Faces: Theodore Roosevelt takes the national stage

Here is one of my favorite cartoons of Theodore Roosevelt, a full-page image from Judge magazine drawn by the prolific political satirist Victor Gillam in June 1900.    By then, Roosevelt, just 41 years old, had already overcome youthful bad health, the death of his first wife, and exile as a cowboy on the Dakota Territory.  He had then gone on to build political fame as State Assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, member of the federal Civil Service Commission, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, military hero of the Spanish-American War,  and, most recently, as Governor of New York State.

As Republicans gathered in Philadelphia that month for their national convention, rank-and-filers enthusiastically talked up the popular young hero-reformer for high office.   The anything-but-reform party bosses detested Roosevelt as an unpredictable hothead maverick, but he was just too well liked to ignore.  And so the cartoon asks: “Republicans!  What are you going to do?”

Click on the image to enlarge it and enjoy the rich detail.  Gillam shows Roosevelt larger than life in full military regalia, calmly looking down on the spectacle, the roomful of frightened politicos, taking the podium as he had taken San Juan Hill during the war.  In fact, by the time the convention finished that week, those Republican bosses — led by New Yorker Thomas C. Platt who particularly hated TR — had concocted what seemed a brilliant idea to get Roosevelt out of the way: Make him Vice President, traditionally the most meaningless, invisible, dead-end job in the country.

Ans so it happened that Roosevelt found himself nominated as running mate to President William McKinley and, together that November, he and McKinley easily defeated Democrats William Jennings Bryan and Adlai E. Stevenson.  Click here for the detailed poll results.

Then fate took its turn.  Within ten months of the election, a mentally-unstable anarchist named Leon Czolgosz would shoot McKinley as he was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  When McKinley died six days later, the Republican Bosses found themselves facing by their worst nightmare: “Now that damn cowboy is President,” moaned Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, who had earlier called Roosevelt a “that madman.”

Click here for a few more Victor Gillam cartoons.