Theodore Roosevelt, President
THE people of Buffalo will always have a special interest in the
presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, because it was in this city that
the awful tragedy occurred which made him President, and it was
here that his term of office—his first term, if one may venture
a prophecy—began. It was here that he was sworn in, held his first
cabinet meeting, and issued his first proclamation—and from here
he followed the body of his former chief to its last resting place.
But Col. Roosevelt was well known
to Buffalonians, and he knew the city and its people well, before
that memorable week in September, 1901, when he unwillingly became
the central figure of the world’s gaze. His last previous visit
was on May 20th of the same year, when he came here as Vice-President
to open formally the Pan-American Exposition, around which all our
hopes were then clustering. At that time he met many of our people,
and made as many friends, by his simple, hearty and whole-souled
manner. It was then that he, as well as Senator Lodge, in their
speeches, developing the Pan-American idea which was the underlying
motive of the exposition, gave utterance to thoughts which have
since proved to be prophetic, as outlining some phases of the foreign
policy of the new administration, and especially the new and more
energetic hegemony of the United States on this continent—the revivified
Only a little more than a year before
this, on Washington’s birthday, in 1900, Col. Roosevelt, then Governor,
had come to Buffalo and delivered an address on the higher duties
of citizenship, at the Saturn Club; and with his usual energy, he
gave another address the same evening before the Daughters of the
American Revolution, and still another before the Sixty-fifth Regiment,
after a review.
So when, on Friday, the sixth of September,
he heard of the shooting of President McKinley at the Pan-American
Exposition, and instantly started for the side of his chief, he
knew that he was not going among strangers, but to the house of
friends. He hardly stopped to consult anyone, or even to advise
anyone of his movements, but simply came to where the trouble was,
as fast as a special train could bring him.
It was almost by chance that I met
him on Saturday noon, as he drove up to the Iroquois Hotel, and
a brief conversation resulted in his coming to my house and stopping
there until the following Tuesday. The house was then partly dismantled;
the family and most of the household were in the country; but he
was offered a quiet place to sleep and eat, and accepted it.
Those were three terribly anxious
days, but on the whole not gloomy. From the first moment of his
arrival, and the favorable answers which were made to his questions
about the condition of the President—especially after his first
hasty call on the family and physicians of the wounded man, at Mr.
Milburn’s house, the Vice-President seemed possessed with an abiding
faith  that the wound would not
be fatal. His sanguine temperament, his own rugged strength and
consciousness of ability to combat disease, and his eager desire
for the recovery of the President, all combined to fill him—not
merely with hope, which every one felt, but with confidence. If
ever a man desired, yes, longed for, the recovery of another, with
all his might, that did Theodore Roosevelt, when he stood in the
shadow of President McKinley’s threatened death. Apart from all
other considerations, he did not want to have the presidency thrust
upon him in that terrible way. He would not believe it possible.
So when, on Tuesday, the fourth day
after the shooting, everything seemed to be going on well, and even
the Secretary of War, Mr. Root, and other members of the cabinet,
and Dr. McBurney, who had come here from New York, felt justified
in leaving, it was thought best that the Vice-President also should
go away, in order to impress the public with that confidence in
the outcome which everyone then felt. He went to join his family
at a remote spot in the Adirondacks, the Tahawus Club, where he
expected to stop only a day, and then to take them back to his home
at Oyster Bay. His itinerary and addresses for reaching him, if
he should be needed here, were left with me; but no one thought
that he would be needed.
In the middle of the night between
Thursday and Friday, I was aroused by a message asking me to send
instantly for the Vice-President, as the President had suddenly
become worse and was in great danger. Then began a vigorous effort
to annihilate time and space. A telephone message to Albany put
me, within two hours, in direct communication with Mr. Loeb, the
Vice-President’s secretary. He informed me that the club where Col.
Roosevelt probably was at that moment, was some hours beyond the
end of rail and telegraph lines, but that he was probably coming
out on that day; that he (Mr. Loeb) would try to reach him quickly
by a telegram, to be forwarded by special messenger, and would also
go after him on a special train as early in the morning as one could
It turned out that Col. Roosevelt
and his family were staying a day longer in the Adirondacks than
he had expected, owing in part, as I understand, to a storm which
had washed out the roads and made them very bad. Being thus detained,
on this Friday he had started for a tramp up Mt. Marcy with a guide,
before the telegram from Mr. Loeb arrived. The message was sent
after him, and found him on his way down the mountain, just below
He hurried back; as soon as possible
got a wagon and drove out over the rough roads to the nearest railway
station, in the dark of Friday night. It is safe to say that he
lost no time on that drive.
Saturday, September 14th, about 1:30
P. M., he arrived in Buffalo again, and left the train at the Terrace
Station. President McKinley had died early Saturday morning, and
he was then the constitutional President of the United States. Naturally
there was great excitement in the city, and all precautions were
taken for his safety. He was met at the station by a single private
carriage (Mr. Geo. L. Williams’) and by Mr. Williams and myself,
and was driven rapidly up to my house again, followed by a small
escort of cavalry, which had been stationed off at some distance
in order not to attract a crowd.
No definite plans had been made for
swearing him in, and it had not even been settled where this should
be done. The first suggestion had been to take him directly to Mr.
Milburn’s house, there to be sworn in; but this had been objected
to as unsuitable, while the body of President McKinley was lying
in the house. So he was asked to go to my house and get lunch, and
wait  for further suggestions.
But he wanted no lunch, and immediately after arriving and being
equipped with some borrowed clothes, more appropriate than his traveling
suit, he insisted on starting for Mr. Milburn’s house, to make a
call of sympathy and respect on the family of the dead President.
This was done, and by three o’clock he was at my house again.
Then without any preparation, and
almost without announcement, the members of the cabinet came down
to administer the oath of office.
They were the Secretary of War, Mr.
Root; the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Long; the Attorney General,
Mr. Knox, the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Hitchcock; the Postmaster
General, Mr. Smith, and the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Wilson.
With them were Judge Hazel, of the United States District Court,
and Judge Haight, of the New York Court of Appeals, Senator Depew,
and a few friends, who happened to know of it.
No one was formally invited or even
notified of the ceremony. There was no time for it.
President Roosevelt met them informally
in the library, as they came in. The room, not a large one, was
far from full, and at the last moment the newspaper men, who were
eager for admission, were all let in, but were prohibited from taking
any photographs. Therefore, the newspaper accounts of what was said
and done in the brief ceremony which followed are generally correct,
but all professed pictures of the scene are shams, except as they
may have been sketched from memory.
The Secretary of War, Mr. Root, was
the head of the cabinet among the six who were present—the Secretaries
of State and of the Treasury not being there. He was also an old
and intimate friend of Col. Roosevelt, and his chief adviser at
this trying time. Without any preliminaries, he addressed the new
President, calling him “Mr. Vice-President,” and on behalf of the
cabinet requested him to take the oath of office.
President Roosevelt answered simply,
but with great solemnity:
“Mr. Secretary—I will take the oath.
And in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement, I wish
to state that it shall be my aim to continue, absolutely without
variance, the policy of President McKinley, for the peace and prosperity
and honor of our beloved country.”
It is characteristic of the man that
when, the next day, some newspapers published this statement without
the word “honor”—referring only to “peace and prosperity”—he was
much concerned about it, and asked earnestly whether he possibly
could have omitted a word to which he intended to give special emphasis.
The new President was standing in
front of the bay window on the south side of the room. Others had
fallen back a little when Mr. Root spoke. After his response, Judge
Hazel advanced and administered the oath to support the constitution
and laws. It was taken with uplifted hand. The written oath, which
Judge Hazel produced, in typewritten form, on a sheet of ordinary
legal cap, was then signed.
Then President Roosevelt made the
announcement of his request to the members of the cabinet to remain
in office. The whole ceremony was over within half an hour after
the cabinet had entered the house, and the small company dispersed,
leaving only the six cabinet officers with the President, who at
once held an informal session in the library.
I was asked to produce the “Messages
and Papers of the Presidents”—the volume containing the proclamation
by President Arthur of the death of President Garfield, and did
so. This was considered in the cabinet meeting, which only lasted
a few minutes.
After this meeting the President took
a walk with Mr. Root, and then 
returning to the house drafted his proclamation of the death of
President McKinley, and appointing Thursday, September 19th, a day
of national mourning. This was issued to the press that evening.
So began President Roosevelt’s term
of office. The next day, Sunday, came the local funeral ceremonies
over his predecessor, and early Monday morning he started with the
funeral train for Washington.
It takes less in the way of ceremony
to make a president in this country, than it does to make a King
in England or any monarchy, but the significance of the event is
no less great.