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- Theodore Roosevelt - 10/19 -
Roosevelt, at first, refused to consider an office which has more dignity than usefulness about it. Another utterance of Secretary of State John Hay is interesting. He wrote to a friend:
"Teddy has been here: have you heard of it? It was more fun than a goat. He came down with a somber resolution thrown on his strenuous brow to let McKinley and Hanna know once for all that he would not be Vice-President, and found to his stupefaction that nobody in Washington, except Platt, had ever dreamed of such a thing." [Footnote: Thayer, p. 148.]
Mr. Hay was one of the wisest of our statesmen; one of the most polished and agreeable men in public life. Yet this letter shows how the older men often mistook Roosevelt. For, in less than a year after Mr. Hay had gently poked fun at "Teddy" for thinking that he might be made Vice-President, and said that there was not the slightest danger of such a thing happening, Roosevelt had been elected to that office. His enjoyment of his work, his bubbling merriment, his lack of the old-fashioned, pompous manners which used to be supposed proper for a statesman, made many older men inclined to treat him with a sort of fatherly amusement. They looked at his acts as an older man might look at the pranks of a boy. And then, suddenly, they found themselves serving under this "youngster," in the Government! It was a surprise from which they never recovered. I have said that the reporters, the makers of funny pictures in the newspapers, and others, exaggerated Roosevelt's traits, and created a false idea about him. This is true. But it is also true that there was a great deal of real and honest fun poked at him throughout his life, and that it added to the public enjoyment of his career. The writers of comic rhymes, the cartoonists, and the writers of political satire had a chance which no other President has ever given them. Many of our Presidents--wise and good men--and many Senators, Governors, Cabinet officers and others, have gone about as if they were all ready to pose for their statues. Roosevelt never did this. He bore himself in public with dignity, and respect for the high offices to which the people elected him. But he did not suggest the old style of portrait, in which a statesman is standing stiffly, hand in the breast of his coat, a distant view of the Capitol in the background. He had too keen a sense of fun for anything of the sort.
Nobody laughed at the jokes about him more heartily than he did himself. When "Mr. Dooley" described his adventures as a Rough Rider, and spoke of him as "Alone in Cubia," as if he thought he had won the war all by himself, he wrote to the author:
"Three cheers Mr. Dooley! Do come on and let me see you soon. I am by no means so much alone as in Cubia. ..."
"Let me repeat that Dooley, especially when he writes about Teddy Rosenfelt has no more interested and amused reader than said Rosenfelt himself." [Footnote: Scribner's Magazine, December, 1919, p. 658.]
Mr. McKinley was re-elected President of the United States and Mr. Roosevelt was elected Vice-President in November 1900. Roosevelt had taken part in the campaign before election, and of this Mr. Thayer writes:
He spoke in the East and in the West, and for the first time the people of many of the States heard him speak and saw his actual presence. His attitude as a speaker, his gestures, the way in which his pent up thoughts seemed almost to strangle him before he could utter them, his smile showing the white rows of teeth, his fist clenched as if to strike an invisible adversary, the sudden dropping of his voice, and leveling of his forefinger as he became almost conversational in tone, and seemed to address special individuals in the crowd before him, the strokes of sarcasm, stern and cutting, and the swift flashes of humor which set the great multitude in a roar, became in that summer and autumn familiar to millions of his countrymen; and the cartoonists made his features and gestures familiar to many other millions. [Footnote: Thayer, p. 51.]
In the following March he was sworn in as Vice-President. His duties as presiding officer of the Senate were not severe, and he went on a cougar hunt in Colorado in the winter before inauguration to enable him to bear the physical inactivity of his new work.
When he came back to Washington again, to hold the second highest place in the national government, it troubled him to think that he had never finished the study of law, begun in New York many years before. He asked his friend, Justice White of the Supreme Court, if it would be wrong for him to take a legal course in a Washington law school. The Justice told him that it would hardly be proper for the Vice-President to do that, but offered to tutor him in law. They agreed to study together the following winter.
But Roosevelt's term as Vice-President was coming to an end. He only occupied the office for six months. He was soon to succeed to the highest office of all.
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
In the first week of September 1901, President McKinley was killed by an anarchist in Buffalo. The young man who shot him was rather weak-minded, and had been led to believe, by the speeches and writings of others, craftier and wickeder than himself, that he could help the poor and unfortunate by murdering the President. This he treacherously did while shaking hands with him.
One of the leaders of the poisonous brood who had made this young man believe such villainous nonsense was a foreign woman named Emma Goldman, who for twenty or thirty years went up and down the land, trying to overthrow the law and government, yet always calling for the protection of both when she was in danger. The American Government tolerated this mischiefmaker until 1919, when it properly sent her, and others of her stripe, back to their own country.
President McKinley, who was the gentlest and kindest of men, did not die immediately from the bullet wound, but lingered for about a week. Vice-President Roosevelt joined him in Buffalo, and came to believe, from the reports of the doctors, that the President would get well. So he returned to his family who were in the Adirondacks. A few days later, while Mr. Roosevelt was mountain- climbing, a message came that the President was worse and that the Vice-President must come at once to Buffalo. He drove fifty miles by night, in a buckboard down the mountain roads, took a special train, and arrived in Buffalo the next afternoon.
Mr. McKinley was dead, and Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as President. He was under forty-three years of age, the youngest man who had ever become President.
It is important to note his first act. It was to insist that all of Mr. McKinley's Cabinet remain in office. Thus he secured for the continued service of the Nation, some of its ablest men: Mr. Hay, one of the most accomplished Secretaries of State we have ever had, and Mr. Root, Secretary of War, and afterwards Secretary of State, whose highly trained legal mind placed him at the head of his profession.
A test of a great man, as well as a test of a modest man, in the true sense, is whether he is willing to have other able and eminent men around him as his assistants and fellow-workers. The most remarkable instances of this among our Presidents were Washington and Lincoln. The latter appointed men not because they admired him, or were personally agreeable to him; indeed some of his strongest and bitterest antagonists were put in his Cabinet, because he knew that they could well serve the country.
Mr. McKinley had chosen excellent Cabinet officers, and these Mr. Roosevelt kept in office, promoting them and appointing other men of high ability to other offices as the need arose. He did not care to shine as a great man among a group of second-rate persons; he preferred to be chief among his peers, the leader of the strongest and most sagacious of his time.
In saying this, I do not mean to compare Roosevelt with Washington or Lincoln or any of the noble figures of the past. Such comparisons are made too often; every President for fifty years has been acclaimed by his admirers as "the greatest since Lincoln," or "as great as Lincoln." This is both foolish and useless. There has been no character in our land like Lincoln; he stands alone. What we can say of Mr. Roosevelt, now, is that he was admired and beloved by millions of his fellow-countrymen while he lived; that his was an extraordinary and entirely different character from that of any of our Presidents; and that upon his death thousands who had opposed him and bitterly hated him but a few years before, were altering their opinion and speaking of him in admiration--with more than the mere respect which custom pays to the dead. This has gone on, and other unusual signs have been given of the world's esteem for him. So much we can say; and leave the determination of his place in our history for a later time than ours.
One thing which many people feared when Roosevelt became President was that he would get the country into a war. They thought he liked war for its own sake. Men said: "Oh! this Roosevelt is such a rash, impulsive fellow! He will have us in a war in a few months!" The exact opposite was the truth. He kept our country and our flag respected throughout the world; he avoided two possible wars; he helped end a foreign war; we lived at peace. Of him it can truly be said: he kept us out of war, and he kept us in the paths of honor.
He preached the doctrine of the square deal.
"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country, is good enough to be given a square deal afterward. More than that no man is entitled to, and less than that no man shall have." [Footnote: Springfield, Ill., July 4, 1503. Thayer, p. 212.]
He did not seek help and rewards from the rich by enabling them to prey upon the poor; neither did he seek the votes and applause of the poor by cheap and unjust attacks upon the rich. To the people who expect a public man to lean unfairly to one side or the other; who cannot understand any different way of acting, he was a
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