Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden




In Politics Again

One day while sitting in his rocking-chair before the open fire at Elkhorn Ranch, Roosevelt read in a New York paper that he had been nominated for Mayor of that city. This was news to him and of a surprising nature. He decided to jump on a train, go back East, and find out "what all the shooting was about."

He found a three-cornered fight ahead for the mayoralty, with his corner the weakest and least promising. But he loved a fight for the fight's sake, and promptly threw himself into the thickest of the campaign. He stumped the city, speaking from the open ends of trucks, or upon convenient soap boxes, with a vim which surprised even himself. He was working off some of that Western steam.

This was in 1886. Cleveland, then President, was at the height of his popularity, and partly on this account the Democrats in New York had no difficulty in electing their man. Roosevelt, the Republican candidate, ran some thirty thousand votes behind.

Still it had been a good fight, and Roosevelt had shown himself a factor to be reckoned with. The politicians knew that thereafter he would be a national figure.

"Anyway," he said cheerfully, "I had a bully time."

The election over, he did not return at once to the ranch. He had business of a personal nature which took him to London. There he was married to an old friend of his boyhood, Edith Kermit Carow. He was then twenty-eight; she, twenty-five. Their tastes were congenial, and mutual friends predicted for them an ideally happy home life, as it afterwards proved.

Roosevelt's father in the years just before his death had made his home at Oyster Bay, in Long Island. Here the son brought his bride to a new home called Sagamore Hill, which was to be closely identified with him and his family in succeeding years.

He turned from politics to authorship, and found keen zest in this as in everything else. His "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman" had proved successful. This was followed by a "Life of Benton," one of the great pioneer of the West. Now he took up an Eastern subject in a "Life of Gouverneur Morris," which in turn was succeeded by his greatest historical work, "The Winning of the West."

This idyllic home life was by no means unbroken. He made two flying trips to Dakota, the first being on receipt of bad news from the ranch. A winter of exceptional severity had set in and cattle had perished by the hundreds. Roosevelt lost half his herd and was lucky to save any. He wrote to a friend:

"You cannot imagine anything more dreary than the look of the Bad Lands. Everything was cropped as bare as a bone. The sagebrush was just fed out by the starving cattle. The snow lay so deep that nobody could around; it was almost impossible to get a horse a mile. In almost every coulee there were dead cattle."

On his return East, in 1888, Harrison was elected President, and Blaine was made his Secretary of State. Roosevelt was spoken of Assistant Secretary, and frankly wanted the place, as he was always interested in international questions. But Blaine could not forget that Roosevelt had refused him his support, four years before.

Roosevelt was accordingly offered a post in the Civil Service Commission—a place where there was lots of work and very little glory—but he promptly accepted it. Some of his friends tried to dissuade him from this step.

"Can't you see," they argued, "that you will be buried politically, if you take this place? Your duties will bring you into constant conflict with Senators and Congressmen, who in turn will have it in for you, if you ever want another office."

The Civil Service Commission was being tried out, to offset the "spoils system." For many years our Government had been run under the motto, "To the victors belong the spoils." As soon as a different party came into power, thousands of officeholders, such as post-masters, were dismissed, and their places filled by adherents of the party in power. This may have been good "politics," but it was poor business and resulted in getting many inefficient persons in office.

This, then, was the job that Roosevelt was expected to tackle—to act as a buffer between the hordes of hungry office-seekers and the country at large.

Roosevelt saw at once that what was needed was a campaign of popular education on the subject. He went at it in characteristic fashion by engaging in some picturesque "scraps" with certain lawmakers in Washington, challenging them in the press to prove statements that they were making. For example, Senator Gorman of Maryland told a pathetic story in the Senate about a poor letter-carrier who had failed to get a position because, in a competitive examination, he couldn't tell how far it was from Baltimore to Hong Kong. The next day, in the newspaper, Roosevelt demanded to know the name and address of the letter-carrier; but the Senator deemed it beneath his dignity to answer.

"Well, at any rate, Roosevelt is digging his own political grave," remarked his foes.

Which, by the way, was the first of the many political graves that yawned for him during his whole life! But somehow Roosevelt always refused to remain buried. He persisted in attending his own funeral.

Between whiles he stuck to his authorship, trying to complete his "Winning of the West." There were many other distractions, as both he and Mrs. Roosevelt were in receipt of many invitations to social affairs.

"I am very glad to have been in this position," he wrote to his sister; "I think I have done good work, and a man ought to show that he can go out into the world and hold his own with other men. But I shall be glad when I get back to live at Sagamore and can devote myself to one definite piece of work. We Americans are prone to divide our efforts too much."

For six years Roosevelt served on this Commission—four years under Harrison, and two years under Cleveland during his second term.

Each fall he would take a vacation of one month in the Wrest, usually a hunting trip in the Rockies. The ranch was finally given up, much to his regret, because the "boys" of his outfit had become scattered.

Then came a call to return to his native city of New York, to take a position in public affairs that was more to his liking. It was to assume charge of the police force.