William Roscoe Thayer (18591923). Theodore Roosevelt. 1919.
XXI. Which was the Republican Party?
DID those words of Roosevelt spring from his sense of humorhumor which recognizes the topsy-turvy of life and its swift changes, and still laughsor from the instinct which knows that even in the sweetest of all experiences there must be a drop of bitterness? Whatever their cause, they proved to be a true foreboding. He had not been home twenty four hours before he perceived, on talking with his friends, that the Republican Party during his absence had drifted far from the course he had charted. His policies had vanished with his control, and the men who now managed the Administration and the party regarded him, not merely with suspicion, but with aversion.
To tell the story of this conflict is the disagreeable duty of the historian of. that period, especially if he have friends and acquaintances on both sides of the feud. There are some facts not yet known; there are others which must be touched upon very delicately if at all; and, in the main, so much of the episode grew out of personal likes and dislikes that it is hard to base ones account of it on documents. In trying to get at the truth, I have been puzzled by the point-blank contradictions of antagonistic witnesses, whose veracity has not been questioned. Equally perplexing are the lapses of memory in cases where I happen to have seen letters or documents written at the time and giving real facts. The country would assuredly have been alarmed if it had suspected that, during the years from 1909 to 1912, the statesmen who had charge of it, were as liable to attacks of amnesia as they proved to be later.
The head and front of the quarrel which wrecked the Republican Party must be sought in Roosevelts thoroughly patriotic desire to have a successor who should carry on the principles which he had fought for and had embodied in national laws during the nearly eight years of his Presidency. He felt more passionately than anybody else the need of continuing the work he had begun, not because it was his work, but because on it alone, as he thought, the reconciliation between Capital and Labor in the United States could be brought about, and the impending war of classes could be prevented. So he chose Judge Taft as the person who, he believed, would follow his lead in this undertaking. But the experience of a hundred and ten years, since Washington was succeeded by John Adams, might have taught him that no President can quite reproduce the qualities of his predecessor and that the establishment of a Presidential dynasty is not congenial to the spirit of the American people. Jefferson did, indeed, hand on his mantle to Madison, and the experiment partially succeeded. But Madison was much nearer Jefferson in ability and influence than Judge Taft was near Roosevelt.
During the campaign of 1908, and immediately after the election, we can imagine that Mr. Taft was sincerely open to Roosevelts suggestions, and that he quite naturally gave Roosevelt the impression that he intended to follow them, not because they were Roosevelts, but because they were his own also. As soon as he began to realize that he was President, and that a President has a right to speak and act on his own motion, Mr. Taft saw other views rising within him, other preferences, other resolves. From the bosom of his family he may have heard the exhortation, Be your own President; dont be any bodys man or rubber stamp. No doubt intimate friends strengthened this advice. The desire to be free and independent, which lies at the bottom of every normal heart, took possession of him also; further, was it not the strict duty of a President to give the country the benefit of his best judgment instead of following the rules laid down by another, or to parrot anothers doctrines?
Whatever may have been the process by which the change came, it had come before Tafts inauguration. He chose a new Cabinet, although Roosevelt supposed that several of the members of his Cabinet would be retained. Before the Colonel started for Africa he felt that a change had come, but he went away with the hope that things would turn out better than he feared. His long absence under the Equator would relieve any anxiety Taft might have as to Roosevelts intention to dictate or interfere.
Very little political news reached the Colonel while he was hunting. On reaching Italy, on his return journey, he met Mr. Gifford Pinchot, who had come post-haste from New York, and conveyed to him the latest account of the political situation at home. It was clear that the Republican Party had split into two factions-the Regulars, who regarded President Taft as their standard-bearer, and the Insurgents, who rallied round Roosevelt, and longed desperately for his return. To the enemies of the Administration, it seemed that Mr. Taft had turned away from the Rooseveltian policies. In his appointments he had replaced Roosevelt men by Regulars. His Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Ballinger, came into conflict with Mr. Pinchot over conservation, and the public assumed that the President was not only unconcerned to uphold conservation, but was willing that the natural resources of the Nation should fall again into the hands of greedy private corporations. This assumption proved to be false, and Secretary Ballinger was exonerated by a public investigation; but for two years, at least, the cloud hung over Mr. Tafts reputation, and, as always happens, the correction being far less nimble than the accusation, took a much longer time in remedying the harm that it had done.
When, therefore, Roosevelt landed at the Battery on June 18, 1910, the day of his apotheosis, he knew that a factional fight was raging in the Republican Party. His trusty followers, and every one who bore a grudge against the Administration, urged him to unfurl his flag and check any further disintegration; but prudence controlled him and he announced that he should not speak on political matters for at least two months. He was sincere; but a few days later at the Harvard Commencement exercises he met Governor Hughes, of New York State, who was waging a fierce struggle against the Machine to put through a bill on primary elections. The Governor begged the Colonel as a patriotic boss-hating citizen, to help him, and Roosevelt hastily wrote and dispatched to Albany a telegram urging Republicans to support Hughes. In the result, his advice was not heeded, a straw which indicated that the Machine no longer feared to disregard him.
For several weeks Roosevelt waited and watched, and found out by personal investigation how the Republican Party stood. It took little inspection to show him that the Taft Administration was not carrying out his policies, and that the elements against which he had striven for eight years were creeping back. Indeed, they had crept back. It would be unjust to Mr. Taft to assert that he had not continued the war on Trusts. Under his able Attorney-General, Mr. George W. Wickersham, many prosecutions were going forward, and in some cases the legislation begun by Roosevelt was extended and made more effective. I speak now as to the general course of Mr. Tafts Administration and not specially of the events of 1910. In spite of this continuation of the battle with the Octopusas the Big Interests, Wall Street, and Trusts were indiscriminately nicknamedthe public did not believe that Mr. Taft and his assistants pushed the fight with their whole heart. Perhaps they were misjudged. Mr. Taft being in no sense a spectacular person, whatever he did would lack the spectacular quality which radiated from all Roosevelts actions. Then, too, the pioneer has deservedly a unique reward. Just as none of the navigators who followed Columbus on the voyage to the Western Continent could win credit like his, so the prestige which Roosevelt gained from being the first to grapple with the great monopolies could not be shared by any successor of his, who simply carried on the work of trust-busting, as it was called, which had be come commonplace.
Nevertheless, although nobody doubted Mr. Wickershams legal ability, the country felt that during the Taft Administration zeal had gone out of the campaign of the Administration against the Interests. Roosevelt had plunged into the fray with the enthusiasm of a Crusader. Taft followed him from afar, but without feeling the Crusaders consecration or his terrible sincerity. And during the first six months of his Administration, President Taft had unwittingly given the country the measure of himself.
The Republican platform adopted at Chicago declared unequivocally for a revision of the tariff by a special session of Congress, immediately following the inauguration of the next President . In all tariff legislation the true principle of protection is best maintained by the imposition of such duties as will equal the difference between the cost of production at home and abroad, together with a reasonable profit to American industries. We favor the establishment of maximum and minimum rates to be administered by the President under limitations fixed in the law, the maximum to be available to meet discriminations by foreign countries against American goods entering their markets, and the minimum to represent the normal measure of protection at home. The American public, regardless of party, assumed that the revision referred to in this plank of the Republican platform meant a revision downward; and it supposed, from sayings and opinions of Mr. Taft, that he put the same construction upon it. He at once called a special session of Congress, and a new tariff bill was framed under the direction of Sereno E. Payne, a Stand-Pat Republican member of Congress, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and Nelson W. Aldrich, Senator from Rhode Island, and guardian angel and factotum for the Big Interests. For several months these gentlemen conducted the preparation of the new bill. Payne had already had experience in putting through the McKinley Tariff in 1890, and the Dingley Tariff in 1897. Again the committee-room was packed by greedy protectionists who, for a consideration, got from the Government whatever profit they paid for. Neither Payne nor Aldrich had the slightest idea that to fix tariff rates to enrich special individuals and firms was a most corrupt practice. When a Republican Senator, who honestly supposed that the revision would be downward, privately remonstrated, the reply he heard was, Where shall we get our campaign funds? Finally, after some discussion between the House and the Senatea discussion which did not lessen the enormities of the measurethe Payne-Aldrich Bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Taft, and it enjoyed the bad eminence of being worse than the McKinley and the Dingley tariffs which had preceded it.
The public, which had seen more clearly than on former occasions, how such charters to legalize industrial piracy were devised, was somewhat dashedby President Tafts approval. Perhaps it still hoped that the creation of a non-partisan Tariff Commission of experts would put an end to this indecent purchase and sale of privileges and would establish rates after the scientific investigation of each case. Soon, however, these hopes were swept away; for on September 17, 1909, the President delivered at Winona, Minnesota, a laudatory speech on the new tariff. He admitted that some points in Schedule Kthat comprising wool and woolen goodswere too high. But, he said solemnly that this was the best tariff law the Republicans ever made, and, therefore, the best the country ever had. In that Winona speech, Mr. Taft hung a millstone round his own neck. His critics and his friends alike had thrust upon them this dilemma: either he knew that the Payne-Aldrich Tariff had been arrived at by corrupt ways and was not a revision downwardin spite of which he pronounced it the best ever; or he did not know its nature and the means used in framing it. In the latter case, he could not be considered a person sufficiently informed on great financial questions, or on the practices of some of the politicians who made laws for him to sign, to be qualified to sit in the Presidents chair. If, on the other hand, knowing the measure to be bad he declared it the best ever, he was neither sincere nor honest, and in this case also he was not a President whom the country could respect.
I would not imply that the American public went through this process of reasoning at once, or arrived at such clear-cut conclusions; Demos seldom indulges in the luxury of logic; but the shock caused by the Winona speech vibrated through the country and never after that did the public fully trust Mr. Taft. It knew that the Interests had crawled back and dictated the Payne-Aldrich Tariff, and it surmised that, although he prosecuted the Trusts diligently, they did not feel greatly terrified. But nobody whispered or suspected that he was not honest.
While President Taft slowly lost his hold on the American people, he gained proportionately with the Republican Machine. That Machine was composed of the Regulars of the party, or the Conservatives, as they preferred to be called, and it was losing its hold on the country. There comes a time in every sect, party, or institution when it stops growing, its arteries harden, its young men see no visions, its old men dream no dreams; it lives in the past and desperately tries to perpetuate the past. In politics when this process of petrifaction is reached, we call it Bourbonism, and the sure sign of the Bourbon is that, being unconscious that he is the victim of sclerosis, he sees no reason for seeking a cure. Unable to adjust himself to change and new conditions he falls back into the past, as an old man drops into his worn-out armchair.
Now Roosevelt had been, of course, the negation of Bourbonism. He had led the Republican Party into new fields and set it to do new work, and far off, shining clearly, its goal beckoned it on. His followers were mostly young men; they saw that the world had changed, and would change still further, and they went forward valiantly to meet it and, if possible, to shape its changes. For ten years past, these Radicals, as the Regulars named them some what reproachfully, and who were better defined as Insurgents, had played an increasingly important part in Congress. They would not submit to the Bosses and the Machine, but voted independently, and, although they were not all of them avowed Rooseveltians, they all were going in his direction. In the second year of Mr. Tafts Administration, they rebelled against the rigid dictatorship of Joseph G. Cannon, the Speaker of the House. Uncle Joe, as the public nicknamed him, dated from before the Civil War, and entered Congress in 1863, forty-seven years before 1910. It was as if a rigid Bourbon, who had served under Louis XV in France in 1763, had been chief law-maker under Napoleon I in 1810. Mr. Cannon, however, had never learned that the Civil War was over, whereas every Frenchman who survived the Revolution knew that it had taken place. So the Insurgents rose up against him, in his old age, deprived him of his dictatorial power, and, at the next election, Democrats and Republicans combined to sweep him out of office altogether.
The Jews who ridiculed Noah when he began to build the Ark were, it proved, Bourbons, but they had some excuse, for when Noah was working there was no portent of a flood and not even a black cloud with a shower wrapped up in it hung on the horizon. But the Republican Regulars, under Mr. Taft, could not complain that no sign had been vouchsafed to them. The amazing rise in power and popularity of Roosevelt during the decade, the surging unrest of Labor throughout the world, the obviously altered conditions which immense fortunes and the amassing of wealth by a few corporations had produced, and such special symptoms as the chafing at the Payne Aldrich Tariff, the defeat of Speaker Cannon, and the election of a Democratic House of Representatives ought to have warned even the dullest Republican. For good, or for ill, a social and industrial revolution was under way, and, instead of trimming their sails to meet it, they had not even taken ship. Roosevelt and the Insurgents had long understood the revolution of which they were a part, and had taken measures to control it. Roosevelts first achievement, as we have seen, was to bring the Big Interests under the power of the law. The hawks and vultures whose wings he clipped naturally did not like it or him, but the laws had force behind them, and they submitted. The leaders of the popular movement, however, declared that this was not enough. They preached the right of the people to rule. The people, they urged, must have a real share in electing the men who were to make the laws and to administer and interpret them.
Every one knew that the system of party government resulted in a Machine, consisting of a few men who controlled the preliminary steps which led to the nomination of candidates and then decided the election, so far as their control of the regular party members could do this. It would be idle, said the advocates of these popular rights, to make the best of laws in behalf of the people and allow them to be enforced by representatives and judges chosen, under whatever disguise, by the great capitalists. And so these Progressives, bent on trusting implicitly the intelligence, the unselfishness, and the honesty of the People, proposed three novel political instruments for obtaining the pure Democracy they dreamed of. First, the Initiative, by which a certain number of voters could suggest new laws; second, the Referendum, by which a vote should be taken to decide whether the People approved or not of a law that was in operation; and third, the judicial Recall, by which a majority of the voters could nullify a decision handed down by a judge. This last was often misnamed and misconstrued, the Recall of Judges, but so far as I know very few of the Progressive leaders, certainly not Colonel Roosevelt, proposed to put the tenure of office of a judge at the mercy of a sudden popular vote.
When Roosevelt returned from Africa, he found that the Progressive movement had developed rapidly, and the more he thought over its principles, the more they appealed to him. To arrive at Social Justice was his life-long endeavor. In a speech delivered on August 31, 1910, at Ossawatomie, Kansas, he discoursed on the New Nationalism. As if to push back hostile criticism at the start, he quoted Abraham Lincoln: Labor is prior to, and independent of capital; capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed but for labor. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights which are as worthy of protection as any other rights . Nor should this lead to a war upon the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; it is a positive good in the world. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for him self, thus, by example, showing that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
Not all those who cry Plato! Plato! are Platonists. So, not all those who now appeal to Lincolns mighty name for sanction of their own petty caprices and crazy creeds, have learned the first letter of the alphabet which Lincoln used; but Roosevelt, I believe, knew Lincoln better, knew the spirit of Lincoln better, than any other President has known it. And Lincoln would have approved of most, if not of all, of the measures which, in that Ossawatomie speech, Roosevelt declared must be adopted. Whenever he spoke or wrote after that, he repeated his arguments in defense of the New Nationalism, and they sank deep into the public conscience. He took no active part in politics, as he thought, but the country knew better than he did that, wherever he was, politics was active. Every one consulted him; his occasional speeches roused a storm of criticism; a dozen would-be candidates in each party sat on the anxious seat and waited for his decision. So he watched the year 1910 draw to its close and 1911 wheel by, without his giving the final word. Although he was very really the centre of attention, he nevertheless felt lonely, and a friend tells me of going to Oyster Bay, late in the autumn, and finding Roosevelt in fact alone, as his family were away, and depressed by the thought that he was cut off, probably forever, from throwing himself into work which would be of public benefit. But Roosevelt was a fighter, not a sulker, and he was too healthy in spirit to give way to disappointment.
That he resented the purpose, as he supposed, of the Taft Administration to throw over his policies, I do not doubt, although there are letters in existence which indicate that he still had courteous if not friendly relations with President Taft. But what ate into him more than any personal resentment was his chagrin at seeing the Great Cause, for which he had spent his life, neglected and denied by the Republican Party. Progressivism seemed to be slowly in process of suffocation by the Big Interests which it had come into being to protest against, to curb, and to control.
There were other leaders in this Cause, the most prominent being Senator La Follette, of Wisconsin. He had caught up very early some of Bryans demagogic doctrines, which he had softened a good deal and made palatable to the Republicans of his State. Then he had stood out as a Liberal in Congress, and from Liberal he became Insurgent, and now that the Insurgents were being defined as Progressives, he led the Progressives in Congress. The same spirit was permeating the Democrats; only the hide-bound Regular Republicans appeared not to notice that a new day had dawned. Uncle Joe Cannon, their Speaker of the House, reveled in his Bourbonism, made it as obnoxious as he could, and then was swept away by the enraged Liberals.
By the summer of 1911 the discussion of possible candidates grew more heated. Roosevelt still kept silent, but he told his intimates that he would not run. He did not wish to be President again, especially at the cost of an internecine struggle. I believe that he was sincere; so is the consummate actor or the prima donna, whom the world applauds, sincere in bidding farewell to the stage forever. Nevertheless, which of them is conscious of the strength of the passion, which long habit, and supremacy, and the intoxication of success have evoked, dwells in them? Given the moment and the lure, they forget their promise of farewell.
By this time the politicians began to foresee that the dissension in the Republican Party would make it difficult to choose a candidate who could win. Every President desires to be reelected if he can be, not necessarily because he is greedy of power, but because reelection is equivalent to public approval of his first term. Mr. Taft, therefore, stood out as the logical candidate of the Conservatives. The great majority of the Progressives desired Roosevelt, but, since he would say neither yes nor no, they naturally turned to Senator La Follette. And La Follette launched a vigorous campaign for the nomination and was undoubtedly gaining ground except in the East, where some of his views had been regarded as too extreme even for the Liberals. To his great misfortune, in a speech at Philadelphia on February 2, 1912, he showed signs of a temporary mental collapse and, although his friends protested that this mishap was not serious, much less permanent, he never got back into the running.
Meanwhile, Roosevelts nearest zealots not only urged upon him the duty of coming out squarely as the Progressive aspirant, but they set up throughout the country their propaganda for him. He received letters by the bushel and every letter appealed to his patriotism and to his sense of duty. The Progressives were in dead earnest. They believed that the country, if not civilization, had reached a crisis on the outcome of which would depend the future health and peace of Society. They had a crusade, not a mere political campaign, ahead of them, and they could not believe that Roosevelt, their peerless champion, would fail them.
The average person, who calmly sits back in his easy-chair and passes his verdict on the acts of great men, does not always allow for the play of emotions which may have influenced them. What sort of reaction must appeals like these have stimulated? How can the unimaginative man, who has never been urged by his fellow townspeople to be even Trustee of the Town library or graveyard, put himself in the place of a Leader, who is told by millions of persons, possibly fanatics but not flatterers, that the destiny of the Nation depends upon his listening to their entreaties?
Everything conspired to win Roosevelt over: La Follette being eliminated, there was no other Progressive whom the majority would agree upon. The party spoke with only one voice, and uttered only one name. And, presently, the Governors of seven StatesBass of New Hampshire, Hadley of Missouri, Osborn of Michigan, Glasscock of West Virginia, Carey of Wyoming, Aldrich of Nebraska, and Stubbs of Kansasissued an appeal to him which seemed to give an official stamp to the popular entreaties. Roosevelts enemies insinuated that the seven Governors had been moved to act at his own instigation, and they tried to belittle the entire movement as a frame-up, in the common phrase of the day. No doubt he was consulted in the general direction of the campaign; no doubt, being a very alert student of political effects, he suggested many things; but the rush of enthusiasts to him was genuine and spontaneous.
I happened to spend the evening of February 25, 1912, with him at the house of Judge Robert Grant in Boston. Judge Grant and I were not politicians, and I, at least, had never voted for a Republican Presidential candidate. But both of us were very old personal friends of the Colonel, and for five hours we three talked with the utmost frankness. He knew that he could trust us, and, I think, he planned to get the views of non-partisan friends before announcing his final decision. Three days earlier, at Columbus, Ohio, he gave a great speech, in which he proclaimed a new charter for Democracy and vigorously advocated the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. We discussed these from every side; he got the Outlook in which his speech was printed and read to us passages which he thought corrected popular misunderstanding of it. When I objected to the platform in general, because it would tend to destroy representative government and substitute therefor the whims of the populace at the moment, he replied that we had no representative government. I can name forty-six Senators, he said, who secured their seats and hold them by the favor of a Wall Street magnate and his associates, in all parts of the country. Do you call that popular, representative government? he asked.
The evening wore on, and in similar fashion he parried all our criticism. We urged him not to be a candidate, because, we said, we thought that the public ought to be reined in and disciplined, instead of being encouraged to be more lawless and self-willed. I defended our judiciary system and said that the American people needed most of all to be taught respect for the Courts. He explained that his Recall of Judicial Decisions did not mean, as the Opposition alleged, the Recall of Judges. Then we urged him, for the sake of his own future, not to engage in a factional strife which might end his usefulness to the country, but he brushed aside every argument based on his selfish advantage. I wish, he said to me, to draw into one dominant stream all the intelligent and patriotic elements, in order to prepare against the social upheaval which will other wise overwhelm us. A great Central Party, such as Cavour founded for the liberation of Italy? said I. Exactly, said he.
The thing which mainly struck me at the time, and which I still vividly remember, was the Colonels composure throughout all this debate. Vehement he wasbecause he could not describe even a butterfly without vividness which easily passed into vehemencebut he was in no sense mentally overwrought; nor did he continually return to one subject like a man with an obsession. His humor flashed out, even at his own expense, but he had throughout the underlying gravity of one who knows that he is about to make a very important decision. I mention these facts because at the time, and afterward, Roosevelts enemies circulated the assertion that his mind was unbalanced, and that this fact accounted for his break with the regular Republicans. I have in my hand a printed circular, issued by a Chicago lawyer, offering five thousand dollars apiece to each of several hospitals and other charitable institutions, if Roosevelt would allow himself to be examined by competent alienists and they did not pronounce him to be a madman! No! he was not mad, but he had the fervor, the courage, the impatience of a Crusader about to undergo ordeal by battle.
>From notes of the conversation Judge Grant made at the time I quote the following. Judge Grant asked:
Will any of the party leaders support you?
No, he said, none of them; not even Lodge, I think. I dont see how he can. My support will come from the people, officered by a few lieutenantsyoung men principally like Governor Bass, of New Hampshire. He said that he realized that the probabilities were all against his nomination; that a President in office had all the machinery on his side; but that of course it wouldnt do to admit outside that he expected to lose; that if he could reach the popular vote through direct primaries, he could hope to win. It was manifest that he believed that it was indispensable for the future good of the Republican Party that he should make the breach. When he said as much, I asked, But the situation is complex, I suppose? You would like to be President? You are right, he replied. It is complex. I like power; but I care nothing to be President as President. I am interested in these ideas of mine and I want to carry them through, and feel that I am the one to carry them through. He said that he believed the most important questions today were the humanitarian and economic problems, and intimated that the will of the people had been thwarted in these ways, especially by the courts on constitutional grounds, and that reforms were urgent.
As I went out into the midnight, I felt sad, as one might after bidding farewell to a friend who has volunteered to lead a forlorn hope. I did not realize then the moral depth from which Roosevelts resolve came, or that he would rather die for that cause than be victorious in any other.
The next day, Monday, February 26th, he announced to the country that he was a candidate for the Republican nomination.