Source: Theodore Roosevelt and His Times
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Roosevelt Becomes President” [chapter 6]
Author(s): Howland, Harold
Edition: Abraham Lincoln Edition
Publisher: Yale University Press
Place of publication: New Haven
Year of publication: 1921
Pagination: 73-83 (excerpt below includes only pages 73-78)
|Howland, Harold. “Roosevelt Becomes President” [chapter 6]. Theodore Roosevelt and His Times. Abraham Lincoln ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921: pp. 73-83.|
|excerpt of chapter|
|Theodore Roosevelt (vice-presidential candidacy); Theodore Roosevelt (assumption of presidency); Theodore Roosevelt (compared with McKinley).|
|William Jennings Bryan; Garret A. Hobart; William McKinley; Thomas Collier Platt; Matthew Stanley Quay; Theodore Roosevelt; Adlai E. Stevenson; George Washington.|
Volume 47 in The Chronicles of America series, ed. Allen Johnson; asst. eds. Gerhard R. Lomer and Charles W. Jefferys.
From title page: Theodore Roosevelt and His Times: A Chronicle of the Progressive Movement.
Roosevelt Becomes President [excerpt]
THERE was chance in Theodore Roosevelt’s
coming into the Presidency as he did, but there was irony as well. An evil chance
dropped William McKinley before an assassin’s bullet; but there was a fitting
irony in the fact that the man who must step into his place had been put where
he was in large measure by the very men who would least like to see him become
The Republican convention of 1900 was a singularly unanimous body. President McKinley was renominated without a murmur of dissent. But there was no Vice-President to renominate, as Mr. Hobart had died in office. There was no logical candidate for the second place on the ticket. Senator Platt, however, had a man whom he wanted to get rid of, since Governor Roosevelt had made himself persona non grata alike to the machine politicians of his State and to the corporations  allied with them. The Governor, however, did not propose to be disposed of so easily. His reasons were characteristic. He wrote thus to Senator Platt about the matter:
I can’t help feeling more and more that the Vice-Presidency is not an office in which I could do anything and not an office in which a man who is still vigorous and not past middle life has much chance of doing anything. . . . Now, I should like to be Governor for another term, especially if we are able to take hold of the canals in serious shape. But, as Vice-President, I don’t see there is anything I can do. I would be simply a presiding officer, and that I should find a bore.
Now Mr. Platt knew that nothing
but “sidetracking” could stop another nomination of Roosevelt for the Governorship,
and this Rough Rider was a thorn in his flesh. So he went on his subterranean
way to have him nominated for the most innocuous political berth in the gift
of the American people. He secured the coöperation of Senator Quay of Pennsylvania
and another boss or two of the same indelible stripe; but all their political
strength would not have accomplished the desired result without assistance from
quite a different source. Roosevelt had already achieved great popularity in
the Middle and the Far West for the  very
reasons which made Mr. Platt want him out of the way. So, while the New York
boss and his acquiescent delegates were estopped from presenting his name to
the convention by Roosevelt’s assurance that he would fight à l’outrance
any movement from his own State to nominate him, other delegates took matters
into their own hands and the nomination was finally made unanimously.
Roosevelt gave great strength to the Republican ticket in the campaign which followed. William Jennings Bryan was again the Democratic candidate, but the “paramount issue” of his campaign had changed since four years before from free silver to anti-imperialism. President McKinley, according to his custom, made no active campaign; but Bryan and Roosevelt competed with each other in whirlwind speaking tours from one end of the country to the other. The war-cry of the Republicans was the “full dinner pail”; the keynote of Bryan’s bid for popular support was opposition to the Republican policy of expansion and criticism of Republican tendencies toward plutocratic control. The success of the Republican ticket was overwhelming; McKinley and Roosevelt received nearly twice as many electoral votes as Bryan and Stevenson. 
When President McKinley was shot at Buffalo six months after his second term began, it looked for a time as though he would recover. So Roosevelt, after an immediate visit to Buffalo, went to join his family in the Adirondacks. The news of the President’s impending death found him out in the wilderness on the top of Mount Tahawus, not far from the tiny Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, the source of the Hudson River. A ten-mile dash down the mountain trail, in the course of which he outstripped all his companions but one; a wild forty-mile drive through the night to the railroad, the new President and his single companion changing the horses two or three times with their own hands; a fast journey by special train across the State—and on the evening of September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as the twenty-sixth President of the United States.
Before taking the oath, Roosevelt announced that it would be his aim “to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace, prosperity, and honor of our beloved country.” He immediately asked every member of the late President’s Cabinet to continue in office. The Cabinet was an excellent one, and Mr.  Roosevelt found it necessary to make no other changes than those that came in the ordinary course of events. The policies were not altered in broad general outline, for Roosevelt was as stalwart a Republican as McKinley himself, and was as firmly convinced of the soundness of the fundamentals of the Republican doctrine.
But the fears of some of his friends that Roosevelt would seem, if he carried out his purpose of continuity, “a pale copy of McKinley” were not justified in the event. They should have known better. A copy of any one Roosevelt could neither be nor seem, and “pale” was the last epithet to be applied to him with justice. It could not be long before the difference in the two Administrations would appear in unmistakable terms. The one which had just passed was first of all a party Administration and secondly a McKinley Administration. The one which followed was first, last, and all the time a Roosevelt Administration. “Where Macgregor sits, there is the head of the table.” Not because Roosevelt consciously willed it so, but because the force and power and magnetism of his vigorous mind and personality inevitably made it so. McKinley had been a great harmonizer. “He oiled the machinery of government  with loving and imperturbable patience,” said an observer of his time, “and the wheels ran with an ease unknown since Washington’s first term of office.” It had been a constant reproach of the critics of the former President that “his ear was always to the ground.” But he kept it there because it was his sincere conviction that it belonged there, ready to apprize him of the vibrations of the popular will. Roosevelt was the born leader with an innate instinct of command. He did not scorn or flout the popular will; he had too confirmed a conviction of the sovereign right of the people to rule for that. But he did not wait pusillanimously for the popular mind to make itself up; he had too high a conception of the duty of leadership for that. He esteemed it his peculiar function—as the man entrusted by a great people with the headship of their common affairs—to lead the popular mind, to educate it, to inspire it, sometimes to run before it in action, serene in the confidence that tardy popular judgment would confirm the rightness of the deed.
By the end of Roosevelt’s first Administration two of the three groups that had taken a hand in choosing him for the Vice-Presidency were thoroughly sick of their bargain.