Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Theodore Roosevelt”
Author(s): Low, A. Maurice
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 32
Issue number: none
|Low, A. Maurice. “Theodore Roosevelt.” Forum Nov. 1901 v32: pp. 259-67.
|Theodore Roosevelt (compared with William II); Theodore Roosevelt (personal character); Theodore Roosevelt (political character); Theodore Roosevelt (personal history); Theodore Roosevelt (compared with William McKinley); Theodore Roosevelt (relations with U.S. Senate); Roosevelt presidency (predictions, expectations, etc.).
|Thomas Hart Benton; Thomas Carlyle; Andrew Jackson; John A. Kasson; William McKinley; Gouverneur Morris; Jacob A. Riis; Theodore Roosevelt; William R. Shafter; George Washington; William II.
The identity of Warwick (below) cannot be determined. Possibly it is Sir Philip Warwick.
About the author (p. 384): Mr. A. Maurice Low was born in London, and educated in London and Austria, but has spent the best years of his life in the United States. Has been for several years the Washington correspondent of the Boston “Globe” and the London “Daily Chronicle.” Writes the monthly article on “American Affairs” in the London “National Review.” This is perhaps the most extensively quoted regular magazine contribution in the world, as, in addition to the British and American Press using extracts from it, it is regularly commented upon by the leading French and German newspapers and reviews. Mr. Low has contributed to the principal American and English magazines and reviews, and has an established reputation on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer on political and international affairs.
There is another striking similarity between the two men. William of Prussia came to the throne as the successor of two men in whom all the world had confidence—men who stood for all that was wise, cautious, and lovable. His grandfather had died crowned by the aureole of success, having created a nation, and having emerged victorious from a campaign that amazed the world. His successor was young, virile, hasty, untrained in statecraft, intolerant of counsel, heedless of advice. He believed in himself and in his country, whose magnificent resources the world was then dimly beginning to appreciate. President Roosevelt, on his part, succeeds a man whom the world had learned to regard as  very wise, very cautious, and very gentle in his methods of government. President McKinley, like the first German Emperor, had turned the eyes of all the world on his country by its military achievements. The world had recognized the United States as a great factor in the economic equation; the war with Spain made it understand that here was a power with such tremendous latent military possibilities that, if it cared to exert them, it could swing the balance as it chose. Not only had the United States money and resources; it had something more, that something without which money is valueless; it had the men, men who had shown their courage and intelligence, who had fought as well on land as on sea.
Mr. Roosevelt, like William, suffered at first from comparison. When President McKinley died there was a moment of fear. We can look back now and see how groundless were our fears; but at the moment they appeared very real. Wisdom was to give place to inexperience, caution to rashness, peace to war. The war with Spain had brought the United States into the front rank of the great powers, and here was a man suddenly placed at the head of affairs who, like his royal brother of Germany, believed in the sword, and longed for the opportunity to show how finely tempered was the blade. No wonder the world waited for what was next to happen.
The world is always looking for the dramatic. It forgets dialogue, but always remembers a tableau. The colonel of the Rough Riders, watching his men take their baptism of blood at Las Guasimas, leading them up San Juan hill, sharing with them the privations of the trenches in front of Santiago—that was the vivid picture people could remember of Theodore Roosevelt. They forgot that with him war was merely an incident. For a few months he had worn khaki because he had conceived it his duty to offer his sword to his country; and with that adaptability which is the sixth sense possessed by Americans, he had gone about his business of soldiering as naturally as if it were the only business he knew. But the public forgot that against his few months of military experience were the years he had spent in learning life, in studying men and affairs, and in fitting himself for government by reading and writing history. Roosevelt, the man on horseback, the beau ideal of the cavalry commander, a dashing, superb figure, one that would have delighted the heart of Carlyle, was real and vivid enough to catch the emotional crowd. Roosevelt the essayist, the biographer of Benton and Morris, the historian of the West; Roosevelt who had waged war against Tammany, who had taken a corrupt, inefficient, and brutal police force and had taught it honesty, efficiency, and decency; who had courageously made the  civil service law a thing to be respected instead of a thing to be mocked at by designing politicians—this was the dialogue of the play, to be forgotten before the act was over; but the climax, the Man on Horseback, was to be remembered long after the curtain went down.
Once again draw the parallel between the German Emperor and the President. When William II came to the throne, one of the first things he did was to dismiss his old and tried Chancellor as indifferently as any other servant who has outlived his usefulness. William dropped his pilot overboard when all the world thought that never did ship of state need an experienced pilot so much as did Germany at that moment. It was his announcement to the world that he was his own master. It was the audacity of genius or the sublimity of ignorance, and no one then knew exactly which. Everyone knows now. The firebrand that was to set all Europe ablaze has more than once quenched the flame, and his great political sagacity is now generally admitted. Mr. Roosevelt, confronted with an equally grave emergency, forced to act almost on the spur of the moment, showed the same courage and the same wisdom.
The policy of McKinley had been accepted and endorsed by the country. Under that policy there had been prosperity and contentment: the United States was happy at home and respected abroad. Mr. Roosevelt made that policy how own; he made the men who had helped to construct that policy as the advisers of President McKinley his own advisers. This step showed not only wisdom, but courage and confidence in himself. A foolish man would have been indifferent to the delicate balance on which at that moment hinged commercial solvency, and would have tipped the scale by justifying the worst fears of the pessimistic; a timid man would have hesitated, temporized, sought counsel, and swung with the latest current of advice from selfish and interested counsellors; a man who mistrusted himself would have feared the inevitable comparison in the eyes of the cabinet between McKinley and himself; and the cabinet, being so close to the President, would have the best opportunity to weigh the living against the dead. That he did not hesitate, that at the most critical moment of his life he acted with decision and wisdom, and that he showed himself willing to accept counsel were the highest proofs he could give to the country of his sincerity, his prudence, and his understanding of the responsibilities which had come to him when he took the oath of office as President of the United States.
A few words removed all doubts. Fears were dissipated. Men trembled no longer. The pulse of commerce, that for a moment had  been interrupted, resumed its normal beat, rhythmically registering the steady flow of capital through the arteries of business. The United States, a young giant for the moment dazed, was as sound, as healthy, as vigorous, as full of courage and ambition as ever. The morrow could be faced with hope and serenity.
The man of action, the man who does things rather than talk about them; who has courage, determination, and that tenacity of purpose which is a more valuable quality than genius; and, above all, who has character, who creates an ideal and clings to it—such a man is generally set down by his fellows as being impetuous, hasty, ill-balanced, intractable, in short, a dangerous man to place in a position of responsibility, because he is usually misunderstood. His enemies have never been able to accuse President Roosevelt of dishonesty, of petty methods, of unworthy practices; they could not charge him with being unlettered or narrow; there is no blemish on his private or public life. But they could dub him impetuous; which is a convenient but intangible charge, and requires no specification. Under analysis the accusation resolves itself into this: when he has considered it necessary to correct an abuse, when as a public officer, having a public duty to perform, he has deemed it essential to fight, he has never hesitated about taking the offensive. But he has always fought fairly. In the words of his intimate friend and warm admirer Jacob Riis, he has never “struck below the belt. In the Governor’s chair afterward he gave the politicians whom he fought, and who fought him, the same terms. They tried their best to upset him, for they had nothing to expect from him. But they knew and owned that he fought fair. Their backs were secure. He never tricked them to gain an advantage. A promise given by him was always kept to the letter.” It is that quality of fairness that has won him the respect of his enemies. Even while they feared and disliked him, they were forced to admit that he would take no unworthy advantage.
Run over his career and you notice at once how dangerously impetuous he has been. Typical of this “impetuosity” is the round robin he signed which was sent to the War Department. Santiago had fallen; there was no necessity for maintaining a large force in Cuba; and yet the flower of the American army, Shafter’s army corps, was in the trenches before Santiago, with yellow fever hideously grinning at them. Red tape and bureaucracy were responsible. Roosevelt wanted to preserve the lives of his men, and there were two ways to do it. One was to send them to Porto Rico, for which everyone was anxious; the other was, if their services were not needed in Porto Rico, to send them home.  Washington pottered and dawdled and talked; Roosevelt acted. The troops were sent home.
Another instance of his “impulsiveness” was when he wrote to the Secretary of War urging that the Rough Riders be sent to Porto Rico rather than that volunteers, because his regiment was “as good as any regulars, and three times as good as any state troops,” who, he pointed out, “were armed with black powder, Springfields, or other archaic weapons.” Malice thought there was a chance to injure him, and this letter was published in the hope that it would prejudice the volunteers against Roosevelt and damage him politically. No harm was done; on the contrary, the country liked this kind of plain talk, and agreed with him that it was folly to send troops armed with Springfields burning black powder against Spaniards armed with Mausers and smokeless powder, especially when the Rough Riders, well armed and thoroughly efficient, were eating out their hearts in disappointment because they were not permitted to take part in the campaign.
When he was elected Governor of New York his best friends feared that his impulsiveness would cause him to clash with the politicians, while his enemies were so sure that he would quarrel with everyone before he had been in the executive mansion six weeks that they scarcely took the pains to disguise their joy. As Governor he was a very “dangerous” man—dangerous to the politicians who looked upon the public service as something to be exploited for their own benefit. His “impulsiveness” in reforming the administration of the canals, in enforcing the merit system, and in securing the passage of a law taxing franchises proved how dangerous it is to put an impetuous man in a position of public responsibility: yet the people of the State of New York exhibited no undue alarm. The passage of the franchise act is typical of the man. The corporations strenuously resisted it because it made them bear their share of taxation, and they used all their political influence to induce the Governor not to press the matter. The Republican leaders warned him of the political danger he ran by incurring the hostility of great financial interests. He was uninfluenced by all this clamor; he refused to be swerved because he was threatened. But while he lived up to high principles he did not sacrifice himself. He made some enemies—no man can be Governor of New York and not make enemies—but he did not antagonize his party or drive from his side the men who were influential in party councils. He maintained his independence and showed that he possessed a natural quality of leadership.
Why President Roosevelt should be regarded as an impetuous man  is, I confess, somewhat of a mystery to me. I have had some little opportunity of seeing him under various circumstances, and of judging whether he has acted hastily or simply with determination because he has the courage of his convictions. But one thing should not be forgotten, and that is the influence of blood, the strongest influence in forming a man’s character and controlling his actions. He has in his veins the blood of a long line of Dutch ancestors, a race noted rather for their phlegm than for their impetuosity. He has the American vitality, initiative, and resourcefulness, tempered by Dutch caution; in him congenital traits are strongly marked. He is an idealist and yet intensely practical; both characteristics denoting his Dutch ancestry. The love of home and of family, the devotion to religion, the clinging with passionate vehemence to an ideal, combined with much good common sense, distinguish the Teutonic races from the Latins, whose emotions, easily aroused, are equally evanescent. The foundation of the President’s character rests on this substratum of Dutch caution, a very solid foundation, on which has been builded the superstructure of American thought and American influence, which give the American the nervous energy that makes him enough like the other English-speaking peoples to emphasize the difference. This practical side of his nature is shown by the fact that he has done things—done them in the very thick of the fray. As he said to a friend, who expressed surprise that he should give up literary work to reform the police department of New York: “I thought the storm centre was in New York, and so I came here. It is a great piece of practical work. I like to take hold of work that has been done by a Tammany leader and do it as well, only by approaching it from an opposite direction. A thing that attracted me to it was that it was to be done in the hurly-burly, for I don’t like cloister life.” No, decidedly, Mr. Roosevelt is not the man to meditate in a monastery when there is work to be done in the world.
The White House exercises a restraining influence upon its occupant. Every man who has sat in the chair of Washington has grown to the measure of his responsibilities. No man has left the White House who has not broadened; whose horizon has not been widened; who has not taken a more philosophic view of life; who has not come to understand, if he never understood it before, that nations have their obligations to other nations exactly as individuals have their obligations to society. The presidency has always left its impress upon the President. No man is exactly the same after being President as he was before he was elected; nor can anyone wonder at it. President Roosevelt, with all his vitality,  his cyclopean power of work, and his overflowing good spirits slightly tinged with a cynicism which makes him estimate both praise and criticism at about their true value, will not pass unscathed through the severest test that can be applied to any man. When he leaves the White House he will be graver and more sedate than he is to-day.
Although the youngest President, Mr. Roosevelt has a more comprehensive and intimate knowledge of the country than had any of his predecessors. It is somewhat remarkable that although Americans are a nation of travellers, although most Americans know from personal observation a great deal of their own country, the majority of Presidents have spent their lives, prior to their election, in the section of the country in which they had their homes; and the number who have known anything of foreign countries can, I believe, be counted upon the fingers of one’s hands. President Roosevelt is the notable exception. A man from the East, his birth and position entitling him to admission to the best in its society, he knows the West as only men can know it who have lived there and come into intimate contact with its people. There is no section of the country that the President does not know; there is no class, from cow punchers to savants, among whom he has not his friends. He has seen much of Europe; he has travelled there and met its people; and he is no stranger to their ideas. He is one of the very few Presidents possessing a proficient knowledge of foreign languages. He is the only President who served an apprenticeship in one of the great departments. There have been men who went to the White House from the head of an Executive Department, but I do not now recall the case of an Assistant Secretary becoming President. His years of service as a Civil Service Commissioner and later as Assistant Secretary of the Navy have given him a knowledge of the minutiæ of departmental affairs which will be of the greatest value to him now. The advantage which some of his predecessors possessed of having had experience in the House or Senate, and understanding from actual observation the idiosyncrasies of Congress, has been denied him.
Congress is the malignant influence in his horoscope. I venture the prediction that if President Roosevelt has trouble it will be caused by the Senate and not by the people. The Senate has gradually enlarged its powers until it has come to regard itself as a council of state as well as a legislative body, and in its capacity as a council of state seeks to control the actions of the Executive. Since the Senate has pronounced obsolete the doctrine that it has no greater powers than those vested in the House of Representatives, the relations between the Senate and the  President have not always been of the most intimate character. In fact, it can be said that during the last twenty years Mr. McKinley was the only President who never had any friction with the Senate. But Mr. McKinley had a peculiar genius for managing men, and a subtle tact in dealing with the Senate. He was such an accomplished diplomatist that he was able to avoid all clashing, principally because he was content not to try to force any line of policy to which the Senate objected. An instance of this was his skill in not taking issue with the Senate on the question of reciprocity. Although he believed in the wisdom of reciprocity, as his memorable speech at Buffalo showed, and refused to permit Mr. Kasson, the special reciprocity commissioner, to resign when the Senate refused to ratify the treaties which he had negotiated, he made no effort to secure the ratification of those treaties when the Senate refused to consider them. A man with less finesse or more obstinacy, who held himself in less careful restraint or was more indifferent about preserving the most cordial relations with the Senate, would have forced the issue, which would probably have led to a rupture with the leaders of his party in the Senate. Mr. McKinley had the additional advantage, possessed by no President in recent years, of having the confidence of the Senate, which had the highest respect for his wisdom and caution, and for the ability he had shown in the management of the war and of the great issues that followed.
Mr. McKinley could do many things that President Roosevelt cannot do. Age was in favor of the late President. The leaders of the Senate are men well advanced in years, and they accepted from a man of their own age advice which they will not accept from one who is their junior. Mr. Roosevelt will not be so docile as Mr. McKinley. Mr. Roosevelt will, of course, take counsel with the Republican leaders in the Senate; he will endeavor to secure their support for the policy which he advocates; he will make every effort to maintain the most friendly relations with them; but if the Senate attempts to interfere with the prerogatives of the President or to overstep the constitutional line dividing the legislative from the executive, the President will not be the first to yield. It is not in the nature of the man to do so. If a thing is to be done, and he believes it to be right, he will do it, and he will be indifferent as to what the Senate may think about it. There is a good deal of the Andrew Jackson about him; and if he should read the Senate a lecture, as Jackson did, it would not be surprising.
President Roosevelt’s administration will be an interesting one, and not the least interesting feature will be the relations between him and  the Senate. That the Senate will endeavor to extend its power, to increase its influence, and to continue to be the dominant force in the government, no one who knows the Senate and the men who control it, or who has narrowly watched its course during the last few years, can for one moment doubt. Mr. Roosevelt will not be content with being merely the agent to execute the decrees of the Senate. He will respect it and he will treat it with the consideration that properly belongs to it under the Constitution; but he will also exact from it the constitutional deference that the Senate owes to the Executive. If he does not, if he surrenders to the Senate, if he is content with being merely its agent and allowing it to shape his policy to suit its views, one will be surprised and, perhaps, not a little disappointed. This will be the great test of his character, the proof whether he is the impetuous man some people have imagined, or whether he is the determined, positive, courageous man some of his friends believe him to be—cool enough to do nothing rash, tactful enough to yield non-essentials when concession is necessary, wise enough to understand human nature and mould it to his own purpose.
Many Presidents have had a “kitchen cabinet ” which has been more powerful than the regular cabinet; most Presidents have had an intimate friend who, according to popular belief, has been the real power in the White House. People have asked who is to be the premier of the kitchen cabinet or the Warwick of the administration. The answer can be readily given. His name is Theodore Roosevelt.