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APPOINTED FIRST ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE
NAVY - THE CONDITION OF AFFAIRS IN CUBA – PREPARING FOR WAR — THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S RESOLVE
WHILE Theodore Roosevelt was serving as Police Commissioner of the city of New York, William McKinley ran for the Presidency of the United States the first time and was elected.
The young commissioner was a firm upholder of McKinley, for he did not believe in “ free silver" as it was called, but in “sound money," which meant that in the future, as in the past, all national indebtedness should be made payable in gold, instead of in gold and silver, as many desired.
As soon as the new President was inaugurated, March 4, 1897, he appointed Hon. John D. Long to be Secretary of the Navy. Mr. Long knew Theodore Roosevelt well, and also knew of the “History of the Naval War of 1812,” which the energetic author and commissioner had written.
“ He is just the man we need here,” said Mr. Long to President McKinley. “He has made a study of the navy, and he is not afraid of work,” and without further delay Theodore Roosevelt was asked to resign his position in the metropolis and come to Washington, where he was duly installed as First Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
In his new position, certainly a high one for such a young man to occupy, Mr. Roosevelt had much to do. As first assistant, nearly the whole responsibility of the real workings of the department fell upon his shoulders. He took up these responsibilities manfully, and how well he succeeded in the work, history has abundantly proved.
“It was Roosevelt's work that made Dewey's victory at Manila possible,” one who knew of the inner workings of the department has said, and another has said that the victory off Santiago Bay was also due in part to Roosevelt's watchfulness over the ships that took part in that conflict.
At Washington the Assistant Secretary found an era of extravagance equal to that which he had discovered in New York. The Navy Department was paying dearly
for almost everything it bought, and many laborers and others were drawing high wages for doing little or no work. Against this Theodore Roosevelt set his face uncompromisingly, so that inside of a year the actual saving to our government was twentyfive cent. When it is remembered that the Navy Department spends each year
millions of dollars, something of what such a saving means can be realized.
For many years our country had been at peace with the whole world, but now a war cloud showed itself on the horizon, scarcely visible at first, but gradually growing larger and larger. Those at Washington watched it with great anxiety, wondering if it would burst, and what would be the result.
Cuba had been fighting for liberty for years. It was under Spanish rule, and the people were frightfully oppressed. To Spain they paid vast sums of money and got but little in return. Money that should have gone into improvements - that should have supplied good roads and schools -- went into the pockets of the royalty of Spain. When a Cuban tried to remonstrate, he could scarcely get a hearing, and this state of affairs went
from bad to worse until, in sheer desperation, the Cubans declared war on the mothercountry, just as in 1776 our own nation threw off the yoke of England.
As my young readers know, Cuba lies only a short distance from the southeast coast of Florida. Being so close, it was but natural that our people should take an interest in the struggle at hand. Everybody sympathized with the Cubans, and some made offers of assistance. Then, when many Cubans were on the verge of starvation, we voted to send them relief in the way of something to eat.
The action of the United States was viewed with suspicion by Spain. The people of that country were certain we wanted to help Cuba only in order to “gobble her up afterward,” as the saying went. Such was not our intention at all, and total Cuban liberty to-day testifies to that fact.
Not knowing how far matters might go, President McKinley and his advisers deemed it wise to prepare for the worst. This meant to put the army and navy on the best possible footing in the least possible time.
It was felt that should war come, it would be fought largely on the sea, and nobody realized this more than did Theodore Roosevelt. He was active day and night in the pursuit of his duty, seeing to it that this ship or that was properly manned, and this fortification and that put in proper order to resist attack. Our ships were in all parts of the world, on the Atlantic and the Pacific, in the far north and the far south, in European waters and Hong Kong Harbor. Each had to be supplied with coal and ammunition and with provisions. Those that were “out of commission,” that is, laid up, generally for repairs, were put into commission with all speed. A thousand contracts had to be inspected, judged, and passed upon. Outwardly the Navy Department at Washington was moving along as peacefully as ever, internally it was more active than it had been at any time since the great Civil War.
“War may come at any moment,” said Mr. Roosevelt to his friends. “And if it does come, there is nothing like being prepared for it."
About one thing Theodore Roosevelt was