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Chapter Four: Into the Thick of Things
To travel with Theodore Roosevelt was to travel in a carnival led by a conjurer and trailed by an idolatrous throng. People were drawn by his energy and joy, qualities he possessed in quantities rarely found in persons over the age of eight. They wished for his courage, and if they did not always admire his pugnacity, they forgave it, for what was pugnacity but courage overspilling its banks? A conjurer beguiles by seeming guileless, and over the next three months Roosevelt would present himself as a former statesman on a grand tour, peregrinating from palace to palace, orating, collecting honors. Although few in Washington were deceived, the conjurer kept up the illusion, hoping, perhaps, to beguile himself.
TR and Kermit had planned to dress up for their reunion with Edith and Ethel in Khartoum on March 14, but a mix-up with luggage forced TR into a stained shirt of gray flannel and a khaki suit impervious to beautification after a year in the bush. Junior Bwana, the dandy, hid his dishevelment under a duster.
To Edith they looked splendid. Theodore had shed "that look of worry and care," she thought, and Kermit, although still "of the hatpin type," had gained muscle. He had also sprouted a wispy mustache.
Would she like him to shave it off? he asked.
She said it was lovely.
In a hail of kisses from Theodore, Edith announced that their son Ted, twenty-two, was engaged. When Ethel told her father that Ted's fiancée, Eleanor Butler Alexander, would remind him of Edith, TR wrote her a welcoming letter and sent his congratulations to Ted.*
Pledged to silence on American politics, Roosevelt uncaged his political energies on behalf of British imperialism. The petty warlords who long tyrannized Egypt and Sudan had been subdued by the English, but the natives were calling for independence, and an extremist in their number had just assassinated Egypt's prime minister for supporting new censorship rules imposed by the British. After only a day with his official hosts in Khartoum, the Colonel agreed to lecture the native officers on their duty to uphold British law. The Sudanese immediately protested, and the Colonel immediately returned their fire. Britain's successes in the region resembled his own struggle to build the Panama Canal, he said. Victory had come from standing fast in a barrage. In blood and pounds sterling, the price of pacifying the region had been immense, and Britain should resist the pressure to set a date for independence: "you are really ruling the country now and ruling it for its good, using Egyptians and Sudanese as your instrumentalities. You must indeed have a genius for government when you can so well manage a strange people like these."
The speeches in Sudan pleased his English friends, angered the natives, and signaled his return to the political stage. By lecturing other governments, the conjurer pulled off the neat trick of keeping himself in the news while honoring his promise not to comment on American affairs. On March 20 he announced that the speech he planned to make when he landed in New York in June would neither praise nor criticize the administration of William Howard Taft. There was no need for TR to announce the speech, much less to characterize it, and the promise of neutrality was a veiled insult: withholding support from his chosen successor was tantamount to attacking him. Roosevelt was drawing a line between Taft and himself, drawing it publicly, and drawing it less than a week after emerging from his safari.
The Colonel's utterances in Khartoum preceded him to Cairo, where they were received as an affront to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Anxious British officials put Roosevelt in a cocoon of bodyguards and asked him not to mention the assassination when he spoke at Cairo University. He refused. Everyone was thinking about the slaying, and if he did not speak of it, he would be branded a coward, he said. This Theodore Roosevelt, an English newspaper declared, had "a propensity to put himself into the thick of things."
The speech proved to be little more than a compendium of bland preachments on goodness until the end, when he condemned the assassination and declared that preparation for successful self-government was the work "not of a decade or two but of generations." He shot his point home with an Arab proverb: "God is with the patient, if they know how to wait."
For two days students shouting "Down with autocracy!" marched in the streets near Shepheard's Hotel, where the Roosevelts were lodged. The protesters resented his assumption that everyone who favored independence approved of the assassination, and they were appalled by his suggestion that Egypt, progenitor of Western civilization, was unprepared to govern itself. Colonel Roosevelt, said one of his Egyptian critics, knew no more about the region than a tourist and had been "deceived by bad company, such as is always the curse of great men."
The second most interesting American at Shepheard's Hotel was Oscar Straus, ambassador to Turkey. The first Jew to hold a cabinet post, Straus had been appointed by Roosevelt to serve as secretary of commerce and labor. He had come to Cairo to talk politics and to show Roosevelt a sober, unsettling editorial in the North American Review. The voters of the United States had been hoodwinked, the Review said. They had "accepted Mr. Taft at Mr. Roosevelt's word" and expected him to stay the progressive course, but Mr. Taft's first year showed that Mr. Roosevelt's word had been broken, his judgment misplaced.
To progressives, it seemed that the new president had tacked hard to the political right. He had fired Gifford Pinchot, replaced Henry White, and gutted the cabinet after telling Roosevelt that he hoped Straus and several others would stay on. Taft had asked Roosevelt to let the cabinet members know of his wishes, and when Roosevelt asked why he did not tell them himself, Taft said he wanted them to know of his wishes but thought it best not to make promises.
That was Roosevelt's version of events, recounted several years after the fact. Taft left two versions, and in the one that found its way to biographers and historians a letter written just before the inauguration to William Rockhill Nelson, publisher of the Kansas City Star Taft said he had decided to fill his cabinet with lawyers. Roosevelt's administration had created a public demand for reform on several fronts, and Taft proposed to meet it by amending the relevant statutes. "The people who are fitted to do this, without injury to the business interests of the country, are those lawyers who understand corporate wealth, the present combination, its evils, and the methods by which they can be properly restrained," he told Nelson. Most of the new cabinet secretaries were honorable men, but they were also laissez-faire men, men from the grand duchies of American capitalism. Although Taft sensed that his choices would be sharply criticized, he believed he could accomplish more with the help of "conservative men who know what they are talking about" than with progressives clamoring for greater reform. "With more radical men I should split the party and do nothing," he said.
A year later, aware that Roosevelt felt betrayed by the cabinet purge, Taft angrily defended himself in a private talk with two reporters. He was the one who had been betrayed, he said. "Mr. Roosevelt told me that he would make absolutely no suggestion to me, but I told him that I did not want to be deprived of the privilege of consulting him. Notwithstanding his declaration of neutrality, Mr. Roosevelt did take great interest in the selections, and, although, perhaps, he made no out-and-out request of me, I didn't have to be hit with a club ten times a day to understand the workings of his mind."
Watching the new cabinet take shape and hearing about it from the Roosevelt loyalists who gathered at his home, Henry Adams had reported to a friend that Taft was starting out with "a series of what the French call bêtises, stupidities which have thrown me into consternation." Adams said he might be wrong about Taft, but if so, "I am mistaken in company with everyone else. I am only an echo of underground society....I have no candidates to offer, and no scheme to suggest; but if the new president is so bent on making a clean sweep of Roosevelt's men, why did we elect him expressly to carry on the Roosevelt regime?"
While Roosevelt was on safari, Taft had bungled his chance to lead Congress through a sorely needed economic reform. The Dingley Tariff, enacted in 1897 to protect American manufacturers from competition with foreign producers who could undersell them, created big profits for industry but high prices for consumers. The tariff had passed when the Northeast's senators and congressmen, captives of the factory owners, persuaded their fellow lawmakers that it would also protect the high wages of American workers. It did, but only momentarily: between 1897 and 1909, prices rose 50 percent faster than wages.
After expeditiously making good on a campaign pledge to call a special session of Congress for tariff reform, Taft stood by while the high-tariff men merrily reshuffled their stacked deck. He did not want to antagonize either the progressive or the conservative wing of the Republican Party, he explained. Early on, Taft suspected that the conservative legislators' promise of substantive tariff reform might be insincere, but he did nothing to hold them to their word, and rather than veto the bill, he settled for a few trivial alterations, then pronounced it "the best bill that the Republican Party ever passed."
Taft loathed conflict of all sorts and frequently absented himself from the White House for long periods, crisscrossing the country and setting a presidential record for railroad travel 28,000 miles during his first year in office. He wanted to be the president of all the people and learn their views firsthand, he said, but the public began wondering if he was doing his job. Republicans in Congress complained about his inaccessibility, and when Democrats saw that he had overspent his travel allowance, they threatened to eliminate it from the next budget. Taft ignored the complaints. The trips were relaxing, and away from his wife, who fretted about his ever-increasing weight, he could eat without restraint. He now weighed 330 pounds.
Singularly deaf to the voice of the people, Taft pouted at their angry reaction to the revised tariff, while they in turn gaped at the changeling they had put in the White House. Before his nomination, "Taft always insisted he had no qualifications for the job," William Rockhill Nelson wrote TR in the spring of 1910. "We thought differently. But he was right and we were wrong....The president must carry a big stick and be ready to fight. But when you come to think of it, you never saw Taft fighting with his nose all bloody and one eye hanging down on his cheek, and his front teeth knocked out."
The White House press corps, which Roosevelt had charmed and used to great effect, was a nuisance to Taft. "Must I see those men again?" he once whined to his secretary. "Didn't I just see them the other day?" Cut off from Taft, the newsmen cultivated other sources, many of them critical of his administration. The newspapers had treated Taft "with the greatest gentleness," Nelson told TR. "But he thinks he has been very badly treated and goes about sobbing over it publicly. A crybaby won't do."
Failed presidents attract few biographers, and the handful who have dissected Taft in search of explanations for his dismal presidential performance have wondered in exasperation how Roosevelt ever could have considered him fit for the presidency. Taft was indolent, irresolute, dependent, and undone by opposition and criticism a dooming combination. But the Taft that Roosevelt knew had distinguished himself as governor-general of the Philippines, problem-solver in Cuba and Panama, and secretary of war. Under Roosevelt's energetic leadership, Taft kept his lassitude in check, and his other shortcomings easily could have manifested themselves as virtues. A dependent man makes an excellent lieutenant, for he is happiest when carrying out the orders of others. And a man who shies away from conflict can be an exceptionally agreeable colleague. TR thought his friend Will had "the most loveable personality" of anyone he had ever known.
Transfixed by Taft's deficiencies and Roosevelt's misjudgment, biographers have not probed the deeper question of what happened to Taft between his decades of success and his sudden, total failure. Taft was a man who thrived by anchoring himself to intimates and striving to please them by doing what they thought best, and in the standard telling of the tale, Taft's course had been set by a voracious, controlling wife who pushed him toward the presidency to gratify her own ambitions. Helen Herron Taft ("Nellie" among family and friends) had yearned to be first lady since a girlhood stay in the White House of President Rutherford B. Hayes. She had grown up in comfortable circumstances in Cincinnati, studied chemistry and German at Miami University in Ohio, and taught school after graduating from college. Born a century too soon for a career of her own, she put her energy and intelligence into the rise of William Howard Taft.
Nellie's efforts were fully supported by his mother and his three brothers. Will's only ambition was to be chief justice of the Supreme Court, but the family often discussed their presidential aspirations for him. When Roosevelt offered him a seat on the court in 1902, his brother Charles encouraged him to take it but not to feel obliged to honor the custom of staying for life. His mother urged him to hold out for chief justice. Associate justices were poorly paid, and at forty-six he was too young for such an inactive life, she wrote him. "I would rather see you fighting corruption in the Senate, or winning prizes in the open arena at the Bar."
As early as 1903 Roosevelt began encouraging Taft to consider the presidency, and three years later, when they had their first serious talk about it, the possibility seemed so fantastical to Taft that he reported the conversation to Nellie as if he were awaiting orders from her or TR: "He wants to talk to you and me together. He thinks I am the one to take his mantle and that now I could be nominated."
Taft was not Roosevelt's first choice. TR considered Elihu Root more qualified, but Root was too closely identified with Wall Street to appeal to the country as a whole, and the asperity of his wit intimidated all but a hardy few. On one occasion, as the Big Stick wondered aloud if the American diplomatic corps should follow the European tradition of dressing in uniform, Root swiftly killed the idea by musing that the American version would have to include coattails embroidered with a sprig of mistletoe. TR also considered Charles Evans Hughes, whose reforms and straight-as-string governorship of New York had won him a national following among progressives, but Hughes seemed to radiate cold. Taft was the sun itself and had excelled as judge, executive, and diplomatic troubleshooter.
But in the fall of 1907 TR began to wonder if he had chosen the right man. Roosevelt often had a private chat with a reporter while the White House barber gave him his midday shave, and on October 30 he summoned Gus Karger, Washington correspondent of the Cincinnati Times-Star. The conversation was obviously meant to find its way back to Will and surely did, as the Times-Star was owned by his brother Charles. When Roosevelt said he was puzzled by the Republicans' lack of excitement for Taft's candidacy, Karger explained that the party's chieftains were waiting until they were certain that the Rough Rider would keep his promise not to run again. TR said he had no wish to run but would do it if the party seemed likely to choose a conservative candidate. If Taft were nominated, he would honor his pledge, but he considered it a sacrifice, he said, and "I do not wish to have made it in vain, by paving the way to the selection of a successor not in sympathy with the politics of my administration."
In January 1908 TR's advisers warned him that if he did not settle on a candidate and start promoting him, the electorate would conclude that he meant to run again himself. Taft still longed to be chief justice, but with no sign that the presiding chief planned to retire, he allowed Roosevelt to talk him into running for president.
Two months into the Taft administration, the first lady had a stroke. She collapsed on May 17, 1909, a few hours after watching their son Charlie, age eleven, have an operation on his adenoids. The surgery was a success, but Nellie saw a great deal of blood, and Charlie emerged from anesthesia in hysterics. Her speech was seriously impaired, she was subject to fainting spells, and she was unable to function as first lady for more than a year.
The stroke was Will's third major blow in eighteen months. His mother died in December 1907. Roosevelt disappeared into Africa. Now Nellie was powerless to help him, and there was little he could do to help her. The stroke paralyzed them both.
The fullest picture of the Tafts' unhappy life in the White House comes from the letters of Archie Butt, who stayed on as military aide when Roosevelt left office. A career soldier and twice a gentleman (officer and Southerner), Captain Archibald Willingham Butt was assigned to the White House in the spring of 1908 and stayed for four years. As a physical being, Archie Butt resembled nothing so much as a tropical bird a ginger-crowned, broad-breasted popinjay readily identified by the gaudy blue and gold plumage of his dress uniform. With piping, epaulets, two columns of brass buttons, and a lasso's worth of gold braid slung over one shoulder, the Captain had no need for accessories, but he sometimes added a sword. Fearing that a diary might fall into other hands in Washington, he recorded his experiences in long letters to his family. "No one knows how [he] suffers over his wife's illness," he wrote his sister-in-law, Clara Butt, in the spring of 1910. "He bears up beautifully under it, but as the weeks go by and there does not seem to be any permanent improvement, his hope sinks pretty low at times."
Roosevelt would soon be home, but plainly not in his old role of anchor. Gifford Pinchot was on his way to Italy to see him, and Taft believed the rumor that Pinchot was making the trip at Roosevelt's request. "It would seem strange to me for Roosevelt to do that," Taft said to Butt, "but he may want to hear from him, first hand, Pinchot's side of the case."
Roosevelt, with his usual scrupulous daring, had stopped half a hairsbreadth short of issuing an invitation: "I do wish I could see you," he wrote Pinchot. "Is there any chance of you meeting me in Europe?"
Taft might have sent a note asking Roosevelt to reserve judgment until they could talk about the dispute, a tangle of claims and counterclaims involving coalfields in Alaska. Instead Taft declared himself helpless. "Of course, I can say nothing until he asks me," he sighed to Butt. It was a curious assumption, given his affection for TR and the prerogatives of the president of the United States.
The Roosevelts' Italian travel plans called for quiet a bit of sightseeing in Rome, a reprise of a few honeymoon days in Liguria, and the seclusion of Porto Maurizio, with Edith's sister. Nothing went as planned. A few weeks before their arrival in Rome, Charles W. Fairbanks, vice president of the United States during Roosevelt's last four years in the White House, unwittingly offended the pope by calling first on another vicar of Christ. The faux pas might have been overlooked had the cleric been a friend of the Vatican, but he was the Reverend Doctor B. M. Tipple, an American Methodist Episcopal divine who had settled in Rome to proselytize and preferred insulting the papacy to spreading the joyous creed of John Wesley. Vatican officials canceled the pope's audience with Fairbanks and insisted that Roosevelt see the pope before he saw Tipple. Negotiating privately with the Vatican's secretary of state, Roosevelt's aides asked that the condition be dropped. The Vatican refused. Roosevelt extricated himself as decorously as he could, saying that he recognized the pope's right to receive whomever he chose but not his right to dictate the itinerary of an American citizen.
After a day or two of unsuccessfully eluding crowds of the curious, Theodore and Edith gave up their second honeymoon and fled to Porto Maurizio, where they were not allowed to retire until the Colonel had been given a parade and made an honorary citizen of Italy. Taft, still unable to bring himself to write to Roosevelt, sent a telegram thanking the village for its homage to an illustrious American. As an attempt to close a breach, the gesture was tardy, wan, and symptomatic of Taft's aversion to conflict.
Sequestered at last in a villa near Emily's, the Colonel burrowed into his correspondence and awaited Pinchot. Roosevelt and his secretaries worked on the terrace in the warm spring sun, composing replies to hundreds of supplicants in search of autographs, blessings, advice, and money.
Pinchot arrived in Porto Maurizio late on April 10 and set off at nine the next morning for his meeting.
How did he feel? asked the newsmen.
"Like a fighting cock," he said.
In fact he was suffering from a whanging toothache.
Tall, fit, elegant, Gifford Pinchot had a face with features so fine he could have modeled for coinage. Like TR, he was a patrician moralist with a strong ethic of service. A great-grandfather had been speaker of the House, and Gifford's father, James Pinchot, was a public-spirited New Yorker in the mold of the elder Theodore Roosevelt, whom he had known. Both men had raised money for the Statue of Liberty's pedestal and were founding patrons of the American Museum of Natural History.
Seven years younger than TR, Pinchot was one of the first Americans to study forestry, a new discipline dedicated to the proposition that a forest would last forever if the pace of logging and planting were properly regulated. He became chief forester of the United States in 1898, at the age of thirty-three. Pinchot had entered the Boone and Crockett Club under Roosevelt's auspices, and when Roosevelt was elected governor of New York he asked Pinchot to help him modernize the management of the state's natural resources. In those days Pinchot had no more political cunning than an astronomer, TR said, but once TR reached the White House and the two of them sketched their grand design for conserving the nation's natural resources, the forester proved as inventive as the president in the accumulation and exercise of power. The number of national forests grew from 32 to 149, and Pinchot's annual budget swelled from a mere $28,000 to more than $5 million.
With the spread of electricity, demand for waterpower grew apace, and to prevent the ills of monopoly Roosevelt and Pinchot won federal control over the development of waterpower sites on public lands. Pinchot helped Roosevelt create the federal Inland Waterways Commission, which they charged with devising a plan to coordinate management of navigation, flood control, and electric power generation on American rivers. Roosevelt also summoned the governors of all the states to Washington to discuss conservation. Held during his last year in the White House, the conference outlined his administration's progress in conservation and the work still to be done. The governors left feeling like ordained sheriffs, eager to preach conservation and hell-bent on stopping crimes against Mother Nature. All but a handful of states soon started conservation programs of their own.
The drive toward a new Eden ended with Roosevelt's departure from Washington, and a year later, the baggage that Gifford Pinchot carried to Porto Maurizio was heavy with grievances against Taft. Pinchot and Roosevelt spent their day together walking in the olive groves and vineyards above the village, and although neither of them left a record of the conversation, Pinchot undoubtedly gave him an account of the contretemps that led to his dismissal. Roosevelt's secretary of the interior, James R. Garfield, had been succeeded by Richard Achilles Ballinger, a lawyer and former mayor of Seattle. Like many a booster of the West, Ballinger believed that if the region's natural resources were developed, prosperity would follow. To speed the process, Ballinger aimed to give railroads, mining interests, cattle barons, and logging companies a freer hand on public lands. As an opening move, he surrendered federal control of 1.5 million acres that Roosevelt had set aside as potential waterpower sites. Pinchot complained to Taft, Taft overruled Ballinger, and Ballinger retaliated by curtailing his department's cooperation with Pinchot and the Forest Service.
Next a Department of the Interior underling who shared the Roosevelt-Pinchot philosophy accused Ballinger of expediting a questionable sale of claims to a rich coalfield on public lands in Alaska. The claims had been disputed for years, Ballinger's past business ties to some of the participants in the transaction created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, and the low price negotiated by the buyers, the House of Morgan and the Guggenheim family, suggested a land grab.
Ballinger insisted that the sale was a public boon, because only a well-capitalized syndicate like the one the newspapers called "Morganheim" could afford to mine the coal and build the railroad needed to move it to market. Cities along the Pacific coast would gain a new source of cheap fuel. From Pinchot's point of view, Ballinger was about to help Morganheim swindle the people of the United States.
Taft wanted the quarrel settled quietly, but Pinchot decided that the national welfare called for public exposure. He mentioned it in a speech and shared official documents with the press. Taft asked Ballinger for a report on the handling of the claims, concluded that no wrong had been done, and called for the firing of the informant. Two more informants came forward, and Pinchot began talking about the case with conservation's friends in Congress. Taft countered with an executive order aimed directly at Pinchot: henceforth no one in the executive branch was to ask any action of Congress or answer any question from Capitol Hill without the consent of his ultimate superior, the cabinet secretary in charge of the department.
Pinchot spent his New Year's Eve taking stock of political affairs in a letter to TR. "We have fallen back down the hill you led us up," he said, choosing an image certain to stir the Rough Rider. Taft was a man of integrity, but he temporized, cowered, and evaded, Pinchot said. Instead of seizing the lead and casting himself as the people's chief advocate, as Roosevelt had done, Taft waited, like a judge, for issues to be brought before him. Progress had ceased.
Like others who are excessively eager to please, Taft was easily exploited, and he seemed unaware that the conservatives who controlled Congress were working for a return to the days of the figurehead presidents who preceded Roosevelt. They encouraged Taft's inaction by criticizing Roosevelt for roaming far beyond the constitutional limits of his authority, and so far as can be told, Taft rarely questioned their motives or wondered how they might benefit from a weak president.
By the time Pinchot wrote his letter, a chill and a calm had settled over the president. He and the forester were finished, he told his brother Charles.
Why not fire him? Charles asked.
"I am going to give Pinchot as much rope as he wants," Will said, "and I think you will find that he will hang himself."
Pinchot reeled out the rope on January 5, 1910, when he wrote a friendly Republican senator, Jonathan Dolliver of Iowa, to protest the banishment of the informants. They had spoken out to head off "a raid on public property," Pinchot said, and for risking their jobs, they deserved praise, not the ignominy of being fired. With Pinchot's permission, Dolliver read the letter on the floor of the Senate.
Two days later came the notice of the hanging. In place of Taft's customary "My dear Gifford" stood a lone, icy "Sir." The letter to Dolliver was an "improper appeal to Congress" in defiance of the executive order, Taft said. "By your conduct you have destroyed your usefulness as a helpful subordinate of the government, and it therefore becomes my duty to direct the secretary of agriculture to remove you from your office as the forester."
A long congressional investigation ensued, and the controversy became a cause célèbre of the new conservation movement. When Pinchot testified, he was blunt: Ballinger was an unfaithful steward, the informants had been unjustly punished, and the despoilers were again on the loose.
At the end of his day with the Colonel in Porto Maurizio, Pinchot returned to his hotel, and the reporters lurking about were given only a smile. He was almost as guarded in his diary. "One of the best and most satisfactory talks with TR I ever had," he wrote. The morass in Washington left Roosevelt "in a very embarrassing position, but that could not be helped."
Roosevelt offered the reporters a piece of fluff details of the route he and Pinchot had taken in the hills and a stick of dynamite. He would make a speech in Colorado on August 27, he said, and the subject would be conservation.
Pinchot seems to have left Italy with the impression that TR might be persuaded to run for president in 1912. The Colonel's attitude toward the political situation was ideal, Pinchot wrote his brother. "If you and I had made it to order it couldn't be better from our point of view." Gifford was certain there would be "great developments after TR announces his platform, which he will do in Kansas in August, and I want to be getting things in line as much as I can." The word "platform" suggested much.
Leaving Edith and Ethel in Porto Maurizio, TR and Kermit spent a few days in Vienna and Budapest, two of many destinations TR had not intended to visit when he planned his European sojourn. But after accepting invitations from Oxford and Cambridge, he could not easily refuse other great universities or the heads of state who asked to see him. For three months he would be perpetually in motion, his days gorged with personages and performances and state occasions. Demanding as the schedule was, he had enough energy left for a study of the two most significant European developments of the time: the rise of militarism and the disintegration of monarchy. Each sovereign he met was "obviously conscious that he was looking a possible republic in the face," TR would write a friend.
On April 21 the Orient Express deposited TR and Kermit in Paris, where they joined Edith and Ethel at the home of the new American ambassador, TR's college friend Robert Bacon. All hope of spending time as a simple tourist was abandoned when he saw the arrangements his hosts had made: a visit to the Louvre (where he boycotted the voluptuous nudes of Rubens), teas with Edith Wharton and Rodin, visits to Notre Dame and the Bibliothèque Nationale, a round of formal dinners, evenings of theater and opera, and induction into the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. The Colonel also made a closely watched excursion to the tomb of Napoleon, whose return from Elba inspired a ream of editorial cartoons showing TR in Napoleonic hat and breeches. Several of the cartoonists hung a dark cloud labeled "Waterloo" in the distance.
Roosevelt had come to Paris to speak at the Sorbonne on the duties of a citizen in a republic, a subject on which he had one hour and forty-five minutes' worth of definite opinion. A democratic republic like France or the United States represented "the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with greatest possibilities alike for good and for evil," he said. A monarchy's fate reposed in a handful of leaders, but a democracy's hinged upon the quality of its people. "The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed," he said; a democracy needed leaders of the highest caliber in order to hold the average citizen to a high standard.
TR held his notes in his left hand and axed the air with his right. His right shirt cuff came unmoored and shot out over his hand, but he went on flapping and slashing his way through his convictions on the duties of the press, the need to back ideals with the will to defend them, and the wrongheadedness of birth control. Husbands and wives who chose not to reproduce were guilty of "crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk." The audience tittered, but Roosevelt earnestly plodded on. A high civilization had a fundamental duty to perpetuate itself, or its achievements would vanish, he said. He had long viewed a woman's willingness to risk her life in childbirth as an obligation akin to a man's willingness to risk his life in war, a revealing analogy in light of the death of his first wife in childbirth and his combat in the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt's thoughts about "race suicide," as he termed it elsewhere, have been forgotten, and much of the address did not rise above the level of cliché. But it contained, almost as an aside, his most eloquent expression of the standard by which he judged himself and every other man in public life.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
France was about to hold a general election, and candidates across the spectrum rushed to claim the man in the arena as political kin. The French press was less enthusiastic, calling Roosevelt a charlatan and a self-promoting Caesar eager to return to America and install himself as dictator.
In Belgium, where socialism had gained a toehold, Roosevelt inveighed against class warfare. "Never trust a man who says he will benefit you by pulling down your neighbor," he said. Fresh from Samson and Delilah at the Paris Opera, he reminded his audience that when Samson pulled down the pillars of the temple, he was crushed beneath them. In the Netherlands he mounted a church pulpit and crooned a Dutch lullaby he remembered from childhood, then urged the rich to do right by the poor. In Denmark his walk on the ramparts of Elsinore inspired a cartoonist to draw him as Hamlet, bearing a scroll marked "1912" and shadowed by an anxious-looking specter tagged "Third Term Taboo."
In Norway, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize he had been given four years earlier for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt called upon the leaders of the world to curb "unhealthy" militarism as they worked to curb the excesses of capitalism. But the noblest of human goals was peace with righteousness, not peace for the sake of peace, he said. A peace that masked cowardice or appeased a despot was an execration. A man must be willing to fight for his ideals: "No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues," whether through a love of ease or "deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality." He encouraged the great nations to agree to arbitrate their disputes at The Hague and to draw up an agreement limiting the growth of armaments, but the lawlessness of frontier life had taught him that it was "both foolish and wicked to persuade [a man] to surrender his arms while the men who are dangerous to the community retain theirs." Lasting peace required a police power to enforce the decrees of the court.
The speech proved a brilliant overture to his encounter with Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany. It sounded the notes that his safari patron, Andrew Carnegie, wanted the kaiser to hear, and now that the kaiser had heard them, Roosevelt would have no need to mention arbitration or disarmament in Germany. The chess match that had begun in Africa ended with the checkmate of Andrew Carnegie.
Edward VII, king of England and uncle of the kaiser, died while Roosevelt was in Scandinavia, and Roosevelt, knowing that the German imperial household would be in mourning, offered to forgo his visit to Berlin. But the kaiser, who had long suspected Edward of leading a European conspiracy to encircle Germany, was not immobilized by grief. He elected to cancel only part of his plans with Roosevelt.
On the marble steps of the palace of Frederick the Great, the emperor and the Colonel pumped hands for a full minute. The kaiser, gleaming in white uniform and silver helmet, looked "every inch the War Lord," one witness thought. Later the two could be seen but not heard in conversation. Fists shook. Arms waved. Heads bobbed. Several observers, including Edith Roosevelt, remarked upon Theodore's physical resemblance to Wilhelm the stockiness, the mustache, the body language spoken fortissimo.
The kaiser and the Colonel spent the next day on horseback, watching twelve thousand Prussian soldiers wage a mock battle. Locked in mutual fascination, TR and Wilhelm talked almost continuously throughout the five-hour display of German military strength. The kaiser brought up disarmament, but only to say that he had no control over it. "[T]he German people, or at least that section of the German people upon whom he relied and in whom he believed, would never consent to Germany's failing to keep herself able to enforce her rights either on land or at sea," Roosevelt later wrote a friend. When the talk turned to relations between England and Germany, Roosevelt ventured the opinion that a war between them would be "an unspeakable calamity."
The kaiser, son of a German emperor and an English princess, pointed out that he had spent much of his youth in England. "Next to Germany, I care more for England than for any other country," he said. Then, with such force that Roosevelt would render the sentence in capital letters, Wilhelm exclaimed, "I ADORE ENGLAND!"
Roosevelt averred that he himself would not go quite so far.
The kaiser surprised the Colonel by agreeing that Britain, as an island nation, needed the world's strongest navy. But he resented the English habit of citing Germany as the reason for building up the Royal Navy. The assertion aroused the "worst feelings" of both peoples, the kaiser said, and he wanted Roosevelt to pass the word when he met with England's leaders.
As the troops passed in review after the military exercises, the kaiser introduced TR as Mein Freund, a claim meant to flatter him and impress the army. When the review ended, the kaiser turned to TR and said, "Well, my dear Roosevelt, you are the first private citizen that has ever reviewed the Prussian troops!"
Roosevelt may have been the only person who observed four powerful European armies on the eve of the world war. His royal hosts in Italy and Austria had showed him their cavalry, and he had spent a day on maneuvers with the French army.
The Colonel found the kaiser a "curious combination of power, energy, egotism, and restless desire to do" a curious combination also found in Theodore Roosevelt, although he seemed unconscious of the similarity. The growing power of parliaments was steadily undermining old notions of divine right and absolute sovereignty, and Roosevelt deduced that Wilhelm, like his fellow monarchs, kept his throne by following the lead of his people: "whenever Germany made up its mind to go in a given direction he could only stay at the head of affairs by scampering to take the lead in going in that direction." Having noticed that the kaiser always did his bullying outside Germany, Roosevelt guessed that the belligerence was a rebellion against limited power at home. So far, the other great powers had succeeded in compelling the bully to retreat. Roosevelt left Germany convinced that Kaiser Wilhelm II was an unpleasant neighbor but only a minor threat to world peace.
President Taft invited Roosevelt to serve as special ambassador to the funeral of Edward VII, Roosevelt accepted, and Archie Butt mused that with the Colonel and the kaiser on the scene, "it will be a wonder if the poor corpse gets a passing thought." Before going abroad, as he thought about his attire for the courts of Europe, TR considered taking his U.S. Cavalry dress uniform. The 1898 edition he was entitled to wear was positively operatic, gaudy with plumes and gold lace, and he thought he might complete the ensemble with patent leather boots. Edith, fearing ridicule, exercised her veto power, and he made his court appearances in black evening dress. He wished he could wear his uniform for Edward's funeral, but as the gods had it, his black suit made him a conspicuous figure among the silver helmets, sashes, medals, and flashing scabbards in the cortege.
Roosevelt's triumphal march through Europe ended with a speech in London on the duties of empire. At the behest of his new friends in Africa and with the approval of Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, the Colonel urged England to take a hard line in Egypt. "It is not worthwhile belonging to a big nation unless the big nation is willing when the necessity arises to undertake a big task," he told an audience assembled at the Guildhall. In Cairo, speaking to the nationalists, he had counseled patience. In London he called for resolve. "You have tried to do too much in the interests of the Egyptians themselves," he said. "Those who have to do with uncivilized peoples, especially fanatical peoples, must remember that...weakness, timidity, and sentimentality may cause infinitely more harm than violence and injustice." If England felt it had no right to be in Egypt, it should get out.
The champions of empire heard the speech as "a trumpet call to imperial duty that chimes magically with the national mood." Others noted that the British had tried Roosevelt's hard line in Ireland with tragic results. Roosevelt, said the National Review, knew no more than the "tourist who imbibes a casual prejudice in the smoking room at Shepheard's Hotel and vents it in a letter to a provincial newspaper."
Between public engagements TR visited old friends, dined with England's hunter-naturalists, and saw three of his safari companions. With Kermit he called on Rowland Ward Ltd. in Piccadilly to arrange for the mounting of some African trophies rhinoceros feet to be fashioned into boxes and inkstands, cigar boxes of elephant hide, elephant's foot wastebaskets, and assorted whips, bowls, and walking sticks. The Roosevelts paid £129.8s.6p for their curios, the animals considerably more.
TR spent a day bird-watching with Sir Edward Grey, and each time Grey identified a bird by its song, Roosevelt rattled off a detailed description. He had never before gone birding in England. he knew the birds from his reading. He recognized each song on the second hearing and astonished Grey with his ability to distinguish one song from another when the birds sang in chorus.
In London, Theodore and Edith made another excursion into their early life together, and Theodore, hoping not to be recognized, went without spectacles. At St. George's Church in Hanover Square, where they were married on December 2, 1886, they asked the verger for a look at the register. The register was locked away, but the verger volunteered that it contained three entries of special value: two pairs of royal signatures and the signature of Theodore Roosevelt.
You don't say, one of the visitors remarked.
"Many Americans come here solely to see the entry," the verger went on. "We keep a sheet of paper inserted at the page, with a cutting from a newspaper of that day, which describes how Mr. Roosevelt came here from Long's Hotel wearing a bowler hat, how he entered by the back door, and was married in the simplest manner possible."
The Roosevelts thanked the verger and departed undiscovered.
Two days before sailing, Roosevelt received a letter from the White House, the first since his departure for Africa. "It is now near a year and three months since I assumed office and I have had a hard time," Taft wrote. "I do not know that I have had harder luck than other presidents but I do know that thus far I have succeeded far less than have others. I have been conscientiously trying to carry out your policies but my method of doing so has not worked smoothly." The economy was flourishing, but the press was hostile, an attitude he blamed on their anger over the tariff reform, which had failed to lower the duties on newsprint. The war between Ballinger and Pinchot had given him "a great deal of personal pain and suffering," he said, "but I am not going to say a word to you on that subject. You will have to look into that wholly for yourself without influence of the parties if you would find the truth." The first lady's paralysis had quickly receded, but her aphasia had not. She had recently begun taking part in receptions where her only task was to utter a word of greeting, but conversation was still beyond her, Taft reported. She was "not an easy patient and any attempt to control her only increased the nervous strain." He invited TR to the White House and in a postscript told him of the grand homecoming awaiting him in New York. It would be nonpartisan, he said "a sincere expression of all the people of their joy at your return. You will be fairly overcome at the warmth of feeling that your return will evoke."
Roosevelt answered at once in a tone that was courteous but nowhere in the realm of genial. "I do not know the situation at home," he wrote. "I am of course much concerned about some of the things I see and am told; but what I have felt it best to do was to say absolutely nothing and indeed to keep my mind as open as I kept my mouth shut!" He sent his and Edith's warmest regards to the first lady and asked to defer his response to the invitation until he reached Oyster Bay and sized up the work awaiting him.
As Roosevelt's arrival approached, Taft grew increasingly irritable. He had been invited to the reception and advised not to go. At a celebration of Theodore Roosevelt, Archie Butt explained, everyone else, even a president of the United States, would be invisible. Taft would spend the day receiving an honorary degree in Pennsylvania, and Butt would represent him in New York. Taft complained again that Roosevelt had not written from Africa or thanked him for the gold pencil-and-ruler thingamajig he had sent as a farewell present. The president had either forgotten or did not count the telegrams Roosevelt had managed to send him in the pandemonium of leaving New York. Nor did the president seem to remember that there would have been no present if Butt had not suggested it. Reviewing Butt's draft of the orders he was to carry out as the president's emissary at the reception, Taft demoted Roosevelt from "Colonel" to "Mr." and then, perhaps aware that he was transgressing, asked Butt's opinion of the change. Butt said he thought that Roosevelt would prefer "Colonel." "The President thought otherwise," Butt wrote his sister-in-law, "and so ordered the change."
A thick fog threatening to delay the Roosevelts' arrival lifted on his last night at sea and gave him a honeyed summer morning for his return. "Roosevelt weather," the papers called it. Welcomed by the mayor, TR spoke for two minutes. As promised, his message was devoid of politics, although its last sentence read like a memo from his conscience to his ambition: forever in the debt of the people, a former president was obliged to conduct himself in a manner that never made them "regret that once they had placed him at their head."
New York was wrapped in red, white, and blue, a hundred Rough Riders had come to town, and 500,000 people were out to see their former president. Or was it a million? The newspapers' estimates varied with the depth of their love for Theodore Roosevelt. The parade up Broadway and Fifth Avenue was "one continuous heartfelt ovation," said Archie Butt. "I have never witnessed anything like it." Minutes after it dispersed, near the Plaza Hotel, the heavens delivered thunder, lightning, hail, and a deluge. Seventeen people were killed. Roosevelt's luck held. When the sky opened, he was only steps away from his destination, the home where Ted and Eleanor's wedding presents were on display. The wedding was two days off, and at the couple's request, TR had come to see their gifts, one of which was a silver pitcher from President and Mrs. Taft.
During the parade Butt had asked Lodge and others who knew Roosevelt what they thought when they saw him, and all agreed that he had changed. Butt thought he glimpsed "an enlarged personality. To me he had ceased to be an American, but had become a world citizen. His horizon seemed to be greater, his mental scope more encompassing. I don't think this was in our imaginations alone....He is bigger, broader, capable of greater good or greater evil, I don't know which, than when he left; and he is in splendid health and has a long time to live. What a horoscope to cast if one could cast it!" Butt had apparently forgotten the predictions he had heard from a White House correspondent on TR's last day in office: Taft would hand the government over to the Old Guard, Roosevelt would be furious, and a cross-country speaking trip after his return from Africa would put him in the running for a presidential nomination in 1912.
Copyright © 2005 by Patricia O'Toole
Reading Group Guide
When Trumpets Call: Questions for Discussion
1.Author Patricia O'Toole examines what happens to a powerful man when he loses power. Roosevelt was only fifty when he left the White House, and when the press raised questions about the proper role of ex-presidents, he said he could not comment on his predecessors, "but so far as it is concerned with this president, you can say that the United States need do nothing with the ex-president. I will do all the doing that is going to be done myself." What does this reveal about the man?
2. Roosevelt greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. He said "while president I have been president emphatically." In what ways did he expand the job?
3.How does Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal compare with his fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal? The book states that TR's philosophy of government "was a secular version of the lessons of Sunday School." How so?
4.TR counted the acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone as his greatest presidential achievement. How did this one act benefit the United States? How did it affect U.S. relations with Central America?
5. TR gave unprecedented access to reporters. How did he use the press to his advantage? Compare the muckraking of Roosevelt's day to modern day tabloid journalism. How did his relationship with the press change after his presidency?
6.What's the significance of the epigraph from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses": "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! As tho' to breathe were life."
7. The trumpet is a recurring image in this book. What's the significance?
8. The author asserts that Roosevelt's "intense, almost sacred aspiration to heroism started at home, with the idolization of his father the finest man he ever knew, he would often say." How did TR's childhood and his relationship to his father temper his personality? How would you characterize his relationships with his own sons? How did being the son of Theodore Roosevelt affect Theodore Jr., Kermit, Archie, and Quentin? What differences do you see between his relationships with his sons and with his daughters, Alice and Ethel?
9. Roosevelt was fond of saying, "Walk softly, but carry a big stick." After his presidency, how successful do you think he was in practicing this philosophy?
10. One of TR's more adventurous endeavors after the White House life was a safari with his son, Kermit. Discuss the apparent conflict between TR's conservationist ideals and his "overkill" in Africa. How did he reconcile the two? What are the differences between TR's "conquer or be conquered" philosophy and Winston Churchill's thoughts on Africa?
11. TR decided that his handpicked successor, President William Howard Taft, was "singularly deaf to the voice of the people." How did Taft's presidency differ from Roosevelt's? If you had been in Archie Butt's position, would you have stayed on in the Taft White House, or would you have resigned?
12. What do you think of the reasons TR gave for his decision to challenge Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912? What do you see as TR's main motive for seeking a third term patriotism or personal ambition? How do you see the rivalry between La Follette and Roosevelt?
13. The book states that the election of 1912 was "no ordinary election. It was a moment of transfiguration in American politics, with the Democrats fashioning themselves into the party of liberal ideals and the Republicans pointing their craft toward the far shores of conservatism." How have liberalism and conservatism changed since their day? TR formed a new party, the National Progressive Party, to continue his run for the presidency. How did it differ from the Republicans and the Democrats? What do you make of TR's refusal of the Bull Moose nomination in 1916?
14. Two millionaires, George Perkins and Frank Munsey, bankrolled TR's new party. How did they influence its philosophy? How would you compare campaign finance in their day and in ours?
15. How did TR feel about the suffrage movement and the "Negro question"? How did his feelings about women's rights contrast with his feelings about the women in his family?
16. Roosevelt's celebrity turned out to be a liability rather than an asset in the 1912 campaign. Why? If women had had the vote in all forty-eight states, do you think TR would have won? Why?
17. Discuss the differences between Roosevelt's policies on war and Wilson's "watchful waiting." According to the author, Roosevelt "the boy had overcome his weakness, but Roosevelt the man never lost his horror of it." How does this relate to his feelings about Woodrow Wilson and Wilson's policy of neutrality in the war?
18. If you had been President Wilson, would you have approved TR's request to raise troops and take them to France once the U.S. entered World War I? Why? Would you have allowed TR to play a civilian role in the American war effort? Why?
19. Quentin, TR's youngest son, was killed in the war. How did that affect TR's feelings about war?
20. What thoughts do the struggles and achievements of TR's post-presidential years give you about your own retirement?
Enhance Your Book Club
One-stop shopping for everything you always wanted to know about Theodore Roosevelt: theodoreroosevelt.org/modern/exploreliving.htm
Many of TR's out-of-print books are available for downloading: gutenberg.org/browse/authors/r#a729