William Roscoe Thayer > Theodore Roosevelt > XXV. Prometheus Unbound
William Roscoe Thayer (1859–1923). Theodore Roosevelt. 1919.
XXV. Prometheus Unbound
DURING the winter of 1916–17, Roosevelt never relaxed his criticism of President Wilson’s dilatory and evasive policy, or his efforts to arouse the American people to a sense of their duty to civilization. By this time the President himself felt that it was safe for him to speak up in behalf of Americanism. The year before, Roosevelt having been assured that it would be dangerous to make American and pro-Ally speeches in the Middle West, went straight to the so-called German cities, and was most enthusiastically received where it had been predicted he would be hooted and even mobbed. President Wilson ventured to follow him some time later, and suffered no harm. By the summer of 1916 he became almost reckless, as it seemed, in his utterances. He said to the graduating cadets at West Point: “My conception of America is a conception of infinite dignity, along with quiet, unquestionable power. I ask you, gentlemen, to join with me in that conception, and let us all in our several spheres be soldiers together to realize it.” 1 Once he declared that he too came of fighting blood. Meanwhile, how ever, the German submarines went on sinking ships; Bernstorff made his frequent calls of studied impudence at the White House; German agents blew up munitions factories and the warehouses where shells were stored before shipment; and the process of spreading Prussian gangrene throughout our country went on unchecked.   1
  Worse than this, the military situation in Europe was almost disheartening. Imperial Russia had disappeared and the Germans were preparing to carve up the vast amorphous Russian carcass. Having driven their way through the Balkans to Constantinople they were on the point of opening their boasted direct route from Berlin to Bagdad. England, France and Italy began to feel war-weary. The German submarines threatened to cut off their supplies of food, and unless the Allied countries could be succored they might be starved into making peace. When they looked across the Atlantic they beheld this mighty Republic leaving them in the lurch, too busy piling up millions of dollars drawn from the Allies in their distress to heed that distress, and drugging their compunctions, if they had any, by saying to themselves that a nation may be “too proud to fight,” and that they had the best authority for remembering that they must remain “neutral even in thought.”   2
  I need not describe in detail what Roosevelt thought of this. He himself expressed his scorn for making war by rhetoric. He knew that a man may boast of coming of fighting blood, and come so late that all the fighting quality in the blood has evaporated. Could not many of the Pacifists trace back to Revolutionary and to Puritan ancestors, who fought as they prayed, without hesitation or doubt, for the Lord of Hosts? They could, and their present attitude simply made their shame the greater. The Colonel had said very early in the conflict: “I do not believe that the firm assertion of our rights means war, but in any event, it is well to remember there are things worse than war.” In 1917 he declared: “For two years after the Lusitania was sunk, we continued to fawn on the blood-stained murderers of our people, we were false to ourselves and we were false to the cause of right and of liberty and democracy through out the world.” He kept hammering at our need of preparation. He told a great audience at Detroit: 2 “We first hysterically announced that we would not prepare because we were afraid that preparation might make us lose our vantage-ground as a peace loving people. Then we became frightened and announced loudly that we ought to prepare; that the world was on fire; that our national structure was in danger of catching aflame; and that we must immediately make ready. Then we turned an other somersault and abandoned all talk of preparedness; and we never did anything more than talk.”   3
  At last, at the beginning of 1917, the German truculence became too great even for President Wilson to palliate. The Kaiser, whose atrocious submarine policy had already failed, decided that it could be made to succeed by increasing its horror. He proposed to sink indiscriminately all ships, whether neutral or enemy; but out of his Imperial generosity he would allow the Americans to send one ship a week to Falmouth, England, provided it followed a certain line marked out by him on the chart, flew a certain flag, and was painted a color which he specified. As late as December 18, 1916, the President had put forth a message only less startling than his “too-proud-to-fight” dictum, in which he announced that the warring world must plan for a “peace without victory” if it would hope to end the war at all. “Peace without victory” would mean, of course, a peace favorable to Germany. But the Germans, with characteristic stupidity, instead of using even a specious courtesy towards the President who had been long-suffering in their favor, immediately sent out their “Once-a-week-to-Falmouth” order. Perhaps they thought that Mr. Wilson would consent even to that.   4
  President Wilson’s friends have assured us that he devotes himself to finding out what the American people wants and then in doing it. He soon learned what the American people wanted, after it understood the purport of the “Once-a-week-to-Falmouth” order; and after the interchange of two or three more notes, he broke off relations with Germany on April 6, 1917. At last, at the eleventh hour, the United States by President Wilson’s consent joined the great alliance of free nations in their life and-death struggle to make the world safe for Democracy. Now the President had to prepare for war, and prepare in haste, which rendered careful plans and economy impossible. At the start, there was much debate over the employment of Volunteers, the rating of Regulars, and the carrying out of a selective draft. True to his policy of timidity and evasion President Wilson did not openly declare war on Germany, but allowed us to drift into a state of war; so executives who do not wish either to sign or veto a bill let it become a law without their signatures. His Secretary of War, Lindley M. Garrison, the only member of his Cabinet who had marked ability, had resigned the year before, having apparently found the official atmosphere uncongenial. At the Plattsburg camp, commanded by General Leonard Wood, Colonel Roosevelt made a speech of ringing patriotism and of unveiled criticism of the lack of energy in the Administration. It was not a politic thing to do, although there seems to have been some confusion between what the Colonel said to the Volunteers in camp, and what he said that same evening to a gathering of civilians in the town. The indiscretion, how ever, gave the Administration the opportunity it had been waiting for; but, being unable to punish Roosevelt, it severely reprimanded General Wood, who had not been aware of what the Colonel intended to say. Indeed, the offensive remarks seem to have been extemporaneous, because, as it was too dark for him to read his prepared speech, he spoke impromptu. In any event, Secretary Garrison had due notice that Roosevelt was to speak, and if he had had any doubts he should have sent word to General Wood to cancel the engagement. The Administration made as much as it could out of this impropriety, but the public saw the humor of it, because it knew that Secretary Garrison agreed with Roosevelt and Wood in their crusade for preparedness.   5
  Later, when Mr. Garrison resigned, President Wilson put Mr. Newton D. Baker, a Pacifist, in his place, and after war came, the military preparation and direction of the United States were entrusted to him. But it does not belong to this biographical sketch to narrate the story of the American conduct of the war under the Wilson Administration.   6
  To Roosevelt, the vital fact was that war was at hand, the great object for which he had striven during two years and eight months, the participation in the war which would redeem the honor of the United States, call forth the courage of its citizens, make Americans alone dominant in America and so purge this Republic of the taints of pro-Germanism, of commercial greed, and of ignoble worship of material safety, that it could take its part again at the head of the democracies of the world. He thanked God that his country could stand out again untarnished. And then a great exultation came over him, as he believed that at last he himself having put on his sword, would be allowed to join the American army bound overseas, share its dangers and glories in the field, and, if Fate so willed it, pay with his body the debt of patriotism which nothing else could pay. He wrote immediately to the War Department, offering his services and agreeing to raise a division or more of Volunteers, to be sent to the front with the briefest delay. But Secretary Baker replied that without authorization by Congress, he could not accept such bodies of Volunteers. On being pressed further, Mr. Baker replied that the War College Division of the General Staff wished the officers of the Regular Army to be kept at home, in order to train new men, and then to lead the first contingents which might go abroad. 3   7
  Meanwhile, at the first suggestion that Roosevelt might head a body of troops himself, letters poured upon him from every State in the Union, from men of all classes eager to serve under him, and eager, in this way, to wipe out the shame which they felt the Administration, by its delays and supineness, had put upon the nation. Then Congress passed the Draft Law, and, on May 18, Roosevelt appealed again, this time directly to President Wilson, offering to raise four divisions. The President, in a public statement, declared that purely military reasons caused him to reject the plan. In a telegram to Colonel Roosevelt he said that his action was “based entirely upon imperative considerations of public policy, and not upon personal or private choice.” Roosevelt summed up the contention with this flat contradiction: “President Wilson’s reasons for refusing my offer had nothing to do either with military considerations or with public needs.”   8
  Roosevelt issued an announcement to the men who had applied for service under him—they were said already to number over 300,000—regretting that they could not all go together on their country’s errand, and brushing aside the insinuation of his enemies that he was merely seeking political and selfish ends. That is a charge, of course, to which all of our statesmen, from Washington down, have been exposed. Its final refutation comes from examining the entire public career and the character of the person accused. To any one who knew what Roosevelt’s life had been, and who knew how poignantly he felt the national dangers and humiliation of the past three years, the idea that he was playing politics, and merely pretending to be terribly in earnest as a patriot, is grotesque. And I believe that no greater disappointment ever came to him than when he was prohibited from going out to battle in 1917. Mr. Wilson and the obsolescent members of the General Staff had obviously a plausible reason when they said that the European War was not an affair for amateurs; that no troops, however brave and willing, could, like the Rough Riders in the Spanish War, be fitted for action in a month. Only by long drill and by the coordination of all branches of the service, organized on a vaster scale than the world had ever seen before, and commanded by experts, could an army enter the field with any hope of holding its own against the veteran armies of Europe. We may accept this plea, but the fact remains that President Wilson refused to make the very obvious use of Roosevelt which he might have made. Roosevelt was known throughout the world as the incarnation of Americanism. If he had been sent to Europe in April, 19 117, when he first requested, with only a corporal’s guard to attend him, he would have been a visible proof to the masses in England, in France, and in Italy, that the United States had actually joined the Allies. He would have been the forerunner of the armies that were to. follow, and his presence would have heartened immensely the then sorely perplexed, if not discouraged, populations which the Hun seemed sure to overwhelm. But President Wilson had shown no desire to employ any American on any task where he might get credit which the President coveted for himself. In his Cabinet, his rule was to appoint only mediocre or third-class persons, whose opinions he did not think it necessary to consult. It was quite unlikely, there fore, that he would give Roosevelt any chance to shine in the service of the country, for Roosevelt was not only his political opponent, but his most formidable critic, who had laid bare the weakness of the Wilson regime. When Cavour was assembling all the elements in Italy to undertake the great struggle for Italian liberty and independence, he adroitly secured the cooperation of Garibaldi and his followers, although Garibaldi had declared himself the personal enemy of Cavour. Personal enemy or not, Cavour would have him as a symbol, and Garibaldi’s concurrence proved of immense value to Italy. So would that of Roosevelt have proved to the Allies if he had been officially accredited by President Wilson. But Cavour was a statesman, who looked far ahead, a patriot uninfluenced by personal likes and dislikes. Roosevelt felt his own deprivation mightily, but the shutting-out of General Leonard Wood roused his anger—all injustice roused his anger. As the motive for General Wood’s exclusion was not frankly avowed, the public naturally drew its own inferences. To him, more than to any other American, we owed what little preparation for war existed when we entered the war. He founded the Plattsburg Camp; he preached very solemnly our needs and our dangers; and he did these things at the very period when President Wilson was assuring the country that we ought not to think of preparing. Doubtless, in 1919, Mr. Wilson would be glad to have those sayings of his, and many others—including the “too proud to fight,” the laudation of German “humanity and justice,” the “war-mad Europe,” whose ravings did not concern us, the “peace without victory” forgotten; but that cannot be, and they rise to accuse him now. Macbeth did not welcome the inopportune visit of the Murderers and of Banquo’s Ghost at his banquet.   9
  General Wood had to be disciplined for allowing Colonel Roosevelt to make his impolitic speech to the Plattsburg Volunteers; he was accordingly removed from his New York headquarters to the South and then to Camp Funston in Kansas. It was even proposed to relegate him to the Philippines. When our troops began to go to France, he earnestly hoped to accompany them. There were whispers that he was physically unfit for the stress of active war: but the most diligent physical examination by Army surgeons who would have overlooked no defects, showed him to be a man of astonishing health and vigor, as sound as hickory. On the technical side, the best military experts regarded him as the best general officer in the American Army. Nevertheless, in spite of his physical and military qualifications, President Wilson rejected him. Why? The unsympathetic asserted that Mr. Wilson took care to assign no conspicuous officer to service abroad who might win laurels which would bring him forward as a Presidential possibility in 1920. On the other hand, cynics, remembering the immemorial jealousy between the Regulars and Volunteers in both the Army and Navy, declared that an outsider like General Wood, who had not come into the Army through West Point, could expect no fairer treatment from the Staff which his achievements and irregular promotion had incensed. History may be trusted to judge equitably on whom to place the blame. But as Americans recede from the event, their amazement will increase that any personal pique or class jealousy should have deprived the United States from using the soldier best equipped for war at the point where war was raging. 4   10
  While Roosevelt could not denounce the Administration for debarring himself from military service abroad, he could, and did, attack it for its treatment of General Wood, treatment which both did injustice to a brave and very competent soldier and deprived our Army in its need of a precious source of strength. Perhaps he drew some grim amusement from the banal utterances of the Honorable Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, whom he frequently referred to with appropriate comment. Two months after we entered the war, Mr. Baker issued an official bulletin in which he admitted the “difficulty, disorder, and confusion in getting things started, but,” he said, “it is a happy confusion. I delight in the fact that when we entered this war we were not, like our adversary, ready for it, anxious for it, prepared for it, and inviting it. Accustomed to peace, we were not ready.” 5 Could any one, except a very young child at a soap-bubble party in the nursery, have spoken thus? But Mr. Baker was not a very young child, he was a Pacifist; he did not write from a nursery, but from the War Department of the United States. In the following October he announced with undisguised self-satisfaction: “We are well on the way to the battle-field.” This was too much for Roosevelt, who wrote: “For comparison with this kind of military activity we must go back to the days of Tiglath Pileser, Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. The United States should adopt the standard of speed in war which belongs to the twentieth century A.D.; we should not be content with, and still less boast about, standards which were obsolete in the seventeenth century B.C.”   11
  Roosevelt had now made a contract with the Metropolitan Magazine to furnish to it a monthly article on any topic he chose, and he was also writing for the Kansas City Stay frequent, and often daily, editorial articles. Through these he gave vent to his passionate patriotism and the reader who wishes to measure both the variety and the vigor of his polemics at this time should look through the files of those journals. But this work by no means limited his activity. As occasion stirred him, he dispatched his communications to other journals. He wrote letters, which were really elaborated arguments, to chance correspondents, and he made frequent addresses. The necessity of hurrying on the preparation of our army and of backing up our troops with undivided enthusiasm were his main theme. But he delivered himself on other subjects almost equally important. He paid his respects to the “Conscientious Objector,” and he insisted at all times that “Murder is not debatable.” “Murder is murder,” he wrote Professor Felix Frankfurter, “and it is rather more evil when committed in the name of a professed social movement.”  6 Mr. Frankfurter was then acting, by appointment of President Wilson, as counsel to a Mediation Commission, which was dealing with recent crimes of the Industrial Workers of the World. Anarchists, when arrested, had a suspicious way of professing that they espoused anarchism only as a “philosophical” theory. Roosevelt branded several of the palliators of these—“the Hearsts and La Follettes and Bergers and Hillquits,” and others—as reactionaries, as the “Bolsheviki of America,” who really abetted the violent criminals by pleading for leniency for them on the ground that after all they were only “philosophical” theorists. Roosevelt was not fooled by any such plea. “When you,” he told Mr. Frankfurter, “as representing President Wilson, find yourself obliged to champion men of this stamp [the “philosophical” criminals], you ought by unequivocal affirmative action to make it evident that you are sternly against their general and habitual line of conduct.”   12
  So Roosevelt pursued, without resting, his campaign to stimulate the patriotic zeal of his country men and to rebuke the delays and blunders of the Administration. If any one had said that he was making rhetoric a substitute for warfare—the accusation with which he charged President Wilson—he would have replied that Wilson condemned him to use the pen instead of the sword. Forbidden to go himself, he felt supreme satisfaction in the going of all his four sons, and of his son-in-law, Dr. Richard Derby. They did honor to the Roosevelt name. Theodore, Jr., became a Lieutenant-Colonel, Kermit and Archibald became Captains; and Quentin, the youngest, a Lieutenant of Aviation, was killed in an air battle.   13
  Roosevelt was prevented from fighting in France, indeed, but he was gratified to learn from good authority that his efforts in the spring of 1917 to secure a commission and lead troops over seas were the immediate cause of the sending of any American troops. President Wilson, it was reported had no intention, when we went to war, of risking American lives over there, and the leisurely plans which he made for creating and training an army seemed to confirm this report. But Roosevelt’s insistence and the great mass of volunteers who begged to be allowed to join his divisions, if they were organized, awakened the President to the fact that the American people expected our country to give valid military support to the Allies, at death-grapple with the Hun. The visit in May, 1917, of a French Mission with Marshal Joffre at its head, and of an English Mission under Mr. Arthur Balfour, and their plain revelation of the dire distress of the French and British armies, forced Mr. Wilson to promise immediate help; for Joffre and Balfour made him under stand that unless help came soon, it would come too late. So President Wilson, who hoped to go down in history as the Peacemaker of the World War, and as the organizer of an American Army, which, without shedding a drop of blood, had brought peace about, was compelled to send the only too willing American soldiers, by the hundred thousand and the million, to join the Allied veterans in France.   14
  Persons who do not penetrate beneath the flickering surfaces of life, regard these last years of Roosevelt’s as an anticlimax which he passed in eclipse; as if they were the eight lean and overshadowed years, following the splendid decade in which as Governor and President he had the world’s admiration and consent. But this view wholly misconceives him. It takes a man who had proved himself to be the greatest moral force in the public life of the world, and drops him when he steps down from the seat of power. Now, of course, Theodore Roosevelt did not require to walk on a high platform or to sit in the equivalent of a throne in order to be Roosevelt; and if we would read the true meaning of his life we must understand, that the years which followed 1910 were the culmination and crown of all that went before. He was a fighter from the days when, as a little boy, he fought the disease which threatened to make his existence puny and crippled. He was a fighter, and from his vantage-ground as President, he fought so valiantly that the world took notice and he brought new ideals into the hearts of the American people. He was just as brave and resourceful and tenacious a fighter when he led the forlorn hope, as when he marched at the head of the Nation in his campaigns against corruption and the mercenaries of Mammon. During these later years he gave up everything—his ease, his probable restoration to power, the friendships that were very dear to him, even his party which no longer, as he thought, followed the path of righteousness, or desired righteous ends—for the Cause to which he had been dedicated since youth. Analyze his acts at any period, and you will find that they were determined by his loyalty to that Cause.   15
  And how could so great a soul exercise itself to the full, except by grappling with adversity? The prosperous days seemed to fit him like a skin, but only in these days of apparent thwarting and disappointment could he show himself equal to any blows of Fate. At first he struggled magnificently against crushing odds, asking no allowances and no favors. He founded and led the Progressive Party and, in 1912, received the most amazing popular tribute in our history. And he would have pushed on his work for that party had not the coming of the World War changed his perspective. Thenceforth, he devoted himself to saving civilization from the reptilian and atrocious Hun; that was a task, in comparison with which the fortune of a political party sank out of sight.   16
  His work demanded of him to rouse his country men from the apathy and indifference which a timid Administration breathed upon it, and from the lethargic slumber into which the pro-Germans drugged it. During four years, his was the one voice in the United States which could not be silenced. He was listened to everywhere. Men might agree with him or not, but they listened to him, and they trusted him. Never for a moment did they suspect that he was slyly working for the enemy, or for special interests here or abroad.   17
  He, the supreme American, spoke for America and for the civilization which he believed America fulfilled. His attacks on the delays and the incompetence, on the faint-heartedness and contradictions of the Administration had no selfish object. His heart was wrenched by the humiliation into which the honor of the United States had been dragged. The greatest patriotic service which he could render was to lift it out of that slough, and he did. The best evidence that he was right lies in the fact that President Wilson, tardily, reluctantly, adopted, one by one, Roosevelt’s demands. He rejected Preparedness, when it could have been attained with comparative leisure; he accepted it, when it had to be driven through at top speed. And so of the other vitally necessary things. He ceased to warn Americans that they must be neutral “even in thought”; he ceased to comfort them by the assurance that a nation may be “too proud to fight”; he ceased to extol the “justice and humanity of the Germans.” That he suffered these changes was owing to the fact that American public opinion, largely influenced by Roosevelt’s word and example, would not tolerate them any more. And President Wilson, when he can, follows public opinion.   18
  Roosevelt took personal pleasure in the bridging of the chasm which had opened between him and his former party intimates. On neither side was there recantation, but they could unite again on the question of the War and America’s duty towards it, which swallowed up partisan grievances. Many of the old time Republicans who had broken politically from Roosevelt in 1912, remained devoted personal friends, and they tried to reunite him and the discordant fragments. One of these friends was Colonel Robert Bacon, whom every one loved and trusted, a born conciliator. He it was who brought Roosevelt and Senator Root together, after more than five years’ estrangement. He gave a luncheon, at which they and General Leonard Wood met, and they all soon fell into the old-time familiarity. Roosevelt urged vehemently his desire to go to France, and said that he would go as a private if he could not lead a regiment; that he was willing to die in France for the Cause. At which Mr. Root, with his characteristic wit, said: “Theodore, if you will promise to die there, Wilson will give you any commission you want, tomorrow.”   19
  Roosevelt never fully recovered from the infection which the fever he caught in Brazil left in his system. It manifested itself in different ways and the one thing certain was that it could not be cured. He paid little attention to it except when it actually sent him to bed. In the winter of 1918, it caused so serious an inflammation of the mastoid that he was taken to the hospital and had to undergo an operation. For several days his life hung by a thread. But, on his recovery, he went about as usual, and the public was scarcely aware of his lowered condition. He wrote and spoke, and seemed to be acting with his customary vigor. That summer, however, on July 14th, his youngest son, Quentin, First Lieutenant in the 95th American Aero Squadron, was killed in an air battle near Chambray, France. The lost child is the dearest. Roosevelt said nothing, but he never got over Quentin’s loss. No doubt he often asked, in silence, why he, whose sands were nearly run, had not been taken and the youth, who had a lifetime to look forward to, had not been spared. The day after the news came, the New York State Republican Convention met at Saratoga. Roosevelt was to address it, and he walked up the aisle without hesitating, and spoke from the platform as if he had no thoughts in his heart, except the political and patriotic exhortation which he poured out. He passed a part of the summer with his daughter, Mrs. Derby, on the coast of Maine; and in the early autumn, at Carnegie Hall, he made his last public speech, in behalf of Governor Whitman’s candidacy. A little after this, he appeared for the last time in public at a meeting in honor of a negro hospital unit. In a few days another outbreak of the old infection caused his removal to the Roosevelt Hospital. The date was November 11th,—the day when the Armistice was signed. He remained at the hospital until Christmas Eve, often suffering acutely from inflammatory rheumatism, the name the physicians gave to the new form the infection took. He saw his friends for short intervals, he followed the news, and even dictated letters on public subjects, but his family understood that his marvelous physical strength was being sadly exhausted. He longed to be taken home to Sagamore Hill, and when his doctor allowed him to go home, he was greatly cheered.   20
  To spend Christmas there, with his family, even though he had to spend it very quietly, delighted him. For ten days he seemed to be gaining, he read much, and dictated a good deal. On January 5th, he reviewed a book on pheasants and wrote also a little message to be read at the meeting of the American Defense Society, which he was unable to attend. That evening he spent with the family, going to bed at eleven o’clock. “Put out the light, please,” he said to his attendant, James Amos, and no one heard his voice again. A little after four o’clock the next morning, Amos, noticing that he breathed strangely, called the nurse, and when they reached his bedside, Roosevelt was dead. A blood clot in his heart had killed him. Death had unbound Prometheus.   21
  By noon on that day, the 6th of January, 1919, the whole world knew of his death, and as the news sank in, the sense of an unspeakable void was felt everywhere. He was buried on January 8th, on a knoll in the small country graveyard, which he and Mrs. Roosevelt had long before selected, overlooking Oyster Bay and the waters of the Sound. His. family and relatives and dear friends, and a few persons who represented State and Nation, the Rough Riders, and learned societies, attended the services in the little church. Just as the coffin was being borne in, the sun came out and streamed through the stained-glass windows. “The services were most impressive in their simplicity, in their sense of intimacy, in the sentiment that filled the hour and the place of personal loss and of pride of possession of a priceless memory.” The bearers took the coffin through the grove, with its bare trees and light sifting of snow, to the grave; and as it was committed, there were many sobs and tears of old and young. Rough Riders, who had fought by his side, cabinet ministers who had served with him, companions of his work and of his playtime, were all mourners now, and some of those men of affairs, who had done their utmost to wreck him eight years before, now knew that they had loved him, and they grieved as they realized what America and the world had lost. “Death had to take him sleeping,” said Vice-President Marshall; “for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight.”   22
  The evil men do lives after them; so does the good. With the passing of years, a man’s name and fame either drift into oblivion, or they are seen in their lasting proportions. You must sail fifty miles over the Ionian Sea and look back before you can fully measure the magnitude and majesty of Mount Aetna.   23
  Not otherwise, I believe, will it be with Theodore Roosevelt, when the people of the future look back upon him. The blemishes due to misunderstanding will have faded away; the transient clouds will have vanished; the world will see him as he was.   24
  I do not mean that it will reduce him to an abstraction of perfection, as ill-judged worshipers of George Washington attempted to do with him. Theodore Roosevelt was so vastly human, that no worshiper can make him abstract and retain recognizable features. We have reached the time when we will not suffer anybody to turn our great ones into gods or demigods, and to remove them far from us to dwell, like absentee deities, on a remote Olympus, or in an unimaginable Paradise; we must have them near, intimates whom our souls can converse with, and our hearts love. Such an intimate was Roosevelt living, and such an intimate will he be dead. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt—those are the three whom Americans will cherish and revere; each of them a leader and representative and example in a structural crisis in our national life.   25
  Those of us who knew him, knew him as the most astonishing human expression of the Creative Spirit we had ever seen. His manifold talents, his protean interests, his tireless energy, his thunderbolts which he did not let loose, as well as those he did, his masterful will sheathed in self-control like a sword in its scabbard, would have rendered him superhuman, had he not possessed other qualities which made him the best of playmates for mortals. He had humor, which raises every one to the same level. He had loyalty, which bound his friends to him for life. He had sympathy, and capacity for strong, deep love. How tender he was with little children! How courteous with women! No matter whether you brought to him important things or trifles, he understood.   26
  I can think of no vicissitude in life in which Roosevelt’s participation would not have been welcome. If it were danger, there could be no more valiant comrade than he; if it were sport, he was a sports man; if it were mirth, he was a fountain of mirth, crystal pure and sparkling. He would have sailed with Jason on the ship Argo in quest of the Golden Fleece, and he would have written a vivid description of the adventure. I can imagine the delight he would have taken, as the comrade of Ulysses, on his voyage through the Midland Sea, looking with unjaded curiosity on strange towns and into strange faces, and steering fearlessly out to the Hesperides, and beyond the baths of all the western stars. What a Crusader he would have been! How he would have smitten the Paynim with his sword, and then unvisored and held chivalrous interview with Saladin!   27
  Had he companioned Columbus, he would not have been one of those who murmured and besought the great Admiral to turn back, but would have counseled, “On! On! It is of little matter whether any one man fails or succeeds; but the cause shall not fail, for it is the cause of mankind.” I can see him with the voyageurs of New France, exploring the Canadian Wilderness, and the rivers and forests of the North west. I can see him with Lasalle, beaming with exultation as they looked on the waters of the Mississippi; and I can think of no battle for man’s welfare in which he would not have felt at home. But he would have taken equal, perhaps greater, delight in meeting the authors, sages, and statesmen, whose words were his daily joy, and whose deeds were his study and incentive. I can hear him question Thucydides for further details as to the collapse of the Athenians at Syracuse; or cross-examine Herodotus for information of some of his incredible but fascinating stories. What hours he would have spent in confabulation with Gibbon! What secrets he would have learned, without asking questions, from Napoleon and Cavour!   28
  His interest embraced them all, some of them he could have taught, many of them would have welcomed him as their peer. As he mixed with high and low in his lifetime, so would it have been in the past; and so will it be in the future, if he has gone into a world where personal identity continues, and the spiritual standards and ideals of this world persist. But yesterday, he seemed one who embodied Life to the utmost. With the assured step of one whom nothing can frighten or surprise, he walked our earth, as on granite. Suddenly, the granite grew more unsubstantial than a bubble, and he dropped beyond sight into the Eternal Silence. Happy we who had such a friend! Happy the American Republic which bore such a son!


Note 1. July 14, 1916. [ back ]

Note 2. May 9,1916. [ back ]

Note 3. The entire correspondence between General Wood and President Wilson and Secretary Baker is given in The Foes of Our Own House hold, by Theodore Roosevelt (Doran, New York, 1917, pp. 304–47.) [ back ]

Note 4. In June, 1915, Colonel Paul Azan, who came to this country to command the French officers who taught American Volunteers at Harvard, and subsequently was commissioned by the French Government to oversee the work of all the French officers in the United States, told me that the Camp and Division commanded by General Wood were easily the best in the country and that General Wood was the only General we had who in knowledge and efficiency came up to the highest French standard. Colonel Azan added that he was suggesting to the French War Department to invite the United States Government to send General Wood to France, but this request, if ever made, was not followed. [ back ]

Note 5. Official War Bulletin, June 7, 1917. [ back ]

Note 6. December 19, 1917. Letter printed in full in the Boston Herald, June 6, 1919. [ back ]



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