recent magazine article
- In some of the follow up to the recent critical article about TR, there is a
suggestion of an acceptance that TR was, if only because he reflected the
times in which he lived, a racist, though possibly more advanced than most in
his views on race.
"More advanced" isn't even the half of it. We should point out to people a
letter he wrote in 1894, when he served as commissioner with the Civil
Service Commission. In it, he said:
"Congressman Williams, of Mississippi, attacked the Commission in substance
because under the Commission white men and men of color are treated with
exact impartiality. As to this, I have to say that so long as the present
Commissioners continue their official existence they will not make, and, so
far as in their power lies, will refuse to allow others to make, any
discrimination whatsoever for or against any man because of his color We
do equal and exact justice to all... under our examinations honest and
capable colored men are given an even chance with honest and capable white
men. I esteem this approach a high compliment to the Commission, for it is
an admission that the Commission has rigidly done its duty as required by law
without regard to color." The letter is quoted in Theodore Roosevelt the
Citizen by Jacob A. Riis.
There is, of course, the infamous Brownsville Incident. I personally know
little other than what has been written in TR biographies, and when a man
such as, for example, Edmund Morris speaks of it as the low point of TR's
Presidency, I accept his scholarship and honest judgment. But I recommend
the comments of James Amos, TR's valet and himself a black man, in Mr. Amos's
book, Theodore Roosevelt: Hero to His Valet. Mr. Amos writes that the
President took his action only "an agent of his own" spent many months
gathering the facts about the matter for him.
Mr. Amos also writes that some of the accused soldiers were brought to the
White House to meet personally with the President and "under Mr. Roosevelt's
questioning they broke down as admitted the guilt of their companies The
President never used this confession in justification of his act. The
soldiers had not made it willingly, but only under the influence of his
dominating personality, and while it completely satisfied his mind he never
felt at liberty to use it, though he might have hushed the whole controversy
by doing so."
It seems to me typical of the TR I and other so many others admire that he
would take extraordinary measures to convince himself of the facts, and only
then take an action he considered right, regardless of the consequences.
As a footnote to the Brownsville incident, Mr. Amos says that, to protect the
soldiers from the wrath of the local Texas officials, TR deployed the unit
outside Texas, and only then did he discharge the men. Had they become
civilians while in Texas, the would have been exposed to Texas authority and
might have tried in the Texas courts.