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Theodore Roosevelt
Chapter IX: Governor of New York
by Pearson, Edmund Lester


When the Rough Riders were disbanded at Montauk Point in September 1898, Theodore Roosevelt was the most popular man in America. This is the judgment of his best historian, Mr. Thayer, and it is undoubtedly correct. The war had made known to the country a number of professional soldiers or sailors--especially Admiral Dewey and Admiral Sampson, whose conduct had been splendid. It had also created some popular "heroes," whose fame was brief. But Colonel Roosevelt was first and foremost a citizen, his career as a soldier was for a few months only. Behind that was a solid foundation of service in civil office. Ahead of it were still finer achievements, also in civil life. He felt the pride which all men feel--despite much pretense and humbug--to have had the chance to lead men in battle for a just cause, to have put his life in danger when his country needed such offer of sacrifice.

But the Santiago campaign, the charge up San Juan hill, did not "make" Roosevelt. It was a dramatic episode in his history; it attracted attention to him. Such are the peculiar conditions of politics, it proved a short cut to the White House. He said, frankly, that he would never have been President if the Rough Riders had not gone to Cuba. In this he underestimated himself, as he often did. He had too much ability in politics, too much courage in fighting for the cause of better government, at a time when courage was badly needed, to have failed to rise to the highest office. Back in the days when he was Civil Service Commissioner two visitors in the White House, saw him, also a visitor, looking about the rooms.

"There is a young man," said one of them, who knew him, "who is going to move into this house himself, before long."

After Cuba, the next step was the Governorship of New York State. Before he was out of uniform, the politicians began talking about him for the place. The Republican party in New York was in a bad way. They had quarreled among themselves; the Democrats had just beaten them in an election. They knew they must have a strong candidate for Governor, or the Democrats, (that is, Tammany Hall) would get control at Albany.

This was the great day of the political Bosses. Perhaps at no time since have they been quite as powerful as they were then. A man named Croker was the Boss of the Democratic Party; a man named Platt, the Boss of the Republicans. Men called the Boss of their own party the "Leader," but they referred to the "Leader" of the other party as the Boss, without wasting any politeness. Most men do not pay much attention to politics; a Boss is a man who pays too much attention to them. He exists because the average citizen thinks he has done his whole duty if he votes on election day. A Boss works at his business, which is politics, night and day, all the year round. He might be very useful if he could be kept honest. He manages to get a great deal of power, in ways that are shady, if not actually criminal. Then, if he is one kind of a Boss, greedy for money, he sells this power to the highest bidder. Men are nominated for office, because the Boss has picked them out, as a poultryman might select a fat goose. Usually he selects a man who will obey orders. But another kind of Boss does not especially care for money. He likes the power which his position gives him, he likes to be able to move men about as if they were toy-soldiers.

Such apparently was Senator Platt, the Republican Boss of New York. People had so neglected their duty of managing their own affairs in politics, that he had seized the reins, and could say who should be nominated. In the same way Croker was the ruler of the Democratic party in New York, and could say who should be nominated in his party.

Now, in such a situation, what was an honest man to do? The best men in the Republican party believed that Roosevelt was the only one who could be elected, that the people believed so firmly in his honor and courage that they would vote for him. Senator Platt did not want him, did not like him, but he came to see that they could win with him, and with no one else. So Roosevelt was nominated, and elected, by a narrow lead of 18,000 votes. So far, the people could rule with Roosevelt as their servant. But the Governor can do little alone; he must have the support of the Legislature and the other State officers. The Boss hoped to rule through them, to say who should be appointed to office, to decide which bill should pass and which be defeated.

There were people who would have had Governor Roosevelt declare war on Platt; refuse to have anything to do with him; refuse even to speak to him. In that way he could have done nothing for the good of the State; he could have spent his term in fighting Platt, made a great show of independence and reform, but, in point of fact, advanced the cause of good government not an inch. All of his proposals would have been blocked by Platt's men in the Legislature.

Instead, he acted in accord with the facts as they were; not as if they were the way he would have liked them to be. If Platt could not rule he could ruin. So the Governor treated him politely, and only disagreed with him when the Boss proposed something actually bad. For instance, there was a most important officer, the Superintendent of Public Works, to be appointed. Senator Platt informed Governor Roosevelt that a certain man had been chosen; he showed him the telegram with the man's acceptance. Roosevelt said, quietly, something like this:

"I think not, Senator. The Governor appoints that officer, and I am the Governor."

Platt was very angry; Roosevelt refused to get angry, but stuck to his decision, and made his own choice. Things like this happened again and again, during the two years while Roosevelt was Governor of New York.

Every honorable man in American politics has to fight against this evil of the Boss. Officeholders, Presidents and Governors, come and go, but the Bosses hold their power for a long time. So long as they exist it is not wise for us to talk too much about Kings and their tyranny. For a Boss is very like a King. Platt and Croker thought that the people were not fit to rule; theirs was much the same idea that King George the Third and the German Kaiser had. The best and wisest men have had to admit the strength of the Boss and try to deal with him as well as they could; Abraham Lincoln even had to appoint one to his Cabinet. The Boss creeps into power while the people are asleep.

Roosevelt pointed out that it is not hard for a man to be good if he lives entirely by himself. Nor is it difficult for him to get things done, if he is careless about right and wrong. The hard thing, yet the one which must be demanded of the public man, is to get useful things done, and to keep straight all the while. When Roosevelt was elected Governor, John Hay, the Secretary of State, wrote to him:
"You have already shown that a man may be absolutely honest and yet practical; a reformer by instinct and a wise politician; brave, bold and uncompromising, and yet not a wild ass of the desert. The exhibition made by the professional independents in voting against you for no reason on earth except that somebody else was voting for you, is a lesson that is worth its cost." [Footnote: "Autobiography," p. 296.]
The year 1900 was the year of a Presidential election. Mr. McKinley was to run again on the Republican ticket, and later it appeared that Mr. Bryan would oppose him again, as he had in 1896. The Republican Vice-President, Mr. Hobart, had died in office, so the Republicans had to find someone to go on the ticket with President McKinley. Roosevelt was mentioned for the office, and Platt warmly agreed, hoping to get him out of New York politics. 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.

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