Source: Century Magazine
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Personality of President Roosevelt”
Date of publication: December 1901
Volume number: 63
Issue number: 2
|“The Personality of President Roosevelt.” Century Magazine Dec. 1901 v63n2: pp. 277-79.|
|Theodore Roosevelt (personal history); Theodore Roosevelt (public statements); Theodore Roosevelt (personal character).|
|Thomas Hart Benton; Henry Clay; John Fiske; Benjamin Kidd; William McKinley; Gouverneur Morris; Charles H. Pearson; Theodore Roosevelt; William Howard Taft; George Washington.|
“By an Old Acquaintance” (p. 277).
The article below is accompanied by a photograph of Roosevelt on page 276.
The Personality of President Roosevelt
HAVING been requested to give impressions of President Roosevelt, based on
a long and intimate acquaintance, I will not dwell on a personality so attractive
that it compels those who know him best to love him most, but upon certain characteristics
and training calculated to fit him for the successful performance of the high
trust imposed upon him.
Born of Northern father and Southern mother; commingling in his veins the blood of the English, Dutch, Scotch, and Huguenot; reared in New York, and educated in New England; living a part of his life in the far West, and a part in Washington, where all sections meet on a common plane, Theodore Roosevelt is the most catholic, cosmopolitan, and non-sectional American in public life since Henry Clay.
The youngest of our Presidents, he yet has had the advantage of more varied and peculiarly valuable preparatory training than any man who has occupied the position.
Graduating with distinction from Harvard, where the training and association are as broad and non-sectional as in any college in the land, he began early in life to study the history of his country as a preparation for his subsequent historical writings. His earlier works, “The Navy in the War of 1812,” and his lives of Benton and Gouverneur Morris, demonstrated that he had mastered his country’s history on the broad national lines so characteristic of his later writings.
When at a receptive age, he had useful training in practical legislation in the legislature of his native State.
His ranch life in the far West gave him an insight into Western life and thought, and his greatest historical work, “The Winning of the West,” was evidence to the South and the West that no historian of those sections could have written with a more thorough appreciation of all that was best in the lives and history of the men who carried our civilization over the mountains and across the plains to the Pacific than had this New-Yorker educated in New England.
In his conspicuously valuable services of over six years as a civil-service commissioner, he availed himself of the exceptional opportunities to learn the practical workings of the executive departments at Washington, and by personal investigations throughout the country he gained a knowledge of the working of our postal and revenue service.
As president of the Police Board of New York he acquired a practical knowledge of the municipal government of our largest city.
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, at a time when it was necessary to prepare the navy for threatened war, he mastered the problems of that great department, investigating personally the work and methods at the navy-yards, the armament and equipment of our war-ships in comparison with those of foreign navies, and the measures necessary to make the navy an efficient fighting-machine. When urged that he was going too fast with his preparations, he retorted: “There is no excuse for the existence of a navy if it is not made an efficient fighting-machine ready for an emergency.”
The efficiency of the navy had been endangered by the hitherto irreconcilable differences between the line and the staff, and by the slow promotions, preventing officers from reaching positions of responsibility until they were advanced in years. A board of naval experts was appointed, with the Assistant Secretary as chairman, for the purpose of devising means of righting the evils. I was informed by a distinguished naval officer who served on that board that it was due to the admirable tact, patience, and diplomacy of the chairman that an agreement was reached, and that a bill was drawn which the chairman personally explained before the naval committees of the House and the Senate, and for which he secured favorable reports and enactment into law. It is too soon to write of the masterly work he performed in the prepa-  ration of the navy for the approaching war, or of his potential influence in the direction of the quick and decisive blows which brought the war to a speedy termination and perhaps averted threatened foreign interference.
In addition to a wide, personal acquaintance with army officers, he has acquired a knowledge of our army by active participation with it in actual war.
While serving in Washington, he was in close touch with much of the work of the scientific bureaus, and some of the men in charge of this work are among his valued personal friends. I have heard him, at some of the meetings of the scientific societies, discuss most intelligently the problems connected with the scientific investigations carried on under government supervision.
Thus we see that our youngest President has had a practical training in the civil service, in the army, and in the navy. As a working member of the board of governors of Harvard University he is in close touch with the educational methods and thought of the country. Added to this he has, as governor of the largest and richest State, had experience as an executive. This executive experience as governor of a State with a larger population than had the United States during the administrations of Washington and some of his successors was a most fitting completion of his course in practical administrative work.
Coupled with this training, he is by nature well fitted for the tasks before him. First, he has a tremendous capacity for work, and a joy in his work. Whatever he has to do is the thing he most likes to do, and it is done with enthusiasm. Recently, writing of Governor Taft’s assumption of the difficult work in the Philippines, he said: “But he gladly undertook it, and he is to be considered thrice fortunate; for in this world the one thing supremely worth having is the opportunity, coupled with the capacity, to do well and worthily a piece of work the doing of which is of vital consequence to the welfare of mankind.”
He disposes well and quickly of any work he may have to do, because his quick perception enables him to see almost at a glance the essential and important points, and to eliminate less important details. Then he never allows his time to be occupied or wasted when work is to be done. A judge of men, he soon gages the capacity and limitations of his subordinates, and is thus enabled to utilize their services to the greatest advantage.
Just before the outbreak of the Spanish War, when the Navy Department was purchasing yachts and ships as auxiliaries to the navy, a personal friend of Mr. Roosevelt’s called at the department to try to influence him to reopen a case where a certain ship had been rejected. Without hesitation Mr. Roosevelt said: “It is useless to waste your time or my time in discussing this matter, which has been intrusted [sic] to a board of naval officers, and I will positively make no recommendation contrary to the recommendation of that board. Now come and lunch with me, and we will discuss something else.”
While an intensely earnest and serious man, his keen sense of humor and all-pervading cheerfulness make it a positive pleasure to work with him.
A somewhat exuberant enthusiasm, which may sometime in the past have caused the most conservative and timid element some apprehension, arises from quickness of intellect and perfect health, with excessive vital force. Men frequently get a reputation for caution and conservatism, when, in fact, their seeming deliberation may arise from low vitality, or slowness of perception. President Roosevelt, while positive and aggressive in advocating and carrying forward what he believes to be right, has little mere pride of opinion, and is as amenable to reason and argument as any man of positive convictions I have ever known.
I have never known a man who always has his faculties under such complete mastery. This enables him to read rapidly and absorb and retain from the printed page or manuscript the essential points. I have heard him dictate to his stenographer reviews of such books as Pearson’s “National Life and Character” and Kidd’s “Social Evolution,” his comments demonstrating a complete grasp of the subjects treated. He dictates with rapidity, and when interested in his subject, walks the floor and hurls sentences at his stenographer like bolts from a catapult, each sentence so accurate in thought and construction as seldom to require correction.
He is a kind-hearted man, yet a rigid disciplinarian, and will demand a faithful and efficient discharge of public duties by public officials. I happened to be present when graduates of Harvard and other universities, and Western mining engineers, to the number of thirty or forty, collected in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to be enlisted in the “Rough Riders” regiment. Mr. Roosevelt stood in front of his desk, while  these earnest, manly young fellows stood ranged around three sides of his office. Addressing them in his peculiarly quick, earnest manner, to the effect that they must not underestimate the dangers or difficulties they would encounter, he told them that it would probably be the roughest experience that they ever had, and he wished them to understand that after once being sworn in they must take whatever came without grumbling. “Positively, gentlemen,” said he, “I will have no squealing,” and he urged them, if any of them thought they could not endure the greatest hardships, to withdraw before it was too late. Then, turning to a pile of volumes of mounted infantry tactics, he said: “I will remain behind a few days and hurry forward the equipments. You, gentlemen, hurry to San Antonio, and if you do your part toward getting the men in order and licking them into shape, I promise to get you into the fight. There are not enough tactics to go round, but I will distribute these, and you must read and study them on the cars.” Calling out their names, he hurled the books at the men so fast that several would be in the air at once, the men catching them on the fly. I could see in their faces that every one of them was ready to follow him to the death.
He has always favored those policies at home and abroad which he believes will best advance the well-being of America and the best interests of civilization and humanity throughout the world. He is an expansionist because, as he said in a speech, “expansion does not necessarily bring war; it ultimately brings peace”; or, as Fiske puts it, “Obviously the permanent peace of the world can be secured only through the gradual concentration of the preponderant military strength into the hands of the most pacific communities.” Having an unbounded confidence in his country, he has for it “no craven fear of being great.”
The lamented President, so foully murdered and so universally mourned, was probably the last of our Presidents who had participated in the Civil War. Standing at the threshold of a new century, President Roosevelt seems to mark the dawn of a new era in our public life. His military record belongs to the whole country, even more so than the military records of our Presidents who had served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War; for those wars had both sectional and political opposition. The country during the Spanish War was united as never before in its history, and it is among the greatest of President McKinley’s achievements that during that war he contributed so materially to the obliteration of sectional and political differences.
Most of our Presidents have been well fitted for the work they had to do, but no President has had the forcefulness and ability, combined with the education and varied training and experience, of the young man who is now the twenty-sixth President of the United States.
Out of the clouds of misconception and the false impressions thrown about this picturesque figure by the cartoonists and the paragraphers, more interested in sensationalism than in reality, there suddenly emerges this intensely earnest, forceful, brave, patriotic, humanity-loving, broad-minded, non-sectional American, this practical idealist, to become the youngest ruler of the greatest country in the world.