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Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography|
by Thayer, William Roscoe
|In finishing the correction of the last proofs of this sketch, I
perceive that some of those who read it may suppose that I
planned to write a deliberate eulogy of Theodore Roosevelt. This
is not true. I knew him for forty years, but I never followed his
political leadership. Our political differences, however, never
lessened our personal friendship. Sometimes long intervals
elapsed between our meetings, but when we met it was always with
the same intimacy, and when we wrote it was with the same candor.
I count it fortunate for me that during the last ten years of his
life, I was thrown more with Roosevelt than during all the
earlier period; and so I was able to observe him, to know his
motives, and to study his character during the chief crises of
his later career, when what he thought and did became an integral
part of the development of the United States.
After the outbreak of the World War, in 1914, he and I thought
alike, and if I mistake not, this closing phase of his life will
come more and more to be revered by his countrymen as an example
of the highest patriotism and courage. Regardless of popular
lukewarmness at the start, and of persistent official thwarting
throughout, he roused the conscience of the nation to a sense of
its duty and of its honor. What gratitude can repay one who
rouses the conscience of a nation? Roosevelt sacrificed his life
for patriotism as surely as if he had died leading a charge in
the Battle of the Marne.
The Great War has thrown all that went before it out of
perspective. We can never see the events of the preceding
half-century in the same light in which we saw them when they
were fresh. Instinctively we appraise them, and the men through
whom they came to pass, by their relation to the catastrophe. Did
they lead up to it consciously or unconsciously? And as we judge
the outcome of the war, our views of men take on changed
complexions. The war, as it appears now, was the culmination of
three different world-movements; it destroyed the attempt of
German Imperialism to conquer the world and to rivet upon it a
Prussian military despotism. Next, it set up Democracy as the
ideal for all peoples to live by. Finally, it revealed that the
economic, industrial, social, and moral concerns of men are
deeper than the political. When I came to review Roosevelt's
career consecutively, for the purpose of this biography, I saw
that many of his acts and policies, which had been misunderstood
or misjudged at the time, were all the inevitable expressions of
the principle which was the master-motive of his life. What we
had imagined to be shrewd devices for winning a partisan
advantage, or for overthrowing a political adversary, or for
gratifying his personal ambition, had a nobler source. I do not
mean to imply that Roosevelt, who was a most adroit politician,
did not employ with terrific effect the means accepted as
honorable in political fighting. So did Abraham Lincoln, who
also, as a great Opportunist, was both a powerful and a shrewd
political fighter, but pledged to Righteousness. It seems now
tragic, but inevitable, that Roosevelt, after beginning and
carrying forward the war for the reconciliation between Capital
and Labor, should have been sacrificed by the Republican Machine,
for that Machine was a special organ of Capital, by which Capital
made and administered the laws of the States and of the Nation.
But Roosevelt's struggle was not in vain; before he died, many of
those who worked for his downfall in 1912 were looking up to him
as the natural leader of the country, in the new dangers which
encompassed it. "Had he lived," said a very eminent man who had
done more than any other to defeat him, "he would have been the
unanimous candidate of the Republicans in 1920." Time brings its
revenges swiftly. As I write these lines, it is not Capital, but
overweening Labor which makes its truculent demands on the
Administration at Washington, which it has already intimidated.
Well may we exclaim, "Oh, for the courage of Roosevelt!" And
whenever the country shall be in great anxiety or in direct peril
from the cowardice of those who have sworn to defend its welfare
and its integrity, that cry shall rise to the lips of true
Although I have purposely brought out what I believe to be the
most significant parts of Roosevelt's character and public life,
I have not wished to be uncritical. I have suppressed nothing.
Fortunately for his friends, the two libel suits which he went
through in his later years, subjected him to a microscopic
scrutiny, both as to his personal and his political life. All the
efforts of very able lawyers, and of clever and unscrupulous
enemies to undermine him, failed; and henceforth his advocates
may rest on the verdicts given by two separate courts. As for the
great political acts of his official career, Time has forestalled
eulogy. Does any one now defend selling liquor to children and
converting them into precocious drunkards? Does any one defend
sweat-shops, or the manufacture of cigars under worse than
unsanitary conditions? Which of the packers, who protested
against the Meat Inspection Bill, would care to have his name
made public; and which of the lawyers and of the accomplices in
the lobby and in Congress would care to have it known that he
used every means, fair and foul, to prevent depriving the packers
of the privilege of canning bad meat for Americans, although
foreigners insisted that the canned meat which they bought should
be whole some and inspected? Does any American now doubt the
wisdom and justice of conserving the natural re sources, of
saving our forests and our mineral supplies, and of controlling
the watershed from which flows the water-supply of entire States?
These things are no longer in the field of debate. They are
accepted just as the railroad and the telegraph are accepted. But
each in its time was a novelty, a reform, and to secure its
acceptance by the American people and its sanction in the statute
book, required the zeal, the energy, the courage of one man-
-Theodore Roosevelt. He had many helpers, but he was the
indispensable backer and accomplisher. When, therefore, I have
commended him for these great achievements, I have but echoed
what is now common opinion.
A contemporary can never judge as the historian a hundred years
after the fact judges, but the contemporary view has also its
place, and it may be really nearer to the living truth than is
the conclusion formed when the past is cold and remote and the
actors are dead long ago. So a friend's outlined portrait, though
obviously not impartial, must be nearer the truth than an enemy's
can be--for the enemy is not impartial either. We have fallen too
much into the habit of imagining that only hostile critics tell
I wish to express my gratitude to many persons who have assisted
me in my work. First of all, to Mrs. Roosevelt, for permission to
use various letters. Next, to President Roosevelt's sisters, Mrs.
William S. Cowles and Mrs. Douglas Robinson, for invaluable
information. Equally kind have been many of Roosevelt's
associates in Government and in political affairs: President
William H. Taft, former Secretary of War; Senator Henry Cabot
Lodge; Senator Elihu Root and Colonel Robert Bacon, former
Secretaries of State; Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte, former
Attorney-General; Hon. George B. Cortelyou, former Secretary of
the Interior; Hon. Gifford Pinchot, of the National Forest
Service; Hon. James R. Garfield, former Commissioner of Commerce.
Also to Lord Bryce and the late Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, British
Ambassadors at Washington; to Hon. George W. Wickersham,
Attorney-General under President Taft; to Mr. Nicholas Roosevelt
and Mr. Charles P. Curtis, Jr.; to Hon. Albert J. Beveridge,
ex-Senator; to Mr. James T. Williams, Jr.; to Dr. Alexander
Lambert; to Hon. James M. Beck; to Major George H. Putnam; to
Professor Albert Bushnell Hart; to Hon. Charles S. Bird; to Mrs.
George von. L. Meyer and Mrs. Curtis Guild; to Mr. Hermann
Hagedorn; to Mr. James G. King, Jr.; to Dean William D. Lewis; to
Hon. Regis H. Post; to Hon. William Phillips, Assistant Secretary
of State; to Mr. Richard Trimble; to Mr. John Woodbury; to Gov.
Charles E. Hughes; to Mr. Louis A. Coolidge; to Hon. F. D.
Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy; to Judge Robert
Grant; to Mr. James Ford Rhodes; to Hon. W. Cameron Forbes.
I am under especial obligation to Hon. Charles G. Washburn,
ex-Congressman, whose book, "Theodore Roosevelt: The Logic of his
Career," I have consulted freely and commend as the best analysis
I have seen of Roosevelt's political character. I wish also to
thank the publishers and authors of books by or about Roosevelt
for permission to use their works. These are Houghton Mifflin
Co.; G. P. Putnam's Sons; The Outlook Co.; The Macmillan Co.
To Mr. Ferris Greenslet, whose fine critical taste I have often
drawn upon; and Mr. George B. Ives, who has prepared the Index;
and to Miss Alice Wyman, my secretary, my obligation is profound.
W. R. T.
August 10, 1919