Theodore Roosevelt and Two Myths of American Politics

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

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

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

1.  That American presidents do not criticize their successors.

2. That American politics end at the shore line.

 

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

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

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

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

But there isn’t the slightest indication that he intends so to act.

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2 Comments

  1. Other heads of government attended. The problem wasn’t that he was there. The problem was that his objectives stank and the terms of the treaty stank.

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