The Degeneration of A Great Personality, August 12, 1912



To the Editor of The Herald:

The writer of this paragraph is one who for twelve years regarded Theodore Roosevelt as the greatest American of recent times and believed that his influence was the most salutary factor in the political development of the country. Most reluctantly during the last two years he has come to see that his idol not only has feet of clay, but is clay of a very poor sort to the chin, and to feel that no personal influence during thirty years has threatened so much evil to national institutions as that which Theodore Roosevelt seeks to wield at the present time. There are many thousands of sober men and women in all parts of the country who are experiencing the same revulsion of feeling and with humiliated amazement are deploring the overthrow of a cherished belief.

The change is not solely in them. Theodore Roosevelt has always had in him the qualities which recent events have brought most clearly into evidence; he has always had two sides and a great variety of ingredients; but the proportion of his ingredients has been altered. Years ago I said to Grover Cleveland, then Governor of New York, of Theodore Roosevelt, newly elected to the New York Assembly, "Isn't it a fine thing to see a man of such high ideals as this young Roosevelt devoting all his energies to the best interests of the public?" Grover Cleveland answered, "Yes, it is; but make no mistake; our young friend is a good deal of a politician." He used "politician" in the sense of meaning one who uses public service as a means of personal [aggrandizement] and who scruples not at methods whereby he can advance his own personal interests. Grover Cleveland was quite right in recognizing the mixture of civic ideals and practical politics of a poor sort. In his earlier years the ideals, to a great extent, controlled the politics. Those who looked upon him as a strong man, sturdily battling for good causes, were not deceived. He was what they thought him. Ambition he doubtless had, vaulting ambition to make a name and fame for himself; but there is nothing wrong in that so long as a man only values name and fame inseparably connected with good works and noble causes. The Theodore Roosevelt of twenty years ago was as fine a specimen of happy warrior as could be found, a credit to his country, and an inexpressibly powerful influence for good in stimulating to action the best elements in our society. But as time has gone on the element of politics, or rather of narrow personal selfishness, has encroached on the ideals, until there is little of the latter left. The Civil Service Reforming Jekyll has been displaced by the Bull Moose Hyde.

What have we now? A man solely intent on personal aggrandizement, who would stop at nothing which promised to serve his personal ends; an example of bare-faced shamelessness unexampled in American history. The man's aim in life is excitement, which he finds chiefly in making himself the [center] of a howling crowd. He probably cares for campaigning more than for office. He feels that the world owes him a "bully time." He is tired of lions, tired of kings; but the old game of politics still has for him its fascination. He has come to be a limelight inebriate. And he will do anything whatever to set the crowd howling at him. As his method is one of appeal to discontent and of creating discontent to which to appeal, he falls into the category of Socialist agitators, and is to be feared precisely in proportion to his ability to keep up the delusion that he is the champion of popular interests. His power has always been due largely to a sort of boyish enthusiasm; and many who admired his vigorous youth wondered what he would be like in maturity and looked forward with eagerness to the complete development of which his juvenile vigor seemed prophetic. But he will never grow up to the stature of the really finest manhood. He is nothing more than an overgrown schoolboy bully and has missed his chance of a really great manhood. Had he been all he was thought to be, all that he had capacity for being, he might have ranked among the greatest of Americans. The people as a whole would some time have recalled him to the presidency as he hoped they would. But he has turned out to be little else than dare-devil demagogue, and it is doubtful whether he can long retain influence. It is impossible to fool all the people all the time and difficult to fool a majority of voters between now and November. The developments of the next few months may have many surprises even for Roosevelt. The public is rather tired of his stunts; and those who feel that he has deceived them in their estimate of him are roused by a stern spirit of justice to have him shown up as he is. An American crowd is easily roused to enthusiasm by a clever stump speaker; but the American public have a good deal of shrewd sense which prevents their long being fooled by the same tricks. Theodore Roosevelt was once a fearless preacher of civic righteousness, an honest prophet who had the right to lead sober-minded patriots. He keeps up much of his old language, but the sincerity is gone from it. The bull moose rumblings can still impose on some emotional cow-moose and some well meaning, mild moose steers; but it is doubtful whether a veritable army of bulls can be summoned for the mere purpose of giving one bull-moose a bully amusing [time]. There is more of Adullam than of Armageddon in the new party. It was Adullam whither "every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them." These elements do not represent the portions of our society which have hitherto exercised a controlling influence, and there is no good reason to believe that the spirit of discontent can be used now to further the selfish ambitions of a political sport. The cost of living is high, but it is not certain that it can be lessened by falling in with the preliminary schemes of His Imperial Majesty the 1st.


Lewiston, Me., Aug. 12.

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