Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography

Author: William Roscoe Thayer

Chapter VI. Applying Morals to Politics

I have said that Roosevelt devoted the two years after he came back to New York to writing, but it would be a mistake to imagine that writing alone busied him. He was never a man who did or would do only one thing at a time. His immense energy craved variety, and in variety he found recreation. Now that the physical Roosevelt had caught up in relative strength with the intellectual, he could take what holidays requiring exhaustless bodily vigor he chose. The year seldom passed now when he did not go West for a month or two. Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow were established with their families on the Elkhorn Ranch, which Roosevelt continued to own, although, I believe, like many ranches at that period, it ceased to be a good investment. Sometimes he made a hurried dash to southern Texas, or to the Selkirks, or to Montana in search of new sorts of game. In the mountains he indulged in climbing, but this was not a favorite with him because it offered less sport in proportion to the fatigue. While he was still a young man he had gone up the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, feats which still required endurance, although they did not involve danger.

While we think of him, therefore, as dedicating himself to his literary work—the "Winning of the West" and the accounts of ranch life—we must remember that he had leisure for other things. He watched keenly the course of politics, for instance, and in 1888 when the Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison as their candidate for President, Roosevelt supported him effectively and took rank with the foremost Republican speakers of the campaign. After his election Harrison, who both recognized Roosevelt’s great ability and felt under obligation to him, wished to offer him the position of an under-secretary in the State Department; but Blaine, who was slated for Secretary of State, had no liking for the young Republican whose coolness in 1884 he had not forgotten. So Harrison invited Roosevelt to be a Civil Service Commissioner. The position had never been conspicuous; its salary was not large; its duties were of the routine kind which did not greatly tax the energies of the Commissioners, who could never hope for fame, but only for the approval of their own consciences for whatever good work they did. The Machine Republicans, whether of national size, or of State or municipal, were glad to know that Roosevelt would be put out of the way in that office.

They already thought of him as a young man dangerous to all Machines and so they felt the prudence of bottling him up. To make him a Civil Service Commissioner was not exactly so final as chloroforming a snarling dog would be, but it was a strong measure of safety. Theodore’s friends, on the other hand, advised him against accepting the appointment, because, they said, it would shelve him, politically, use up his brains which ought to be spent on higher work, and allow the country which was just beginning to know him to forget his existence. Men drop out of sight so quickly at Washington unless they can stand on some pedestal which raises them above the multitude.

The Optimist of the future, to hasten whose coming we are all making the world so irresistibly attractive, will be endowed, let us hope, with a sense of humor. With that, he can read history as a cosmic joke-book, and not as the Biography of the Devil, as many of us moderns, besides Jean Paul, have found it. How long it has taken, and how much blood has been spilt before this or that most obvious folly has been abolished! With what absurd tenacity have men flown in the face of reason and flouted common sense! So our Optimist, looking into the conditions which made Civil Service Reform imperative, will shed tears either of pity or of laughter.

As long ago as the time of the cave-dweller, who was clothed in shaggy hair instead of in broadcloth or silk, prehistoric man learned that the best arrow or spear was that tipped with the best piece of flint. In brief, to do good work, you must have good tools. Translated into the terms of today, this means that the expert or specialist must be preferred to the untrained. In nearly all walks of life this truth was taken for granted, except in affairs connected with government and administration. A President might be elected, not because he was experienced in these matters, but because he had won a battle, or was the compromise candidate between two other aspirants. As it was with Presidents, so with the Cabinet officers, Congressmen, and State and city officials. Fitness being ignored as a qualification to office, made it easy for favoritism and selfish motives to determine the appointment of the army of employees required in the bureaus and departments. That good old political freebooter, Andrew Jackson, merely put into words what his predecessors had put into practice: "To the victors belong the spoils." And since his time, more than one upright and intelligent theorist on government has supported the Party System even to the point where the enjoyment of the spoils by the victors seems justified. The "spoils" were the salaries paid to the lower grade of placemen and women—salaries usually not very large, but often far above what those persons could earn in honest competition. As the money came out of the public purse, why worry? And how could party enthusiasm during the campaign and at the polls be kept up, if some of the partisans might not hope for tangible rewards for their services? Many rich men sat in Congress, and the Senate be came, proverbially, a millionaires’ club. But not one of these plutocrats conducted the private business which made him rich by the methods to which he condemned the business administration of the government. He did not fill his counting-room with shirkers and incompetents; he did not find sinecures for his wife’s poor relations; he did not pad his payroll with parasites whose characteristics were an itching palm and an unconquerable aversion to work. He knew how to select the quickest, cleverest, most industrious assistants, and through them he prospered.

That a man who had sworn to uphold and direct his government to the best of his ability, should have the conscience to treat his country as he did not treat himself, can be easily explained: he had no conscience. Fashion, like a local anaesthetic, deadens the sensitiveness of conscience in this or that spot; and the prevailing fashion under all governments, autocratic or democratic, has permitted the waste and even the dishonest application of public funds.

These anomalies at last roused the sense of humor of some of our citizens, just as the injustice and dishonesty which the system embodied roused the moral sense of others; and the Reform of the Civil Service—a dream at first, and then a passionate cause which the ethical would not let sleep—came into being. But to the politicians of the old type, the men of "inflooence" and "pull," the project seemed silly. They ridiculed it, and they expected to make it ridiculous in the eyes of the American people, by calling it "Snivel" Service Reform. Zealots, however, cannot be silenced by mockery. The contention that fitness should have something to do in the choice of public servants was effectively confirmed by the scientific departments of the government. The most shameless Senator would not dare to propose his brother’s widow to lead an astronomical expedition, or to urge the appointment of the ward Boss of his city as Chairman of the Coast Survey. So the American people perceived that there were cases in which the Spoils System did not apply. The reformers pushed ahead; Congress at last took notice, and a law was passed bringing a good many appointees in the Post Office and other departments under the Merit System. The movement then gained ground slowly and the spoilsmen began to foresee that if it spread to the extent which seemed likely, it would deprive them of much of their clandestine and corrupting power. Senator Roscoe Conkling, one of the wittiest and most brazen of these, remarked, that when Dr. Johnson told Boswell that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he had not sounded the possibilities of "reform."

The first administration of President Cleveland, who was a great, irremovable block of stubbornness in whatever cause he thought right, gave invaluable help to this one. The overturn of the Republican Party, after it had held power for twenty-four years, entailed many changes in office and in all classes of office-holders. Cleveland had the opportunity, therefore, of applying the Merit System as far as the law had carried it, and his actions gave Civil Service Reformers much though not complete satisfaction. The movement was just at the turning-point when Roosevelt was appointed Commissioner in 1 889. Under listless or timid direction it would have flagged and probably lost much ground; but Roosevelt could never do anything listlessly and whatever he pushed never lost ground.

The Civil Service Commission appointed by President Harrison consisted of three members, of whom the President was C. R. Procter, later Charles Lyman, with Roosevelt and Hugh Thompson, an ex-Confederate soldier. I do not disparage Roosevelt’s colleagues when I say that they were worthy persons who did not claim to have an urgent call to reform the Civil Service, or anything else. They were not of the stuff which leads revolts or reforms, but they were honest and did their duty firmly. They stood by Roosevelt "shoulder to shoulder," and Thompson’s mature judgment restrained his impetuosity. Roosevelt always acknowledged what he owed to the Southern gentleman. In a very short time the Commission, Congress, and the public learned that it was Roosevelt, the youngest member, just turned thirty years of age, who steered the Commission. Hostile critics would say, of course, that he usurped the leadership; but I think that this is inaccurate. It was not his conceit or ambition, it was destiny working through him, which made where he sat the head of the table. Being tremendously interested in this cause and incomparably abler than Lyman or Thompson, he naturally did most of the work, and his decisions shaped their common policy. The appeal to his sense of humor and his sense of justice stimulated him, and being a man who already saw what large consequences sometimes flow from small causes he must have been buoyed up by the thought that any of the cases which came before him might set a very important precedent.

Roosevelt acted on the principle that the office holder who swears to carry out a law must do this without hesitation or demur. If the law is good, enforcing it will make its goodness apparent to everybody; if it is bad, it will become the more quickly odious and need to be repealed. Roosevelt enforced the Civil Service Law with the utmost rigor. It called for the examination of candidates for office, and the examiners paid some heed to their moral fitness. Its opponents tried to stir up public opinion against it by circulating what purported to be some of its examination papers. Why, they asked, should a man who wished to be a letter-carrier in Keokuk, be required to give a list of the Presidents of the United States? Or what was the shortest route for a letter going from Bombay to Yokohama? By these and similar spurious questions the spoilsmen hoped to get rid of the reformers. But "shrewd slander," as Roosevelt called it, could not move him. Two specimen cases will suffice to show how he reduced shrewd slanderers to confusion. The first was Charles Henry Grosvenor, an influential Republican Congressman from Ohio, familiarly known as the "Gentle Shepherd of Ohio," because of his efforts to raise the tariff on wool for the benefit of the owners of the few thousand sheep in that State. A Congressional Committee was investigating the Civil Service Commission and Roosevelt asked that Grosvenor, who had attacked it, might be summoned. Grosvenor, however, did not appear, but when he learned that Roosevelt was going to his Dakota ranch for a vacation, he sent word that he would come. Nevertheless, this gallant act failed to save him, for Roosevelt canceled his ticket West, and confronted Grosvenor at the investigation. The Gentle Shepherd protested that he had never said that he wished to repeal the Civil Service Law; whereupon Roosevelt read this extract from one of his speeches: "I will vote not only to strike out this provision, but I will vote to repeal the whole law." When Roosevelt pointed out the inconsistency of the two statements, Grosvenor declared that they meant the same thing.

Being caught thus by one foot in Roosevelt’s mantrap, he quickly proceeded to be caught by the other. He declared that Rufus P. Putnam, one of the candidates in dispute, had never lived in Grosvenor’s Congressional district, or even in Ohio. Then Mr. Roosevelt quoted from a letter written by Grosvenor: "Mr. Rufus P. Putnam is a legal resident of my district, and has relatives living there now." With both feet caught in the man-trap, the Gentle Shepherd was suffering much pain, but Truth is so great a stranger to spoilsmen that he found difficulty in getting within speaking distance of her. For he protested, first, that he never wrote the letter, next, that he had forgotten that he wrote it, and finally, that he was misinformed when he wrote it. So far as appears, he never risked a tilt with the smiling young Commissioner again, but returned to his muttons and their fleeces.

A still more distinguished personage fell before the enthusiastic Commissioner. This was Arthur Pue Gorman, a Senator from Maryland, a Democrat, one of the most pertinacious agents of the Big Interests in the United States Congress. Evidently, also, he served them well, as they kept him in the Senate for nearly twenty-five years, until his death. They employed Democrats as well as Republicans, just as they subscribed to both Democratic and Republican campaign funds. For, "in politics there is no politics." Gorman, who knew that the Spoils System was almost indispensable to the running of a political machine, waited for a chance to attack the Civil Service Commission. Thinking that the propitious moment had come, he inveighed against it in the Senate. He "described with moving pathos," as Roosevelt tells the story, "how a friend of his, ’a bright young man from Baltimore,’ a Sunday-School scholar, well recommended by his pastor, wished to be a letter-carrier;" but the cruel examiners floored him by asking the shortest route from Baltimore to China, to which he replied that, as he never wished to go to China, he hadn’t looked up the route. Then, Senator Gorman asserted, the examiners quizzed him about all the steamship lines from the United States to Europe, branched off into geology and chemistry, and "turned him down."

Gorman was unaware that the Commissioners kept records of all their examinations, and when Roosevelt wrote him a polite note inquiring the name of the "bright young man from Baltimore," Gorman did not reply. Roosevelt also asked him, in case he shrank from giving the name of his informant, to give the date when the alleged examination took place. He even offered to open the files to any representative the Senator chose to send. Gorman, however, "not hitherto known as a sensitive soul," as Roosevelt remarks, "expressed himself as so shocked at the thought that the veracity of the bright young man should be doubted, that he could not bring himself to answer my letter." Accordingly, Roosevelt made a public statement that the Commissioners had never asked the questions which Gorman alleged. Gorman waited until the next session of Congress and then, in a speech before the Senate, complained that he had received a very "impudent" letter from Commissioner Roosevelt "cruelly" calling him to account, when he was simply endeavoring to right a great wrong which the Commission had committed. But neither then nor afterwards did he furnish "any clue to the identity of that child of his fondest fancy, the bright young man without a name."

Roosevelt must have chuckled with a righteous exultation at such evidence as this that the Lord had delivered the Philistines into his hands; and his abomination of the Spoils System must have deepened when he saw its Grosvenors and its Gormans brazen out the lies he caught them telling.

When the spoilsmen failed to get rid of the Commission by ridicule and by open attack, they resorted to the trick of not appropriating money for it in this or that district. But this did not succeed, for the Commission, owing to lack of funds, held no examinations in those districts, and therefore no candidates from them could get offices. This made the politicians unpopular with the hungry office-seekers whom they deprived of their food at the public trough.

The Commission had to struggle, however, not only to keep unfit candidates out of office, but to keep in office those who discharged their duty honestly and zealously. After every election there came a rush of Congressmen and others, to turn out the tried and trusty employees and to put in their own applicants. Such an overturn was of course detrimental to the service; first, because it substituted greenhorns for trained employees, and next, because it introduced the haphazard of politicians’ whims for a just scheme of promotion and retention in office. Roosevelt lamented bitterly over the injustice and he denounced the waste. Many cases of grievous hardship came to his notice. Widows, whose only means of support for themselves and their little children was their salary, were thrown upon the street in order that rapacious politicians might secure places for their henchmen. Roosevelt might plead, but the politician remained obdurate. What was the tragic lot of a widow and starving children compared with keeping promises with greedy "heelers"? Roosevelt saw that there was no redress except through the extension of the classified service. This he urged at all times, and ten years later, when he was himself President, he added more than fifty thousand offices to the list of those which the spoilsmen could not clutch.

He served six years as Civil Service Commissioner, being reappointed in 1892 by President Cleveland. The overturn in parties which made Cleveland President for the second time, enabled Roosevelt to watch more closely the working of the Reform System and he did what he could to safeguard those Government employees who were Republicans from being ousted for the benefit of Democrats. In general, he believed in laying down certain principles on the tenure of office and in standing resolutely by them. Thus, in 1891, under Harrison, on being urged to retain General Corse, the excellent Democratic Postmaster of Boston, he replied to his friend Curtis Guild that Corse ought to be continued as a matter of principle and not because Cleveland, several years before, had retained Pearson, the Republican Postmaster of New York, as an exception.

At the end of six years, Roosevelt felt that he had worked on the Commission long enough to let the American people understand how necessary it was to maintain and extend the Merit System in the Civil Service. A sudden access of virtue had just cast out the Tammany Ring in New York City and set up Mr. Strong, a Reformer, as Mayor. He wished to secure Roosevelt’s help and Roosevelt was eager to give it. The Mayor offered him the headship of the Street Cleaning Department, but this he declined, not because he thought the place beneath him, but because he lacked the necessary scientific qualifications, and Mayor Strong, was lucky in finding for it the best man in the country, Colonel George E. Waring. Accordingly, the Mayor ap pointed Roosevelt President of the Board of Police Commissioners, and he accepted.

The Police System in New York City in 1895, when Roosevelt took control, was a monstrosity which, in almost every respect, did exactly the opposite from what the Police System is organized to do. Moral values had been so perverted that it took a strong man to hold fast to the rudimentary distinctions between Good and Evil. The Police existed, in theory, to protect the lives and property of respectable citizens; to catch law-breakers and hand them over to the courts for punishment; to hunt down gamblers, swindlers, and all the other various criminals and purveyors of vice. In reality, the Police under Tammany abetted crime and protected the vicious. This they did, not because they had any special hostility to Virtue—they probably knew too little about it to form a dispassionate opinion any way—but because Vice paid better. They held the cynical view that human nature will always breed a great many persons having a propensity to licentious or violent habits; that laws were made to check and punish these persons, and that they might go their pernicious ways unmolested if the Police took no notice of them. So the Police established a system of immunity which anybody could enjoy by paying the price. Notorious gambling-hells "ran wide open" after handing the required sum to the high police official who extorted it. Hundreds of houses of ill-fame carried on their hideous traffic undisturbed, so long as the Police Captain of the district received his weekly bribe. Gangs of roughs, toughs, and gunmen pursued their piratical business without thinking of the law, for they shared their spoils with the supposed officers of the law. And there were more degenerate miscreants still, who connived with the Police and went unscathed. As if the vast sums collected from these willing bribers were not enough, the Police added a system of blackmail to be levied on those who were not deliberately vicious, but who sought convenience. If you walked downtown you found the sidewalk in front of certain stores almost barricaded by packing-boxes, whereas next door the way might be clear. This simply meant that the firm which wished to use the sidewalk for its private advantage paid the policeman on that beat, and he looked the other way. As there was an ordinance against almost every conceivable thing, so the Police had a price for making every ordinance a dead letter. Was this a cosmic joke, a nightmare of cynicism, a delusion? No, New York was classed in the reference books as a Christian city, and this was its Christianity.

Roosevelt knew the seamless bond which connected the crime and vice of the city with corrupt politics. The party Bosses, Republicans and Democrats alike, were the final profiters from police blackmail and bribery. As he held his mandate from a Reform Administration, he might expect to be aided by it on the political side; at least, he did not fear that the heads of the other departments would secretly work to block his purification of the Police. A swift examination showed him that the New York Police Department actually protected the criminals and promoted every kind of iniquity which it existed to put down. It was as if in a hospital which should cure the sick, the doctors, instead of curing disease, should make the sick worse and should make the well sick. How was Roosevelt, equally valiant and honest, to conquer this Hydra? He took the straight way dictated by common sense. First of all, he gained the confidence and respect of his men. He said afterwards, that even at its worst, when he went into office, the majority of the Police wanted to do right; that their instincts were loyal; and this meant much, because they were tempted on all sides by vicious wrongdoers; they had constantly before them the example of superiors who took bribes and they received neither recognition nor praise for their own worthy deeds.

The Force came very soon to understand that under Roosevelt every man would get a "square deal." "Pulls" had no efficacy. The Chief Commissioner personally kept track of as many men as he could. When he saw in the papers one morning that Patrolman X had saved a woman from drowning, he looked him up, found that the man had been twenty-two years in the service, had saved twenty five lives, and had never been noticed, much less thanked, by the Commission. More than this, he had to buy his own uniform, and as this was often rendered unfit for further use when he rescued persons from drowning, or from a burning house, his heroism cost him much in dollars and cents. By Roosevelt’s orders the Department henceforth paid for new uniforms in such cases, and it awarded medals. By recognizing the good, and by weeding out as fast as possible the bad members of the Force, Roosevelt thus organized the best body of Police which New York City had ever seen. There were, of course, some black sheep among them whom he could not reach, but he changed the fashion, so that it was no longer a point of excellence to be a black sheep.

Roosevelt rigorously enforced the laws, without regard to his personal opinion. It happened that at that time the good people of New York insisted that liquor saloons should do no business on Sundays. This prohibition had long been on the statute book, but it had been generally evaded because the saloon keepers had paid the Bosses, who controlled the Police Department, to let them keep open—usually by a side door—on Sundays. Indeed, the statute was evidently passed by the Bosses in order to widen their opportunity for blackmail; but in this they overreached themselves. For the liquor-sellers at last revolted, and they held conferences with the Bosses—David B. Hill was then the Democratic State Boss and Richard Croker the Tammany Boss - and they published in the Wine and Spirit Gazette, their organ, this statement: "An agreement was made between the leaders of Tammany Hall and the liquor-dealers, according to which the monthly blackmail paid to the force should be discontinued in return for political support." Croker and his pals, taking it as a matter of course that the public knew their methods, neither denied this incriminating statement nor thought it worth noticing. For a while all the saloons enjoyed equal immunity in selling drinks on Sunday. Then came Roosevelt and ordered his men to close every saloon. Many of the bar-keepers laughed incredulously at the patrol man who gave the order; many others flew into a rage. The public denounced this attempt to strangle its liberties and reviled the Police Chief as the would be enforcer of obsolescent blue laws. But they could not frighten Roosevelt: the saloons were closed. Nevertheless, even he could not prevail against the overwhelming desire for drink. Crowds of virtuous citizens preferred. an honest police force, but they preferred their beer or their whiskey still more, and joined with the criminal classes, the disreputables, and all the others who regarded any law as outrageous which interfered with their personal habits. Accordingly, since they could not budge Roosevelt, they changed the law. A compliant local judge discovered that it was lawful to take what drink you chose with a meal, and the result was that, as Roosevelt describes it, a man by eating one pretzel might drink seventeen beers.

Roosevelt himself visited all parts of the city and chiefly those where Vice grew flagrant at night. The journalists, who knew of his tours of inspection and were always on the alert for the picturesque, likened him to the great Caliph who in similar fashion investigated Baghdad, and they nicknamed him Haroun al Roosevelt. He had for his companion Jacob Riis, a remarkable Dane who migrated to this country in youth, got the position of reporter on one of the New York dailies, frequented the courts, studied the condition of the abject poor in the tenement-houses, and the haunts where Vice breeds like scum on stagnant pools, and wrote a book, "How the Other Half Lives," which startled the consciences of the well-to-do and the virtuous. Riis showed Roosevelt everything. Police headquarters were in Mulberry Street, and yet within a stone’s throw iniquity flourished. He guided him through the Tenderloin District, and the wharves, and so they made the rounds of the vast city. More than once Roosevelt surprised a shirking patrolman on his beat, but his purpose they all knew was to see justice done, and to keep the officers of the Force up to the highest standard of duty.

One other anecdote concerning his experience as Police Commissioner I repeat, because it shows by what happy touches of humor he sometimes dispersed menacing clouds. A German Jew-baiter, Rector Ahlwardt, came over from Berlin to preach a crusade against the Jews. Great trepidation spread through the Jewish colony and they asked Roosevelt to forbid Ahlwardt from holding public meetings against them. This, he saw, would make a martyr of the German persecutor and probably harm the Jews more than it would help them. So Roosevelt bethought him of a device which worked perfectly. He summoned forty of the best Jewish policemen on the Force and ordered them to preserve order in the hall and prevent Ahlwardt from being interrupted or abused. The meeting passed off without disturbance; Ahlwardt stormed in vain against the Jews; the audience and the public saw the humor of the affair and Jew-baiting gained no foothold in New York City. Although Roosevelt thoroughly enjoyed his work as Police Commissioner, he felt rightly that it did not afford him the freest scope to exercise his powers. Much as he valued executive work, the putting into practice and carrying out of laws, he felt more and more strongly the desire to make them, and his instinct told him that he was fitted for this higher task. When, therefore, the newly elected Republican President, William McKinley, offered him the apparently modest position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he accepted it.

There was general grieving in New York City—except among the criminals and Tammany—at the news of his resignation. All sorts of persons expressed regrets that were really sincere, and their gratitude for the good which he had done for them all. Some of them protested that he ought not to abandon the duty which he had discharged so valiantly. One of these was Edwin L. Godkin, editor of The Nation and the New York Evening Post, a critic who seldom spoke politely of anything except ideals which had not been attained, or commended persons who were not dead and so beyond reach of praise.

Since Roosevelt himself has quoted this passage from Godkin’s letter to him, I think it ought to be reprinted here: "I have a concern, as the Quakers say, to put on record my earnest belief that in New York you are doing the greatest work of which any American today is capable, and exhibiting to the young men of the country the spectacle of a very important office administered by a man of high character in the most efficient way amid a thousand difficulties. As a lesson in politics I cannot think of anything more instructive."

Godkin was a great power for good, in spite of the obvious unpopularity which an incessant critic cannot fail to draw down upon himself. The most pessimistic of us secretly crave a little respite when for half an hour we may forget the circumambient and all-pervading gloom: music, or an entertaining book, or a dear friend lifts the burden from us. And then comes our uncompromising pessimist and chides us for our softness and for letting ourselves be led astray from our pessimism. His jeremiads are probably justified, and as the historian looks back he finds that they give the truest statement of the past; for the present must be very bad, indeed, if it does not discover conditions still worse in the past from which it has emerged. But Godkin living could not escape from two sorts of unsympathetic depreciators: first, the wicked who smarted under his just scourge, and next, the upright, who tired of unremittent censure, although they admitted that it was just.

Roosevelt came, quite naturally, to set the doer above the critic, who, he thought, quickly degenerated into a fault finder and from that into a common scold. When a man plunges into a river to save somebody from drowning, if you do not plunge in yourself, at least do not jeer at him for his method of swimming. So Roosevelt, who shrank from no bodily or moral risk himself, held in scorn the "timid good," the " acidly cantankerous," the peace-at-any-price people, and the entire tribe of those who, instead of attacking iniquities and abuses, attacked those who are desperately engaged in fighting these, For this reason he probably failed to absorb from Godkin’s criticism some of the benefit which it might have brought him. The pills were bitter, but salutary. While he was Police Commissioner one of Joseph Choate’s epigrams passed current and is still worth recalling. When some one remarked that New York was a very wicked city, Choate replied, "How can you expect it to be otherwise, when Dana makes Vice so attractive in the Sun every morning, and Godkin makes Virtue so odious in the Post every afternoon?" Charles A. Dana, the editor of the Sun, the stanch supporter of Tammany Hall, and the apologist of almost every evil movement for nearly thirty years, was a writer of diabolical cleverness whose newspaper competed with Godkin’s among the intellectual readers in search of amusement. At one time, when Godkin had been particularly caustic, and the Mugwumps at Harvard were unusually critical, Roosevelt attended a committee meeting at the University. After talking with President Eliot, he went and sat by a professor, and remarked, play fully, "Eliot is really a good fellow at heart. Do you suppose that, if he bit Godkin, it would take?" So Roosevelt went back to Washington to be henceforth, as it proved, a national figure whose career was to be forever embedded in the structural growth of the United States.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: William Roscoe Thayer, "Chapter VI. Applying Morals to Politics," Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, ed. Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907 in Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: Thayer, William Roscoe. "Chapter VI. Applying Morals to Politics." Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, edited by Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907, in Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Thayer, WR, 'Chapter VI. Applying Morals to Politics' in Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography, ed. . cited in , Theodore Roosevelt; An Intimate Biography. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from