American Boys' Life of Theodore Roosevelt/Chapter 25
The new President took the oath of office at the residence of Mr. Ansley Wilcox in Buffalo. It is a fine, substantial mansion and has ever since been of historic interest to sight-seers.
When he arrived at the Wilcox home, he found a number of members of the McKinley Cabinet awaiting him, as well as Judge John R. Hazel, of the United States District Court, who administered the oath; and ten or a dozen others.
The scene was truly an affecting one. Secretary Root could scarcely control himself, for, twenty years before, he had been at a similar scene, when Vice-President Arthur became Chief Magistrate, after the assassination of President Garfield. In a voice filled with emotion he requested Vice-President Roosevelt, on behalf of the Cabinet as a whole, to take the prescribed oath.
It is recorded by an eye-witness that Theodore Roosevelt was pale, and that his eyes were dim with tears, as he stepped forward to do as bidden. His hand was uplifted, and then in a solemn voice the judge began the oath:—
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The words were repeated in a low but distinct voice by Theodore Roosevelt, and a moment of utter silence followed.
"Mr. President, please attach your signature," went on the judge. And in a firm hand the new Chief Executive wrote "Theodore Roosevelt" at the bottom of the all-important document which made him the President of our beloved country.
Standing in that room, the President felt the great responsibility which now rested on his shoulders, and turning to those before him, he spoke as follows:—
"In this hour of deep and terrible bereavement, I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity and honor of our country."
These were no mere words, as his actions immediately afterward prove. On reaching Washington he assembled the Cabinet at the home of Commander Cowles, his brother-in-law, and there spoke to them somewhat in this strain:—
"I wish to make it clear to you, gentlemen, that what I said at Buffalo I meant. I want each of you to remain as a member of my Cabinet. I need your advice and counsel. I tender you the office in the same manner that I would tender it if I were entering upon the discharge of my duties as the result of an election by the people." Having thus declared himself, the newly made President asked each member personally to stay with him. It was a sincere request, and the Cabinet members all agreed to remain by Mr. Roosevelt and aid him exactly as they had been aiding Mr. McKinley. Thus was it shown to the world at large, and especially to the anarchists, of which the assassin of McKinley had been one, that though the President might be slain, the government still lived.
The entire country was prostrate over the sudden death of President McKinley, and one of the first acts of Theodore Roosevelt, after assuming the responsibilities of his office, was to issue the following proclamation:—
"A terrible bereavement has befallen our people. The President of the United States has been struck down; a crime committed not only against the Chief Magistrate, but against every law-abiding and liberty-loving citizen.
"President McKinley crowned a life of largest love for his fellow-men, of most earnest endeavor for their welfare, by a death of Christian fortitude; and both the way in which he lived his life and the way in which, in the supreme hour of trial, he met his death, will remain forever a precious heritage of our people.
"It is meet that we, as a nation, express our abiding love and reverence for his life, our deep sorrow for his untimely death.
"Now, therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do appoint Thursday next, September 19, the day in which the body of the dead President will be laid in its last earthly resting-place, a day of mourning and prayer throughout the United States.
"I earnestly recommend all the people to assemble on that day in their respective places of divine worship, there to bow down in submission to the will of Almighty God, and to pay out of full hearts their homage of love and reverence to the great and good President whose death has smitten the nation with bitter grief."
The funeral of President McKinley was a most imposing one. The body was at first laid in state in the City Hall at Buffalo, where President Roosevelt and fully a hundred and fifty thousand men, women, and children went to view the remains. From Buffalo the remains were taken by special funeral train to Washington, and there placed in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Here the crowd was equally great, and here the services were attended by representatives from almost every civilized nation on the globe. Outside a marine band was stationed, playing the dead President's favorite hymns, "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Nearer, my God, to Thee," and in the singing of these thousands of mourners joined, while the tears of sorrow streamed down their faces.
From Washington the body of the martyred President was taken to Canton, Ohio, where had been his private home. Here his friends and neighbors assembled to do him final honor, and great arches of green branches and flowers were erected, under which the funeral cortege passed. As the body was placed in the receiving vault, business throughout the entire United States was suspended. In spirit, eighty millions of people were surrounding the mortal clay left by the passing of a soul to the place whence it had come. It was truly a funeral of which the greatest of kings might well be proud.
The taking-off of President McKinley undoubtedly had a great effect upon President Roosevelt. During the Presidential campaign the Vice-Presidential nominee had made many speeches in behalf of his fellow candidate, showing the high personal character of McKinley, and what might be expected from the man in case he was elected once more to the office of Chief Magistrate. More than this, when Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Roosevelt had done his best to carry out the plans formulated by the President. The two were close friends, and in the one brief session of the Senate when he was Vice-President, Mr. Roosevelt gave to President McKinley many evidences of his high regard.
On returning to Washington, President Roosevelt did not at once take up his residence at the White House, preferring that the place should be left to Mrs. McKinley until she had sufficiently recovered from her terrible shock to arrange for the removal of the family's personal effects.
As it may interest some of my young readers to know how President Roosevelt's first day as an active President was spent, I append the following, taken down at the time by a reporter for a press association:—
"Reached the White House from Canton, on September 20, 1901, at 9.40 a.m. Went at once to the private office formerly occupied by President McKinley, and, as speedily as possible, settled down for the business of the day.
"Met Secretary Long of the navy in the cabinet room and held a discussion concerning naval matters; received Colonel Sanger to talk over some army appointments; signed appointments of General J. M. Bell and others; met Senators Cullom and Proctor.
"At 11 a.m. called for the first time formal meeting of the Cabinet and transacted business of that body until 12.30 p.m.
"Received his old friend, General Wood, and held conference with him and with Secretary Root in regard to Cuban election laws.
"President Roosevelt left the White House at 1.20 p.m. to take lunch with Secretary Hay at the latter's residence. He was alone, disregarding the services of a body-guard.
"Returned to the White House at 3.30 p.m. and transacted business with some officials and received a few personal friends.
"Engaged with Secretary Cortelyou from 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. in the transaction of public business, disposal of mail, etc.
"Left the White House unattended at 6.30 p.m. and walked through the semi-dark streets of Washington to 1733 N Street, N. W., the residence of his brother-in-law, Commander Cowles. Dined in private with the family.
"Late in the evening received a few close friends. Retired at 11 p.m."
It will be observed that special mention is made of the fact that President Roosevelt travelled around alone. Immediately after the terrible tragedy at Buffalo many citizens were of the opinion that the Chief Magistrate of our nation ought to be strongly protected, for fear of further violence, but to this Theodore Roosevelt would not listen.
"I am not afraid," he said calmly. "We are living in a peaceful country, and the great mass of our people are orderly, law-abiding citizens. I can trust them, and take care of myself." And to this he held, despite the protestations of his closest friends. Of course he is scarcely ever without some guard or secret service detective close at hand, but no outward display of such protection is permitted. And let it be added to the credit of our people that, though a few cranks and crazy persons have caused him a little annoyance, he has never, up to the present time, been molested in any way.