Page images
PDF
EPUB

more distinction than is usually enjoyed by a man then only thirty years of age. Mr. Roosevelt was solicited to accept an appointment as Civil Service Commissioner on account of his long and relentless warfare on political jobbery and corruption. He was a civil service reformer and an intense opponent of the spoils system. He entered upon his duties with vigor and raised the office to one of very great importance, and by his persistent efforts constantly enlarged and increased the power and usefulness of the commission, never losing an opportunity to press upon President Harrison extensions and improvements which he regarded as advisable and important. He seemed to carry with him a certain momentum in his progressive policy, and as he himself expressed it: “There is no shell separating the commission from the outer world. All is perfectly open.” His policy and administration of the commission was often opposed and severely criticised by both his own and the opposing party, but in every case he promptly took the public into his confidence, gave all the facts to the press, and invited the most searching inquiry. This open, honest candor acquired the confidence of the country and kept him in the public eye during his entire six years of this duty. When Mr. Cleveland became President, Roosevelt insisted upon a revision of the Civil Service rules, and procured an order from the Democratic President which added some thirty thousand positions to the classified service, bringing the total number of offices under the control of the commission up to 85,135. Mr. Roosevelt devoted himself to showing Southern Congressmen (substantially all Democrats) that they were receiving a full share of the public patronage. I had many talks with him upon this subject, and he took especial pains to go over the records and point out the localities from which the appointees came, and he often had much to say regarding his Southern ancestry, showing in a way which he could not hide that his Southern relations and the Southern people in general had a very warm place in his big heart. Feeling that he had accomplished the purpose for which he accepted duty in the Civil Service, he, after more than six years of labor, resigned to take upon himself the burden of duty as Police Commissioner in the city of New York. When in the legislative assembly he had been chairman of a committee which investigated the New York Police Department. His report showed that he had very decided views upon this subject, and his study of the subject while in the legislature in a measure prepared him for this new duty. He was nothing unless vigorous and forceful. Many were loud in praise, but he seemed to heed them not. To those who denounced him, he said: “I am placed here to enforce the law as I find it. I shall enforce it. If you don’t like the law, repeal it.” I met Mr. Roosevelt at his office, and he showed the same enthusiastic devotion, and delighted to explain his efforts toward reform and good, honest government. When Mr. McKinley became President he selected Mr. Roosevelt as his Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Here was a new field of operations for his tireless energies. He had already written a history of the navy of the United States, and this had required a research into the archives at Washington, and into the reports of the British and French officers and the logs of British and French ships, all of which was an excellent education for the high position to which he was so suddenly called. Mr. Roosevelt in this history of our navy says: “There were no better seamen in the world than the American Jack; he had been bred to his work from infancy, and had been off in a fishing dory almost as soon as he could walk. When he grew older he shipped as a merchantman, or whaler, and in warlike times, when our merchant marine was compelled to rely pretty much on itself for protection, each craft had to be handled well; all that were not were soon weeded out by a process of natural selection of which the agents were French picaroons, Spanish buccaneers, and Malay pirates. It was a rough school, but it taught Jack to be both skilful and self-reliant.” In June, 1897, in addressing the naval cadets he repeated Washington's warning: “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace,” and with great emphasis he uttered these words: “All the great masterful races have been fighting races. Cowardice in a race, as in an individual, is the unpardonable sin.” About this time, a year before our clash of arms with Spain, he said: “The enemies we may have to face will come from over the sea; they may come from Europe, or they may come from Asia. Events move fast in the West; but this generation has been forced to see that they move even faster in the oldest East. Our interests are as great in the Pacific as in the Atlantic, in the Hawaiian Islands as in the West Indies. Merely for the protection of our own shores, we need a great navy; and what is more, we need it to protect our interests in the islands from which it is possible to command our shores and to protect our commerce on the high seas.” He early became impressed that war with Spain was inevitable, and to prepare for it he infused life, vigor, snap and energy into every branch of the service. He hastened the work upon new ships and repairs on old ones. He encouraged recruiting the navy to its full strength and increased the supply of coal at every station. He personally inspected the war-vessels and neglected nothing which would add to naval efficiency. Senator Cushman K. Davis said: “If it had not been for Roosevelt we would not have been able to strike the blow that we did at Manila. It needed just Roosevelt’s energy and promptness.”

« PreviousContinue »