« PreviousContinue »
heres in the Presidency more power than in any other office in any great republic or constitutional monarchy of modern times, it can only be saved from abuse by having the people as a whole accept as axiomatic the position that no man has held it for more than a limited time. I don't think that any harm comes from the concentration of power in one man's hands, provided the holder does not keep it for more than a certain, definite time, and then returns to the people from whom he sprang.
"In the great days of the Roman Republic no harm whatever came from the dictatorship, because great though the power of the dictator was, after a comparatively short period he surrendered it back to those from whom he gained it. On the other hand, the history of the first and second French Republics, not to speak of the SpanishAmerican Republics, not to speak of the Commonwealth, in Seventeenth Century England, has shown that the strong man who is good may very readily subvert free institutions if he and the people at large grow to accept his continued possession of vast power as being necessary to good government. It is a very unhealthy thing that any man should be considered necessary to the people as a whole, save in the way of meeting some given crisis. Moreover, in a republic like ours the vital need is that there shall be a general recognition of the moral law, of the law which, as regards public men, means belief in efficient and disinterested service for the public rendered without thought of personal gain, and above all without the thought of self-perpetuation in office.
“I regard the memories of Washington and Lincoln as priceless heritages for our people, just because they are the memories of strong men, of men who can not be accused of weakness or timidity, of men who I believe were quite as strong, for instance, as Cromwell or Bismarck, and very much stronger than the Louis Napoleon type, who, nevertheless, led careers marked by disinterestedness just as much as by strength; who, like Timoleon and Hampden, in very deed, and not as a mere matter of oratory or fine writing, sought just the public good, the good of the people as a whole, as the first of all considerations.
“Now, my ambition is that, in however small a way, the work I do shall be along the Washington and Lincoln lines. While President I have been President, emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office and I have not cared a rap for the criticisms of those who spoke of my 'usurpation of power'; for I know that the talk was all nonsense and that there was no usurpation. I believe that the efficiency of this Government depends upon its possessing a strong central executive, and wherever I could establish a precedent for strength in the executive, as I did for instance as regards the external affairs in the case of sending the fleet around the world, taking Panama, settling affairs of Santo Domingo and Cuba; or as I did in internal affairs in settling the anthracite coal strike, in keeping order in Nevada this year when the Federation of Miners threatened anarchy, or as I have done in bringing the big corporations to book-why, in all these cases I have felt not merely that my action was right in itself, but that in showing the strength of, or in giving strength to, the executive, I was establishing a precedent of value. I believe in a strong executive; I believe in power; but I believe that responsibility should go with power, and that it is not well that the strong executive should be a perpetual executive. Above all and beyond all I believe as I have said before that the salvation of this country depends upon Washington and Lincoln representing the type of leader to which we are true. I hope that in my acts I have been a good President, a President who has deserved well of the Republic; but most of all, I believe that whatever value my service may have, comes even more from what I am than from what I do...
"A few months ago three old back-country farmers turned up in Washington and after awhile managed to get in to see me. They were rugged old fellows, as hairy as Boers and a good deal of the Boer type. They hadn't a black coat among them, and two of them wore no cravats; that is, they just had on their working clothes, but all cleaned and brushed. When they finally got to see me they explained that they hadn't anything whatever to ask, but that they believed in me, believed that I stood for what they regarded as the American ideal, and as one rugged old fellow put it, 'We want to shake that honest hand.' Now this anecdote seems rather sentimental as I tell it, and I do not know that I can convey to you the effect the incident produced on me; but it was one of the very many incidents which have occurred, and they have made me feel that I am under a big debt of obligation to the good people of this country, and that I am bound not by any unnecessary action of mine to forfeit their respect, not to hurt them by taking away any part of what they have built up as their ideal of me.'
THE TAFT CAMPAIGN
EARLY in the fall, when the campaign for Taft's election was beginning to assume aggressive force, publication was made of letters which showed that Senator Foraker of Ohio, who had led the assault upon the President in the affair of the negro troops at Brownsville, had acted as the paid attorney of the Standard Oil Company while occupying a seat in the Senate. Senator Foraker had also opposed Taft's nomination and had not taken the stump for him after he was nominated. A public reconciliation of the two men had been arranged in accordance with which they were to appear on the same platform and shake hands. On the eve of this demonstration the disclosure of the Senator's connection with the Standard Oil Company was made. Mr. Taft was in a quandary as to what course to pursue. The President had no doubt whatever in the matter, for in a letter to Taft on September 19, 1908, he said:
“I have seen the correspondence between Archbold and Foraker, published in the morning papers. Now, it is difficult for any man to advise another as to a given act in a campaign. Personally, if I were running for President, I should in view of these disclosures decline to appear upon the platform with Foraker, and I would have it understood in detail what is the exact fact, namely, that Mr. Foraker's separation from you and from me has been due not in the least to a difference of opinion on the negro question, which was merely a pretense, but to the fact that he was the attorney of the corporations, their hired representative in public life, and that therefore he naturally and inevitably opposed us in every way; that he opposed us when it came to appointments on the bench just as he opposed legislation that we asked for in Congress. I think it essential, if the bad effect upon the canvass of those disclosures is to be obviated, that we should show unmistakably how completely loose from us Mr. Foraker is. If this is not shown affirmatively, there is danger that the people will not see it and will simply think that all Republicans are tarred with the same brush. In other words there is need for aggressive action on our part. My own feeling is that nothing is gained by temporizing in a matter like this, or by paying heed to the ridiculous little politician who thinks it is a good thing to get harmony between you and creatures of the Foraker stamp. I would like to see you in the strongest and most emphatic way do what I should do in your place make a fight openly on the ground that you stood in the Republican party and before the people for the triumph over the forces which were typified by the purchase of a United States Senator to do the will of the Standard Oil Company, and that you had been opposed by him because of this fundamental antagonism and that for the American people to beat you was to serve notice that they were willing to see a man punished because he declined to yield on such an issue.
Two days later, September 21, 1908, the President wrote to George R. Sheldon, Treasurer of the Republican National Committee, at New York:
“I have been informed that you, or some one on behalf of the National Committee, have requested contributions both from Mr. Archbold and Mr. Harriman. If this is true I wish to enter a most earnest protest, and to say that in my judgment not only should such contributions not be solicited, but if tendered they should be refused; and if they have been accepted they should immediately be returned. I am not the candidate, but I am the head of the Republican Administration, which is an issue in this campaign, and I protest most earnestly against men whom we are prosecuting being asked to contribute to elect a Presi