Page images
PDF
EPUB

by ardent championship of all that was good against all that was evil, was Jacob A. Riis.” Those who have followed the writings of Mr. Riis with sufficient interest to recognize how deeply he feels the sorrows and wrongs of humanity and how thoroughly he has familiarized himself with the lives of the less fortunate and unsuccessful of the great cities, will be glad that Mr. Roosevelt is possessed of that trait of fairness that prompts him always to give full credit to every one who is associated with him in any enterprise, whether it be the killing of a cougar, or the taking of a city. It is this characteristic that has enabled him to keep his hold on the hearts of the people without resorting to any of those common tricks of oratory, or descending to the level of fulsome flattery. Neither in his writings nor his speeches has Mr. Roosevelt ever missed an opportunity to declare the truth as he saw it, no matter whom it helped or hurt. This was the spirit that actuated him throughout all the bitter fight that followed his attack on the corrupt methods of the New York police. Once he had familiarized himself sufficiently with the situation to be sure of his ground he struck, and struck hard. During his nightly rounds he had caught scores of the police in dereliction of duty and he dismissed them at once from the service. Others whom he had found worthy he promoted. He punished and rewarded after a plan entirely his own. Politics ceased to save or help the men and the “bosses” were up in arms. The uproar that followed had never been equaled as a police sensation in New York. The whole force was in a state of fright. The evil element that had so long found protection through contributions to the officers of the law suddenly discovered that they were outlaws to be thrown into prison and punished whenever they were caught breaking the law. Mr. Roosevelt’s life was threatened, and twice explosives were placed in his desk with the evident intention of assassination. But he went steadily on with his work, alike deaf to the threats of his enemies and the supplications of his friends. In this emergency an attempt was made to have Mr. Roosevelt's appointment by Mayor Strong vetoed by the council, but it was discovered that an act of the legislature, passed some twelve years before, had taken the power of veto from the city council. Theodore Roosevelt was author of this act, and its passage had been secured after one of the strongest fights he had made when a member of the assembly. Mr. Roosevelt announced that he would enforce the laws as he found them. He gave special attention to the operations of the excise law on Sunday, and after severe measures had been used with some of the more hardy saloon-keepers, New York at last had, in June, 1895, for the first time within the memory of living man, a “dry” Sunday. A great deal of good was done by Commissioner Roosevelt in breaking up much of the blackmail which had been levied by policemen; in transferring and degrading officers who were notoriously responsible for the bad name the force had, and in making promotions for merit, fidelity and courage. Mr. Roosevelt’s career as a police commissioner made him extremely unpopular with the class at which his crusade was aimed. The fierce crusade against the saloon-keepers was brief, and its effect lasted but a few weeks. The new commissioner gave his attention to more important matters, and really made the force cleaner than it had been before. He undoubtedly gained the hearty devotion of the better class of policemen. He was most careful of their comfort, and quick to see and reward merit. He was also quick to punish, and this kept the worse half of the men on their good behavior. One important result Mr. Roosevelt obtained in this position was the dissipation of much of the antagonism which had theretofore been apparent on every occasion between labor unions and the force. Men on a strike had been accustomed to regard the policeman as a natural enemy, but all this was changed. On one occasion, when a large number of operatives were out of work, Mr. Roosevelt sent for their leaders, and, after a discussion of the situation, suggested that the strikers should organize pickets to keep their own men in order. He promised that the police should support and respect the rights of these pickets and the result was most satisfactory. The threat of a cordon of police was removed from the strikers, and no collisions such as had occurred on so many similar occasions took place with the guardians of the law. The attacks of the enemies which Mr. Roosevelt's methods raised up against him were not confined to verbal denunciation, nor expressions through the press. As has been said above,

dynamite bombs were left in his office. A part of his associates on the police board fought his every move, and all the skill of New York politicians with whom he interfered was exercised to trap him into a situation where he would become discredited in his work. In this they were unsuccessful and the stormy career of the police force continued. In the end the new commissioner conquered. He had the necessary power and the personal courage and tenacity of purpose to carry out his plans. He fought blackmail until he had practically stopped it, and he promoted and removed men without regard to color, creed or politics. He resigned in April, 1897, to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

« PreviousContinue »