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- Theodore Roosevelt and His Times, - 3/31 -


used to act. Then I would tell Root or Taft to find out and tell me why what I had done was legal and justified. Well done, coworker." Is it any wonder that Theodore Roosevelt had made in that moment another ardent supporter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER III. THE CHAMPION OF CIVIL SERVICE REFORM

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

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

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

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

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

For six years he fought and infused his fellow Commissioners with some of his fighting spirit. They were good men but easy-going


Theodore Roosevelt and His Times, - 3/31

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