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9. Governorship


If he becomes Governor of New York, sooner or later, with his personality, he will have to be President of the United States. I am afraid to start that thing going. - Senator Platt of New York

Even though he was the most famous man in the nation, he felt that he may have already reached the top of his career:

I’ve had a bully time. I’ve been in the legislature, I’ve been Civil Service Commissioner, Police Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I’ve had just about everything I’ve tried for. Now I’ve been in this war. I’ve had fighting. Here’s all this fuss now about the Rough Riders and me. I’ve reached the crest of the wave. Now I’ll probably begin to go down.1

Both the Independents and the Republicans wanted Roosevelt for Governor. The Independent leader, John Jay Chapman, revered T.R.:

I shall never forget the lustre that shone about him...my companion accused me of being in love with him, and indeed I was. I never before nor since have felt that glorious touch of hero worship...Lo, there, it says, Behold the way! You have only to worship, trust, and support him.2

Platt
Senator Platt controlled the Republican Party in New York. He “was the real ruler of the state,” according to Theodore’s friend, Joseph Bishop. Elihu Root said, “ The governor did not count, the legislature did not count, secretaries of state and what not did not count....Mr. Platt ruled the State.”3 Platt collected contributions from big corporations which were sometimes campaign contributions but most of the time bribes to prevent legislation that would hurt them. He made all governmental appointments. Thanks to Roosevelt, Joseph Bishop wrote, “The big boss is no more.”4

Senator Platt, did not like T.R. He thought T.R. “was a perfect bull in a china shop.”5 Roosevelt himself said that Platt was “by no means enthusiastic...largely because he disapproved of the Spanish War and of my part in bringing it about.” Platt sent his representative to Roosevelt who demanded to know “whether or not I wanted the nomination and...whether or not I would ‘make war’ on Mr. Platt and his friends, or whether I would confer with them and with the organization generally...I said that I should not make war on Mr. Platt or anybody else if war could be avoided...but that while I would try to get on well with the organization, the organization must with equal sincerity strive to do what I regarded as essential to the public good and that in every case, after full consideration of what everybody had to say who might possess real knowledge of the matter, I should have to act finally as my own judgement and conscience dictated....”6

Platt was also worried that T.R. had visions of higher things. “If he becomes Governor of New York, sooner or later, with his personality, he will have to be President of the United States. I am afraid to start that thing going,” he said.

When Theodore stood on his porch at Sagamore Hill to give his acceptance speech, he made it clear that his number one concern was the welfare of the people of New York, saying, “I shall feel that I owe my position to the people, and to the people I shall hold myself accountable.”7

The Campaign
T.R. campaigned energetically. “I made a hard and aggressive campaign through the State,” he wrote.8 He traveled on a train that went up the Hudson River valley so that as many people as possible could see his determined blue eyes, his sparkling grin and hear his emphatically pronounced words made more forceful by his fist pounding the palm of his other hand. He had a magnetic presence that can’t be explained by the flashing grin and steady blue eyes. It was something mystical, something mesmerizing, something larger than life that made his desires the people’s desires. They loved him. They worshipped him. He stood for reform, honesty and a desire to help. He stood for better times ahead. Once they saw and heard him, they were his.9

Platt said, “Roosevelt made a dramatic campaign. He fairly pranced about the State. He called a spade a ‘spade,’ a crook a ‘crook.’” Roosevelt won by a plurality of 17,000 votes. “I have always maintained that no man besides Roosevelt could have accomplished that feat in 1898.”10

Governor
Theodore Roosevelt always shot for a high ideal, but he knew he had to use practical means to achieve that ideal. He explained his political philosophy in his Inaugural address:

We must realize, on the one hand, that we can do little if we do not set ourselves a high ideal, and, on the other, that we will fail in accomplishing even this little if we do not work through practical methods and with a readiness to face life as it is, and not as we think it ought to be. Under no form of government is it so necessary thus to combine efficiency and morality, high principle and rough common sense, justice and the sturdiest physical and moral courage, as in a republic. It is absolutely impossible for a republic long to endure if it becomes either corrupt or cowardly; if its public men, no less than its private men, lose the indispensable virtue of honesty, if its leaders of thought become visionary doctrinaires, or if it shows a lack of courage in dealing with the many grave problems which it must surely face both at home and abroad, as it strives to work out the destiny meant for a mighty Nation.11

He and his family moved into the large three story gingerbread governor’s mansion which had plenty of room for all the children, their pets and overnight guests.12 His salary of $10,000 a year relieved Edith’s concern over money.

He never aimed for a higher office. He just tried to do the best he could where he was and not waste time striving for a better job. His motto was: Do what you can, where you are with what you’ve got.
He said:

The satisfaction which I have is that I don’t look for anything more in politics. People are continually writing me that my career has only begun, and they make me almost angry, for my usefulness in my present office is largely conditional in the fact that I don’t expect to hold another, and so nobody has got a twist on me in any way. I could not get along at all if I had to try and shape my course with a view to favors to come, either from the people or from the politicians. I hope to keep the party united and to make a good Governor, and if I can go out having done that, I shall be more than contented.13

“I have played it with bull luck this summer,” he wrote Cecil Spring-Rice. “First, to get into the war; then to get out of it; then to get elected. I have worked hard all my life, and have never been particularly lucky, but this summer I was lucky, and I am enjoying it to the full. I know perfectly well that the luck will not continue, and it is not necessary that it should. I am more than contented to be Governor of New York, and shall not care if I never hold another office....”14

Once governor, T.R. had to work with Platt in order to accomplish the most good. Platt was an old man, rather feeble, and T.R. could gain nothing by browbeating him. So he was always very polite to Platt. He makes a point of preaching the value of politeness (while at the same time, assertiveness) in his autobiography saying:

I never wantonly antagonized or humiliated them. I did not wish to humiliate them or to seem victorious over them

So I told the Senator very politely that I was sorry, but that I could not appoint his man. This produced an explosion, but I declined to lose my temper...Although I was very polite, I was also very firm

As always with Mr. Platt, I persistently refused to lose my temper no matter what he said--he was much too old and physically feeble for there to be any point of honor in taking up any of his remarks--and I merely explained good-humoredly that I had made up my mind and that the gentleman in question would not be retained.

Being polite may sound easy but it must be remembered that Platt was a very irritating person who went against all that T.R. believed in. He would make statements that were flatly wrong and made it a habit of threatening Theodore with the loss of the nomination of a second term as governor and the impossibility of him ever holding another office. By staying calm, the governor could get the results he wanted.

Roosevelt, with all his politeness, was very firm and stuck to his guns:

If after repeated and persistent effort I failed to get them to support me, then I made a fair fight in the open and in a majority of cases I carried my point and succeeded in getting through the legislation which I wished

Although I was very polite, I was also very firm and Platt and his friends finally abandoned their position.

I could only repeat what I had already said...after half an hour of futile argument I rose and said that nothing was to be gained by further talk and that I might as well go.15

Senator Platt was impressed with the fact that Theodore had kept his promise of discussing matters of interest with him:

Roosevelt had from the first agreed that he would consult me on all questions of appointments, Legislature or party policy. He religiously fulfilled this pledge, although he frequently did just what he pleased. In consulting me, Roosevelt proved himself the antithesis of X., who repudiated every contract he ever made with me. 16

Platt was used to making appointments to public office. Soon after Theodore became governor, Platt announced that Francis J. Hendricks would be the Superintendent of Public Works.

Now, Theodore liked Francis J. Hendricks but objected to his appointment because of a conflict of interest. Theodore also knew that he, as governor, was the only one who had the power to make appointments, so “it was necessary to have it understood at the outset that the Administration was my Administration and no one else’s but mine.” So he very politely told Platt that he was very sorry but he “could not appoint his man.” Platt was furious. “This produced an explosion,” was the way Theodore put it. Roosevelt was very polite, but very firm, and kept repeating “that I must choose the man myself.” Platt gave up in the face of Roosevelt’s persistence. Later Roosevelt presented Platt with a list of “four suitable candidates.” Platt picked one for the position. For the rest of Roosevelt’s term he would follow this technique. He would always present a list of candidates to Platt and Platt would pick one.17

Using private meetings, usually at breakfast, Roosevelt would try to sweet-talk Platt into going along with his policies. Most of these meetings took place at Corinne’s house and so many people were invited that there were more than could possibly fit at her breakfast table. Edith would take breakfast in her room and Theodore would overeat as he usually did and pointing to the ceiling would say, “I feel Edie’s stern disapproval trickling down from the third floor.”18

Publicity
“At that time,” he wrote in his Autobiography, “neither the parties nor the public had any realization that publicity was necessary or any adequate understanding of the dangers of the ‘invisible empire’ which throve by what was done in secrecy.”19

He cultivated a little group of reporters who listened to him as he sat on the edge of his desk and discussed his problems with them. One described these meetings later:

Relaxed as a child, he would perch on the edge of his huge desk, often with a leg tucked under him, and pour forth confidences, anecdotes, jokes, and legislative gossip. When required to make a formal statement, he spoke with deliberate precision, “punctuating” every phrase with his own dentificial sound effects; the performance was rather that of an Edison cylinder played at slow speed and maximum volume. Relaxing again, he would confess the truth behind the statement with such gleeful frankness that the reporters felt flattered to be included in his conspiracy. It was understood that none of these gubernatorial indiscretions were for publication on pain of instant banishment from the Executive Office.20

He had no qualms about “going over the heads of the men holding public office and of the men in control of the organization, and appealing directly to the people behind.”21

The wealthy thought Roosevelt was turning against his own class, but he was concerned about the welfare of the ordinary American. He had been exposed to the living conditions of poor Americans when he was Police Commissioner wandering through the slums of New York City. He had been brought close to his men in the Spanish American War and saw them, who he loved without restriction, as a representation of all Americans. He would always be there to help his Rough Riders when needed and he was beginning to feel the same way about all Americans. He had actually found a new respect for the “lower class” in the war. He felt that they often had far more nobility of spirit than those who could trace their bloodlines back for generations to the Mayflower. When stumping the state, he was impressed with the simple New York countrymen with their “strong, rugged simple nature.” “They are healthy, they are powerful, they are emphatically good material out of which to make a strong, self-poised republic,” he said.22

He wanted the poor to share in the wealth of the great capitalists. This meant taxes on big corporations, minimum wage laws and unions.23
He was concerned about the inequities in capitalism. “I secured a mass of labor legislation,” he wrote. He signed into law an eight hour day and a minimum wage law. He passed a law to protect women and children from dangerous machinery. He made a law to provide seats for waitresses. He “tried hard but failed to secure an employer’s liability law.” He supported several bills to improve working conditions in the tenements, limited maximum hours worked by women and children and imposed the eight-hour working day law on the State work force to be an example to corporations.24

He signed a bill banning segregation in public schools.

He foreshadowed his presidential policy of conservation by saving the Palisades from exploitation. He had New York and New Jersey include them in a public park.

He prevented the dumping of sawmill waste into the mountain streams.

Oliver Cromwell
He took a break to write a life of Oliver Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell was like Theodore, a fighting man, both in politics and in the field. “The more I have studied Cromwell, the more I have grown to admire him,” he said. He compared Cromwell to George Washington, saying “both men were great statesmen; great soldiers; with clear heads and unyielding courage...each inaugurated a new era. Each was the great man of his time.”25 He may have been thinking of himself in the same way. One friend described the finished book as “a fine imaginative study of Cromwell’s qualifications for the governorship of New York.”26

Rough Riders Reunion
He went to the first reunion of the Rough Riders. These reunions were held annually until 1969 when only one person showed up.27
He wrote Lodge:

It would be really difficult to express my surprise at the way I was greeted. At every station at which the train stopped...I was received by dense throngs exactly as if I had been a presidential candidate.28

His reception was so enthusiastic that he felt compelled to stress that he was for President McKinley’s renomination and was “equally for” Hobart’s renomination for Vice President.

Whenever he did anything unpopular he was told that this would jeopardize his career. This never bothered him.

He loved his time as Governor. “I do not believe any other man has ever had as good a time as Governor of New York,” he said. He did want to be re-elected Governor, but “I am not, thank Heaven, under the least illusion as to the permanence of my position...I should like to be elected Governor, but I do not expect it.”

However, he did want to be President. Because he didn’t want to fight McKinley for the nomination, he would have to wait until 1904 to run. He was unsure of how to keep his name alive until then. He would have liked to have been McKinley’s Secretary of War (“How I would like to have a hand in remodeling our army!”), but McKinley was afraid he’d try to start another war. McKinley looked for a more peace-loving person for that position.29 Roosevelt decided to convince Platt that he was worth nominating for a second term as Governor.

There was talk of Roosevelt running for Vice President on the McKinley ticket in 1900, but the current Vice President had no intention of giving up his job.

Then on November 21, 1899, Vice President Hobart died, changing T.R.’s future along with the future of the United States.30