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Chapter XV: The Man
by Pearson, Edmund Lester
|What did Theodore Roosevelt do during his life that raised him
above other men? What were his achievements? Why are memorials and
monuments raised in his honor, books written about him? Why do
people visit his grave, and care to preserve the house where he
First, because he helped the cause of better government all his
life, as, while in college, he said that he was going to do.
Second, because he had a good influence on politics, upon
business, and upon American life generally. Dishonest and shady
dealings which were common when he left college, became very much
less common as a result of his work. No other American did as much
as he for this improvement.
Third, because he practiced the "square deal." It did not matter
to him if the evil-doer was rich or poor,--Roosevelt was his
enemy. The criminal who had many friends in Wall Street was a
criminal still in his eyes; and the rascal who had friends in
labor unions was nevertheless a rascal to him. He would not
denounce one and go easy with the other. Poisoning people with bad
meat was no less a crime to him because it was said to be done in
the interests of "business"; blowing up people with bombs was not
to be considered any less than murder because some one said it was
done to help "labor."
Next, he practiced what he preached. When the great time came, he
was ready "to pay with his body for his soul's desire."
While President, he proved by his conduct of our relations with
foreign countries, that it is possible both to keep peace and to
keep our self respect, and that this can be done only by firmness
He maintained our national defenses at the highest possible level,
scorning to risk his fellow-countrymen's lives and fortunes
through neglect of the Army and Navy.
By his wisdom, promptness and moral courage in an emergency he
made the Panama Canal possible.
He led in a great fight for liberal politics, trying to put the
ruling power of the nation once more in the hands of its citizens,
and showing by his action that his country was dearer to him than
any political party.
Finally, in the very last years of his life, and in a time of
dreadful national trial, his great voice became the true voice of
America to lead his countrymen out of a quagmire of doubt and
You may have heard it said that he was conceited, arrogant, head-
strong. What did the men nearest him think? John Hay, the polished
diplomat, who had been private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, wrote
about Roosevelt in his diary. November 28, 1904:
I read the President's message in the afternoon. ... Made several
suggestions as to changes and omissions. The President came in
just as I had finished and we went over the matter together. He
accepted my ideas with that singular amiability and open-
mindedness which form so striking a contrast with the general idea
of his brusque and arbitrary character.
You may have heard it said that he acted hastily, went ahead on
snap-judgments. On this subject, Mr. Hay wrote:
Roosevelt is prompt and energetic, but he takes infinite pains to
get at the facts before he acts. In all the crises in which he has
been accused of undue haste, his action has been the result of
long meditation and well-reasoned conviction. If he thinks
rapidly, that is no fault; he thinks thoroughly, and that is the
He was never a humbug. He did not deny that he enjoyed being
President. He never let his friends point to him, while he was in
the White House, as a martyr. He had a good time wherever he was.
As he wrote:
I remember once sitting at a table with six or eight other public
officials, and each was explaining how he regarded being in public
life--how only the sternest sense of duty prevented him from
resigning his office, and how the strain of working for a
thankless constituency was telling upon him--and that nothing but
the fact that he felt that he ought to sacrifice his comfort to
the welfare of his country kept him in the arduous life of
statesmanship. It went round the table until it came to my turn.
This was during my first term of office as President of the United
States. I said: "Now, gentlemen, I do not wish there to be any
misunderstanding. I like my job, and I want to keep it for four
years more." [Footnote: Abbott, p. 100.]
As for the question whether he acted from personal ambition, or
from devotion to the cause he represented, the following incident
is as strong a piece of evidence as we have about any of our
public men. It is related by Mr. Travers Carman, of the Outlook,
who accompanied Colonel Roosevelt to the Republican convention in
Roosevelt, on the evening of this conference in the Congress
Hotel, lacked only twenty-eight votes to secure the nomination for
President. Mr. Carman was in the room, when a delegate entered, in
suppressed excitement, announcing that he represented thirty-two
Southern delegates who would pledge themselves to vote for the
Colonel, if they could be permitted to vote with the "regular"
Republicans on all matters of party organization, upon the
platform, and so on. Here were thirty-two votes,--four more than
were needed to give him the nomination.
Two important law-suits occupied some of Roosevelt's time after
the Progressive campaign. One of the favorite slanders about
Roosevelt, repeated mostly by word of mouth, was that he drank to
excess or was an habitual drunkard. At last it began to be
repeated in print; a Michigan newspaper printed it, coupled with
other falsehoods concerning his use of profane language. Few
public men would have cared to bring suit, because the plaintiff
must stand a cross-examination. But Roosevelt was careful of his
good name; he did not intend that persons should be able to repeat
slander about him, except in deliberate bad faith.
Without a moment's hesitation and in the death-like silence of
that room the Colonel's answer rang out, clearly and distinctly:
"Thank the delegates you represent, but tell them that I cannot
permit them to vote for me unless they vote for all progressive
principles for which I have fought, for which the Progressive
element in the Republican party stands, and by which I stand or
fall." Strong men broke down under the stress of that night. Life-
long friends of Mr. Roosevelt endeavored to persuade him to
reconsider his decision. After listening patiently he turned to
two who had been urging him to accept the offer of the Southern
delegates, placed a hand on the shoulder of each, and said: "I
have grown to regard you both as brothers; let no act or word of
yours make that relationship impossible." [Footnote: Abbott, p.
He and his lawyers went to the trial, bringing with them dozens of
witnesses, life-long friends, hunting companions, reporters who
had accompanied him on political campaigns, fellow-soldiers,
Cabinet officers, physicians, officers of the Army and Navy. These
witnesses testified for a week to his temperate habits, agreeing
absolutely in their testimony. The doctors pointed out that only a
temperate man could have recovered so quickly from his wound. It
was established that he never drank anything stronger than wine,
except as a medicine; that he drank very little wine, and never
At the end, the newspaper editor withdrew his statement,
apologized, was found guilty and fined only nominal charges. Mr.
Roosevelt was not after this small creature's money, but was only
bent on clearing his reputation. So it was at his request that the
fine was fixed at six cents.
Mr. William Barnes, the Albany politician, sued Mr. Roosevelt for
libel, because Roosevelt had called him a Boss, and said that he
used crooked methods. This had been said in a political campaign.
The Republicans were looking for some chance to destroy Roosevelt,
and Mr. Barnes, aided by an able Republican lawyer, thought that
they would be doing a great service if they could besmirch Mr.
Roosevelt in some way.
So they worked their hardest and best, cross-examined him for days
and searched every incident of his political life. At the end they
joined that large band of disappointed men who tried to destroy
Roosevelt or catch him in something disreputable. For the jury
decided in Mr. Roosevelt's favor, indicating that he had uttered
no untruth when he made his remarks about Mr. Barnes.
As a writer, Mr. Roosevelt would have made a name for himself, if
he had done nothing else. The success of his books is not due to
the high offices which he held, for his best writings had nothing
to do with politics. As a writer on politics he was forceful and
clear. There was no doubt as to the meaning of his state papers;
they never had to be explained nor "interpreted." They were not
designed to mean any one of two or three things, according to
later circumstances. Strength and directness were the
characteristics. When writing about the by-ways of politics his
enjoyment of the ridiculous made his work especially readable.
When he felt deeply about any great issue, as in his last years,
about the Great War, and our part in it, his indignation found its
way into his pages, which became touched with the fire of genuine
He wrote about books and animals, and about outdoor life, as no
President has ever done. His remarks upon literature are those of
a great book-lover, sensible, well-informed and free from pose.
Every one should read his "Autobiography," his "Hero Tales from
American History" which he wrote in company with Senator Lodge,
and his "Letters to His Children." His early accounts of hunting
in the West make good reading, but in his book about his African
hunt, and in the one on the South American trip, he probably
reached his highest level as a writer. If any American has written
better books of travel than these, more continuously interesting,
fuller of pleasing detail about the little incidents, the birds
and tiny animals which he encountered, and at the same time with a
stricter regard for accuracy of observation, I do not know where
they are to be found.
This man of politics had a true poetic feeling for the countries
he visited; time and again he moves his readers in describing the
wonders of the great waste places, the melancholy deserts and
wildernesses, the deadly fascination of the jungle, and the awful
glory of the tropic dawns and sunsets. When something awakened his
imagination he could write passages full of the magic of poetry.
Witness this, it is not a description of scenery, but a vision of
the true historian of the future:
The true historian will bring the past before our eyes as if it
were the present. He will make us see as living men the hard-faced
archers of Agincourt, and the war-worn spear-men who followed
Alexander down beyond the rim of the known world. We shall hear
grate on the coast of Britain the keels of the Low-Dutch sea-
thieves whose children's children were to inherit unknown
continents. ... Beyond the dim centuries we shall see the banners
float above armed hosts ... Dead poets shall sing to us of the
deeds of men of might and the love and beauty of women. We shall
see the dancing girls of Memphis. The scent of the flowers in the
hanging gardens of Babylon will be heavy to our senses. We shall
sit at feast with the kings of Nineveh when they drink from ivory
and gold. ... For us the war-horns of King Olaf shall wail across
the flood, and the harps sound high at festivals in forgotten
halls. The frowning strongholds of the barons of old shall rise
before us, and the white palace-castles from whose windows Syrian
princes once looked across the blue AEgean. ... We shall see the
terrible horsemen of Timur the Lame ride over the roof of the
world; we shall hear the drums beat as the armies of Gustavus and
Frederick and Napoleon drive forward to victory. [Footnote:
"History as Literature," p. 32, et seq.]
Here is one of Mr. Roosevelt's anecdotes of an incident in the
White House. It shows why the people were interested in that house
while he lived in it:
"No guests were ever more welcome at the White House than these
old friends of the cattle ranches and the cow camps--the men with
whom I had ridden the long circle and eaten at the tail-board of a
chuck-wagon--whenever they turned up at Washington during my
Presidency. I remember one of them who appeared at Washington one
day just before lunch, a huge powerful man, who, when I knew him,
had been distinctly a fighting character. It happened that on that
day another old friend, the British Ambassador, Mr. Bryce, was
among those coming to lunch. Just before we went in I turned to my
cow-puncher friend and said to him with great solemnity,
'Remember, Jim, that if you shot at the feet of the British
Ambassador to make him dance, it would be likely to cause
international complications'; to which Jim responded with
unaffected horror, 'Why, Colonel, I shouldn't think of it! I
shouldn't think of it!'" [Footnote: "Autobiography," p. 132.]
And here is one about his children:
"The small boy was convalescing, and was engaged in playing on the
floor with some tin ships, together with two or three pasteboard
monitors and rams of my own manufacture. He was giving a vivid
rendering of Farragut at Mobile Bay, from memories of how I had
told the story. My pasteboard rams were fascinating--if a naval
architect may be allowed to praise his own work--and as property
they were equally divided between the little girl and the small
boy. The little girl looked on with alert suspicion from the bed,
for she was not yet convalescent enough to be allowed down on the
floor. The small boy was busily reciting the phases of the fight,
which now approached its climax, and the little girl evidently
suspected that her monitor was destined to play the part of
"Little boy. 'And then they steamed bang into the monitor.'
"Little girl. 'Brother, don't you sink my monitor!'
"Little boy (without heeding and hurrying toward the climax). 'And
the torpedo went at the monitor!'
"Little girl. 'My monitor is not to sink!'
"Little boy, dramatically; 'And bang the monitor sank!'
"Little girl. 'It didn't do any such thing. My monitor always goes
to bed at seven, and it's now quarter past. My monitor was in bed
and couldn't sink!'" [Footnote: "Autobiography," p. 367.]