Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, by William Roscoe Thayer

THEODORE ROOSEVELT AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY BY WILLIAM ROSCOE THAYER 1919 PREFACE In finishing the correction of the last proofs of this sketch, I perceive that some of those who read it may suppose that I planned to write a deliberate eulogy of Theodore Roosevelt. This is not true. I knew him for forty years, but
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In finishing the correction of the last proofs of this sketch, I perceive that some of those who read it may suppose that I planned to write a deliberate eulogy of Theodore Roosevelt. This is not true. I knew him for forty years, but I never followed his political leadership. Our political differences, however, never lessened our personal friendship. Sometimes long intervals elapsed between our meetings, but when we met it was always with the same intimacy, and when we wrote it was with the same candor. I count it fortunate for me that during the last ten years of his life, I was thrown more with Roosevelt than during all the earlier period; and so I was able to observe him, to know his motives, and to study his character during the chief crises of his later career, when what he thought and did became an integral part of the development of the United States.

After the outbreak of the World War, in 1914, he and I thought alike, and if I mistake not, this closing phase of his life will come more and more to be revered by his countrymen as an example of the highest patriotism and courage. Regardless of popular lukewarmness at the start, and of persistent official thwarting throughout, he roused the conscience of the nation to a sense of its duty and of its honor. What gratitude can repay one who rouses the con science of a nation? Roosevelt sacrificed his life for patriotism as surely as if he had died leading a charge in the Battle of the Marne.

The Great War has thrown all that went before it out of perspective. We can never see the events of the preceding half-century in the same light in which we saw them when they were fresh. Instinctively we appraise them, and the men through whom they came to pass, by their relation to the catastrophe. Did they lead up to it consciously or un consciously? And as we judge the outcome of the war, our views of men take on changed complexions. The war, as it appears now, was the culmination of three different world-movements; it destroyed the attempt of German Imperialism to conquer the world and to rivet upon it a Prussian military despotism. Next, it set up Democracy as the ideal for all peoples to live by. Finally, it revealed that the economic, industrial, social, and moral concerns of men are deeper than the political. When I came to review Roosevelt’s career consecutively, for the purpose of this biography, I saw that many of his acts and policies, which had been misunderstood or misjudged at the time, were all the inevitable expressions of the principle which was the master-motive of his life. What we had imagined to be shrewd devices for winning a partisan advantage, or for overthrowing a political adversary, or for gratifying his personal ambition, had a nobler source. I do not mean to imply that Roosevelt, who was a most adroit politician, did not employ with terrific effect the means accepted as honorable in political fighting. So did Abraham Lincoln, who also, as a great Opportunist, was both a powerful and a shrewd political fighter, but pledged to Righteousness. It seems now tragic, but inevitable, that Roosevelt, after beginning and carrying forward the war for the reconciliation between Capital and Labor, should have been sacrificed by the Republican Machine, for that Machine was a special organ of Capital, by which Capital made and administered the laws of the States and of the Nation. But Roosevelt’s struggle was not in vain; before he died, many of those who worked for his downfall in 1912 were looking up to him as the natural leader of the country, in the new dangers which encompassed it. “Had he lived,” said a very eminent man who had done more than any other to defeat him, “he would have been the unanimous candidate of the Republicans in 1920.” Time brings its revenges swiftly. As I write these lines, it is not Capital, but overweening Labor which makes its truculent demands on the Administration at Washington, which it has already intimidated. Well may we exclaim, “Oh, for the courage of Roosevelt!” And whenever the country shall be in great anxiety or in direct peril from the cowardice of those who have sworn to defend its welfare and its integrity, that cry shall rise to the lips of true Americans.

Although I have purposely brought out what I believe to be the most significant parts of Roosevelt’s character and public life, I have not wished to be uncritical. I have suppressed nothing. Fortunately for his friends, the two libel suits which he went through in his later years, subjected him to a microscopic scrutiny, both as to his personal and his political life. All the efforts of very able lawyers, and of clever and unscrupulous enemies to undermine him, failed; and henceforth his advocates may rest on the verdicts given by two separate courts. As for the great political acts of his official career, Time has forestalled eulogy. Does any one now defend selling liquor to children and converting them into precocious drunkards? Does any one defend sweat-shops, or the manufacture of cigars under worse than unsanitary conditions? Which of the packers, who protested against the Meat Inspection Bill, would care to have his name made public; and which of the lawyers and of the accomplices in the lobby and in Congress would care to have it known that he used every means, fair and foul, to prevent depriving the packers of the privilege of canning bad meat for Americans, although foreigners insisted that the canned meat which they bought should be whole some and inspected? Does any American now doubt the wisdom and justice of conserving the natural re sources, of saving our forests and our mineral sup plies, and of controlling the watershed from which flows the water-supply of entire States?

These things are no longer in the field of debate. They are accepted just as the railroad and the telegraph are accepted. But each in its time was a novelty, a reform, and to secure its acceptance by the American people and its sanction in the statute book, required the zeal, the energy, the courage of one man- -Theodore Roosevelt. He had many helpers, but he was the indispensable backer and accomplisher. When, therefore, I have commended him for these great achievements, I have but echoed what is now common opinion.

A contemporary can never judge as the historian a hundred years after the fact judges, but the contemporary view has also its place, and it may be really nearer to the living truth than is the conclusion formed when the past is cold and remote and the actors are dead long ago. So a friend’s outlined portrait, though obviously not impartial, must be nearer the truth than an enemy’s can be–for the enemy is not impartial either. We have fallen too much into the habit of imagining that only hostile critics tell the truth.

I wish to express my gratitude to many persons who have assisted me in my work. First of all, to Mrs. Roosevelt, for permission to use various letters. Next, to President Roosevelt’s sisters, Mrs. William S. Cowles and Mrs. Douglas Robinson, for invaluable information. Equally kind have been many of Roosevelt’s associates in Government and in political affairs: President William H. Taft, former Secretary of War; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge; Senator Elihu Root and Colonel Robert Bacon, former Secretaries of State; Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte, former Attorney-General; Hon. George B. Cortelyou, former Secretary of the Interior; Hon. Gifford Pinchot, of the National Forest Service; Hon. James R. Garfield, former Commissioner of Commerce.

Also to Lord Bryce and the late Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, British Ambassadors at Washington; to Hon. George W. Wickersham, Attorney-General under President Taft; to Mr. Nicholas Roosevelt and Mr. Charles P. Curtis, Jr.; to Hon. Albert J. Beveridge, ex-Senator; to Mr. James T. Williams, Jr.; to Dr. Alexander Lambert; to Hon. James M. Beck; to Major George H. Putnam; to Professor Albert Bushnell Hart; to Hon. Charles S. Bird; to Mrs. George von. L. Meyer and Mrs. Curtis Guild; to Mr. Hermann Hagedorn; to Mr. James G. King, Jr.; to Dean William D. Lewis; to Hon. Regis H. Post; to Hon. William Phillips, Assistant Secretary of State; to Mr. Richard Trimble; to Mr. John Woodbury; to Gov. Charles E. Hughes; to Mr. Louis A. Coolidge; to Hon. F. D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy; to Judge Robert Grant; to Mr. James Ford Rhodes; to Hon. W. Cameron Forbes.

I am under especial obligation to Hon. Charles G. Washburn, ex-Congressman, whose book, “Theodore Roosevelt: The Logic of his Career,” I have consulted freely and commend as the best analysis I have seen of Roosevelt’s political character. I wish also to thank the publishers and authors of books by or about Roosevelt for permission to use their works. These are Houghton Mifflin Co.; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; The Outlook Co.; The Macmillan Co.

To Mr. Ferris Greenslet, whose fine critical taste I have often drawn upon; and Mr. George B. Ives, who has prepared the Index; and to Miss Alice Wyman, my secretary, my obligation is profound.

W. R. T.
August 10, 1919




Autobiography = “Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography.” Macmillan Co.; New York, 1914.

*** The titles of other books by Mr. Roosevelt are given without his name as they occur in the footnotes.

Leupp = Francis E. Leupp: “The Man Roosevelt.” D. Appleton & Co.; New York, 1904.

Lewis = Wm. Draper Lewis: “The Life of Theodore Roosevelt.” John C. Winston Co.; Philadelphia, 1919.

Morgan = James Morgan: “Theodore Roosevelt; The Boy and the Man.” Macmillan Co., new ed., 1919.

Ogg = Frederic A.Ogg: “National Progress, 1907-1917.” American Nation Series. Harper& Bros.; New York, 1918.

Riis = Jacob A. Riis: “Theodore Roosevelt; the Citizen.” Outlook Co.; New York, 1904.

Washburn = Charles G. Washburn: “Theodore Roosevelt; The Logic of His Career.” Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916.



Nothing better illustrates the elasticity of American democratic life than the fact that within a span of forty years Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were Presidents of the United States. Two men more unlike in origin, in training, and in opportunity, could hardly be found.

Lincoln came from an incompetent Kentuckian father, a pioneer without the pioneer’s spirit of enterprise and push; he lacked schooling; he had barely the necessaries of life measured even by the standards of the Border; his companions were rough frontier wastrels, many of whom had either been, or might easily become, ruffians. The books on which he fed his young mind were very few, not more than five or six, but they were the best. And yet in spite of these handicaps, Abraham Lincoln rose to be the leader and example of the American Nation during its most perilous crisis, and the ideal Democrat of the nineteenth century.

Theodore Roosevelt, on the contrary, was born in New York City, enjoyed every advantage in education and training; his family had been for many generations respected in the city; his father was cultivated and had distinction as a citizen, who devoted his wealth and his energies to serving his fellow men. But, just as incredible adversity could not crush Abraham Lincoln, so lavish prosperity could not keep down or spoil Theodore Roosevelt.

In his “Autobiography” he tells us that “about 1644 his ancestor, Claes Martensen van Roosevelt, came to New Amsterdam as a ‘settler’–the euphemistic name for an immigrant who came over in the steerage of a sailing ship in the seventeenth century. From that time for the next seven generations from father to son every one of us was born on Manhattan Island.” * For over a hundred years the Roosevelts continued to be typical Dutch burghers in a hard-working, God-fearing, stolid Dutch way, each leaving to his son a little more than he had inherited. During the Revolution, some of the family were in the Continental Army, but they won no high honors, and some of them sat in the Congresses of that generation–sat, and were honest, but did not shine. Theodore’s great-grandfather seems to have amassed what was regarded in those days as a large fortune.

* Autobiography, 1.

His grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, a glass importer and banker, added to his inheritance, but was more than a mere money-maker.

His son Theodore, born in 1831, was the father of the President. Inheriting sufficient means to live in great comfort, not to say in luxury, he nevertheless engaged in business; but he had a high sense of the obligation which wealth lays on its possessors. And so, instead of wasting his life in merely heaping up dollars, he dedicated it to spending wisely and generously those which he had. There was nothing puritanical, however, in his way of living. He enjoyed the normal, healthy pleasures of his station. He drove his coach and four and was counted one of the best whips in New York. Taking his paternal responsibilities seriously, he implanted in his children lively respect for discipline and duty; but he kept very near to their affection, so that he remained throughout their childhood, and after they grew up, their most intimate friend.

What finer tribute could a son pay than this which follows?

‘My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness. As we grew older he made us understand that the same standard of clean living was demanded for the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right in a man. With great love and patience and the most understanding sympathy and consideration he combined insistence on discipline. He never physically punished me but once, but he was the only man of whom I was ever really afraid.’ *

*Autobiography, 16.

Thus the President, writing nearly forty years after his father’s death. His mother was Martha Bulloch, a member of an old Southern family, one of her ancestors having been the first Governor of Georgia. During the Civil War, while Mr. Roosevelt was busy raising regiments, supporting the Sanitary Commission, and doing whatever a non-combatant patriot could do to uphold the Union, Mrs. Roosevelt’s heart allegiance went with the South, and to the end of her life she was never “reconstructed.” But this conflict of loyalties caused no discord in the Roosevelt family circle. Her two brothers served in the Confederate Navy. One of them, James Bulloch, “a veritable Colonel Newcome,” was an admiral and directed the construction of the privateer Alabama. The other, Irvine, a midshipman on that vessel, fired the last gun in its fight with the Kearsarge before the Alabama sank. After the war both of them lived in Liverpool and “Uncle Jimmy” became a rabid Tory. He “was one of the best men I have ever known,” writes his nephew Theodore; “and when I have sometimes been tempted to wonder how good people can believe of me the unjust and impossible things they do believe, I have consoled myself by thinking of Uncle Jimmy Bulloch’s perfectly sincere conviction that Gladstone was a man of quite exceptional and nameless infamy in both public and private life.”

Theodore Roosevelt grew up to be not only a stanch but an uncompromising believer in the Union Cause; but the fact that his parents came from the North and from the South, and that, from his earliest memory, the Southern kindred were held in affection in his home, must have helped him towards that non-sectional, all-American point of view which was the cornerstone of his patriotic creed.

The Roosevelt house was situated at No. 28 East Twentieth Street, New York City, and there Theodore was born on October 27, 1858. He passed his boyhood amid the most wholesome family life. Besides his brother Elliott and two sisters, as his Uncle Robert lived next door, there were cousins to play with and a numerous kindred to form the background of his young life. He was, fortunately, not precocious, for the infant prodigies of seven, who become the amazing omniscients of twenty-three, are seldom heard of at thirty. He learned very early to read, and his sisters remember that when he was still in starched white petticoats, with a curl carefully poised on top of his head, he went about the house lugging a thick, heavy volume of Livingstone’s “Travels” and asking some one to tell him about the “foraging ants” described by the explorer. At last his older sister found the passage in which the little boy had mistaken “foregoing” for “foraging.” No wonder that in his mature years he became an advocate of reformed spelling. His sense of humor, which flashed like a mountain brook through all his later intercourse and made it delightful, seems to have begun with his infancy. He used to say his prayers at his mother’s knee, and one evening when he was out of sorts with her, he prayed the Lord to bless the Union Cause; knowing her Southern preferences he took this humorous sort of vengeance on her. She, too, had humor and was much amused, but she warned him that if he repeated such impropriety at that solemn moment, she should tell his father.

Theodore and the other children had a great fondness for pets, and their aunt, Mrs. Robert, possessed several of unusual kinds–pheasants and peacocks which strutted about the back yard and a monkey which lived on the back piazza. They were afraid of him, although they doubtless watched his antics with a fearful joy. From the accounts which survive, life in the nursery of the young Roosevelts must have been a perpetual play-time, but through it all ran the invisible formative influence of their parents, who had the art of shaping the minds and characters of the little people without seeming to teach.

Almost from infancy Theodore suffered from asthma, which made him physically puny, and often prevented him from lying down when he went to bed. But his spirit did not droop. His mental activity never wearied and he poured out endless stories to the delight of his brother and sisters. “My earliest impressions of my brother Theodore,” writes his sister, Mrs. Robinson, “are of a rather small, patient, suffering little child, who, in spite of his suffering, was the acknowledged head of the nursery …. These stories,” she adds, “almost always related to strange and marvelous animal adventures, in which the animals were personalities quite as vivid as Kipling gave to the world a generation later in his ‘Jungle Books.'”

Owing to his delicate health Theodore did not attend school, except for a little while, when he went to Professor MacMullen’s Academy on Twentieth Street. He was taught at home and he probably got more from his reading than from his teachers. By the time he was ten, the passion for omnivorous reading which frequently distinguishes boys who are physically handicapped, began in him. He devoured Our Young Folks, that excellent periodical on which many of the boys and girls who were his contemporaries fed. He loved tales of travel and adventure; he loved Cooper’s stories, and especially books on natural history.

In summer the children spent the long days out of doors at some country place, and there, in addition to the pleasure of being continuously with nature, they had the sports and games adapted to their age. Theodore was already making collections of stones and other specimens after the haphazard fashion of boys. The young naturalist sometimes met with unexpected difficulties. Once, for instance, he found a litter of young white mice, which he put in the ice-chest for safety. His mother came upon them, and, in the interest Of good housekeeping, she threw them away. When Theodore discovered it he flew into a tantrum and protested that what hurt him most was “the loss to Science! the loss to Science!” On another occasion Science suffered a loss of unknown extent owing to his obligation to manners. He and his cousin had filled their pockets and whatever bags they had with specimens. Then they came upon two toads, of a strange and new variety. Having no more room left, each boy put one of them on top of his head and clapped down his hat. All went well till they met Mrs. Hamilton Fish, a great lady to whom they had to take off their hats. Down jumped the toads and hopped away, and Science was never able to add the Bufo Rooseveltianus to its list of Hudson Valley reptiles.

In 1869 Mr. Roosevelt took his family to Europe for a year. The children did not care to go, and from the start Theodore was homesick and little interested. Of course, picture galleries meant nothing to a boy of ten, with a naturalist’s appetite, and he could not know enough about history to be impressed by historic places and monuments. He kept a diary from which Mr. Hagedorn* prints many amusing entries, some of which I quote:

* H. Hagedorn: The Boy’s Life of Theodore Roosevelt. Harper & Bros. 1918.

Munich, October. “In the night I had a nightmare dreaming that the devil was carrying me away and had collorer morbos (a sickness that is not very dangerous) but Mama patted me with her delicate fingers.”

Little Conie also kept a diary: the next entry is from it:

Paris. “I am so glad Mama has let me stay in the butiful hotel parlor while the poor boys have been dragged off to the orful picture galary.”

Now Theodore again:

Paris, November 26. “I stayed in the house all day, varying the day with brushing my hair, washing my hands and thinking in fact haveing a verry dull time.”

“Nov. 27. I Did the same thing as yesterday.”

Chamounix. “I found several specimens to keep and we went on the great glacier called ‘Mother of ice!'”

“We went to our cousins school at Waterloo. We had a nice time but met Jeff Davises son and some sharp words ensued.”

Venice. “We saw a palace of the doges. It looks like a palace you could be comfortable and snug in (which is not usual)–We went to another church in which Conie jumped over tombstones spanked me banged Ellies head &c.”

“Conie” was his nickname for his younger sister Corinne.*

* She subsequently married Mr. Douglas Robinson.

November 22. “In the evening Mama showed me the portrait of Eidieth Carow and her face stirred up in me homesickness and longings for the past which will come again never aback never.”

The little girl, the sight of whose portrait stirred such longings for the past in the heart of the young Theodore, was Edith Carow, the special playmate of his sister Conie and one of the intimate group whom he had always known. Years later she became his wife.

The Roosevelt family returned to New York in May, 1870, and resumed its ordinary life. Theodore, whom one of his fellow travelers on the steamer remembers as “a tall thin lad with bright eyes and legs like pipestems,” developed rapidly in mind, but the asthma still tormented him and threatened to make a permanent invalid of him. His father fitted up in the house in Twentieth Street a small gymnasium and said to the boy in substance, “You have brains, but you have a sickly body. In order to make your brains bring you what they ought, you must build up your body; it depends upon you.” The boy felt both the obligation and the desire; he willed to be strong, and he went through his gymnastic exercises with religious precision. What he read in his books about knights and paladins and heroes had always greatly moved his imagination. He wanted to be like them. He understood that the one indispensable attribute common to all of them was bodily strength. Therefore he would be strong. Through all his suffering he was patient and determined. But I recall no other boy, enfeebled by a chronic and often distressing disease, who resolved as he did to conquer his enemy by a wisely planned and unceasing course of exercises.

Improvement came slowly. Many were the nights in which he spent hours gasping for breath. Sometimes on summer nights his father would wrap him up and take him on a long drive through the darkness in search of fresh air. But no matter how hard the pinch, the boy never complained, and when ever there was a respite his vivacity burst forth as fresh as ever. He could not attend school with other boys and, indeed, his realization that he could not meet them on equal physical terms made him timid when he was thrown with them. So he pursued his own tastes with all the more zeal. He read many books, some of which seemed beyond a boy’s ken, but he got something from each of them. His power of concentration already surprised his family. If he was absorbed in a chapter, nothing which went on outside of him, either noise or interruption, could distract his attention. His passion for natural his tory increased. At the age of ten, he opened in one of the rooms of his home “The Roosevelt Museum of Natural History.” Later, he devoted himself more particularly to birds, and learned from a taxidermist how to skin and stuff his specimens.

In 1873, President Grant appointed Mr. Roosevelt a Commissioner to the Vienna Exposition and the Roosevelt family made another foreign tour. Hoping to benefit Theodore’s asthma they went to Algiers, and up the Nile, where he was much more interested in the flocks of aquatic fowl than in the half-buried temples of Dendera or the obelisks and pylons of Karnak. He even makes no mention of the Pyramids, but records with enthusiasm that he found at Cairo a book by an English clergyman, whose name he forgot, on the ornithology of the Nile, which greatly helped him. Incidentally, he says that from the Latin names of the birds he made his first acquaintance with that language. While Mr. Roosevelt attended to his duties in Vienna the younger children were placed in the family of Herr Minckwitz, a Government official at Dresden. There, Theodore, “in spite of himself,” learned a good deal of German, and he never forgot his pleasant life among the Saxons in the days be fore the virus of Prussian barbarism had poisoned all the non-Prussian Germans. Minckwitz had been a Liberal in the Revolution of 1848, a fact which added to Theodore’s interest in him.

On getting home, Theodore, who was fifteen years old, set to work seriously to fit himself to enter Harvard College. Up to this time his education had been unmethodical, leaving him behind his fellows in some subjects and far ahead of them in others. He had the good fortune now to secure as a tutor Mr. Arthur H. Cutler, for many years head of the Cutler Preparatory School in New York City, thanks to whose excellent training he was able to enter college in 1876. During these years of preparation Theodore’s health steadily improved. He had a gun and was an ardent sportsman, the incentive of adding specimens to his collection of birds and animals outweighing the mere sport of slaughter. At Oyster Bay, where his father first leased a house in 1874, he spent much of his time on the water, but he deemed sailing rather lazy and unexciting, compared with rowing. He enjoyed taking his row-boat out into the Sound, and, if a high headwind was blowing, or the sea ran in whitecaps, so much the better. He was now able to share in all of the athletic pastimes of his companions, although, so far as I know, he never indulged in baseball, the commonest game of all.

When he entered Harvard as a Freshman in 1876, that institution was passing through its transition from college to university, which had begun when Charles W. Eliot became its President seven years before. In spite of vehement assaults, the Great Educator pushed on his reform slowly but resistlessly. He needed to train not only the public but many members, perhaps a majority, of his faculty. Young Roosevelt found a body of eight hundred undergraduates, the largest number up to that time. While the Elective System had been introduced in the upper classes, Freshmen and Sophomores were still required to take the courses prescribed for them.

To one who looks back, after forty years, on the Harvard of that time there was much about it, the loss of which must be regretted. Limited in many directions it was, no doubt, but its very limitations made for friendship and for that sense of intimate mutual, relationship, out of which springs mutual affection. You belonged to Harvard, and she to you. That she was small, compared with her later magnitude, no more lessened your love for her, than your love for your own mother could be increased were she suddenly to become a giantess. The undergraduate community was not exactly a large family, but it was, nevertheless, restricted enough not only for a fellow to know at least by sight all of his classmates, but also to have some knowledge of what was going on in other classes as well as in the College as a whole. Academic fame, too, had a better chance then than it has now. There were eight or ten professors, whom most of the fellows knew by sight, and all by reputation; now, however, I meet intelligent students who have never heard even the name of the head of some department who is famous throughout the world among his colleagues, but whose courses that student has never taken.

In spite of the simplicity and the homelikeness of the Harvard with eight hundred undergraduates, however, it was large enough to afford the opportunity of meeting men of many different tastes and men from all parts of the country. So it gave free play to the development of individual talents, and its standard of scholarship was already sufficiently high to ensure the excellence of the best scholars it trained. One quality which we probably took little note of, although it must have affected us all, sprang from the fact that Harvard was still a crescent institution; she was in the full vigor of growth, of expansion, of increase, and we shared insensibly from being connected with that growth. In retrospect now, and giving due recognition to this crescent spirit, I recall that, in spite of it, Omar Khayyam was the favorite poet of many of us, that introspection, which sometimes deepened into pessimism, was in vogue, and that a spiritual or philosophic languorous disenchantment sicklied o’er the somewhat mottled cast of our thought.

Roosevelt took rooms at No. 16 Winthrop Street, a quiet little lane midway between the College Yard and Charles River, where he could pursue his hobbies without incessant interruption from casual droppers-in. Here he kept the specimens which he went on collecting, some live–a large turtle and two or three harmless snakes, for instance–and some dead and stuffed. He was no “grind”; the gods take care not to mix even a drop of pedantry in the make-up of the rare men whom they destine for great deeds or fine works. Theodore was already so much stronger in his health that he went on to get still more strength. He had regular lessons in boxing. He took long walks and studied the flora and fauna of the country round Cambridge in his amateurish but intense way. During his first Christmas vacation, he went down to the Maine Woods and camped out, and there he met Bill Sewall, a famous guide, who remained Theodore’s friend through life, and Wilmot Dow, Sewall’s nephew, another woodsman; and this trip, subsequently followed by others, did much good to his physique. He still had occasional attacks of asthma–he “guffled” as Bill Sewall called it–and they were sometimes acute, but his tendency to them slowly wore away.

All his days Roosevelt was proud of being a Harvard man. Even in the period when academic Harvard was most critical of his public acts, he never wavered in his devotion to Alma Mater herself, that dear and lovely Being, who, like the ideal of our country, lives on to inspire us in spite of unsympathetic administrations and unloved leaders.

“The One remains, the many change and pass.”

Nevertheless, in his “Autobiography,” Theodore makes very scant record of his college life. “I thoroughly enjoyed Harvard,” he says, “and I am sure it did me good, but only in the general effect, for there was very little in my actual studies which helped me in after life.” * Like nine out of ten men who look back on college he could make no definite estimate of the actual gains from those four years; but it is precisely the indefiniteness, the elusiveness of the college experience which marks its worth. This is not to be reckoned financially by an increase in dollars and cents, or intellectually, by so many added foot-pounds of knowledge. Harvard College was of inestimable benefit to Roosevelt, because it enabled him to find himself–to be a man with his fellow men.

*Autobiography, 27.

During his youth his physical handicap had rather cut him off from companionship on equal terms with his fellows. Now, however, he could enter with zest in their sports and societies. At the very beginning of his Freshman year he showed his classmates his mettle. During the presidential torchlight parade when the jubilant Freshmen were marching for Hayes, some Tilden man shouted derisively at them from a second-story window and pelted them with potatoes. It was impossible for them to get at him, but Theodore, who was always stung at any display of meanness– and it was certainly mean to attack the paraders when they could not retaliate–stood out from the line and shook his fist at the assailant. His fellow marchers asked who their champion was, and so the name of Roosevelt and his pugnacious little figure became generally known to them. He was little then, not above five feet six in height, and under one hundred and thirty pounds in weight. By degrees they all knew him. His unusual ways, his loyalty to his hobbies, which he treated not as mere whims but as being worthy of serious application, his versatility, his outspokenness, his almost unbroken good-nature, attracted most of the persons with whom he came in contact. He rose to be President of the Natural History Society, a distinction which implied some real merit in its possessor. His family antecedents, but still more his personal qualities, made easy for him the ascent of the social terraces at Harvard–the Dicky, the Hasty Pudding Club, and the Porcellian. He was editor of the Harvard Advocate, which opened the door of the O.K. Society, where he found congenial intellectual companionship with the editors from the classes above and below him; and when Dr. Edward Everett Hale wished to revive and perpetuate the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity, Roosevelt was one of the half-dozen men from the Class of 1880 whom he selected.

My first definite recollection of him is at the annual dinner of the Harvard Crimson in January or February, 1879. He was invited as a guest to represent the Advocate. Since entering college I had met him casually many times and had heard of his oddities and exuberance; but throughout this dinner I came to feel that I knew him. On being called on to speak he seemed very shy and made, what I think he said, was his maiden speech. He still had difficulty in enunciating clearly or even in running off his words smoothly. At times he could hardly get them out at all, and then he would rush on for a few sentences, as skaters redouble their pace over thin ice. He told the story of two old gentlemen who stammered, the point of which was, that one of them,–after distressing contortions and stoppages, recommended the other to go to Dr. X, adding, “He cured me.”

A trifling bit of thistledown for memory to have preserved after all these years; but still it is interesting to me to recall that this was the beginning of the public speaking of the man who later addressed more audiences than any other orator of his time and made a deeper impression by his spoken word.

One other reminiscence of Roosevelt at Harvard, almost as unsubstantial as this. Late in his Senior year we had a committee meeting of the Alpha Delta Phi in Charles Washburn’s room at 15 Holworthy. Roosevelt and I sat in the window-seat overlooking the College Yard and chatted together in the intervals when business was slack. We discussed what we intended to do after graduation. “I am going to try to help the cause of better government in New York City; I don’t know exactly how,” said Theodore.

I recall, still, looking hard at him with an eager, inquisitive look and saying to myself, “I wonder whether he is the real thing, or only the bundle of eccentricities which he appears.” There was in me then, as there has always been, a mingling of skepticism and of deep reverence for those who dealt with reality, and I had not had sufficient opportunity to determine whether Roosevelt was real or not. One at least of his classmates, however, saw portents of greatness in Theodore, from their Freshman year, and most of us, even when we were amused and puzzled by his ” queerness,” were very sure that the man from whom they sprang was not commonplace.

So far as I remember, Roosevelt was the first undergraduate to own and drive a dog-cart. This excited various comments; so did the reddish, powder-puff side whiskers which no chaffing could make him cut. There was never the slightest suggestion of the gilded youth about him; though dog-carts, especially when owned by young men, implied the habits and standards of the gilded rich. How explain the paradox? On the other hand, Theodore taught Sunday School at Christ Church, but he was so muscular a Christian that the decorous vestrymen thought him an unwise guide in piety. For one day a boy came to class with a black eye which he had got in fighting a larger boy for pinching his sister. Theodore told him that he did perfectly right–that every boy ought to defend any girl from insult–and he gave him a dollar as a reward. The vestrymen decided that this was too flagrant approval of fisticuffs; so the young teacher soon found a welcome in the Sunday School of a different denomination.

Of all the stories of Roosevelt’s college career, that of his boxing match is most vividly remembered. He enrolled in the light-weight sparring at the meeting in the Harvard Gymnasium on March 22 1879, and defeated his first competitor. When the referee called “time,” Roosevelt immediately dropped his hands, but the other man dealt him a savage blow on the face, at which we all shouted, “Foul, foul!” and hissed; but Roosevelt turned towards us and cried out “Hush! He didn’t hear,” a chivalrous act which made him immediately popular. In his second match he met Hanks. They both weighed about one hundred and thirty-five pounds, but Hanks was two or three inches taller and he had a much longer reach, so that Theodore could not get in his blows, and although he fought with unabated pluck, he lost the contest. More serious than his short reach, however, was his near-sightedness, which made it impossible for him to see and parry Hanks’s lunges. When time was called after the last round, his face was dashed with blood and he was much winded; but his spirit did not flag, and if there had been another round, he would have gone into it with undiminished determination. From this contest there sprang up the legend that Roosevelt boxed with his eyeglasses lashed to his head, and the legend floated hither and thither for nearly thirty years. Not long ago I asked him the truth. “Persons who believe that,” he said, “must think me utterly crazy; for one of Charlie Hanks’s blows would have smashed my eyeglasses and probably blinded me for life.”

In a class of one hundred and seventy he graduated twenty second, which entitled him to membership in the Phi Beta Kappa, the society of high scholars. To one who examines his academic record wisely, the best symptom is that he did fairly well in several unrelated subjects, and achieved preeminence in one, natural history. He had the all-round quality which shows more promise than does a propensity to light on a particular topic and suck it dry; but he had also power of concentration and thoroughness. As I have just said, he was a happy combination of the amateurish and intense. His habit of absorption became a by-word; for if he visited a, classmate’s room and saw a book which interested him, instead of joining in the talk, he would devour the book, oblivious of, everything else, until the college bell rang for the next lecture, when he would jump up with a start, and dash off. The quiet but firm teaching of his parents bore fruit in him: he came to college with a body of rational moral principles which he made no parade of, but obeyed instinctively. And so, where many young fellows are thrown off their balance on first acquiring the freedom which college life gives, or are dazed and distracted on first hearing the babel of strange philosophies or novel doctrines, he walked straight, held himself erect, and was not fooled into mistaking novelty for truth, or libertinism for manliness.

Two outside events which deeply influenced him must be noted. During his Sophomore year his father died; and during his Senior year, Theodore became engaged to Miss Alice Hathaway Lee, daughter of George C. Lee, of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.


Roosevelt was a few months less than twenty-two years old when he graduated from Harvard. His career in college had wrought several important changes in him. First of all, his strength was confirmed. Although he still suffered occasionally from asthma, he was no longer handicapped. In business, or in pleasure, he did not need to consider his health. Next, he had come to some definite decision as to what he would do. His earlier dream of becoming a professor of natural history had faded away. With the inpouring of vigor into his constitution the ideal of an academic life, often sedentary in mind as well as in body, ceased to lure him. He craved activity, and this craving was bound to grow more urgent as he acquired more strength. Next, and this consideration must not be neglected, he was free to choose. His father’s death left him the possessor of a sufficient fortune to live on comfortably without need of working to earn his bread and butter–the motive which determines most young men when they start in life. Finally, his father’s example, reinforced by wholesome advice, quickened in Theodore his sense of obligation to the community. Having money, he must use it, not for mere personal gratification, but in ways which would benefit those who were deprived, or outcast, or bereft. But Theodore was too young and too energetic to be contented with the life of a philanthropist, no matter how noble and necessary its objects might be. He had already accepted Emerson’s dictum:

“He who feeds men, serves a few;
He serves all who dares be true.”

Young as he was, he divined that much of the charitable work, to which good people devote them selves in order to lighten or relieve the ills which the sins and errors of mankind beget, would be needless if the remedy were applied, as it ought to be, to fundamental social conditions. These, he believed, could be reached in many cases through political agency, and he resolved, therefore, to make a trial of his talents in political life. The point at which he decided to “break into politics, ” as he expressed it, was the Assembly, or Lower House of the New York State Legislature. Most of his friends and classmates, on hearing of his plan, regarded it as a proof of his eccentricity; a few of them, the more discerning, would not prejudge him, but were rather inclined to hope. By tradition and instinct, he was a Republican, and in order to learn the political ropes he joined the Twenty-first District Republican Association of New York City. The district consisted chiefly of rich, respectable, and socially conspicuous inhabitants of the vortex metropolis, with a leaven of the “masses.” The “classes” had no real zeal for discharging their political duty. They subscribed to the campaign fund, but had too delicate a sense of propriety to ask how their money was spent. A few of them–and these seemed to be endowed with a special modicum of patriotism–even attended the party primaries in which candidates were named. The majority went to the polls and cast their vote on election day, if it did not rain or snow. For a young man of Roosevelt’s position to desire to take up politics seemed to his friends almost comic. Politics were low and corrupt; politics were not for “gentlemen”; they were the business and pastime of liquor-dealers, and of the degenerates and loafers who frequented the saloons, of horse-car conductors, and of many others whose ties with “respectability” were slight.

To join the organization, Roosevelt had to be elected to the Twenty-first District Republican Club, for the politicians of those days kept their organization close, not to say exclusive, and in this way they secured the docility of their members. The Twenty first District Club met in Morton Hall, a dingy, barnlike room situated over a saloon, and furnished severely with wooden benches, many spittoons, and a speaker’s table decorated with a large pitcher for ice-water. The regular meetings came once a month and Roosevelt attended them faithfully, because he never did things by halves, and having made up his mind to learn the mechanism of politics, he would not neglect any detail.

Despite the shyness which ill health caused him in his youth, he was really a good “mixer,” and, growing to feel more sure of himself, he met men on equal terms. More than that, he had the art of inspiring confidence in persons of divers sorts and, as he was really interested in knowing their thoughts and desires, it never took him long to strike up friendly relations with them.

Jake Hess, the Republican “Boss” of the Twenty-first District, evidently eyed Roosevelt with some suspicion, for the newcomer belonged to a class which Jake did not desire to see largely represented in the business of “practical politics,” and so he treated Roosevelt with a “rather distant affability.” The young man, however, got on well enough with the heelers–the immediate trusty followers of the Boss–and with the ordinary members. They probably marveled to see him so unlike what they believed a youth of the “kid-glove” and “silkstocking” set would be, and they accepted him as a “good fellow.”

Of all Roosevelt’s comrades during this first year of initiation, a young Irishman named Joe Murray was nearest to him, an honest fellow, fearless and stanch, who remained his loyal friend for forty years. Murray began as a Democrat of the Tammany Hall tribe, but having been left in the lurch by his Boss at an election, he determined to punish the Boss, and this he did at the first opportunity by throwing his influence on the side of the Republican candidate. The Republicans won, although the district was overwhelmingly Democratic, and Murray joined the Republican Party. He worked in the district where Jake Hess ruled. Like other even greater men, Jake became arrogant and treated the gang under him with condescension. Murray resented this and resolved that he would humble the Boss by supporting Roosevelt as a candidate for the Assembly. Hess protested, but could not prevent the nomination and during the campaign he seems to have supported the candidate whom he had not chosen.

Roosevelt sent the following laconic appeal to some of the voters of his district:

New York, November 1, 1881.


Having been nominated as a candidate for member of Assembly for this District, I would esteem it a compliment if you honor me with your vote and personal influence on Election day.

Very respectfully


Certainly, nothing could be simpler than this card, which contains no puff of either the party or the candidate, or no promise. It drew a cordial response.

Twenty-first Assembly District.

40th to 86th Sts., Lexington to 7th Aves.

We cordially recommend the voters of the Twenty-first Assembly District to cast their ballots for

Theodore Roosevelt

for member of Assembly

and take much pleasure in testifying to our appreciation of his high character and standing in the community. He is conspicuous for his honesty and integrity, and eminently qualified to represent the District in the Assembly.

New York November 1, 1881

F. A. P. Barnard, William T. Black, Willard Bullard, Joseph H. Choate, William A. Darling, Henry E. Davies, Theodore W. Dwight, Jacob Hess, Morris K. Jesup, Edward Mitchell, William F. Morgan, Chas. S. Robinson, Elihu Root, Jackson S. Shultz, Elliott F. Shepard, Gustavus Tuckerman, S. H. Wales, W. H. Webb.

This list bears the names of at least two men who will be long remembered. There are also several others which were doubtless of more political value to the aspirant to office in 1881.

Just after the election Roosevelt wrote to his classmate, Charles G. Washburn:

‘Too true, too true; I have become a “political hack.” Finding it would not interfere much with my law, I accepted the nomination to the Assembly and was elected by 1500 majority, leading the ticket by 600 votes. But don’t think I am going to go into politics after this year, for I am not.’

Roosevelt’s allusion to the law requires the statement that in the autumn of 1880 he had begun to read law in the office of his uncle, Robert Roosevelt; not that he had a strong leaning to the legal profession, but that he believed that every one, no matter how well off he might be, ought to be able to support himself by some occupation or profession. Also, he could not endure being idle, and he knew that the slight political work on which he embarked when he joined the Twenty-first District Republican Club would take but little of his time. During that first year out of college he established himself as a citizen, not merely politically, but socially. On his birthday in 1880 he married Miss Lee and they set up their home at 6 West Fifty-seventh Street; he joined social and literary clubs and extended his athletic interests beyond wrestling and boxing to hunting, rifle practice, and polo.

His law studies seem to have absorbed him less than anything else that he undertook during all his life. He could not fail to be interested in them, but he never plunged into them with all his might and main as if he intended to make them his chief concern. For a while he had a desk in the office of the publishers, G. P. Putnam’s Sons: but Major George Putnam recalls that he did little except suggest wonderful projects, which “had to be sat down upon.” Already a love of writing infected him. Even before he left Harvard he had begun “A History of the Naval War of 1812,” and this he worked on eagerly. The Putnams published it in 1882.

One incident of Roosevelt’s canvass must not be overlooked. The Red Indians of old used to make their captives run the gauntlet between two lines of warriors: political bosses in New York in 1880 made their nominee run the gauntlet of all the saloonkeepers in their district. Accordingly, Jake Hess and Joe Murray proceeded to introduce Roosevelt to the rum-sellers of Sixth Avenue. The first they visited received Theodore with injudicious condescension almost as if he were a suppliant. He said he hoped that the young candidate, if elected, would treat the liquor men fairly, to which the “suppliant” replied that he intended to treat all interests fairly. The suggestion that liquor licenses were too high brought the retort that they were not high enough. Thereupon, the wary Hess and the discreet Joe Murray found an excuse for hurrying Roosevelt out of the saloon, and they told him that he had better look after his friends on Fifth Avenue and that they would look after the saloon-keepers on Sixth Avenue. That any decent candidate should have to pass in review before the saloon-keepers and receive their approval, is so monstrous as to be grotesque. That a possible President of the United States should be the victim needs no comment. It was thoroughly characteristic of Roosevelt that he balked at the first trial.

He says in his “Autobiography” that he was not conscious of going into politics to benefit other people, but to secure for himself a privilege to which every one was entitled. That privilege was self-government. When his “kid-glove” friends laughed at him for deliberately choosing to leap into the political mire, he told them that the governing class ought to govern, and that not they themselves but the bosses and “heelers” were the real governors of New York City. Not the altruistic desire to reform, but the perfectly practical resolve to enjoy the political rights to which he had a claim was his leading motive. It is important to understand this because it will explain much of his action as a statesman. Roosevelt is the greatest idealist in American public life since Lincoln; but his idealism, like Lincoln’s, always had a firm, intelligent, practical footing. Roosevelt himself thus describes his work during his first year in the New York Assembly:

I paid attention chiefly while in the Legislature to laws for the reformation of Primaries and of the Civil Service and endeavored to have a certain Judge Westbrook impeached, on the ground of corrupt collusion with Jay Gould and the prostitution of his high judicial office to serve the purpose of wealthy and unscrupulous stock gamblers, but was voted down.

This brief statement gives no idea of either the magnitude or quality of his work in which, like young David, he went forth to smite Goliath, the Giant Corruption,, entrenched for years in the Albany State House. I do not believe that in at tacking the monster, Roosevelt thought that he was displaying unusual courage, much less that he was winning the crown of a moral hero. He simply saw a mass of abuse and wickedness which every decent person ought to repudiate. Most decent persons saw it, too, but convention, or self-interest, party affiliation, or unromantic, every-day cowardice, made them hold their tongues. Being assigned to committees which had some of the most important concerns of New York City in charge, Roosevelt had the advantage given by his initiation into political methods as practiced in the Twenty-first District of knowing a little more than his colleagues knew about the local issues. Three months of the session elapsed before he stood up in the Chamber and attacked point-blank,one formidable champion of corruption. Listen to an anonymous writer in the Saturday Evening Post:

It was on April 6, 1882, that Roosevelt took the floor in the Assembly and demanded that Judge Westbrook, of New bury, be impeached. And for sheer moral courage that act is probably supreme in Roosevelt’s life thus far. He must have expected failure. Even his youth and idealism and ignorance of public affairs could not blind him to the apparently inevitable consequences. Yet he drew his sword and rushed apparently to destruction–alone, and at the very outset of his career, and in disregard of the pleadings of his closest friends and the plain dictates of political wisdom. That speech–the deciding act in Roosevelt’s career–is not remarkable for eloquence. But it is remarkable for fear less candor. He called thieves thieves, regardless of their millions; he slashed savagely at the judge and the Attorney General; he told the plain unvarnished truth as his indignant eyes saw it.*

* Riis, 54-55.

Astonishment verging on consternation filled the Assemblymen, who, through long experience, were convinced that Truth was too precious to be exhibited in public. Worldly wisdom came to the aid of the veteran Republican leader who wished to treat the assault as if it were the unripe explosion of youth. The callowness of his young friend must excuse him. He doubtless meant well, but his inexperience prevented him from realizing that many a reputation in public life had been shattered by just such loose charges. He felt sure that when the young man had time to think it over, he would modify his language. It would be fitting, therefore, for that body to show its kindliness by giving the new member from New York City leisure to think it over.

Little did this official defender of corruption understand Mr. Roosevelt, whose business it was then to uphold Right. That was a question in which expediency could have no voice. He regarded neither the harm he might possibly do to his political future nor to the standing of the Republican Party. I suspect that he smarted under the leader’s attempt to treat him as a young man whose breaks instead of causing surprise must be condoned. Although the magnates of the party pleaded with him and urged him not to throw away his usefulness, he rose again in the Assembly next day and renewed his demand for an investigation of Judge Westbrook. Day after day he repeated his demand. The newspapers throughout the State began to give more and more attention to him. The public applauded, and the legislators, who had sat and listened to him with contemptuous indifference, heard from their constituents. At last, on the eighth day, by a vote of 104 to 6 the Assembly adopted Roosevelt’s resolution and appointed an investigating committee. The evidence taken amply justified Roosevelt’s charges, in spite of which the committee gave a whitewashing verdict. Nevertheless the “young reformer” had not only proved his case, but had suddenly made a name for himself in the State and in the Country.

Before his first term ended he discovered that there were enemies of honest government quite as dangerous as the open supporters of corruption. These were the demagogues who, under the pretense of attacking the wicked interests, introduced bills for the sole purpose of being bought off. Sly fellows they were and sneaks. Against their “strike” legislation Roosevelt had also to fight. His chief friend at Albany was Billy O’Neil, who kept a little crossroads grocery up in the Adirondacks; had thought for himself on American politics; had secured his election to the Assembly without the favor of the Machine; and now acted there with as much independence as his young colleague of the Twenty first District. Roosevelt remarks that the fact that two persons, sprung from such totally different surroundings, should come together in the Legislature was an example of the fine result which American democracy could achieve.

The session came to a close, and although Roosevelt had protested the year before that he was not going into politics as a career, he allowed himself to be renominated. Naturally, his desire to continue in and complete the task in which he had already accomplished much was whetted. He would have been a fool if he had not known, what every one else knew, that he had made a very brilliant record during his first year. A false standard which comes very near hypocrisy imposes a ridiculous mock modesty on great men in modern times: as if Shakespeare alone should be unaware that he was Shakespeare or that Napoleon or Darwin or Lincoln or Cavour should each be ignorant of his worth. Better vanity, if you will, than sham modesty. There was no harm done that Roosevelt at twenty-three felt proud of being recognized as a power in the Assembly. We must never forget also that he was a fighter, and that his first contests in Albany had so roused his blood that he longed to fight those battles to a finish, that is, to victory. We must make a distinction also in his motives. He did not strain every nerve to win a cause because it was his cause; but having adopted a cause which his heart and mind told him was good, he strove to make that cause triumph because he believed it to be good.

So he allowed himself to be renominated and he was reelected by 2000 majority, although in that autumn of 1882 the Democratic candidate for Governor, Grover Cleveland, swept New York State by 192,000 and carried into office by the momentum of his success many of the minor candidates on the Democratic ticket.

The year 1883 opened with the cheer of dawn in New York politics. Cleveland, the young Governor of forty-four, had proved himself fearless, public-spirited, and conscientious. So had Roosevelt, the young Assemblyman of twenty-three. One was a Democrat, one a Republican, but they were alike in courage and in holding honesty and righteousness above their party platforms.

Roosevelt pursued in this session the methods which had made him famous and feared in the preceding. He admits that he may have had for a while a “swelled head,” for in the chaos of conflicting principles and no-principles in which his life was thrown, he decided to act independently and to let his conscience determine his action on each question which arose. He flocked by himself on a peak. He was too practical, however, to hold this course long. Experience had already taught him that under a constitutional government parties which advocate or oppose issues must rule, and that in order to make your issues win you must secure a majority of the votes. Not by playing solitaire, therefore, not by standing aloof as one crying in the wilderness, but by honestly persuading as many as you could to support you, could you promote the causes which you had at heart. The professional politicians and the Machine leaders still thought that he was stubborn and too conceited to listen to reason, but in reality he had a few intimates like Billy O’Neil and Mike Costello with whom he took counsel, and a group of thirty or forty others, both Republican and Democratic, with whom he acted harmoniously on many questions.

They all united to fight the Black-Horse Cavalry, as the gang of “strike” legislators was called. One of the most insidious bills pushed by these rascals aimed at reducing the fares on the New York Elevated Railway from ten cents to five cents. It seemed so plausible! So entirely in the interest of the poor man! Indeed, the affairs of the Elevated took up much of Roosevelt’s attention and enriched for years the Black-Horse Cavalrymen and the lobbyists. He also forced the Assembly to appoint a commission to investigate the New York City police officials, the police department being at that time notoriously corrupt. They employed as their counsel George Bliss, a lawyer of prominence, with a sharp tongue and a contempt for self-constituted reformers. While Roosevelt was cross-examining one of the officials, Bliss, who little understood the man he was dealing with, interrupted with a scornful and impertinent remark. “Of course you do not mean that, Mr. Bliss,” said the young reformer with impressive politeness, “for if you did we should have to put you out in the street.” Even in those early days, when Roosevelt was in dead earnest, he had a way of pointing his forefinger and of fixing his under jaw which the person whom he addressed could not mistake. That forefinger was as menacing as a seven shooter. Mr. Bliss, with all the prestige of a successful career at the bar behind him, quickly understood the meaning of the look, the gesture, and the studied courtesy. He deemed it best to retract and apologize at once; and it was.

Roosevelt consented to run for a third term and he was elected in spite of the opposition of the various elements which united to defeat him. Such a man was too. dangerous to be acceptable to Jay Gould and the “interests,” to Black-Horse Cavalry, and to gangs of all kinds who made a living, directly or indirectly, by office-holding. His friends urged him for the speakership; but this was asking too much of the Democratic majority, and besides, there were Republicans who had winced under his scourge the year before and were glad enough to defeat him now. Occasionally, some kind elderly friend would still attempt to show him the folly of his ways, and we hear reports of one gentleman, a member of the Assembly and an “old friend,” who told him that the great concern in life was Business, and that lawyers and judges, legislators and Congressmen, existed to serve the ends of Business. “There is no politics in politics,” said this moral guide and sage. But he could not budge the young man, who believed that there are many considerations more important than the political.

During this third year, he made a straight and gallant fight to improve the condition under which cigars were made in New York City. By his own investigation, he found that the cigar makers lived in tenements, in one room, perhaps two, with their families and often a boarder; these made the cigars which the public bought, in ignorance of the facts. Roosevelt proposed that, as a health measure which would benefit alike the cigar-makers and the public, this evil practice be prohibited and that the police put a stop to it. His bill passed in 1884, but the next year the Court of Appeals declared it unconstitutional, because it deprived the tenement-house people of their liberty and would injure the owners of the tenements if they were not allowed to rent their property to these tenants. In its decision, the court indulged in nauseating sanctimony of this sort: ” It cannot be perceived how the cigar-maker is to be improved in his health, or his morals, by forcing him from his home and its hallowed associations and beneficent influences to ply his trade elsewhere.” This was probably not the first time when Roosevelt was enraged to find the courts of justice sleekly upholding hot-beds of disease and vice, on the pretense that they were protecting liberty. Commenting on this episode, Mr. Washburn well says: “As applied to the kind of tenement I have referred to, this reference to the ‘home and its hallowed associations’ seems grotesque or tragic depending upon the point of view.”*

* Washburn, 11.

Amid work of this kind, fighting and fearless, constantly adding to his reputation among the good as a high type of reformer, and adding to the detestation in which the bad held him, he completed his third term. He resolutely refused to serve again and declined the offers which were pressed upon him to run for Congress; nor did he accept a place on the Republican National Committee.

The death of his mother on February 12, 1884, followed in twenty-four hours by that of his wife, who died after the birth of a daughter, brought sorrow upon Roosevelt which made the burden of his political work heavier and caused him to consider how he should readjust his life, for he was first of all a man of deep family affections and the loss of his wife left him adrift.

To S. N. D. North, editor of the Utica Herald and a well-wisher of his, he wrote from Albany on April 30, 1884:

Dear Mr. North: I wish to write you a few words just to thank you for your kindness towards me, and to assure you that my head will not be turned by what I well know was a mainly accidental success. Although not a very old man, I have yet lived a great deal in my life, and I have known sorrow too bitter and joy too keen to allow me to become either cast down or elated for more than a very brief period over success or defeat.

I have very little expectation of being able to keep on in politics; my success so far has only been won by absolute indifference to my future career; for I doubt if any one can realize the bitter and venomous hatred with which I am regarded by the very politicians who at Utica supported me, under dictation from masters who were influenced by political considerations that were national and not local in their scope. I realize very thoroughly the absolutely ephemeral nature of the hold I have upon the people, and the very real and positive hostility I have excited among the politicians. I will not stay in public life unless I can do so on my own terms; and my ideal, whether lived up to or not, is rather a high one. For very many reasons I will not mind going back into private life for a few years. My work this winter has been very harassing, and I feel both tired and restless; for the next few months I shall probably be in Dakota, and I think I shall spend the next two or three years in making shooting trips, either in the Far West or in the Northern woods–and there will be plenty of work to do writing.*

* Douglas, 41-42.

This letter is a striking revelation of the inmost intentions of the man of twenty-five, who already stood on a pinnacle where hard heads and mature might well have been dizzy. Evidently he knew him self, and even in his brief experience with the world he understood how uncertain and evanescent are the winds of Fame. If he had ever suffered from a “swelled head,” he was now cured. He felt the emptiness of life’s prizes when the dearest who should have shared them with him were dead.


The year 1884 was a Presidential year, and Roosevelt was one of the four delegates-at-large* of New York State to the Republican National Convention at Chicago. The day seemed to have come for a new birth in American politics. The Republican Party was grown fat with four and twenty years of power, and the fat had overlain and smothered its noble aims. The party was arrogant, it was corrupt, it was unashamed. After the War, immense projects involving huge sums of money had to be managed, and the Republicans spent like spendthrifts when they did not spend like embezzlers. I do not imply that the Democrats would not have done the same if they had been in command, or that there were not among them many who saw where their profit lay, and took it. The quadrupeds which feed at the Treasury trough are all of one species, no matter whether their skins be black or white.

* The other delegates-at-large were President Andrew D. White of Cornell University, J. T. Gilbert, and Edwin Packard.

But now a new generation was springing up, with its leaven of hope and idealism and its intuitive faith in honesty.

More completely than any one else, Roosevelt embodied to the country the glorious promise of this new generation. But the old always dies hard after it has long been the blood and mind of a creed, a class, or a party. Terrible also is the blind, remorseless sweep of a custom which may have sprung up from good soil, not less than one spawned and nurtured in iniquity. Frankenstein laboriously constructing his monster seems to personify society at its immemorial task of creating institutions; each institution as it becomes viable rends its creator.

So the Republican Party lived on its traditions, its privileges, its appetites, its arrogance, and it refused to be transmuted by its youngest members. In 1876 it resorted to fraud to perpetuate its hold on power. Unchastened in 1880, three hundred and six of its delegates attempted through thick and thin to force the nomination of General Grant for a third term. The chief opposing candidate was James G. Blaine, whose unsavory reputation, however, caused the majority of the convention which was not pledged to Grant to repudiate Blaine and to choose Garfield as a compromise. Then followed four years of factional bitterness in the party, and when 1884 came round, Blaine’s admirers pushed him to the front.

Blaine himself was not a person of delicate instinct. The repudiation which he had twice suffered by the better element of the Republican Party, seemed only to redouble his determination to be its candidate. He had much personal magnetism. Both in his methods and ideals, he represented perfectly the politicians who during the dozen years after Lincoln’s death flourished at Washington, and at every State capitol in the Union. By the luck of a catching phrase applied to him by Robert G. Ingersoll, he stood before the imagination of the country “as the plumed knight,” although on looking back we search in vain for any trait of knightliness or chivalry in him. For a score of years he filled the National Congress, House and Senate, with the bustle of his egotism. His knightly valor consisted in shaking his fist at the “Rebel Brigadiers ” and in waving the “bloody shirt,” feats which seemed to him heroic, no doubt, but which were safe enough, the Brigadiers being few and Blaine’s supporters many. But where on the Nation’s statute book do you find now a single important law fathered by him? What book contains one of his maxims for men to live by? Many persons still live who knew him, and remember him, but can any of them repeat a saying of his which passes current on the lips of Americans? So much sound and fury, so much intrigue and sophistry, and self-seeking, and now the silence of an empty sepulchre!

The better element of the Republican Party went to the Chicago Convention sworn to save the party from the disgrace of nominating Blaine. Roosevelt believed the charges against him, and by all that he had written and spoken, and by his political career, he was bound to oppose the politician, who, as Speaker of the National House, had, by the showing of his own letters, taken bribes from unscrupulous interests. In the convention, and in the committee meetings, and in the incessant parleys which prepare the work of a convention, Roosevelt fought unwaveringly against Blaine. The better element made Senator George F. Edmunds their candidate, and Roosevelt urged his nomination on all comers. When the convention met, Mr. Lodge, of Massachusetts, nominated J. R. Lynch, a negro from Mississippi, to be temporary chairman, thereby heading off Powell Clayton, a veteran Republican “war-horse” and office-holder. Roosevelt had the honor–and it was an honor for so young a man–to make a speech, which proved to be effective, in Lynch’s behalf; and when the vote was taken, Lynch was chosen by 424 to 384. This first victory over the Blaine Machine, the Edmunds men hailed as a good omen.

Roosevelt was chairman of the New York State delegation. The whirling days and nights at Chicago confirmed his position as a national figure, but he strove in vain in behalf of honesty. The majority of the delegates would not be gainsaid. They had come to Chicago resolved to elect James G. Blaine, and no other, and they would not quit until they had accomplished this. Pleas for morality and for party concord fell on deaf ears, as did warnings of the comfort which Blaine’s nomination would give to their enemies. His supporters packed the great convention hall, and when his name was put in nomination, there followed a riot of cheers, which lasted the better part of an hour, and foreboded his success.

As had been predicted, Blaine’s nomination split the Republican Party. Many of the better element came out for Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, who, as Governor of New York, had displayed unfailing courage, integrity, and intelligence. Others again, disgusted with many of the principles and leaders of both parties, formed themselves into a special group or party of Independents. They were hateful alike to the Bosses who controlled the Republican or Democratic organization; and Charles A. Dana, of the New York Sun, who took care never to be “on the side of the angels,” derisively dubbed them “mugwumps”–a title which may carry an honorable meaning to posterity.

I was one of these Independents, and if I cite my own case, it is not because it was of any importance to the public, but because it was typical. During the days of suspense before the Chicago Convention met, the proposed nomination of Blaine weighed upon me like a nightmare. I would not admit to myself that so great a crime against American ideals could be committed by delegates who represented the standard of any political party, and were drawn from all over the country. I cherished, what seems to me now the sadly foolish dream, that with Roosevelt in the convention the abomination could not be done. I thought of him as of a paladin against whom the forces of evil would dash themselves to pieces. I thought of him as the young and dauntless spokesman of righteousness whose words would silence the special pleaders of iniquity. I wrote him and besought him to stand firm.

There followed the days of suspense when the newspapers brought news of the wild proceedings at the convention, and for me the shadow deepened. Then the telegraph reported Blaine’s triumphant nomination. I waited, we all waited, to learn what the delegates who opposed him intended to do. One morning a dispatch in the New York Tribune announced that Roosevelt would not bolt. That very day I had a little note from him saying that he had done his best in Chicago, that the result sickened him, that he should, however, support the Republican ticket; but he intended to spend most of the summer and autumn hunting in the West.

I was dumfounded. I felt as Abolitionists felt after Webster’s Seventh of March speech. My old acquaintance, our trusted leader, whose career in the New York Assembly we had watched with an almost holy satisfaction, seemed to have strangely abandoned the fundamental principles which we and he had believed in, and he had so nobly upheld. Whittier’s poem “Ichabod” seemed to have been aimed at him, especially in its third stanza:

“Oh, dumb be passion’s stormy rage,
When he who might
Have lighted up and led his age,
Falls back in night.”

Amid the lurid gleams and heat of such a disappointment, men cannot see clearly. They impute wrong motives, base motives, to the backslider. In their wrath, they assume that only guilt can account for his defection.

We see plainly enough now that we misjudged Roosevelt. We assumed that because he was with us in the crusade for pure politics, he agreed with us in the estimate we put on party loyalty. Independents and mugwumps felt little reverence and set even less value on political parties, which we regarded simply as instruments to be used in carrying out policies. If a party pursued a policy contrary to our own, we left it as we should leave a train which we found going in the wrong direction. There was nothing sacred in a political party.

In assuming that Roosevelt must have coincided with us in these views, we did him wrong. For he held then, and had held since he first entered politics, that party transcended persons, and that only in the gravest case imaginable was one justified in bolting his party because one disapproved of its candidate. He did not respect Blaine; on the contrary, he regarded Blaine as a bad man: but he believed that the future of the country would be much safer under the control of the Republican Party than under the Democratic. This doctrine exposes its adherents to obvious criticism, if not to suspicion. It enables persons of callous consciences to support bad platforms and bad candidates without blushing; but after all, who shall say at what point you are justified in bolting your party? The decision must rest with the individual. And although it was hard for the bolting Independents in 1884 to accept the tenet that party transcends persons, it was Roosevelt’s reason, and with him sincere. Some of his colleagues in the better element who had struggled as he had to defeat Blaine, and then, almost effusively, exalted Blaine as their standard-bearer, were less fortunate than he in having their sincerity doubted. George William Curtis, Carl Schurz, Charles Francis Adams, and other Independents of their intransigent temper formed a Mugwump Party and this turned the scale in electing Grover Cleveland President.

There used to be much discussion as to who persuaded Roosevelt, although he detested Blaine, to stand by the Republicans in 1884. Those were the days when very few of his critics understood that, in spite of his youth, he had already thought for himself on politics and had reached certain conclusions as to fundamental principles. These critics assumed that he must have been won over by Henry Cabot Lodge, with whom he had been intimate since his Harvard days, and who was supposed to be his political mentor. The truth is, however, that Roosevelt had formed his own opinion about bolting, and that he and Lodge, in discussing possibilities before they went to the Chicago Convention, had independently agreed that they must abide by the choice of the party there. They held, and a majority of men in similar position still hold, that delegates cannot in honor abandon the nominee chosen by the majority in a convention which they attend as delegates. If the rule, “My man, or nobody,” were to prevail, there would be no use in holding conventions at all. And after that of 1884, George William Curtis, one of the chief leaders of the Independents, admitted that Roosevelt, in staying with the Republican Party, played the game fairly. While Curtis himself bolted and helped to organize the Mugwumps, Roosevelt, after his trip to the West, returned to New York and took a vigorous part in the campaign. Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s decision, in 1884, to cleave to the Republican Party disappointed many of us. We thought of him as a lost leader. Some critics in their ignorance were inclined to impute false motives to him; but in time, the cloud of suspicion rolled away and his action in that crisis was not laid up against him. The election of Cleveland relieved him of seeming perfunctorily to uphold Blaine.


A perfect biography would show definitely the interaction between mind and body. At present we can only guess what this interaction may be. In some cases the relations are evident, but in most they are vague and often unsuspected. The psychologists, whose pretensions are so great and whose actual results are still so small, may perhaps lead, an age or two hence, to the desired knowledge. But the biographer of today must beware of adopting the unripe formulas of any immature science. Nevertheless, he must watch, study, and record all the facts pertaining to his subject, although he cannot explain them. Theodore Roosevelt was a wonderful example of the partnership of mind and body, and any one who writes his biography in detail will do well to pay great heed to this intricate interlocking. I can do no more than allude to it here. We have seen that Roosevelt from his earliest days had a quick mind, happily not precocious, and a weak body which prevented him from taking part in normal physical activity and the play and sport of boyhood. So his intellectual life grew out of scale to his physical. Then he set to work by the deliberate application of will-power to develop his body, and when he entered Harvard he was above the average youth in strength. Before he graduated, those who saw him box or wrestle beheld a fellow somewhat slim and light, but unusually well set up. During the succeeding four years he never allowed his duties as Assemblyman to encroach upon his exercise; on the contrary, he played regularly and he played hard, adding new kinds of sport to develop new faculties and to give the spice of variety. He rode to hounds with the Meadowbrook Hunt; he took up polo; and he boxed and wrestled as in his college days.

In a few years Roosevelt became physically a very powerful man. I recall my astonishment the first time I saw him, after the lapse of several years, to find him with the neck of a Titan and with broad shoulders and stalwart chest, instead of the city-bred, slight young friend I had known earlier. His body was now equal to any burden or strain which his mind might have to endure; and hence forth it is no idle fancy that suggests a perpetual competition between the two. Thanks to his extraordinary will, however, he never allowed his body to get control; but, as appetite comes with eating, so his strong and healthy muscles craved more and more exercise as he used them. And now he took a novel way to gratify them.

Ever since his first taste of camp life, when he went into the Maine Woods under the guidance of Bill Sewall and Will Dow, Roosevelt felt the lure of wild nature, and on many successive seasons he repeated these trips. Gradually, fishing and hunting in the wilderness of Maine or the Adirondacks did not afford him enough scope for his brimming vigor. He decided to go West, to the real West, where great game and Indians still survived, and the conditions of the few white men were almost as primitive as in the days of the earliest explorers. When the session of 1883 adjourned, he started for North Dakota, then a territory with a few settlers, and among the Bad Lands on the Little Missouri he bought an interest in two cattle ranches, the Chimney Butte and the Elkhorn. The following year, after the Presidential campaign which placed Cleveland in the White House, Roosevelt determined, as we saw in the letters I have quoted, to abandon the East for a time and to devote himself to a ranchman’s life. He was still in deep grief at the loss of his wife and of his mother; there was no immediate prospect of usefulness for him in politics; the conventions of civilization, as he knew them in New York City, palled upon him; a sure instinct whispered to him that he must break away and seek health of body and heart and soul among the re mote, unspoiled haunts of primeval Nature. For nearly two years, with occasional intervals spent in the East, the Elkhorn Ranch at Medora was his home, and he has described the life of the ranchman and cow-puncher in pages which are sure to be read as long as posterity takes any interest in knowing about the transition of the American West from wilderness to civilization. He shared in all the work of the ranch. He took with a “frolic welcome” the humdrum of its routine as well as its excitements and dangers. He says that he does not believe that there was ever any more attractive life for a vigorous young fellow than this, and assuredly no one else has glorified it as Roosevelt did with his pen. At one time or another he performed all the duties of a ranchman. He went on long rides after the cattle, he rounded them up, he helped to brand them and to cut out the beeves destined for the Eastern market. He followed the herd when it stampeded during a terrific thunderstorm. In winter there was often need to save the wandering cattle from a sudden and deadly blizzard. The log cabin or “shack” in which he dwelt was rough, and so was the fare; comforts were few. He chopped the cottonwood which they used for fuel; he knew how to care for the ponies; and once at least he passed more than twenty-four hours in the saddle without sleep. According to the best standards, he says, he was not a fine horseman, but it is clear that he could do everything with a horse which had to be done, and that he never stopped from fatigue. When they needed fresh meat, he would shoot it. In short, he held his own under all the hardships and requirements demanded of a cowboy or ranchman. To adapt himself to these wild conditions of nature and work was, however, only a part of his experience. Even more dangerous than pursuing a stampeding herd at night over the plains, and plunging into the Little Missouri after it, was intercourse with some of the lawless nomads of that pioneer region. Nomads they were, though they might settle down to work for a while on one ranch, and then pass on to another; the sort of creatures who loafed in the saloons of the little villages and amused them selves by running amuck and shooting up the town. These men, and indeed nearly all of the pioneers, held the man from the civilized East, the “tenderfoot,” in scorn. They took it for granted that he was a weakling, that he had soft ideas of life and was stuck-up or affected. Now Roosevelt saw that in order to win their trust and respect, he must show himself equal to their tasks, a true comrade, who accepted their code of courage and honor. The fact that he wore spectacles was against him at the outset, because they associated spectacles with Eastern schoolmasters and incompetence. They called him “Four Eyes,” at first with derision, but they soon discovered that in him they had no “tenderfoot” to deal with. He shot as well as the best of them; he rode as far; he never complained of food or tasks or hardship; he met every one on equal terms. Above all, he left no doubt as to his courage. He would not pick a quarrel nor would he avoid one. Many stories of his prowess circulated; mere heckling, or a practical joke, he took with a laugh; as when some of the men changed the saddle from his pony to a bucking broncho.

But he knew where to draw the line. At Medora, for instance, the Marquis de Mores, a French settler, assumed the attitude of a feudal proprietor. Having been the first to squat in that region he regarded those who came later as interlopers, and he and his men acted very sullenly. They even carried their ill-will and intimidation to the point of shooting. In due time the Marquis discovered cause for grievance against Roosevelt, and he sent him a letter warning the newcomer that if the cause were not removed the Marquis knew how one gentleman settles a dispute with another. Roosevelt despised dueling as a silly practice, which would not determine justice between disputants; but he knew that in Cowboy Land the duel, being regarded as a test of courage, must not be ignored by him. Any man who declined a challenge lost caste and had better leave the country at once. So Roosevelt within an hour dispatched a reply to the surly Marquis saying that he was ready to meet him at any time and naming the rifle, at twelve paces’ distance, as the weapon that he preferred. The Marquis, a formidable swordsman but no shot, sent back word, expressing regret that Mr. Roosevelt had mistaken his meaning: in referring to “gentlemen knowing how to settle disputes,” he meant that of course an amicable explanation would restore harmony. Thenceforward, he treated Roosevelt with effusive courtesy. Perhaps a chill ran down his back at the thought of standing up before an antagonist twelve paces away and that the fighters were to advance towards each other three paces after each round, until one of them was killed.

So Theodore fought no duel with either the French Marquis or with any one else during his life in the West, but he had several encounters with local desperadoes. One cold night in winter, having ridden far and knowing that he could reach no refuge for many hours, he unexpectedly saw a light. Going towards it, he found that it came from a cabin which served as saloon and tavern. On entering, he saw a group of loafers and drinkers who were apparently terrorized by a big fellow, rather more than half drunk, who proved to be the local bully. The function of this person was to maintain his bullyship against all comers: accordingly, he soon picked on Roosevelt, who held his peace as long as he could. Then the rowdy, who grasped his pistols in his hands, ordered the “four-eyed tenderfoot” to come to the bar and set up drinks for the crowd. Roosevelt walked deliberately towards him, and before the bully suspected it, the “tenderfoot” felled him with a sledgehammer blow. In falling, a pistol went off wide of its mark, and the bully lay in a faint. Before he could recover, Roosevelt stood over him ready to pound him again. But the bully did not stir, and he was carried off into another room. The crowd congratulated the stranger on having served him right.

At another place, there was a “bad man” who surpassed the rest of his fellows in using foul language. Roosevelt, who loathed obscenity as he did any other form of filth, tired of this bad man’s talk and told him very calmly that he liked him but not his nastiness. Instead of drawing his gun, as the bystanders thought he would do, Jim looked sheepish, acknowledging the charge, and changed his tone. He remained a loyal friend of his corrector. Cattle-thieves and horse-thieves infested the West of those days. To steal a ranchman’s horse might not only cause him great annoyance, but even put his life in danger, and accordingly the rascals who engaged in this form of crime ranked as the worst of all and received no mercy when they were caught. If the sheriff of the region was lax, the settlers took the matter into their own hands, enrolled themselves as vigilantes, hunted the thieves down, hanged those whom they captured, and shot at sight those who tried to escape. It happened that the sheriff, in whose jurisdiction Medora lay, allowed so many thieves to get off that he was suspected of being in collusion with them. The ranch men held a meeting at which he was present and Roosevelt told him in very plain words their complaint against him and their suspicions. Though he was a hot-tempered man, and very quick on the trigger, he showed no willingness to shoot his bold young accuser; he knew, of course, that the ranchmen would have taken vengeance on him in a flash, but it is also possible that he recognized the truth of Roosevelt’s accusation and felt compunctions.

Some time later Roosevelt showed how a zealous officer of the law–he was the acting deputy sheriff – ought to behave. He had a boat in which he used to cross the Little Missouri to his herds on the other side. One day he missed the boat, its rope having been cut, and he inferred that it must have been stolen by three cattle-thieves who had been operating in that neighborhood. By means of it they could easily escape, for there was no road along the river on which horsemen could pursue them. Notwithstanding this, Roosevelt resolved that they should not go free. In three days Bill Sewall and Dow built a flat, water-tight craft, on which they put enough food to last for a fortnight, and then all three started downstream. They had drifted and poled one hundred and fifty miles or more, before they saw a faint column of smoke in the bushes near the bank. It proved to be the temporary camp of the fugitives, whom they quickly took prisoners, put into the boat, and carried another one hundred and fifty miles down the river to the nearest town with a jail and a court. Going and coming, Roosevelt spent nearly three weeks, not to mention the hardships which he and his trusty men suffered on the way; but he had served justice, and Justice must be served at any cost. When the story be came known, the admiration of his neighbors for his pluck and persistence rose; but they wondered why he took the trouble to make the extra journey, in order to deliver the prisoners to the jail, instead of shooting them where he overtook them.

I chronicle these examples of Roosevelt’s courage among the lawless gangs with whom he was thrown in North Dakota, because they reveal several qualities which came to be regarded as peculiarly Rooseveltian during the rest of his days. We are apt to speak of “mere” physical courage as being inferior to moral courage; and doubtless there are many heroes unknown to the world who, under the torture of disease or the poignancy of social injustice and wrongs, deserve the highest crown of heroism. Men who would lead a charge in battle would shrink from denouncing an accepted convention or even from slighting a popular fashion. But after all, the instinct of the race is sound in revering those who give their lives without hesitation or regret at the point of deadly peril, or offer their own to save the lives of others.

Roosevelt’s experience established in him that physical courage which his soul had aspired to in boyhood, when the consciousness of his bodily inferiority made him seem shy and almost timid. Now he had a bodily frame which could back up any resolution he might take. The emergencies in a ranchman’s career also trained him to be quick to will, instantaneous in his decisions, and equally quick in the muscular activity by which he carried them out. In a community whose members gave way to sudden explosions of passion, you might be shot dead unless you got the drop on the other fellow first. The anecdotes I have repeated, indicate that Roosevelt must often have outsped his opponent in drawing.

We learn from them, too, that he was far from being the pugnacious person whom many of his later critics insisted that he was. Having given ample proof to the frontiersmen that he had no fear, he resolutely kept the peace with them, and they had no desire to break peace with him. Bluster and swagger were foreign to his nature, and he loathed a bully as much as a coward. If we had not already had the record of his. three years in the Legislature, in which he surprised his friends by his wonderful talent for mixing with all sorts of persons, we might marvel at his ability to meet the cowboys and ranchmen, and even the desperadoes, of the Little Missouri on equal terms, to win the respect of all of them, and the lifelong devotion of a few. They knew that the usual tenderfoot, however much he might wish to fraternize, was fended from them by his past, his traditions, his civilized life, his instincts; but in Roosevelt’s case, there was no gulf, no barrier.

Even after he became President of the United States, I can no more imagine that he felt embarrassment in meeting any one, high or low, than that he scrutinized the coat on a man’s back in order to know how to treat him.

To have gained solid health, to have gained mastery of himself, and to have put his social nature to the severest test and found it flawless, were valid results of his life on the Elkhorn Ranch. It imparted to him also a knowledge which was to prove most precious to him in the unforeseen future. For it taught him the immense diversity of the people, and consequently of the interests, of the United States. It gave him a national point of view, in which he perceived that the standards and desires of the Atlantic States were not all-inclusive or final. Yet while it impressed on him the importance of geographical considerations, it impressed, more deeply still, the fact that there are moral fundamentals not to be measured by geography, or by time, or by race. Lincoln learned this among the pioneers of Illinois; in similar fashion Roosevelt learned it in the Bad Lands of Dakota with their pioneers and exiles from civilization, and from studying the depths of his own nature.


One September day in 1886, Roosevelt was reading a New York newspaper in his Elkhorn cabin, when he saw that he had been nominated by a body of Independents as candidate for Mayor of New York City. Whether he had been previously consulted or not, I do not know, but he evidently accepted the nomination as a call, for he at once packed up his things and started East. The political situation in the metropolis was somewhat abnormal. The United Democracy had nominated for Mayor Abram S. Hewitt, a merchant of high standing, one of those decent persons whom Tammany Hall puts forward to attract respectable citizens when it finds itself in a tight place and likely to be defeated. At such a pinch, Tammany even politely keeps in the background and allows it to appear that the decent candidate is wholly the choice of decent Democrats: for the Tammany Tiger wears, so to speak, a reversible skin which, when turned inside out, shows neither stripes nor claws. Mr. Hewitt’s chief opponent was Henry George, put up by the United Labor Party, which had suddenly swelled into importance, and had discovered in the author of “Progress and Poverty” and in the advocate of the Single Tax a candidate whose private character was generally respected, even by those who most hated his economic teachings. The mere thought that such a Radical should be proposed for Mayor scared, not merely the Big Interests, but the owners of real estate and intangible property.

Against these redoubtable competitors, the Independents and Republicans pitted Roosevelt, hoping that his prestige and personal popularity would carry the day. He made a plucky campaign, but Hewitt won, with Henry George second. In his letter of acceptance he went straight at the mark, which was that the government of the city was strictly a business affair. ” I very earnestly deprecate,” he says, “all attempts to introduce any class or caste feeling into the mayoralty contest. Laborers and capitalists alike are interested in having an honest and economical city government, and if elected I shall certainly strive to be the representative of all good citizens, paying heed to nothing whatever but the general well-being.”* When Tammany reverses its hide, the Republicans in New York City need not expect victory; and in 1886 Henry George drew off a good many votes which would ordinarily have been cast for Roosevelt.

* Riis, 101.

Nevertheless, the fight was worth making. It reintroduced him to the public, which had not heard him for two years, and it helped erase from men’s memories the fact that he had supported Blaine in 1884. His contest with Hewitt and George set him in his true light–a Republican by conviction, a party man, also by conviction, but above all the fearless champion of what he believed to be the right, in its struggle against economic heresy and political corruption.

The election over, Roosevelt went to Europe, and on December 2, 1886, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London, he married Miss Edith Kermit Carow, of New York, whom he had known since his earliest childhood, the playmate of his sister Corinne, the little girl whose photograph had stirred up in him “homesickness and longings for the past,” when he was a little boy in Paris. Cecil Spring-Rice, an old friend (subsequently British Ambassador at Washington), was his groomsman, and being married at St. George’s, Theodore remarks, “made me feel as if I were living in one of Thackeray’s novels.”

Mrs. Roosevelt’s father came of Huguenot stock, the name being originally Quereau; the first French immigrants of the family having migrated to New York in the seventeenth century at about the same time as Claes van Roosevelt. Like the Roosevelts, the Carows had so freely intermarried with English stock in America that the French origin of one was as little discernible in their descendants as was the Dutch origin of the other. Through her American line Mrs. Roosevelt traced back to Jonathan Edwards, the prolific ancestor of many persons who emerged above the common level by either their virtue or their badness.

After spending several months in Europe, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt returned and settled at Oyster Bay, Long Island, where he had built, not long before, a country house on Sagamore Hill. His place there comprised many acres–a beautiful country of hill and hollow and fine tall trees. The Bay made in from Long Island Sound and seemed to be closed by the opposite shore, so that in calm weather you might mistake it for a lake. This home was thoroughly adapted for Roosevelt’s needs. Being only thirty miles from New York, with a railroad near by, convenient but not intrusive, it gave easy access to the city, but was remote enough to discourage casual or undesired callers. It had sufficient land to carry on farming and to sustain the necessary horses and domestic cattle. Mrs. Roosevelt supervised it; he simply loved it and got distraction from his more pressing affairs; if he had chosen to withdraw from these he might have devoted himself to the pleasing and leisurely life of a gentleman farmer. For a while his chief occupation was literary. Into this he pitched with characteristic energy. His innate craving for self-expression could never be satiated by speaking alone, and now, since he filled no public position which would be a cause or perhaps an excuse for speaking, he wrote with all the more enthusiasm.

Although he was less than seven years out of college, his political career had given him a national reputation, which helped and was helped by the vogue of his writings. The American public had come to perceive that Theodore Roosevelt could do nothing commonplace. The truth was, that he did many things that other men did which ceased to be commonplace only when he did them. Scores of other young men went on hunting trips after big game in the Rockies or the Selkirks, and even ranching had been engaged in by the enterprising and the adventurous, who hoped to find it a short way to a fortune. But whether as ranch man or as hunter, Roosevelt was better known than all the rest. His skill in describing his experiences no doubt largely accounted for this; but the fact that the experiences were his, was the ultimate explanation.

Roosevelt began to write very early. He thought that the instruction in rhetoric which he received at Harvard enlightened him, and during his Senior year he began the “History of the Naval War of 1812,” which he completed and published in 1882. This work at once won recognition for him, and it differed from the traditional accounts, embedded in the school histories of the United States, in doing full justice to the British naval operations. Probably, for the first time, our people realized that the War of 1812 had not been a series of victories, startling and irresistible, for the American Navy. Nearly ten years later, Roosevelt in the “Winning of the West” made his second excursion into history. These volumes, which eventually numbered six, are regarded by experts in the subject as of great value, and I suppose that in them Roosevelt did more than any other writer to popularize the study of the historical origin and development of the vast region west of the Alleghanies which now forms a vital part of the American Republic. One attribute of a real historian is the power to discern the structural or pregnant quality of historic periods and episodes; and this power Roosevelt displayed in choosing both the War of 1812 and the Winning of the West.

In his larger history Roosevelt had a swift, energetic, and direct style. He never lacked for ideas. Descriptions came to him with exuberant details of which he selected enough to leave his reader with the feeling that he had looked on a vivid and accurate picture. Here, for instance, is a portrait of Daniel Boon which seems remarkably lifelike, because I remember how difficult other writers find it to individualize most of the figures of the pioneers.

The backwoodsmen, he says, “all tilled their own clearings, guiding the plow among the charred stumps left when the trees were chopped down and the land burned over, and they were all, as a matter of course, hunters. With Boon, hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely life of the wilderness, with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence for which he really cared. He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like an eagle’s, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his iron frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days. His thoughtful, quiet, pleasant face, so often portrayed, is familiar to every one; it was the face of a man who