Ten Terms Apart

A six year-old boy and his small brother looked out from an open window of their grandparents’ home onto a somber scene: lamp posts and citizens dressed in black, as a hearse leading a long funeral procession passed by.  There had been three children at the window, but the little girl cried, so the boys made her retreat to another room.  It was the last week of April 1865, and the city of New York was paying final respects to Abraham Lincoln.

New York Historical Society photo

The boys with the second story view were Theodore and Elliott Roosevelt.  The little neighbor girl, Edie Carow, who grew up to marry Theodore, confirmed the story to biographer Stephan Lorant in an interview late in life.

The Roosevelt family had reason to grieve a personal friend.  During the long years of the Civil War, Theodore Sr. worked closely with Lincoln to form the Allotment Commission, which routed soldier pay to their families rather than sutlers in the field.  The Lincolns welcomed him into their social circle.  Mary Lincoln invited him to dinners and asked his opinions on bonnets.  When Roosevelt attended St. John’s Church with John Hay, the president’s secretary, many mistook the tall bearded man with the top hat for the chief executive.

This photo was signed and presented to Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. http://www.mharchive.org

Lincoln was the sixteenth president; Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. would be the twenty-sixth, with much transpiring in the country during the forty years between.  The Industrial Revolution, automobiles, telephones, electricity.  In Manhattan, the stately mansion of C.V.S. Roosevelt, pictured above, torn down to make way for a sewing machine factory as residential areas shifted closer to Central Park.  Two more American presidents assassinated.  Economic recession.  A brief war in Cuba that made the go-get-em Roosevelt so popular he was easily elected governor of New York and assigned to the William McKinley presidential ticket in 1900.

http://www.inaugural.senate.gov

When McKinley was assassinated only a few months into his second term, Roosevelt became president.  In 1904 he was elected in his own right.  John Hay, now Secretary of State, wrote a note with a gift the night before the inauguration, saying, “Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understands and appreciates (him).”  Enclosed was a gold ring containing several strands of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.

“I am mighty glad you like what I have been doing…I do not have to tell you that my great hero is Abraham Lincoln, and I have wanted while President to be the representative of the “plain people” in the sense that he was…according to my lights…” Theodore wrote friend Bill Sewall in 1906.

A Lincoln portrait hung in his office in the White House; after his presidency was over, he said this in a speech at The Great Emancipator’s birthplace: “His great and tender heart shrank from giving pain, and the task allotted him was to pour out like water the life-blood of the young men, and to feel in his every fibre the sorrow of the women…unbroken by hatred, unshaken by sorrow, he worked and suffered for the people.”

Theodore Roosevelt did not have the crisis of America at war during his administration, as Lincoln did.  Perhaps his “Big Stick” diplomacy held off the Great War.  But he did fight poverty, big business, and the depletion of our natural resources.

Lifelong friend, hunting guide, and Dakota ranch foreman William Sewall.  http://www.cache.boston.com

The same William Sewall, to whom Theodore wrote the letter, later said of him, “Wherever he went, he got right in with the people.  He was quick to find the real man in a very simple man….He valued me for what I was worth.”

Also true of his predecessor, ten terms before.

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