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Theodore Roosevelt
The Great American
by Pearson, Edmund Lester


Death closes all; but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done. ... Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Tennyson's Ulysses.
Not many months after Roosevelt came back from South America, the Great War in Europe broke out. It is but dreaming now to surmise what might have been done in those fearful days of July 1914, when the German hordes were gathering for their attack upon the world. Once before, and singlehanded, this country had made the German Kaiser halt. Had there been resolution in the White House in 1914, could all the neutral nations have been rallied at our side, and could we have spoken in tones so decisive to the Hun that he would have drawn back even then, have left Belgium unravaged, and spared the world the misery of the next four years? It may be so; Germany did not expect to have to take on England as an enemy. If she had been told, so that there was no mistaking our meaning, that she would have us against her as well, then it might have been her part to hesitate, and finally put back her sword.

Roosevelt supported the President at first, in his policy of neutrality, supposing him to have some special information. He supported him with hesitation, and with qualifications however, pointing out that neutrality is no proud position, and has many disadvantages. Perhaps he had some inklings of the danger to the country when our foreign affairs are managed by pacifists. Certainly America had noticed the grim fact that a Government which forever talked about peace had in actual practice, shed more blood in a few hours at Vera Cruz than had been spilled in all the seven years while Roosevelt was President. Moreover, this blood was shed uselessly; no object whatever having been gained by it.

It is impossible to understand Roosevelt; it is impossible to get any idea of what he did during his term of office; it is impossible to learn anything from his career, unless we contrast him and his beliefs and actions with the conduct of our Government during the Great War. An object lesson of the most illuminating sort is afforded by this contrast, and we may make up our minds about the wisest paths to be followed in the future if we notice what Roosevelt said and did at this time, how far and how wisely his counsel was accepted or rejected.

He disapproved, for instance, President Wilson's speech, made a day or two after the sinking of the Lusitania in which the President spoke of a nation being "too proud to fight." Roosevelt said that a nation which announced itself as too proud to fight was usually about proud enough to be kicked; and it must be admitted that the Germans took that view of it, and for a year and more continued to kick. He did not deem it wise, when President Wilson informed the Germans, ten days later, that we remembered the "humane attitude" of their Government "in matters of international right," for he happened to recall that Belgium was at that moment red with the blood of its citizens, slain by the Germans in a sort of warfare that combined highway robbery with revolting murder. Neither did it seem useful to him to speak about German influence as always "upon the side of justice and humanity."

Mr. Roosevelt had always been strong for having the nation ready for war if war should come. Mr. Wilson first said that persons who believed this were nervous and excited. Next he joined these persons himself, so far as words went, and finally he let the matter drop until we were at war. Mr. Roosevelt believed that when you once were at war it was a crime to "hit softly." Mr. Wilson waited until we had been at war a year and over, and then announced in a speech that he was determined to use force!

Mr. Roosevelt wrote regularly for The Outlook, later for the Metropolitan Magazine and the Kansas City Star. Thousands of his countrymen read his articles, and found in them the only expression of the American spirit which was being uttered. Americans were puzzled, troubled and finally humiliated by the letters and speeches which came from Washington. To be told that in this struggle between the blood-guilty Hun, and the civilized nations of the earth, that we must keep even our minds impartial seemed an impossible command. School-boys throughout the country must have wondered why President Wilson, with every means for getting information, should have to confess that he did not know what the war was about! And when Mr. Wilson declared in favor of a peace without victory, his friends and admirers were kept busy explaining, some of them, that he meant without victory for the Allies, and others that he meant without victory for Germany, and still others that he meant without victory for anybody in particular.

It was not strange that Americans began to wonder what country they were living in, and whether they had been mistaken in thinking that America had a heroic history, in which its citizens took pride. No wonder they turned their eyes to Europe, where scores of young Americans, sickening at the state of things at home, had eagerly volunteered to fight with France or England against the Hun. One of these, named Alan Seeger, who wrote the fine poem "I have a Rendezvous with Death," died in battle on our Independence Day. He also wrote a poem called "A Message to America." [Footnote: Seeger. Poems, pp. 164, 165.] In it he said that America had once a leader:

    ... the man
    Most fit to be called American.
In it he spoke further of the same leader

    I have been too long from my country's shores
    To reckon what state of mind is yours,
    But as for myself I know right well
    I would go through fire and shot and shell
    And face new perils and make my bed
    In new privations, if Roosevelt led.
One did not have to be long with the men who volunteered at the beginning of the war to know that Roosevelt's spirit led these men, and that they looked to him and trusted him as the great American. The country's honor was safe in his hands, and no mawkish nor cowardly words ever came from his lips.

He pointed out the folly of the pacifist type of public men, like Mr. Bryan and Mr. Ford. The latter, helpless as a butterfly in those iron years, led his quarreling group of pilgrims to Europe, on his "Peace Ship," and then left them to their incessant fights with each other. The American public was quick to see the contrast, when war came, and Roosevelt's four sons and son-in-law all volunteered, while Mr. Ford's son took advantage of some law and avoided military duty, in order to add more millions to his already enormous heap. The lesson of Roosevelt's teaching and example was not lost, and the people recognized that the country would endure while it had men like the Roosevelts, but that it would go down in infamy if the other sort became numerous.

In the election of 1916 Mr. Roosevelt, after refusing the Progressive nomination, supported Mr. Hughes, the Republican, against President Wilson. He tried hard to get Mr. Hughes to come out with some utterance which would put him plainly on record against the Germans and Pro-Germans who were filling America with their poisonous schemes. For we continued to entertain German diplomats and agents (paymasters, as they were, of murderers and plotters of arson) and to run on Germany's errands in various countries. The cry "He kept us out of war" was effectively used to reelect Mr. Wilson, although members of the Government must have been thoroughly well aware that war was coming and coming soon.

It had long been Mr. Roosevelt's hope that if war came he might be allowed to raise a division, as he had once helped to raise a regiment, and take them, after suitable training, to the front. He knew where he could put his hands on the men, regular army officers, ex-volunteers and Rough Riders of the Spanish War, and other men of experience, who in turn could find other men, who could be made into soldiers, for they knew the important parts of a soldier's work, and could be trained quickly.

But the War Department and the President would have none of Mr. Roosevelt's services. The President replied that the high officers of the Army advised him against it, which was undoubtedly true. It is also extremely likely that the high officers of the Democratic Party would advise against letting Mr. Roosevelt serve his country, as they still feared him, and still vainly hoped that they could lessen his influence with the American people. Unlike President Lincoln, who would gladly accept the services of any man who could serve the country, Mr. Wilson could work only with men who were personally pleasing, who thought as he did on all subjects. The officer of the Army best known to European soldiers, and the one who trained one of the best divisions, was Roosevelt's old commander, General Leonard Wood. But he, like a statesman, had been advising preparedness for years, and he was therefore displeasing to the politicians who only began to prepare after war was declared. America and the Allies did not have the benefit of this distinguished officer's services in France.

Against the slothfulness of the Government in these years, Roosevelt voiced the true opinion of America. He did not merely criticize, for he offered his own services, and when he disapproved of what was being done, he pointed out what might be done by way of improvement. In spite of much condemnation of his course, his suggestions were nearly all adopted--six months or a year later. His offer to raise a division showed how many men were eager to fight, and spurred the Government into action.

The Germans and their friends in this country, the peace-at-any- price folk who defended or apologized for the worst crimes of the Germans, and all the band of disloyal persons who think that patriotism is something to be sneered at,--all these hated Roosevelt with a deadly hatred. It was not a proud distinction to be numbered with these, and all who joined with them have made haste to forget the fact.

In his own family, his eldest son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., became first a Major and later a Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry; Kermit and Archibald were both Captains; and Quentin was a Lieutenant in the Aviation force. His son-in-law, Dr. Richard Derby, was a Major in the Medical Corps. All of them sought active service, made every effort to get to the front, and succeeded. Two of them were wounded, and Quentin was killed in a battle in the air.

The death of his youngest son was a terrible blow to him, but he would not wince. His son had been true to his teaching; he had dared the high fortune of battle.

"You cannot bring up boys to be eagles," said he, "and expect them to act like sparrows!"

Some distinguished Japanese visitors calling on Mr. Roosevelt at this time came away deeply affected. To them he recalled the Samurai, with their noble traditions of utter self-sacrifice.

Throughout his life, but now as never before, he told his countrymen, there was no place in America for a divided loyalty. No German-Americans, nor Irish-Americans, nor Scotch-Americans. He would have no man try to split even, and be a "50-50 American."

Shortly after war had ended, he sent this message to a patriotic meeting:
There must be no sagging back in the fight for Americanism merely because the war is over. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intended to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people. [Footnote: Hagedorn, p. 384.]
It was practically his last word to the country he had loved and served so well. That was on January 5, 1919.

Years before, when he and his children had played together, he had told them a story about lions. Some of the boys had been called the lion cubs, and henceforth their father was to them "The Old Lion."

On the sixth of January, one of his sons, who was at home recovering from his wounds, sent a message to his brothers in France:
The Old Lion is dead.
He was buried in a small cemetery near his Long Island home. A plain grave-stone marks the place. To his grave have come a King and a Prince and other men of great name from Europe, to lay wreaths there, as they put them on the tombs of Washington and Lincoln. But what would have pleased him even more is that every Sunday and holiday thousands of men, women and children who knew him, thousands who loved him, although they never saw him, men who fought at his side, and men who fought against him, go out to stand for a moment at his grave, because they know him now as a wise, brave, and patriotic American.

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