Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The New Administration”
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 4
Issue number: 181
|“The New Administration.” Public 21 Sept. 1901 v4n181: pp. 372-74.|
|Roosevelt presidency; Theodore Roosevelt (public statements); Theodore Roosevelt (assumption of presidency: personal response); presidential succession; Roosevelt presidency (predictions, expectations, etc.); Theodore Roosevelt (presidential character); presidents (protection).|
|Chester A. Arthur; Millard Fillmore; Benjamin Harrison; William Henry Harrison; Andrew Johnson; Alexander Johnston; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; J. Pierpont Morgan; Theodore Roosevelt; John Tyler; Ansley Wilcox.|
The New Administration
With the last rites over his grave performed, President McKinley passes into history; and public attention properly turns to the administration of his successor.
What this administration will probably be, President Roosevelt has indicated in a general way. He has given notice that it will not be distinctively his administration, but will be essentially a continuation of Mr. McKinley’s. His words, uttered upon taking the oath of office, were these:
In this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity and honor of our beloved country.
President Roosevelt has confirmed that declaration by requesting Mr. McKinley’s cabinet advisers to remain in office and be his advisers—not merely for “two months,” as at first reported, nor for a “few months,” according to subsequent reports, but for the remainder of Mr. McKinley’s term, which, as vice president, he is filling out.
In thus making the spirit and policy of the
old administration the spirit and policy of the new, Mr. Roosevelt is clearly
justified. It is not in his own right, with a commission from the people to
formulate a new policy even though he might personally prefer to do so, that
Mr. Roosevelt comes into the presidential office; but in the right of and as
a substitute for his predecessor. In reality it is Mr. McKinley’s official term,
not Mr. Roosevelt’s, which the latter has been called upon to serve.
This may not be the law of the matter. The constitution, in providing for the contingency of a vice presidential succession, imposes upon the vice president no obligation to carry out the policy of his predecessor. Quite the contrary; it distinctly declares (art. ii., sec. i., par. 6) that—
In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the vice president.
It is the powers and duties of the office, consequently, and not the policy
of the dead or disabled president, that devolve upon the vice president.
Yet there is room for plausible argument, even as a question of constitutional law, that a vice president merely represents the disabled president whose place he takes. The constitution does not declare that he shall be president. It only provides that as vice president he shall perform presidential duties. Mr. Roosevelt, therefore, is not president—so the argument might run; he is vice president acting as president. Upon this hypothesis it could be urged that he has no right to fundamentally alter the policy of the president for whom he acts. “Would it not be revolutionary,” might be asked, “for him to do so if the president were disabled only temporarily?” And if revolutionary in those circumstances, why not revolutionary if the disability of the president happens to be permanent—even  if it is occasioned by his death? But that argument could appeal only to the conscience of the individual. No court could interfere.
And whatever view might be taken of the law of the matter, only one view is possible with reference to its politics. The American people have shown that they regard the vice president, when acting as president, as the representative, with reference to political policies, of the dead president whose term of office he serves. This is an instance in which the dead hand rules. Four times in the history of our country has the question been brought to a test, and each time it has been decided against the innovating vice president. John Tyler reversed the Harrison policy, and his name gave a new word of unpleasant significance to the language. To “tylerize” is suggestive of political bad faith. Millard Fillmore adopted, and Chester A. Arthur was identified with, policies hostile to those of the presidents they represented; and at the ensuing presidential elections, respectively, each was abandoned by his party. Between these two administrations there was the most impressive example of all. Andrew Johnson, who departed from the policy of Lincoln, was turned upon by his party, which not only overwhelmed him politically, but impeached and almost succeeded in degrading him officially.
Mr. Roosevelt needs no further political justification for his adoption of President McKinley’s policies and his retention of President McKinley’s cabinet, than the experience of his predecessors as acting president—Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson and Arthur.
Since Mr. Roosevelt has frankly announced his
policy, there need be no doubt as to the attitude of the public mind toward
his administration, in so far as that policy is to give it character.
People who believe in a protective tariff, those who believe in fostering trusts, those who believe in foreign conquest, those who believe in the maintenance of foreign sovereignty modeled upon the crown colony system of Great Britain, those who believe in a strong central government—all these will cordially and properly support the new administration with vigor. But men who regard those policies as destructive of equal rights under the law and subversive of the best ideals of our republic, will just as cordially and just as properly oppose the new administration in so far as it promotes policies of that kind. It would indeed be a dark hour for our country if theories of public policy were sanctified by personal affections, if they were made to depend upon men instead of principles, if the bullet of an assassin which kills a president were allowed to destroy liberty of thought and freedom of discussion. No American with the instincts of a patriot, whatever theories of public policy he may hold, will tolerate strangulation of debate.
But it is not certain that President Roosevelt will invite this opposition along the whole line of the McKinley policies. Just before his tragic death, President McKinley indicated in a carefully prepared speech that his policy contemplated a departure from protectionism in the direction of greater freedom of trade. Should President Roosevelt so interpret this speech, and endeavor to give that tendency to tariff legislation, good sense will suggest to all who believe protectionism to be wrong that they shall strengthen his arm.
He himself has intimated that the aggressions of predatory wealth must be checked. Should he turn Mr. McKinley’s policy in the direction of doing this, by means not worse than the evil complained of, he should be and doubtless will be, encouraged. A people driven to the verge of despair by the system of class privileges that have grown up since the civil war cannot be indifferent to any honest effort to emancipate them.
So far, then, as tariffs and trusts are concerned it is possible that Mr. McKinley’s successor may draw support from hitherto hostile quarters, though J. Pierpont Morgan’s reported expressions of satisfaction with the assurance of Mr. Roosevelt are not prophetic of that possibility. But there is little hope in any event of his modifying the colonial policy. It is too much in harmony with his own strenuous nature. With reference, therefore, to the question of imperialism, changes in the alignments of public sentiment are not probable, except as advocates of this innovation may be won over. No American who is imbued with the spirit of the angel’s song of the Nativity, which, echoing from the hills of Judea, found political expression centuries afterward in our own declaration of independence, that spirit which makes for peace on earth, good will to men, and equal rights for all, regardless of race or nationality or creed or condition—no such American can cease to write and speak and vote against colonial policies so long as a vestige of republican government remains. Whoever opposes, and from what source soever he draws his inspiration, our great wrong against a weaker people must be righted and our departure from high national ideals must be reversed.
Still, it is not certain that Mr. Roosevelt will cling tenaciously to any of his present purposes. Time and new conditions work wondrous changes in political policies. He pledges himself now to carry out the policies of his murdered and lamented chief, and in token of his sincerity he retains the cabinet which he finds already in office. No token was necessary. The sincerity of his word no one doubted. Nor is any doubt implied by the supposition that he may yet part with some of the advisers he now retains and deflect from the policies he now adopts. John Tyler, says the eminent American historian, Alexander Johnston, “retained President Harrison’s cabinet, and promised to carry out his policy.” John Tyler, too, was doubtless sincere. But as time went by and new conditions confronted him he changed his mind.
With reference, therefore, to the policies of
the new administration, all is as yet but speculative, notwithstanding Mr. Roosevelt’s
declarations and his unquestioned sincerity. But one thing is not speculative.
Mr. Roosevelt has begun his career in the presidential office with a marked
and encouraging reversion to some of the ideals of republican simplicity which
once outwardly distinguished our honored and trusted public servants from feared
and hated foreign rulers.
The inaugural ceremony was se-  verely simple. This could hardly have been otherwise, owing to the solemnity of the circumstances. It was, moreover, in accord with precedent. But the very circumstances which would have made an inaugural display indecent were calculated to favor a display of military force; and this display Mr. Roosevelt peremptorily forbade. He refused at the outset to allow his person to be surrounded, monarch fashion, by detectives and soldiers. The incident is happily told in the press reports. It occurred before his inauguration, when he was leaving the house of his friend in Buffalo to go to the house where President McKinley’s body lay:
As he ran lightly down the steps leading from the lawn to the sidewalk he noticed a movement among the squadrons in the street. A trumpet blared out a command, which the soldierly training of the president had taught him to understand. He stopped and turning a frowning face upon Mr. Wilcox spoke a few sharp words to his host. Mr. Wilcox hastened into the street, where men in yellow striped uniforms were mounting horses. He spoke to the captain of the mounted infantry and the sergeant of police.
“The vice president absolutely declines to be followed by an escort of this character. He has not asked for it, and he does not want it,” Mr. Wilcox was heard to say.
“But the vice president should have the protection of the properly constituted authorities,” protested the captain of mounted infantry. “The vice president requires no protection from any military or semimilitary body in the streets of an American city,” exclaimed Mr. Roosevelt, who had come up in time to hear the protest of the captain.
“But we have orders to act as your escort, sir,” said the captain.
“Then say to your commanding officer that I revoked your orders. You must not follow this carriage.”
Even since that time, despite all protests, Mr. Roosevelt has insisted upon
maintaining this republican simplicity. He refuses a body guard [sic].
This is an inspiring thing. Raised to a conspicuous place by a lawless act which has evoked universal execration, driving press, pulpit, and mob into paroxysms of futile anger and bewildered fear, circumstances which might well excuse senseless precautions for his own protection, Mr. Roosevelt’s determination is most reassuring. In these trying circumstances, his appeal to the imaginations of the people, not with pompous displays of military force, but with the spectacle of the foremost citizen of the land, the foremost servant of the republic, freely and trustfully mingling with his fellow citizens, is suggestive of a revival of at least some of the best American ideals.
And this manner of life is in fact his greatest security. It was the life adopted by the late President Harrison, who tolerated no personal guards. He believed that such precautions cannot possibly save the president from a maniac’s blow. Surround him with an army, yet the cunning of the madman will find a way to take his life. As to the rest, Mr. Harrison held that there was no danger. And there is none, except as fits of emotional insanity may be awakened in weak minds by presenting the president to popular imagination in the role of a “ruler,” like the oppressive rulers of Europe. Let the president appear to the world simply as a public servant, simply as one of the people, simply as a man among men, and his life will be safer than detectives and soldiers or restrictive laws upon press and speech can make it. Even then he may be assassinated. But the danger of his assassination is much reduced, and the danger of assassinating free institutions is infinitely less.
Though Mr. Roosevelt should do nothing more to deserve commendation, in this one respect he has done much. But this determination to appear before the public not as a ruler panoplied with power, but as a man, as a citizen, as a public servant, attending to the people’s business in obedience to their will, is in itself significant of even better things.