Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Theodore Roosevelt
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, twenty-sixth president of the United States, is a prominent instance of the best results of mind and character evolved by the Christian civilization and culture, the free institutions and progressive development of the Western world. His parentage placed him at his entrance into life on high vantage ground. Intelligent, lofty of purpose and benevolent, his father and mother made the home of his childhood and youth such an environment as gave to his excellent and growing capacities ideals of fidelity, honor and effectiveness in life. Early and surely were the essentials of right living fixed in his character, and in maturer years it needed but the occasion fitted for their display to bring them into forceful activity. The circumstances amid which, in the providence of God, he has been called to act have had world-wide relations. They have called for that determined will-power which effects changes for good, by putting into execution, in prompt and vigorous action, the plan which after due deliberation seems the next and inevitable step in progress. He is active and ardent in temperament, direct but self-controlled in conduct. He counsels with those who are competent to advise, but he does not shrink from taking the full responsibility for action in which the final decision rests with himself.
The acceleration of events in the twentieth century has made the arena in which the executive head of the United States acts at the present time, a center to which is drawn the attention of all civilized nations, subjecting his methods and his acts to the scrutiny of constant and searching criticism, favorable and adverse. Events march quickly, and a keen, forward-reaching intelligence is required to keep pace with the new possibilities of the world in which knowledge is increased, communication is almost instantaneous, and the nations stand watching each other's movements, ready to seize the least advantage in territory, in commerce, or in arms. It is just as necessary for a leader, if he is to guide the nation wisely, that he see clearly and sympathetically reckon upon another great world-current which is setting in the opposite direction, and makes for amity, conciliation and peace among nations. President Roosevelt stands where all eyes are focused upon his action. He has been alert to recognize, strengthen and utilize every leaning of the public mind to this "better way" of discussion and arbitration, not only in our internal affairs, but in all our relations with foreign governments, now so much more important and complex than in the early days of the Republic. He has shown wisdom in the choice of his cabinet, notably in retaining Mr. Hay. Our diplomatic relations are stronger and more influential than ever before in our history. His administration is the reflex of his own character. His character is the product of his early environment, of his education, and of his own choice and will, influenced (but not dominated) by the age in which his lot is cast.
President Roosevelt holds a place exceptionally his own in the affection, faith and admiration of the American people. His principles, politics and aims are as broad as the nation. He has been able to impress his puissant individuality on them, as only the towering figures of our history have done. He is a strong leader; a powerful organizer. His record as well as his character have given the people entire confidence in him as their chief executive.
Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York city, October 27, 1858. He is the son of Theodore Roosevelt (1831-78). Of his father, President Roosevelt writes for the readers of this book: "His marked characteristics were fearlessness, gentleness, intense energy and practicality, and great unselfishness. He always drilled into us that we had to work, that we had to count in the world, that we must not be afraid, and that we must be unselfish and truthful." He was a glass importer, in Maiden Lane, New York. A man of large-minded philanthropy he helped to organize the Sanitary Commission at the time of the Civil war, the Protective War Claims Association, the Soldiers' Employment Bureau; he was vice-president of the State Charities Aid Association, and later its president; he founded a hospital and dispensary for the treatment of hopeless spine and hip diseases; he was a trustee of the Children's Aid Society and never missed a Sunday evening with his newsboys. He projected the first efforts for civil service reform. He bequeathed to his son an interest in these great measures, and has left an example of unselfish civic service and self-forgetting philanthropy which has had a marked effect on the life of his city, and on the life of the whole nation. Theodore Roosevelt's mother, Martha Bullock Roosevelt, was from South Carolina, and is buried in that State. The home of his childhood was most happy, and by birth he is distinctly united with the South as well as the North. He is a grandson of Cornelius Van Schaak and Margaret Barnhill Roosevelt; of Jacobus John and Mary Van Schaak Roosevelt, and his descent is in the direct line from Claes Martenszoon and Jaunetge Thomas Van Roosevelt, who came from Amsterdam, Holland, to New York, in 1651.
His early schooling was interrupted by delicate health, and after he had attended for a time the McMullen school, in New York city, his parents found it better for him to study under the care of private tutors at home. His college preparation was made under Mr. Cutler, who founded later the "Cutler School." His special tastes and interest in his boyhood and youth were gratified, he says, by reading, and particularly by natural history. And he writes (especially for the youthful readers of "Men of Mark"): "I was not athletic, but was absorbed in tales of adventure, and gradually took up vigorous sports, as a consequence of reading these tales, written by Scott, Cooper, Marryat, and Mayne Reid."
Much was done by his parents to improve his health. With them he visited Egypt, making a voyage up the Nile. He devoted himself to boating, tramping, running, and vigorous exercise generally, to the limit of his ability, and by force of will, that he might transform his frail body into a strong and responsive instrument for his spirit and will; and seeing that the lack of physical strength is a hampering hindrance to any career in life, by his personal resolution and by life in the open, he at length became the athlete, the hardy hunter and horseman whom the world knows through his books and his deeds.
He graduated from Harvard university in 1880. As an under-graduate he was enthusiastic in all college affairs. His scholarship was excellent, and his interest in athletics was marked. His early ambition was to be a naturalist and a college professor. While still an undergraduate he began that work as an author which he has kept up through life. Finding misstatements in a history of the War of 1812, he studied the subject in the official files, and these studies resulted in his first book, "The War of 1812." He was asked by the British editors of the work, "The Royal Navy" to write the chapter on that war.
He was married September 23, 1880, to Alice Lee, daughter of George Cabot and Caroline Haskell Lee, of Boston, Massachusetts. She died in 1883, leaving one daughter. Miss Alice Lee Roosevelt. He studied law in the New York law school, became in 1882 a Republican member of the Assembly, the lower house of the New York state legislature, and he was reëlected for the years 1883 and 1884. He was chairman of the committee known as the Roosevelt Investigating Committee. His efforts to better the condition of the poorer classes of New York city began in the Assembly, when he took up the cause of the tenement-house cigar makers, and in visiting their miserable dwellings he received deep and lasting impressions of the need of betterment in the conditions which surround tenement workers. He became an ardent supporter of civil service reform at this time and introduced bills which bettered the government of New York city, in particular one of importance which transferred to the mayor that power of confirming appointments which had been in the hands of the aldermen.
In 1884 he was sent as a delegate to the Republican state convention; in June of the same year he was delegate-at-large from New York, and chairman of the New York delegation to the Republican national convention at Chicago. Leaving for a time political life with its heat and stress he bought the ranches "Elk Horn" and "Chimney Butte," in northwestern Dakota, and there lived in a log house in the almost unbroken wilderness, devoting himself to hunting and to free life in the open for two years, 1884-86. His health and strength were finally and fully confirmed by this open air activity which he thoroughly enjoyed. The years spent in this western ranch have have proved invaluable to the whole country, because they gave to Theodore Roosevelt such an intimate knowledge as few eastern bred men ever acquire of the life of our great West, of the need of irrigation for the arid plains of the West, and of the enterprising spirit and whole-hearted manliness of the typical western man. This has not merely made him popular with westerners, but has been of the greatest use to him in influencing and passing finally upon legislation for the development of the vast resources of the West—which is by far the greater part of that National Territory over which he presides. This warm appreciation of western spirit and life is vividly shown in his most important historical work, "The Winning of the West."
From this congenial ranch life he was recalled, in 1887, by the news that he was to be nominated for mayor of New York. In this contest be was defeated by Abram S. Hewitt. In May, 1889, President Harrison appointed him one of the three National Civil Service Reform Commissioners, to reside in Washington, District of Columbia, and he served as president of the commission, strongly advocating and vigorously administering and defending the reforms. He continued to hold this position under President Cleveland until May, 1895, when he resigned it to accept the position of police commissioner of New York city. In accepting his resignation President Cleveland thus wrote him: "You are certainly to be congratulated upon the extent and permanency of civil service reform methods which you have so substantially aided in bringing about. The struggle for its firm establishment and recognition is past. Its faithful application and reasonable expansion remain subjects of deep interest to all who really desire the best attainable public service."
He at once entered on his new duties as Police Commissioner of New York city, under the administration of Mayor Strong, and was president of the bi-partisan Police Board, 1895-97. His work in enforcing laws already on the statute book, but which had purposely been ignored by the combination of politicians and saloon-keepers, is a record of the fearless unearthing of a state of things in that city most corrupt and most corrupting. His reply to those who urged him to use greater discretion was, "there was nothing about discretion in my oath of office," and he quoted to them Lincoln's words: "Let reverence of law be taught in schools and colleges, be written in primers and spelling books, be published from pulpits, and proclaimed in legislative houses, and enforced in courts of justice; in short, let it become the political religion of the nation."
His term of office was filled with efforts, in every direction in which he had any power, for the purification of politics. His reform of the police force, the war, which as a member of the Board of Health, he waged upon the proprietors of slum-tenements, his wise conferences with laboring men, all indicated his great desire to benefit the city, while they showed his courage, good judgment, efficiency and goodness of heart.
His appointment by President McKinley as assistant secretary of the navy, in April, 1897, put him in a position in which he was able to do a great work for the country in preparing the navy for that war with Spain, which he felt was imminent. He planned and insisted upon that expansive target practice with the great guns of our navy, which made our battleships instruments of precision in the hands of the best gunners the world has known. He has credit for selecting Admiral Dewey for that service in the East for which he of all men in the world was best fitted.
But as soon as the war with Spain was declared Theodore Roosevelt made it evident that what he had said and written about patriotic service of the country in time of need, he meant. Resigning an official position where he had great opportunity for usefulness, he proceeded to recruit the First U. S. V. Cavalry, the "Rough Riders," made up of many of his acquaintances in the West, including cowboys and miners, with personal friends of his own from wealthy families in New York and Boston—all men accustomed to athletics, riding, shooting and hunting. He was appointed lieutenant-colonel, May 6, 1898, and was promoted colonel after the battle of Las Guasimas, San Juan, when Colonel Leonard Wood was commissioned brigadier-general and appointed Governor of Santiago. The capture of the blockhouse on the hilltop in the battle of Santiago was made by a heroic charge of the Rough Riders. "When they came to the open, smooth hillside, there was no protection," says a war correspondent. "Bullets were raining down on them, and shot and shells from the batteries were sweeping everything. There was a moment's hesitation and then came the order, 'Forward! Charge!' Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt led, waving his sword. Out into the open the men went, and up the hill. Death to every man seemed certain. Up, up they went in the face of death, men dropping from the ranks at every step. The Rough Riders acted like veterans. It was an inspiring and an awful scene. Roosevelt's horse was shot from under him while he was shouting to his men to advance, and he charged up the hill on foot himself. They went on firing as fast as their guns would work. The Spaniards were dazed by such daring and turned and fled. The blockhouse was captured, but in the rush more than half the Rough Riders were killed or wounded."
When the war closed Colonel Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York over the Democratic, Prohibitionist, Social, Labor and Citizens' Ticket candidates, by a plurality of 17,786 votes in a total of 1,343,968. It is interesting to compare with this his plurality in this State of 175,552 votes in a total of 1,617,770 for President, in the election of November, 1904. As Governor of the State of New York from 1899-1900, he reformed the canal boards, introduced an improved system of civil service, using "the merit system" for county offices, called an extra session of the legislature to secure the passage of a bill which he had especially recommended taxing as real estate the value of the franchises of railroads and other corporations, in spite of the protest of corporations and Republican leaders. It has been said, "He found the state administration thoroughly political, he left it business-like and efficient."
He was nominated vice-president at the Republican national convention at Philadelphia, June, 1900, which nominated William McKinley for president, and he was elected vice-president, November 6, 1900. On the death by assassination of President McKinley, September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into office as the twenty-sixth President of the United States. At this time he was not yet forty-three years old. He was the youngest man who has ever filled the office of president. He announced at once that it was his intention to carry out the policy inaugurated by President McKinley, and he reappointed the entire cabinet of his predecessor. In all the positions which he has filled his work has been that of improvement of methods, exposure and punishment of corruption, and rendering effective all branches of the public service with which he has had to do. In the three years of the unexpired term of his predecessor, the following important matters have received the attention of the President: The coal strike of 1902 threatened the well-being of a large part of the population. His prompt personal action in this matter averted much suffering and gave all parties a feeling of security in his sense of justice and his desire for "fair play." He maintained the Monroe Doctrine in questions arising concerning the Venezuelan boundaries, but declined to act as arbitrator in the matter, referring both sides to the international tribunal of the Hague. The granting of self-government to Cuba; the Northern Securities suit; the Alaskan Boundary; the establishment of the U. S. Department of Commerce and Labor; a National policy of irrigation; the reorganization of the army—all these important matters have been settled. His action at the time of the Kishineff atrocities has had an important effect upon the status of the Jews in Russia; and his proposal to the World-Powers that another Conference be called, at the Hague, to consider Peace and International Arbitration, gives promise of most beneficent results.
His election as president on November 8, 1904, showed the esteem in which he is held personally by the people, and was the strongest possible popular endorsement of his policy. No other president in our history has received so overwhelming a popular majority. The American people expressed themselves and their convictions unequivocally. As has been said, the "victory was due to the personality of the president." He has had a picturesque career, and his personality is an exceedingly attractive one to the people.
As soon as his election was assured, he gave out the following: "Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for, or accept, another nomination." This declaration of his respect for the custom which limits the presidency to two terms, is to be taken as final, coming from a man of his decided character. His reëlection was regarded not alone by our own people as a matter for congratulation. Many European rulers and statesmen expressed their gratification and sent their congratulations. In England, particularly, it is looked at "as a pledge that America will play her part in the solution of all international questions upon the side making for justice and the development and progress of the human race, and as affording a guarantee that Great Britain's present relations with America will not only be maintained, but probably will be strengthened," says one of the greatest English journals.
President Roosevelt is a member of the Columbia Historical Society, the National Geographic Society, the Union League and the Century club of New York city; a trustee of the Newsboys' Lodging House, which his father founded; he organized and was the first President of the Boone and Crockett club, for the hunting of big game and the preservation of forests; he instituted and was the first Commander of the Naval and Military Order of the Spanish-American War; and of the Spanish War Veterans. He is an honorary member of the Union League club of Chicago and of the Alpine club of London. He has received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Columbia, 1899, from Yale, October, 1901, and from Harvard, 1902, the University of Chicago, 1903, the University of California, 1903, and the University of Pennsylvania, 1905. He was elected a member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers, 1895. His literary and academic work has been steadily carried on in the midst of his active official life. His books are: "The History of the Naval War of 1812," (1882); "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman," (1885); "The Life of Thomas H. Benton," (1886); "Life of Gouverneur Morris," (1887); "Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail," (1888); "Essays on Practical Politics," (1888); "The Winning of the West," "The Founding of the Alleghany Communities," (1889); "History of New York City," (1890); "The Wilderness Hunter," (1893); "American Big Game Hunting," (1893), and "Hunting in Many Lands," (1895); "Tales from American History, fourteen tales by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge," (1895); "The Trail and Camp-Fire," (1896); "The Rough Riders," (1899); "Oliver Cromwell," (1900); "The Strenuous Life," (1900); and parts of "The Deer Family," (1902).
President Roosevelt is a member of the Dutch Reformed church. He says for "Men of Mark": "The books which have helped me most are: The Bible, Scott, Cooper, Macaulay, Gibbon, Parkman, and innumerable others; Milton, Shakespeare and Dante, of course." His amusement and recreation he has found in "hunting life, in the woods and on the plains, horsemanship, rifle-shooting, walking, climbing, rowing and swimming." For young people, readers of "Men of Mark" he writes these sentences: "Always have a high ideal, but always remember to work, not just talk or criticize, and, moreover, to work with the purpose of achieving something possible, something practical. Don't set an ideal which you have to violate in practice, for then you will become a hypocrite. Don't say, for instance, that 'money is worthless'; it is worth a great deal; up to a certain point it is essential; but there are other things which are also essential, and after a certain amount of money has been obtained there is a great number of things which are far more important."
Of all the influences for good which have come into his life, President Roosevelt says: "I owe the most to my wife." Edith Kermit Carow, to whom he was married December 2, 1886, is a daughter of Charles and Gertrude (Tyler) Carow, of Norwich, Connecticut. She is of English and Huguenot descent. They have five children, Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald and Quentin.