Chapter 26 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

Continuing the Work begun by President McKinley—The Panama Canal Agitation—Visit of Prince Henry of Prussia—The President at the Charleston Exposition

President Roosevelt had said he would continue the policy inaugurated by President McKinley, and one of the important steps in this direction was to appoint many to office who had been expecting appointment at the hands of the martyred President. This gained him many friends, and soon some who had kept themselves at a distance flocked around, to aid him in every possible manner.

Late in September the last of the McKinley effects were taken from the White House, and some days later the newly made President moved in, with his family, who had come down from the Adirondacks some time previous. In Washington the family were joined by Mr. Roosevelt's two brothers-in-law, Commander Wm. Sheffield Cowles and Mr. Douglas Robinson, and their wives, and the relatives remained together for some days.

It was at first feared by some politicians that President Roosevelt would be what is termed a "sectional President,"—that is, that he would favor one section of our country to the exclusion of the others, but he soon proved that he was altogether too noble for such baseness.

"I am going to be President of the whole United States," he said. "I don't care for sections or sectional lines. I was born in the North, but my mother was from the South, and I have spent much of my time in the West, so I think I can fairly represent the whole country."

President Roosevelt sympathized deeply with the condition of the negroes in the South, and for the purpose of learning the true state of affairs sent for Mr. Booker T. Washington, one of the foremost colored men of this country and founder of the Tuskegee Industrial School for Colored People. They had a long conference at the White House, which Mr. Washington enjoyed very much. For this action many criticised the President severely, but to this he paid no attention, satisfied that he had done his duty as his conscience dictated.

President Roosevelt's first message to Congress was awaited with considerable interest. It was remembered that he was the youngest Executive our White House had ever known, and many were curious to know what he would say and what he proposed to do.

The Fifty-seventh Congress of the United States assembled at Washington, December 2, 1901, and on the day following, President Roosevelt's first annual message was read in both Senate and House of Representatives.

It proved to be a surprisingly long and strong state paper, and by many was considered one of the best messages sent to Congress in many years. It touched upon general conditions in our country, spoke for improvements in the army and the navy, called for closer attention to civil service reform, for a correction of the faults in the post-office system, and for a clean administration in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Porto Rico. It spoke of several great needs of the government, and added that the Gold Standard Act had been found timely and judicious.

"President Roosevelt is all right," was the general comment, after the message had been printed in the various papers of our country. "He is looking ahead, and he knows exactly what this country wants and needs. We are prosperous now, and if we want to continue so, we must keep our hands on the plough, and not look backward."

The first break in the old Cabinet occurred on December 17, when Postmaster General Charles E. Smith resigned. His place was immediately filled by the appointment of Henry C. Payne, of Wisconsin. Soon after this Secretary Gage of the Treasury resigned, and his place was filled by former governor Leslie M. Shaw, of Iowa.

For a long time there had been before the American people various suggestions to build a canal across Central America, to join the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, so that the ships wanting to go from one body of water to the other would not have to take the long and expensive trip around Cape Horn.

In years gone by the French had also contemplated such a canal, and had even gone to work at the Isthmus of Panama, making an elaborate survey and doing not a little digging. But the work was beyond them, and the French Canal Company soon ran out of funds and went into the hands of a receiver.

"We ought to take hold and dig a canal," was heard on all sides in the United States. But where to dig the canal was a question. Some said the Isthmus of Panama was the best place, while others preferred a route through Nicaragua. The discussion waxed very warm, and at last a Commission was appointed to go over both routes and find out which would be the more satisfactory from every point of view.

The Commission was not very long in reaching a decision. The Panama Canal Company was willing to sell out all its interest in the work already done for forty millions of dollars, and it was recommended that the United States accept this offer. President Roosevelt received the report, and lost no time in submitting it to Congress.

At the beginning of the new year, 1902, there was a grand ball at the White House, attended by a large gathering of people, including many of the foreign representatives accredited to Washington. The occasion was the introduction into society of Miss Alice Roosevelt, and the affair was a most pleasing one from beginning to end.

One of the President's sons, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., had been sent to a boarding school at Groton, Massachusetts. Early in February he was taken down with a cold that developed into pneumonia. It looked as if the youth might die, and both Mrs. Roosevelt and the President lost no time in leaving Washington and going to his bedside. The sympathy of the whole country was with the anxious parents, and when it was announced that the crisis had been passed in safety there was much relief in all quarters.

Before this illness occurred there came to the Roosevelts an invitation which pleased them, and especially Miss Alice, not a little. The German Emperor William was having a yacht built in this country, at Shooter's Island. He sent his brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, over to attend the launching, and requested Miss Roosevelt to christen the yacht, which was to be called the Meteor.

The arrival of Prince Henry was made a gala day by many who wished to see the friendship between the United States and Germany more firmly cemented than ever, and the royal visitor was treated with every consideration wherever he went. From New York he journeyed to Washington, where he dined with the President. He returned to New York with President Roosevelt and with Miss Roosevelt, and on February 25 the launching occurred, in the presence of thousands of people and a great many craft of all sorts. Miss Roosevelt performed the christening in appropriate style, and this was followed by music from a band and the blowing of hundreds of steam whistles. After these ceremonies were over, there followed an elaborate dinner given by the mayor of New York, and then the Prince started on a tour of the country lasting two weeks. His visit made a good impression wherever he went, and he was universally put down as a right good fellow.

It was about this time that President Roosevelt showed he was not to be led altogether by what his party did. So far he had not vetoed any measures sent to him for his signature. Now, however, a bill came to him touching the desertion of a sailor in the navy. Congress was willing to strike the black record of the sailor from the books, but President Roosevelt would not have it.

"The sailor did wrong," he said. "He knew what he was doing, too. The record against him must stand." And he vetoed the bill. On the other hand he was prompt to recognize real worth in those who had served the government, and when over two hundred private pension bills came before him for his approval, he signed them without a murmur.

The people of Charleston, South Carolina, had been arranging for a long time to hold an exposition which should set forth the real advance and worth of the leading southern industries. This exposition was now open to the public, and President Roosevelt and his wife were invited to attend the exhibit. With so much southern blood in his veins, the President could not think of refusing, and he and Mrs. Roosevelt visited the exposition early in April.

It was a gala day at Charleston, and the President and Mrs. Roosevelt were received with every honor due their rank, and with great personal consideration. Governor McSweeney of the state was assisted by Governor Aycock, of North Carolina, in receiving President Roosevelt.

A stirring patriotic speech was made by the President during his visit, and a feature of the trip was the presentation of a sword to Major Micah Jenkins of the Rough Riders. A great number of President Roosevelt's former troopers were present, and all were glad, as of old, to crowd around and take him by the hand.