Page images

some of the numerous small leaks through which the city's revenues were wasted under a corrupt regime, and has succeeded in stopping them.

"That the Board has no cut-and-dried theories of police management, so far from being the hindrance to it which its early critics suggested, has proved instead its strongest point. It had no traditions to break from. 'We have no patent cure-all for the department,' said Mr. Roosevelt, speaking for his colleagues. 'Some things are plain. We want honesty, plain, common honesty, in the force, and politics out of it. For the rest, we are willing to fit our theories to the facts as we make them out.' Already, in pursuance of this plan, drunkards have been made to understand that the police force is no place for them; party managers, that the day of the ignorant, bullying election officer is past. Promotions are made on probation, not for 'influence.' Policemen have. been made to resign membership in political clubs. Reward follows as swiftly upon the brave act as punishment on misconduct. The clubber knows that he runs the certain risk of prompt dismissal. And this is the work of one short month.

"Mr. Roosevelt's tour de force, as it has been wittily called, had its amusing side, but its purpose was not to amuse. With the practical common sense of the man, he chose for his night patrol through the streets the small hours in the morning, when the demand for a policeman, if it arises at all, is most urgent, and when the temptation to shirk is almost the greatest. As a matter of fact, the way in which posts were patrolled at that hour had long been a Mr. Roosevelt's trip demonstrated how empty was the boast of superior excellence on which the retired chiefs had been trading. The demoralization was complete. Two policemen in a dozen were attending to business. The rest were loafing, or were not found at all until the President's message summoned them to headquarters later in the morning to hear what he thought of them. New York streets have been better policed every hour since.

"One great stumbling block was left in the way of police reform by the failure of the reorganization bill. The Board cannot dismiss a subordinate, of whose inefficiency or dishonesty it may be convinced, without being able to obtain the legal proof. This power must yet be given it before it can complete its work. Meanwhile its demonstration that 'pull' has lost its power altogether in the department must rank with Colonel Waring's declared purpose to 'put a man, not a voter, behind every broom' as among the epoch-making policies, few in number, of American municipal administration."

There have been few imitations of the Roosevelt system of dealing with the "problems" that arise in Municipal Government, the one Department which we of Republican America are not proud to have compared with the monarchial municipalities of Europe. The absolutely fearless and impartial way of Roosevelt, the President and master spirit of the Police Commission,

gave him a power that had not entered into calculations, and that, with the enlargement of his sphere to include national affairs, promises a progressive good government, that will combine with common justice, public prosperity.

There was a day and an hour in Philadelphia during the Republican Convention of 1900, in which a call by conscientious and devoted friends was made upon Theodore Roosevelt to abstain from national politics; and there were two reasons assigned: First, that he was in the mind of the people at large to be some day—and the sooner the better after McKinley's second term—a candidate for President of the United States, and that he should not even consider the candidacy for the Vice-Presidency. Some of Governor Roosevelt's close and constant supporters-Dr. Albert Shaw, of the Review of Reviews, and Seth Low, President of Columbia College, were of them. They had marked with admiration the wonderful changes wrought by the Police Commission, by Roosevelt as President of the Board, under deplorably defective laws, by his personal force and genius for reformation in public affairs of a knotty, crooked and rough nature and wanted him, they insisted, until he was needed for the Presidency, "for home consumption."

It was necessary to make clear to Roosevelt that the line of duty before him was not to further serve the City or State of New York, or to be an Assistant Secretary or Lieutenant Colonel; that all that was behind him, and that the recognition of it was by the people that he should go up higher, as indeed he was Governor of the Empire State; and the next chapter of public life should be that which comprehended the security and advancement and expansion of the Nation. Thus far, it was pointed out, there had been a Providence whose shining face beamed over him through the clouds, and the light shone on his Civil Service Reform labors, his Police Commission experiences, his secondary but not subordinate position in the Navy Department, his war record, that had given him education in the only military school better than West Point.

In the Police Commission he had been at pains to acquire, without the futile pomp and circumstance of proclamation, the knowledge to act upon to break the Dynastic supremacy of crime protected for revenue, and cause the law to be so far respected as to arouse the people to assert themselves in law making, but it was found impracticable to unite the citizens whose interests and sentiments demanded the law abiding habit of the people, because there was a school of professors of superiority of the self-sufficient, who had abundant aspiration, but were wanting in the faculty of construction, and could not be persuaded to submit their ostentatious but insignificant individualities to the consultation and discipline needful to organization. The triumph of Tammany in Greater New York, was that of a regular political army, over a mass of undrilled militia, incoherent and yet delighted with the conceits of

fanciful importance, and a foolish understanding that the prerequisite of personal independence was insubordination.

A close friend of the President who has staunchly supported him in the trying times of reforming the New York Police, says he made the acquaintance of Theodore Roosevelt in the Police Commission days, having, as he says, "followed his trail in the Legislature, always exposing robbery, fighting boss rule, much to the amazement of the politicians who beheld this silk stocking youngster, barely out of college, rattling dry bones they had thought safely buried out of reach."

Of Roosevelt's time in the Police Department, Riis says, "A much larger percentage of policemen than many imagine look back to that time as the golden age of the Department, when every man had a show on his merits, and whose votes are quietly cast on election day for the things 'Teddy' stands for."

This was prophetic in 1900, and historic in 1901.

"We had been trying for forty years to achieve a system of dealing decently with our homeless poor. Twoscore years before the surgeons of the Police Department had pointed out that herding them in the cellars or over the prisons of police stations in festering heaps, and turning them out hungry at daybreak to beg their way from door to door, was indecent and inhuman. Since then grand juries, academies of medicine, committees of philanthropic citizens, had attacked the foul disgrace, but to no purpose. Pestilence ravaged the prison lodgings, but still they stayed. I know what that fight meant; for I was one of a committee that waged it year after year, and suffered defeat every time, until Theodore Roosevelt came and destroyed the nuisance in a night. I remember the caricatures of tramps shivering in the cold with which the yellow newspapers pursued him at the time, labeling him the 'poor man's foe.' And I remember being just a little uneasy lest they wound him, and perhaps make him think he had been hasty. But not he. It was only those who did not know him who charged him with being hasty. He thought a thing out quickly-yes, that is his way; but he thought it out, and having thought it out, suited action to his judgment. Of the consequences he didn't think at all. He made sure he was right, and then went ahead with perfect confidence that things would come out right.

"The poor man's foe! Why, the poor man never had a better friend than Theodore Roosevelt. We had gone through a season of excitement over our tenement-houses. The awful exhibits of the Gilder Committee had crowded remedial laws through the legislature-laws that permitted the destruction of tenement-house property on the showing that it was bad. Bad meant murderous. The death records showed that the worst rear tenements killed one in five of the babies born in them. The Tenement-House Committee called

them 'infant slaughter-houses.' They stood condemned, but still they stood. A whole year was the law a dead-letter, until, as President of the Police Board, Roosevelt became also a member of the Health Board that was charged with the enforcement of the statute. Then they went, and quickly. A hundred of them were seized, and most of them destroyed.

"The death rate came down in a 'barracks' in Mott Street from 39.56 in the thousand to 16.28.

"I had watched police administration in Mulberry Street for nearly twenty years, and I had seen many sparring matches between working men and the Police Board. Generally, there was bad faith on one side; not infrequently on both. It was human that some of the labor men should misinterpret Mr. Roosevelt's motives when, as President of the Board, he sent word that wanted to meet them and talk strike troubles over with them. They got it into their heads, I suppose, that he had come to crawl; but they were speedily undeceived. I can see his face now, as he checked the first one who hinted at trouble. I fancy that man can see it, too-in his dreams.


'Gentlemen,' said Mr. Roosevelt, 'I have come to get your point of view, and see if we can't agree to help each other out. But we want to make it clear to ourselves at the start that the greatest damage any workingman can do to his cause is to counsel violence. Order must be maintained; and, make no mistake, I will maintain it.'"

The men cheered him. There was perfect confidence on both sides. Roosevelt said, "We understand each other, and will get along."

« PreviousContinue »