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- Theodore Roosevelt - 3/19 -


Harvard Advocate, took part in three or four college activities, and was fond of target shooting and dancing. It is told that he never spoke in public, until about his third year in college, that he was shy and had great difficulty in speaking. It was by effort that he became one of the best orators of his day.

Roosevelt did not like the way college debates were conducted. He said that to make one side defend or attack a certain subject, without regard to whether they thought it right or wrong, had a bad effect.

"What we need," he wrote, "is to turn out of colleges young men with ardent convictions on the side of right; not young men who can make a good argument for either right or wrong, as their interest bids them."

He did one thing in college which is not a matter of course with students under twenty-two years old. He began to write a history, named "The Naval War of 1812." It was finished and published two years after he graduated, and in it he showed that his idea of patriotism included telling the truth. Most American boys used to be brought up on the story of the American frigate Constitution whipping all the British ships she met, and with the notion that the War of 1812 was nothing but a series of brilliant victories for us.

Theodore Roosevelt thought that Americans were not so soft that they were afraid to hear the truth, and that it was a poor sort of American who dared not point out to his fellow-countrymen the mistakes they had made and the disasters which followed. It did not seem patriotic to him to dodge the fact that lack of wisdom at Washington had let our Army run down before the war, so that our attempts to invade Canada were failures, and that we suffered the disgrace of having Washington itself captured and burned by the enemy.

There was a great deal to be proud of in what our Navy did, and in the Army's victory in the Battle of New Orleans, and these things Roosevelt described with the pride of every good American. But he had no use for the old-fashioned kind of history, which pretends that all the bravery is on one side. He did his best to get at the truth, and he knew that the English and Canadians had fought bravely and well, and so he said just that. Where our troops or our ships failed it was not through lack of courage, but because they were badly led, and what was worse, since it was so unnecessary, because the Government at Washington had lost the battle in advance by neglecting to prepare.

Before he was twenty-four, Roosevelt was so well-informed in the history of this period that he was later asked to write the chapter dealing with the War of 1812 in a history of the British Navy.

At his graduation from Harvard he stood twenty-second in a class of one hundred and seventy. This caused him to be elected to the Phi Beta Kappa, the society of scholars. Before he graduated he became engaged to be married to Miss Alice Lee of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

He told his friend, Mr. Thayer, what he was going to do after graduation.

"I am going to try to help the cause of better government in New York City," he said. And he added:

"I don't know exactly how."

CHAPTER III

IN POLITICS

When he graduated from college Roosevelt was no longer in poor health. His boxing and exercise in the gymnasium, and still more his outdoor expeditions, and hunting trips in Maine, had made a well man of him. He was yet to achieve strength and muscle, and his life in the West was to give him the chance to do that.

His father died while he was in college and he was left, not rich, but so well off that he might have lived merely amusing himself. He might have spent his days in playing polo, hunting and collecting specimens of animals. What he did during his life, in adding to men's knowledge of the habits of animals, would have gained him an honorable place in the history of American science, if he had done nothing else. So with his writing of books. He earned the respect of literary men, and left a longer list of books to his credit than do most authors, and on a greater variety of subjects. But he was to do other and still more important work than either of these things.

He believed in and quoted from one of the noblest poems ever written by any man,--Tennyson's "Ulysses." And in this poem are lines which formed the text for Roosevelt's life:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! As tho' to breathe were life.

This was the doctrine of "the strenuous life" which he preached,-- and practiced. It was to perform the hard necessary work of the world, not to sit back and criticize. It was to do disagreeable work if it had to be done, not to pick out the soft jobs. It was to be afraid neither of the man who fights with his fists or with a rifle, nor of the man who fights with a sneering tongue or a sarcastic pen.

To go into New York politics from 1880-1882 was, for a young man of Roosevelt's place in life, just out of college, what most of his friends and associates called "simply crazy." That young men of good education no longer think it a crazy thing to do, but an honorable and important one, is due to Theodore Roosevelt more than to any other one man.

As he sat on the window-seat of his friend's room in Holworthy Hall, that day, and said he was going to try to help the cause of better government in New York, Mr. Thayer looked at him and wondered if he were "the real thing." Thirty-nine years later Mr. Thayer looked back over the career of his college mate, and knew that he had talked that day with one of the great men of our Republic, with one who, as another of his college friends says, was never a "politician" in the bad sense, but was always trying to advance the cause of better government

The reason why it seemed to many good people a crazy thing to go into politics was that the work was hard and disagreeable much of the time. Politics were in the hands of saloon-keepers, toughs, drivers of street cars and other "low" people, as they put it. The nice folk liked to sit at home, sigh, and say: "Politics are rotten." Then they wondered why politics did not instantly become pure. They demanded "reform" in politics, as Roosevelt said, as if reform were something which could be handed round like slices of cake. Their way of getting reform, if they tried any way at all, was to write letters to the newspapers, complaining about the "crooked politicians," and they always chose the newspapers which those politicians never read and cared nothing about.

If any decent man did go into politics, hoping to do some good, these same critics lamented loudly, and presently announced their belief that he, too, had become crooked. If it were said that he had been seen with a politician they disliked, or that he ate a meal in company with one, they were sure he had gone wrong. They seemed to think that a reformer could go among other officeholders and do great work, if he would only begin by cutting all his associates dead, and refusing to speak to them.

It was a fortunate day for America when Theodore Roosevelt joined the Twenty-first District Republican Club, and later when he ran for the New York State Assembly from the same district. He was elected in November, 1881. This was his beginning in politics.

In the Assembly at Albany, he presently made discoveries. He learned something about the crooked politicians whom the stay-at- home reformers had denounced from afar. He found that the Assembly had in it many good men, a larger number who were neither good nor bad, but went one way or another just as things happened to influence them at the moment. Finally, there were some bad men indeed. He found that the bad men were not always the poor, the uneducated, the men who had been brought up in rough homes, lacking in refinement. On the contrary, he found some extremely honest and useful men who had had exactly such unfavorable beginnings.

Also, he soon discovered that there were, in and out of politics, some men of wealth, of education, men who boasted that they belonged to the "best families," who were willing to be crooked, or to profit from other men's crooked actions. He soon announced this discovery, which naturally made such men furious with him. They pursued him with their hatred all his life. Some people really think that great wealth makes crime respectable, and if it is pointed out to a wealthy but dishonest man, that he is merely a common thief, and if in addition, the fact is proved to everybody's satisfaction, his anger is noticeable.

Along with his serious work in the Assembly, Roosevelt found that there was a great deal of fun in listening to the debates on the floor, or the hearings in committees. One story, which he tells, is of two Irish Assemblymen, both of whom wished to be leader of the minority. One, he calls the "Colonel," the other, the "Judge." There was a question being discussed of money for the Catholic Protectory, and somebody said that the bill was "unconstitutional." Mr. Roosevelt writes:

The Judge, who knew nothing--of the constitution, except that it was continually being quoted against all of his favorite projects, fidgetted about for some time, and at last jumped up to know if he might ask the gentleman a question. The latter said "Yes," and the Judge went on, "I'd like to know if the gintleman has ever personally seen the Catholic Protectoree?" "No, I haven't," said his astonished opponent. "Then, phwat do you mane by talking about its being unconstitootional? It's no more unconstitootional than you are!" Then turning to the house with slow and withering sarcasm, he added, "The throuble wid the gintleman is that he okkipies what lawyers would call a kind of a quasi-position upon this bill," and sat down amid the applause of his followers.

His rival, the Colonel, felt he had gained altogether too much


Theodore Roosevelt - 3/19

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