no more use for the constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license -- 8/03/20

Today's selection -- from The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. At the State of the Union Address in 1907, the America economy seemed unstoppable, and President Theodore Roosevelt basked in the praise of some and the delicately phrased criticism of others. In mere months the economy would crash in a full-scale panic, but Roosevelt would escape blame for that crisis:

"'On this day of our Lord, January 1, 1907,' the Washington Evening Star reports, 'we are the richest people in the world.' The national wealth 'has been rolling up at the rate of $4.6 billion-per year, $127.3 million per day, $5.5 million per hour, $88,430 per minute, and $1,474 per second' during President Roosevelt's two Administrations. Never have American farmers harvested such tremendous crops; railroads are groaning under the weight of unprecedented payloads; shipyards throb with record construction; the banks are awash with a spring-tide of money. Every one of the forty-five states has enriched itself since the last census, and in per capita terms Washington, D.C., is now 'the Richest Spot on Earth.'

"Politically, too, it has been a year of superlatives, many of them supplied, with characteristic immodesty, by the President himself. 'No Congress in our time has done more good work,' he fondly told the fifty-ninth, having battered it into submission with the sheer volume of his social legislation. He calls its first session 'the most substantial' in his experience of public affairs. Joseph G. Cannon, the Speaker of the House, agrees, with one reservation about the President's methods. 'Roosevelt's all right,' says Cannon, 'but he's got no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license.'

"'Theodore the Sudden' has been accused of having a similar contempt for international law, ever since the afternoon in 1903 when he allowed a U.S. warship to 'monitor' the Panamanian Revolution. If he loses any sleep over his role in that questionable coup d'état, he shows no sign. On the contrary, he glories in the fact that America is now actually building the Panama Canal 'after four centuries of conversation' by other nations. A few weeks ago he visited the Canal Zone (the first trip abroad by a U.S. President in office), and the colossal excavations there moved him to Shakespearean hyperbole. 'It shall be in future enough to say of any man "he was connected with digging the Panama Canal" to confer the patent of nobility on that man,' Roosevelt told his sweating engineers. 'From time to time little men will come along to find fault with what you have done ... they will go down the stream like bubbles, they will vanish; but the work you have done will remain for the ages.'

President Theodore Roosevelt at the "Congressional Vaudeville" conducting an orchestra ... 

"Few, indeed, are the little men who can find fault with the President on this beautiful New Year's Day, but they are correspondingly shrill. Congressman James Wadsworth, a battered opponent of Roosevelt's Pure Food Act (which goes into effect today), growls that 'the bloody hero of Kettle Hill' is 'unreliable, a faker, and a humbug.' The editor of the St. Louis Censor, who has never forgiven Roosevelt for inviting a black man to dine in the White House, warns that he is now trying to end segregation of Orientals in San Francisco schools. 'Almost every week his Administration has been characterized by some outrageous act of usurpation ... he is the most dangerous foe to human liberty that has ever set foot on American soil.' Another Southerner, by the name of Woodrow Wilson, is tempted to agree: 'He is the most dangerous man of the age.' Mark Twain believes that the President is 'clearly insane ... and insanest upon war and its supreme glories.'

"Roosevelt is used to such criticism. He has been hearing it all his life. 'If a man has a very decided character, has a strongly accentuated career, it is normally the case of course that he makes ardent friends and bitter enemies.' Yet even impartial observers will admit there is a grain of truth in Twain's assertions. The President certainly has an irrational love of battle. He ceaselessly praises the joys of righteous killing, most recently in his annual message to Congress: 'A just war is in the long run far better for a man's soul than the most prosperous peace.'

"Yet the fact about this most pugnacious of Presidents is that his two terms in office have been almost completely tranquil. (If he had not inherited an insurrection in the Philippines from William McKinley, he could absolve himself of any military deaths.) He is currently being hailed around the world as a flawless diplomat, and the man who has done more to advance the cause of peace than any other. If all Eastern Asia -- and for that matter most of Western Europe -- is not embroiled in conflict, it is largely due to peace settlements delicately mediated by Theodore Roosevelt. At the same time he has managed, without so much as firing one American pistol, to elevate his country to the giddy heights of world power.

"He never tires of reminding people that his famous aphorism 'Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick' proceeds according to civilized priorities. Persuasion should come before force. In any case it is the availability of raw power, not the use of it, that makes for effective diplomacy. Last summer's rebellion in Cuba, which left the island leaderless, provided Roosevelt with a textbook example. Acting as usual with lightning swiftness, he invoked an almost forgotten security agreement and proclaimed a U.S.-backed provisional government within twenty-four hours of the collapse of the old. While Secretary of War William H. Taft worked 'to restore order and peace and public confidence,' American warships steamed thoughtfully up and down the Cuban coastline. The rebels disbanded, Taft returned to Washington, and the big white ships followed. Cuba is now assured of regaining her independence, and the Big Stick has been laid down unbloodied.

"Roosevelt hopes the episode will put to an end, once and for all, rumors that he is still at heart an expansionist. 'I have about as much desire to annex more islands,' he declares, 'as a boa-constrictor has to swallow a porcupine wrong end to.'"



Edmund Morris


The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt


Modern Library


Copyright 1979 Edmund Morris


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment