The instant recovery
of the financial markets at this week’s opening, from their extreme
depression when the approaching death of President McKinley was
suddenly made known, doubtless showed that sentiment rather than
reasoned apprehension played some part in the previous decline.
But it was also, quite beyond question, a witness to the financial
community’s confidence in the new Administration. Had it been felt,
by those with the greatest interests at stake in the future welfare
of the Government, that executive power had devolved into 
unsafe hands, the action of the markets would have been very different.
As it was, recovery of financial equanimity preceded and foreshadowed,
as it usually does, a similar change of feeling with the general
public. In this regard Mr. Roosevelt’s public declaration of conservative
purposes, and perhaps notably his unqualified statement of adherence
to “the use of conciliatory methods of arbitration in all disputes
with foreign nations, so as to avoid armed strife,” merely confirmed
the earlier prediction of the world’s Exchanges.
There is nothing in modern politics
which can approach the dramatic circumstances of an American Vice-President’s
accession to office. It is not alone that a public servant is suddenly
thrust into a greater office, or that a sudden term is brought to
one man’s rulership. These changes happen often enough and attract
only passing comment. The death of a sovereign and his heir’s accession
to the throne; the overthrow of a Ministry, whereby the leader of
the opposition assumes charge of the State; the election and inauguration
of a new President—all may involve changes of persons and policies
quite as radical as a Vice-Presidential succession on the death
of the Chief Executive. But it is only necessary to place them in
comparison to understand how completely the cases differ. In all
the other instances enumerated, the new incumbent is one who had
long been expected to succeed to power and whose probable acts and
policies have therefore been weighed beforehand.
In theory this is equally true of
the Vice-President; it was certainly the purpose of the Constitution,
as was shown by its original provision, that the second on the Electoral
College poll for President should be Vice-President. This was equivalent
to providing that the Vice-Presidency should go to the successful
candidate’s chief antagonist, and therefore to a public man whose
probable acts in power had been equally canvassed. The Twelfth Amendment
put an end to that situation, and later developments in the convention
system put an end also to the practice of naming for Vice-President
some well-known rival aspirant to a party’s nomination to the higher
office. On three occasions only has a candidate, active in the balloting
for the higher nomination, been formally named for the second place.
Mr. Hendricks, who in 1876 received 140 votes for the Democratic
Presidential nomination, was subsequently named for Vice-President
with Mr. Tilden; he was again, after polling 145 convention ballots
for the first place in 1884, placed on the ticket with Mr. Cleveland,
and in the same year Mr. Logan, for whom, on the nominating vote
for President, 63 ballots were cast, was made the running mate for
Mr. Blaine. Barring these three exceptions, the Vice-Presidential
nomination has almost invariably gone either to a public man of
respectable mediocrity, or to a candidate named by the faction defeated
in the Presidential nomination.
The result has heretofore invariably
been that the death of a President in office promoted to the chief
executive an untried and generally unknown public man. This was
notoriously true in the cases of Mr. Tyler, Mr. Johnson and Mr.
Arthur, and was measurably true in the case of Mr. Fillmore. In
the three first-named instances it is also true that the new incumbent
of the Presidency, representing as he did a rival wing of the dominant
party, was in at least some measure bound to reverse the policies
of his predecessor. The political chaos which followed the deaths
of President Harrison in 1841 and of President Lincoln in 1865,
and the general change in administrative personnel which followed
the deaths of Mr. Taylor and Mr. Garfield, are traditions of our
history which no doubt explains last week’s temporary misgivings
for the future.
People who indulged in these misgivings
overlooked one salient fact. Mr. Roosevelt was not a rival candidate
for the Presidential nomination, nor was he by any means named to
conciliate a hostile party faction. So far was Mr. Roosevelt’s nomination
last year to the second place on his ticket from being a factional
concession, that he was known to be unwilling to take the nomination,
and entered on the second office of the State under political obligations
to nobody, and, so far as such a thing is possible, with no affiliations
beyond what his personal choice prescribed.
This fact, and the equally important
fact that Mr. Roosevelt was for the moat part in open sympathy with
President McKinley’s larger policies, have been of the first importance
at the present juncture. The two noteworthy incidents thus far in
the new President’s career are, first, his explicit pledge to carry
out Mr. McKinley’s policies, and, second, his request to the existing
Cabinet to continue in office throughout his Administration. Neither
move, it may be said, is a new departure; even John Tyler solemnly
declared his purpose of following in Harrison’s footsteps, and even
Johnson requested the whole Lincoln Cabinet to remain and did not
break with any of them until ten months after Mr. Lincoln’s death.
But in reviewing the further history
of these Vice-Presidential successions, it will be found, we think,
that the eventual reversal of policies and breach in official associations
arose directly and inevitably from the place of the new incumbent
in the party’s factions. Events have already shown that there is
no such ground of alienation between Mr. Roosevelt and the McKinley
Cabinet. It is also to be noticed that when Mr. Roosevelt expressed
his purpose, on taking the oath of office last Saturday, “to continue
absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace,
prosperity and honor of our beloved country,” he necessarily pledged
himself to more than was ever before pledged under similar circumstances.
Harrison died at the end of his first month in office; Garfield,
before four months of his term had passed. Taylor, struggling with
a divided party at the Capitol, had been unable to frame any formal
policy whatever in his sixteen months of power; Lincoln’s death
occurred when events were forcing wholly new policies to the front.
It will be seen at a glance how completely the present situation
differs from those cited, and how much more significance attaches
to President Roosevelt’s pledge of a continued policy than to the
similar pledge of Tyler or Johnson.
It is, of course, not to be expected
that any successor to such an office could guarantee in advance
to act on all occasions as his predecessor would have done. It would
not be possible for any public man to do this; it would certainly
not be possible to Mr. Roosevelt, whose strong individuality ensures
independent action in the new crises which are certain to arise.
We cannot see, however, any reason for supposing that the new President
will err in the direction towards which converged a week ago the
hasty apprehensions of a portion of the public.