White House Life Of The Roosevelts
( Originally Published 1908 )
THEODORE ROOSEVELT entered the White House for the first time as President of the United States, the twenty-sixth Chief Executive, on the fourteenth day of September, 1901, ten days after taking the oath, at Buffalo, following the death of Mr. McKinley.
The day after his entrance to the Executive Mansion, Mr. Roosevelt was joined by Mrs. Roosevelt, and later by all the six Roosevelt children—two daughters and four sons—namely, Alice, Ethel, Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Quentin and Archie.
The new President's first official act in his new home in Washington was to issue a notice that no official entertainments would take place in the White House for nearly four months not till New Year's Day, 1902, the intervening time to be regarded as a period of national mourning. Mr. Roosevelt also gave an order that not until one month had elapsed following the death of Mr. McKinley, would any official organizations be received at the White House. The President also ordered that the flag of the mansion remain for a time at half mast, and that all heads of the Departments of the Government use mourning paper.
Such were the sad conditions under which Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House to take up the difficult task of being the Chief Magistrate of the nation.
(All information concerning the White House life of President and Mrs. Roosevelt not related in this chapter, will be found in other chapters right through to the end of this work. Their children, the marriage of their daughter Alice, the story of their daughter Ethel, their horses and carriages, the President's secretary, his recreations, the family church-going and their manner of spending Sunday, Mr. Roosevelt's way with his. Cabinet, the huge mail and vast number of gifts that reach the President, the Secret Service—all these matters, and many other incidents of White House life under President Roosevelt, will be found in the various chapters containing heads indicative of the branch of information desired.)
Roosevelt's Informal Inauguration
One of the best accounts of Mr. Roosevelt's informal inauguration, that is, the taking of the oath in Buffalo, is found in Merwins' History of Our Own Times, thus :
When President McKinley's condition became grave, on September 12, word was sent at once to Mr. Roosevelt. He was in the Adirondack woods when the news reached the Tahawus Club, and his exact whereabouts were not discovered until late in the afternoon of September 13. A little after one o'clock the next morning he left Tahawus and was driven over dark mountain roads thirty-five miles to North Creek, where a train was waiting. He reached Buffalo the afternoon of the same day, going straight to the Milburn house to pay homage to the dead President. He then went to the home of his friend, Ansley Wilcox.
Present in Mr. Wilcox's library were all but two of President McKinley's Cabinet and a few friends and newspaper men. The moment was one of profound emotion. Mr. Root, the Secretary of War, turned to Mr. Roosevelt and said brokenly : "I have been required on behalf of the Cabinet of the late President, at least in behalf of those who are present in Buffalo,all except two—to request that, for reasons affecting the Administration and the Government, you take the constitutional office of President of the United States."
It was with a noticeable effort that Mr. Roosevelt replied. "I shall take the oath at once," he said, "in response to your request; and in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity of our beloved country."
Judge John R. Hazel, of the United States District Court, then administered the Presidential oath of office.
Roosevelt as a Man and a Public Official
At the time he took the oath of office as President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt was described as five feet nine inches tall, and weighing 200 pounds. He was stockily built, was stout and had a thick neck. He has blue-gray eyes, brown hair and mustache.
Mr. Roosevelt at the time he entered the White House was the youngest President in the country's history, his age being then only forty-three. In Merwin's history above mentioned, we find that he was born in New York City, on October 27, 1858, being descended from seven generations of prominent citizens. As a lad his health was poor, but while going through his course at Harvard, he entered into athletics and developed a rugged physique. His fondness for athletic sports, marked at this time, continued in after life, and seldom did many months pass that he did not find the opportunity to spend at least a week or two in the open. After leaving Harvard he traveled for a time, studied law for a few months, and then plunged into municipal politics. For several years he was active as an assemblyman in New York City, and in 1886 he ran for Mayor and was defeated. President Harrison started Mr. Roosevelt on his national career by appointing him Civil Service Commissioner, an office which he retained under President Cleveland's second administration until he resigned it to become President of the New York Police Commission. His efforts to reform the Police Department of the metropolis were vigorous and in small degree effective at the time. As assistant Secretary of the Navy in the first McKinley administration, Mr. Roosevelt helped to prepare for the conflict with Spain.
Upon declaration of War, Mr. Roosevelt resigned his position in the Navy Department and at once gathered several hundred of the finest riders and most daring fighters in the country, forming them into a regiment which became famous as the "Rough Riders." After seeing active service on the battlefields of Cuba at Santiago, Mr. Roosevelt returned to the United States,to become Governor of the State of New York. After his term as Governor he was nominated for Vice-President of the United States, on the Republican ticket with Mr. McKinley, and was elected. All the world knows now, how the bullet fired from the pistol of the McKinley's assassin made vacant the office of President, and how Mr. Roosevelt forth-with, after having served only a few months as Vice-President, became the Chief Executive.
One anecdote of Mr. Roosevelt's earlier life tells how eager he was even then to "reform the whole world." President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Civil Service Commissioner, as already stated. Every few days Mr. Roosevelt would visit Mr. Harrison and ask for his O. K. to various measures devised for reforming the Civil Service. At last Mr. Harrison said to him :
"Roosevelt, Rome was not built in a day, nor is it possible to reform the whole world in the space of twenty-four hours. Attempt only one thing at a time and carry it out in an orderly, temperate fashion."
Years passed and Benjamin Harrison, as ex-President of the United States, was called upon to address a missionary meeting at Carnegie Hall, in New York City. Mr. Roosevelt, then Governor of the Empire State, was present at the meeting. Mr. Harrison, at the conclusion of his speech, presented Mr. Roosevelt and in the course of his introduction said :
"I first became acquainted with Governor Roosevelt as a young man who was eager to reform the whole world between sunrise and sunset."
But it was just by such eagerness and readiness to reform and improve and build up and make better, and the ability to carry out his schemes, that enabled Mr. Roosevelt to take the helm with a firm hand when he was called to take the Captaincy of the great Ship of State.
The Stupendous Labors of a President
President Roosevelt himself describes the enormous amount of work that devolves upon a President from the very moment he enters upon his duties at the White House. In an introduction of one edition of his literary works, Mr. Roosevelt says :
"In the whole world there is probably no other ruler, certainly no other ruler under free institutions, whose power compares with that of a President of this country. An immense addition to his burdens is caused by well-meaning but thoughtless people who ask him to do what he cannot possibly do. For the first few weeks after he is inaugurated, a President receives an average of fifteen hundred letters a day. His mail is so enormous that often he cannot read one letter in a hundred, and rarely can he read one letter in twenty. Even his Secretary can read only a small fraction of the mail.
"When I came into office I was swamped with demands for positions and for pensions, notes of warning and advice, and request for charity, not to speak of letters from cranks, which are always numerous in my mail. Requests for pecuniary aid received in a single fortnight would, if complied with, have eaten up considerably more than my four years' salary. The labor of the office as immense, the ceaseless worry and harassing anxiety are beyond description.
"One rather sad feature of the life of a President is the difficulty of making friends, because almost inevitably after a while the friend thinks there is some office he would like, applies for it, and when the President is obliged to refuse, feels that he has been injured."
President Roosevelt's Day's Work at the White House
President Roosevelt, we are told in an article in Prank Leslie's Weekly, "does as much work as two Presidents might be expected to do." Not only does he keep every Cabinet Officer busy bringing in reports about this and about that, but he reaches out in the various Departments of Government and takes a hand in more matters which interest him than Presidents are wont to do. More than this, he takes upon himself the personal care of outside matters to a great extent, such, for instance, as straightening out the tangle of the Panama Canal, settling a coal strike, inspecting submarine boats and men-of war, inquiring into conditions at Ellis Island and other immigration stations, bringing about peace between Russia and Japan, and many other affairs "not down on the programme for a President."
Mr. Roosevelt does, indeed, utilize every fragment of time for some good and useful purpose. On more than one occasion he has received the Washington correspondents and talked to them while the barber shaved him, at the White House, incidents of the kind taking their place in the current annals of the Presidential Mansion as "Barber Chair Interviews."
In describing a day's work of the President, a New York World correspondent tells us that :
"On a certain Wednesday in the spring of 1908, President Roosevelt discussed the Wall Street panic with his Cabinet, held conferences with Secretaries Root and Cortelyou, heard the interview to the correspondents while being shaved. He received a delegation of clergymen who regard the decrease of Protestant churches in New York as a `serious menace to American citizenship', and promised to do everything in his power to bring about a revival of religious interest here. On Wednesday also news came to him of the winning of his fight for the Japanese schoolboys through the action of the San Francisco Board of Education, together with a vote of the Harvard overseers sustaining his position on football. Religion, finance, intercollegiate sports, world politics the White House interest in a day surveys mankind from Colon to Cathay."
James Creelman, the correspondent of Pearson's Magazine, once had a long talk with the President at the White House, and upon the subject of the hard work performed by Mr. Roosevelt the correspondent wrote that the President walked over to a cartoon drawing sent to him by a Western artist. It represented an old, gray-haired, shaggy farmer reading a book by lamplight, his feet, in homespun stockings, resting on a chair an idyl of the hard working, earnest pioneer farm country. The President looked at the picture lovingly.
"That's the old boy I'm working for in the White House," he said, drawing a deep breath and throwing back his soldier head. "I'm working for him all the time. The future of this nation rests upon him. He will never ask to have the laws set aside. He will never use dynamite as an argument. He's the true American."
John Morley, one of the President's distinguished visitors from England, lived two days in the White House, after which he wrote this of Mr. Roosevelt :
"I have seen two tremendous works of nature in America. One is Niagara Falls and the other is the President of the United States."
Mr. Roosevelt's Work-Room
With the restoration of the White House in 19o2, by McKim, Mead and White, the problem of providing Executive Offices for the President outside of the main building, was solved by utilizing a space to the west of the mansion upon which a low addition was made to the main building and called the Temporary Executive Offices. These offices in this west wing are now the President's work-rooms.
In making their report to the President, the architects gave the following facts about the Temporary Executive Offices :
Obviously the first was to find some place other than the White House for the Executive Offices. Every suggestion for the location of a permanent office building was open to some objection that seemed insuperable. No location outside the White House grounds could be decided upon and secured in the short time available. To construct within those grounds a building sufficiently large and imposing to stand as permanent offices would be to detract from the White House itself so seriously as to be absolutely out of the question. The one possible solution, therefore, was to occupy the only available space with a temporary building, which should be comfortable within and inconspicuous in appearance, leaving Congress at its leisure to take up seriously the question of a permanent, adequate and thoroughly dignified office for the Chief Executive.
The report then goes on to say that : "The problem of the location of a permanent building for the offices of the President involves many considerations as to the amount of accommodation needed and the scope and variety of the functions to be carried on in such a building. Provision for temporary quarters for the Executive Offices is comparatively a simple matter. A building of brick, one-story high, and containing from 50 to 75 per cent. more room than the offices now occupy, can be constructed in the grounds of the White House, opposite the entrance to the Navy Department. The building would take the place now occupied by a brick wall which screens a number of hot-houses and forcing beds for plants, functions which may well be provided for elsewhere, in connection with the propagating gardens."
The temporary office building today includes : A Cabinet room; President's office and retiring room; offices for two secretaries; a telegraph and a telephone room; a large room for stenographers ; a room for the press ; a main hall to be fitted for a reception-room, and file rooms and closets in the basement.
Congress stipulated that the walls should be sufficient to carry a second story, and increased the appropriation by $10,000 for this purpose. Accordingly the walls were strengthened to meet this requirement.
Thus Temporary Executive Offices were constructed and thus they stand today as the busy work-shops of the busiest ruler on earth.
The secretverdana and clerical force in these work-rooms consist of the Secretary to the President, Mr. William Loeb, Jr.two. Assistant Secretaries, Mr. Maurice C. Latta, and Mr. Rudolph Forster; two executive clerks, Colonel Crook and Mr. Young; eight stenographers, six telegraphers, nine messengers, one chief doorkeeper and nine assistant doorkeepers.
The Roosevelt Method of Work
A most interesting phase of the President's method of labor is set forth by William Bayard Hale, in the New York Times, his article being condensed in current Literature, beginning with a description of the Presidential workshop as follows :
"The inner room, thirty feet square, is almost destitute of ornament. It contains a fireplace, a big desk, a few books, an art nouveau lamp, a few vases of flowers, a tiny clock on the mantel, and on the walls a rather poor oil portrait of Lincoln, a photograph of a big bear, and a framed autograph copy of the late Senator Ingall's well known sonnet on `Opportunity.' There is a globe in one corner, and the divan, chairs and desk are mahogany. The trim of the room is ivory white, the curtains are olive, the walls are covered with olive burlap, and the windows overlook the White House grounds toward the south, including the tennis court, and in the distance the Potomac, the Washington Monument and the Virginia Hills. This is the President's office. So severe is the room that very few business men indeed have not its superior in decoration, if not in simple comfort.
"The President's patience and orderliness, especially the President's orderliness, is one of his most marked characteristics. His mind is orderly, and its contents are thoroughly arranged. He goes through every day on a time table which an engineer could not follow more carefully. He does not look at the clock, but seems to have a subconscious sense of the passing of time, and he works off a crowd with the precision and regularity of a machine, and without the loss of a second or the waste of a single motion. Yet there is no appearance of haste, and his interviews do not seem to carry away a feeling of having been rushed. His powers of concentration and of the immediate transference of his whole attention from one subject to another are also very impressive.
"The President ends each day apparently as fresh as he began it. Yet in spite of his tirelessness, he is not a heavy eater. The pleasures of the table appeal to him not at all, and he is notably abstemious in food."
Declining a Third Term
From the very day on which Mr. Roosevelt was elected to serve what was called a second term at the White House, he announced most emphatically that he would, under no conditions, become a candidate for a third term. This announcement he reiterated again and again, in language as follows :
"I am deeply sensible of the honor done me by the American people in thus expressing their confidence in what I have done, and have tried to do. I appreciate to the full the solemn responsibility this confidence imposes upon me, and I shall do all that in my power lies not to forfeit it. On the fourth of March next I shall have served three-and-a-half years, and these three-and-a-half years constitute my first term. The wise custom which limits the President to two terms regards the substance and not the form, and under no circumstances will I be a candidate for or accept another nomination."
It has been reported that one reason for Mr. Roosevelt's adhering thus firmly to his negative decision, was the fear frequently expressed by Mrs. Roosevelt that her husband's life was in danger because of threats of assassination. It was said that out of respect to these feelings of his wife, Mr. Roosevelt made his attitude in the matter of a third term all the more emphatic.
Writing to his friend, William Sewall, a Maine woods guide, Mr. Roosevelt tells of his enjoyment in performing the work he was called upon to do in the White House. In the course of that letter, written after the nomination of William Howard Taft, the President wrote :
"I hope Mrs. Roosevelt will be better now that the strain of the Presidential nomination is off. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy the job and never felt more vigorous as far as the work of the office is concerned. But it's some different from the work in the back-woods and plains that you and I have done together in the past.
"I said I wouldn't accept another term and I believe the people think my word is good. I should be mighty sorry to have them think anything else. I believe in being a strong President and making the most of the office and using it without regard to the little, feeble, snarling men who yell about executive usurpation.
"I also believe it is not a good thing for any man to hold it too long. My ambition is, no matter in however humble a manner, and no matter how far off, to travel in the footsteps of Washington and Lincoln."
Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House
The present Mrs. Roosevelt was Edith Kermit Carew, and is the President's second wife. She was a friend of Mr. Roosevelt's first wife, who was Miss Alice Lee, of Boston, and who died in 1884, leaving an infant daughter. That daughter is now Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, who attracted the attention of the entire world upon her marriage, as Miss Alice Roosevelt, to a member of Congress from Ohio.
Mrs. Roosevelt loves flowers and surrounds herself and her friends with them at all times. She takes a personal interest in the White House conservatories, though the green-houses are not now connected with the White House as in the days of former "First Ladies." To various charitable institutions, to débutantes, to church fairs and the like, Mrs. Roosevelt is almost invariably the first to send flowers. She sees to it that on all State occasions, and especially at State. dinners, the rooms and corridors are filled with flowers and palms, though it should be explained that most of the White House plants come now, not from the conservatories, but rather from what is called the Propagating Gardens.
Mrs. Roosevelt never has permitted her servants at the White House to wear livery aside from the coach and foot man. Ordinary evening dress is all that the waiters are called upon to don for evening receptions and dinners. At receptions held in the afternoon the servants wear Tuxedo coats. On all formal occasions the waiters wear white gloves. Most of the male "help" in the White House, is colored, this applying to the present steward, the waiters and other servants in charge of keeping clean the rooms and corridors. White serving maids, however, are preferred by Mrs. Roosevelt. She employs' an English Governess.
Mrs. Roosevelt as "First Lady"
From several different articles which appeared in The Christian Herald, among them the writings of Mrs. Abby G. Baker, of Washington, we glean the following interesting facts relating to the coming of Mrs. Roosevelt to the White House, and to her charm as "First Lady" :
"Clad in deep mourning, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt entered the Executive Mansion, September 26, under sadder circumstances than have ever marked the installation of a Lady of the White House—although no one forgets how profoundly sorrowful were the times which called for Mrs. Lincoln's successor, nor of how the people grieved when Garfield died. With public buildings everywhere swathed in black, flags all over the Union flying at half-mast, a whole nation bowed in woe, herself as its representative wearing garments of grief, our "First Lady" needed some marks of cheer to greet her entrance into her new home ; and one is glad to know that these were not lacking. Her husband met her at the door and led her to the dining-room, where a cozy luncheon was ready. With her came two of the children, Ethel and Kermit, and her housekeeper' and her maid from Oyster Bay ; so there was much to make her at home in her new abode.
"The household has always been a very happy one. At Oyster' Bay and in the Governor's Mansion at Albany, Mrs.
Roosevelt sought to preserve the simplicity and privacy of the typical, democratic American home. Father and mother were comrades for their children; the little folks were jolly as jolly could be, guests were welcomed with hearty hospitality. Appointments of the house were daintiness and comfort combined.
"At Oyster Bay, Mrs. Roosevelt was fond of going about in a walking skirt, and playing with her children. She is brown-eyed, brown-haired and rosy. It is a cause of congratulation to all Americans that the beautiful home-life of the McKinleys will be followed by that of another pair of wedded lovers, whose devotion to each other has made marriage the blessed relation it should ever be. Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt are the youngest couple who ever entered the White House ; and with their troop of happy children they will doubtless make a merry place of the historic dwelling.
"A number of changes are under way in the mansion. The big, canopied bedsteads have been relegated to the attic, and pretty white bedsteads have been placed in the rooms on the south side of the building, which will be occupied by the Roosevelt children. Much furniture from the house at Oyster Bay has been brought to the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt will look personally after the ways of her household, and giving much time to the education of her children. Her first instructions to Secretary Cortelyou were for announcement to be made to ladies in official and social circles that, out of respect to the memory of the late President, no calls formal or informal would be expected until after October 15."
"Mrs. Roosevelt," a later article said, "fills her position with gracious hospitality that is felt and appreciated throughout the country. It is she who sets the social activities in motion when, soon after Congress convenes in December, she begins receiving calls. Everybody who is in the official circle leaves cards at the White House, and many who arc not in it, for both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt have scores of friends among `the cave dwellers', as the permanent residents of the town are called. The "First Lady's" duties are not light, nor are those of any of the women who come under the broad term `official'. Their mornings are filled with subscription musicales, recitals, board and committee meetings of every kind, to say nothing of home duties. There are luncheons and teas, and never ending calls. Then the nights are taken up with dinner parties and other forms of entertainment."
Mrs. Roosevelt as White House Hostess
Mrs. Roosevelt has been, from the first, an indefatigable hostess. All entertainments called for by official etiquette, all social observances demanded of her in her capacity as the President's wife, she has performed to the letter and with "good measure." Even before the social season begins she has been in the habit of holding afternoon receptions for the members of the Diplomatic Corps and for the ladies of the Embassies and Legations. Sometimes, at these afternoon receptions, Mrs. Roosevelt has entertained representatives, both men and women, of no less than thirty to forty different nations. Mrs. Roosevelt's musicales, a conspicuous feature of her entertaining arrangements at the White House, are described in the chapter on "Entertaining," under "Music at the White House."
From press reports we learn that Mrs. Roosevelt "has introduced many pretty customs relative to the women of the Cabinet, one of the most sentimental being the presentation to each one of a beautiful bunch of flowers just before each reception, to be carried during the receiving hours. Hand-shaking is thus obviated to a great extent, and the flowers are always selected to correspond with each woman's gown." Mrs. Roosevelt' meets the wives of the Cabinet officials in the Green Parlor at the White House every Tuesday morning at eleven o'clock, and for an hour there is a general exchange of views upon social obligations.
Mrs. Roosevelt as Wife and Mother
The present "First Lady" has never neglected her purely domestic duties, despite the heavy drain on her time in an, official way. She is, it is written by Margaret B. Downing, "an exquisite needlewoman. All the baby clothes of her five children were fashioned by her own skilful fingers, and she still loves to make dainty little waists and lingerie for Miss Ethel. Her daughter has been taught to sew and embroider and to knot and crochet, and, like her mother, she is nearly always busy with some little fancy articles, when she sits with her parents in the evenings, and when she visits her friends for the day."
Concerning the favorite hobby of the present mistress of the Presidential Mansion, we learn that she is fond of collecting old china, of which she has a fine assortment. In the East Corridor of the ground floor of the mansion is what is probably the most historic collection of porcelain and china in this country. It comprises some of the table ware which was owned by all of the Presidents from Washington to Roosevelt. The collection was made under Mrs. Roosevelt's supervision by Mrs. Abby G. Baker, and was one of the most notable things which has been accomplished by any mistress of the mansion.
Facts relating to the children of the Roosevelt family are given in the chapter on "Child Life," "Daughters," "Brides," and "Romance of Alice Roosevelt.