Source: Century Magazine
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “McKinley-Roosevelt”
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 63
Issue number: 1
|“McKinley-Roosevelt.” Century Magazine Nov. 1901 v63n1: pp. 148-49.|
|William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (presidential character); William McKinley (public statements); Theodore Roosevelt (personal character); Theodore Roosevelt (political character); Theodore Roosevelt (personal philosophy).|
|Napoléon Bonaparte; Ralph Waldo Emerson; James Russell Lowell; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt.|
|The closing paragraph of the editorial below is footnoted as follows: “‘Latitude and Longitude among Reformers,’ The Century for June, 1900. Reprinted in ‘The Strenuous Life,’ p. 62.”|
THE two names associated such a little while ago as candidates on a Presidential
ticket, and in a partizan [sic] sense, are associated now in a new sense
as successive Presidents of our country in circumstances of tragic import.
McKinley the candidate, the President, now takes his place in history among the American Presidents whose assumption of public duty led to a shocking and murderous end. His last hours threw back on his career a strong light. Even those of his countrymen who had conscientiously criticized many of his acts and measures felt a patriotic pride in those noble traits of character which shone bright in the time of suffering and calamity. His magnanimity toward a treacherous assassin, his consideration for friends, his quick regret at having brought embarrassment to the enterprise at Buffalo which it was his errand to assist, his calm fearlessness and resignation in the face of death—all these but glorify those engaging personal characteristics which have continuously been felt by those nearest the late President. McKinley’s critics have believed that his geniality was sometimes the occasion of error in action; that the fine “quality” had its “defect”: but every one recognizes now that his amiability was genuine and ineradicable; that his kind-heartedness was never a mere pose, but that it was so deep in his nature that the most trying, the most terrible events could only intensify it, and make it conspicuous and splendid—as it was profoundly pathetic—in the eyes of the whole world.
It is satisfactory to his fellow-countrymen, regardless of political predilections, to realize that President McKinley’s very last public utterance was on an unusually exalted plane. His speech at the Pan-American Exposition the day before he was shot was an enthusiastic expression of the higher meanings of that gathering of American nations. The President’s outlook upon the world was lofty, generous, humane; his words breathed the spirit of fraternity and peace. That speech should be regarded as his political testament, and might well serve as the platform for the administration of his constitutional successor; and indeed the words uttered by President Roosevelt on the very day on which he assumed his new office may be held to imply this exact intention. Said President McKinley:
Let us ever remember that our interest [that of the nations of the New World] is in concord, not conflict, and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war. We hope that all who are represented here may be moved to higher and nobler effort for their own and the world’s good, and that out of this city may come not only greater commerce and trade for us all, but, more essential than these, relations of mutual respect, confidence, and friendship which will deepen and endure. Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness, and peace to all our neighbors, and like blessings to all the peoples and powers of earth.
As to our new President, there can be no fear
that the higher interests of the nation will suffer in his hands.
This is true not only because the manner of his accession is so harrowing and sobering; not only because the tremendous power and dignity of the office must ever impose a solemn mood upon its occupant; not only because, as Napoleon said of himself in a great crisis of his career, he is no longer young; not only because of his extraordinary training and special knowledge derived from experience in legislation, in the national Civil Service Commission, in municipal administration (both as the chairman of the Roosevelt Commission of Inquiry and in the Police Commission of New York), derived too from his experience in State administration, in navy administration, and in the exigencies of an army in the field; not only because of his wide range of acquaintance with affairs of the East and of the West, but because Theodore Roosevelt, from the beginning of his career to this present hour, through whatever mistakes of temperament and of judgment, has ever had as his ideal all that is noblest in American citizenship. From the time when, an enthusiastic youth fresh from the Harvard of Emerson and Lowell, he rushed into the fierce battle of New York politics, to the moment when, with a great pang at his heart, but with unflinching courage and determination, he took the oath of office as chief magistrate of the United States, he has striven to do his whole duty as a servant and, at the same time, a leader of the people. Honesty and courage, fraternity and justice, have been his sincere watchwords.
Roosevelt has been the subject of criticism by not a few who thought that in practice he sometimes carried his theory of “common sense” beyond the bounds of legitimate compromise to the point of actual surrender. But those who have been nearest him have held that his executive actions have been throughout consistent with his own views of duty and his always announced endeavor to obtain in result, if not the very best, at least as near the best as a brave and sensible  administrator could reach. Few, if any, who have been in a position to know all the facts in mooted cases have for a moment doubted the sincerity and devotion of the man, even if they have continued to doubt the rightness of a given decision.
Whatever apprehensions concerning his course which at any time even his friends may have cherished have all arisen from the possession of a temperament one of the most phenomenal existing among the public men of modern times. From this temperament come a physical and mental energy and a power of endurance most remarkable. If he were noted merely for abounding physical courage, impetuosity, love of conflict, mental alertness and ability, tremendous industry in administrative work, and for political success, he would still be a striking figure in public life. But the interesting and important thing about Theodore Roosevelt is that he puts all the resources of this extraordinary temperament—all his chivalric bravery and exhaustless energy—at the service of high political ideals. In the still active ranks of statesmen he was among the first to see that the full and frank adoption of the merit system is an absolute requisite of good government. He fought valiantly for this system when he was a member of the national Civil Service Commission; he put civil service reform into practice when President of the New York Police Board; and as Governor of New York he saw to it that the legislature should enact the best State laws on the subject in vogue in all the States of the Union.
The hopes cherished by his well-wishers—and in this great emergency they should be the men of right feeling everywhere—are based upon their belief that he is fully able to resist the temptation to compromise principle, and that—now that the accidents which made him Vice-President and President, against his wish, have given him the highest position to which his ambition could aspire—he will rise to the level of the best impulses and actions of his unique career. They believe, too, that he is honest in his reiterated declarations of the fundamental creed of his political life. This creed he has preached over and over in words no less precise than eloquent, and nowhere more clearly than in the following pregnant sentences:
There can be no meddling with the laws of righteousness, of decency, of morality. We are in honor bound to put into practice what we preach; to remember that we are not to be excused if we do not; and that in the last resort no material prosperity, no business acumen, no intellectual development of any kind, can atone in the life of a nation for the lack of the fundamental qualities of courage, honesty, and common sense.