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Theodore Roosevelt
Fighting Office-Seekers
by Pearson, Edmund Lester

To tell the story of Roosevelt's life it is necessary to talk much about politics, and that to some people is a dull subject. But he was in political office over twenty years of his life, always interested and active in politics, and the vigor which he brought to his duties made public affairs attractive to thousands of Americans who had felt little concern about them.

This alone was a great service. If a man is going the wrong way in political life, if he is trying to do unwise or evil things, he is a danger, but a danger which may be corrected. He may be made to turn his efforts in useful directions. But the man who takes no interest at all in the government of his city, state or nation, who is so feeble that he cannot even take the time to vote on election day, but goes hunting or fishing instead,--this man is a hopeless nuisance, who does not deserve the liberty which he enjoys, nor the protection which his government gives him.

Politics, when Mr. Roosevelt was active, were not dull. Few men have ever made them so lively and interesting. Every activity in life meant something to him, a chance for useful work or for good fun. He had a perfectly "corking time," he said, when he was President, and the words shocked a number of good people who had pardoned or overlooked dirty actions by other public men, so long as these other men kept up a certain copy-book behavior which they thought was "dignity."

It is a question if any man ever had a better time, ever had more real fun in his life, than did Mr. Roosevelt. In spite of the hard work he put in, in spite of long days and weeks of drudgery he knew how to get happiness out of every minute. He did not engage in drinking and gambling for his amusements. He did not adopt a priggish attitude on these matters,--he simply knew that there were other things which were better sport. He was a religious man, a member all his life of his father's church, but religion did not sour him, make him gloomy, or cause him to interfere with other people about their belief or lack of it.

He got an immense amount of pleasure in his family life, in half a dozen kinds of athletic sports, especially the ones which led him outdoors, and in books. In these things he was marvelously wise or marvelously fortunate. Some men's lives are spent indoors, in an office or in a study among books. Their amusements are indoor games, and they come to despise or secretly to envy, the more fortunate men who live outdoors.

Some of the outdoors men, on the other hand, become almost as one- sided. Knowing nothing of the good fun that is in books they deny themselves much pleasure, and take refuge in calling "high-brows" the men who have simply more common sense and capacity for enjoyment than themselves.

Mr. Roosevelt, more than most men of his time, certainly more than any other public man, could enjoy to the utmost the best things the world has in it. He knew the joy of the hard and active life in the open, and he knew the keen pleasure of books. So when he returned to America after his marriage in 1886, he built a house on Sagamore Hill at Oyster Bay on Long Island. Here he could ride, shoot, row, look after his farm, and here in the next year or two he wrote two books. One was the life of Gouverneur Morris, American minister to France in the early years of our nation; the other a life of Senator Thomas H. Benton of Missouri.

But he was not long to stay out of political office. In 1888 President Cleveland had been defeated for reelection by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison. The new President appointed Mr. Roosevelt as one of the Civil Service Commissioners, with his office in Washington.

Most politicians are charged, certainly Mr. Roosevelt was sometimes charged, with being a selfish seeker after personal advancement. There is not much on which to base this argument in Mr. Roosevelt's acceptance of this office. For the man who is looking out merely for his own ambitions, for his own success in politics, is careful of the position he takes, careful to keep out of offices where there are many chances to make enemies. The Civil Service Commission was, of all places at that time, the last where a selfish politician would like to be. Nobody could do his duties there and avoid making enemies. It was a thankless job, consisting of trying to protect the public interests against a swarm of office-seekers and their friends in Congress.

It is ridiculous now to remember what a fight had to be waged to set up the merit system of the Civil Service in this country. The old system, by which a good public servant was turned out to make room for a hungry office-seeker of the successful political party, was firmly established. Men and women were not appointed to office because they knew anything about the work they were to do, but because they were cousins of a Congressman's wife, or political heelers who had helped to get the Congressman elected. Nobody thought of the offices as places where, for the good of the whole country, it was necessary to have the best men. Instead, the offices were looked on as delicious slices of pie to be grabbed and devoured by the greediest and strongest person in sight.

The Civil Service Commission, when Mr. Roosevelt became a member, had been established by Congress, but it was hated and opposed by Congress and the Commission was still fought, secretly or openly. Congressmen tried to ridicule it, to hamper it by denials of money, and to overrule it in every possible way. A powerful Republican Congressman and a powerful Democratic Senator tried to browbeat Roosevelt, and were both caught by him in particularly mean lies. Naturally they did not enjoy the experience.

At the end of his term, President Harrison was defeated by Mr. Cleveland, who came back again to the Presidency. He re-appointed Mr. Roosevelt, who thus spent six years in the Commission. When he retired he had made a good many enemies among the crooked politicians, and some friends and admirers among well-informed men who watch the progress of good government. He was still unknown to the great body of citizens throughout the country, although he had been fighting their fight for six years.

He went from Washington to accept another thankless and still more difficult position in New York City. It was one which had been fatal to political ambitions, and was almost certain to end the career of any man who accepted it. This was the Presidency of the Board of Police Commissioners.


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