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THE MOST
INTERESTING
AMERICAN



BY



JUUAN STREET




Copyright}!^.



COPYRIGHT DEPOSm



THE

MOST INTERESTING

AMERICAN




(g) Pirie MacDonald



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THE

MOST INTERESTING

AMERICAN



BY

JULIAN STREET




NEW YORK

THE CENTURY CO.

1915



...39 z



Copyright, 1915, by
The Century Co.



Copyright, 1915, by
P. F. Collier & Son, Incorporated

> t •
Published, December, 1915



DEC 221315









THE MOST INTERESTING
AMERICAN



THE MOST INTERESTING
AMERICAN

AS a child I remember waiting ea-
gerly in the window of our house
to catch a first glimpse of an uncle I
had never seen, but who was the hero of
m}^ dreams, an army officer who had
fought the Indians. When I had
waited half the afternoon a man came
up our steps and rang the bell. He
wore a dark overcoat and a derby hat,
and since I was looking for a man wear-
ing a uniform and sword I paid shght
heed to him. But presently he came
into the room, and I learned that,
after all, this was my soldier uncle. To
this day I remember the shock of that



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

disappointment. I do not remember
what he looked hke; only what he did
not look like: that he didn't look like
my idea of an army officer ; that he was
nothing to show off to the other boys.

When, a short time since, I first met
Colonel Roosevelt, I felt a slight re-
currence of this disappointment. I
cannot pretend that I expected him to
be attired in the khaki of the cavalry
or to be heavily armed, but I did expect
him to be — what shall I say? — to be
more like the cartoons ; to be, somehow,
wilder looking. As I had not expected
my uncle to look like a civilian, I had
not expected Colonel Roosevelt to look
like a conservative banker of Amster-
dam or The Hague. And that was
what he made me think of as he sat be-
hind his desk in one of the editorial of-
fices of the "Metropolitan Magazine."
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THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

The only sign there was about him that
afternoon of the much pictured Rough
Rider was the broad-brimmed, putty-
colored hat which he laid upon his desk
as he came in, and even that was but a
modified version of the out-and-out
cowboy hat, such as they wear around
Medora.

Though I missed the cartoon cos-
tume, I was not to be cheated of the
smile. It met all specifications. As
the Colonel advanced to greet me he
showed his hard, white teeth, wrinkled
his red weather-beaten face, and
squinted his eyes half shut behind the
heavy lenses of his spectacles, in sug-
gestion, as it seemed to me, of a large,
amiable lion which comes up purring
gently as though to say : "You need n't
be afraid. I 've just had luncheon."

His handshake, too, surprised me.
5



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

Though his manner is heartily cordial,
his grip in shaking hands cannot be de-
scribed as firm. It struck me that he
had been obliged to shake hands much
more than he wished to, and that he
had formed the habit of saving him-
self by letting the other fellow do the
gripping. Nor was it the massive raw-
boned hand I had expected. It is rather
small, very thick through the palm, and
— I hesitate to write it — somewhat fat.
Let me hasten to add, however, that it
is far from being a weak-looking hand,
and that, as to color, it is highly satis-
factory, the back of it being as brown
as a glove. For the rest, his torso is
like a barrel, his neck thick, short, and
full of power, and his hair, as he him-
self has said, "has always been hke
rope."

After I had met him a man asked me
6



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

if he had aged. I remember that the
word ''aged," applied to Colonel Roose-
velt, struck me as bizarre. True, his
mustache is now quite gray, but he has
not aged and will not age. He has
simply ripened, matured. He is fifty-
seven years old (two years younger
than President Wilson and one year
younger than Ex-President Taft),
looks forty-seven, and evidently feels
as men of thirty-seven wish they felt.

It was the day after his Plattsburg
speech, and I had been there but a mo-
ment when reporters came to find out
what he had to say about the criticisms
of his speech which had been printed in
the morning papers. The Colonel re-
mained seated at his desk while he dic-
tated the first few paragi^aphs of a
statement which the reporters wrote
down word for word, but as he warmed
7



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

to his work he arose and paced slowly
back and forth, thinking out his re-
marks very carefully, speaking in a
measured tone, enunciating with a kind
of exaggerated distinctness which is al-
ways characteristic of him, forming
each syllable elaborately with his mo-
bile lips, the workings of which cause
his mustache to gyrate at times in a
curious manner. All these mannerisms
are manifested in his most casual con-
versation, but when he is making a
"statement" or dictating a letter they
become extreme.

When the statement was complete
Colonel Roosevelt resumed his seat and
for a moment discussed, informally,
certain aspects of the Plattsburg mat-
ter. He did not say that these subse-
quent utterances were, as the saying
goes, "not for publication," but the
8



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

change in his tone and manner made the
fact so clear that to say so was unnec-
essary. For the most part he spoke
gravely, looking up earnestly at the re-
porters who were standing about his
desk, their eyes fixed intently upon his
face. Their physiognomies were, like
his, exceedingly gi^ave, and the thought
came to me that the Colonel's facial ex-
pression was somehow reflected, for the
moment, upon their features. How-
ever, it was not until he lapsed briefly
into irony, turning on, as he did so, that
highly specialized smile, that I perceived
how truly those young men reflected
him. At his smile they all grinned
open and responsive grins. To watch
their faces was like watching the faces
of an audience at a play : when the hero
was indignant they became indignant;
when he sneered they sneered ; and when
9



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

he was amused they seemed almost to
quiver with rapturous merriment.

Then, and at other times, I studied
carefully the Colonel's mode of speech.
Each syllable leaves his mouth a per-
fectly formed thing ; his teeth snap shut
between the syllables, biting them
apart, and each important, each ac-
cented syllable is emphasized not
merely vocally, but also with a sharp
forward thrust of the head which seems
to throw the word clattering into the
air. When he utters the first personal
pronoun it sounds like "I-ye-e-e-e-,"
with the final "e's" trailing off like the
end of an echo.

Colonel Roosevelt feels strongly
about things and, as we know, expresses
himself strongly, but it is my belief that
his indescribably vigorous manner of
speaking has at times been confused in
10



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

people's minds with what he has actu-
ally said. Though his language is
forcible, it is never "strong" in the
usual sense of that word as applied
to langoiage. Regarding strong lan-
guage, as regarding other things, he
practises what he preaches. He is him-
self what he called Admiral Mahan, "a
Christian gentleman," but as Disraeli
wrote of some one, "his Christianity is
muscular." I talked to him on many
subjects which, had he been a profane
man, would have elicited profanity, but
he was not betrayed. Of Mr. Josephus
Daniels, he remarked, for example:
"Of course he 's a f right-f ul Secretary!"
and it sounded terrible enough. Again
in speaking of another man of whom he
disapproves he called him "That creat-
ure V and quite the most awful word I
have ever heard him apply to any man
11



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

was the word ''skunk-k-kT applied by
him in a moment of great irritation.
Now, of course, if your conception of a
president, or an ex-president, imphes
a cold, exalted, supernatural being, half
man, half god, with a flow of conversa-
tion that never sounds more colloquial
than John McCuUough reading Rus-
kin's "Stones of Venice" — if that is
your conception of what a president
should be, why, then you might not be
pleased with Colonel Roosevelt or his
language in private conversation.

Colonel Roosevelt drinks a little
light wine, and smokes not at all. A
friend of his explained his abstinence to
me in this way: "His vitality is such
that he does n't need the stimulation of
alcohol and nicotine, as some of the rest
of us feel we do. And it is the same
12



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

about swearing: he doesn't need to
swear, because he can say 'Pacifist' or
'Woodrow Wilson' or 'William Jen-
nings Bryan' in tones which must make
the Recording Angel shudder. But
the only Roosevelt Dam is the one they
named for him in Arizona."

I was reminded of this when, in the
course of conversation. President Wil-
son's series of notes to Germany was
mentioned.

''Oh, how I 'd have liked to praise
Wilson if he'd given me the chance!"
exclaimed Colonel Roosevelt with feel-
ing. "I 'm not for Roosevelt; I 'm not
for any man ; I 'm for the United States.
Every president has a right to time,
at first, in which to formulate his pol-
icies. Through the early part of the
Wilson administration I waited and
hoped, in spite of a belief that I have
X3



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

long held that the pedagogic niind is
generally too theoretical and abstract
for politics. Even now, if the Presi-
dent were a business man, and had not
familiarized himself with history, and
written history, he might be forgiven.
But he is a college president and a his-
torian, and has, by very direct implica-
tion, criticized Jefferson and Madison
for some of the very errors of which he
himself, as President, has been guilty.
In his 'History of the American Peo-
ple' he speaks of Jefferson's reduction
of the army and navy, refers to our
'amateur' soldiers in the War of 1812,
and says that 'the war began with a se-
ries of defeats in the North at once
ridiculous and disgraceful.'

"Bryan! Mexico! Daniels! No fleet
manoeuvers for the first two years!
'Too proud to fight !' And all these let-
14^



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

ters to Germany !" The Colonel had the
air of snorting his contempt; then he
added slowly, sardonically: "Of late I
have come almost to the point of loath-
ing a bee-?/oi^-ti-ful, ^oZ-ished dic-tionV'

Colonel Roosevelt knows very well
that he is severely criticized by many
people for his attacks upon the adminis-
tration; that a considerable body of his
fellow citizens attribute those attacks to
political motives, while others take the
point of view that, though he has told
the truth on vitally important matters,
he ought to have preserved a dignified
silence. In this connection I asked him
if there were precedents for criticism of
a president by an ex-president. He re-
plied:

"John Quincy Adams went to the
House of Representatives after having
been president and became the most bit-
15



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

ter critic and opponent of the Mexican
and slavery policies of Presidents Ty-
ler and Polk." Then, with a sarcastic
smile, he added: "The most striking
attack of this character I know of was,
however, made by a president upon an
ex-president. I refer to the offer of
twenty-five millions to Colombia by
Mr. Wilson because of what I did, as
President, about the Panama Canal."
These points will, perhaps, be of in-
terest to those who criticize Colonel
Roosevelt on the ground that his ful-
minations are in questionable taste.
And it may be added that where ques-
tions of taste are raised, as against the
welfare of the country, taste cuts but a
small figure in the Colonel's mind.
Feeling that he is not responsible for
the leadership or fate of any party, he
considers that he can serve the nation
16



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

best at this time as a fearless critic, a
critic who can speak freely without hav-
ing to consider the effect of his words
in ahenating the German-American,
the Pacifist, or any other vote. Acting
along this line he is strongly advocating
the adoption by the United States of
the Swiss system of universal military
training, for the reasons, first, that it
would practically guarantee the coun-
try against invasion; second, that it
would give American young men a
sense of their individual duty to the
Government; and, third, that the mod-
erate amount of mihtary discipline and
training involved would benefit the
men of the country morally and physi-
cally.

"The people who consider me an op-
portunist," he remarked, "will, of
course, say that I 've taken up with pre-
17



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

paredness merely to feather my own
nest, although, as every one who will
take the trouble to find out may ascer-
tain, I have been shouting preparedness
at the top of my lungs for thirty-five
years. Also,*' the Colonel continued,
*'they will say: 'If Roosevelt believes
in the Swiss system now, why did n't he
believe in it when he was president?'
I '11 tell you why : I did investigate the
Swiss system years ago, but the need
of universal military service, and like-
wise the folly of such treaties as The
Hague Convention, did not come out
clearly until this war started — though
now they should be clear to every one.
No one should blame the President for
not having favored universal military
service when he came into office, but
certainly he ought to be for it now.
"Then there are these Jacks who
18



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

say: *What did Roosevelt do for pre-
paredness when he was president?'
They try my patience. I labored to
get four battleships a year with other
ships in proportion. Finally I suc-
ceeded in getting a program of two a
year. Before I came in, Congress had
stopped appropriating money for bat-
tleships. My two-battleship program
was continued until the Democrats
came into power in 1910. Then it was
dropped. When I became president
the navy was run down. I could only
get public opinion back of me on one
thing, the navy or the army, and I se-
lected the navy because it is our first
line of defense. When I left ofiice we
were next to England as a naval power.
Now we are fourth or fifth. I sent the
fleet of sixteen battleships around the
world — a thing no other power ever
19



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

did, and which foreign naval authorities
did not think could be done. I have al-
ways regarded that world cruise as one
of the best things I ever did for the
promotion of peace. It is right that
the people of the United States remem-
ber the men who work for the navy and
those who work against it. Those who
helped me to build up the fleet were
Lodge of Massachusetts, Clarke of Ar-
kansas, Beveridge of Indiana, Hop-
kins of Illinois, Cockrell of Missouri,
and O. H. Piatt of Connecticut. My
secretaries of the navy were Long,
Moody, Morton, Bonaparte, Metcalf,
and Newberry. Those who were the
principal opponents of the navy were
Senators Hale, Tillman, and Perkins.
Hale was the big fellow. He used
Tillman. The manipulation of the
naval committee was such that whatever
20



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

Mr. Hale's navy yard at Portsmouth
needed it received and whatever Mr.
Tilhnan's navy yard (Charleston)
needed it also received, although both
navy yards ought to have been closed.
At that time it would have been useless
for me to try to get them closed, but
now, with public sentiment aroused, it
would be possible, if the secretary of the
navy would do his duty. But he has
been opening useless yards instead of
closing them.

"As to our little army, I built it up
and made it twice as efficient. The army
corps I sent to Cuba under General
Barry was as far superior to Shafter's
army, with which I went to Cuba, as
light is to dark. I fought as hard as
I could, while I was president, for big
manceuvering camps, and I did succeed
in getting a general staff for the army,
21



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

though I could never get one for the
navy."

I asked his opinion as to our duties
in connection with the European war.

"I felt very strongly," he said, "that
this Government should have taken ac-
tion concerning Belgium on the 28th,
29th, or 30th of July, but I held my
tongue. You must remember that it
was under my administration that the
United States entered The Hague Con-
vention. I should never have permit-
ted such a thing had I not believed we
acted in good faith. It was clearly our
duty to protest, but I waited and said
nothing, thinking that perhaps the
President wished to assemble a long list
of atrocities so that the people would
be behind him in protesting. But
Dinant followed, and Louvain, and
Reims, and no protest was made. In-



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

stead we were instructed to be 'neutral
even in thought' toward those who had
broken faith with us and with civihza-
tion. So it went until the Lusitania
was sunk. If we had acted with
strength in Mexico, the poor souls who
went down on the Lusitania would still
be alive. But by our Mexican per-
formances we had shown Europe what
to expect of us." Colonel Roosevelt
paused for a moment, then, grimly, he
added: "Haiti is apparently the kind
of country we can handle now. Our
conduct of international affairs, so far
as that vast and powerful nation is con-
cerned, seems to have been admirable."

I may say here, as well as at any
other point, perhaps, that my interview
with Colonel Roosevelt and my ob-
servation of him covered several days
23



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

in both New York and Oyster Bay.

At Sagamore Hill he is not so much
the Dutch banker as the American gen-
tleman in his country home. The place
is three miles from the station, upon a
height reached by a long, winding drive
leading from the highroad. The
house, which has lawn and trees about
it, and has a view over Long Island
Sound, is a very American-looking
structure of red brick and gray painted
wood. It is not at all an "imposing"
residence, although that other word,
''rambhng," which is so much used in de-
scribing houses, may with justice be ap-
plied to it. It is a house which, from
the outside, does not look nearly so spa-
cious as it actually is.

Through the center of it runs a wide,
dark hall, to the right of which, near
the front door, is the library, or rather
24



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

the room which Colonel Roosevelt uses
as an office, for it is improper to refer
to any especial room at Sagamore Hill
as a library, since all are filled with
books. This room is a small museum.
There are animal skins upon the floor
and mounted heads of animals upon the
walls. Among the pictures on the
walls are a portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt,
one of Colonel Roosevelt's father, and
others of Lincoln, Washington, and
Daniel Boone. Also there is the bronze
cougar, by Alexander Proctor, which
was presented to the colonel by his fa-
mous "Tennis Cabinet," and a bronze
cowboy, by Frederic Remington.

Even more like a museum than the
library is the great living room which
has been added, of late years, at the
end of the hall. It is a very large room
two stories high, with a trilateral ceil-
S5



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

ing and wainscoting of wood in a
pleasing shade of light brown, oiled
but not polished. Large as this room is,
and rich as it is in trophies and souve-
nirs of all sorts, its finest quality is its
freedom from imposingness. It is not
in any way magnificent or austere, yet
it is a very handsome, dignified room,
with the kind of handsomeness which
does not smite the eye nor overpower
the senses, but which, upon the other
hand, makes the stranger feel welcome
and at ease, and tells him that he is in
the home of a prosperous but simple
and cultivated American family. What
I am really trying to say is that the
Roosevelts live comfortably, but with-
out "side." They do not keep a butler
or a footman ; their chauffeur is a negro.
Into this setting the Colonel fits felic-
itously. At Oyster Bay he usually
^6



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

wears an olive-drab suit with knicker-
bockers, and golf stockings, and though
he is a most hospitable and tactful host,
one feels that when the guests have
gone he will welcome the opportunity
to go tramping off through the woods
with Mrs. Roosevelt or to take her row-
ing in the skiff.

Without Mrs. Roosevelt the house
at Sagamore Hill would be as imper-
fect as without the Colonel. She is a
woman of the greatest charm and tact
— precisely the kind of woman to be the
wife of a public man, precisely the kind
of woman who so seldom is. She makes
every one who comes to Sagamore Hill
feel instantly at ease, and she has the
gracious faculty for seeming to know
about and be genuinely interested in
the people whom she meets, instead of
wishing them to know about and be in-
87



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

terested in her. More than this, she
has wit. One day at luncheon the
Colonel was speaking of the need of uni-
versal military service, when he touched
sarcastically upon the song entitled "I
Did n't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier."
Whereupon Mrs. Roosevelt, whose hus-
band and four boys would go to war if
war came, remarked:

"I did n't raise my boy to be the only
soldier!"

While Colonel Roosevelt may not
have stated publicly what his exact
course of action with regard to Mexico
or to the European situation would have
been were he president, it is generally
understood by those who know him that
he believed in sending an army officer of
the caliber of General Wood to Mex-
ico to organize the Mexicans themselves
28



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

for the work of restoring and maintain-
ing order, as was done by General
Wood in Cuba. Further, it is known
that he beheves that a protest against
the invasion of Belgium should have
been made by this Government, not
after the invasion but before; that is,
when it began to seem probable that
such a thing would occur. He believes
that the President of the United States
had an opportunity to play a part as
great as that of Lincoln or Washing-
ton, and that the way to have played it
would have been to notify the German
Government that, in the event of a
violation of Belgian soil, the United
States would call a posse comitatus of
nations to intervene by force if need be.
Colonel Roosevelt regards it as quite
conceivable that with some one to rally
them, England and Italy would have
29



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

immediately signified their willingness
to join in such a movement, and that
most of the nations which have remained
neutral might likewise have given their
support to so just a cause. By this
plan Colonel Roosevelt believes that the
violation of Belgium, with its succeed-
ing horrors, might actually have been
prevented.

I spoke to the Colonel of the impres-
sion held by many of those who do not
believe in him, that he is of a belliger-
ent disposition and that, to use the usual
expression, he "would have dragged the
country into war."

*'I know what they think about me,"
he declared. "Because I stood up for
the army and navy and for American
rights, also because of the newspaper
cartoons of me as a Rough Rider car-
rying a club or shooting revolvers into
30



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

the air, also because I speak my mind
when I think I ought to, and because
they know I would have taken action
in regard to Mexico and in regard to
Belgium — because of these things there
are many people who say: *That man
Roosevelt is a bloodthirsty anarchist!'
These people forget or ignore the fact
that during the seven and a half years
in which I was president we never fired
a shot at a foreign foe, although com-
plications arose from time to time, and
although I insisted absolutely upon pro-
tecting American citizens everywhere,
as, for example, in the case of Perdi-
caris, when I demanded Perdicaris alive
or Raisuli dead. But, although I got
the country into no wars, they say I am
warlike. President Wilson, on the
other hand, is a man of peace. He has
waged peace with Mexico and Haiti,
31



THE MOST INTERESTING AMERICAN

and lost a lot of men, and he has been
waging peace with Germany, while
Germany has been murdering our men,
women, and children with her subma-
rines.

"Now, as a matter of fact — though I
do not expect these people who picture
me as bloodthirsty to believe it — I abhor
war. But where I differ with the paci-


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