McKinley’s Death—Roosevelt’s Succession [excerpt]
On September 6, 1901,
President McKinley was shot by an anarchist in the city of Buffalo.
I went to Buffalo at once. The President’s condition seemed to be
improving, and after a day or two we were told that he was practically
out of danger. I then joined my family, who were in the Adirondacks,
near the foot of Mount Tahawus. A day or two afterwards we took
a long tramp through the forest, and in the afternoon I climbed
After reaching the top I had descended
a few hundred feet to a shelf of land where there was a little lake,
when I [s]aw a guide coming out of the woods on our trail from below.
I felt at once that he had bad news, and, sure enough, he handed
me a telegram saying that the President’s condition was much worst
[sic] and that I must come to Buffalo immediately. It was late in
the afternoon, and darkness had fallen by the time I reached the
clubhouse where we were staying. It was some time afterwards before
I could get a wagon to drive me out to the nearest railway station,
North Creek, some forty or fifty miles distant.
The roads were the ordinary wilderness
roads and the night was dark. But we changed horses two or three
times—when I say “we” I mean the driver and I, as there was no one
else with us—and reached the station just at dawn, to learn from
Mr. Loeb, who had a special train waiting, that the President was
dead. That evening I took the oath of office, in the house of Ansley
Wilcox, at Buffalo.
No Reversal of Policy.
On three previous occasions
the Vice President had succeede[d] to the Presidency on the death
of th[e] President. In each case there had been [a] reversal of
party policy, and a nearly immediate and nearly complete change
in the personnel of the higher offices, especially the Cabinet.
I had never felt that this was wise from any standpoint. If a man
is fit to be President, he will speedily so impress himself in the
office that the policies pursued will be his anyhow, and he will
not have to bother as to whether he is changing them or not; while
as regards the offices under him, the important thing for him is
that his subordinates shall make a success in handling their several
departments. The subordinate is sure to desire to make a success
of his department for his own sake, and if h[e] is a fit man, whose
views on [p]ublic policy are sound, and whose abilities entitle
him to his position, he will do excellently under almost any chief
with the same purposes.
The Cabinet Unchanged.
I at once announced
that I would continue unchanged McKinley’s policies for the honor
and prosperity of the country, and I asked all the members of the
Cabinet to stay. There were no changes made among them, save as
changes were made among their successors, whom I myself appointed.
I continued Mr. McKinley’s policies, changing and developing them
and adding new policies only as the questions before the public
changed and as the needs of the public developed. Some of my friends
shook their heads over this, telling me that the men I retained
would not be “loyal to me,” and that I would seem as if I were “a
pale copy of McKinley.” I told them that I was not nervous on this
score, and that if the men I retained were loyal to their work they
would be giving me the loyalty for which I most cared; and that
if they were not, I would change them anyhow; and that as for being
“a pale copy of McKinley,” I was not primarily concerned with either
following or not following in his footsteps, but in facing the new
problems that arose; and that if I were competent I would find ample
opportunity to show my competence by my deeds without worrying myself
as to how to convince people of the fact.