William Roscoe Thayer > Theodore Roosevelt > Preface
William Roscoe Thayer (1859–1923). Theodore Roosevelt. 1919.
IN finishing the correction of the last proofs of this sketch, I perceive that some of those who read it may suppose that I planned to write a deliberate eulogy of Theodore Roosevelt. This is not true. I knew him for forty years, but I never followed his political leadership. Our political differences, however, never lessened our personal friendship. Sometimes long intervals elapsed between our meetings, but when we met it was always with the same intimacy, and when we wrote it was with the same candor. I count it fortunate for me that during the last ten years of his life, I was thrown more with Roosevelt than during all the earlier period; and so I was able to observe him, to know his motives, and to study his character during the chief crises of his later career, when what he thought and did became an integral part of the development of the United States.   1
  After the outbreak of the World War, in 1914, he and I thought alike, and if I mistake not, this closing phase of his life will come more and more to be revered by his countrymen as an example of the highest patriotism and courage. Regardless of popular lukewarmness at the start, and of persistent official thwarting throughout, he roused the conscience of the nation to a sense of its duty and of its honor. What gratitude can repay one who rouses the con science of a nation? Roosevelt sacrificed his life for patriotism as surely as if he had died leading a charge in the Battle of the Marne.   2
  The Great War has thrown all that went before it out of perspective. We can never see the events of the preceding half-century in the same light in which we saw them when they were fresh. Instinctively we appraise them, and the men through whom they came to pass, by their relation to the catastrophe. Did they lead up to it consciously or unconsciously? And as we judge the outcome of the war, our views of men take on changed complexions. The war, as it appears now, was the culmination of three different world-movements; it destroyed the attempt of German Imperialism to conquer the world and to rivet upon it a Prussian military despotism. Next, it set up Democracy as the ideal for all peoples to live by. Finally, it revealed that the economic, industrial, social, and moral concerns of men are deeper than the political. When I came to review Roosevelt’s career consecutively, for the purpose of this biography, I saw that many of his acts and policies, which had been misunderstood or misjudged at the time, were all the inevitable expressions of the principle which was the master-motive of his life. What we had imagined to be shrewd devices for winning a partisan advantage, or for overthrowing a political adversary, or for gratifying his personal ambition, had a nobler source. I do not mean to imply that Roosevelt, who was a most adroit politician, did not employ with terrific effect the means accepted as honorable in political fighting. So did Abraham Lincoln, who also, as a great Opportunist, was both a powerful and a shrewd political fighter, but pledged to Righteousness. It seems now tragic, but inevitable, that Roosevelt, after beginning and carrying forward the war for the reconciliation between Capital and Labor, should have been sacrificed by the Republican Machine, for that Machine was a special organ of Capital, by which Capital made and administered the laws of the States and of the Nation. But Roosevelt’s struggle was not in vain; before he died, many of those who worked for his downfall in 1912 were looking up to him as the natural leader of the country, in the new dangers which encompassed it. “Had he lived,” said a very eminent man who had done more than any other to defeat him, “he would have been the unanimous candidate of the Republicans in 1920.” Time brings its revenges swiftly. As I write these lines, it is not Capital, but overweening Labor which makes its truculent demands on the Administration at Washington, which it has already intimidated. Well may we exclaim, “Oh, for the courage of Roosevelt!” And whenever the country shall be in great anxiety or in direct peril from the cowardice of those who have sworn to defend its welfare and its integrity, that cry shall rise to the lips of true Americans.   3
  Although I have purposely brought out what I believe to be the most significant parts of Roosevelt’s character and public life, I have not wished to be uncritical. I have suppressed nothing. Fortunately for his friends, the two libel suits which he went through in his later years, subjected him to a microscopic scrutiny, both as to his personal and his political life. All the efforts of very able lawyers, and of clever and unscrupulous enemies to undermine him, failed; and henceforth his advocates may rest on the verdicts given by two separate courts. As for the great political acts of his official career, Time has forestalled eulogy. Does any one now defend selling liquor to children and converting them into precocious drunkards? Does any one defend sweat-shops, or the manufacture of cigars under worse than unsanitary conditions? Which of the packers, who protested against the Meat Inspection Bill, would care to have his name made public; and which of the lawyers and of the accomplices in the lobby and in Congress would care to have it known that he used every means, fair and foul, to prevent depriving the packers of the privilege of canning bad meat for Americans, although foreigners insisted that the canned meat which they bought should be whole some and inspected? Does any American now doubt the wisdom and justice of conserving the natural re sources, of saving our forests and our mineral sup plies, and of controlling the watershed from which flows the water-supply of entire States?   4
  These things are no longer in the field of debate. They are accepted just as the railroad and the telegraph are accepted. But each in its time was a novelty, a reform, and to secure its acceptance by the American people and its sanction in the statute book, required the zeal, the energy, the courage of one man—Theodore Roosevelt. He had many helpers, but he was the indispensable backer and accomplisher. When, therefore, I have commended him for these great achievements, I have but echoed what is now common opinion.   5
  A contemporary can never judge as the historian a hundred years after the fact judges, but the contemporary view has also its place, and it may be really nearer to the living truth than is the conclusion formed when the past is cold and remote and the actors are dead long ago. So a friend’s outlined portrait, though obviously not impartial, must be nearer the truth than an enemy’s can be—for the enemy is not impartial either. We have fallen too much into the habit of imagining that only hostile critics tell the truth.   6
  I wish to express my gratitude to many persons who have assisted me in my work. First of all, to Mrs. Roosevelt, for permission to use various letters. Next, to President Roosevelt’s sisters, Mrs. William S. Cowles and Mrs. Douglas Robinson, for invaluable information. Equally kind have been many of Roosevelt’s associates in Government and in political affairs: President William H. Taft, former Secretary of War; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge; Senator Elihu Root and Colonel Robert Bacon, former Secretaries of State; Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte, former Attorney-General; Hon. George B. Cortelyou, former Secretary of the Interior; Hon. Gifford Pinchot, of the National Forest Service; Hon. James R. Garfield, former Commissioner of Commerce.   7
  Also to Lord Bryce and the late Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, British Ambassadors at Washington; to Hon. George W. Wickersham, Attorney-General under President Taft; to Mr. Nicholas Roosevelt and Mr. Charles P. Curtis, Jr.; to Hon. Albert J. Beveridge, ex-Senator; to Mr. James T. Williams, Jr.; to Dr. Alexander Lambert; to Hon. James M. Beck; to Major George H. Putnam; to Professor Albert Bushnell Hart; to Hon. Charles S. Bird; to Mrs. George von. L. Meyer and Mrs. Curtis Guild; to Mr. Hermann Hagedorn; to Mr. James G. King, Jr.; to Dean William D. Lewis; to Hon. Regis H. Post; to Hon. William Phillips, Assistant Secretary of State; to Mr. Richard Trimble; to Mr. John Woodbury; to Gov. Charles E. Hughes; to Mr. Louis A. Coolidge; to Hon. F. D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy; to Judge Robert Grant; to Mr. James Ford Rhodes; to Hon. W. Cameron Forbes.   8
  I am under especial obligation to Hon. Charles G. Washburn, ex-Congressman, whose book, “Theodore Roosevelt: The Logic of his Career,” I have consulted freely and commend as the best analysis I have seen of Roosevelt’s political character. I wish also to thank the publishers and authors of books by or about Roosevelt for permission to use their works. These are Houghton Mifflin Co.; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; The Outlook Co.; The Macmillan Co.   9
  To Mr. Ferris Greenslet, whose fine critical taste I have often drawn upon; and Mr. George B. Ives, who has prepared the Index; and to Miss Alice Wyman, my secretary, my obligation is profound.
W. R. T.
August 10, 1919



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