General Garfield was inaugurated in March, 1881, and his difficulties began with his Cabinet. Senator Conkling, who saw clearly that with Blaine in the Cabinet his organization was in danger in New York, did not want any of his friends to accept a Cabinet position. The navy was offered to Levi P. Morton, but at the request of Senator Conkling he declined.
When the time came for appointments in the Custom House of New York, General Garfield sent in the name of William H. Robertson, who was the leader of the anti-machine forces in the State. Mr. Conkling at once demanded that Mr. Platt should join with him in inducing the Senate to reject the nomination. Under the rule of senatorial courtesy the Senate would undoubtedly have done this if the two New York senators had acted together. Mr. Platt told Mr. Conkling of his pledge to the members of the legislature, and that he must abide by it, and, as he told me, suggested to Mr. Conkling that, as he always had been his friend and did not want any breach with him, the only thing to be done, consistent with honor, was for both of them to resign and go back to the legislature for re-election, with a mandate which should enable them to reject the appointment of Judge Robertson and all similar appointments.
As the legislature was overwhelmingly Republican, and the organization had a large majority, it seemed to both senators that they would be returned immediately. But it is singular how intense partisanship will blind the ablest and shrewdest politicians. Senators Conkling and Platt were among the ablest and most capable political managers of their time. What they did not reckon with was that the people of the State of New York, or, rather, the Republicans of the State, having just elected a president, would not view favorably the legislature of the State sending two senators to embarrass their own administration. There was hardly a newspaper in the State or in the country that did not take a hostile attitude.
Mr. Blaine again came to New York and insisted upon my entering the canvass, and that I was the only one who could get the whole of the anti-organization vote.
With the Democrats voting for their own candidate, and the anti-organization men voting for me, it was impossible for any one to have a majority. The fight was most bitter. The ineffectual ballotting went on every day for months. Then Garfield was assassinated. The leader of the Conkling forces came to me and said: "You have a majority of the Republican members now voting for you. Of course, the antagonism has become so great on your candidacy that we cannot vote for you, but if you will withdraw, we will go into caucus."
I instantly accepted the proposition, saw my own people, and we selected Warner Miller to represent the administration, and Congressman Lapham, a very able and capable lieutenant of Mr. Conkling, to represent the organization. The caucus unanimously nominated them and they were elected. Senator Conkling immediately settled in New York to practise law and retired from political activities.
It is the irony of fate that General Garfield, who did more than any other statesman to bring the public from its frenzy after the murder of Lincoln back to a calm and judicious consideration of national conditions, should himself be the victim, so soon after his inauguration, of an assassin.
Lincoln was assassinated in April, after his second inauguration in March, while Garfield was shot in the railway station at Washington July 2, following his inauguration. The president was removed to a cottage at Long Branch, N. J., and lingered there with great suffering for over two months.
I was living at Long Branch that summer and going up and down every day to my office in New York. The whole country was in alternate emotions of hope and despair as the daily bulletins announced the varying phases of the illustrious patient's condition. The people also were greatly impressed at his wonderful self-control, heroic patience, endurance, and amiability.
It was the experience of a lifetime in the psychology of human nature to meet, night after night, the people who gathered at the hotel at Long Branch. Most of them were office-seekers. There were those who had great anticipations of Garfield's recovery, and others, hidebound machinists and organization men, who thought if Garfield died and Vice-President Arthur became president, he would bring in the old order as it existed while he was one of its chief administrators.
There were present very able and experienced newspaper men, representing every great journal in the country. The evening sessions of these veteran observers of public men were most interesting. Their critical analysis of the history and motives of the arriving visitors would have been, if published, the most valuable volume of "Who's Who" ever published. When President Garfield died the whole country mourned.
IX. CHESTER A. ARTHUR
Chester A. Arthur immediately succeeded to the presidency. It had been my good fortune to know so well all the presidents, commencing with Mr. Lincoln, and now the occupant of the White House was a lifelong friend.
President Arthur was a very handsome man, in the prime of life, of superior character and intelligence, and with the perfect manners and courtesies of a trained man of the world. A veteran statesman who had known most of our presidents intimately and been in Congress under many of them said, in reviewing the list with me at the recent convention at Chicago: "Arthur was the only gentleman I ever saw in the White House."
Of course, he did not mean exactly that. He meant that Arthur was the only one of our presidents who came from the refined social circles of the metropolis or from other capitals, and was past master in all the arts and conventionalities of what is known as "best society." He could have taken equal rank in that respect with the Prince of Wales, who afterwards became King Edward VII.
The "hail-fellow-well-met" who had been on familiar terms with him while he was the party leader in New York City, found when they attempted the old familiarities that, while their leader was still their friend, he was President of the United States.
Arthur, although one of the most rigid of organization and machine men in his days of local leadership, elevated the party standards by the men whom he drew around himself. He invited into party service and personal intimacy a remarkable body of young, exceedingly able and ambitious men. Many of those became distinguished afterwards in public and professional life. The ablest of them all was a gentleman who, I think, is now universally recognized both at home and abroad as the most efficient and accomplished American diplomat and lawyer—Elihu Root.
There is no career so full of dramatic surprises as the political. President Hayes put civil-service reform upon its feet, and without the assistance of necessary laws vigorously enforced its principles. Among the victims of his enforcement was General Arthur, whom he relieved as collector of the port of New York. To the surprise of every one and the amazement of his old friends, one of the first acts of President Arthur was to demand the enactment of a civil-service law, which had originated with the Civil Service Association, and whose most prominent members were George William Curtis and Carl Schurz.
The president's urgency secured the passage of the measure. He then appointed a thoroughgoing Civil Service Commission, and during his term lived up to every requirement of the system. In doing this he alienated all his old friends, and among them General Grant, ex-Senator Conkling, Thomas C. Platt, and also Mr. Blaine, whom he had asked to remain in the Cabinet as secretary of state. Among them was also John Sherman, whom he had equally wished to retain as secretary of the treasury.
Arthur's administration, both in domestic affairs and in its foreign policies, meets the approval of history and the impartial judgment of posterity. But he was not big enough, nor strong enough, to contend with the powerful men who were antagonized, especially by his civil-service-reform tendencies. When the Republican convention met in 1884 and nominated a new ticket, it was universally recognized by everybody, including the president, that his political career had closed.
President Arthur was one of the most delightful of hosts, and he made the White House the centre of refined hospitality and social charm. He was a shrewd analyst of human nature and told stories full of humor and dramatic effect of some of his contemporaries.
General Arthur, while Republican party leader in New York, invited me to a dinner given him by a friend who had just returned from a hunting trip with a large collection of fine game. With the exception of myself, all the guests were active leaders in the State machine.
During the dinner the general said to me: "While we draft you every fall to help in our canvass, after we have nominated our ticket we miss you in our councils and we need you."
"Well," I replied, "I do not know what the matter is, nor why Senator Conkling should have a continuing hostility, which I only feel when the time comes around to elect delegates to the State convention."
The general continued: "We are unable to find out either. However, it is absurd, and we are going to see that you are a delegate to the national convention, and we want you to be at the State convention at Utica."
I went to Albany, knowing that there would be a conference at the Executive Mansion, with General Arthur, Governor Cornell, and Senator Conkling, to lay out a programme for the convention. I met the then secretary of the State committee, Mr. Johnson, and told him about my conversation with General Arthur. He said he was going to attend the conference and would report to me.
When Mr. Johnson returned he told me that General Arthur, Governor Cornell, and others had strongly urged my being a delegate, and that Senator Conkling became very indignant and said that he did not want me back in the organization, and that it was a matter of indifference on what side I was. It is needless to say that I did not attend the convention at Utica.
Mr. Johnson also told me that among other things decided upon was that if General Grant should be nominated for a third term, the old machine under Senator Conkling would be made stronger than ever; that the men who had come to the front during President Hayes's administration as members of the State Senate and assembly and of Congress would be retired, and that another State paper would be established which would wipe out the Albany Evening Journal, because it had sustained President Hayes and his policies.
While the convention was in session at Utica I had an interview with Mr. George Dawson, who was editor of the Albany Evening Journal and he became convinced that he had nothing to lose by entering at once into an open antagonism, if there was any way by which it could be made effective.
I said to Mr. Dawson: "The only salvation for those who have been benefited during the era of liberty occasioned by President Hayes's civil-service policies is to prevent the national convention adopting the unit rule."
The unit rule is that if the majority of the delegates from any State make a decision, the chairman of the delegation shall cast the entire vote of the delegation from the State for the result arrived at by the majority, whether it be a candidate or a policy. Under the unit rule I have seen a bare majority of one vote for a candidate, and then the chairman of the delegation cast the entire vote for the candidate, though the minority were very hostile to him.
The delegates of the State convention at Utica returned to Albany that night. Many of them were State senators whose decapitation was assured if the old machine supported by federal patronage was revived. State Senator Webster Wagner was one of them. He and I chartered a train and invited the whole State delegation to go with us to Chicago. In the preliminary discussions, before the national convention met, twenty-six out of seventy-eight delegates decided to act independently.
Wayne MacVeagh, a lifelong friend of mine, had a strong following in the Pennsylvania delegation, and after he learned our position brought over also his people. Emory Storrs, who led the Illinois delegation, came to me and said that if we would not boom Elihu B. Washburne, who was a candidate for the nomination, we would have the Illinois vote. The result of the canvass was that the convention decided against the unit rule. This released so many individual delegates to independent action that the field was cleared and nobody had majority. The leading candidates were General Grant, James G. Blaine, and John Sherman.
In the history of convention oratory the nominating speeches of Senator Conkling for General Grant, and James A. Garfield for John Sherman take the highest rank. Conkling took a lofty position on the platform. His speech was perfectly prepared, delivered with great dramatic effect, and received universal applause on the floor and in the gallery.
General Garfield, on the other hand, also a fine-looking man and a practised orator, avoided the dramatic element, in which he could not compete with Conkling, but delivered a speech along the line of the average thought and general comprehension of his audience that made a great impression. It was a common remark: "He has nominated himself."
There were among the audience thousands of Blaine enthusiasts. No public man since Lincoln ever had such enthusiastic, devoted, and almost crazy followers as Mr. Blaine. These enthusiasts were waiting to raise the roof and secure the nomination of their candidate when the chosen orator should present their favorite.
The gentleman selected to present Mr. Blaine was eminent in business and great enterprises, but I doubt if he had ever spoken before except to a board of directors. Of course, in that vast hall such a man was fearfully handicapped and could not be very well heard. He closed by naming his candidate somewhat like this: "I now have the pleasure and honor of proposing as the candidate of this convention that eminent statesman, James S. Blaine." Nearly every one in the convention knew that Mr. Blaine's middle name was Gillespie.
The Blaine followers, whose indignation had been growing throughout the speech, because they expected the very highest type of oratory for their favorite, shouted in chorus, "G., you fool, G!"
When General Garfield was voted for, he indignantly repudiated the votes as an imputation upon his honor, as he was there to nominate his friend, John Sherman. Senator George F. Hoar, of Massachusetts, presided at the convention. He interrupted Garfield by calling him to order, as it was not in order to interrupt the calling of the roll, and he did so for fear that Garfield would go so far as to say he would not accept the nomination if it were made. On the last ballot State after State, each striving to get ahead of the other, changed its vote from Sherman or Blaine to Garfield, and he was nominated.
I sat close to him as a visitor to the Ohio delegation. It was a curious exhibit of the ambition of a lifetime suddenly and unexpectedly realized by a highly sensitive and highly wrought-up man. He was so overcome that he practically had to be carried out of the convention by his friends.
Senator Conkling was very indignant at the result and expressed his anger with his usual emphasis and picturesqueness. The Ohio leaders were then anxious to placate New York, but Conkling would have nothing to do with them. They then came to us, who had been opposed to the unit rule, and wanted suggestions as to which New Yorker they should select for vice-president. Levi P. Morton was suggested. Mr. Morton said he would accept if Senator Conkling was willing to agree to it, and that he would not act without the senator's acquiescence, as he was an organization man. The senator refused his consent, and told Mr. Morton that no friend of his would go on the ticket.
It was then suggested that they try General Arthur, who was Conkling's first lieutenant and chairman of the Republican State Committee of New York. Senator Conkling made the same answer to General Arthur, but he frankly said to Conkling: "Such an honor and opportunity comes to very few of the millions of Americans, and to that man but once. No man can refuse it, and I will not." And so General Arthur was nominated for vice-president.
X. GROVER CLEVELAND
Grover Cleveland was a remarkable man. He had more political courage of the General Jackson type than almost any man who ever held great responsible positions. He defied Tammany Hall while governor of the State, and repeatedly challenged the strongest elements of his party while president. Threats of defeat or retaliation never moved him. If he had once made up his mind and believed he was right, no suggestions of expediency or of popularity had any influence on him.
In personal intercourse he made friends and had great charm. The campaign against him when he ran for governor of New York was ruthlessly conducted. I considered the actions of his enemies as unfair and that they would react in the canvass. I studiously discredited all in my speeches, and begged our people not to feature them.
I knew Mr. Cleveland, and as an evidence of my appreciation of his character and ability, when the office of general counsel of the New York Central Railroad at Buffalo became vacant, I offered it to him, saying: "I am exceedingly anxious that you should accept this place. I think, by an adjustment of the administration of your office, you can retain your private practice, and this will add about fifteen thousand dollars a year to your income."
Mr. Cleveland replied: "I have a very definite plan of life and have decided how much work I can do without impairing my health, and how much of additional responsibility I can assume. I have accumulated about seventy-five thousand dollars and my practice yields me an income which is sufficient for my wants and a prudent addition for my old age to my capital. No amount of money whatever would tempt me to add to or increase my present work."
I doubt if there were many lawyers in the United States who had that philosophy or control of their ambitions. His annual income from his profession was considerably less than the compensation offered by the general counselship of the New York Central.
Cleveland was most satisfactory as president in his quick and decisive judgment upon matters presented to him. There were no delays, no revisions; in fact, no diplomatic methods of avoiding a disagreeable decision. He told you in the briefest time and in the clearest way what he would do.
A great social leader and arbiter in social affairs in New York was very desirous that the president should reverse his judgment in regard to an appointment affecting a member of his family. I gave him a letter which procured him a personal and confidential interview. When he came back to me he said: "That is the most extraordinary man I ever saw. After he had heard me through, he said he understood the matter thoroughly and would not change his opinion or action. He has no social position and never had. I tried to present its attractions and my ability to help him in that regard, but he only laughed; yes, he positively laughed."
While President Hayes had difficulty with civil-service reform and incurred the hostility of the Republican organization and machine men, the situation with him was far less difficult than it was with Cleveland, who was a sincere civil-service reformer, and also an earnest Democrat. While a Democratic senator from Ohio, Mr. Pendleton, had passed a bill during the Hayes administration for reform in the civil service, the great majority of the Democratic party believed in Secretary Marcy's declaration that "to the victors belong the spoils."
There was an aggravation, also, growing out of the fact that the Democrats had been out of office for twenty-four years. We can hardly visualize or conceive now of their hunger for office. The rule for rescuing people dying of starvation is to feed them in very small quantities, and frequently. By trying this, the president became one of the most unpopular of men who had ever held office; in fact, so unpopular among the Democratic senators and members of the House that a story which Zebulon Vance, of North Carolina, told went all over the country and still survives. Vance, who had a large proportion of the citizens of North Carolina on his waiting list, and could get none of them appointed, said that the situation, which ought to be one of rejoicing at the election of a president by his own party, was like that of a client of his who had inherited a farm from his father. There were so many difficulties about the title and getting possession of it and delay, that the son said: "I almost wished father had not died."
However, Mr. Cleveland, in his deliberate way did accomplish the impossible. He largely regained favor with his party by satisfying their demands, and at the same time so enlarged the scope of civil-service requirements as to receive the commendation of the two great leaders of the civil-service movement—George William Curtis and Carl Schurz.
President Cleveland entered upon his second term with greater popularity in the country than most of his predecessors. When he retired from office, it was practically by unanimous consent. It is among the tragedies of public life that he lost entirely the confidence of his party and, in a measure, of the whole people by rendering to his country the greatest public service.
A strike of the men on the railroads tied up transportation. Railroads are the arteries of travel, commerce, and trade. To stop them is to prevent the transportation of provisions or of coal, to starve and freeze cities and communities. Cleveland used the whole power of the federal government to keep free the transportation on the railways and to punish as the enemies of the whole people those who were trying to stop them. It was a lesson which has been of incalculable value ever since in keeping open these great highways.
He forced through the repeal of the silver purchasing law by every source and pressure and the unlimited use of patronage. His party were almost unanimous for the silver standard and resented this repeal as a crime, but it saved the country from general bankruptcy. Except in the use of patronage to help his silver legislation, he offended his party by improving the civil service and retaining Theodore Roosevelt as head of the Civil Service Commission. These crises required from the president an extraordinary degree of courage and steadfastness.
While Mr. Cleveland was in such unprecedented popular disfavor when he retired to private life, his fame as president increases through the years, and he is rapidly assuming foremost position in the estimation of the people.
Mr. Cleveland had a peculiar style in his speeches and public documents. It was criticised as labored and that of an essayist. I asked him, after he had retired to private life, how he had acquired it. He said his father was a clergyman and he had been educated by him largely at home. His father was very particular about his compositions and his English, so that he acquired a ministerial style. The result of this was that whenever any of the members of the local bar died, he was called upon to write the obituary resolutions.
To take a leap over intervening years: After Mr. Cleveland retired from his second term I used to meet him very frequently on social occasions and formal celebrations. He soon left the practice of law and settled in Princeton, where he did great and useful service, until he died, as trustee of the university and a lecturer before the students.
Riding in the same carriage with him in the great procession at the funeral of General Sherman, he reminisced most interestingly in regard to his experiences while president. Every little while there would break out a cheer and then a shout in the crowd of one of the old campaign cries: "Grover, Grover, four years more." Mr. Cleveland remarked: "I noticed while president a certain regularity and recrudescence of popular applause, and it was the same in every place I visited." That cry, "Grover, Grover, four years more!" would occur every third block, and during our long ride the mathematical tradition was preserved.
XI. BENJAMIN HARRISON
The year 1888 was one of singular experience for me. I was working very hard in my professional duties and paying no attention to public affairs.
The district conventions to send delegates to the national convention at Chicago began electing their delegates and alternates, and passing resolutions instructing them to vote for me as their candidate for president.
After several districts had thus acted I was asked to meet in Whitelaw Reid's office in the Tribune Building Thomas C. Platt, our State leader, and United States Senator Frank Hiscock. Platt demanded to know why I was making this canvass without consulting the organization or informing them. I told him I was doing nothing whatever by letter, telegram, or interview; that I had seen no one, and no one had been to see me.
Mr. Platt, who had been all his life accomplishing things through the organization, was no believer in spontaneous uprisings, and asked me frankly: "Are you a candidate?" I told him I was not, because I did not believe I could be nominated with the present condition of the public mind in regard to railways, and I was president of one of the largest systems.
Then it was suggested that I permit the Tribune, which was the party organ, to state that I was not a candidate and did not want to be. The next morning the Tribune had that fully explained. The conventions kept on convening and instructing their delegates the same way.
Another conference was called, and then I was asked to make the statement that if nominated I would not accept, and if elected I would decline. I said to my conferees: "Gentlemen, there is no American living big enough to say that. In the first place, it is gross egotism to think such a thing might happen." The result was that the organization accepted the situation.
The only way that I can account for this unanimous action of the party in its conventions in the congressional districts of the State is the accumulative result of appreciation of unselfish work for the party. Every fall, for a quarter of a century, I had been on the platform in every part of the State, and according to my means was a contributor to the State and local canvass. During this period I had asked nothing and would accept nothing. If I may apply so large a phrase to a matter so comparatively unimportant, I would deny the often quoted maxim that "republics are ungrateful."
When the convention met there was an overwhelming sentiment for Mr. Blaine, but his refusal was positive and absolute. I had always been a warm supporter and friend of Mr. Blaine, and his followers were very friendly to me.
What were called "the Granger States," and especially Iowa, had become very hostile to railway management and railway men. They were passing laws which were practically confiscatory of railway securities. The committees from those States visited all other State delegations and spoke in bitter terms of my candidacy. The strength of my candidacy was that New York was unanimously for me, except for one vote from New York City, and no nominee could hope to be elected unless he could carry New York.
After receiving ninety-nine votes, I found that on the next ballot my vote would be very largely increased, and decided to retire. I called together the New York delegation and stated my position, and the reason for it. A considerable debate took place. The motion was made and unanimously carried that the four delegates at large should meet and see if they could agree upon a candidate who would command the support of the entire delegation of the State. The object was, of course, to make the State, with its larger number of delegates than any other commonwealth, a deciding factor in the selection.
The delegates at large were: Thomas C. Platt, Senator Frank Hiscock, Warner Miller, and myself. When we met, Platt and Hiscock declared for Senator Allison of Iowa. Warner Miller with equal warmth announced that he was for John Sherman.
A heated controversy arose between Mr. Platt and Mr. Miller, during which Mr. Platt said that neither he nor any of his friends would vote for Sherman if he was nominated. Senator Hiscock, who was always a pacifier, interrupted them, saying: "Mr. Depew has said nothing as yet. I suggest that we hear his views."
Mr. Platt and Mr. Miller responded to this suggestion and I replied: "Gentlemen, New York has given to me its cordial and practically unanimous support, and I have felt under the circumstances that I should follow and not lead. The situation which has grown out of this discussion here eliminates two candidates. Without the aid of Senator Platt and his friends, Mr. Sherman could not carry New York. Iowa has gone to the extreme of radical legislation which threatens the investment in securities of her railroads, and New York is such a capitalistic State that no man identified with that legislation could carry a majority of the vote of its people, and that makes Allison impossible. There is one candidate here who at present apparently has no chance, but who, nevertheless, seems to me to possess more popular qualifications than any other, and that is General Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana. I do not know him, never met him, but he rose from the humblest beginnings until he became the leader of the bar of his State. He enlisted in the Civil War as a second lieutenant, and by conspicuous bravery and skill upon the battle-field came out as brigadier-general. As United States senator he became informed about federal affairs. His grandfather, President William H. Harrison, had one of the most picturesque campaigns in our history. There are enough survivors of that 'hard cider and log cabin' canvass to make an attractive contribution on the platform at every meeting, and thus add a certain historic flavor to General Harrison's candidacy."
After some discussion the other three agreed. We reported our conclusion to the delegation, which by an overwhelming majority assented to the conclusions of the four delegates at large. This decision settled the question in the convention, and after a few ballots General Harrison was nominated. New York was awarded the vice-presidency and selected Levi P. Morton.
During Harrison's administration I was absorbed in my duties as president of the New York Central Railroad, and was seldom in Washington. But soon after his inauguration he sent to me a member of Congress from Indiana with a special message. This congressman said: "I come from President Harrison, and he has instructed me to offer you a place in his Cabinet. He is anxious to have you in his official family."
I told him that I was not prepared to enter public life, and while I was exceedingly gratified by the offer, it was impossible for me to accept.
The congressman said: "I am a poor man, but cannot understand how anybody can refuse to be member of the Cabinet of the President of the United States. If such an offer was made to me, and the conditions of our overruling Providence were that I and my family should live in want and poverty for the rest of our lives, I would accept without hesitation."
I had met Benjamin Harrison as we passed through Indianapolis on business during the canvass, for the first time. I was much impressed with him, but his austerity appeared to those who called upon him while present upon official business. I found him one of the most genial and agreeable of men, and this impression was intensified when I met him at the White House. At his own table and family dinners he was one of the most charming of hosts. He had, unfortunately, a repellent manner and a harsh voice. In meeting those who came to him for official favors this made him one of the most unpopular presidents with senators and members of the House of Representatives.
On the platform as a public speaker he had few equals. He was most lucid and convincing, and had what few orators possess, which was of special use to him in campaigning and touring the country as president, the ability to make a fresh speech every day and each a good one. It was a talent of presenting questions from many angles, each of which illuminated his subject and captivated his audience. It was said of him by a senator who was his friend, and the remark is quoted by Senator Hoar, that if he spoke to an audience of ten thousand people, he would make every one of them his friend, but if he were introduced to each of them afterwards, each would depart his enemy. I think that his manner, which was so unfortunate, came from the fact that his career had been one of battle, from his early struggles to his triumphant success.
A short time before the national convention met in 1892 Senator Frank Hiscock came to me and said that President Harrison had requested him to ask me to lead his forces on the floor in the convention. I said to him that I was a loyal organization man and did not want to quarrel with our leader, Senator Platt. Then he told me that he had seen Platt, who remarked that no one could help Harrison, and that I would conduct the campaign in better spirit than any one, and so he had no objection to my accepting the position. There was one obstacle which I wished removed. I was devoted to Mr. Blaine and not only was one of his political supporters but very fond of him personally. Mr. Blaine happened to be in the city, and I immediately called upon him. His health was then very bad.
"Mr. Blaine," I said to him, "if you are a candidate, you know I will support you with the greatest of pleasure, but if not, then I will accept the invitation of the president."
Mr. Blaine was most cordial. He said that he had no objections whatever to my taking the commission, but he doubted if the president could be renominated, and that he could not be re-elected if nominated. Harrison had made an excellent president, but his manner of treating people who came to him had filled the country with bitter and powerful enemies, while his friends were very few.
Then he mentioned several other possible candidates, but evidently doubted the success of the Republican party in the election. In regard to himself he said: "If I should accept the nomination I could not endure the labors of the canvass and its excitements. It would kill me." That diagnosis of his condition was correct and was demonstrated by the fact that he died soon after the election, but long before he could be inaugurated if elected.
All organization leaders of the party were united against the nomination of President Harrison. The leaders were Platt, Quay, and Clarkson, who was also chairman of the national committee. They were the greatest masters of organization and of its management we ever had in politics, especially Platt and Quay. Their methods were always secret, so I decided that the only hope of success for President Harrison was in the greatest publicity.
The position I had accepted soon became known, and I began to give the fullest interviews, each one an argument for the renomination of the president. I went to Chicago a few days in advance of the convention, was met there by correspondents of the press, some fifty of them, and gave them a talk in a body, which made a broadside in the morning papers, each correspondent treating it in his own way, as his own individual interview.
This statement or, rather, argument, was intended to be read and succeeded in being so by the delegates from everywhere who were on their way to the convention and had to pass through Chicago. The convention was held in Minneapolis. I received from that city an invitation to address a gathering of New Yorkers who had settled in the West to speak before two patriotic audiences, and to make the address at the dedication of the great hall where the convention was to meet.
It was evident that before these engagements had been concluded, every delegate would have attended some of these meetings, and, therefore, with the relationship between a speaker and his audience, I would be practically the only man in the convention who was personally known to every member. This relationship was an enormous benefit in conducting the canvass.
The great organization leaders were difficult of access and carried on their campaign through trusted members of each State delegation. My rooms were wide open for everybody. On account of the conflicting statements made by members of the State delegations, it was very difficult to make an accurate and detailed list of those who were for the president, and those who were for Mr. Blaine. It occurred to me that it would help to call a meeting of the Harrison delegates. Many thought it was hazardous, as it might develop a majority the other way.
The meeting was attended, however, by every delegate, those opposed coming out of curiosity. Taking the chair, I asked some member of each delegation to arise and state how many votes he believed could be relied upon from his State. Of course the statement of each delegate was often loudly challenged by others from his State who were present. When the result was announced it showed a majority of three for General Harrison. A veteran campaigner begged me to announce it as fifty, but I refused. "No," I said, "the closeness of the vote when there is every opportunity for manipulation would carry conviction."
An old gentleman who stood beside me had a gold-headed ebony cane. I seized it and rapped it on the table with such force that it broke in two and announced that the figures showed absolute certainty of President Harrison's renomination. I doubt if there was a reliable majority, but the announcement of this result brought enough of those always anxious to get on the band-wagon to make it certain.
Soon after arriving home I received a letter from the owner of the cane. He wrote: "I was very angry when you broke my cane. It was a valued birthday present from my children. It is now in a glass case in my library, and on the case is this label: 'This cane nominated a president of the United States.'"
Mr. McKinley, then Governor of Ohio, presided at the convention. I stood close beside him when I made my speech for Harrison's renomination. While thoroughly prepared, the speech was in a way extemporaneous to meet calls or objections. In the midst of a sentence McKinley said to me in a loud voice: "You are making a remarkably fine speech." The remark threw me off my balance as an opposition would never have done. I lost the continuity and came near breaking down, but happily the applause gave me time to get again upon the track.
Among my colleagues in the New York delegation was James W. Husted. General Husted was very ill and unable to leave his room during the convention. He sent for me one morning and said: "I have just had a call from Governor McKinley. He says that you have the power to nominate him, and that Harrison cannot be nominated. If you will direct the Harrison forces for him, he will be the next president."
I told Husted I was enlisted for the war and, while having a great admiration for McKinley, it was impossible.
Soon after arriving home I received an invitation from the president to visit him at Washington. I took the night train, arriving there in the morning. My appointment was to lunch with him.
During the morning Stephen B. Elkins, then secretary of war, called and asked me to take a walk. While we were walking he told me that the president was going to offer me the secretaryship of state, in succession to Mr. Blaine, and that I ought to accept. He then led me to the State Department and pointed to the portraits on the walls of the different secretaries, commencing with Thomas Jefferson. Elkins said that to be in that list was a greater distinction than to be on the walls of the White House, because these men are of far greater eminence.
After luncheon the president invited me into the Blue Room, and with a great deal of emotion said: "You are the only man who has ever unselfishly befriended me. It was largely through your efforts that I became president, and I am greatly indebted to you for my renomination. I have tried my best to show my appreciation by asking you into my Cabinet and otherwise, but you have refused everything I have heretofore offered. I now want to give you the best I have, which is secretary of state. It is broken bread, because if I am not re-elected it will be only till the 4th of March, but if I am re-elected it will be for four years more. I personally want you in my Cabinet."
I told the president it was impossible for me to accept; that even if I resigned my presidency of the railroad, coming directly from that position would bring the railroad question, which was very acute, into the canvass. He said he did not think there was anything in that, but I realized that if he was defeated his defeat would be charged to having made that mistake.
He then said: "Well, how about it if I am re-elected?" I told him that I would regard the appointment the greatest of honors, and the associations the most pleasurable of a lifetime.
"Very well," he said; "I will appoint Mr. John W. Foster, who has been doing excellent service for the State Department, until next 4th of March, and you can prepare to come here upon that date."
The most painful thing that was connected with the canvass at Minneapolis before the convention was the appearance of Mr. Blaine as a candidate. He had resigned from the Cabinet and yielded to the pressure of his friends to become a candidate.
Notwithstanding my interview and what he had said, he sent no word whatever to me, and personally I had no information and no notification that his candidacy was authorized by himself. What gave, however, much authority to the statement that he would accept the nomination was the appearance of his son, Emmons, among those who were endeavoring to bring it about.
There has never been a statesman in our public life, except Henry Clay, who had such devoted friends as Mr. Blaine. While Henry Clay never reached the presidency and was fairly defeated in his attempt, there is no doubt that Mr. Blaine was elected in 1884, and that notwithstanding the Burchard misfortune, he would still have been a victor except for transparent frauds in New York.
General Harrison was by far the ablest and profoundest lawyer among our presidents. None of them equalled him as an orator. His State papers were of a very high order. When history sums up the men who have held the great place of president of the United States, General Harrison will be among the foremost.
He retired from office, like many of our presidents, a comparatively poor man. After retirement he entered at once upon the practice of his profession of the law and almost immediately became recognized as one of the leaders of the American bar.
XII. JAMES G. BLAINE
I have spoken in every national canvass, beginning with 1856. It has been an interesting experience to be on the same platform as an associate speaker with nearly every man in the country who had a national reputation. Most of them had but one speech, which was very long, elaborately prepared, and so divided into sections, each complete in itself, that the orator was equipped for an address of any length, from fifteen minutes to four hours, by selection or consolidation of these sections. Few of them would trust themselves to extemporaneous speaking. The most versatile and capable of those who could was James G. Blaine. He was always ready, courted interruptions, and was brilliantly effective. In a few sentences he had captured his audience and held them enthralled. No public man in our country, except, perhaps, Henry Clay, had such devoted following.
Mr. Blaine had another extraordinary gift, which is said to belong only to kings; he never forgot any one. Years after an introduction he would recall where he had first met the stranger and remember his name. This compliment made that man Blaine's devoted friend for life.
I had an interesting experience of his readiness and versatility when he ran for president in 1884. He asked me to introduce him at the different stations, where he was to deliver long or short addresses. After several of these occasions, he asked: "What's the next station, Chauncey?" I answered: "Peekskill." "Well," he said, "what is there about Peekskill?" "I was born there," I answered. "Well," he said, rising, "I always thought that you were born at Poughkeepsie." "No, Peekskill." Just then we were running into the station, and, as the train stopped, I stepped forward to introduce him to the great crowd which had gathered there from a radius of fifty miles. He pushed me back in a very dramatic way, and shouted: "Fellow citizens, allow me to make the introduction here. As I have many times in the last quarter of a century travelled up and down your beautiful Hudson River, with its majestic scenery made famous by the genius of Washington Irving, and upon the floating palaces not equalled anywhere else in the world, or when the steamer has passed through this picturesque bay and opposite your village, I have had emotions of tenderness and loving memories, greater than those impressed by any other town, because I have said to myself: 'There is the birthplace of one of my best friends, Chauncey Depew.'"
Local committees who desire to use the candidate to help the party in their neighborhood and also their county tickets are invariably most unreasonable and merciless in their demands upon the time of the candidate. They know perfectly well that he has to speak many times a day; that there is a limit to his strength and to his vocal cords, and yet they will exact from him an effort which would prevent his filling other engagements, if they possibly can. This was notoriously the case during Mr. Blaine's trip through the State of New York and afterwards through the country. The strain upon him was unprecedented, and, very naturally, he at times showed his irritation and some temper.
The local committees would do their best with the railroad company and with Blaine's managers in New York to prolong his stay and speech at each station. He would be scheduled according to the importance of the place for five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty minutes.
Before we reached Albany he asked me to accompany him to the end of our line at Buffalo, and make the introduction as usual at the stations. The committee would sometimes succeed in changing the programme and make the stays longer at their several places. Mr. Blaine's arrangement with me was that after he had decided how long he would speak, I should fill up the time, whether it was longer or shorter. That would often enlarge my speech, but I was young and vigorous and had no responsibilities.
I remember one committee, where the train was scheduled for ten minutes, succeed in having it delayed an hour, and instead of a brief address from the platform of the car, carried the presidential party to a stand in the central square where many thousands had gathered. In the first place, this city was not on Mr. Blaine's schedule, and as it was late in the afternoon, after a fatiguing day, he therefore told the committee peremptorily that ten minutes was his limit. Then he said to me: "Chauncey, you will have to fill out the hour."
Mr. Blaine's wonderful magnetism, the impression he made upon every one, and his tactful flattery of local pride, did a great deal to remove the prejudices against him, which were being fomented by a propaganda of a "mugwump" committee in New York. This propaganda, as is usually the case, assailed his personal integrity.
Notwithstanding the predictions made at the time, he was nominated, and it was subsequently repeated that he would not carry New York. From my own experience of many years with the people of the State and from the platform view-point, I felt confident that he would have a majority in the election.
It was a few days before the close of the canvass, when I was in the western part of the State, I received an urgent telegram from Mr. Blaine to join him on the train, which was to leave the Grand Central Station in New York early next morning for his tour of New England. Upon arrival I was met by a messenger, who took me at once to Mr. Blaine's car, which started a few minutes afterwards.
There was an unusual excitement in the crowd, which was speedily explained. The best account Mr. Blaine gave me himself in saying: "I felt decidedly that everything was well in New York. It was against my judgment to return here. Our national committee, however, found that a large body of Protestant clergymen wanted to meet me and extend their support. They thought this would offset the charges made by the 'mugwump' committee. I did not believe that any such recognition was necessary. However, their demands for my return and to meet this body became so importunate that I yielded my own judgment.
"I was engaged in my room with the committee and other visitors when I was summoned to the lobby of the hotel to meet the clergymen. I had prepared no speech, in fact, had not thought up a reply. When their spokesman, Reverend Doctor Burchard, began to address me, my only hope was that he would continue long enough for me to prepare an appropriate response. I had a very definite idea of what he would say and so paid little attention to his speech. In the evening the reporters began rushing in and wanted my opinion of Doctor Burchard's statement that the main issue of the campaign was 'Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.' If I had heard him utter these words, I would have answered at once, and that would have been effective, but I am still in doubt as to what to say about it now. The situation is very difficult, and almost anything I say is likely to bitterly offend one side or the other. Now I want you to do all the introductions and be beside me to-day as far as possible. I have become doubtful about everybody and you are always sure-footed." I have treasured that compliment ever since.
As we rode through the streets of New Haven the Democrats had placed men upon the tops of the houses on either side, and they threw out in the air thousands of leaflets, charging Blaine with having assented to the issue which Doctor Burchard had put out—"Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." They so filled the air that it seemed a shower, and littered the streets.
A distinguished Catholic prelate said to me: "We had to resent an insult like that, and I estimate that the remark has changed fifty thousand votes." I know personally of about five thousand which were changed in our State, but still Blaine lost New York and the presidency by a majority against him of only one thousand one hundred and forty-nine votes.
Whenever I visited Washington I always called upon Mr. Blaine. The fascination of the statesman and his wonderful conversational power made every visit an event to be remembered. On one occasion he said to me: "Chauncey, I am in very low spirits to-day. I have read over the first volume of my 'Twenty Years in Congress,' which is just going to the printer, and destroyed it. I dictated the whole of it, but I find that accuracy and elegance can only be had at the end of a pen. I shall rewrite the memoirs in ink. In these days composition by the typewriter or through the stenographer is so common." There will be many who differ with Mr. Blaine.
XIII. WILLIAM McKINLEY
In the canvass of 1896 the Republican organization of the State of New York decided, if possible, to have the national convention nominate Levi P. Morton for president. Mr. Morton won popular favor as vice-president, and the canvass for him looked hopeful. But a new man of extraordinary force and ability came into this campaign, and that man was Mark Hanna, of Ohio. Mr. Hanna was one of the most successful of our business men. He had a rare genius for organization, and possessed resourcefulness, courage, and audacity. He was most practical and at the same time had imagination and vision. While he had taken very little part in public affairs, he had rather suddenly determined to make his devoted friend, William McKinley, president of the United States.
In a little while every State in the Union felt the force of Mr. Hanna's efforts. He applied to politics the methods by which he had so successfully advanced his large manufacturing interests. McKinley clubs and McKinley local organizations sprang up everywhere under the magic of Hanna's management. When the convention met it was plain that McKinley's nomination was assured.
The New York delegation, however, decided to present Morton's name and submit his candidacy to a vote. I was selected to make a nominating speech. If there is any hope, an orator on such an occasion has inspiration. But if he knows he is beaten he cannot put into his effort the fire necessary to impress an audience. It is not possible to speak with force and effect unless you have faith in your cause.
After Mr. McKinley was nominated I moved that the nomination be made unanimous. The convention called for speech and platform so insistently that their call had to be obeyed. The following is an account from a newspaper of that date of my impromptu speech. The story which is mentioned in the speech was told to me as I was ascending the platform by Senator Proctor of Vermont.
"I am in the happy position now of making a speech for the man who is going to be elected. (Laughter and applause.) It is a great thing for an amateur, when his first nomination has failed, to come in and second the man who has succeeded. New York is here with no bitter feeling and with no disappointment. We recognize that the waves have submerged us, but we have bobbed up serenely. (Loud laughter.) It was a cannon from New York that sounded first the news of McKinley's nomination. They said of Governor Morton's father that he was a New England clergyman, who brought up a family of ten children on three hundred dollars a year, and was, notwithstanding, gifted in prayer. (Laughter.) It does not make any difference how poor he may be, how out of work, how ragged, how next door to a tramp anybody may be in the United States to-night, he will be 'gifted in prayer' at the result of this convention. (Cheers and laughter.)
"There is a principle dear to the American heart. It is the principle which moves American spindles, starts the industries, and makes the wage-earners sought for instead of seeking employment. That principle is embodied in McKinley. His personality explains the nomination to-day. And his personality will carry into the presidential chair the aspirations of the voters of America, of the families of America, of the homes of America, protection to American industry and America for Americans." (Cheers.)
As every national convention, like every individual, has its characteristics, the peculiar distinction of the Republican convention of 1896 was its adoption of the gold standard of value. An amazing and illuminating part of our political literature of that time is the claim which various statesmen and publicists make to the authorship of the gold plank in the platform.
Senator Foraker, who was chairman of the committee on resolutions, devotes a considerable part of his interesting autobiography to the discussion of this question. He is very severe upon all those who claim to have originated the idea. I have been asked by several statesmen to enforce their claims to its authorship.
The silver craze had not yet subsided. Bimetallism had strong advocates and believers in our convention. I think even our candidate was not fully convinced at that time of the wisdom of the declaration. It went into the platform rather as a venture than an article of faith, but to the surprise of both the journalists and campaign orators, it turned out that the people had become converted to the gold standard, and it proved to be the strongest and most popular declaration of the convention.
When the campaign opened the genius of Mark Hanna soon became evident. He organized a campaign of education such as had never been dreamed of, much less attempted. Travelling publicity agents, with wagonloads of pamphlets, filled the highways and the byways, and no home was so isolated that it did not receive its share. Columns in the newspapers, especially the country papers, were filled with articles written by experts, and the platform was never so rich with public speakers.
Such a campaign is irresistible. Its influence is felt by everybody; its arguments become automatically and almost insensibly the common language of the people. But the expense is so terrific that it will never again be attempted. There was no corruption or purchase of votes in Mr. Hanna's management. It was publicity and again publicity, but it cost nearly five millions of dollars. To reach the one hundred and ten million of people in the United States in such a way would involve a sum so vast that public opinion would never permit any approach to it.
Mr. McKinley's front-porch campaign was a picturesque and captivating feature. The candidate was a handsome man and an eloquent speaker, with a cordial and sympathetic manner which won everybody. Delegations from all parts of the country and representing every phase of American life appeared at Mr. McKinley's residence. His address to them was always appropriate and his reception made the visitors his fast friends.
I received a personal request to visit him, and on the occasion he said to me: "In certain large agricultural sections there is a very dangerous revolt in our party, owing to the bad conditions among the farmers. Wheat and corn are selling below the cost of production. I wish you would go down among them and make speeches explaining the economic conditions which have produced this result, and how we propose to and will remedy it."
"Mr. McKinley," I said, "my position as a railroad president, I am afraid, would antagonize them."
"On the contrary, your very position will draw the largest audiences and receive the greater attention."
The result proved that he was correct.
I recall one meeting in particular. There were thousands present, all farmers. In the midst of my speech one man arose and said: "Chauncey Depew, we appreciate your coming here, and we are very anxious to hear you. Your speech is very charming and interesting, but I want to put this to you personally. We here are suffering from market conditions for the products of our farms. The prices are so low that we have difficulty in meeting the interest on our mortgages and paying our taxes, no matter how seriously we economize. Now you are the president of one of the greatest railroads in the country. It is reported that you are receiving a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year. You are here in a private car. Don't you think that the contrast between you and us makes it difficult for us poor farmers to give you the welcome which we would like?"
I saw at once I had lost my audience. I then ventured upon a statement of conditions which I have often tried and always successfully. I said: "My friend, what you say about me is true. Now, as to my career, I was born and brought up in a village similar to the one which is near you here. My father gave me my education and nothing else with which to begin life. As a young lawyer I was looking for clients and not for office. I made up my mind that there were no opportunities offered in the village, but that the chances of success were in the service of corporations. The result is that I have accomplished what you have described. Now, my friend, I believe that you have a promising boy. I also believe that to your pride and satisfaction he is going through the neighboring college here, and that you intend on account of his brightness and ability to make him a lawyer. When he is admitted to the bar, do you expect him to try to do what I have accomplished and make an independent position in life, or fail?"
The farmer shouted: "Chauncey, you are all right. Go ahead and keep it up."
My arguments and presentation were no better than many another speaker's, but, as Mr. McKinley predicted, they received an attention and aroused a discussion, because of what the old farmer had said, that no other campaigner could command.
Mr. McKinley sent for me again and said: "Sentiment is a wonderful force in politics. Mr. Bryan, my opponent, has made a remarkable speaking tour through our State. He started in the early morning from Cleveland with a speech. His train made many stops on the way to Cincinnati, where he arrived in the evening, and at each place he addressed large audiences, traversing the State from one side to the other. His endurance and versatility have made a great impression upon our people. To meet and overcome that impression, I have asked you to come here and repeat Bryan's effort. You are so much older than he is—I think we may claim nearly twice his age—that if you can do it, and I hope you can, that sentiment will be dissipated."
I traversed Mr. Bryan's route, stopped at the same stations and delivered speeches to similar audiences of about the same length. On arriving in Cincinnati in the evening I was met by a committee, the chairman of which said: "We have followed you all along from Cleveland, where you started at seven o'clock this morning, and it is fine. Now Mr. Bryan, when he arrived here, had no meeting. We have seven thousand people in the Music Hall, and if you will go there and speak five minutes it will make your trip a phenomenal success."
I went to the Music Hall, of course had a wonderful time and wild ovation, and spoke for an hour. The next day I was none the worse for this twelve hours' experience.
President McKinley had spent most of his life in the House of Representatives. He loved the associations and life of Congress. The most erratic and uncertain of bodies is Congress to an executive who does not understand its temper and characteristics. McKinley was past master of this. Almost every president has been greatly relieved when Congress adjourned, but Mr. McKinley often expressed to me his wish that Congress would always be in session, as he never was so happy as when he could be in daily contact with it. His door was open at all times to a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. If either failed to see him at least once a week, the absentee usually received a message stating that the president desired him to call. He was very keen in discovering any irritation on the part of any senator or member about any disappointment or fancied slight, and always most tactfully managed to straighten the matter out. He was quite as attentive and as particular with the opposition as with members of his own party.
President McKinley had a wonderful way of dealing with office-seekers and with their friends and supporters. A phrase of his became part of the common language of the capital. It was: "My dear fellow, I am most anxious to oblige you, but I am so situated that I cannot give you what you want. I will, however, try to find you something equally as good." The anxious caller for favors, if he or his congressman failed to get the office desired, always carried away a flower or a bouquet given by the president, with a complimentary remark to be remembered. It soon came to be understood among applicants for office that a desired consulship in England could not be granted, but one of equal rank in South Africa was possible.
There were many good stories in the Senate of his tact in dealing with the opposition. A Southern senator, who as a general had made a distinguished record in the Civil War on the Confederate side, was very resentful and would frequently remark to his friends "that our president unfortunately is not a gentleman, and in his ancestry is some very common blood."
Mr. McKinley persuaded some of the senator's Southern colleagues to bring him to the White House. He expressed his regret to the senator that he should have offended him in any way and asked what he had done. The senator replied: "You have appointed for the town where my sister lives a nigger, and a bad nigger at that, for postmaster, and my sister has to go to him for her letters and stamps." The president arranged for the transfer of this postmaster and the appointment of a man recommended by the senator. The senator then went to his friends and said: "Have I remarked to you at any time that our president was not a gentleman and had somewhere in his ancestry very common blood? If I did I recall the statement and apologize. Mr. McKinley is a perfect gentleman."
All the measures which the president wished passed, unless they were absolutely partisan, always received afterwards the support of the Southern senator.
I was in the Senate during a part of his term and nearly every day at the White House, where his reception was so cordial and his treatment of the matter presented so sympathetic that it was a delight to go there, instead of being, as usual, one of the most disagreeable tasks imposed upon a senator.
He had a way of inviting one to a private conference and with impressing you with its confidential character and the trust he reposed in your advice and judgment which was most flattering.
Entertainments at the White House were frequent, and he managed to make each dinner an event to be most pleasantly remembered. I think, while he was very courteous to everybody, he was more than usually so to me because of an incident prior to his inauguration.
A well-known journalist came to my office one day and said: "I am just from Canton, where I have been several days with the president. I discussed with him federal appointments—among others, the mission to England, in which I am interested because my father is an Englishman, and both my father and I are exceedingly anxious to have you take the post, and Mr. McKinley authorized me to ask you if you would accept the mission."
The embassy to England presented peculiar attraction to me, because I knew personally the Prince of Wales and most of the leading English statesmen and public men. The journalist said that if I accepted he would sound the press. This he did, and the response was most flattering from journals of all political views.
About the time of the inauguration Vice-President Hobart, who was a cordial friend of mine, said to me: "There is something wrong about you with the president. It is very serious, and you can expect no recognition from the administration." I was wholly at a loss to account for the matter and would not investigate any further. Not long afterwards the vice-president came to me and said: "I have found out the truth of that matter of yours and have explained it satisfactorily to the president, who deeply regrets that he was misled by a false report from a friend in whom he had confidence." Soon after the president made me the offer of the mission to Germany. I did not understand the language and felt that I could be of little service there, and so declined.
When President McKinley was lying seriously wounded at Buffalo from the shot of the anarchist Czolgosz, I went there to see if anything could be done for his comfort. For some time there was hope he would recover, and that it would be better for him to go to Washington. I made every arrangement to take him to the capital if the doctors decided it could be done. But suddenly, as is always the case with wounds of that kind, a crisis arrived in which he died.
Vice-President Roosevelt was camping in the Adirondacks. A message reached him, and the next morning he arrived in Buffalo. The Cabinet of Mr. McKinley decided that the vice-president should be at once inaugurated as president. Colonel Roosevelt was a guest at the house of Mr. Ainsley Wilcox. He invited me to witness his inauguration, which occurred the same evening. It was a small company gathered in the parlor of Mr. Wilcox's house. Elihu Root, secretary of state, choking with emotion and in a voice full of tears, made a speech which was a beautiful tribute to the dead president and a clear statement of the necessity of immediate action to avoid an interregnum in the government. John Raymond Hazel, United States district judge, administered the oath, and the new president delivered a brief and affecting answer to Mr. Root's address.
This inauguration was in pathetic and simple contrast to that which had preceded at the Capitol at Washington. Among the few present was Senator Mark Hanna. He had been more instrumental than any one in the United States in the selection of Mr. McKinley for president and his triumphant election. Mr. McKinley put absolute trust in Hanna, and Hanna was the most powerful personality in the country. No two men in public life were ever so admirably fitted for each other as President McKinley and Senator Hanna. The day before the death of the president Hanna could look forward to four years of increasing power and usefulness with the president who had just been re-elected. But as he walked with me from Mr. Wilcox's house that night, he felt keenly that he never could have any such relation with Colonel Roosevelt. He was personally exceedingly fond of Mr. McKinley, and to his grief at the death of his friend was added a full apprehension of his changed position in American public life.
XlV. THEODORE ROOSEVELT
The bullet of the assassin had ended fatally, and McKinley was no more. Theodore Roosevelt, vice-president, became president. Few recognized at the time there had come into the presidency of the United States one of the most remarkable, capable, and original men who ever occupied the White House.
During the following seven years President Roosevelt not only occupied but filled the stage of public affairs in the United States. Even now, two years or more after his death, with the exception of President Wilson, Roosevelt is the best known American in the world. It is difficult to predict the future because of the idealization which sometimes though rarely occurs in regard to public men, but Colonel Roosevelt is rapidly taking a position as third, with Washington and Lincoln as the other two.
My relations with Colonel Roosevelt were always most interesting. His father, who was a cordial friend of mine, was one of the foremost citizens of New York. In all civic duties and many philanthropies he occupied a first place. The public activities of the father had great influence in forming the character and directing the ambitions of his son.
Mr. Roosevelt entered public life very early and, as with everything with him, always in a dramatic way. One of the interesting characters of New York City was Frederick Gibbs, who was an active politician and a district leader. Gibbs afterwards became the national committeeman from New York on the Republican national committee. When he died he left a collection of pictures which, to the astonishment of everybody, showed that he was a liberal and discriminating patron of art.
Gibbs had a district difficult to manage, because, commencing in the slums it ran up to Fifth Avenue. It was normally Democratic, but he managed to keep his party alive and often to win, and so gained the reputation that he was in league with Tammany. He came to me one day and said: "Our organization has lost the confidence of the 'highbrows.' They have not a great many votes, but their names carry weight and their contributions are invaluable in campaigns. To regain their confidence we are thinking of nominating for member of the legislature young Theodore Roosevelt, who has just returned from Harvard. What do you think of it?"
Of course, I advocated it very warmly. "Well," he said, "we will have a dinner at Delmonico's. It will be composed entirely of 'highbrows.' We wish you to make the principal speech, introducing young Roosevelt, who, of course, will respond. I will not be at the dinner, but I will be in the pantry."
The dinner was a phenomenal success. About three hundred in dress suits, white vests, and white neckties were discussing the situation, saying: "Where did these stories and slanders originate in regard to our district, about its being an annex of Tammany and with Tammany affiliations? We are the district, and we all know each other."
Young Roosevelt, when he rose to speak, looked about eighteen years old, though he was twenty-three. His speech was carefully prepared, and he read it from a manuscript. It was remarkable in the emphatic way in which he first stated the evils in the city, State, and national governments, and how he would correct them if he ever had the opportunity. It is a curious realization of youthful aspirations that every one of those opportunities came to him, and in each of them he made history and permanent fame.
The term of office of Frank Black, Governor of the State of New York, was about expiring. Black was a man of great ability and courage. The people had voted nine millions of dollars to improve the Erie Canal. There were persistent rumors of fraud in the work. Governor Black ordered an investigation through an able committee which he appointed. The committee discovered that about a million dollars had been wasted or stolen. Black at once took measures to recover the money if possible and to prosecute the guilty. The opposition took advantage of this to create the impression in the public mind of the corruption of the Republican administration. The acute question was: "Should Governor Black be renominated?"
Colonel Roosevelt had just returned from Cuba, where he had won great reputation in command of the Rough Riders, and he and his command were in camp on Long Island.
Senator Platt, the State leader, was accustomed to consult me, and his confidence in my judgment was the greater from the fact that he knew that I wanted nothing, while most of the people who surrounded the leader were recipients of his favor, and either the holders of offices or expecting some consideration. He asked me to come and see him at Manhattan Beach. As usual, he entered at once upon the question in hand by saying: "I am very much troubled about the governorship. Frank Black has made an excellent governor and did the right thing in ordering an investigation of the Canal frauds, but the result of the investigation has been that in discovering frauds the Democrats have been able to create a popular impression that the whole State administration is guilty. The political situation is very critical in any way. Benjamin Odell, the chairman of our State committee, urges the nomination of Colonel Roosevelt. As you know, Roosevelt is no friend of mine, and I don't think very well of the suggestion. Now, what do you think?"
I instantly replied: "Mr. Platt, I always look at a public question from the view of the platform. I have been addressing audiences ever since I became a voter, and my judgment of public opinion and the views of the people are governed by how they take or will take and act upon the questions presented. Now, if you nominate Governor Black and I am addressing a large audience—and I certainly will—the heckler in the audience will arise and interrupt me, saying: 'Chauncey, we agree with what you say about the Grand Old Party and all that, but how about the Canal steal?' I have to explain that the amount stolen was only a million, and that would be fatal. If Colonel Roosevelt is nominated, I can say to the heckler with indignation and enthusiasm: 'I am mighty glad you asked that question. We have nominated for governor a man who has demonstrated in public office and on the battlefield that he is a fighter for the right, and always victorious. If he is selected, you know and we all know from his demonstrated characteristics, courage and ability, that every thief will be caught and punished, and every dollar that can be found restored to the public treasury.' Then I will follow the colonel leading his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and ask the band to play the 'Star-Spangled Banner.'"
Platt said very impulsively: "Roosevelt will be nominated."
When the State convention met to nominate a State ticket, I was selected to present the name of Colonel Roosevelt as a candidate for governor. I have done that a great many times in conventions, but have never had such a response. As I went on reciting the achievements of Roosevelt, his career, his accomplishments, and his great promise, the convention went wild with enthusiasm. It was plain that no mistake had been made in selecting him as the candidate.
During the campaign he made one of the most picturesque canvasses the State has ever experienced. He was accompanied in his travels by a large staff of orators, but easily dominated the situation and carried the audience with him. He was greatly amused at a meeting where one of his Rough Riders, who was in the company, insisted upon making a speech. The Rough Rider said: "My friends and fellow citizens, my colonel was a great soldier. He will make a great governor. He always put us boys in battle where we would be killed if there was a chance, and that is what he will do with you."
Roosevelt as governor was, as always, most original. New York was an organization State, with Mr. Platt as leader, and with county leaders of unusual ability and strength. Governors had been accustomed to rely upon the organization both for advice and support. Roosevelt could not bear any kind of control. He sought advice in every direction and then made up his mind. This brought him often in conflict with local leaders and sometimes with the general organization.
On one occasion the State chairman, who was always accustomed to be in Albany during the closing day of the legislature, to prevent in the haste and confusion, characteristic of legislation at this time, the passage of bad or unpopular measures, bade the governor good-by at midnight, as the legislature was to adjourn the following day with the understanding that lawmaking was practically over.
A large real-estate delegation arrived the next morning, with the usual desire to relieve real-estate from taxation by putting it somewhere else. They came with a proposition to place new burdens upon public utilities. It was too late to formulate and introduce a measure on a question so important, but there was a bill which had been in the legislature most of the session and never received serious consideration. The governor sent an emergency message to the legislature, which had remaining only one hour of life to pass that bill.
Next day the tremendous interest in public utilities was panic-stricken because the bill was so crude that it amounted to confiscation. The governor, when applied to, said: "Yes, I know that the bill is very crude and unfit to become a law, but legislation on this subject is absolutely necessary. I will do this: I have thirty days before I must make up my mind to sign the bill, or let it become a law without my signature. Within that thirty days I will call the legislature together again. Then you can prepare and submit to me a proper bill, and if we can agree upon it, I will present it to the legislature. If the legislature passes that measure I will sign it, but if it does not, I will let the present measure, bad as it is, become a law."
The result of the threat was that a very good and timely act was presented in regard to the taxation of public utilities, a measure which largely increased municipal and State revenues. I know of no governor in my time who would have had the originality and the audacity to accomplish what he desired by such drastic operation.
Roosevelt's administration was high-minded and patriotic. But by his exercise of independent judgment and frequently by doing things without consulting the leaders, State or local, he became exceedingly unpopular with the organization. It was evident that it would be very difficult to renominate him. It was also evident that on account of his popularity with the people, if he failed in the renomination, the party would be beaten. So it was unanimously decided to put him on the national ticket as vice-president.
The governor resisted this with all his passionate energy. He liked the governorship. He thought there were many things which he could do in another term, and he believed and so stated that the vice-presidency was a tomb. He thought that nobody could be resurrected when once buried in that sarcophagus.
The national Republican convention of 1900 was a ratification meeting. President McKinley's administration had been exceedingly popular. The convention met practically to indorse McKinley's public acts and renominate him for another term. The only doubtful question was the vice-presidency. There was a general accord of sentiment in favor of Governor Roosevelt, which was only blocked by his persistent refusal.
Roosevelt and I were both delegates at large, and that position gave him greater opportunity to emphasize his disinclination. A very intimate friend of his called upon me and begged that I would use all my influence to prevent the colonel's nomination. This friend said to me: "The governor's situation, officially and personally, makes it impossible for him to go to Washington. On the official side are his unfinished legislation and the new legislation greatly needed by the State, which will add enormously to his reputation and pave the way for his future. He has very little means. As governor his salary is ample. The Executive Mansion is free, with many contributory advantages, and the schools of Albany admirable for the education of his six children. While in Washington the salary of vice-president is wholly inadequate to support the dignity of the position, and it is the end of a young man of a most promising career."
I knew what the friend did not know, and it was that Mr. Roosevelt could not be governor again. I was so warmly attached to him and so anxious for his future that I felt it was my duty to force his nomination if possible.
Governor Odell was chairman of the delegation for all convention purposes, but in the distribution of honors I was made the presiding officer at its meetings. The delegation met to consider the vice-presidency. Several very eloquent speeches were made in favor of Mr. Roosevelt, but in an emphatic address he declined the nomination. He then received a unanimous vote, but again declined. A delegate then arose and suggested that he reconsider his determination, and several others joined most earnestly in this request. Roosevelt was deeply affected, but, nevertheless, firmly declined.
I knew there was a member of the delegation who had canvassed it to secure the honor in case Roosevelt became impossible, and that the next motion would be the nomination of this aspirant. So I abruptly declared the meeting adjourned. I did this in the hope that during the night, with the pressure brought to bear upon him, the colonel would change his mind. In the morning Mr. Roosevelt surrendered his convictions and agreed to accept the nomination.
In every convention there is a large number of men prominent in their several delegations who wish to secure general attention and publicity. As there were no disputes as to either candidate or platform, these gentlemen all became anxious to make speeches favoring the candidates, McKinley and Roosevelt. There were so many of these speeches which, of course, were largely repetitions, that the convention became wearied and impatient. The last few were not heard at all on account of the confusion and impatience of the delegates. While one orator was droning away, a delegation from a Western State came over to me and said: "We in the extreme West have never heard you speak, and won't you oblige us by taking the platform?"
I answered: "The audience will not stand another address." Roosevelt, who sat right in front of me, then remarked: "Yes, they will from you. These speeches have pretty nearly killed the ticket, and if it keeps up, the election is over, and McKinley and I are dead." He then seized me and almost threw me on the platform.
The novelty of the situation, which was grasped by the delegates, commanded attention. I recalled what Mr. Lincoln had once said to me, defending his frequent use of anecdotes, and this is what he said: "Plain people, take them as you find them, are more easily influenced through the medium of a broad and humorous illustration than in any other way."
I had heard a new story, a rare thing, and began with the narration of it. Alongside the chairman sat Senator Thurston. He was a fine speaker, very ornate and highly rhetorical. He never indulged in humor or unbent his dignity and formality. I heard him say in a sepulchral voice to the chairman: "Great God, sir, the dignity and solemnity of this most important and historical occasion is to be ruined by a story." Happily the story was a success and gave the wearied audience two opportunities to hear my speech. Their laughter was internal relief, and it was giving the external relief of changing their positions for new and more restful ones.
My friend, John M. Thurston, came to Philadelphia with a most elaborate and excellent oration. Sitting in the audience on three different occasions, I heard it with as much pleasure the last time as I had the first.
When Mr. Roosevelt as vice-president came to preside over the Senate, it was soon evident that he would not be a success. His talents were executive and administrative. The position of the presiding officer of the United States Senate is at once easy and difficult. The Senate desires impartiality, equable temper, and knowledge of parliamentary law from its presiding officer. But it will not submit to any attempt on the part of the presiding officer to direct or advise it, and will instantly resent any arbitrary ruling. Of course, Mr. Roosevelt presided only at a few meetings before the final adjournment. When Congress met again he was President of the United States.
Senators and members soon found that there was a change at the White House. No two men were ever so radically different in every respect as McKinley and Roosevelt. Roosevelt loved to see the people in a mass and rarely cared for private or confidential interviews. He was most hospitable and constantly bringing visitors to luncheon when the morning meetings in the executive offices had closed, and he had not had a full opportunity to hear or see them.
Senator Hanna was accustomed to have a few of his colleagues of the Senate dine with him frequently, in order to consult on more effective action upon pending measures. President Roosevelt, who knew everything that was going on, often burst into Hanna's house after dinner and with the utmost frankness submitted the problems which had arisen at the White House, and upon which he wished advice or, if not advice, support—more frequently support.
Any one who attended the morning conferences, where he saw senators and members of the House, and the public, was quite sure to be entertained. I remember on one occasion I had been requested by several friends of his, men of influence and prominence in New York, to ask for the appointment of minister to a foreign government for a journalist of some eminence. When I entered the Cabinet room it was crowded, and the president knew that I was far from well, so he at once called my name, asked how I was and what I wanted. I told him that I had to leave Washington that day on the advice of my doctor for a rest, and what I wanted was to present the name of a gentleman for appointment as a minister, if I could see him for five minutes.
The president exclaimed: "We have no secrets here. Tell it right out." I then stated the case. He asked who was behind the applicant. I told him. Then he said, "Yes, that's all right," to each one until I mentioned also the staff of the gentleman's newspaper, which was one of the most prominent and powerful in the country but a merciless critic of the president. He shouted at once: "That settles it. Nothing which that paper wishes will receive any consideration from me." Singularly enough, the paper subsequently became one of his ardent advocates and supporters.
On another occasion I was entering his private office as another senator was coming out of the Cabinet room, which was filled. He called out: "Senator Depew, do you know that man going out?" I answered: "Yes, he is a colleague of mine in the Senate." "Well," he shouted, "he is a crook." His judgment subsequently proved correct.
Mr. Roosevelt and his wife were all their lives in the social life of the old families of New York who were admitted leaders. They carried to the White House the culture and conventions of what is called the best society of the great capitals of the world. This experience and education came to a couple who were most democratic in their views. They loved to see people and met and entertained every one with delightful hospitality.
Roosevelt was a marvel of many-sidedness. Besides being an executive as governor of a great State and administrator as civil-service commissioner and police commissioner of New York, he was an author of popular books and a field naturalist of rare acquirements. He was also a wonderful athlete. I often had occasion to see him upon urgent matters, and was summoned to his gymnasium, where he was having a boxing match with a well-known pugilist, and getting the better of his antagonist, or else launching at his fencing master. The athletics would cease, to be resumed as soon as he had in his quick and direct way disposed of what I presented.
Horseback riding was a favorite exercise with him, and his experience on his Western ranch and in the army had made him one of the best riders in the world. The foreign diplomats in Washington, with their education that their first duty was to be in close touch with the chief magistrate, whether czar, queen, king, or president, found their training unequal to keeping close to President Roosevelt, except one, and he told me with great pleasure that though a poor rider he joined the president in his horseback morning excursions. Sometimes, he said, when they came to a very steep, high, and rough hill the president would shout, "Let us climb to the top," and the diplomat would struggle over the stones, the underbrush and gullies, and return to his horse with torn garments after sliding down the hill. At another time, when on the banks of the Potomac, where the waters were raging rapids the president said, "We will go to that island in the middle of the river," and immediately plunge in. The diplomat followed and reached the island after wading and swimming, and with great difficulty returned with sufficient strength to reach home. He had an attack of pneumonia from this unusual exposure, but thereafter was the envy and admiration of his colleagues and increased the confidence of his own government by this intimacy with the president.
The president's dinners and luncheons were unique because of his universal acquaintance with literary and scientific people. There were generally some of them present. His infectious enthusiasm and hearty cordiality drew out the best points of each guest. I was present at a large dinner one evening when an instance occurred which greatly amused him. There were some forty guests. When they were seated, the president noticed four vacant chairs. He sent one of his aides to ascertain the trouble. The aide discovered an elderly senator standing with his wife, and another senator and a lady looking very disconsolate. The aged senator refused to take out a lady as his card directed or leave his wife to a colleague. He said to the president's aide, who told him that dinner was waiting and what he had to do: "When I eat I eat with my wife, or I don't eat at all." The old gentleman had his way.
The president had one story which he told often and with much glee. While he was on the ranch the neighbors had caught a horse thief and hung him. They soon discovered that they had made a mistake and hung the wrong man. The most diplomatic among the ranchers was selected to take the body home and break the news gently to his wife. The cowboy ambassador asked the wife: "Are you the wife of ——?" She answered "Yes." "Well," said the ambassador, "you are mistaken. You are his widow. I have his body in the wagon. You need not feel bad about it, because we hung him thinking he was the horse thief. We soon after found that he was innocent. The joke is on us."
Mr. Roosevelt was intensely human and rarely tried to conceal his feelings. He was to address the New York State Fair at Syracuse. The management invited me as a United States Senator from New York to be present. There were at least twenty thousand on the fair ground, and Mr. Roosevelt read his speech, which he had elaborately prepared, detailing his scheme for harmonizing the relations between labor and capital. The speech was long and very able and intended for publication all over the country. But his audience, who were farmers, were not much interested in the subject. Besides, they had been wearied wandering around the grounds and doing the exhibits, waiting for the meeting to begin. I know of nothing so wearisome to mind and body as to spend hours going through the exhibits of a great fair. When the president finished, the audience began calling for me. I was known practically to every one of them from my long career on the platform.