Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden

Governor and Vice President

The Rough Riders were sent north to recuperate, and ordered into camp at Montauk Point, well out toward the tip of Long Island. When they disembarked they found themselves popular heroes. "Teddy" and his men were the chief topic of the day.

All wars bring out their idols, and more than one President—beginning with Washington—has been elected because of his military record. The Spanish War had been a short one, and its battles little more than skirmishes; yet a skirmish is quite as dangerous and calls for as much gallantry as the greater battles. There was something about the story of Roosevelt's picturesque dash up San Juan hill that fired the popular imagination. He was the outstanding hero on land, just as Dewey and Hobson were the naval heroes.

The political bosses were quick to see this fact, and decided that, after all, Roosevelt might he useful to them. He had been unpopular as a reformer, but a military idol was a different thing. They needed a popular leader badly in their campaign of 1898, so they turned hopefully to the Colonel of the Rough Riders.

The Republicans were facing a hard fight for the Governorship that year. A scandal in connection with the Erie barge canal had brought them into disfavor upstate, while in New York City the Democrats were solidly entrenched under Richard Croker, boss of Tammany Hall.

The Republican State leader was Senator Thomas C. Platt, who was called the "easy boss" because of his quiet but no less efficient methods. His word was law, and no member of his party had the courage to stand against him. Platt disliked Roosevelt's blunt way of doing things and said that he was "always going around stirring up trouble." He had fought Roosevelt's nomination as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and only yielded because he figured that this office would shelve the too-active young man and get him out of the way.

Now in a few short months the turn of Fortune's wheel had made it impossible to ignore this man.

"There's only one candidate who can win for us this fall," the party leaders told Platt, "and that's Roosevelt."

Platt made a wry face. "Well, if we must, we must!" he said; and went to call on the Colonel out at Montauk Point. Roosevelt politely returned the call within a few days; but at first neither man committed himself. They were only sizing each other up.

Roosevelt himself was not at all enthusiastic over the nomination. "I would rather have led the Rough Riders than be Governor of New York three times over," he told a friend. "I should say that the odds are against my nomination; but I can say also, with all sincerity, that I don't care in the least."

His friends were likewise doubtful, and frankly uneasy when they saw him calling upon the "easy boss." But Roosevelt only laughed.

"We had an excellent luncheon, and a fine chat about—the Greek poets!" he said.

His friends knew later that he made no promises to the boss then, or at any other time. But when the Republican Convention met, it nominated Roosevelt for Governor.

An Independent Party had been organized to fight the bosses in both of the old parties. They had asked Roosevelt to be their candidate, and when he refused in favor of the "regular" nomination, they were much disgruntled, and openly charged that he was "wearing Platt's collar."

Roosevelt followed his favorite method of taking the case directly to the people. He went by special train from one end of the State to the other. No village was too small to be denied a back-platform address. He told the people very plainly where he stood, and what he proposed to do if elected. No matter whether they agreed with him politically, they could not but be impressed by his downright honesty.

For three weeks he traveled and talked, morning, noon, and night. The reporters who went with him marveled at his endurance. They said that no other living man could have stood the strain. Yet this was the man who, a few years before, had been told constantly by the doctors to safeguard his health!

The campaign was no walk-over. It was in doubt until midnight of the day of the election. Out of a total of over a million votes cast, Roosevelt won by a margin of seventeen thousand. But his managers were well satisfied. Without him they would have been defeated.

Roosevelt was inaugurated Governor of the great State of New York, January 1, 1899. He went into office with no "strings" attached to him, and also with the slight advantage of having been an Assemblyman some years before. He knew the machinery of the Legislature from the inside. He set himself quietly to work upon the reform measures which he had advocated, not by loud appeals to the leaders, but by committee conferences. One after another of the leaders rallied to his support, with the result that before he had been in Albany six months he was easily master of the situation.

Platt, the "easy boss," was greatly disturbed by this assumption of authority. He asked Roosevelt to visit him at the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, in New York. and Roosevelt did so openly and frequently. They would breakfast together like the best of friends; and while Roosevelt willingly listened to his senior's advice on many matters of legislation there was a point beyond which the new Governor would not budge. In the matter of appointments, for example, he was adamant, as Platt soon learned.

"You will be glad to know that you are going to have an excellent man to assist you as Superintendent of Public Works," the Senator remarked very pleasantly over the coffee cups.

"Who's that?" asked Roosevelt, looking up.

"Why, So-and-So," answered Platt, handing him a telegram. "He has already accepted."

Roosevelt glanced at the name on the telegram. It was one who had been implicated in the Erie Canal frauds, and whom he had promised the voters before election to sweep out of office.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I cannot appoint that man."

Platt forgot his duties as host and openly raged at this man who dared thus to defy him. But his appointee was not nominated.

At another time, due to Roosevelt's quiet efforts through one of his committees, a bill levying a special tax upon public franchises was introduced. Platt had sent a State Senator to Roosevelt, telling him to kill the measure. After they had argued the matter pro and con, Roosevelt rose to end the interview.

"It is useless to talk further about it," he said. "My mind is made up."

"But, Mr. Roosevelt," the Senator persisted, "Senator Platt is equally determined. It will mean your political ruin if you press this bill. You know as well as I do that, with Wall Street arrayed solidly against you, you can never get another office."

"I am not seeking office," the Governor snapped.

"I know that," the other hastened to correct himself; "but there's no need in committing political suicide."

Roosevelt, however, would not yield and as he shook hands with the Senator he smiled and said:

"Well, I guess this marks my finish!"

"No!" said the other, "it only marks your beginning!"

Nevertheless, Platt had by no means surrendered. He did not know the meaning of the word. He remembered that a Governor held office for only two years; and he began to lay his plans ever so carefully to prevent Roosevelt's re-nomination. He was too wily to attack him openly, for Roosevelt still had popular opinion on his side. He must find some other way to shelve him.

Finally, Platt hit upon it and rubbed his hands with glee.

The office of Vice President of the United States, while high-sounding, was regarded by astute politicians as a sort of political grave-yard. Once a statesman got into that place he was buried. Here was a chance to dig another grave for Roosevelt.

Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay


The Republican National Convention was to meet in the summer of 1900; and Platt let it be known that Roosevelt for Vice President would be acceptable to him. The idea speedily caught on and ran like a prairie fire. The West particularly liked the suggestion; they regarded Roosevelt as one of them.

He himself saw Platt's little game from the outset. He was uneasy. He liked being Governor, and he did not like the idea of being Vice President. Early in that year, before the delegates to the convention were chosen, he came out with the flat-footed declaration:

"Under no circumstances could I. or would I, accept the nomination for the Vice Presidency."

He meant it, but public clamor was too strong for him. He succeeded only in preventing the New York delegates from being instructed for him. Then thinking himself safe he went down to Philadelphia, where the convention was held, to see the fun.

The moment his familiar slouch hat and beaming smile were seen, the stampede broke.

As delegate-at-large from the State of New York, he seconded the nomination of McKinley for President—and sealed his own fate for second place.

"Teddy! Teddy! We want Teddy!" they yelled.

Roosevelt's smile changed to a frown and he shook his head vigorously. The next day when the convention reached the nomination for Vice President, he stayed away altogether, and said he wasn't a candidate. It was somewhat like old King Canute placing a chair by the seashore and forbidding the tide to rise. The delegates roared his name and would listen to none other. He was nominated by acclamation.

When the committee waited on him—not to ask him but to tell him—he was found reading a Greek play in his hotel room.

Although he accepted the nomination with genuine reluctance, he soon threw himself into the campaign with his customary vigor. There were no halfway measures with him.

It was not thought best, by the campaign managers, for President McKinley to stump the country seeking reelection. He stayed quietly at his home, in Canton, Ohio, receiving visiting delegations. To Roosevelt, instead, was allotted the task of stumping the country at large. It was a job to his liking, and at it he went, morning, noon, and night, as a few months before he had campaigned for Governor.

Roosevelt was not a polished orator. His voice was not particularly pleasing, his gestures were forceful rather than graceful, and he did not indulge in poetical or rhetorical flights. But he made up in vehemence and sincerity what he lacked in grace. He drove home his points with sledge-hammer blows.

Those were the days of the "free-silver" agitation, which had been at its height four years before. Bryan was again the Democratic candidate for President, and was an orator of wonderful charm and power. The Republicans were for the gold standard; the West and South were for silver; consequently Roosevelt was about as popular in some sections as a tax-collector. As he traveled through the West, however, there were many personal friends of his ranching and hunting days, as well as his Rough Riders, to see that he had a fair deal.

In one mining camp a "two-gun" man named Seth introduced him to the crowd and then sat directly back of him while he spoke. Seth's hand rested carelessly on his hip and his eye wandered back and forth around the room. At the conclusion of the speech which was listened to with close attention, Roosevelt turned to his friend and complimented him upon the audience.

"They heard me through," he said, "and there wasn't a single interruption."

"You just bet there wasn't," came the reply. "I sent word around that I would shoot the first son of a gun who started anything!"

For over two months Roosevelt stumped the country, traveling over twenty thousand miles, making over five hundred speeches, and addressing audiences totaling at least three million people. Such figures speak for themselves as to his tremendous energy and vitality.

In the election that followed, the Republican ticket was elected by a plurality of about three-quarters of a million.

Roosevelt's term as Governor came to an end, January 1, 1901. He took oath of office as Vice President, March 4. Between whiles he went on a short hunting trip in Colorado—that was his idea of resting up—then reported for his routine duties in Washington with what cheerfulness he could assume. As Vice President there was really little that he could do.

Roosevelt was eliminated from active politics—just as the astute Platt had planned.