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REFLECTIONS ON THE FUTURE OF THE PROGRESSIVE
PARTY AND HIS OWN LEADERSHIP
That Roosevelt believed the career of the Progressive party had come to an end and that his political leadership was no longer desired by the country, his letters after election in 1912 and during 1913 leave no doubt. Writing to the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Grey, afterwards Viscount Grey, and British Ambassador to the United States in 1919, at London, on November 15, 1913, he said:
“As for the political fight here (1912), I did not believe we would win, and I can say quite honestly that I have little or no personal regret in the outcome. But I do feel sorry from the broader standpoint. Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time, and if a country lets the time for wise action pass,
may bitterly repent when a generation later it strives under disheartening difficulties to do what could have been done so easily if attempted at the right moment. We Progressives were fighting for elementary social and industrial justice, and we had with us the great majority of the practical idealists of the country. But we had against us both the old political organizations and ninety-nine per cent at the very least of the corporate wealth of the country, and therefore the great majority of the newspapers. Moreover we were not able to reach the hearts of the materialists, or to stir the imagination of the well-meaning somewbat sodden men who lack vision and prefer to travel in a groove. We were fought by the Socialists as bitterly as by the representatives of the two old parties, and this for the very reason that we stand equally against government by a plutocracy and government by a mob.
“There is something to be said for government by a great aristocracy which has furnished leaders to the nation in peace and war for generations; even a democrat like myself must admit this. But there is absolutely nothing to be said for government by a plutocracy, for government by men very powerful in certain lines and gifted with the 'money touch,' but with ideals which in their essence are merely those of so many glorified pawnbrokers.'
To Sir Henry Lucy, London, he wrote on December 18, 1912:
“As for my own political future, I think the general English estimate is right. I hated to get into this fight at all, but I did not see how to avoid it; and having gone in, there was nothing to do but to put it through. It was very bitter for me to see the Republican Party, when I had put it back on the Abraham Lincoln basis, in three years turn over to a combination of big financiers and unscrupulous political bosses. What the future of the Progressive Party will be, nobody can say, but I am very confident that our principles in some shape or other will triumph. At present, however, I do not see how the party can triumph under me; but I have to continue to take a certain interest in it until a new man of sufficient power comes along."
A letter that he wrote to George D. Crocker, of Boston, on November 19, 1912, is interesting as showing a disposition to abandon the issue which he himself had misnamed the recall of judges :
Now as to the name which has been given by me to the doctrine. It was given by me in a number of arguments in which I was trying to show that what was needed was not to recall judges who gave wrong constitutional decisions, but to recall the decisions. I have myself regretted the continuous use of the term, but it is difficult to get a short term to explain just what we want to do.
“There is another fundamental difficulty for which I am largely responsible. A name to me means very little and I perpetually have to remind myself that such is not the fact
with most people. For instance, I found many good people very much concerned over the separation of Panama from Colombia as long as it was called a secession, but not minding it at all as long as it was called a revolution! It took me a long time to realize that they identified secession with the action of the Southern Confederacy, and revolution with our action in 1776! So it is in this matter. I do not in the least care whether the form is that the voters be called upon to decide whether the Supreme Court is right or wrong in its interpretation of the Constitution, or whether they are called on to decide whether they wish some specifio act to become a law, notwithstanding the Constitution.
“If you will turn to the 11th amendment of the National Constitution, you will find that there, in the administration of the older Adams, and with the sanction of Washington, and of all our statesmen, the people by popular vote in constitutional manner decided that the Constitution should be construed in the reverse way from that in which the Supreme Court had construed it in a given case. In this instance the people acted as a tribunal which decided the interpretation of the Constitution. But I think that the easiest way to put the case and avoid misconception is as you suggest, that is to say, that we propose a reasonably quick and definite method of changing the Constitution ad hoc on a specific case, and thus avoid the very real dangers of changing the general language of the Constitution.”
As a matter of fact Roosevelt seems to have taken only slight interest in the recall question after 1914. It is quite possible that a decided change in the attitude of the courts toward cases involving relations between employers and employees had much to do with his abandonment of the subject, for three New York decisions which he had criticized most severely were reversed by the courts of last resort.
These reversals could reasonably be traced to an influence upon the courts of a public opinion which his agitation of the subject had produced, leading to a construction of the law more in accordance with new social condi
tions. That the courts are subject to influences of this sort, and quite justly so, it would be idle to deny.
That Justice Moody of the Supreme Court, who while Attorney General had approved of Roosevelt's utterances, took this view of the matter, appears in a letter that he wrote to Charles G. Washburn, on May 11, 1916, from which I quote these passages:
“There are some parts of Roosevelt's work as President which I think no one knew better than I did, and there are some results of it which ought to receive thorough study and be brought clearly to light. I have here in mind the effect of his acts and preachings upon economic thought and the development of the constitutional theory of our government. If one contrasts the state of opinion as to the proper relation between capital and labor and the proper attitude of government toward both as that opinion existed say, just before the War with Spain and as it exists to-day, one cannot fail to see that there has been an extraordinary change. In this change I believe he was the one great leader in this country; not that he was preaching things altogether novel or that he was originating a new system of social philosophy; but that at the right time he happened to be in the right place to convert his thoughts into acts and to teach them to a people anxious for constructive leadership, from what he once called the greatest pulpit in the world, the Presidency. ... Perhaps he would scout the idea that he had been a guide in constitutional interpretation. I remember the state of legal thought and the attitude of the Supreme Court in the nineties toward what we call the new nationalism. I believe no one appreciates more clearly than I the great change that has come to both since then. It is but a revival of the doctrines of Marshall, which at one time seemed to have lost potency. By the legislation which Theodore Roosevelt promoted against great odds, there have been drawn from the Supreme Court decisions which have declared the complete nationalism which is necessary to our future national life."
Writing on January 28, 1913, to Governor Hiram W. Johnson of California, who had been the Progressive nominee for Vice President, Roosevelt gave this estimate of the future prospects of the Progressive party as affected by the course which Wilson as President might follow:
“Our chance depends upon there being a break in the Democratic party. If they had nominated Judson Harmon last year, I think we should have won anyway; but Wilson was from their standpoint the best man that they could have nominated. I do not regard him as a man of great intensity of principle or conviction, or of much reality of sympathy with our cause. He is an adroit man, a good speaker and writer, with a certain amount of ability of just the kind requisite to his party under present conditions. He showed his adroitness during the campaign, and he may well be able to show similar adroitness during the next four years in the Presidency, and with the same result. In the campaign he talked ardent but diffuse progressiveness. He championed concretely a number of minor things for which we stand, and he trusted to the fact that the Bourbon Democrats, especially the Bourbon Democrats of the South, but also those of the North, would feel that they had to stand by him because their only hope is in the Democratic Party. He may do the same thing successfully as President.”
Another estimate of President Wilson, together with Roosevelt's views on a single Presidential term amendment to the Constitution, appears in a letter to me at Panama on February 10, 1913:
Wilson has a very difficult party situation, but a difficulty is always also an opportunity. If he is big enough to master his party he may make a great record and rivet the attention of the country upon him. At the moment they are trying to pass a constitutional amendment aimed primarily at me, but also at him. In his case they offer him the sop of six years certain instead of a possible eight years, and he may be willing to accept six. For my own sake I very earnestly hope they will pass the amendment, but from