Publication information

Nineteenth Century and After
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “President Roosevelt”
Author(s): Clowes, W. Laird
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 50
Issue number: 296
Pagination: 529-35

Clowes, W. Laird. “President Roosevelt.” Nineteenth Century and After Oct. 1901 v50n296: pp. 529-35.
full text
McKinley assassination (international response); vice presidents (fitness for office); presidential succession; Theodore Roosevelt (vice-presidential candidacy); Theodore Roosevelt (political obligations); Theodore Roosevelt (compared with William II); Theodore Roosevelt (personal character); Theodore Roosevelt; Theodore Roosevelt (fitness for office); Theodore Roosevelt (political aspirations); Theodore Roosevelt (personal history); Theodore Roosevelt (presidential character); Roosevelt presidency (predictions, expectations, etc.).
Named persons
John Adams; Chester A. Arthur; Edward Pelham Brenton; William Jennings Bryan; Grover Cleveland; Leon Czolgosz; Millard Fillmore; Andrew Jackson; Thomas Jefferson; William Manners; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; John Tyler; Martin Van Buren; George Washington; William II.

President Roosevelt

IT is a fortunate thing for the American people that the tragedy which resulted in the death of so honest and trusted a President as Mr. McKinley has brought to the front as his successor Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. In 1865 a somewhat similar tragedy gave to the nation as its chief magistrate a man who was unable to serve out his term without getting himself impeached; and it can scarcely be pretended that the three other Vice-Presidents of the United States who have reached office in consequence of the decease of a President before the expiration of his term have proved themselves fit for their position. Tyler quarrelled [sic] with his own supporters, the Whigs; Fillmore’s name is practically forgotten; and Arthur was happy in ruling at a time when no burning question, either of domestic or of foreign policy, came up for consideration. The death of Mr. McKinley might easily have imposed upon the American [529][530] people a President even less competent than any of these, for it has been the practice of late to use the Vice-Presidency as a convenient place of exile for troublesome, or undesirable, or untrustworthy men, or as an asylum for colourless representatives of parties or interests which have to be placated, yet cannot be admitted to the entire confidence of the victors in the greater party struggles.
     This practice is a very dangerous one, seeing that the Constitution of the United States directs that, on the death of a President during his term of office, the Vice-President, and none other, shall succeed ipso facto to the head of affairs. Nor was the practice contemplated by those who lived at the time when the Constitution was framed. Washington’s Vice-President was John Adams, and the same John Adams was deemed the most suitable statesman to succeed Washington in 1797. To John Adams succeeded Thomas Jefferson, who also had served as Vice-President. Even as late as 1837 Van Buren, at the end of Jackson’s second term, stepped from the Vice-Presidential to the more important chair. Since then, however, election to the Vice-Presidency has usually been intended to signify political extinction. No one, in fact, can be said to have survived the sentence, unless in consequence of the death of a President. Very easily, then, might the assassination of Mr. McKinley have brought forward a nonentity, or worse.
     But the circumstances attending the work of the Republican Convention of last year were peculiar. McKinley was a tried man, with a strong general claim and with the confidence of the Republican party managers. He was not, however, felt to be a strong enough man to be able to make sure of beating Mr. Bryan single handed [sic], or with a Vice-Presidential candidate of the ordinary calibre to assist him. Roosevelt was undoubtedly the most popular Republican statesman in the country, popular alike in East and West, in the cities and on the prairies. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was no favourite among the ‘machine politicians.’ They have never liked his steady independence and his transparent honesty. He had already proved himself too sincere and radical a reformer of abuses to please them. The politicians knew quite well that it lay with him to become the new President of March 1901 if he wished; and that if he and his friends desired his nomination, the machine would be unable to prevent it. They learnt, therefore, with immense relief that Roosevelt would not permit himself to be nominated for President so long as his old chief and friend, McKinley, was in the field. Apart from his feeling in favour of loyalty, he was a young man and could afford to wait. He also declined to come forward as a candidate for the Vice-Presidency. This did not suit the views of the managers. They did not want him as President, but they did want him, and want him very badly, as Vice-President, first, because tenure of the Vice-Presidency has come to mean political extinction [530][531] (and it was most desirable to extinguish Roosevelt), and secondly, because the Roosevelt alliance was imperative if McKinley was to make sure of beating Bryan. They determined that Roosevelt should be Vice-President, and, as they had every reason to hope, should be politically extinguished, in spite of himself; and in pursuance of that decision they found no difficulty in stampeding the Convention in his favour, and still less difficulty in inducing Roosevelt to recall his former refusal to accept nomination. There can be no question that he was as unwilling as ever to accept, and that he accepted only because he felt it his duty to obey the summons from his countrymen.
     The party managers were overjoyed. I do not myself believe that even in the ordinary course of events their joy would have survived the next presidential contest. Roosevelt is not an ordinary man. He would scarcely have foundered, like other Vice-Presidents who have served their term and vanished into obscurity. But it is futile to speculate. The crime of Czolgosz has already confounded the managers, and, all being well, Theodore Roosevelt, in spite of them, is President of the United States for the next three years and a half and probably for more than double that period.
     It should be borne in mind that he did not enter the Convention with any desire to be a candidate for high office, or with any suggestion from his party, or from others, that he was to be chosen as such. He went in, having taken no pledges and having made no promises. He came out with a nomination, it is true, yet still a free man; and he was as free a man as ever when the death of Mr. McKinley recalled him from his shooting trip in the Adirondacks, and made him the chief magistrate of seventy-six millions of English-speaking people. His freedom from the pledges, promises, and private obligations which ordinarily shackle an in-coming President places him in an almost unique position. Who, then, is the man who comes to office in such exceptional circumstances? Is he one who will do well, uncontrolled by the trammels with which it has been customary to surround candidates for office in America, or is he a weakling who will go down under the weight of his responsibilities, or a firebrand who will set his country in flames and leave it sorrowing that it ever knew him?
     It may be said at once that there is no fear of his proving a weakling. He is as energetic, as initiative, as well informed, as determined, and as devoted to what he believes to be his duty as the German Emperor; and probably he has a better constitution, and enjoys better health, than William the Second, whose senior he is, but only by exactly three months. In the breadth and variety of his interests, and in his aptitude for quickly grasping the essential features of an unfamiliar subject, he is very like the Emperor. On the other hand, he has no love for state or ceremony, and is in no sense a poseur. [531][532] There is absolutely no nonsense or pretence about him. It is certain that he will lead, rather than be led. For my own part I believe that he will lead well and wisely, and that, when his days of power are past, there will be many millions of Americans who will honour the name of Theodore Roosevelt as that of the greatest of the Presidents since Washington.
     On his father’s side Roosevelt is an almost pure-blooded descendant of the Dutch settlers of New Netherlands. On his mother’s side he is Scotch, and, more immediately, Georgian. Thus he has both northern and southern blood in his veins. Ever since he was about four-and-twenty he has been identified with politics, chiefly in his own State, that of New York; but for an equally long period he has made a practice of spending as much as possible of his leisure on his ranche [sic] or on the hunting-trail, the result being that he is as well known in the West as in the East of the Union. Harvard man and cowboy, Assistant-Secretary of the Navy and Colonel of Rough Riders, sportsman and historian, fighter and zoologist, as well as Northerner, Southerner, Easterner, and Westerner, Roosevelt, even before he became President, was surely the most representative and all-round [sic] of Americans. In addition, he has special personal qualifications which are daily becoming more and more necessary in the head of a great nation which is in the foremost van of progress. I do not speak of good birth, though he has it, and it can be of no disadvantage to him. I speak rather of independent, though moderate means; of a high degree of education; and of a very charming, courteous, and completely natural manner. Nor must I omit something which has always struck me most forcibly in connection with the man. I am quite certain that, ever since he was little more than a boy, he has aimed consistently at the Presidency, and has always felt sure of winning it sooner or later. He is ambitious, not, however, of power or state, but of scope for the full employment of his energies to the most fruitful ends; and, having this kind of ambition, he has endeavoured steadily to train and fit himself, so that on the day of test he might be equal to his work. The day of test has come; and no one can be more confident than I am that Theodore Roosevelt will not be found wanting. This is no new confidence on my part. It is now some years since, in response to an invitation to visit him in New York, I wrote to the effect that I could not then go to America, but that, if I could, I would ask him later to give me the hospitality of the White House.
     Though only three-and-forty, Roosevelt has accomplished much. At five-and-twenty he was leader of the New York Legislature; at one-and-thirty he was a United States Civil Service Commissioner, and began a six years’ effort to reform the traditions of American official life. He next became President of the New York Police Board, and for two years did his best to purge and reorganise one [532][533] of the most corrupt departments of his native State. Both at Washington in connection with the Civil Service, and in New York in connection with the Police, he had immense difficulties to contend with, and was obliged repeatedly to employ all the resources as well of tact as of dogged determination. In April 1897 he accepted the much more congenial post of Assistant-Secretary of the Navy. From boyhood he had taken peculiar interest in naval affairs, and when but four-and-twenty he had written what was then the best history of the War of 1812. A year after he had gone to the Navy department, and when his country was on the brink of war with Spain he wrote to me characteristically:

     Though I feel a little blue at the outlook, it won’t make the slightest difference in the way I shall work. I shall do my best to get the Navy up into proper shape, and while I won’t accomplish nearly as much as I would like, still I will accomplish something.

     Not many days afterwards, when the war had just begun, he surprised me by telling me that he was not sure that, in such a conflict, his place was at home, and that, the President having offered him the colonelcy of a volunteer regiment, he had accepted it and was going to the front. This was the first I heard of the famous Rough Riders, who, with Roosevelt at their head, covered themselves with glory in Cuba. On his return he was elected—almost inevitably, as it seemed to me—to the post of Governor of New York, and this he held until at last year’s Convention he was forced, as has been seen, into the position of Vice-President of the United States. He made, I believe, an excellent Governor.
     A few years earlier I had asked him to assist me as a contributor to my ‘History of the Royal Navy.’ I suggested that he should write for me a critical description of the naval events of the War of 1812-15 between Great Britain and the United States; and I did so, first, because I had read and admired his early book on the same subject; secondly, because I recognised him to be an absolutely fair-minded man, who would not fail to pay due attention to the various controversies which had been excited in England by certain statements contained in his boyish and immature work; and, finally, because I desired to show Americans and British alike how little real difference it makes, provided the narrator be well informed and fair-minded, whether the story of their unfortunate quarrels be written by an American of the Americans or by the most patriotic of Englishmen, such as Edward Pelham Brenton.
     As soon as I had heard from him in reply, I was sure that I had done rightly. He wrote:

     I want to bring out as strikingly as possible the enormous damage inflicted on the United States by the sea power of England, the absolute paralysis it brought [533][534] to American trade, and the suffering it caused the people; and to show that the single-ship victories, though very important from the point of view of moral [sic], had not the slightest effect in breaking the British grip on the American throat; always excepting the fighting on the Lakes.  .  .  .  Let me ask you.  .  .  .  to give what space you can to the biography of Captain Manners, of the Reindeer: he has always seemed to me to be a very real hero, though a beaten one.

     Roosevelt was then still at the Police Department, and he added: ‘I have enjoyed my year, for all the bother; and have accomplished a certain amount.’
     The volume of my History, the sixth, containing this contribution is not yet published, although I hope it will now appear within a very few days. Much curiosity has been expressed since Czolgosz’s attack upon Mr. McKinley as to what is Colonel Roosevelt’s attitude towards Great Britain. I think that I can answer the question, partly from the new President’s contribution to my book, and partly from my knowledge of the man and of his career.
     Roosevelt is an American from crown to sole, and, where America is concerned, he will ever be the firmest and most unflinching, while at the same time the most courteous, champion of what he believes to be her rights and interests. But he is not of the stamp of man that feels that his own country has a monopoly of all the virtues. He knows the world and mankind far too well for that. He likes life in England, and he has many English friends; and, other things being equal, he would rather work with Great Britain than against her. Nor is he the kind of man who refuses to see both sides of a question that affects himself and his country. Here are the opening lines of his contribution to my forthcoming volume:

     It is often difficult to realise that, in a clash between two peoples, not only may each side deem itself right, but each side may really be right from its own standpoint. A healthy and vigorous nation must obey the law of self-preservation. When it is engaged in a life and death grapple with a powerful foe, it cannot too closely scan the damage it is incidentally forced to do neutral nations. On the other hand, it is just as little to be expected that one of these neutral nations, when wronged, will refrain from retaliation merely because the injuries are inflicted by the aggressor as a regrettable but necessary incident of a conflict with someone else.

This is just and reasonable language; and I think that it represents exactly the attitude of mind which Colonel Roosevelt may be expected always to preserve in international affairs. He has seen war, and he is no lover of it. He would prefer that his country should gain her legitimate ends and aspirations by peaceful means; yet he will do his best to render her powerful at home and abroad, and he will never shrink from striking, should it seem to him that those legitimate ends and aspirations cannot be gained otherwise. Believe me, however, that he is no swashbuckler, no fire-eater, no ‘Jingo.’ He will not, like Mr. Cleveland, play needlessly with [534][535] powder. He will not assent to the despatch [sic] of gratuitously irritating state-papers, even on the eve of a Presidential Election. He has too exalted an idea of the dignity of his country willingly to suffer her to utter a single official word which she does not mean and intend to abide by.