William Roscoe Thayer (18591923). Theodore Roosevelt. 1919.
DURING the summer of 1901, the city of Buffalo, New York, held a Pan-American Exposition. President McKinley visited this and, while holding a public reception on September 6, he was twice shot by Leon Czolgosz, a Polish anarchist. When the news reached him, Roosevelt went straight to Buffalo, to attend to any matters which the President might suggest; but as the surgeons pronounced the wounds not fatal nor even dangerous, Roosevelt left with a light heart, and joined his family at Mount Tahawrus in the Adirondacks. For several days cheerful bulletins came. Then, on Friday afternoon the 13th, when the Vice-President and his party were coming down from a climb to the top of Mount Marcy, a messenger brought a telegram which read:
The Presidents condition has changed for the worse.
The climbers on Mount Marcy were fifty miles from the end of the railroad and ten miles from the nearest telephone at the lower club-house. They hurried forward on foot, following the trail to the nearest cottage; where a runner arrived with a message, Come at once. Further messages awaited them at the lower club-house. President McKinley was dying, and Roosevelt must lose no time. His secretary, William Loeb, telephoned from North Creek, the end of the railroad, that he had had a locomotive there for hours with full steam up. So Roosevelt and the driver of his buckboard dashed on through the night, over the uncertain mountain road, dangerous even by daylight, at breakneck speed. Dawn was breaking when they came to North Creek. There, Loeb told him that President McKinley was dead. Then they steamed back to civilization as fast as possible, reached the main trunk line, and sped on to Buffalo without a moments delay. It was afternoon when the special train came into the station, and Roosevelt, having covered the distance of 440 miles from Mount Marcy, was driven to the house of Ansley Wilcox. Most of the Cabinet had preceded him to Buffalo, and Secretary Root, the ranking member present Secretary Hay having remained in Washington asked the Vice-President to be sworn in at once. Roosevelt replied:
I shall take the oath of office in obedience to your request, sir, and in doing so, it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policies of President McKinley for the peace, prosperity, and honor of our beloved country.
The oath having been administered, the new President said:
In order to help me keep the promise I have taken, I would ask the Cabinet to retain their positions at least for some months to come. I shall rely upon you, gentlemen, upon your loyalty and fidelity, to help me.1
On September 19, John Hay wrote to his intimate friend, Henry Adams:
I have just received your letter from Stockholm and shuddered at the awful clairvoyance of your last phrase about Teddys luck.
Well, he is here in the saddle again. That is, he is in Canton to attend President McKinleys funeral and will have his first Cabinet meeting in the White House tomorrow. He came down from Buffalo Monday nightand in the station, without waiting an instant, told me I must stay with him that I could not decline nor even consider. I saw, of course, it was best for him to start off that way, and so I said I would stay, forever, of course, for it would be worse to say I would stay a while than it would be to go out at once. I can still go at any moment he gets tired of me or when I collapse.2
Writing to Lady Jeune at this time Hay said:
I think you know Mr. Roosevelt, our new President. He is an old and intimate friend of mine: a young fellow of infinite dash and originality.
In this manner, Teddys luck brought him into the White House, as the twenty-sixth President of the United States. Early in the summer, his old college friend and steadfast admirer, Charles Washburn, remarked: I would not like to be in McKinleys shoes. He has a man of destiny behind him. Destiny is the one artificer who can use all tools and who finds a short cut to his goal through ways mysterious and most devious. As I have before remarked, nothing commonplace could happen to Theodore Roosevelt. He emerged triumphant from the receiving-vault of the Vice-Presidency, where his enemies supposed they had laid him away for good. In ancient days, his midnight dash from Mount Marcy, and his flight by train across New York State to Buffalo, would have become a myth symbolizing the response of a hero to an Olympian summons. If we ponder it well, was it indeed less than this?
In 1899, Mr. James Bryce, the most penetrating of foreign observers of American life had said, in words that now seem prophetic: Theodore Roosevelt is the hope of American politics.