Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders Corps and the Great War

I make no pretense to accuracy. I shall be quite content if the sensibilities of no one are wounded by anything I may reduce to type.

Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall:  A Hoosier Salad (1925)

Something for the weekend:  Onward Christian Soldiers by Mahalia Jackson.  This stirring hymn was the campaign song of the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and was the unofficial anthem of the Rough Riders Corps that Major General Theodore Roosevelt led in the Great War.  We are almost a century away from the day when the US intervened in that War, and it is a good time to look at the controversial role that our 26th President played in that conflict.

In March of 1917 Congress passed a bill allowing Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers, similar in nature to the Rough Rider regiment he raised and led in the Spanish American War.  It is said that President Wilson opposed this move.  There was certainly no love lost between Wilson and Roosevelt, Roosevelt having been the harshest critic of Wilson.  However, the stroke that killed President Wilson on April 1, 1917 rendered any such opposition moot, except to historians or writers of alternate history.  Vice President Thomas R. Marshall who now became President had no personal animosity towards Roosevelt, rather the reverse, and after his call for a declaration of war on Germany appeared at the White House with Roosevelt and former President Taft, the three men urging that now there were no Republicans and no Democrats, but only Americans united for victory.  After this there was no way that Marshall could probably have kept Roosevelt out of the War if he had wanted to, and he did not attempt to do so.

One other man could have stopped Roosevelt, however, if he had wished to, the commander appointed by President Marshall to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  General John J.Pershing was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt who he had served with at the battle of San Juan Hill when Pershing was a thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant, and whose career Roosevelt had jump started when he was President by promoting him from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 835 officers more senior to Pershing.  Pershing had every reason to be grateful to Roosevelt, and he was, but he was also concerned with a military amateur commanding a corps in the American Expeditionary Forces that he was to lead onto the deadly battlefields of France.  Going to visit Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, he was quickly relieved by their talk, which he discussed in his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, My Experiences in the World War:  

“President  Roosevelt demonstrated that he had been keeping up with military developments in the Great War and was intrigued with the coordination of artillery and infantry with the newfangled air power and tanks.  He told me that he was willing to serve as a private in the force he was raising, and that as far as he was concerned no man would have a commission for any officer rank in the Rough Riders without my permission.  Touched by his self-less patriotism, I suggested that he serve as second in command of the Rough Riders with General Adelbert Cronkhite, currently in command of artillery in the Canal Zone, appointed as commander.  A worried frown passed over his face:  “The Rough Riders are not going to spend the War guarding the Canal Zone are they?”  I laughed.  “No Mr. President, I will need the best troops available with me on the Western Front, and, as was the case in Cuba, I suspect the Rough Riders in this War will be second to none.”  We shook hands and parted, still friends.”

Roosevelt made it known that he was seeking men for the Rough Riders with this advertisement he placed in all major newspapers.

Rough Riders are being recruited by Theodore Roosevelt for service in France.  Roosevelt expects that he and his Rough Riders will be constantly in the forefront of the fighting and their casualties will likely be extreme.  Only fighters with courage need apply.   Regional recruiting offices are being established at the following locations:

Roosevelt’s recruiters were quickly besieged by endless lines of volunteers.  Estimates are that some three million men filled out applications for the 100,000 slots in the four divisions of the Rough Rdiers.  Roosevelt, as with his original Rough Riders, favored men from dangerous out door occupations, men with prior military experience, athletes, and those from unusual backgrounds, like the troupe of circus clowns he allowed to enlist as a group.  Cowboys with nothing in this world except the shirts on their backs, as in the original Rough Riders, rubbed shoulders with the scions of families of great wealth.  Roosevelt made it clear that no man without prior military experience would be commissioned in the Rough Riders, and all other commissions would be earned in battle in France.  Regular Army officers looked askance at all this and referred to the Rough Riders as Teddy’s Wild West Show and by less printable terms.  Pershing assigned a number of junior officers to the Rough Riders to help bring order out of chaos, giving them the temporary rank of full Colonel.  Among them were Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

As in the original Rough Riders, Latinos and Indians from the West served.  A group of black regular officers, headed by Colonel Charles Young, wrote a letter to Roosevelt requesting to serve in the Rough Riders.  Although not wholly free from the racial prejudice of his day, Roosevelt got the approval of Pershing for these officers to serve on detached status with the Rough Riders, and enlisted two black regiments to serve in one of his divisions.  When a group of white Rough Rider officers protested this decision, Roosevelt had the complaining officers immediately cashiered from the Rough Riders. (more…)

Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions

 

In 1917 a century ago Theodore Roosevelt was 58 years old.  He was not in the best of health and he had put on a fair amount of weight since his “crowded hour” leading the charge up Kettle Hill in the Spanish American War.  Nonetheless, he was eager once again to fight for the Stars and Stripes.  An advocate of preparedness, he had assembled a staff and plans to recreate his Rough Riders on a corps level to fight in France, and over a 100,000 men had indicated their willingness to join this force.  Congress in March of 1917 authorized him to raise such a force of volunteers of up to four divisions.  In May of 1917 President Wilson indicated that no such force of volunteers would be accepted by the Army, Wilson not wanting to be held responsible if the beloved ex-President died fighting.  Roosevelt was crushed and never forgave Wilson, who he despised in any case.  He kept busy making speeches in support of the War and selling war bonds, but it was not the same as fighting himself.  On April 1 we will explore the “what if” had Wilson allowed Roosevelt to take his new Rough Riders into battle.

 

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions  
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Trump and Teddy?

Matter! Matter! Why, everybody’s gone crazy! What is the matter with all of you? Here’s this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for Vice President. Don’t any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the Presidency? Platt and Quay are no better than idiots! What harm can he do as Governor of New York compared to the damage he will do as President if McKinley should die?

Ohio Senator Mark Hanna at the Republican Convention of 1900

 

 

I have been rolling around in my brain the thought that as President Donald Trump reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt.  At first glance the two New Yorkers seem entirely dissimilar with Roosevelt the scholar turned politician who led the charge up San Juan Hill having little in common with the blue collar billionaire.  However, in their shared endless energy, their desire to attack intractable problems, their appeal to restoring America greatness, their willingness to make enemies of the powers that be, etc. they do strike me as quite similar and unlike most other Presidents. Stephen Beale at The American Conservative makes the case for Trump being in the same mold as The Colonel:

Roosevelt—a career politician who sought military service, an avid outdoorsman who hunted elephants and explored the Amazon, and an intellectually curious historian who dabbled in anthropology and zoology—might seem an unlikely model for Trump.

But in terms of policy, the parallels are legion.  

On trade, Roosevelt was—like most Republicans then and Trump now—a proud protectionist. “Thank God I am not a free-trader. In this country pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade seems inevitably to produce a fatty degeneration of the moral fibre,” Roosevelt wrote in an 1895 letter to his friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

Roosevelt was also a committed immigration restrictionist. In 1903, after radical socialists had bombed Haymarket Square in Chicago and assassinated his predecessor, Roosevelt signed into law a ban on anarchists—including those who professed radical political views, even if they didn’t have any actual terrorist affiliation. Four years later, another law excluded “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons,” prostitutes, those with certain medical conditions, such as epileptics, and polygamists, or even those who believed in polygamy. Notably this last provision was wielded against Muslim immigrants.  

Roosevelt famously railed against “hyphenated Americanism” and declared that America was not a “mosaic of nationalities.” In language that rings as distinctly Trumpian today, Roosevelt demanded total allegiance and nothing else from American citizens, native and naturalized alike: “A square deal for all Americans means relentless attack on all men in this country who are not straight-out Americans and nothing else.”

Roosevelt built up the military, specifically the Navy, which he showed off to the world as the “Great White Fleet.” Both presidents have a defining public works project. For Trump, it’s the border wall. For Roosevelt, it was the Panama Canal. As with Trump, Roosevelt ruffled international feathers with his proposal, even sparking the secession of Panama from Columbia.

As an undergraduate student at Harvard, Roosevelt had fallen under the influence of Hegelian philosophy, which holds to an evolutionary view of history. He came to believe that the old view of a limited government entrusted with the protection of natural rights was outmoded. Instead, Roosevelt championed an exalted view of executive power that was limited only by what the Constitution explicitly said it could not do. As he put it in his autobiography:

I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it. My belief was that it was not only his right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the Nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws. Under this interpretation of executive power I did and caused to be done many things not previously done by the President and the heads of departments.

More than anyone since Lincoln, Roosevelt expanded executive power, laying the foundations for the modern presidency. He sought to govern by executive order as much as possible, issuing a whopping 1,081 orders—nearly six times as many as his predecessor and still the fourth highest overall in the history of the U.S. presidency. (His cousin FDR holds the record at 3,721. Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge rank second and third at 1,803, and 1,203, respectively.)

 

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Published in: on March 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Trump and Teddy?  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Philander Knox

“I think, it would be better to keep your action free from any taint of legality.”

 

 

 

Attorney General Philander Knox’ response when President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to craft a legal defense for American actions which led to the independence of Panama and the treaty between Panama and the United States for the construction of the Panama Canal.  Hurrah for Theodore Roosevelt, the father of Panamanian independence and the Panama Canal!

 

Published in: on March 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Philander Knox  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Henry Adams

 

Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt’s friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal. Roosevelt, more than any other man living within the range of notoriety, showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter,—the quality that mediæval theology assigned to God,—he was pure act.

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918)

Published in: on February 17, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Henry Adams  
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Theodore Roosevelt and The Curse of Meroz

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt had long been a harsh critic of the neutrality policy of the Wilson administration.  On January 29, 1917 he gave a memorable response to the January 22, 1917 speech to the Senate of President Wilson in which Wilson called for Peace Without Victory:

“President Wilson has announced himself in favor of peace without victory, and now he has declared himself against universal service-that is against all efficient preparedness by the United States.

Peace without victory is the natural ideal of the man too proud to fight.

When fear of the German submarine next moves President Wilson to declare for “peace without victory” between the tortured Belgians and their cruel oppressors and task masters;  when such fear next moves him to utter the shameful untruth that each side is fighting for the same things, and to declare for neutrality between wrong and right;  let him think of the prophetess Deborah who, when Sisera mightily oppressed the children of Israel with his chariots of iron, and when the people of Meroz stood neutral between the oppressed and their oppressors, sang of them:

 

 

“Curse ye Meroz, sang the angel of the  Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord against the wrongdoings of the mighty.”” 

Published in: on January 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt and The Curse of Meroz  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men’s doing.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1895

A quote for all bloggers to keep in mind.

Published in: on January 13, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt  
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A Hard Fought Presidential Election

350px-electoralcollege1916_svg

 

One hundred years ago the United States went through a presidential election that was hard fought and narrowly decided.  Woodrow Wilson, the only Democrat elected President since the Civil War, except for the two terms of Grover Cleveland, largely owed his election in 1912 to the Republican schism that caused Theodore Roosevelt to run as the candidate  of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, winning more votes than the Republican candidate President William Howard Taft, and ensuring victory for the Democrats.

The Republican Party standard bearer, Charles Evans Hughes, resigned from the Supreme Court to run.  A moderate, Hughes mollified and unified the Republican Party conservative and progressive factions.  This was underlined when Theodore Roosevelt declined the nomination of the Progressive Party, announcing his support for Hughes.  Wilson now faced a united Republican party.

The Democrats, ironically in light of subsequent developments centered their campaign around the slogan, “He kept us out of war.”  Hughes barnstormed the nation, as did Theodore Roosevelt who tirelessly campaigned for Hughes.  Hughes attacked increasing business regulation by the Wilson administration as an infringement on traditional American freedom.

Ultimately Wilson won on November 7, 1916, with a popular vote margin of 600,000 out of 17 and a half million votes cast, and an electoral vote count of 277-254. 266 electoral college votes were needed to win and the election was decided by California’s 13 electoral votes, which took several days to count, keeping the nation in suspense.  Less than four thousand votes, out of almost a million cast, constituted Wilson’s victory margin over Hughes. (more…)

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography (1913)

Published in: on November 8, 2016 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt  
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Theodore Roosevelt Official Portrait

 

The official portrait in the White House by John Singer Sargent is actually the second official portrait.  The first portrait was done by French painter Theobald Chartran.  Roosevelt despised it and hid it in a dark recess of the White House.  When his kids began to call the portrait “Mewing Cat” because their father appeared so harmless in it, he had the portrait destroyed.  John Singer Sargent had difficulty in getting Roosevelt to stay still long enough to pose.  Sargent discussed the portrait when Roosevelt was going up a staircase.  Irritated Roosevelt immediately struck a pose.  Sargent saw the potential immediately, and was able to get the peripatetic president to stand still for half an hour a day in the same pose, although the half hour was often interrupted by aides and secretaries.

Published in: on October 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt Official Portrait  
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