him, saying,
"Of course, whoever we choose as Speaker will agree beforehand to
make the appointments we wish." Roosevelt has recorded the mental
note which he thereupon made, that if they tried the same process
with the Governor-elect they would find themselves mistaken. In a
few days they did try it--and discovered their mistake.

Platt asked Roosevelt to come to see him. The Senator being an
old and physically feeble man, Roosevelt went. Platt handed him a
telegram from a certain man, accepting with pleasure his
appointment as Superintendent of Public Works. This was one of
the most important appointive offices in the State
Administration. It was especially so at this time in view of the
scandals which had arisen under the previous Administration over
the Erie Canal, the most important responsibility of this
department. Now, the man whom the boss had picked out was an
excellent fellow, whom Roosevelt liked and whom, incidentally, he
later appointed to an office which he filled in admirable
fashion. But Roosevelt had no intention of having any one but
himself select the members of his Administration. He said so
frankly and simply. The Senator raged. He was unaccustomed to
such independence of spirit. Roosevelt was courteous but firm.
The irresistible force had met the immovable obstacle--and the
force capitulated. The telegraphic acceptance was not accepted.
The appointment was not made.

Mr. Platt was a wise man, even if he was arrogant. He knew when
he had met one whom he could not drive. So he did not break with
the new Governor. Roosevelt was wise, too, although he was
honest. So he did not break with the "easy boss." His failure to
do so was a disappointment to his impractical friends and
supporters, who were more concerned with theoretical goodness
than with achievement.

Roosevelt worked with Platt and the party machine whenever he
could. He fought only when he must. When he fought, he won. In
Senator Platt's "Autobiography", the old boss paid this tribute
to the young fighter whom he had made Governor: "Roosevelt had
from the first agreed that he would consult me on all questions
of appointments, Legislature or party policy. He religiously
fulfilled this pledge, although he frequently did just what he

One of the things that particularly grieved the theoretical
idealists and the chronic objectors was the fact that Roosevelt
used on occasion to take breakfast with Senator Platt. They did
not seem to think it possible that a Governor could accept the
hospitality of a boss without taking orders from him. But Mr.
Platt knew better, if they did not. He was never under any
illusions as to the extent of his influence with Roosevelt. It
vanished precisely at the point where the selfish interests of
the party and the wishes of the boss collided with the public
welfare. The facts about the famous breakfasts are plain enough.
The Governor was in Albany, the Senator in Washington. Both found
it easy to get to New York on Saturday. It was natural that they
should from time to time have matters to discuss for both were
leaders in their party. Mr. Platt was a feeble man, who found it
difficult to get about. Roosevelt was a chivalrous man, who
believed that courtesy and consideration were due to age and
weakness. In addition, he liked to make every minute count. So he
used to go, frankly and openly, to the Senator's hotel for
breakfast. He was not one of that class which he has described
as composed of "solemn reformers of the tom-fool variety, who,
according to their custom, paid attention to the name and not the
thing." He cared only for the reality; the appearance mattered
little to him.

The tom-fool reformers who criticized Roosevelt for meeting Platt
at breakfast were not even good observers. If they had been, they
would have realized that when Roosevelt breakfasted with Platt,
it generally meant that he was trying to reconcile the Senator to
something he was going to do which the worthy boss did not like.
For instance, Roosevelt once wrote to Platt, who was trying to
get him to promote a certain judge over the head of another
judge: "There is a strong feeling among the judges and the
leading members of the bar that Judge Y ought not to have Judge X
jumped over his head, and I do not see my way clear to doing it.
I am inclined to think that the solution I mentioned to you is
the solution I shall have to adopt. Remember the breakfast at
Douglas Robinson's at 8:30." It is probable that the Governor
enjoyed that breakfast more than did the Senator. So it usually
was with the famous breakfasts. "A series of breakfasts was
always the prelude to some active warfare."

For Roosevelt and Platt still had their pitched battles. The most
epic of them all was fought over the reappointment of the State
Superintendent of Insurance. The incumbent was Louis F. Payn, a
veteran petty boss from a country district and one of Platt's
right-hand men. Roosevelt discovered that Payn had been involved
in compromising relations with certain financiers in New York
with whom he "did not deem it expedient that the Superintendent
of Insurance, while such, should have any intimate and
money-making relations." The Governor therefore decided not to
reappoint him. Platt issued an ultimatum that Payn must be
reappointed or he would fight. He pointed out that in case of a
fight Payn would stay in anyway, since the consent of the State
Senate was necessary not only to appoint a man to office but to
remove him from office. The Governor replied cheerfully that he
had made up his mind and that Payn would not be retained. If he
could not get his successor confirmed, he would make the
appointment as soon as the Legislature adjourned, and the
appointment would stand at least until the Legislature met again.
Platt declared in turn that Payn would be reinstated as soon as
the Legislature reconvened. Roosevelt admitted the possibility,
but assured his opponent that the process would be repeated as
soon as that session came to an end. He added his conviction
that, while he might have an uncomfortable time himself, he would
guarantee that his opponents would be made more uncomfortable
still. Thus the matter stood in the weeks before final action
could be taken. Platt was sure that Roosevelt must yield. But
once more he did not know his man. It is curious how long it
takes feudal overlords to get the measure of a fearless free man.

The political power which the boss wielded was reinforced by
pressure from big business interests in New York. Officials of
the large insurance companies adopted resolutions asking for
Payn's reappointment. But some of them privately and hastily
assured the Governor that these resolutions were for public
consumption only, and that they would be delighted to have Payn
superseded. Roosevelt strove to make it clear again and again
that he was not fighting the organization as such, and announced
his readiness to appoint any one of several men who were good
organization men--only he would not retain Lou Payn nor appoint
any man of his type. The matter moved along to the final scene,
which took place at the Union League Club in New York.

Mr. Platt's chief lieutenant asked for a meeting with the
Governor. The request was granted. The emissary went over the
ground thoroughly. He declared that Platt would never yield. He
explained that he was certain to win the fight, and that he
wished to save Roosevelt from such a lamentable disaster as the
end of his political career. Roosevelt again explained at length
his position. After half an hour he rose to go. The "subsequent
proceedings" he described as follows:

"My visitor repeated that I had this last chance, and that ruin
was ahead of me if I refused it; whereas, if I accepted,
everything would be made easy. I shook my head and answered,
'There is nothing to add to what I have already said.' He
responded, 'You have made up your mind?' and I said, 'I have." He
then said, 'You know it means your ruin?' and I answered, 'Well,
we will see about that,' and walked toward the door. He said,
'You understand, the fight will begin tomorrow and will be
carried on to the bitter end.' I said, 'Yes,' and added, as I
reached the door, 'Good night.' Then, as the door opened my
opponent, or visitor, whichever one chooses to call him, whose
face was as impassive and as inscrutable as that of Mr. John
Hamlin in a poker game, said: 'Hold on! We accept. Send in
so-and-so (the man I had named). The Senator is very sorry, but
he will make no further opposition!" I never saw a bluff carried
more resolutely through to the final limit."*

* Autobiography (Scribner), pp. 293-94.

One other Homeric fight with the machine was Roosevelt's portion
during his Governorship. This time it was not directly with the
boss himself but with the boss's liegemen in the Legislature. But
the kernel of the whole matter was the same--the selfish
interests of big corporations against the public good.

In those days corporations were by common practice privileged
creatures. They were accustomed to special treatment from
legislatures and administrations. But when Roosevelt was elected
Governor, he was determined that no corporation should get a
valuable privilege from the State without paying for it. Before
long he had become convinced that they ought also to pay for
those which they already had, free gifts of the State in those
purblind days when corporations were young and coddled. He
proposed that public service corporations doing business on
franchises granted by the State and by municipalities should be
taxed upon the value of the privileges they enjoyed. The
corporations naturally enough did not like the proposal. But it
was made in no spirit or tone of antagonism to business or of
demagogic outcry against those who were prosperous. All that the
Governor demanded was a square deal. In his message to the
Legislature, he wrote as follows:

"There is evident injustice in the light taxation of
corporations. I have not the slightest sympathy with the outcry
against corporations as such, or against prosperous men of
business. Most of the great material works by which the entire
country benefits have been due to the action of individual men,
or of aggregates of men, who made money for themselves by doing
that which was in the interest of the people as a whole. From an
armor plant to a street railway, no work which is really
beneficial to the public can be performed to the best advantage
of the public save by men of such business capacity that they
will not do the work unless they themselves receive ample reward
for doing it. The effort to deprive them of an ample reward
merely means that they will turn their energies in some other
direction; and the public will be just so much the loser . . . .
But while I freely admit all this, it yet remains true that a
corporation which derives its powers from the State should pay to
the State a just percentage of its earnings as a return for the
privileges it enjoys."

This was quietly reasonable and uninflammatory doctrine. But the
corporations would have none of it. The Republican machine, which
had a majority in the Legislature, promptly repudiated it as
well. The campaign contributions from the corporations were too
precious to be jeopardized by legislation which the corporations
did not want. The Governor argued, pleasantly and cheerfully. The
organization balked sullenly. The corporations grinned knowingly.
They had plenty of money with which to kill the bill, but they
did not need to use it. The machine was working smoothly in their
behalf. The bill was introduced and referred to a committee, and
there it lay. No amount of argument and persuasion that the
Governor could bring to bear availed to bring the bill out of
hiding. So he sent in a special message, on almost the last day
of the session. According to the rules of the New York Assembly,
when the Governor sends in a special message on a given measure,
the bill must be reported out and given consideration. But the
machine was dazzled with its own arrogance. The Speaker would not
have the message read. Some one actually tore it up.

This was more than a crime--it was a blunder. The wise ones in
the organization realized it. They had no desire to have the
Governor appeal to the people with his torn message in his hand.
Roosevelt saw the error too, and laughed happily. He wrote
another message and sent it over with the curt statement that, if
it were not read forthwith, he would come over and read it
himself. They knew that he would! So the Speaker read the
message, and the bill was reported and hastily passed on the last
day of the session.

Then the complacent corporations woke up. They had trusted the
machine too far. What was more, they had underestimated the
Governor's striking power. Now they came to him, hat in hand, and
suggested some fault in the bill. He agreed with them. They asked
if he would not call a special session to amend the bill. Again
he agreed. The session was called, and the amendments were
proposed. In addition, however, certain amendments that would
have frustrated the whole purpose of the bill were suggested. The
organization, still at its old tricks, tried to get back into its
possession the bill already passed. But the Governor was not
easily caught napping. He knew as well as they did that
possession of the bill gave him the whip hand. He served notice
that the second bill would contain precisely the amendments
agreed upon and no others. Otherwise he would sign the first bill
and let it become law, with all its imperfections on its head.
Once more the organization and the corporations emulated Davy
Crockett's coon and begged him not to shoot, for they would come
down. The amended bill was passed and became law. But there was
an epilogue to this little drama. The corporations proceeded to
attack the constitutionality of the law on the ground of the very
amendment for which they had so clamorously pleaded. But they
failed. The Supreme Court of the United States, after Roosevelt
had become President, affirmed the constitutionality of the law.

The spectacular events of Roosevelt's governorship were incidents
in this conflict between two political philosophies, the one held
by Platt and his tribe, the other by Roosevelt. Extracts from two
letters exchanged by the Senator and the Governor bring the
contrast between these philosophies into clear relief. Platt
wrote as follows:

"When the subject of your nomination was under consideration,
there was one matter that gave me real anxiety . . . . I had
heard from a good many sources that you were a little loose on
the relations of capital and labor, on trusts and combinations,
and, indeed, on those numerous questions which have recently
arisen in politics affecting the security of earnings and the
right of a man to run his business in his own way, with due
respect, of course, to the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code.
Or, to get at it even more clearly, I understood from a number of
business men, and among them many of your own personal friends,
that you entertained various altruistic ideas, all very well in
their way, but which before they could safely be put into law
needed very profound consideration." *

* Roosevelt, "Autobiography" (Scribner), p. 299.

Roosevelt replied that he had known very well that the Senator
had just these feelings about him, and then proceeded to set
forth his own view of the matter. With his usual almost uncanny
wisdom in human relations, he based his argument on party
expediency, which he knew Platt would comprehend, rather than on
abstract considerations of right and wrong, in which realm the
boss would be sure to feel rather at sea. He wrote thus:

"I know that when parties divide on such issues [as Bryanism] the
tendency is to force everybody into one of two camps, and to
throw out entirely men like myself, who are as strongly opposed
to Populism in every stage as the greatest representative of
corporate wealth but who also feel strongly that many of these
representatives of enormous corporate wealth have themselves been
responsible for a portion of the conditions against which
Bryanism is in ignorant revolt. I do not believe that it is wise
or safe for us as a party to take refuge in mere negation and to
say that there are no evils to be corrected. It seems to me that
our attitude should be one of correcting the evils and thereby
showing that whereas the Populists, Socialists, and others do not
correct the evils at all, or else do so at the expense of
producing others in aggravated form, on the contrary we
Republicans hold the just balance and set ourselves as resolutely
against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against
demagogy and mob rule on the other."*

*Roosevelt, Autobiography (Scribner), p. 300.

This was the fight that Roosevelt was waging in every hour of his
political career. It was a middle-of-the-road fight, not because
of any timidity or slack-fibered thinking which prevented a
committal to one extreme or the other, but because of a stern
conviction that in the golden middle course was to be found truth
and the right. It was an inevitable consequence that first one
side and then the other--and sometimes both at once--should
attack him as a champion of the other. It became a commonplace of
his experience to be inveighed against by reformers as a
reactionary and to be assailed by conservatives as a radical. But
this paradoxical experience did not disturb him at all. He was
concerned only to have the testimony of his own mind and
conscience that he was right.

The contests which he had as Governor were spectacular and
exhilarating; but they did not fill all the hours of his working
days. A tremendous amount of spade work was actually
accomplished. For example, he brought about the reenactment of
the Civil Service Law, which under his predecessor had been
repealed, and put through a mass of labor legislation for the
betterment of conditions under which the workers carried on their
daily lives. This legislation included laws to increase the
number of factory inspectors, to create a tenement-house
commission, to regulate sweatshop labor, to make the eight-hour
and prevailing rate of wages law effective, to compel railways to
equip freight trains with air brakes, to regulate the working
hours of women, to protect women and children from dangerous
machinery, to enforce good scaffolding provisions for workmen on
buildings, to provide seats for the use of waitresses in hotels
and restaurants, to reduce the hours of labor for drug-store
clerks, to provide for the registration of laborers for municipal
employment. He worked hard to secure an employers' liability law,
but the time for this was not yet come.

Many of these reforms are now matters of course that no employer
would think of attempting to eliminate. But they were new ideas
then; and it took vision and courage to fight for them.

Roosevelt would have been glad to be elected Governor for a
second term. But destiny, working through curious instruments,
would not have it so. He left behind him in the Empire State, not
only a splendid record of concrete achievement but something more
than that. Jacob Riis has told how, some time after, an old State
official at Albany, who had seen many Governors come and go,
revealed this intangible something. Mr. Riis had said to him that
he did not care much for Albany since Roosevelt had gone, and his
friend replied: "Yes, we think so, many of us. The place seemed
dreary when he was gone. But I know now that he left something
behind that was worth our losing him to get. This past winter,
for the first time, I heard the question spring up spontaneously,
as it seemed, when a measure was up in the Legislature 'Is it
right?' Not 'Is it expedient?' not 'How is it going to help me?'
not 'What is it worth to the party?' Not any of these, but 'Is it
right?' That is Roosevelt's legacy to Albany. And it was worth
his coming and his going to have that."


There was chance in Theodore Roosevelt's coming into the
Presidency as he did, but there was irony as well. An evil chance
dropped William McKinley before an assassin's bullet; but there
was a fitting irony in the fact that the man who must step into
his place had been put where he was in large measure by the very
men who would least like to see him become President.

The Republican convention of 1900 was a singularly unanimous
body. President McKinley was renominated without a murmur of
dissent. But there was no Vice-President to renominate, as Mr.
Hobart had died in office. There was no logical candidate for the
second place on the ticket. Senator Platt, however, had a man
whom he wanted to get rid of, since Governor Roosevelt had made
himself persona non grata alike to the machine politicians of his
State and to the corporations allied with them. The Governor,
however, did not propose to be disposed of so easily. His reasons
were characteristic. He wrote thus to Senator Platt about the

"I can't help feeling more and more that the VicePresidency 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 . . . . 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 be simply a presiding
officer, and that I should find a bore."

Now Mr. Platt knew that nothing but "sidetracking" could stop
another nomination of Roosevelt for the Governorship, and this
Rough Rider was a thorn in his flesh. So he went on his
subterranean way to have him nominated for the most innocuous
political berth in the gift of the American people. He secured
the cooperation of Senator Quay of Pennsylvania and another boss
or two of the same indelible stripe; but all their political
strength would not have accomplished the desired result without
assistance from quite a different source. Roosevelt had already
achieved great popularity in the Middle and the Far West for the
very reasons which made Mr. Platt want him out of the way. So,
while the New York boss and his acquiescent delegates were
stopped from presenting his name to the convention by
Roosevelt's assurance that he would fight a l'outrance any
movement from his own State to nominate him, other delegates took
matters into their own hands and the nomination was finally made

Roosevelt gave great strength to the Republican ticket in the
campaign which followed. William Jennings Bryan was again the
Democratic candidate, but the "paramount issue" of his campaign
had changed since four years before from free silver to
anti-imperialism. President McKinley, according to his custom,
made no active campaign; but Bryan and Roosevelt competed with
each other in whirlwind speaking tours from one end of the
country to the other. The war-cry of the Republicans was the
"full dinner pail"; the keynote of Bryan's bid for popular
support was opposition to the Republican policy of expansion and
criticism of Republican tendencies toward plutocratic control.
The success of the Republican ticket was overwhelming; McKinley
and Roosevelt received nearly twice as many electoral votes as
Bryan and Stevenson.

When President McKinley was shot at Buffalo six months after his
second term began, it looked for a time as though he would
recover. So Roosevelt, after an immediate visit to Buffalo, went
to join his family in the Adirondacks. The news of the
President's impending death found him out in the wilderness on
the top of Mount Tahawus, not far from the tiny Lake
Tear-of-the-Clouds, the source of the Hudson River. A ten-mile
dash down the mountain trail, in the course of which he
outstripped all his companions but one; a wild forty-mile drive
through the night to the railroad, the new President and his
single companion changing the horses two or three times with
their own hands; a fast journey by special train across the
State--and on the evening of September 14, 1901, Theodore
Roosevelt took the oath of office as the twenty-sixth President
of the United States.

Before taking the oath, Roosevelt announced that it would be his
aim "to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President
McKinley for the peace, prosperity, and honor of our beloved
country." He immediately asked every member of the late
President's Cabinet to continue in office. The Cabinet was an
excellent one, and Mr. Roosevelt found it necessary to make no
other changes than those that came in the ordinary course of
events. The policies were not altered in broad general outline,
for Roosevelt was as stalwart a Republican as McKinley himself,
and was as firmly convinced of the soundness of the fundamentals
of the Republican doctrine.

But the fears of some of his friends that Roosevelt would seem,
if he carried out his purpose of continuity, "a pale copy of
McKinley" were not justified in the event. They should have known
better. A copy of any one Roosevelt could neither be nor seem,
and "pale" was the last epithet to be applied to him with
justice. It could not be long before the difference in the two
Administrations would appear in unmistakable terms. The one which
had just passed was first of all a party Administration and
secondly a McKinley Administration. The one which followed was
first, last, and all the time a Roosevelt Administration. "Where
Macgregor sits, there is the head of the table." Not because
Roosevelt consciously willed it so, but because the force and
power and magnetism of his vigorous mind and personality
inevitably made it so. McKinley had been a great harmonizer. "He
oiled the machinery of government with loving and imperturbable
patience," said an observer of his time, "and the wheels ran with
an ease unknown since Washington's first term of office." It had
been a constant reproach of the critics of the former President
that "his ear was always to the ground." But he kept it there
because it was his sincere conviction that it belonged there,
ready to apprize him of the vibrations of the popular will.
Roosevelt was the born leader with an innate instinct of command.
He did not scorn or flout the popular will; he had too confirmed
a conviction of the sovereign right of the people to rule for
that. But he did not wait pusillanimously for the popular mind to
make itself up; he had too high a conception of the duty of
leadership for that. He esteemed it his peculiar function as the
man entrusted by a great people with the headship of their common
affairs--to lead the popular mind, to educate it, to inspire it,
sometimes to run before it in action, serene in the confidence
that tardy popular judgment would confirm the rightness of the

By the end of Roosevelt's first Administration two of the three
groups that had taken a hand in choosing him for the
Vice-Presidency were thoroughly sick of their bargain. The
machine politicians and the great corporations found that their
cunning plan to stifle with the wet blanket of that depressing
office the fires of his moral earnestness and pugnacious honesty
had overreached itself. Fate had freed him and, once freed, he
was neither to hold nor to bind. It was less than two years
before Wall Street was convinced that he was "unsafe," and sadly
shook its head over his "impetuosity." When Wall Street stamps a
man "unsafe," the last word in condemnation has been said. It was
an even shorter time before the politicians found him
unsatisfactory. "The breach between Mr. Roosevelt and the
politicians was, however, inevitable. His rigid insistence upon
the maintenance and the extension of the merit system alone
assured the discontent which precedes dislike," wrote another
observer. "The era of patronage mongering in the petty offices
ceased suddenly, and the spoilsmen had the right to say that in
this respect the policy of McKinley had not been followed." It
was true. When Roosevelt became President the civil service was
thoroughly demoralized. Senators and Congressmen, by tacit
agreement with the executive, used the appointing power for the
payment of political debts, the reward of party services, the
strengthening of their personal "fences." But within three months
it was possible to say with absolute truth that "a marvelous
change has already been wrought in the morale of the civil
service." At the end of Roosevelt's first term an unusually acute
and informed foreign journalist was moved to write, "No President
has so persistently eliminated politics from his nominations,
none has been more unbending in making efficiency his sole test."

There was the kernel of the whole matter: the President's
insistence upon efficiency. Roosevelt, however, did not snatch
rudely away from the Congressmen and Senators the appointing
power which his predecessors had allowed them gradually to usurp.
He continued to consult each member of the Congress upon
appointments in that member's State or district and merely
demanded that the men recommended for office should be honest,
capable, and fitted for the places they were to fill.

President Roosevelt was not only ready and glad to consult with
Senators but he sought and often took the advice of party leaders
outside of Congress, and even took into consideration the
opinions of bosses. In New York, for instance, the two Republican
leaders, Governor Odell and Senator Platt, were sometimes in
accord and sometimes in disagreement, but each was always
desirous of being consulted. A letter written by Roosevelt in the
middle of his first term to a friendly Congressman well
illustrates his theory and practice in such cases:

"I want to work with Platt. I want to work with Odell. I want to
support both and take the advice of both. But, of course,
ultimately I must be the judge as to acting on the advice given.
When, as in the case of the judgeship, I am convinced that the
advice of both is wrong, I shall act as I did when I appointed
Holt. When I can find a friend of Odell's like Cooley, who is
thoroughly fit for the position I desire to fill, it gives me the
greatest pleasure to appoint him. When Platt proposes to me a man
like Hamilton Fish, it is equally a pleasure to appoint him."

This high-minded and common-sense course did not, however, seem
to please the politicians, for dyed-in-the-wool politicians are
curious persons to whom half a loaf is no consolation whatever,
even when the other half of the loaf is to go to the
people--without whom there would be no policies at all. Strangely
enough, Roosevelt's policy was equally displeasing to those of
the doctrinaire reformer type, to whom there is no word in the
language more distasteful than "politician," unless it be the
word "practical." But there was one class to whom the results of
this common-sense brand of political action were eminently
satisfactory, and this class made up the third group that had a
part in the selection of Theodore Roosevelt for the
Vice-Presidency. The plain people, especially in the more
westerly portions of the country, were increasingly delighted
with the honesty, the virility, and the effectiveness of the
Roosevelt Administration. Just before the convention which was to
nominate Roosevelt for the Presidency to succeed himself, an
editorial writer expressed the fact thus: "The people at large
are not oblivious of the fact that, while others are talking and
carping, Mr. Roosevelt is carrying on in the White House a
persistent and never-ending moral struggle with every powerful
selfish and exploiting interest in the country."

Oblivious of it? They were acutely conscious of it. They approved
of it with heartiness. They liked it so well that, when the time
came to nominate and elect another President, they swept aside
with a mighty rush not only the scruples and antagonisms of the
Republican politicians and the "special interests" but party
lines as well, and chose Roosevelt with a unanimous voice in the
convention and a majority of two and a half million votes at the

As President, Theodore Roosevelt achieved many concrete results.
But his greatest contribution to the forward movement of the
times was in the rousing of the public conscience, the
strengthening of the nation's moral purpose, and the erecting of
a new standard of public service in the management of the
nation's affairs. It was no little thing that when Roosevelt was
ready to hand over to another the responsibilities of his high
office, James Bryce, America's best friend and keenest student
from across the seas, was able to say that in a long life, during
which he had studied intimately the government of many different
countries, he had never in any country seen a more eager,
high-minded, and efficient set of public servants, men more
useful and more creditable to their country, than the men then
doing the work of the American Government in Washington and in
the field.


During the times of Roosevelt, the American people were
profoundly concerned with the trust problem. So was Roosevelt
himself. In this important field of the relations between "big
business" and the people he had a perfectly definite point of
view, though he did not have a cut and dried programme. He was
always more interested in a point of view than in a programme,
for he realized that the one is lasting, the other shifting. He
knew that if you stand on sound footing and look at a subject
from the true angle, you may safely modify your plan of action as
often and as rapidly as may be necessary to fit changing
conditions. But if your footing is insecure or your angle of
vision distorted, the most attractive programme in the world may
come to ignominious disaster.

There were, broadly speaking, three attitudes toward the trust
problem which were strongly held by different groups in the
United States. At one extreme was the threatening growl of big
business, "Let us alone!" At the other pole was the shrill outcry
of William Jennings Bryan and his fellow exhorters, "Smash the
trusts!" In the golden middle ground was the vigorous demand of
Roosevelt for a "square deal."

In his first message to Congress, the President set forth his
point of view with frankness and clarity. His comprehensive
discussion of the matter may be summarized thus: The tremendous
and highly complex industrial development which went on with
great rapidity during the latter half of the nineteenth century
produced serious social problems. The old laws and the old
customs which had almost the binding force of law were once quite
sufficient to regulate the accumulation and distribution of
wealth. Since the industrial changes which have so enormously
increased the productive power of mankind, these regulations are
no longer sufficient. The process of the creation of great
corporate fortunes has aroused much antagonism; but much of this,
antagonism has been without warrant. There have been, it is true,
abuses connected with the accumulation of wealth; yet no fortune
can be accumulated in legitimate business except by conferring
immense incidental benefits upon others. The men who have driven
the great railways across the continent, who have built up
commerce and developed manufactures, have on the whole done great
good to the people at large. Without such men the material
development of which Americans are so justly proud never could
have taken place. They should therefore recognize the immense
importance of this material development by leaving as unhampered
as is compatible with the public good the strong men upon whom
the success of business inevitably rests. It cannot too often be
pointed out that to strike with ignorant violence at the
interests of one set of men almost inevitably endangers the
interests of all. The fundamental rule in American national life
is that, on the whole and in the long run, we shall all go up or
down together. Many of those who have made it their vocation to
denounce the great industrial combinations appeal especially to
the primitive instincts of hatred and fear. These are precisely
the two emotions which unfit men for cool and steady judgment.
The whole history of the world shows that legislation, in facing
new industrial conditions, will generally be both unwise and
ineffective unless it is undertaken only after calm inquiry and
with sober self-restraint.

This is one side of the picture as it was presented by the
President in his message to Congress. It was characteristic that
this aspect should be put first, for Roosevelt always insisted
upon doing justice to the other side before he demanded justice
for his own. But he then proceeded to set forth the other side
with equal vigor: There is a widespread conviction in the minds
of the American people that the great corporations are in certain
of their features and tendencies hurtful to the general welfare.
It is true that real and grave evils have arisen, one of the
chief of them being overcapitalization, with its many baleful
consequences. This state of affairs demands that combination and
concentration in business should be, not prohibited, but
supervised and controlled. Corporations engaged in interstate
commerce should be regulated if they are found to exercise a
license working to the public injury. The first essential in
determining how to deal with the great industrial combinations is
knowledge of the facts. This is to be obtained only through
publicity, which is the one sure remedy we can now invoke before
it can be determined what further remedies are needed.
Corporations should be subject to proper governmental
supervision, and full and accurate information as to their
operations should be made public at regular intervals. The nation
should assume powers of supervision and regulation over all
corporations doing an interstate business. This is especially
true where the corporation derives a portion of its wealth from
the existence of some monopolistic element or tendency in its
business. The Federal Government should regulate the activities
of corporations doing an interstate business, just as it
regulates the activities of national banks, and, through the
Interstate Commerce Commission, the operations of the railroads.

Roosevelt was destined, however, not to achieve the full measure
of national control of corporations that he desired. The elements
opposed to his view were too powerful. There was a fortuitous
involuntary partnership though it was not admitted and was even
violently denied between the advocates of "Let us alone!" and of
"Smash the trusts!" against the champion of the middle way. In
his "Autobiography" Roosevelt has described this situation:

"One of the main troubles was the fact that the men who saw the
evils and who tried to remedy them attempted to work in two
wholly different ways, and the great majority of them in a way
that offered little promise of real betterment. They tried (by
the Sherman law method) to bolster up an individualism already
proved to be both futile and mischievous; to remedy by more
individualism the concentration that was the inevitable result of
the already existing individualism. They saw the evil done by the
big combinations, and sought to remedy it by destroying them and
restoring the country to the economic conditions of the middle of
the nineteenth century. This was a hopeless effort, and those who
went into it, although they regarded themselves as radical
progressives, really represented a form of sincere rural toryism.
They confounded monopolies with big business combinations, and in
the effort to prohibit both alike, instead of where possible
prohibiting one and drastically controlling the other, they
succeeded merely in preventing any effective control of either.

"On the other hand, a few men recognized that corporations and
combinations had become indispensable in the business world, that
it was folly to try to prohibit them, but that it was also folly
to leave them without thoroughgoing control. These men realized
that the doctrine of the old laissez faire economists, of the
believers in unlimited competition, unlimited individualism,
were, in the actual state of affairs, false and mischievous. They
realized that the Government must now interfere to protect labor,
to subordinate the big corporation to the public welfare, and to
shackle cunning and fraud exactly as centuries before it had
interfered to shackle the physical force which does wrong by
violence. The big reactionaries of the business world and their
allies and instruments among politicians and newspaper editors
took advantage of this division of opinion, and especially of the
fact that most of their opponents were on the wrong path; and
fought to keep matters absolutely unchanged. These men demanded
for themselves an immunity from government control which, if
granted, would have been as wicked and as foolish as immunity to
the barons of the twelfth century. Many of them were evil men.
Many others were just as good men as were some of these same
barons; but they were as utterly unable as any medieval
castle-owner to understand what the public interest really was.
There have been aristocracies which have played a great and
beneficent part at stages in the growth of mankind; but we had
come to a stage where for our people what was needed was a real
democracy; and of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and
the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a

* Autobiography (Scribner), pp. 424-25.

When Roosevelt became President, there were three directions in
which energy needed to be applied to the solution of the trust
problem: in the more vigorous enforcement of the laws already on
the statute books; in the enactment of necessary new laws on
various phases of the subject; and in the arousing of an
intelligent and militant public opinion in relation to the whole
question. To each of these purposes the new President applied
himself with characteristic vigor.

The Sherman Anti-Trust law, which had already been on the Federal
statute books for eleven years, forbade "combinations in
restraint of trade" in the field of interstate commerce. During
three administrations, eighteen actions had been brought by the
Government for its enforcement. At the opening of the twentieth
century it was a grave question whether the Sherman law was of
any real efficacy in preventing the evils that arose from
unregulated combination in business. A decision of the United
States Supreme Court, rendered in 1895 in the so-called Knight
case, against the American Sugar Refining Company, had, in the
general belief, taken the teeth out of the Sherman law. In the
words of Mr. Taft, "The effect of the decision in the Knight case
upon the popular mind, and indeed upon Congress as well, was to
discourage hope that the statute could be used to accomplish its
manifest purpose and curb the great industrial trusts which, by
the acquisition of all or a large percentage of the plants
engaged in the manufacture of a commodity, by the dismantling of
some and regulating the output of others, were making every
effort to restrict production, control prices, and monopolize the
business." It was obviously necessary that the Sherman act,
unless it were to pass into innocuous desuetude, should have the
original vigor intended by Congress restored to it by a new
interpretation of the law on the part of the Supreme Court.
Fortunately an opportunity for such a change presented itself
with promptness. A small group of powerful financiers had
arranged to take control of practically the entire system of
railways in the Northwest, "possibly," Roosevelt has said, "as
the first step toward controlling the entire railway system of
the country." They had brought this about by organizing the
Northern Securities Company to hold the majority of the stock of
two competing railways, the Great Northern and the Northern
Pacific. At the direction of President Roosevelt, suit was
brought by the Government to prevent the merger. The defendants
relied for protection upon the immunity afforded by the decision
in the Knight case. But the Supreme Court now took more advanced
ground, decreed that the Northern Securities Company was an
illegal combination, and ordered its dissolution.

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