Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Death of a President a Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago, on January 6, 1919, at 4:15 a.m., Theodore Roosevelt died at his home in Sagamore Hill on Long Island, the victim of a pulmonary embolism. The news of his death was reported the next day in the front page of the Columbia Republican, accompanied by this photograph.

On the editorial page of the paper that day, the following eulogy appeared. Unfortunately, the edge of this page of the newspaper as it appears on is torn, so some of the words in the fifth paragraph are missing. 

The great Cedar of Lebanon has fallen. The aroma of the dead tree is more pungent than that of the living. A giant, when it stood deep rooted among its fellow giants of the forests, as it lies now, helpless, with its growth forever stopped, with its huge roots exposed, it seems in death to outrank its fellows even more than it did in life.
The greatest American of them all has fallen. Theodore Roosevelt lies still among his kindred. On all sides of him stand the mighty cedars but he, fairly pulled up by the roots, seems to have lost nothing. As he outranked them living, he outranks them dead. The dead roots of the fallen tree reach up into the boughs of the living trees.
The death of Theodore Roosevelt is so tremendous that we are all stunned by the shock. No man ever was so loved; no man ever was so hated; no man had so many friends who followed him blindly; no man ever had so many who opposed him without reason. The people cheered him until they were hoarse and now they will weep over him until their eyes are red.
Theodore Roosevelt was not perfect. He blundered fearfully and he fought his friends in the crisis, yet he showed the brains of a genius and died pleading for the right. He was charged again and again with misstatement yet he lived an ideal life, pure, honorable and Christian. He conversed with sinners and was welcomed by saints.
No man ever had such a complex education. He [word missing] for rare scorpions, wild elephants and invaded the [word missing]. He played tennis on the back lawn with his sons, taught history to historians and studied a dozen different languages. He made the White House a menagerie and the lawns around it a feeding ground for odd [word missing]; he fished with the poor whites and consulted the Negro for the best night to go after "chucks," yet with the dignity of royalty he sought and stood superior to the statesmen of all lands.
He wrecked his own political party to gratify his own ends, yet he gave the strength of his warring life to cement the fragments.
American to the core, no man can dispute his being called Our Greatest American. His last efforts were for the flag he so loved. While they deprived him of the right to fight for it they never could stifle his right to talk for it. But for a day we'll recall his little foibles which we called faults when he lived. But the years can not hide his manhood, his love for country and his love for home. The Cedar of Lebanon has failed but the influence of the great tree will long be a stimulus to every American on land or on sea. The name of Theodore Roosevelt is written fast in the history of America.
The sixth paragraph of the eulogy--"He wrecked his own political party to gratify his own ends . . ."--makes reference to the election of 1912, when Roosevelt, who had been president from 1901 to 1909, decided he wanted to run again because he was dissatisfied with the job his successor and former protégé, William Howard Taft, was doing as president. (In November 1991, Roosevelt was reported to have said, "I am really sorry for Taft. . . . I am sure he means well, but he means well feebly, and he does not know how! He is utterly unfit for leadership and this is a time when we need leadership.") When the incumbent Taft was nominated at the Republican Convention of 1912, Roosevelt formed his own party, the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, to run against Taft and Woodrow Wilson, the Democrats' candidate. In that election, Roosevelt took 27 percent of the votes, Taft took 23 percent, and Wilson took 42 percent of the popular vote and a massive landslide in the Electoral College. The cartoon below, found on Wikipedia, appeared in Punch and depicts Roosevelt and Taft and the schism in the Republican party.  

The final paragraph of the eulogy makes reference--"While they deprived him of the right to fight . . . "--to Roosevelt's efforts during World War I. In March 1917, a month before the United States declared it was entering the war, Roosevelt had gotten authority from Congress to raise four divisions, similar to the Rough Riders, to fight the war in Europe, but in May 1917 President Wilson announced he would not send Roosevelt and his volunteers to France. 

Any Gossips post about Theodore Roosevelt must include mention of his visit to Hudson in October 1914--a visit we've mentioned once or twice before. He was here to speak at the Hudson Opera House about this Amazon expedition, which he had undertaken after losing the presidential election in 1912. The event merited mention in the Boston Globe on October 8, 1914, but not for anything that was said. (Gratitude to Gary Schiro, former executive director of the Hudson Opera House, for discovering this and making it part of Gossips' trivia hoard.)

Roosevelt Unwilling to Speak in Hudson Opera House Until Friends Get Food for Him
Hudson, N.Y., Oct. 7--Col. Roosevelt likes the soup they make in Hudson. He proved it yesterday when he called for a second bowl of vegetable soup as he stood in the wings of the Opera House. So the crowd waited 10 minutes while his nephew, Theodore Douglas Robinson and two local Progressives chased to a lunchroom across the street and returned with a big bowl of vegetable soup. One was not enough so the colonel had a second bowl. "Now that'll do til dinner time," he said as he climbed into the motor car to resume his tour. "I have to be fed. I want man-sized victuals from this time on or I'll strike."
The "lunchroom across the street" in 1914 had to have been the Opera Cafe located at 330 Warren Street, whose proprietor was Thomas F. Cody, grandfather of John Cody.

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