Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden




Called to the Presidency

Again the hand of Fate intervened. Before the new term was six months old, President McKinley was struck down by an assassin's bullet. The first reports, however were so reassuring that the Vice President remained in the Adirondacks, on a short vacation with his family.

One misty morning Roosevelt decided to climb Mt. Marcy. He had promised Mrs. Roosevelt and the children an outing and was not the sort of man to let the weather deter him. But the further up the mountain they went, the thicker grew the weather A fine rain began to fall. Roosevelt thought that by climbing to the summit they could emerge into the sunshine, but later gave it up anti they returned to the shores of a lovely little lake, called "Tear in the Clouds," where they spread their luncheon despite the rain.

Just then a man emerged from the forest near by, and as soon as he caught sight of the party, he began waving a yellow envelope excitedly. He was one of several messengers who had been scouring the woods for Roosevelt all morning.

Roosevelt hastily tore open the envelope and found the following telegram:

"The President's condition has changed for the worse. Cortelyou"

"I must go at once," said Roosevelt, and started down the mountain with the man, without waiting to eat his lunch. It required a three or four hours' brisk walk to reach the summer camp at which he was stopping, and this in turn was some thirty miles away from the nearest railroad. The nearest telephone was at a hotel some ten miles distant, and he sent a man on a fast horse there to get further news from Buffalo. It arrived in the middle of the night, short and ominous:

"Come at once."

Roosevelt threw his bag into a buckboard he had waiting, and started with only a driver on an all-night ride through the mountain trails to the station. It was a thick night, and the road, none too good at best, was at times dangerous. Sharp curves around the side of the hill, narrow passages where a wrong turn would spell disaster, steep pitches—these constantly confronted them. But when the driver reined in, Roosevelt commanded, "Go on!"

They came through safely at five-thirty in the morning and found a special train waiting. The train broke the speed record across new York, being given the right-of-way over every other train. Its fastest mile was done in forty-one seconds. It arrived in Buffalo, over four hundred miles away from Mt. Marcy, early in the afternoon. Roosevelt said afterwards that it seemed "like a century."

At Buffalo he was met with the news, "The President is dead."

He was driven at once to a private house where he found the Cabinet awaiting him. The Government had been without an actual head for thirteen hours.

"Mr. Vice President—" said the Secretary Elihu Root, and then his voice broke.

Roosevelt gripped his hand. "I understand all you would say," he replied in husky tones, and withdrew with him to a bay window, where they conversed for a few minutes.

Judge Hazel of the Federal Court was present, and the two men turned to him and faced the other Cabinet members. The Vice President spoke in firm tones:

"I shall take the oath at once in accordance with your request. And in this hour of deep national bereavement I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity of our beloved country."

Then Judge Hazel stepped forward, handed him a Bible, and administered the oath of office. Theodore Roosevelt had become the twenty-fifth President of the United States.

Before the group dispersed he called the Cabinet together for their first official meeting.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I wish each one of you to remain as a member of my Cabinet. I need your advice and counsel. I tender you the office in the same manner that I would tender it if I were entering upon the discharge of my duties as the result of an election by the people, with this distinction, however, that I cannot accept a declination."

The members remained, but there was a good deal of doubt in their own minds, as well as with the country at large, of a McKinley Cabinet becoming a Roosevelt Cabinet. The methods of the two men were dissimilar, though each was a statesman in his own way. McKinley, suave, dignified, a gentleman of the old school, very seldom antagonized people. He was struck down while at the height of his popularity, and the whole nation mourned.

Roosevelt while sincere was thought to be rash and impetuous. People wondered how he would suit the high office of President. He, however, never lost sight of the first pledge which he had made to the Cabinet. He proceeded slowly, cautiously, and with every desire to carry out the McKinley program. The Cabinet and the country were not long in recognizing this, and the first feelings of dismay gave place to a confidence in the new Executive.

Roosevelt assumed office on September 14, 1901. The popular imagination had been stirred by his meteoric rise. Less than five years before he had been Police Commissioner of New York City.