Theodore Roosevelt and the Almost Second Civil War



Theodore Roosevelt never made any secret of his detestation of Woodrow Wilson, thus it was small wonder that his campaign for President in 1920 was a crusade to eradicate the legacy of his successor in the White House.  This was congenial to almost all Republicans, and Roosevelt was coronated, rather than inaugurated, at the Republican national convention in 1920.  Forgotten was the schism in the Republican Party in 1912 between Progressives and Conservatives.  Roosevelt, in his acceptance speech, proclaimed that he knew not either Progressives or Conservatives, but only Republicans.  He sealed the deal by having Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding as his running mate, the man who had given the nomination speech for Taft at the bitterly divided Republican national convention in 1912.  The Democrats nominated Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, and, in one of the more flat footed moves in American political history, nominated as Vice-President former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a distant relative of Theodore Roosevelt, who was married to the niece of the former President.  Democrats earned ridicule with the campaign slogan:  Vote for our Roosevelt! and an embarrassed Franklin Roosevelt quickly announced that he held his uncle by marriage in the highest esteem and that he would not think of comparing himself to him.  Theodore Roosevelt campaigned like a human cyclone, and won in a historic landslide with 65% of the popular vote and 417 electoral votes, breaching the Old Confederacy by taking the state of Tennessee.  Roosevelt said on election night that he had never felt so good since the charge up San Juan Hill.

Behind the scenes however, concerns were being raised about the health of the President Elect.  Since 1918 rheumatism had plagued him, and the assorted injuries and illnesses of a tempestuous lifetime were grinding him down.  In public he still projected an air of robust vigor.  In private he was often exhausted and frequently unwell.

Nonetheless his administration started well.  He negotiated separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary so the US was no longer technically at war with these former members of the Central Powers.  He sent an American observer to the League of Nations, and announced that the US would join in League actions if such actions were in the interests of the US.

On the domestic front he once again made a strong plea for a Federal anti-lynching law, only to see it die in the Senate, once again, at the hands of Democratic Southern senators. This had happened before during his first go round as President, but he was not going to tolerate this outcome now.  Roosevelt had been deeply moved by the sight of the hundreds of thousands of blacks who served faithfully in the military during the Great War.  He had been disgusted by the segregation of the Federal civil service by Wilson, and he had been alarmed by the bloody race riots that occurred during the Great War and its aftermath.  Roosevelt was convinced that the nation could no longer afford the evil luxury of treating its black citizens as fifth class Americans.  Conferring with his old friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, President Roosevelt had the Republicans use their 9 seat majority in the Senate to do away with the Senate filibuster, which caused a considerable uproar around the nation, particularly in the South.  The uproar increased markedly in volume when the Senate passed the anti-lynching law and rose to typhoon level when the House and Senate passed what was popularly known as the Lodge Force Bill of 1921, which basically put the Federal government in charge of elections, the purpose of which was to ensure the right of blacks in the South to vote.  This was a revival of a bill that Senator Lodge first had proposed in 1890.

President Roosevelt expected that these moves would be unpopular in the South among whites, but he was stunned by the reaction that resulted.  Southern governors meeting in Richmond, Virginia drew up a proclamation that stated that the South would resist the Federal election takeover in the courts, and by force if necessary.   The proclamation further recited that Southern National Guard units would never be used against the white citizens of the South and that any efforts to federalize the Southern National Guard to enforce the will of the Federal government on white citizens would be null and void.  A conference of all Southern states was scheduled for January 19, 1922, the birthday of Robert E. Lee, in Montgomery, Alabama to consider what further efforts to make in response to the actions of the Roosevelt administration.

Never a man to back down from a fight, Roosevelt had Congress pass what became known as the Roosevelt Force Bill on November 1, 1921, which authorized the President to call for a million volunteers in the event of a domestic insurrection.  At the same time he gave a speech on November 11, 1921 in which he noted that the North and the South had spilled their blood together on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War and the Great War and that present passions must not allow them to see in their own day the horrible bloodshed of the Civil War played out again.

Who knows what might have happened if TR had not died in his sleep on November 15, 1921, worn down by the cares of office and his own poor health.  Vice President Warren G. Harding spoke for many Americans when he said:  Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight. 

As President, Harding now had to deal with a nation on the brink of a second civil war, less than sixty years after the first Civil War.  The newly formed American Legion began the process of compromise that ultimately led to the avoidance of War.  American Legion posts around the nation passed resolutions calling on Congress to resolve the differences between North and South peacefully, further announcing that no member of the post would ever fight against fellow Americans.  Veterans of Foreign War posts swiftly followed suit, as did the elderly veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic and the various Confederate veteran organizations.  The American Peace Society was founded, dedicated to the proposition that Americans would never fight against each other again.  Black Republicans were aghast, afraid that their long awaited deliverance from disenfranchisement in the South was to be taken away from them.  Their fears were prescient.

President Harding met with leaders of Congress from December 26, 1921 to January 1, 1922 and hammered out what came to be known as the Compromise of 1922.  The main provisions  were as follows:

  1.  The anti-lynching law would remain in effect.
  2. The Lodge Force Bill would be repealed.
  3. A Commission appointed by the President would be set up to study the issue of the civil rights of negroes in the South.
  4. The Senate filibuster would be reestablished and a constitutional amendment passed enshrining the Senate filibuster in the Constitution, with the proviso that the filibuster could be overridden in regard to legislation which would have passed in three consecutive Congresses, absent the use of the filibuster.

As with all compromises, no one was completely happy with it, especially black Republicans, but with the alternative being civil war the measure was passed overwhelmingly by Congress, and the Filibuster Amendment was approved by the requisite number of the states by Thanksgiving of 1922.  In his State of the Union address of December 8, 1922, President Harding praised the return to normalcy, a new word the President coined, in the nation.

Almost unnoticed in all the political furor over civil war, the nation had recovered from the post war slump, and the economy was roaring along.  In reaction to the avoidance of civil war and the good economy, an ebullient mood swept across the nation, and what historians called the Second Era of Good Feelings began.

Political prognosticators were predicting a landslide win in 1924 for the popular President Harding when a dazed country woke up on August 3, 1923 to learn that Harding had died of a heart attack in San Francisco the day before.  Two Presidents dying in a period of less than two years struck most Americans as an ill omen.  The new President, Senator Albert B. Cummins of Iowa, the President Pro Temporare of the Senate, would have his work cut out for him.


January 8, 1919: Theodore Roosevelt Buried



“Both life and death are part of the same great adventure.”

Theodore Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt was buried in Youngs Memorial Cemetery,   Oyster Bay a century ago after a simple funeral service at Christ Church, the Episocopalian church he and his family attended.  His son Archie was present, his son Quentin having been killed in the War, and his sons Theodore, Jr, and Kermit, still being on active service in Europe.

His grieving widow, Edith, would outlive her husband by nineteen years, she living to see 1948 and being 87 at the time of her death.  She campaigned briefly for Herbert Hoover in 1932, to emphasize that Franklin Roosevelt was not her son, a ridiculous fable being pedaled by some Democrats.  (She despised Eleanor Roosevelt.)  Prior to her death she destroyed almost all her correspondence with her husband, a loss to history, but she lived at a time when the division between private and public life was much better honored than it is at present.

The simple funeral of Theodore Roosevelt was striking at the time.  As newspaper accounts indicated, he was buried as a private citizen.  No eulogy and no music was part of the church service, and only 500 people were allowed to attend the funeral.  His wife was prostrate with her grief and remained at their home, neither attending the funeral service nor the burial.  Vice President Thomas Marshall represented the US government.

Such was the funeral of the greatest American president, up to his time, since Abraham Lincoln.

Published in: on January 8, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 8, 1919: Theodore Roosevelt Buried  

January 6, 1919: Theodore Roosevelt Dies



“The old lion is dead.”

Archie Roosevelt, cable to his brothers after the death of their father.


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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt


In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.

Letter by Theodore Roosevelt (3 January 1919) to Charles Steward Davison, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Defense Society.  It was one of the last letters he wrote.

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt  
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Theodore Roosevelt and Two Myths of American Politics

Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson cordially hated each other for many reasons, both public and personal.  This hate emanates in the opinion pieces that Roosevelt was paid to write by the Kansas City Star during the war years.

The below partial extract of an article written on November 26, 1918 foreshadows the rejection by the Republican controlled Senate of the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919.  It also is an indication of the mistake that Wilson made by deciding to go personally to the Paris peace conference.  Wilson forgot that American Presidents are as powerful, or as weak, as their public support.  Wilson was rapidly losing the support that he had enjoyed during the War, as demonstrated by the Republicans in the elections held on November 6, 1918 gaining 24 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate and now controlling Congress.  Wilson had the capacity, shared by many intellectuals and others, of ignoring reality when it suited him to do so, and he did on this occasion with disastrous results.


The Roosevelt piece below demonstrates that two common myths of American politics are so false that it is amazing they are still so routinely dusted off and stated as facts.

1.  That American presidents do not criticize their successors.

2. That American politics end at the shore line.

No public end of any kind will be served by President Wilson s going with Mr. Creel, Mr. House, and his other personal friends to the Peace Conference. Inasmuch as the circumstances of his going are so extraordinary, and as there is some possibility of mischief to this country as a result, there are certain facts which should be set forth so clearly that there can be no possibility of misunderstanding either by our own people, by our allies, or by our beaten ene mies, or by Mr. Wilson himself.

Ten days before election Mr. Wilson issued an appeal to the American people in which he frankly abandoned the position of President of the whole people; assumed the position, not merely of party leader, but of party dictator, and appealed to the voters as such. Most of Mr. Wilson s utterances on public questions have been susceptible to at least two conflicting interpretations. But on this question he made the issue absolutely clear. He asked that the people return a Democratic majority to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. He stated that the Republican leaders were pro-war, but that they were anti-Administration. His appeal was not merely against any Republican being elected, but against any Democrat who wished to retain his conscience in his own keeping. He declared himself explicitly against the pro-war Republicans. He declared explicitly for all pro-Administration Democrats, without any reference as to whether they were pro-war or anti-war. He said that if the people
approved of his leadership and wished him to continue to be their ” unembarrassed spokesman in affairs at home and abroad, they must return a Democratic majority to both the Senate and the House of Representatives.” He explicitly stated that on the other side of the water the return of a Republican majority to either House of Congress would be interpreted as a repudiation of his leader ship, and informed his fellow countrymen that to elect a Democratic majority in Congress was the only way to sustain him, Mr. Wilson.

The issue was perfectly, clearly drawn. The Republican Party was pro-war and anti-Administration, the Democratic Party was officially pro-Administration without any mind or conscience of its own and pro-war or anti-war according to the way in which Mr. Wilson changed his mind overnight or between dawn and sunset. The Americans refused to sustain Mr. Wilson. They elected a heavily Repub lican House and to the surprise of every one carried a majority in the Senate. On Mr. Wilson s own say-so they repudiated his leadership. In no other free country in the world to-day would Mr. Wilson be in office. He would simply be a private citizen like the rest of us.

Under these circumstances our allies and our enemies, and Mr. Wilson himself, should all under stand that Mr. Wilson has no authority whatever to speak for the American people at this time. His leadership has just been emphatically repudiated by them. The newly elected Congress comes far nearer than Mr. Wilson to having a right to speak the pur poses of the American people at this moment. Mr. Wilson and his fourteen points and his four supplementary points and his five complementary points and all his utterances every which way have ceased to have any shadow of right to be accepted as expressive of the will of the American people. He is
President of the United States, he is part of the treaty-making power, but he is only part. If he acts in good faith to the American people, he will not claim on the other side of the water any representa tive capacity in himself to speak for the American people. He will say frankly that his personal leader ship has been repudiated and that he now has merely the divided official leadership which he shares with the Senate. If he will in good faith act in this way all good citizens in good faith will support him, just as they will support the Senate under similar circumstances.

But there isnt the slightest indication that he intends so to act.

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt and Two Myths of American Politics  
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Quotes Suitable For Framing: Theodore Roosevelt


No people on earth have more cause to be thankful than ours, and this is said reverently, in no spirit of boastfulness in our own strength, but with the gratitude to the Giver of good who has blessed us.

Theodore Roosevelt

Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Theodore Roosevelt: Remember Them


The men who have died of pneumonia or fever in the hospitals, the men who have been killed in accidents on the airplane training fields are as much heroes as those who were killed at the front, and their shining souls shall hereafter light up all to a clearer and greater view of the duties of life. The war is over now. The time of frightful losses among the men at the front and of heartbreaking anxiety for their mothers and wives, their sisters and sweet hearts at home has passed. No great triumph is ever won save by the payment of the necessary cost. All of us who have stayed at home and all the others who have returned safe will, as long as life shall last, think of the men who died as having purchased for us and for our children’s children, as long as this country shall last, a heritage so precious that even their precious blood was not too great a price to pay. Whether they fell in battle or how they died matters not at all, and it matters not what they were doing as long as, high of soul, they were doing their duty with all the strength and fervor of their natures. The mother or the wife whose son or husband has died, whether in battle or by fever or in the accident inevitable in hurriedly preparing a modern army for war, must never feel that the sacrifice has been laid “on a cold altar.” There is no gradation of honor among these gallant men and no essential gradation of service. They all died that we might live; our debt is to all of them, and we can pay it even personally only by striving so to live as to bring a little nearer the day when justice and mercy shall rule in our own homes and among the nations of the world.

Theodore Roosevelt, November 13, 1918

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October 30, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Responds to the Fourteen Points



As the War was nearing its close, Theodore Roosevelt responded in the Kansas City Star with a blistering assessment of  the Fourteen Points that President Wilson was seeking to make the basis of the peace:


THE European nations have been told that the fourteen points enumerated in President Wilson’s message of January last are to be the basis of peace. It is, therefore, possible that Americans may like to know what they are. It is even possible that they may like to guess what they mean, although I am not certain that such guessing is permitted by the Postmaster-General and the Attorney-General under the new theory of making democracy safe for all kinds of peoples abroad who have never heard of it by interpreting democracy at home as meaning that it is unlawful for the people to express any except favorable opinions of the way in which the public servants of the people transact the public business. The first point forbids ” all private international understandings of any kind,” and says there must be ” open covenants of peace, openly arrived at,” and announces that ” diplomacy shall always proceed frankly in the public view.” The President has recently waged war on Haiti and San Domingo and rendered democracy within these two small former republics and has kept all that he has done in the matter absolutely secret. If he means what he says, he will at once announce what open covenant of peace he has openly arrived at with these two little republics, which he has deprived of their right of self-determination. He will also announce what public international understanding, if any, he now has with these two republics, whose soil he is at present occupying with the armed forces of the United States and hundreds of whose citizens have been killed by these armed forces. If he has no such public understanding, he will tell us why, and whether he has any private international understanding, or whether he invaded and conquered them and deprived them of the right of self- determination without any attempt to reach any understanding, either private or public.

Moreover, he has just sent abroad on a diplomatic mission Mr. House, of Texas. Mr. House is not in the public service of the Nation, but he is in the private service of Mr. Wilson. He is usually
called Colonel House. In his official or semi-official biography, published in an ardently admiring New York paper, it is explained that he was once appointed colonel on a governor s staff, but carried his dislike of military ostentation to the point of giving his uniform to a negro servant to wear on social occasions. This attitude of respect for the uniform makes the President feel that he is peculiarly fit to negotiate on behalf of our fighting men abroad for whom the uniform is sacred. Associated with him is an editor of the New York World, which paper has recently been busy in denouncing as foolish the demand made by so many Americans for unconditional surrender by Germany.

I do not doubt that these two gentlemen possess charming social attributes and much private worth, but as they are sent over on a diplomatic mission, presumably vitally affecting the whole country, and as their instructions and purposes are shrouded in
profound mystery, it seems permissible to ask President Wilson why in this particular instance diplomacy does not ” proceed frankly in the public view ” ?

This first one of the fourteen points offers such an illuminating opportunity to test promise as to the future by performance in the present that I have considered it at some length. The other thirteen points and the subsequent points laid down as further requirements for peace I shall briefly take up in another article. (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2018 at 11:50 pm  Comments Off on October 30, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Responds to the Fourteen Points  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt



“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are part of the same Great Adventure.”

Theodore Roosevelt, The Metropolitan, October 1918

Published in: on October 15, 2018 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt  
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October 11, 1910: First President to Fly

The first president to fly was of course Theodore Roosevelt, a man who loved a dangerous challenge.   When he flew at Kinloch Field, Saint Louis, Missouri on October 11, 1910, flying was still highly dangerous.  His pilot that day was Arch Hoxsey, one of the great pioneers of aviation, who would die in a plane crash at Los Angeles on December 31, 1910, the day after reaching a world record height by flying to 11,474 feet.  Hoxsey, as did Roosevelt, lived his life according to this maxim of Roosevelt: (more…)

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