The former president’s personality was part of the national wealth.
Mr. Roosevelt’s great and fascinating personality is part of the national wealth, and it should, so far as possible, be preserved undiminished. Since his death those who have spoken of him have observed somewhat too sedulously the questionable maxim De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. To say nothing but good of a great man is generally fatal alike to biographical vivacity and to truth. In this case it is a serious detraction from that versatile and inexhaustible energy which Lord Morley admired when he declared that the two most extraordinary works of nature in America were Niagara Falls and the President in the White House. “He made,” says William Hard with the intensity of one catching breath after the close passage of a thunderbolt, “he made Theodore Roosevelt the most interesting thing in the world,” and he made “the world itself momentarily immortally interesting.” That touches the heart of the matter: it explains comprehensively why his friends loved and his enemies admired him. It leaves him with his aggressive definiteness, his color, and his tang. Mr. Roosevelt, as he proudly insisted and as he admirably painted himself in many a capital chapter of his “Rough Riders” and his hunting and exploring books, was stained with the blood and sweat and dust of conflict. No image presents him whole that lacks a dash of the recklessness which appears in Frederick Macmonnies’s vaulting trooper and a touch of the ruthlessness hinted by the fiercely clenched fist in a well-known photograph of him pacing the deck of the flagship with “Fighting Bob” Evans. He lived and died fighting, and he gave a thousand proofs that the keenest joy he knew was the joy of battle. No memorial so little preserves him as a white-washed plaster bust. Better than all the eulogies pronounced in public places I suspect he would have relished the tribute paid to him in private conversation by one of our distinguished visitors from abroad. “It may be,” he said, “that Mr. Wilson possesses all the virtues in the calendar; but for my part I had rather go to hell with Theodore Roosevelt.” Mr. Wilson, he implied, might get off in a corner somewhere with Saint Peter and Colonel House, and arrange something of the highest importance to the heavenly host; but all the cherubim and seraphim of healthy curiosity would be leaning over the impassable gulf to see what Mr. Roosevelt would do next.
It is because such notes as these recall the most interesting man of our times, “the great Achilles whom we knew,” that I have heard and read with a certain languor the conventional tributes evoked by his death, and, more recently, have gone through the posthumous biographies without entire satisfaction. Excepting Mr. G.S. Viereck’s saucy apology for being a pro-German, the cue of recent writers has been canonization. Mr. MacIntire, for example, prefaced by General Wood, has written a purely “inspirational” narrative
with a conquering hero ready for the moving-picture screen or a Henty novel or a place on the juvenile bookshelf beside “The Boys’ King Arthur.” As a specimen of its critical quality, I select the following passage, with the suggestion that it be read in connection with the report of the Federal Commission on the Packers: “One shudders to think of what fate would have befallen the United States if the monopolies which Roosevelt curbed while he was President had been allowed to flourish until this era of revolution.” The first three volumes of “Roosevelt, His Life, Meaning, and Messages” is a collection of important speeches, articles, and messages arranged by William Griffith; the fourth volume by Eugene Thwing is a rapid biographical compilation, journalistic, readable, and concluding with the happy thought that if the meaning of Roosevelt’s life is fully appropriated we shall find in the next generation of Americans “a veritable race of moral giants.” Mr. Lewis’s book, for which Mr. Taft supplies an introduction, is, of course, a work of quite another order. For the earlier period it is almost as entertaining as the Autobiography, and for the later years, particularly for the history of the Progressive movement, in which the author was an important participant, it is an independent authority and an animated and agreeable one with many small intimate strokes of appreciation. Mr. Lewis candidly announces that he considers his subject too near for “impartial judgment,” and he lives up to this declaration most loyally, contending that practically everything Roosevelt said and did was exactly the right thing to say and do.
The eulogists and biographers claim rather too much, and one could wish that they would take a little more pains to harmonize their favorite facts. In order to illustrate the power of mind over matter they all foster the tradition of Roosevelt’s sickly youth. But Mr. MacIntire speaks of him in the New York Assembly as “this puny young chap” at just the period in which Mr. Thwing, after a reference to his “puny voice and puny hand,” exhibits him knocking out the slugger Stubby Collins and mopping up the floor with “several” others. There is a similar discrepancy with regard to his linguistic attainments. Roosevelt himself testified that he was “lamentably weak in Latin and Greek”; but Mr. Thwing asserts that he was “a scholar of the first rank in the classics.” One observer describes his conversational French at a luncheon in the White House as voluble, but regardless of accent and grammar; but Mr. Thwing says that “the savants of the Sorbonne heard him address them in as flawless French as they themselves could employ.” Mr. MacIntire credits Roosevelt with the message ordering Dewey to sail into the port of Manila; Mr. Lewis says it has been established that Secretary Long sent it. Mr. Thwing makes him the discoverer and namer of the River of Doubt; Mr. Lewis represents him as only the explorer of that river which in his honor was renamed Teodoro by the Brazilian Government. When there is a difference with regard to verifiable facts, Mr. Lewis appears generally to be right. In the total estimates, however, there is no significant difference: the biographers agree that Roosevelt was “our typical American,” and possessed every important virtue that we admire.
When the critical biographer arrives he will re-examine this total estimate. Perhaps he will be challenged to re-examination by a certain passage towards the end of Mr. Lewis’s book: “In the year 1918, a friend referred to the year 1921 as the year when he [Roosevelt] would again enter the White House. He had been in one of his jocular moods, but he immediately became very serious. ‘No,’ he said, ‘not I. I don’t want it, and I don’t think I am the man to be nominated. I made too many enemies, and the people are tired of my candidacy.'” Mr. Roosevelt knew “the people.” When he said, “I made too many enemies, and the people are tired of my candidacy,” he admitted what none of the biographers concedes, the waning of his star, his perception that he could no longer, as in 1904, say “We believe” with strong confidence that he was uttering the convictions of the overwhelming majority of his countrymen. Both he and “the people” had changed, but the people had changed more profoundly than he in ways which I shall attempt to indicate by sketching an answer to three questions: First, what were the dominant aspects of the national character at about the time of Mr. Roosevelt’s advent in public life? Second, what significant alterations in the national psychology did he produce in the period during which his personality was most heartily accepted as an incarnation of the national character? Third, how and to what extent has his national representativeness diminished?
Mr. Roosevelt did not emerge conspicuously on the national horizon till late in the nineties. The preceding decade appears to have contained extraordinarily little to kindle the imaginations of spirited and public-minded young men. There had been no war since the youth of their fathers. The Government pursued a policy of sombre rather than “splendid” isolation. The country offered its imposing attractions chiefly to the big business men. Captains of industry flourished like the green bay tree. For diversion there was riotous striking in the Carnegie Steel Works at Homestead; but the State militia put it down. In 1893 there was a financial panic; but it blew over. In 1894 Coxey led an army of the unemployed to Washington; but it dispersed like the chorus of a musical comedy amid general laughter. The Columbian Exposition, at the opening of which Chauncey Depew assisted, was on the whole a symbol of a period of unexampled material prosperity in commerce, agriculture, and manufactures. In 1896 William McKinley, son of an iron manufacturer and author of a tariff bill designed to protect the farmers from the plain people as the manufacturers had already been protected, was elected President under the skilful management of Mark Hanna, wholesale grocer, coal and iron merchant, later United States Senator.
Mr. Roscoe Thayer remarks in his life of Hay that the most representative American in the third quarter of the century was P.T. Barnum; and the methods and ideals of Mark Hanna as political manager he compares to the methods and ideals of Barnum. From the popular magazines, reflecting current standards of success, the aspiring youth learned that by frugality and industry he might become as rich as Andrew Carnegie or John B. Rockefeller or as noble and distinguished as Chauncey Depew. The Plutocratic era lacked–outside the field of businessideas, imagination, animating purpose.
Mark Twain, in some ways a singularly sensitive person, curiously illustrates the point. He possessed ambition and a restless energy which should, of course, have found satisfaction and ample reward in the production of literature; but in this decade he seems to have been irresistibly driven by the time-spirit to compete with the acknowledged leaders of American life in their own field. He spent himself trying to get rich and live in the grand style like his friend Carnegie and his friend Henry Rogers. Feverishly pushing his publishing house, his typesetting machine, and a half dozen projects for rolling up a fortune, he began to use literature as a mere handmaid to finance and to regard himself as a financier. He felt himself daily on the brink of immense wealth while he was actually headed for bankruptcy. His recently published letters give the emotional reaction. Reading the morning papers, he says, makes him spend the rest of the day “pleading for the damnation of the human race.” “Man is not to me the respectworthy person he was before; and so I have lost my pride in him, and can’t write praisefully about him any more.” He thinks that he detects in Howells something of his own ennui: “indifference to sights and sounds once brisk with interest; tasteless stale stuff which used to be champagne; the boredom of travel; the secret sigh behind the public smile; the private What-in-hell-did-I-come-for.” With less bitterness Mr. Dooley –in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s jubilee &dash testifies to the same effect in summarizing the achievements of his own time in America:
“While she was lookin’ on in England, I was lookin’ on in this counthry. I have seen America spread out fr’m th’ Atlantic to th’ Pacific, with a branch office iv th’ Standard Ile Comp’ny in ivry hamlet. I’ve seen th’ shackles dropped fr’m th’ slave, so’s he cud be lynched in Ohio… an’ Corbett beat Sullivan, an’ Fitz beat Corbett… An’ th’ invintions… th’ cotton gin an’ th’ gin sour an’ th’ bicycle an’ th’ flyin’ machine an’ th’ nickel-in-th’-slot machine an’ th’ Croker machine an’ th’ sody fountain an’–crownin’ wurruk iv our civilization –th’ cash raygister.”
It would be easy to multiply illustrations of the effect of this busy but mercenary and humdrum national mind upon the finer spirits in the political arena. John Hay, for example, as Secretary of State under McKinley, seems to have gone earnestly about his work, suppressing now a yawn of disgust, now a sigh of despair. “Office holding per se,” he writes in 1900, “has no attraction for me.” He has some far-sighted policies for his department, but he can’t put them through, for “there will always be 34 per cent of the Senate on the blackguard side of every question that comes before them.” Even more of this quiet disgust with American public life appears in the now celebrated diary of Henry Adams, a man who “had everything,” born into the governing class yet holding no higher office than that of private secretary to his father unless it was the position of assist ant professor of history at Harvard. When the latter position was offered to him, he remarked in a blasé tone which would have thunderstruck his great-grandfather: “It could not much affect the sum of solar energies whether one went on dancing with girls in Washington, or began talking to boys in Cambridge.” Still more striking is Adams’s analysis of the American character in government circles. It might be true, he said, in New York or Chicago that the American was “a pushing, energetic, ingenious person, always awake and trying to get ahead of his neighbors”; but it was not true in Washington. “There the American showed himself, four times in five, as a quiet, peaceful, shy figure, rather in the mould of Abraham Lincoln, somewhat sad, sometimes pathetic, once tragic; or like Grant, as inarticulate, uncertain, distrustful of himself, still more distrustful of others, and awed by money. That the American by temperament worked to excess, was true; work and whiskey were his stimulants; work was a form of vice; but he never cared much for money or power after he earned them. The amusement of the pursuit was all the amusement he got from it; he had no use for wealth.”
While the national mind was absorbed in business why should young men born to wealth and social position strive to thrust themselves in between the captains of industry and their political representatives? Possessing at the start the objects of the race, why should they contend? Politics was generally described as dirty and uninspiring; why should they subject themselves to its soil and fatigue? How some of them were answering such questions, Jacob Riis revealed in his life of Roosevelt:
They were having a reunion of his [Roosevelt’s] class when he was Police Commissioner, and he was there. One of the professors told of a student coming that day to bid him goodby. He asked him what was to be his work in the world.
“Oh!” he said, with a little yawn, “really, do you know, professor, it does not seem to me that there is anything that is much worth while.”
Then came the impact upon the national character of the Rooseveltian personality, persuaded that there are a hundred more interesting things than making money, all “worth while”: hunting grizzlies, reforming, exploring, writing history, traveling, fighting Spaniards, developing a navy, governing men, reading Irish epics, building canals, swimming the Potomac with ambassadors, shooting lions, swapping views with kaisers, organizing new parties, and so on forever. Under the influence of this masterful force the unimaginative plutocratic psychology was steadily metamorphosed into the psychology of efficient, militant, imperialistic nationalism. When Roosevelt heard of the young man to whom nothing seemed much worth while, he is said to have struck the table a blow with his fist, exclaiming: “That fellow ought to have been knocked in the head. I would rather take my chances with a blackmailing policeman than with such as he.” Mr. Riis remarks, “This is what Roosevelt got out of Harvard.” But clearly he didn’t get it out of Harvard. He found it- –this wrath at the sluggard–in his own exuberant temperament. Most of his biographers foolishly insist that he had no extraordinary natural endowment. The evidence is all otherwise, indicating a marvellous physical and mental energy and blood beating so hot and fast through brain and sinew that he was never bored in his life. He never felt the ennui or the horrid languor of men like Hay and Henry Adams. He had such excess of animal spirits that, as every one knows, he was accustomed, after battling with assemblymen or senators, to have in a prizefighter to knock him down.
Whatever delighted him he sought to inculcate upon the American people so that Rooseveltism should be recognized as synonymous with Americanism. Mr. Lewis is at some pains to point out that in his private life he was an old-fashioned gentleman and invariably dressed for dinner. The fact is mildly interesting, but its public influence was absolutely negligible. Rooseveltism can never be interpreted to mean dressing for dinner. Practically he was a powerful aider and abettor of the movement to banish the word “gentleman” from the American vocabulary, except as a term of contempt. He was ostentatious about his friendships with Mike Donovan, Fitzsimmons, Sullivan, and Battling Nelson, just as he was about his pursuit of the big game of North America, because he loved the larger vertebrates and wished to implant an affection for them in the national mind. In his sports he can hardly be called a typical American; the typical American cannot employ the champion pugilists, nor follow the Meadowbrook hounds, nor hunt elephants with a regiment of bearers. These are the sports of emperors and rajahs and the sporting sons of multimillionaires. Still Mr. Roosevelt took them up and journalized them in behalf of a strenuous athletic ideal for the nation. A powerful animal himself, he gloried, day in and day out, in the fundamental animal instincts and activities, reproductive and combative, the big family and the big stick, the “full baby carriage” and “hitting hard and hitting first”; and he preached them in season and out of season.
I will give two illustrations. On his return from slaughtering elephants in Africa, he stopped off in Berlin to tell the Germans about the world-movement. That was in 1910; and perhaps the Germans were then almost as well informed with regard to the world-movement as Mr. Roosevelt. But in those days his exuberance was very great; for it had been two years since he had sent a message to Congress, and he found relief for his pent-up energies in bestowing advice all the way around the European circuit. Accordingly he solemnly warned the Germans that one of “the prime dangers of civilization has always been its tendency to cause the loss of virile fighting virtues, of the fighting edge.” At the same time he marked it as a reassuring sign of our modern period that there were then larger standing armies than ever before in the world. These words seemed to his German hearers so fitly spoken that they then and there made Mr. Roosevelt a doctor of philosophy. He lectured also at the Sorbonne, finding a text in a novel of Daudet’s in which the author speaks of “the fear of maternity which haunts the young mother.” The country in which that is generally true, cried Roosevelt to that country of declining birth-rate, is “rotten to the core.” “No refinement of life,” he continued, “can in any way compensate for the loss of the great fundamental virtues; and of these great fundamental virtues the greatest is the race’s power to perpetuate the race.”
Roosevelt’s mental exuberance may be suggestively measured in this fashion. Mark Twain was a fairly voluble talker when he got under way. But Mark Twain was silent and overwhelmed in the presence of Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, then, had a certain flow of ideas. But Kipling was silent and overwhelmed in the presence of Roosevelt. Again I quote Mr. Thayer:
I have heard Mr. Rudyard Kipling tell how he used to drop in at the Cosmos Club at half past ten or so in the evening, and presently young Roosevelt would come and pour out projects, discussions of men and politics, criticisms of books, in a swift and full-volumed stream, tremendously emphatic and enlivened by bursts of humor. “I curled up on the seat opposite,” said Kipling, “and listened and wondered, until the universe seemed to be spinning round and Theodore was the spinner.”
Roosevelt quickened the pace of national life by his own mental and physical speed. His special contribution, however, was not the discovery but the direction of strenuousness. The captains of industry had been strenuous enough. He found a new object for physical and mental energy on the grand scale. More than any other man of his time he made political eminence a prize of the first order by his own unequivocal preference of public service and glory to private opulence and ease. The exigencies of his later political life associated him indeed with what a western humorist has described as the “high-low-brows”; he consorted with publicans and sinners; he broke bread with bosses and malefactors of great wealth; he played up the prizefighters and the cowboys; he hurled hard epithets at Byzantine logothetes and college professors: so that one almost forgets that he began his career distinctly on the “high-brow” side as a “silk-stocking” reformer, supported by the vote of the “brown-stone fronts,” foremost of the pure-principled purposeful young “college men in politics” in an era of sordid greed and corruption. But in the days when he was assemblyman at Albany, police commissioner, and civil service reformer, men did not speak of him nor did he speak of himself as a “practical politician.” In those days there was a certain bloom on the fruit that he reached for; and he did not disdain to speak of himself as a “practical idealist.” In that role he delighted even fastidious disciples of Charles Eliot Norton’s fastidious school; and he exercised a wonderfully tonic influence upon well-bred young men of his generation.
His first great service was to his own prosperous class, to young men of means in college, to the “intellectuals” generally. He did not preach against wealth. He held, like the philosopher Frank Crane, that “men who get $20,000 a year and up are the most valuable citizens of the nation.” On the other hand, he maintained, like that journalistic sage, that the man who inherits a million and spends his days playing bridge and changing his trousers is “a cootie on the body politic.” To fortune’s favored sons he declared the responsibilities of wealth and he taught the right uses of leisure. In the vein of Carlyle and Kipling he preached against an idle, pleasure-seeking life as not merely undesirable, but contemptible. He preached the gospel of work for every man that comes into the world, work to the uttermost of his capacity; responsibility for every advantage and every talent; ignominy and derision for the coward and the shirker and the soft-handed over-fastidious person who thinks public life too rough and dirty for his participation. Writing of machine politics in 1886, he said, rather fatalistically: “If steady work and much attention to detail are required, ordinary citizens, to whom participation in politics is merely a disagreeable duty, will always be beaten by the organized army of politicians to whom it is both duty, business, and pleasure, and who are knit together and to outsiders by their social relations.” But in 1894 he put the bugle to his lips and summoned the more intelligent class of “ordinary citizens” to arms:
Thc enormous majority of our educated men have to make their own living… Nevertheless, the man of business and the man of science, the doctor of divinity and the doctor of law, the architect, the engineer, and the writer, all alike owe a positive duty to the community, the neglect of which they cannot excuse on any plea of their private affairs. They are bound to follow understandingly the course of public events; they are bound to try to estimate and form judgments upon public men; and they are bound to act intelligently and effectively in support of the principles which they deem to be right and for the best interests of the country… If our educated men as a whole become incapable of playing their full part in our life, if they cease doing their share of the rough, hard work which must be done, and grow to take a position of mere dilettanteism in our public affairs, they will speedily sink in relation to their fellows who really do the work of governing, until they stand toward them as a cultivated, ineffective man with a taste for bric-a-brac stands toward a great artist. When once a body of citizens becomes thoroughly out of touch and out of temper with the national life, its usefulness is gone, and its power of leaving its mark on the times is gone also.
I have italicized in this passage the characteristic threefold appeal: the straightforward statement of duty, the craftily constructed contemptuous phrase for the dilettante, the quiet but significant reference to the rewards of virtue. In Roosevelt’s heart there sang lifelong the refrain of Tennyson’s ode on the Duke of Wellington, “The path of duty is the way to glory”; and he made it sing in the ears of his contemporaries till the blasé young man of the Yellow Nineties became unfashionable, yielding his place to the Man Who Does Things. This alteration of the national psychology was of profound importance. It marked the difference between a nation headed for decadence and a nation entering upon a renaissance; and Roosevelt’s service in bringing it about can hardly be overvalued. Some appraisers of his merits say that his most notable achievement was building the Panama Canal. I should say that his most notable achievement was creating for the nation the atmosphere in which valor and high seriousness live, by clearing the air of the poisonous emanations of “superior” people:
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as the cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer… There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering contempt toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement… The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, fop, or voluptuary.
Preaching duty and meditating on glory, Roosevelt came up through the dull nineties as the apostle of “applied idealism”; and all good men spoke well of him. He seemed to be striking out a new and admirable type of public man: well bred but strenuous, ambitious but public-spirited, upright but practical and efficient–the idealist who gets things done which everyone agrees ought to be done. But few men guessed the height and depth of desire in this fighter of legislative crooks, this reformer of metropolitan police, this advocate of the merit system; and no one knew what his ideas and temperament would do to the national life if he became its acknowledged leader. In 1898 came the Spanish War, then the governorship of New York, the vice-presidency in 1900, and a year later Roosevelt was in the saddle. These events swiftly disclosed the wider horizon of his mind and the scope of his ambition for himself and for America. The war with Spain brought him forward as the Seminole War brought forward Andrew Jackson; and his personality was immensely responsible for the effect of that “incident” upon the national character.
Mr. Roosevelt was an admirer of Thucydides, but he was a much less philosophical historian; for he says that the war with Spain was “inevitable,” and leaves his readers to explain why. The small jingo class whose veins perennially throb with red blood and national honor fought, of course, to avenge the blowing up of the Maine. The mass of the plain people with their perennial simple-hearted idealism were persuaded that they were going in to set Cuba free, even after they discovered that they had also gone in to subjugate the Philippine Islands. Mr. J.A. Hobson, the English economist, says:
Not merely do the trusts and other manufacturing trades that restrict their output for the home market more urgently require foreign markets, but they are also more anxious to secure protected markets, and this can only be achieved by extending the area of political rule. This is the essential significance of the recent change in American foreign policy as illustrated by the Spanish War, the Philippine annexation, the Panama policy, and the new application of the Monroe doctrine to the South American States. South America is needed as a preferential market for investment of trust “profits” and surplus trust products: if in time these States can be brought within a Zollverein under the suzerainty of the United States, the financial area of operations receives a notable accession.
There is an absence of rose-pink altruism in this explanation which should commend it to The Chicago Tribune; but Roosevelt, though the Tribune‘s chief hero, would certainly have rejected it for an interpretation at once more personal and more political.
It is fairly plain that this war, which he had done his utmost to prepare for and to bring about, was first of all an opportunity for a man of his strenuous leisure class with fighting blood and fighting edge to win personal distinction. He, himself, speaks of his baptism of fire as his crowded hour of glorious life; and throughout his narrative of the exploits of his regiment–“My men were children of the dragon’s blood”–he exhibits a delight in fighting that reminds one of the exuberant praise of “glorious battle” uttered early in the late war by the Colonel of the Death’s Head Hussars. He is as proud of personally bringing down his Spaniard as of slaying his first lion. He played his daring and picturesque part in a way to rehabilitate military glory in the national mind. But for the astonishing skill with which he wrung the last drop of dramatic interest from his troop of college men and cowboys the reverberations of the affair would soon have died away in the popular consciousness. He made the deeds of the Rough Riders a popular classic like Lexington and Bunker Hill. His little war did as much to kindle as Mr. Wilson’s big war did to quench the military spirit; for Mr. Wilson went in with the grim determination of a chief of police, and Mr. Roosevelt with the infinite gusto of a big game hunter. His little war, as he himself declared, made him President.
In office, he did not sicken of power as did the Washingtonians of whom Henry Adams speaks. With the vast influence of his position he sought to mould the national mind and feelings into the likeness of his own. He sought to make the national mind virile, daring, imaginative, aggressive, and eager for distinction in the world. He preached to the nation as if it were a rich man of leisure with a splendid opening, made by his war, for the practice of the strenuous life. He set the example by magnifying his own office, concentrating power, teaching the public to look to the Federal Government as the controlling, dynamic, and creative centre of American life. His measures for the regulation of monopolies, his seizure of the canal zone, his irrigation acts, his reservation of public lands all exemplify in one way and another his aversion from the spirit of laissez-faire, his passion for identifying the state with the man who does things. In domestic affairs this policy generally estranged the “big interests” and won the support of the “plain people.” In foreign affairs the big interests supported him, but the plain people were first dazzled, and then astonished, and then a little perplexed. The plain people do not understand foreign affairs.
Mr. McKinley, by instinct and upbringing a domestically-minded statesman, had indeed begun to speak in a resigned way of manifest destiny with regard to our newly acquired island possessions. He could hardly do otherwise, for this was the midsummer time of the imperial enthusiasm of the “Anglo-Saxons.” These were the days of Rhodesian dreamers; Kitchener was fighting in Egypt; Roberts was fighting in South Africa; and in 1899 Mr. Kipling struck up his famous chant: “Take up the white man’s burden, send forth the best ye breed.” And so Mr. McKinley gravely recognized our manifest destiny in the Far East. Yet John Hay says that he was called in by McKinley to discuss foreign affairs not more than once a month, but that as soon as Roosevelt was in office he was called upon every day. It was Roosevelt first who embraced manifest destiny with the joy of an enkindled political imagination. It was he that resolutely sought to waken the expansive energies of the nation and to give it the fighting edge and the will to prevail in the impending conflicts of the powers. It was he that tirelessly went up and down the land declaring that the imperialistic tendencies developed by the Spanish War were tokens of national virility and that the responsibilities of the new foreign policy were glorious opportunities for men of the heroic mood imbued with the new Rooseveltian Americanism.
If we are to mark his place in the spiritual history of the times, we must clearly understand the temper which, at the turn of the century, he brought into our era of atrocious international conflicts. Nowhere, perhaps, did he declare more eloquently the gospel of militant imperialistic nationalism than in his address on The Strenuous Life, delivered before the Hamilton Club of Chicago in 1899:
The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man who has lost the great fighting virtues, the ignorant man, and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills “stern men with empires in their brains”– all these, of course, shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new duties… The army and navy are the sword and shield which the nation must carry if she is to do her duty among the nations of the earth… The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us, therefore, boldly face the life of strife… Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation–for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavors, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.
That the sentiments and principles here expressed sound very familiar to us today is not, I fancy, because most of us have been reading Roosevelt’s addresses of the Spanish War period, but because we have been reading the utterances of the Pan-Germans whom Roosevelt himself in 1910 was adjuring not to lose the fighting edge and whom he was congratulating on the size of European military establishments as a sign of health and virility. Retrospectively considered, his solicitude for the fighting edge of the Germans reminds one of the matador in Blasco Ibáñez’s “Blood and Sand,” who, it will be remembered, prays for a “good bull.” With the essentials in the religion of the militarists of Germany, Roosevelt was utterly in sympathy. He believed that if you kept your fighting edge keen enough no one would seriously question your righteousness. The only significant difference in objects was that while they invoked the blessing of Jehovah upon Pan-Germany he invoked it upon Pan-America, meaning the United States and her dependencies, protectorates, and spheres of influence and the Pan-America of his dream made Mittel-Europa look like a postage-stamp. The highest point of his working upon the national mind, the point at which his powerful personality most nearly succeeded in transforming the national character from its original bias, was that in which he made it half in love with military glory, half in love with empire-building, half in love with the sort of struggle which was preparing in Europe for the domination of the earth.
The American leader of militant imperialistic nationalism fell at the end of his last great fight, a fight which, it may be soberly said, he had done his utmost both immediately and remotely to prepare for and to bring about. All his friends and many who were not his friends give him credit for the immediate preparation. But few of his friends claim or admit his profounder part in the preparation of the stage for the conflict, the will of the combatants, the conditions of the struggle, the prizes of victory. The preparation runs far back to the days when he began to preach the strenuous life in the flush of the Spanish War, to the days when he dangled before our eyes “those fair tropic islands,” to the days when he boasted that he had taken Panama and let Congress debate after the act. In the stunning clash of militant imperialistic nations, a clash which was the “inevitable” goal of his lifelong policy as it is that of every imperialist, he towered above his fellow-citizens constantly and heroically calling to arms. His countrymen rose, but not for his battle. They fought, but not for his victory. Time and events with remorseless irony made him the standard-bearer and rallying point for an American host dedicated to the destruction of his policy of militant imperialistic nationalism abroad and at home. He said “Belgium,” he mentioned Germany’s transgressions of law; and his countrymen cheered and buckled on their armor. But if, during the war, he had dared to exhort them, as in the earlier time, “to face the life of strife for the domination of the world,” they were in a mood to have torn him in pieces. In that mood they fought and won their war. Highly as they valued his instrumental services, the principles on which they waged it and the objects which they sought drew them away from Roosevelt and towards Lincoln and Washington.
At the present time it is obvious to everyone that a faction of his old friends, incorrigibly born and bred in militant imperialistic nationalism, are making a fight over his body to wrest from the simple-hearted idealistic plain people the fruits of victory. Gloomy observers–too gloomy, I think–declare that the fruits are already gone. The exponents of nationalistic egoism and selfishness will win some partial and temporary triumphs in this as in other countries. In the immediate future the memory of Roosevelt will be the most animating force among our American Junkers. There will be an attempt to repopularize just those Bismarckian characteristics of their hero which made him so utterly unlike Lincoln–his moral hardness, his two-fistedness, the symbolic big stick. But his commanding force as chief moulder of the national mind is over. He must take his rank somewhere among the kings and kaisers in competition with whom he made his place in the spiritual history of his times. He can never again greatly inspire the popular liberal movement in America. The World War has too profoundly discredited the masters of Weltpolitik in his epoch. It has too tragically illuminated the connections between the cataclysm and the statecraft and militaristic psychology behind it. He was a realist with no nonsense about him; but all the realists of the period are now under suspicion of being unrealistic in that they ignored the almost universal diffusion of “nonsense” or idealism among mankind. When Mr. Roosevelt fell out with “practical” men, he almost invariably strengthened his position with the plain people. It was when he offended their “nonsense”–as in his vindictive and ruthless onslaughts upon his successor and his great rival, and in his conduct of the Panama affair–that they began to doubt whether he had the magnanimity, the fairness of mind, the love of civil ways requisite to guide them towards the fulfillment of their historic destiny. He developed a habit of speaking so scornfully of “over-civilization” and so praisefully of mere breeding and fighting as to raise the question that he himself raised about Cromwell, whether he had an adequate theory of ends, and whether he did not become so fascinated with his means as frequently to forget his ends altogether.
Take the ever-burning matter of militarism. His apologists, like those of the Kaiser, all declare that he loved peace; and one can quote passages to prove it. I will quote a beautiful passage from his speech in Berlin in 1910: “We must remember that it is only by working along the lines laid down by the philanthropists, by the lovers of mankind, that we can be sure of lifting our civilization to a higher and more permanent plane of well-being than ever was attained by any preceding civilization. Unjust war is to be abhorred &mdash.” I pause to ask whether any one thinks this remark about working on the lines of philanthropists and lovers of mankind is characteristic Rooseveltian doctrine. I now quote the rest of the passage: “But woe to the nation that does not make ready to hold its own in time of need against all who would harm it. And woe thrice over to the nation in which the average man loses the fighting edge.” I stop again and ask whether any one thinks that is not characteristic Rooseveltian doctrine? Why does the second of these sentences sound perfectly Rooseveltian and the first absolutely not? Because into the first he put a stroke of the pen; into the second the whole emphasis of his character. The first is his verbal sop to the idealist; the second is his impassioned message to his generation. By his use of rhetorical balance he gives a superficial appearance of the mental equivalent; but by his violent and infallible emphasis he becomes the greatest concocter of “weasel” paragraphs on record. In time his hearers learned to distinguish what he said from what he stood for, the part of his speech which was official rhetoric from the part that quivered with personal force.
He said, it is true, that “mere fervor for excellence in the abstract is a great mainspring for good work”; but in practice he night and day denounced in the most intolerant language those who exhibited mere fervor for excellence in the abstract, and even those who sought excellence by other ways than his. He professed love for the plain people; but the Progressive episode looks today, so far as he was concerned, like a momentary hot fit and political aberration of a confirmed Hamiltonian, regarding the plain people not so much socially as politically, not so much as individuals as a massive instrument for the uses of the state and the governing class. He said that he had a regard for peace but he made plain that he loved and valued war; and he denounced every one else who said a good word for peace, he reviled every type of pacifist so mercilessly as to rouse suspicion as to whether he really cared a rap for the object of the pacifists. He expressed approval of arbitration; but he invariably followed up such expressions with an assertion that the only effective arbitrator is a man in shining armor. He avowed a desire for international order; but his imagination and his faith did not rise to a vision of other ways of attaining it than the ways of Alexander and Caesar–by the imperial dominion of armed power; and he denounced other modes of working for international order so bitterly as to raise a doubt as to his regard for the object. He admitted, like many of his followers, a faint and eleventh-hour respect for the abstract idea of a league of nations; but he led in raising such a thunder of opposition to the only league within sight and reach that he weakened the hands of the American framers, and raised a question as to what he meant in the old days by his fiery declamation against those who “make the impossible better forever the enemy of the possible good.”
Mr. Roosevelt has attained satisfactions which he thought should console fallen empires: he has left heirs and a glorious memory. How much more glorious it might have been if in his great personality there had been planted a spark of magnanimity. If, after he had drunk of personal glory like a Scandinavian giant, he had lent his giant strength to a cause of the plain people not of his contriving nor under his leadership. If in addition to helping win the war he had identified himself with the attainment of its one grand popular object. From performing this supreme service he was prevented by defects of temper which he condemned in Cromwell, a hero whom he admired and in some respects strikingly resembled. Cromwell’s desire, he says, was to remedy specific evils. He was too impatient to found the kind of legal and constitutional system which would prevent the recurrence of such evils. Cromwell’s extreme admirers treat his impatience of the delays and shortcomings of ordinary constitutional and legal proceedings as a sign of his greatness. It was just the reverse… His strength, his intensity of conviction, his delight in exercising powers for what he conceived to be good ends; his dislike for speculative reforms and his inability to appreciate the necessity of theories to a practical man who wishes to do good work… all these tendencies worked together to unfit him for the task of helping a liberty-loving people on the road to freedom.