Source: Harper’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Theodore Roosevelt”
Author(s): Bangs, John Kendrick
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 2335
|Bangs, John Kendrick. “Theodore Roosevelt.” Harper’s Weekly 21 Sept. 1901 v45n2335: pp. 947-48.|
|Theodore Roosevelt (personal character); Theodore Roosevelt (political character).|
|Chester A. Arthur; Thomas Hart Benton; Chauncey M. Depew; James A. Garfield; Benjamin Harrison; Gouverneur Morris; Theodore Roosevelt; Mark Twain [identified as Clemens below].|
|The article below is accompanied on page 947 by an illustration of Roosevelt drawn for the magazine by T. V. Chominski.|
THE eyes of the country for the past ten days have been centred with a scrutiny
unusually keen upon Theodore Roosevelt. Since the long and anxious days through
which President Garfield lingered upon his bed of anguish, and Chester A. Arthur
by force of circumstances stood in the full glare of publicity, no man has occupied
a position so trying, or has had to so carefully order his doings and his utterances
that none might cavil. Among those who have known Theodore Roosevelt the man,
and who have understood his not very complex nature, there have been no misgivings
as to how he would bear himself in this hour of emergency. On the other hand,
those who have known only the fanciful Roosevelt created by the lurid imaginings
of a sensational press have observed him lately with a curiosity not unmixed
with apprehension. The former class are not surprised at the simple bigness
of the man as recently revealed. The latter have watched with a growing sense
of confidence and security the individual whom fortuitous circumstance has placed
in the Presidential chair.
I should say that the Roosevelt we have seen at Buffalo during the stressful period between the assassination and the present is the real Roosevelt; the Roosevelt that always has been; the intrinsically strong, high-minded American citizen of whom all other American citizens have every reason to be proud. To the thousands who know him only through the incidents of the past four eventful years, and who have possibly had reason to think of him merely as a man of impulsive action and an advocate of the strenuous life—giving to the latter their own rather than Mr. Roosevelt’s construction of its requirements—the demeanor of the Vice-President has come as a revelation of strength and fine self-restraint; but to those who have known him as both man and boy these many years he has proven himself no more than himself, and by the same token no less than himself.
It is a pitiable fact that false impressions concerning the real character of men of prominence are more prevalent than accurate ones. It seems almost impossible in our own day and generation for the public to get into the skin, as it were, of those whose good or bad fortune it may be to occupy high official station, or in some private capacity to figure conspicuously in the public eye. In politics, in literature, and in other fields of human endeavor as well, there have been numerous examples of the inability of the public to get next to the intrinsic man, accepting, as it always does, the popular conception of his character. Senator Depew must always bear the stigma attaching to the raconteur of after-dinner stories. When Mr. Clemens made a serious contribution to serious literature in the form of a historical romance he did not venture to sign it, lest his readers should approach it from the point of view of humor, and, failing to see the point of it, should pronounce the work dull and the author in his dotage. The history of mankind is full of the failures of the competent—failures due to no other conceivable reason than the inability of the public to forget its preconceptions and judge of the present from the present effort. Mr. Roosevelt, I think, has suffered as much as any public man in our history from this shortcoming of his fellow-citizens, and more particularly since his emergence from local into national public life. As a public character of national interest Mr. Roosevelt happened to be ushered into view in an abnormally dramatic fashion. Peaceful times were rapidly drifting into hours of conflict, and a nation which had not know war as a serious possibility since the close of its own civil strife suddenly found itself face to face with a clash at arms with a foreign power. Almost coincidentally with this condition of affairs Theodore Roosevelt appeared as a factor in the councils of the national Administration, and his natural energy, positiveness of conviction, and intrinsic force inevitably resulted in his appearing at least to rank among the leaders of a war party. That he became such did not mean that in his soul he harbored any less abhorrence for war and its attendant miseries than that which was to be found in the breast of every other American agency then at work. Mr. Roosevelt was no more warlike, no more a lover of bloodshed, for its own sake, than any of the many members of Congress who, by resolution, declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Spain; but once war became a settled fact, carrying with it vast responsibilities, Mr. Roosevelt threw himself body and soul into the fray, and, with all his tremendous energy, assumed his share of the burden, if not more than his share, just as his friends knew he would. A man of his temper and inherent vigor could have done no less. Had he done less he would have done less than his duty. The one salient fact remains and must become clear through the haze of misunderstanding in which his true character has been enveloped, that in no one of the many public offices he has occupied has he ever failed to rise to the full measure of its dignity or to assume otherwise than with conspicuous ability and credit its responsibilities, however grave.
It must not be forgotten at this time that long before politics of the larger sphere began to absorb his energies Mr. Roosevelt was known as a student and that he developed into the scholar. Had he lacked real depth of character, as some have been inclined to believe, Theodore Roosevelt would never have been chosen by the thoughtful editors of the Riverside Series of “American Statesmen” to prepare the biographies of Thomas H. Benton and Gouverneur Morris, works designed to become of standard value, and requiring for their preparation scholarly qualities of a high order, involving wide and thorough research, knowledge of human nature as well as of history, a sense of perspective, and fundamentally good judgment. It must not be forgotten that as a very young man he accomplished in his short service as a State legislator work of permanent value to the people of New York; that even so wise and conservative an Executive as Benjamin Harrison made of him a Civil Service Commissioner, and that the service he rendered to that cause was of such undeniable value that a President opposed to him politically retained him in the office of which he had made such good use. The strict enforcement of the laws by which, as Commissioner of  Police in New York, he broke up for the time being the corrupt system upon which that sadly disorganized body had been fattening under Tammany misrule, secured for him the hatred of the vile and the confidence and respect of the law-abiding elements of the city. The thoroughness of his work of preparation at the Navy Department, and the self-sacrificing care which he bestowed upon his men in the field during the Santiago campaign, increased the ever-growing confidence of those to whom his name was a new one on the political horizon, and won for him the everlasting affection of those subordinated to his command; and that he should have become the popular idol to be first rewarded with the Governorship of his State, and later with the Vice-Presidency, was easily to be predicated upon his many achievements.
As Vice-President, Mr. Roosevelt has found himself in an environment which to one of his natural inclinations was not always wholly agreeable. Yet in his six months’ occupancy of the Vice-Presidential chair only a most admirable fidelity to the requirements of his place has been characteristic of its incumbent; and in augmentation of his efforts within the strict lines of his duty, Mr. Roosevelt has improved his opportunity by the making of addresses before influential commercial and political bodies which have breathed the fire of true patriotism, and in not a few instances have been permeated with a spirit of high statesmanship. The artificial Roosevelt of the imaginative has not once shown its head above the surface, and from the 4th of March until this dreadful present the Vice-President has not so much grown as revealed his true self to thousands of his countrymen who had never really known him. It was not upon his alleged greatness as a man of ceaseless energy and impetuous habit that he assumed proportions of greatness in men’s minds, but in the presentation of his more admirable side—the great heart, the alert mind, the wonderful physical and mental vigor, the strong, masterful manhood that was born to lead.
To-day Theodore Roosevelt stands before the country as one who needs the deepest sympathy which its citizens can accord him. The blow which has fallen upon the nation has fallen upon him with an even more stunning force. He has come into lofty heritage through an overwhelming grief which he shares as fully as the most sorely stricken. The most serious burdens are for his shoulders to bear. There is probably nowhere in this world a man who is personally more deeply stricken at heart than he, and it is to the people over whose destinies he has been so suddenly and grievously called to preside that he must look for the support and confidence which alone can make his position tolerable. If I understand the temper of the American people correctly he will not look in vain for this sustaining sympathy. Revealed as he stands at this moment in his true colors, it is impossible to believe that those by whom he has been chosen to fulfill the functions of the Vice-Presidency, even to the appalling ultimate, can withhold from him in his hour of need that which they can readily given to such a one as he.