Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt by Louis Auchincloss

Book: Theodore Roosevelt by Louis Auchincloss Read Free Book Online
Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: History, Biography
discharged from the army “without honor.” The sentence, though vigorously criticized, was not overturned by the president, though ultimately fourteen of the men were allowed to reenlist. TR became very indignant when people questioned his judgment in the case, insisting that he would have acted in the same fashion had the regiment been all white, but that was not the way it was generally viewed, and it may be significant that he made no mention of the incident in his autobiography.
    An interesting difference between Roosevelt’s campaign in 1904 and Taft’s four years later is in the treatment of contributions from business interests. In TR’s time it was still considered improper and undignified for a sitting president to barnstorm the country. TR, of course, had found this attitude very trying; he likened it to “lying still under shell fire,” as he had experienced during the war in Cuba. But it heightened the importance of political contributions, and in 1904, as we have seen, the “malefactors of great wealth” had not yet been scared out of their traditional support of the Republican Party and gave heavily to TR’s campaign. These payments may have been concealed from Roosevelt, but in any event he proved much less sensitive on the subject in 1908 than the actual candidate.
    Federal law at the time forbade political contributions from corporations but was silent about those from corporate officers or directors. When William Nelson Cromwell, the notorious lawyer who had helped to engineer the Panamanian revolt for a huge fee, offered Taft the sum of fifty thousand dollars, the candidate insisted that it be lowered to ten thousand dollars. This may seem a dubious kind of laundering, but at least it was a step in the right moral direction. TR thought it overscrupulous and wrote:
    You blessed old trump, I have always said you would be the greatest president, bar only Washington and Lincoln, and I feel mighty inclined to strike out the exceptions. My affection and respect for you are increased by your attitude about contributions. But really I think you are oversensitive.
    George R. Sheldon, the party treasurer, would have deemed this a masterpiece of understatement when he received Taft’s direction to accept no contributions from representatives of Standard Oil or from any officer or director of a company that might in Taft’s term of office face prosecution under the Sherman Antitrust Act or other federal law.
    â€œI would like to have an ample fund to spread the light of Republicanism,” Taft wrote TR, “but I am willing to undergo the disadvantage to make certain that in the future we shall reduce the power of money in politics for unworthy purposes.”
    When Sheldon demanded where, under such restrictions, he was expected to raise the funds needed to defeat the populist William Jennings Bryan, who was again the Democratic nominee, Taft told him to go after the smaller businesses. He did so and collected $1.6 million less than the $2.2 million raised in 1904, but enough to win the election. Perhaps the scarecrow of Bryan had frightened enough of the middle class to elect his opponent even without the aid of the moguls.
    Taft’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention may have epitomized his go-slow policy in implementing TR’s Square Deal:
    The chief function of the administration, in my judgment, is distinct from, and a progressive element of that which has been performed by President Roosevelt. The chief function of the next administration is to complete and perfect the machinery … by which lawbreakers may be promptly restrained and punished, but which shall operate with sufficient accuracy and dispatch to interfere with legitimate business as little as possible.
    And Taft’s letter to TR after the farewell White House dinner to the outgoing president on March 3, 1909, expressed already what sounds like an only pious hope:

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