American Boys' Life of Theodore Roosevelt/Chapter 19
Nominated for Governor of New York—A Rough Rider Way of Campaigning—Elected Governor—Important Work at Albany—The Homestead at Oyster Bay—Chopping down a Tree for Exercise
The war with Spain was at an end, and Uncle Sam had now to turn his attention to the Philippines, where for many months to come military disturbances of a more or less serious nature were to take place.
Theodore Roosevelt might have remained in the army, and had he done so there is no doubt but that he would have swiftly risen to a rank of importance.
But the people of the State of New York willed otherwise.
"He is a great military man," they said. "But he was likewise a fine Police Commissioner and a Civil Service Commissioner, fighting continually for what was right and good. Let us make him our next governor."
The convention that nominated Theodore Roosevelt for the highest office in the Empire State met at Saratoga, September 27, 1898, just twelve days after the Rough Riders were mustered out. At that time Frank S. Black was governor of the state, having been elected two years before by a large majority. The governor had many friends, and they said he deserved another term.
"Roosevelt is not a citizen of this state," said they. "He gave up his residence here when he went to Washington to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy."
"We don't want him anyway," said other politicians, who had not forgotten how the Rough Rider had acted when in the Assembly. "If he gets into office, it will be impossible to manage him." And they worked night and day to defeat the hero of San Juan Hill.
On the day of the convention, the hall where it was held was jammed with people. The people were also crowded in the street outside, and on every hand were seen Rough Rider badges.
"It was a Roosevelt crowd from top to bottom," says one who was there. "You heard his name everywhere—in the hotels, on the streets, no matter where you went. Every once in a while somebody would shout, 'Three cheers for Teddy!' and the cheers would be given with a will."
As soon as the convention had settled down to business. Governor Black was put up for nomination, and then the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew presented the name of Theodore Roosevelt. He spoke of what had been done in Cuba, and added:—
"The Rough Riders endured no hardships nor dangers which were not shared by their Colonel. He helped them dig their ditches; he stood beside them in the deadly dampness of the trenches. No floored tent for him if his comrades must sleep on the ground and under the sky. In that world-famed charge of the Rough Riders up the hill of San Juan, their Colonel was a hundred feet in advance."
There was a prolonged cheering when Theodore Roosevelt's name was mentioned, and hundreds waved their handkerchiefs and flags. Other speeches followed, and at last came the voting. Out of the total number cast Theodore Roosevelt received seven hundred and fifty-three and Governor Black two hundred and eighteen.
"I move we make the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt unanimous!" cried Judge Cady, who had previously presented the name of Governor Black. And amid continued cheering this was done.
Theodore Roosevelt had been nominated on the regular Republican ticket. In opposition, the Democrats nominated Augustus Van Wyck, also well known, and likewise of as old Dutch stock as Roosevelt himself.
The campaign was a decidedly strenuous one. The Democrats made every effort to win, while on the other hand the Republicans who had wanted Governor Black for another term did not give to Mr. Roosevelt the support promised when his nomination had been made unanimous.
"We shall be defeated," said more than one friend to Roosevelt. "It seems a shame, but we cannot arouse the party as it should be aroused."
"I will see what I can do myself," answered the former leader of the Rough Riders. And he arranged to make a complete tour of the State, taking in almost every city and town of importance. When some of the old campaign managers heard of this, they came to Roosevelt in great alarm.
"You mustn't do it," they said. "It will ruin you."
"I will risk it," was the answer of the candidate. And forthwith he started on his tour, taking a handful of his Rough Rider friends with him.
It was a brilliant stroke on the part of Theodore Roosevelt, and it told tremendously in his favor. Wherever he went, the people turned out in large crowds to see him and to listen to what he or his Rough Rider companions had to say. Citizens by the hundred came up to shake him by the hand and wish him success. Parades were organized to do him honor, and at night there would be brilliant illuminations and fireworks.
"We have aroused the party," said he, when the tour was at an end. And so it proved. Although Van Wyck was popular, Theodore Roosevelt was elected to the high office of governor by seventeen thousand plurality.
It was certainly a high position for such a young man to occupy. He was barely forty years of age, yet as governor of New York he ruled twice as many people as did George Washington when first President of the United States.
He entered on his new duties with as much zeal as he had displayed when organizing the Rough Riders, and in a few weeks had the reins of government well in hand. It is said that while he was governor he was never surprised by those who opposed him. "When they wanted facts and figures he was able to produce them, and he never supported or vetoed a measure unless he was morally certain he was on the right side. He was open-faced to the last degree, and what he said he meant.
During his term of office many measures of importance were considered, but in a work of this kind it is not necessary to go into details. For several important offices he nominated men of his own selection, despite the protests of some older politicians, and these selections proved first-class.
During his term as governor, Mr. Roosevelt did a great work for many poor people in New York City, who worked in what are called "sweat shops,"—small, close quarters, not fit for working purposes, in which men, women, and children make clothing and other articles. He enforced what was known as the Factory Law, and the owners of the "sweat-shops" had to seek larger and more sanitary quarters for their employees. He also took a strong hand in reforming the administration of the canals, which had been one-sided and unfair.
But perhaps his greatest work was in behalf of a measure meant to make the great corporations of New York State pay their fair share of the general taxes. In the past these corporations had had great rights conferred upon them, and they had paid little or nothing in return.
"This is unjust," said Governor Roosevelt. "They should pay their taxes just as the poorest citizen is compelled to pay his tax."
When the corporations heard this, many of the men in control were furious, and they threatened the governor in all sorts of ways. They would defeat him if he ever again came up for election, and defeat him so badly that he would never again be heard of.
"Do as you please, gentlemen," said the governor. "I am here to do my duty, and I intend to do it." And he called an extra session of the legislature for that purpose. It is said that much money was used by some corporations to defeat Governor Roosevelt's will, but in the end a modified form of the bill was passed. Since that time other bills along similar lines have become laws; so that the great corporations have to pay millions of dollars which in the past they had escaped paying. Such measures are of immense benefit to the ordinary citizen, and for his share in this work Theodore Roosevelt deserves great credit.
It was while governor of New York that Mr. Roosevelt gave to the public his book entitled "The Rough Riders." It contains a history of that organization from his personal point of view, and makes the most fascinating kind of reading from beginning to end. It was well received, and added not a little to the laurels of the writer as an author.
Although much of his time was spent at Albany as Executive, Theodore Roosevelt had not given up the old homestead at Oyster Bay on Long Island, and thither he went for rest and recreation, taking his entire family, which, as has been said, consisted of his wife and six children, with him.
The old Roosevelt homestead is on a hill about three miles distant from the village. The road to the house winds upward through a wilderness of trees and brushwood. At the top of the hill, where the house stands, is a cleared space, free to the strong breezes of Long Island Sound. It is on the north shore, about twenty-five miles from City Hall, New York.
The house is a large, three-story affair, with crossed gables, and a large semicircular veranda at one end. Inside there is a wide hall, and all the rooms are of good size, with broad windows and inviting open fireplaces. One room is fitted up as Mr. Roosevelt's "den," with many bookcases filled with books, and with rare prints of Washington, Lincoln, and other celebrities on the walls, and with not a few trophies of the hunt added. In this room Mr. Roosevelt has done much of his work as an author.
It is said that Abraham Lincoln not only chopped wood for a living, but that he rather enjoyed the outdoor exercise. Be that as it may, it remains a fact that Mr. Roosevelt frequently goes forth into the woods on his estate to fell a tree, or split one up, just for the exercise thus afforded. This he did while he was governor of New York, and once astonished some newspaper men who had come to see him on business by the dexterity with which he cut a large tree trunk in two. He even invited his visitors to "take a hack at it" themselves, but they respectfully declined.
He still kept up his athletic exercise, and one of his favorite amusements was to go on long horseback rides, either alone, or with some relative or friend. At other times he would go deep into the woods with his young sons, showing them how to bring down the nuts from the trees, or how to use their guns on any small game that chanced to show itself. His family life was then, as it has always been, a happy one; but of this let us speak later.