Here in these pages is Theodore Roosevelt in his miraculous abundance, talking of labor and industry, swatting the malefactors of great wealth, laying down the principles of American foreign policy (and no one in his time did it with a sharper eye for the realities of a tough game), and trumpeting the program for a generation of progressive legislation, tossing in, incidentally, comments on adventurous living, the ancient Irish sagas and protective coloration of animals, with a side-swipe at nature-fakers and lyric tributes to landscapes in three continents which to him spelled enchantment.
Here he is again, the man who, for twenty years, made the front page a morning thriller for the readers all over the world. He wasn't always right. He could be—and was—occasionally dead wrong. Now and then he wasn't fair to an opponent, but he thought he was! At times his wide side-swipes and punches hit the wrong fellow, or hit the right fellow too hard or in the wrong place. But, by and large, generally he hit the man who ought to have been hit and defended the man who ought to have been defended; and the America that he wanted to see built was the kind of America that plain folks in Bangor or Los Angeles or Emporia would want to rear their children in.
The fact was that Theodore Roosevelt understood his time. It was a complex time that could be understood in all its aspects and its contradictions only by a man who could see around the corner—into the past through knowledge, into the future through imagination. Much has been written about the difference between a politician and a statesman, but the main difference hinges around the question of imagination. It takes imagination to see what is under your nose. For months the Wright brothers flew their contraption over the housetops of Dayton, but no one was more astonished than the good people of Dayton when the wires buzzed with the news of the flights at Kitty Hawk. They had seen but they hadn't believed, because their imaginations had been unable to conceive of human flight. A citizen will walk through a slum every day on his way to the office and it will mean nothing to him except squalor and a stench; but a statesman will see it once and make it the cradle of a social philosophy.
Theodore Roosevelt had that kind of imagination and it clarified issues which to others remained obscure, and made him able to act while others in high places were confused or paralyzed. We are beginning now to see him in perspective. He was the first American statesman of major proportions who saw and dramatized a new phase of the truth about freedom, its economic implications. For a thousand years the evolutionary path to freedom had led to a democratic ideal, realized in the Bill of Rights, in universal suffrage, in the secret ballot, in the struggle against political corruption. Theodore Roosevelt coined and gave world-wide circulation to the phrase "social and industrial justice." Here was a new turn in the path to freedom. Men began to see vaguely that political freedom, with all the significance implied in political equality, is not enough. They began to realize that in a machine age which creates vast economic surplus, the surplus creates a new problem endangering our ancient liberties.
If we allow that surplus to create in our republic permanent social classes based solely on wealth, if we permit a small group to pass down the generations an unearned, unwieldy portion of the surplus, political equality will pass. Political liberty will no longer protect men against the old tyrannies which broke the spirit of man in other days and times. All this Theodore Roosevelt saw and saw clearly. He lived for, fought for, and yearned passionately for this new vision of economic democracy. As Jefferson, a century and a quarter before, fought for the ideal of political democracy, Theodore Roosevelt, in his day, battled for economic freedom. Theodore Roosevelt did not solve the problem, but he, of all the long line of major statesmen in the millennial fight for freedom, stated the new problem, stood at the turn of the course, pointed to the present battleground. He was not all-wise. He could not chart the combat of today nor could he foresee tomorrow's victory with its blessings and its duties. But he, first of all the world's great leaders, realized and eagerly strove for the ideals of the new day.
The struggle was confused and side-tracked by the Great War. He was among the first to see that the German invasion of Belgium, which turned Europe upside down, had completely shifted the political issues in the United States also. Before we could talk about political or economic progress, he told us, we must look to our basic security. We must be ready to defend ourselves. He thundered that doctrine for two years and a half before the American people finally accepted it. In his lifetime they never did accept it more than partially. He believed in compulsory military service as a permanent policy so that we might never again be caught unarmed. We thought we knew better, and today we are back where we were in 1914.
I am glad that this Cyclopedia has been compiled and that the Roosevelt Memorial Association is publishing it. In the conflicts and confusions of this time we need the beacon of Theodore Roosevelt's life, of his wisdom, of his gorgeous, solid American optimism, to shine upon the struggle in which we are engaged, the very ancient struggle of men to be and to remain free from alien domination. As I turn the pages and listen again to the Colonel's thunders, I am reminded of the Old Testament prophets. He had the kind of concern for America that they had for Israel. They wanted their people to go right because, if they didn't, Jehovah would get them with various kinds of grief and ruin. Theodore Roosevelt was like that, a moral leader and a prophet above everything else, expounding the will of God and imploring his countrymen to obey it. So this book has a biblical quality. It might, in fact, without exaggeration, be called a Bible of Democracy.
Elihu Root—with whom some of us Bull Moosers were sometimes in painful disagreement—seems to me to have been right beyond dispute when, seven years after the fatal Republican convention of 1912, he wrote: "Review the roster of the few great men of history, our own history, the history of the world; and when you have finished the review, you will find that Theodore Roosevelt was the greatest teacher of the essentials of popular self-government the world has ever known." Well, here is his teaching from A to Izzard. We can't go wrong if we follow it. We are likely to go badly astray if once more we think we know better.
William Allen White.
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