Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden




Facing the World

Young Roosevelt graduated from Harvard with the class of 1880. He did not shine particularly; he was number twenty-two in the class. His graduating thesis was on a natural history subject.

He left college, however, with much better health than when he had entered it, thanks to the boxing lessons and the Maine camping trips. He likewise made some firm friends, among them Albert Bushnell Hart, the historian; Henry Cabot Lodge, historian and afterwards senator; Josiah Quincy, who became Assistant Secretary of State; and Robert Bacon, who was later Secretary of State and Ambassador to France.

Although Roosevelt did not specialize in history other than the "natural" sort, his first essay in authorship was in this field, and while in college his attention was directed to the fact that the existing histories of the War of 1812 contained many errors. He began to compare documents for himself and ended by writing The Naval War of 1812, which he published in two volumes after leaving college, at the age of twenty-three. It is now recognized in England as well as in America as an authority on the subject.

We have already mentioned that among his college friends was a young lady, Miss Alice Lee. She lived in Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Boston, and thither the young collegian often wended his way.

One day his Professor in Rhetoric was criticizing a theme, and objecting to it on the ground that it was over-sentimental. "What do you think about it, Mr. Roosevelt?" the Professor asked suddenly and at random. "Do you think that an undergraduate is liable to fall in love?"

Roosevelt stammered and blushed so furiously that his secret was out.

He was married to Miss Lee, on his twenty-second birthday, shortly after his graduation.

Although he gained many things at college, he suffered a grievous loss in the death of his father, which occurred while Theodore was in his sophomore year. Mr. Roosevelt died in the prime of life; he had not yet reached fifty. He had been a comrade to all his children, but especially to this, his eldest son, whose fight for health and strength he had watched so keenly. Between the older man and the younger a rare friendship had existed. For a time the son felt lonely indeed as he faced the world.

Whither should he turn, what should he do? the college graduate asked himself—and he would have given much for a father's guidance, as he made his decision.

His friend, Bill Sewall, the Maine guide, made a practical suggestion. "Why don't you go into politics, Theodore?" he asked.

When he returned to New York with his diploma in his pocket, the magic word "politics" still haunted him. Fortunately he was not obliged to earn his own living, so could take his time in finding his niche. As a preliminary he took a special course in law at Columbia University; and he also busied himself with getting out his Naval History of the War of 1812.

He began to inquire into the local political situation, and was informed by some of his friends that politics was vulgar, and that the city organization was a ring composed of saloon-keepers, prize-fighters, street car conductors, cab drivers, and the like.

"Very well then," said young Roosevelt with a squaring of his jaw which was to become so famous in later life, "if the people who run these organizations, whoever they are, are the governing class, then I propose to be one of the governing class."

He lost no time in enrolling as a member, in a ward Republican club and paying his dollar, as many another had done, but he did not stop here; he attended all the committee meetings and speedily came to know every man Jack there by his first name.

The boss of this district was one Jake Hess, who was frankly puzzled by this newcomer. Roosevelt then wore side-whiskers, which were much in vogue among the dandies, and looked somewhat like a "dude" or "silk stocking," as Jake expressed it. But the young man gave himself no airs, and when a subject was up, such as street cleaning, which interested him, he jumped to his feet and surprised himself as well as everyone else by making a speech. He had had no training as an orator, but he spoke with simple, direct earnestness which held attention and secured applause,

Nevertheless, when a vote was taken on the subject, Roosevelt was disgusted to find that he was defeated, 95 to 3. The boss had quietly shaken his head the other way.

Now there was a red-headed Irishman in the back of the hall who began to take an interest in this young college "dude." He was an Irish gang leader named Joe Murray, who for some time had been chafing under the boss's tyranny. He decided quietly to start a little insurrection, and get this college chap on his side. Roosevelt, on his part, took to Joe Murray, just as he had to big Bill Sewall. There was something of the elemental man in them both.

The time was approaching when nominations must be made for the State Legislature, and Jake Hess had made up his mind to re-nominate the man who then represented that district. This man, however, was not in good repute. The newspapers had been hammering him severely. Joe Murray decided it was time to launch his revolt, and incidentally wrest control away from the old boss. He went quietly around and secured enough votes to defeat Hess's man; then came to Roosevelt with a proposition.

"I say," he remarked casually, "how would you like to run for Legislature?"

It was said as quietly as "It's a fine day!"

"Humph!" said Roosevelt, thinking he was poking fun at him.

"Oh, I'm serious," Murray assured him. "We've got to have a candidate to beat Hess's man."

"Then that lets me out," Roosevelt assured him emphatically. He may have been thinking of that 95 to 3 vote, when a single nod of Hess's bead was too much for him.

"Will you help me find a candidate then?" asked Joe Murray easily.

"Surely," replied Roosevelt.

The next night he gave Murray half-a-dozen names.

"He won't do. He won't do. He won't do," said the Irishman, checking off one after another. "Young fellow, you've got to serve!" he repeated, looking Roosevelt in the eye.

"Nell, I'll run if you say so," replied Roosevelt with sparkling eyes. "But I certainly thought you were fooling, when you first mentioned it."

And to the amazement of the old boss, when it came to a showdown, his man was defeated, and Theodore Roosevelt, an untried young fellow, was chosen as the candidate. East-side campaign methods were not gentle, but his heart thrilled with every whoop which greeted his rough-and-ready appeals. If this was "politics," then he liked it!

However, he didn't ask people to vote for him, but for the things that he stood for—cleaner streets, honest administration, and better conditions generally. He even told the saloon-keepers their licenses should be higher rather than lower!

In spite of this almost brutal frankness, the crowd, struck by his evident sincerity, rallied to his support. He was elected, at twenty-three, being the youngest member of the State Legislature. He himself explained this surprising turn of events very simply.

"I put myself in the way of things happening," he remarked dryly; "and they happened."