Source: Commercial and Financial Chronicle
Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “President Roosevelt”
City of publication: New York, New York
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 73
Issue number: 1891
|“President Roosevelt.” Commercial and Financial Chronicle 21 Sept. 1901 v73n1891: pp. 584-85.|
|William McKinley (death: impact on economy); Theodore Roosevelt (assumption of presidency); presidential succession; vice presidents.|
|Chester A. Arthur; James G. Blaine; Grover Cleveland; Millard Fillmore; James A. Garfield; William Henry Harrison; Thomas Hendricks; Andrew Johnson; Abraham Lincoln; John Logan; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; Zachary Taylor; Samuel J. Tilden; John Tyler.|
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.