1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Roosevelt, Theodore
ROOSEVELT, THEODORE (1858-1919), twenty-sixth President of the United States (see 23.707), completed his second term, March 4 1909, the most famous man in his country, with a wealth of personal friends, and a reputation as a master of men. Yet from the presidency, like most of his predecessors, he stepped down into a retirement which seemed to forbid a re-entry into public life or a recovery of the headship of his party. In the 10 remaining years of his life he displayed the same qualities of intense thought and action that had characterized him before; within a year after his withdrawal he again became a great force in American society and public life. A sense of fair play to his successor, President Taft, for whose choice he was indeed responsible, and that drawing-force of the unknown to which his nature was susceptible, led him to make plans for a hunting and exploring trip in Africa, some months before the end of his presidential term. He was also influenced by invitations to make addresses in England and France.
Accordingly he sailed from New York on March 23 1909 for Africa, where, in conjunction with his son Kermit and the well-known hunter Selous, he travelled a long distance, shot big game, and safely emerged at Khartum in March 1910. Here he plunged at once into politics by addresses at Khartum and Cairo, in which he stood for orderly and vigorous government for Egypt. In both instances the addresses were requested and approved by the local military authorities. From Egypt he proceeded to Europe, and, apparently to his own surprise, found himself an international celebrity. He was received in all the courts of central Europe except the Vatican, where an official interposed between him and the Pope by stipulating guarantees of his conduct in Rome. He left a most interesting account of the impressions made upon him by this journey, in a long and intimate letter written at the time to the English historian Sir George Trevelyan, and published in Bishop's Theodore Roosevelt and His Time. It was in vain for him to claim that he was only a “private citizen with no claim to precedence”; for everywhere he was received with the honours ordinarily paid only to sovereigns. He was warmly received in France where he made a public address at the Sorbonne. In England his Romanes lecture at Oxford, and particularly his Guildhall speech on the management of a great empire, were noteworthy; and he was designated by President Taft to represent the United States at the State funeral of Edward VII. His most striking experience was in Germany, where he was received with cordiality by the Emperor, but, as he said afterwards, it was the only country in Europe where he felt that “every man, woman and child was my natural enemy — that is, the enemy of my country.”
Returning to the United States, June 18 1910, Roosevelt found that both his African and European experiences had been followed closely by the American people. President Taft had now had a year and a half of experience with the country, with Congress, and with reforms and policies which Roosevelt had initiated and expected would be carried out. There was a rift in the Republican party. Some of Roosevelt's friends were in opposition to the Taft administration. In the Ballinger controversy over western public lands, Roosevelt sided against the administration. A group of dissatisfied Republicans, the “insurgents,” had arisen in Congress, and prepared to dispute the supremacy of the Conservatives in the party, on whom Taft seemed to be relying. To Roosevelt's mind, the “mossbacks” were in control; and a few hours after landing he agreed to throw his personal influence on behalf of Governor Hughes of New York, who was engaged in a struggle with the Republican Legislature over the direct primary. He made an address at Ossawatomie, Kan., Aug. 31, in which he laid down a radical programme of political and social reform to which he gave the name of the “New Nationalism.” Plainly he was dissatisfied with Taft's administration. As early as Nov. 21 he discussed with an intimate friend the possibility of his accepting the nomination in 1912, to succeed Taft in the presidency. Through 1911 this quarrel grew. Soon after returning, Roosevelt became an editorial writer, bearing a free lance, in The Outlook, and alike in his editorials and in public addresses he took the side of the insurgent element. He regarded Taft as the representative of “the interests.” Early in 1912, a group of seven Republican governors united in an appeal to Roosevelt to declare his willingness to be nominated. On Feb. 12, Taft made a bitter speech, in which, without mentioning Roosevelt, he spoke contemptuously of the extremists. This seems to have been the incident that decided Roosevelt's course; for on Feb. 26 he came out openly as a candidate for the nomination by the party convention in June.
Meanwhile the usual campaign for the choice of delegates to the Convention was going on, following the same lines as in 1908. In the southern states, where the Republicans were hopelessly in the minority, delegates were elected by the usual rump and machine-led state conventions. Roosevelt's friends made a campaign in the northern and western states, especially in those which had provided for a choice of delegates through a popular vote in party primaries. A majority of the Republican voters in those states favoured Roosevelt. When the Republican Convention met in Chicago, June 22, Taft was strong in the delegations chosen by state and local conventions; and Roosevelt in those representing a predominance of Republican voters. The organization of the Convention, however, was in the hands of the Taft men, because they had a large majority in the National Committee. Out of the numerous contested seats, only six were finally assigned by the Committee of Credentials to the Roosevelt column. On a test vote for the choice of temporary chairman, the Taft men showed a narrow margin. The turn of 15 votes — which might have been secured had Roosevelt come out a few weeks earlier — would probably have brought on a “landslide” for him. A speech by Roosevelt a few weeks earlier before the Ohio Constitutional Convention, advocating the “Recall” of judicial decisions, also gave alarm to some men who might otherwise have supported him. Once organized, the Taft forces were able to carry through the report of the Committee on Credentials, which assigned them a safe majority.
Roosevelt himself had come to Chicago a few days before the Convention, and was the centre of the hardest battle of his life. He rallied his supporters, and addressed an enormous public meeting, ending his speech with “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” Most of his followers stood by him; but they could not break down the walls of precedent and conservatism. The Roosevelt delegates, on their leader's request, remained in the Convention until the end, but refused to vote on the nomination; and Taft was duly nominated for a second term by the vote of about two-thirds of the Convention.
Roosevelt was a party man, who had stood by the party in 1884 when many of his friends bolted. His standpoint in 1912 was that he was trying to save the Republican party from a ruinous yielding to the forces of organized wealth and reaction. He was also a fighter, and felt himself deprived, by technicalities and personal hatreds, of an honour which the majority of his party was eager to bestow upon him. He unhesitatingly decided to “bolt,” and on the evening of the adjournment of the Convention, at a meeting in Orchestra Hall, he advised the formation of a Progressive party. A later Convention of the Roosevelt men throughout the country, including a considerable number of Democrats, nominated Roosevelt, with Gov. Hiram W. Johnson of California for vice-president. Meanwhile the Democrats had nominated Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey. The result was a three-cornered political contest, in which it was clear at the beginning that Taft could not be elected, but that Roosevelt probably could not win enough Democratic votes to prevent the choice of Wilson. Nevertheless, Roosevelt fought vigorously through the campaign, violently attacking Taft as a reactionary and tool of reactionaries. While on a speaking tour at Milwaukee he was shot by a fanatic, but was not seriously injured.
The result of the election was the choice of Wilson, who had 6,000,000 popular votes and 435 electoral votes; Roosevelt, 4,000,000 popular votes, and 88 electoral; Taft, 3,500,000 popular votes, and 8 electoral. On this showing the Progressives had more votes than their Republican adversaries, and therefore hoped to compel a reconstruction of the party. Their Republican opponents, however, kept tight hold of the name, organization and prestige. They had deliberately accepted defeat in advance in order to put Roosevelt out of the running.
This, the first serious defeat that Roosevelt had ever encountered, was to him a bitter humiliation. He felt that his public career was ended. His first movement was characteristic. He had cordial invitations to visit S. America and make addresses in the principal cities. As in his experiences of 1910, this dove- tailed in with a plan of exploration. Accordingly, early in 1913, after visiting several S. American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, he returned to Brazil, made his way overland, and came down a river, whose uncharted course he followed for 600 miles. The hardships were severe, and he received an injury, serious for a time, and drew into his system the seeds of tropical malaria. The Brazilian Government named the stream Rio Teodoro.
On his return to the United States, out of office, a defeated candidate, an insurgent, the personal enemy of the Republican leaders, he seemed justified in his belief that his career was over. But as usual his enemies played into his hands. An obscure journalist ventured publicly to accuse him of drunkenness. In May 1913 he instituted a suit for defamation of character, with the result that the defendant broke down and acknowledged his error. A large section of the American people resented the affront, and rejoiced in the vindication. During this period Roosevelt was indefatigable as journalist and writer, first in The Outlook, then in the Metropolitan magazine, and finally through the columns of the Kansas City Star.
The outbreak of the World War gave him a new opportunity for his pen and voice. His instinct was against Germany as an oppressor of weak nations; but he stayed his desire for positive action for a time, from the feeling that he ought not to embarrass the President. It was at this time that a personal enemy gave Roosevelt the opportunity of again showing his character to his countrymen, through a publicity which both Roosevelt and the public enjoyed. William Barnes, one of the acknowledged leaders of the Republican party, brought a suit in April 1915 against Roosevelt because of an accusation of unfair and corrupt politics as a “boss” which Roosevelt had made against him. Roosevelt vigorously defended himself and won the suit. For 10 days he was on the witness-stand, and his testimony, which was spread broadcast throughout the land, revealed his undiminished force and appealed to the popular imagination.
The sinking of the “Lusitania” by a German submarine in May 1915 brought his bitterest denunciation, and from that time he foresaw first the possibility and then the likelihood of war between Germany and the United States. He made himself the leading spokesman for “preparedness,” and presently drew down the wrath of President Wilson's administration for a speech at Plattsburg. From that time he did not spare sharp criticisms of President Wilson's policy as showing unwillingness to face the dangers of war. His utterances against Germany and in favour of the Allies had great influence.
As the election of 1916 drew near, the remaining Progressives, aided by some who had stayed in the Republican party, made an effort to force the Republican Convention to nominate Roosevelt. They called a Progressive Convention to meet at Chicago at the same time as the Republican, hoping to make a joint nomination with the Republicans. Roosevelt did his best to secure the prize, but again the party leaders would have none of him. Hughes was nominated, and this time Roosevelt accepted the situation as a loyal member of the Republican party, and supported the nominee.
As the World War went on, Roosevelt became the severest critic of the administration and the strongest advocate of preparedness. He formed a plan for raising a special division, in which he hoped to have a command, and which he would offer to the Government. Early in 1917, when the American breach with Germany came, he offered the services of himself and his sons, all four of whom subsequently enlisted. He requested that he might have a personal command, which was denied by the administration, although both Houses of Congress united in a bill making his plan possible. During the year he made some of the most notable addresses of his life, especially that before the “Order of Moose” Convention in Pittsburgh. By this time the Republican politicians were looking forward to the election of 1920 and began to group themselves about Roosevelt. His most persistent enemies, even William Barnes, accepted his nomination as a foregone conclusion. The year 1918, however, was a sad one for Roosevelt. His son Quentin was killed in the war. Ever since returning from Brazil, Roosevelt's constitution had shown weakness. He was several times in hospitals, and underwent a serious operation for abscess due to infection received during his Brazilian explorations. The hearing of his left ear was wholly destroyed. Still he continued his writing and speaking, and his direct personal influence upon his thousands of friends. Even in the first days of 1919, when he suffered from renewed disease, he looked forward to public service. On Jan. 6 1919 he died in his sleep.
A man who could do so much could not do everything perfectly, though few have ever done so many things so well. It was more true of him than of most men that his defects were inherent in his virtues. There were few half-tones in Roosevelt's moral perceptions and fewer in his vocabulary; he saw things as either black or white, and he forgot sometimes that he had not previously seen them as he saw them at the moment. He had enemies, and even former friends, who charged him with breaking promises, betraying political associates and setting his own wishes and interests above all others. The very intensity of his convictions sometimes blinded him to the sincerity and even to the justice of other points of view. Nevertheless this intensity, this moral fervour, gave his ideas a momentum and a success which they could never have acquired had they proceeded from a more judicial mind. He scorned “weasel words,” and on occasion he did not hesitate to describe his enemies as thieves and liars. His remarkable energy reminded observers of some great elemental force which, like any natural phenomenon, is controlled by its own necessary laws. When Lord Morley was leaving the United States in 1904 he was asked by reporters what in America had impressed him most. “Two things,” he replied, “Theodore Roosevelt and Niagara Rapids.”
His fearlessness was as conspicuous as his energy. With a courage very rare in political life he attacked the iniquities that had crept into the conduct of American business. He asserted the importance of personal rights when these were being openly denied in the name of property rights. He rallied the patriotic elements of the country against the menace of a private “money power” which not only had frequently dictated the course of legislation but threatened to usurp the authority of the Government itself. He felt strongly that any position involving the exercise of power had its obligations as well as its privileges, and this feeling lent force to his denunciation of “predatory interests” and “malefactors of great wealth.” On the other hand he had little patience with demagogic attacks on men or corporations merely because they were rich or successful, as was shown in his famous utterance in which he compared the authors of these journalistic attacks with the “muckrakers” in Pilgrim's Progress. It was said of him satirically that he had invented the Ten Commandments; but Roosevelt's earnestness in behalf of old truths was of the essence of his service to his countrymen, and more important at the juncture than the discovery of new ones.
His great personal power was used in the furtherance of honesty, fair dealing and patriotic service, when more than lip service to these virtues was vitally needed. He threw all his energy into the effort to bring about a reapplication of fundamental moral principles to American business and political life. While he was unquestionably an astute politician, the secret of his success lay in his imaginative understanding of the views and feelings of his countrymen: his enthusiasm was contagious because he vividly expressed what they already felt and believed to be the truest American ideals. When he spoke for the “square deal,” the American people as a people always responded.
Born of a wealthy family, in an aristocratic society, enjoying all his days a literary and artistic atmosphere, he was still a natural democrat. He had a personal interest in every man or woman that he met, and a genuine affection literally for thousands of individual persons. He was a scientific man whose observations and deductions were valued by naturalists and investigators. He was a literary man, very widely read. He was an intellectual man, interested from youth to age in literature and philosophy. He was a politician without a rival in his time for boldness, foresight, and an innate knowledge of what his fellow countrymen were thinking about. He was a statesman of the most brilliant ability, who after a crushing defeat returned to power over the minds of the people and was on his way again to the presidency of the United States. His bitterest political enemies accepted his coming back to national leadership. To few men in history has it been given to wield such far-spreading and wholesome personal influence.
Bibliography. — Between 1909 and 1919 Roosevelt published about 15 books, several of them consisting of articles and addresses. The more important are African Game Trails (1910); Conservation of Womankind and Children (1912); Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography (1913, contains little beyond 1909); Life-Histories of African Game Animals (2 vols. 1914); A Hunter-Naturalist in the Brazilian Wilderness (1914); Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914); A Book-lover's Holiday in the Open (1916). His principal later books on public affairs and on the World War are Realizable Ideals (1912); America and the World War (1915 and 1919); Fear God and Take Your Own Part (1916); National Strength and International Duty (1917); The Great Adventure (1918). Numerous collections of extracts and speeches have been published, especially those of W. F. Johnson (1909); L. F. Abbott (African and European, 1910); W. Griffith (1919); J. B. Bishop, Letters to his Children (1919).
The most important biographies are those by J. B. Bishop (1920); H. Hagedorn, Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt (1919); W. D. Lewis (1919); W. R. Thayer (1919); Bradley Gilman (1921) and H. Hagedorn's Roosevelt in the Bad Lands (1921). A useful list of books by and about Roosevelt is J. H. Wheelock's, Bibliography of Theodore Roosevelt (1920). (A. B. H.)