Biographies & Memoirs




It was, as would be said, no ordinary thing for a young man of wealth and social position, a son of the “solid, old quiet element,” to go of his own accord down into the great bear pit of politics—thrash it out, survive or fall, in “the rough hurly-burly of the caucus, the primary, and the political meeting.” But the impression that Theodore was virtually the only such young man of his day, or that he did what he did against the wishes of family and friends, is mistaken—as mistaken as was the doctrine so earnestly espoused then that any such young man would automatically raise the level of political morality and serve as inspiration for more of his kind to join the good work. New York already had a sterling example of such high ambition in Seth Low, the young reform mayor of Brooklyn, who was a Columbia College graduate and heir to the Low shipping fortune; nor should it be forgotten that another recent Harvard graduate was Boies Penrose of Philadelphia, who had been in the class behind Theodore’s. Penrose too was descended from a wealthy, distinguished line. He was a “lover of vigorous outdoor sports,” an aspiring author, and he too started off exactly as Theodore, by running for the state (Pennsylvania) legislature as a gentleman champion of reform. But Penrose was to become another of the era’s flagrant political bosses, overbearing, power obsessed, the antithesis of the reform spirit. Penrose was a perfect, Harvard-cultivated, Harvard-sounding aristocrat—and when among his political cronies, to quote one biographical sketch, “capable of conduct and utterances which caused the judicious to grieve and moved the pious to indignation.”

Theodore said later it was a combination of curiosity and “plain duty” that led him into politics, and that “I intended to be one of the governing class,” which may be taken as another way of saying he wanted power. In the novel The Bostonians (1886), Henry James would portray a leading character as “full of purpose to live . . . and with high success; to become great, in order not to be obscure, and powerful not to be useless.” The description would apply perfectly to Theodore. Obscurity, one imagines, would have snuffed him out like a candle.

He claimed also, years later, that a “young man of my bringing up and convictions could join only the Republican Party,” a curious observation in view of the large number of Democrats within his own “intimate” circles—Uncle Robert, father-in-law George C. Lee, the Saltonstalls, the Delanos, the Hyde Park Roosevelts, his friend Poultney Bigelow. Nor does it suggest how tenuous old party ties had become among Republicans of comparable social background and moral sensitivities as a result of the Grant scandals, the stolen election of 1876, or the dominance of such figures as Conkling and Blaine.

In any event, no one in the immediate family objected to his trying for the Assembly. Rather, it was quite the opposite. He received their most enthusiastic support and from Bamie especially, whose interest in his career was to serve him well. She and Corinne clipped everything written about him, filling large scrapbooks as time passed. Corinne told her devoted Douglas that he too had better begin taking part. “If there is one thing I like particularly,” she said, “it is public spirit.”

In afteryears Theodore would remember the prominent clubmen, businessmen, and lawyers who had “laughed at me,” warning that political parties were composed of riffraff, “saloon keepers, horsecar conductors, and the like.” But at the time, he happily talked politics with William Waldorf (“Willie”) Astor, who had served in the state legislature and was then running for Congress. And the fact is his strongest backing came from the most influential of his father’s friends—the ultimate clubmen, businessmen, lawyers—who lent their immediate support, attesting publicly to his “high character . . . honesty and integrity.” Among his very prominent backers were Joseph H. Choate, J. Pierpont Morgan, William Evarts, Elihu Root, and Morris K. Jesup, and it was support he gratefully acknowledged at the time. “I feel that I owe both my nomination and election more to you than to any other one man,” he wrote Joseph Choate, for example, following his initial run for the Assembly. At a testimonial dinner at Delmonico’s attended by three hundred leading figures in white tie and tails, he was praised to the skies by none less than Chauncey Depew, the after-dinner speaker of the day, who described himself as a “cordial friend” of the late Theodore (and who mused privately that the son looked about eighteen).

Robert Roosevelt approved emphatically and, despite party differences, asked the powerful Democratic assemblyman Michael C. Murphy, chairman of the City Affairs Committee, to keep an eye out for the young man once he reached Albany, and it was thus that Theodore was put on Murphy’s committee first thing.

Within his own social set he was a hero. “We hailed him as the dawn of a new era,” remembered Poultney Bigelow, “the man of good family once more in the political arena; the college-bred tribune superior to the temptations which beset meaner men. ‘Teddy,’ as we all called him, was our ideal.”

As near as can be determined all of three people disapproved—Uncle James Alfred, cousins Alfred and Emlen. “All my friends stand by me like trumps,” he says in his diary, “except for Al, Em, and Uncle Jim.”

“We thought he was, to put it frankly, pretty fresh,” recalled Cousin Emlen, who added the ultimate condemnation: “We felt that his own father would not have liked it. . . The Roosevelt circle as a whole had a profound distrust of public life.” But this recollection—frequently quoted later—was offered long after the fact, when Emlen, a somewhat stuffy man to begin with, had become considerably more so. Writing to Bamie in that earlier day, as he began work as a bookkeeper at Roosevelt and Son, Emlen said he wished he might do something for his country. “It is very plain that our young men must take a more active interest in our government, something more than mere voting and talking.” For a while, he trailed along with Theodore to meetings at Morton Hall, the district Republican headquarters, but dropped out because, as he later said, “I did not relish the personnel of that organization.”

Unaccountably, Theodore did. He was fascinated by the likes of big Jake Hess and Joe Murray, two machine “pols” if ever there were. Hess, the district leader, was a German Jew and a City Commissioner of Charities and Corrections (who, as a consequence, knew not only of the work done by the elder Theodore, but appreciated the political value of the young man’s name). Murray, a Hess lieutenant, was an Irish Catholic and onetime Tammany heeler who had worked his way up from the very bottom of the political heap in time-honored fashion, by being resourceful, loyal, and, on occasion, good with his fists. Murray appealed strongly to Theodore. Murray’s vision of the spoils system—as different from what Theodore had been raised on as were Murray’s religion and his background—was unequivocal. As Theodore later explained, “Not to insist on the spoils when you get into office and share them equitably among your political friends seemed [to Murray] almost as dishonorable as not to pay your debts.”

The membership of the Twenty-first District Republican Association was a “mixed lot,” Morton Hall itself nothing more than a big, dingy room over a saloon on East 59th Street. Some wooden benches, brass spittoons, and framed pictures of General Grant and Levi P. Morton comprised the principal “appointments.” Jake Hess ran things from a dais at one end, seated at a small table upon which rested a single pitcher of ice water.

They rather liked the idea of a Roosevelt joining them,” Theodore recalled when talking some years afterward with a visitor from England who was gathering material on the “good government” movement. “I insisted on taking part in all the discussions. Some of them sneered at my black coat and a tall hat. But I made them understand that I should come dressed as I chose.... Then after the discussions I used to play poker and smoke with them.” His intent, he said, had been to get inside the machine.

It was only when he reached Albany, however, that he realized what an extraordinary world he had entered. A new “Legislative Diary” was begun, filled with a whole new cast of characters, some as closely observed as various rare birds in the boyhood field journals. There was much the same feeling of wonder and discovery, a little as though he were back on the Nile seeing fauna of unimaginable shapes and kinds and plumage.

The other 127 members of the Assembly consisted of farmers, mechanics, a half-dozen liquor dealers, a cooper, a butcher, a tobacconist, a compositor, a typesetter, three newspapermen, thirty-five lawyers, and a pawnbroker. Roughly a third of these he judged to be crooked. Approximately half the Democrats came under the category of “vicious, stupid-looking scoundrels.”

Appraising his fellow members on the City Affairs Committee, he found his Uncle Rob’s friend, Chairman Murphy, to be a tall, stout Fenian, “with a swollen, red face, a black mustache, and a ludicrously dignified manner; always wears a frock coat (very shiny) and has had a long experience in politics—so that to undoubted pluck and a certain knowledge of parliamentary forms he adds a great deal of stupidity and a decided looseness of ideas as regards the 8th Commandment.” Another Democrat named Shanley was shrewder than Murphy and easier to get along with, “being more Americanized,” but equally dishonest. Higgins was “a vicious little Celtic nonentity from Buffalo”; Gideon, “a Jew from New York who has been a bailiff and is now a liquor seller.” Dimon, a country Democrat, was “either dumb or an idiot—probably both,” and still another notable Democrat, a physical giant named McManus, he described as “a huge, fleshy, unutterably coarse and low brute . . . formerly a prize fighter, at present keeps a low drinking and dancing saloon . . . is more than suspected of having begun his life as a pickpocket.”

The leading lights in his own party were hardly less objectionable. One senior Republican, the veteran Thomas Alvord from Syracuse, was a “bad old fellow.” Of another, John Rains, he wrote, “he [has]. . . the same idea of public life and civil service that a vulture has of a dead sheep.”

He liked a gigantic, one-eyed Civil War general named Curtis, and a German from Cattaraugus County named Kruse was a “capital fellow.” Peter Kelly, a young Democrat from Brooklyn, was an ardent believer in Henry George and thus much else in the way of doubtful “abstract theories,” but on “questions of elementary morality, we were heartily at one.”

His favorites were two freshmen Republicans named Isaac (”Ike”) Hunt and William (”Billy”) O’Neil. Hunt, a tall, thin, melancholy young man, was a lawyer from Watertown and “thoroughly upright.” O’Neil, who kept a crossroads store in the Adirondacks, became “the closest friend.” Both were as untried and as ambitious nearly as Theodore, and would take his side on issues again and again.

Nothing seemed to intimidate him. Though all of twenty-three, though unmistakably the youngest member of the Assembly, he plunged ahead, deferring to no one, making his presence felt. It was a spectacle not to be forgotten. Whatever astonishment or incredulity he felt concerning his fellow members was more than matched by their response to him. One Albany reporter of long experience, seeing him on the floor of the Assembly, watching him wipe his eyeglasses, thought to himself, “What on earth will New York send us next?”

“We almost shouted with laughter,” recalled Ike Hunt, “to think that the most veritable representative of the New York dude had come to the Chamber.”

Hunt had seen him first at a Republican caucus held one evening in a committee room at the State House.

He came in as if he had been ejected by a catapult. He had on an enormous great ulster . . . and he pulled off his coat; he was dressed in full dress, he had been to dinner somewhere. . . . [Later] I was standing right by the fireplace, and Teddy got up and looked around and bolted over to where I was. He said, “You are from the country”—which was the most crushing thing he could have said to me . . . I was standing there and was laboring under the hallucination that nobody would ever think I was from the country, but that is what he said to me. And he proceeded to go into all the details of how we got along and how we managed our affairs . . . and how we did everything in the country.

As at Harvard, the impression among many was that he had a speech defect of some odd kind. Hunt was sure of it. “He would open his mouth and run out his tongue and it was hard for him to speak.” The New York Sun called it a Dundreary drawl, to go with his English side-whiskers. When, in his maiden speech, he used the expression “rather relieved,” it was printed in the Sun as “r-a-w-t-h-e-r r-e-l-i-e-v-e-d.”

Wishing to gain attention on the floor he would stand at his place, stretching far forward over the desk, calling, “Mr. Spee-kar! Mr. Spee-kar!” his voice often shifting suddenly from tenor to penetrating falsetto.

“I do not speak enough from the chest,” he told Mittie, “so my voice is not as powerful as it ought to be.”

The new gold-rimmed spectacles and their fluttering black ribbon, his gold watch fob, the part in his hair, the narrow cut of his clothes, made him known at once. For reporters for the Sun, the World, and other Democratic papers, he was the fairest kind of game and they went right after him. He was called a “Jane-Dandy,” “his Lordship,” “weakling,” “silly,” “Oscar Wilde,” “the exquisite Mr. Roosevelt,” “little man,” the fun always at his expense. The World reported that his trousers were cut so tight that when making his “gyrations” before an audience “he only bent the joints above the belt.”

Yet despite all this, and a trivial, patronizing maiden speech, he left no doubt that he was there to accomplish something—”to do the right thing.” The Republican papers also gave him every chance and he made friends steadily. As his Maine guide, Bill Sewall, once observed, “wherever he went he got right in with people.” Some at Albany, like Hunt and O’Neil, and two reporters, George Spinney of The New York Times and William Hudson of the Brooklyn Eagle, quickly perceived how much more there was to him than the bizarre mannerisms and foppish clothes. They saw something in the glittering gray eyes. They listened to what he was actually saying. If he was “green as grass,” said Spinney, he was also “a good-hearted man to shake hands with, and he had a good, honest laugh . . . not an affected laugh ...” He worked hard; he obviously cared and wanted to learn. “You could see that there was an uncommon fellow,” said Spinney, “distinctly different.”

The great question was whether he would prove to be what Tammany Hall’s leading political philosopher, George Washington Plunkitt, would call a “mornin’ glory”—the usual high-principled, blue-blooded amateur who “looked lovely in the mornin’ and withered up in a short time.”

The eagerness with which he had approached Hunt the first night, firing questions about Hunt’s experiences in the country, was only a light warm-up. Spinney called him a walking interrogation point. Theodore would literally stand a man against a wall, “boring in,” as Spinney said, for half an hour. At breakfast in the dining room of the old Delavan House, down the hill from the Capitol, he would sit talking and reading a stack of morning papers, going through the papers at tremendous speed. “He threw each paper, as he finished it, on the floor, unfolded,” remembered William Hudson, “until at the end there was, on either side of him, a pile of loose papers as high as the table for the servants to clear away. And all this time he would be taking part in the running conversation of the table. Had anyone supposed that this inspection of the papers was superficial, he would have been sadly mistaken. Roosevelt saw everything and formed an opinion on everything ...”

The Assembly was elected annually. Theodore’s first term, in 1882, ran five months, from January 1 to June 2; his second term, in 1883, just four months, from January 1 to May 4. So in those two years he was actually in Albany a total of only nine months. Yet the change in him was amazing. Even by the close of the first term, according to Spinney, he knew more about state politics than nine out of ten members. He was chronically impatient, impulsive, and could be inconceivably impolitic (a “perfect nuisance”), but he grew steadily. “He made me think of a growing child,” said Hunt. “You know you take a child and in a day or two their whole character will change. They will take on new strength and new ideas, and you can see them growing right up.... He would leave Albany Friday afternoon and he would come back Monday night and you would see changes that had taken place. . . . New ideas had taken possession of him. He would run up against somebody and he got a new perspective. . . . He would be entirely changed, just like a child.”

He and Theodore boarded at the same house. Hunt always knew when it was Theodore returning from a weekend, because Theodore would swing the front door open and be halfway up the stairs before the door swung shut with a bang.


Much of what happened in the beginning was unexceptional. He had won his seat about as handily as expected, the Twenty-first being New York’s safely Republican “brownstone” district. (His opponent had also helped. He was a former director of the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum who had been dismissed for incompetence, exactly the sort of political hack the elder Theodore had tried to drive from office in his campaigns for asylum reform. Even the man’s name sounded like one specially contrived for some low character out of the nightmare world of the madhouse, Dr. W. W. Strew.)

And many of the positions he took on issues his first term were about as would have been expected, conservative, unspectacular—that is until the Westbrook Scandal. He opposed salary increases for New York policemen and firemen, opposed a bill that would have set the minimum wage for municipal workers at $2 a day, and for such stands he was hailed as a “watchdog” over the people’s money. He favored supplying New York with pure water.

But it was also in his first term, even before the Westbrook affair, that he became involved with the Cigar Bill, as it was known, and though his part in the issue was to receive none of the notoriety of the Westbrook affair, the experience was one from which he learned a great deal.

The Cigarmakers’ Union had introduced a bill to outlaw the manufacture of cigars “at home” in the tenements of New York, a system of long standing and the sole livelihood for thousands of the city’s poorest families. The bill was referred to the City Affairs Committee and Theodore found himself named to a subcommittee of three to look into the matter. Of the other two members, one, a Republican, had little use for the bill but intended to vote for it, he said, because of labor strength in his district. The second member, a Tammany man, confided candidly that he would vote no because that was what was required of him by “certain interests.” This left Theodore the deciding vote, and as yet none of them had been to see the conditions the bill was designed to stop.

As a matter of fact, I had supposed I would be against the legislation,” Theodore remembered, “and I rather think that I was put on the committee with that idea, for the respectable people I knew were against it; it was contrary to the principles of political economy of the laissez-faire kind.”

There had been cigarmakers’ unions in New York since the Civil War and they had accomplished almost nothing. A prolonged strike in 1877 had been a complete failure, and the unions, bankrupt and without discipline, would have remained little more than debating societies had not a few determined young men taken charge, the most able of whom was Samuel Gompers. It was Gompers who had drawn up the new bill, the first important law against the exploitation of workers, and it was Gompers who prevailed on Theodore to make an inspection tour and see for himself, an invitation Theodore at first refused, because, in Gompers’ words, “he disbelieved the conditions which I portrayed to him.” Gompers had previously gathered his own information by going from tenement to tenement posing as a book salesman offering a set of Dickens.

Gompers was short, squat, almost gnomelike, opinionated and a good talker. He also believed in action, quite as much as Theodore, and at thirty-two was practically a contemporary. But he came from an entirely different world. He had been born in a London slum, the son of a cigar-maker. He was a Jew and had known only work and deprivation his whole life. So the two of them, going the rounds of the sweatshops, made an improbable pair. Once Theodore had seen for himself, Gompers remembered, “his whole manner toward me changed.”

Nothing had prepared Theodore for the wretchedness he beheld, the stench and filth. Some scenes would stay with him the rest of his days.

I have always remembered [he would write nearly forty years later] one room in which two families were living.... There were several children, three men, and two women in this room. The tobacco was stowed about everywhere, alongside the foul bedding, and in a corner where there were scraps of food. The men, women, and children in this room worked by day and far into the evening, and they slept and ate there. They were Bohemians, unable to speak English, except that one of the children knew enough to act as interpreter.

It was because so few legislators knew of such conditions, Gompers said, that nothing was done to change the system or alleviate the distress. Simply to survive, such people had to work twelve to eighteen hours a day. Infectious disease was rampant among them. The manufacturers owned the tenements and so for the majority of workers there seemed no way out.

His rounds with Gompers were enough to settle Theodore’s mind. It made no difference how many theories of economics or of the rights of the individual might argue against the bill, he would back it. He returned for two further inspection tours, once with his two subcommittee colleagues in tow, another time by himself. When the Cigar Bill came out of committee, he spoke for it on the floor, and when it failed to come up in the Senate—because a lobbyist for the manufacturers stole the official copy—he resolved to carry the fight in the next term. He had by no means been converted to a union sympathizer, he was no “sentimentalist,” as he would say, but for possibly the first time in his life he had come face-to-face with certain extremely unpleasant realities that struck him as intolerable, a side of American life he had been unwilling to believe existed until seeing it with his own eyes.

Gompers would remember his “aggressiveness and evident sincerity.”

But the Cigar Bill, really everything he took a hand in that first session, was put in the shadows by his sudden call, on March 29, for the investigation and impeachment of a State Supreme Court judge, T. R. Westbrook, who, it appeared, was in league with the notorious Jay Gould.

The resolution was, as Hunt said, a bombshell. It was not that Theodore was exposing some awful new truth—Gould’s “association” with this particular judge had been dealt with in the papers, and in The New York Times in some detail—but that he, a very small fry in the legislature, was challenging not only the judiciary but the likes of Gould, who was understood to have more power than any man in the United States; Gould, who controlled something like ten percent of the country’s railroads; who now also controlled the Western Union Telegraph Company, and through it, the Associated Press; who owned the New York World, which published or withheld news however he wished; who had his own spies and agents and whose personal fortune was of a kind to make those of such “old money” aristocrats as the Roosevelts appear minuscule. (On a March day in 1882, when word began circulating that he was broke, Gould had called Russell Sage and one or two others into his office and spread before them on his desk a few of his securities—$23 million of Western Union stock, $12 million of Missouri Pacific Railroad, $19 million of “other stocks.”) Furthermore, few men had such a long-standing, proved reputation for largess in and about the corridors of the State House at Albany.

That the “best society”—Theodore’s constituency—scorned the whispery little Gould was no secret. He had been refused membership in the New York Yacht Club; he was never seen at Mrs. William Astor’s balls because he was never invited. It is even saidJames Alfred Roosevelt personally threw Gould out of his office on one occasion. Indeed, Gould was held contemptible by a great variety of decent people and was so despised by some whom he had destroyed along the way that he required plainclothes police protection day and night.

But scorn also had its limits, and while no gentleman could condone such shady dealings or ruthlessness of the kind Gould practiced, or accept him as a social equal, few prudent, ambitious men would ever openly attack him. Further, several of the city’s most important business people saw no reason not to join him in his ventures if it was to their advantage. They could make their peace with Gould in a purely business way readily enough and without apparent qualm. Having gained control of the Western Union Company the year before by the most blatant kind of piracy, Gould had had no trouble bringing in as board members such figures as John Jacob Astor and J. Pierpont Morgan. As head of his more recently acquired Manhattan Elevated Railway Company, the centerpiece of the Westbrook Scandal, Gould had installed Cyrus Field, who was famous as the promoter of the first Atlantic Cable and was one of New York’s most socially prominent “good citizens.”

Theodore had happened on the Westbrook affair through his friend Hunt. In conjunction with work he was doing on an investigative committee, Hunt had learned that certain lawyers, assigned by the courts as receivers for insolvent insurance companies, were taking exorbitant fees and with court approval. Hunt had gone down to New York to the county clerk’s office and searching through the files found that such fees not only amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that they had all been allowed by the same judge, T. R. Westbrook. When Hunt returned to Albany and recounted his findings to Theodore, the name rang a bell—The New York Times had earlier charged Westbrook with complicity in Gould’s sudden acquisition of the huge Manhattan Elevated—so Theodore now went to New York to talk to the city editor at the Times, Henry Loewenthal, and to ask to see what the Times had in its files. This turned out to be quite a lot. Theodore was at the newspaper’s offices much of the day and afterward invited Loewenthal back to 57th Street, where they talked until well after midnight.

In his book, The Naval War of 1812, Theodore had devoted a large part of his energies to refuting the recognized authority on the subject, an English author named William James, whom Theodore found to be much in error and attacked on point after point. Often, he seemed more intent on destroying James than in telling his story. But he did it by going to documentary sources, seeing for himself, and here the situation was the same. He was attacking a figure of established authority, but only after having done the necessary spadework.

In the picture that emerged, Westbrook was plainly Goulds pawn, even to the point of holding court in Gould’s private office at the Western Union Building. As Westbrook said himself in a letter to Gould—a letter the Times had somehow obtained but not published—he was “willing to go to the very verge of judicial discretion” to protect Gould’s interests.

Recognizing the tremendous future in store for any rapid-transit system in New York, Gould had decided he needed the Manhattan Elevated. His scheme, as usual, was to harass and intimidate the existing owners at every opportunity, drive the stock down below its true value, then begin buying. He was joined in the venture by Russell Sage, possibly the shrewdest of all Wall Street freebooters, and all the while his editors at the World kept up a running attack on the owners of the Manhattan Elevated, implying they were corrupt, the company insolvent. But even more effective for Goulds purposes was his judge, Westbrook, who at the proper moment declared the company bankrupt and appointed two of Goulds people as receivers. The stock fell to a fraction of its previous value and once Gould had taken over a major share of the stock and the price suddenly rebounded, the judge as suddenly reversed himself, declaring the company miraculously solvent. He ordered that its affairs be removed from the hands of the receivers and entrusted to management, which appeared to be Cyrus Field but which in fact was Gould. In the World, the editors said they “never believed but that Manhattan would be rescued by men who have the brains and the means to make the most of it.”

In days gone by, when Gould had been starting out on his rise to power, his first lawyer was T. R. Westbrook.

Theodore had been warned to tread lightly and no sooner was his call for an investigation put before the Assembly than it was stalled through parliamentary maneuver (tabled for further discussion), the leadership on both sides manifestly wishing no part of it.

He was warned again, only now, too, by an old family friend, someone he never identified except as a “member of a prominent law firm.” Theodore was taken to lunch and was advised patiently that while it had been fine of him to make the “reform play,” he had done enough. It was time he left politics and identified himself with “the right kind of people,” those who in the long run “controlled others” and reaped rewards “worth having.” Theodore was appalled. Did this mean, he asked, that he must give in to the “ring”? It was naïve, said the friend, to imagine a mere political ring of the sort the newspapers pictured. The real “inner circle” was one of businessmen, judges, lawyers, and politicians all “in alliance,” and this was the point: the successful man had to win his success by the backing of these same forces, whatever his field.

Late the afternoon of April 5, the official day nearly over, “the exquisite Mr. Roosevelt” was up again calling, “Mr. Spee-kar! Mr. Spee-kar!” He wanted his resolution debated and voted on with no further delay. “No! No!” shouted “bad old fellow” Tom Alvord. But Theodore kept talking, “clearly and slowly,” for another ten minutes, his voice filling the huge chamber. He went through Westbrooks conduct step by step, attacking Gould by name, calling him a shark and a swindler whose dishonesty was a matter of common knowledge. The members sat in absolute silence, listening to every word. As the Times commented the next morning, for any public man to speak so, “calling men and things by their right names in these days of judicial, ecclesiastical, and journalistic subservience to the robber-barons,” required “some little courage.”

I am aware that it ought to have been done by a man of more experience, and, possibly, an abler source than myself, but as nobody else chose to demand it [the investigation], I certainly would in the interest of the Commonwealth of New York . . .

There was no applause when he finished, only the hum of great muffled excitement. Ten minutes remained until closing time at five, and had Theodore known how to bring the issue to vote right then, it might have carried. As it was, Tom Alvord very smoothly intervened. Alvord had been Speaker of the Assembly the year Theodore was born. He stood now in the aisle, leaning on his cane, recalling slowly how often in his career he had seen good men shattered by irresponsible, unsubstantiated charges. Possibly there should be an investigation, possibly he would support such an investigation, he said. But there need be no hurry—indeed, “the young man from New York” would be well advised to take a little time to reflect on the wisdom of his actions.

So the clock ran out, nothing was accomplished.

The issue could be ignored no longer, however. There had been an immediate response in the press to what Theodore had said and, except for the World, nearly all laudatory. With his first major speech he had made himself known throughout the state. Goulds representatives in Albany were also busier than usual. A special messenger from John Kelly, head of Tammany Hall, came on from New York at once by night train.

Theodore tried again the next morning and again he was outmaneuvered. He forgot to specify the kind of vote he wanted. The Speaker called for a standing vote and the whole body started bobbing up and down so rapidly nobody could keep count. The clerk’s tally, the only one that mattered, was 50 for, 54 against.

Another try in the afternoon fared better. Theodore waited for a lull, when many members had wandered away from their seats. “I demand ayes and nays,” he remembered to say this time, and though the count was still short of the two-thirds majority needed for such an investigation, there were now more members voting with him than against, and from then on his support gathered rapidly. Public indignation had been roused and as a consequence the change of heart among his colleagues was astonishing. On April 12, the Assembly voted the investigation by a margin of 104 to 6.

For most of what remained of the session, the matter was in the hands of the Judiciary Committee, and when the committee presented its report at the end of May, it was a whitewash. The judge was said to have done nothing for which he should be impeached. Apparently the committee had been “turned” by three bribes of $2,500 each, a reasonable sum, it was thought, for decisions of such large import.

Theodore was up on his feet once more, expressing himself as forcefully as he knew how. The effect, said Hunt, was “powerful, wonderful,” and to no avail. The vote sustained the committee report; the judge was not to be touched.

The pressures brought to bear on individual members had been enormous. Virtually the entire Democratic Party had lined up behind Westbrook, and the afternoon of the final vote the lobby was crawling with “prominent men from all over the state,” there to see exactly who voted which way. Ike Hunt had been called on by a fellow lawyer from his hometown and reminded of how once Westbrook had decided a case in his, Hunt’s, favor. “Now you don’t want to go to work and destroy a good judge like Judge Westbrook,” Hunt was told. Years afterward, Hunt would concede that Westbrook had been a respectably good man, until he “got in that thing and sharpers got him . . .” And Theodore, too, in retrospect, said he never knew if Westbrook was corrupt or not. “He may have been; but I am inclined to think that, aside from his being a man of coarse moral fiber, the trouble lay chiefly in the fact that he had a genuine . . . reverence for the possessor of a great fortune as such. He sincerely believed that business was the end of existence, and that judge and legislator alike should do whatever was necessary to favor it.”

The Assembly disbanded two days later. The Westbrook Scandal faded into the background. Westbrook himself was later found dead in a hotel room in Troy, whether by suicide or natural causes remained a mystery. Gould and Russell Sage held on to the Manhattan Elevated, but disposed of Cyrus Field, leaving him financially ruined. The distinguished Field, unlike Gould or Sage, actually knew something about the elevated system and thought it should be run as an institution of public service. Gould had needed Field’s name and his money, and the trusting Field had foolishly concluded that Gould was his friend.

For Theodore, prospects had never looked so bright. It was said, by the Evening Post, that he had accomplished more good than any man of his age and experience had accomplished in years. (The Evening Post at the moment was being edited by Carl Schurz.) George William Curtis singled him out for national attention in Harper’s Weekly.

It is with the greatest satisfaction that those who are interested in good government see a young man in the Legislature who . . . does not know the meaning of fear, and to whom the bluster and bravado of party and political bullies are as absolutely indifferent as the blowing of the wind.

More important, no one in Albany could dismiss him as a lightweight any longer. Henceforth, as Hunt recalled, he was to be “considered a full-fledged man worthy of one’s esteem.” He had worked an almost miraculous change.

Running again the fall of 1882, he carried his district by better than two to one, and in the face of a victorious Democratic ticket headed by a reform candidate for governor, the mayor of Buffalo, Grover Cleveland. Back at Albany again, he was made the Republican nominee for Speaker, a somewhat empty honor in view of the overwhelming Democratic majority, but one which put him at the head of his party in the Assembly at the age of twenty-four. It was almost inconceivable prominence for one so young and inexperienced, let alone so unconventional. The papers began writing about the Cleveland Democrats and the Roosevelt Republicans. Theodore now was called to the governor’s office to confer on pending legislation. Remembering the two of them together, William Hudson of the Brooklyn Eagle would write, “The Governor would sit large, solid, and phlegmatic, listening gravely to the energetic utterances of the mercurial young man, but signifying neither assent nor dissent. Not infrequently taking silence for acquiescence, Roosevelt would go away thinking he had carried everything before him.”

“There is great sense in a lot of what he says,” Cleveland would remark of Theodore, “but there is such a cocksuredness about him that he stirs up doubt in me all the time. . . . Then he seems to be so very young.”

He was seldom out of sight, seldom still. “Such a super-abundance of animal life was hardly ever condensed in a human being,” said Hunt. If Theodore had a failing, in Hunt’s estimate, it was only that he wanted to set everything to rights instantly, and it was because of this that the second term was not what either of them anticipated. Success had gone to his head, Theodore later said, though the second term was hardly the disaster he felt it was, and in what it revealed about him as a human being, it was, if anything, more interesting than the first.

His sudden rise may be explained in part by other, earlier developments involving his father’s old enemy, Conkling. An unexpected dissolution of power had occurred just before Theodore ran for his first term and again the Customhouse was the issue. Early in 1881, the newly elected President, Garfield, had refused to follow Conkling’s dictates concerning the appointment of a Collector. In a fury Conkling resigned from the Senate, his friend and ally, New York’s other senator, Thomas C. Platt, going along with him. Both men had expected to be quickly vindicated and reinstated by a compliant legislature at Albany and thus to return to Washington stronger than ever. But it had not worked out as planned. Most people thought Conkling had made a fool of himself; the legislature turned on him and chose another in his place. Inconceivable as it seemed, the giant Conkling had come crashing down; his political career was ended. “I am done with politics forever,” he announced, and he meant it. He resumed the practice of law on Wall Street, his clients including Jay Gould. In Albany his minions were left “wandering around like wild geese without a gander.” Conceivably Tom Platt might have stepped in then, instead of later—Platt being a “great man for organization”—but Platt had been discovered in a compromising position with a young woman and was forced to retire from the scene in disgrace. Very possibly he had been framed. To quote Ike Hunt, “Jimmy Husted and some of them peeked over the transom and saw Tom one night in the hotel.”

All this left the old party machinery in disarray and provided opportunity of a kind not known for years for ambitious newcomers. The game had opened up just as Theodore commenced to play. Moreover, the reform spirit was gathering momentum on all sides—it was what had swept Cleveland into office—and so for someone like Theodore the timing could not have been better. In Washington that January, as Theodore started his second term, Congress was passing the Pendleton Act, the country’s first civil service reform legislation, which, irony of ironies, would be signed into law by ex-Collector Chester A. Arthur. When the bill went before the Senate, not a single Republican voted against it.

His first months back in Albany Theodore lashed out at the New York City Board of Aldermen (”miserable and servile tools”) and went after Jay Gould again, calling on the Attorney General to bring suit to dissolve the Manhattan Elevated. Sounding much like his Uncle Robert, he warned of a great popular uprising unless legal action was taken against such corrupt corporations. A bill comparable to the Pendleton Act was before the Assembly and this too he championed, gladly joining forces with the Democrat Cleveland.

He never doubted the moral virtue of any of his own positions or of the need to punish the wicked. (At one point he called for the return of the public whipping post as punishment for any man who inflicted brutal pain on a woman or a child.) Every issue was seen as a clash between the forces of light and dark. His side was right; the other was the side of corruption or self-interest. Among the several hundred clippings being pasted into the scrapbooks at 6 West 57th Street was one containing a remark by a New York editor that “there is an increasing suspicion that Mr. Roosevelt keeps a pulpit concealed on his person.”

So when suddenly he reversed himself on still another issue involving Jay Gould and the Manhattan Elevated, then took the floor to deliver an emotional apology for his earlier stand, he was the talk of the Capitol.

The Five-Cent Bill, as it was called, had been introduced to reduce by half the ten-cent fare on the elevated railway. It was seen as a way to strike a blow at the haughty Gould, who was supposedly reaping huge concealed profits, and, of course, to please the many thousands who rode the elevated railway. Theodore, like nearly everybody else in Albany, gave the bill his support—until Grover Cleveland, in a brave, forceful message, insisted it was unconstitutional, since it violated commitments made by the state in the company’s original charter. Cleveland vetoed the bill and sent it back, expecting the decision would prove ruinous for him politically.

The day the message was read in the Assembly, Theodore got the floor as quickly as possible. Like others, he realized Cleveland was right and that his own position had been wrong. He said this, which was somewhat remarkable in itself, but then he went on:

I have to say with shame that when I voted for this bill I did not act as I think I ought to have acted, and as I generally have acted on the floor of this House. . . . I have to confess that I weakly yielded, partly in a vindictive spirit towards the infernal thieves and conscienceless swindlers who have had the elevated railroad in charge and partly to the popular voice of New York.

For the managers of the elevated railroad I have as little feeling as any man here. If it were possible, I would willingly pass a bill of attainder on Jay Gould and all of Jay Goulds associates. . . . I regard these men as furnishing part of that most dangerous of all dangerous classes, the wealthy criminal class. Nevertheless, it is not a question of doing justice to ourselves. . . .

We have heard a great deal about the people demanding the passage of this bill. Now, anything the people demand that is right it is most clearly and most emphatically the duty of this Legislature to do; but we should never yield to what they demand if it is wrong. . . . If the people disapprove our conduct, let us make up our minds to retire to private life with the consciousness that we have acted as our better sense dictated; and I would rather go out of politics having the feeling that I had done what was right than stay in with the approval of all men, knowing in my heart that I had acted as I ought not to.

It was a speech that was to be published and quoted widely as illustrative either of his rank duplicity and opportunism or of his innate decency. It was a wrenching confession, a little sermon, a crystallized declaration of political philosophy; noble and self-serving. To profess shame in oneself was something a politician did not do if he liked his job and it was something Theodore found personally distasteful and almost never indulged in, even among those closest to him. Any ostentatious baring of one’s transgressions smacked of self-pity or a desperate craving for attention, he thought. “Never indulge yourself on the sinner’s stool,” he would lecture his friend Owen Wister. “If you did any harm, that won’t undo it, you’ll merely rake it up. The sinner’s stool is often the only available publicity spot for the otherwise wholly obscure egotist.” Yet here he was doing exactly that.

His expression “the wealthy criminal class” was new and original and would not be forgotten. The righteousness he bespoke was the old Roosevelt family theme, the burden and spur of “our way.” (”I know I am blue and disagreeable often,” Elliott had told Anna Hall, “but please, darling, bear with me and I will come out all right in the end, and it really is an honest effort to do the right that makes me so often quiet and thoughtful about it all.”) Probably Theodore had not the least idea how arbitrary and self-righteous he sounded.

The reaction in the press and among other members was immediate and almost entirely adverse. The Tribune and one or two papers upstate said it took a special kind of courage to confess a lack of courage, but elsewhere he was dubbed a weakling and a bogus reformer, which doubtless hurt very much. Even the loyal Evening Post found it strange that he could think so little of the views of the people unless those views coincided with his own; and though ridicule in the World was to be expected, the remarks published there must have been the most painful of all. “It is quite bad enough that a son of Theodore Roosevelt could have brought this discredit upon a name made honorable by the private virtues and public services of the father,” said the World; friends of the late Theodore could only take satisfaction that at least he had been spared seeing the boy make a public spectacle of himself.

When the Five-Cent Bill was put before the Assembly, Theodore voted against it, with the majority as it turned out, but in doing so was parting company with Hunt, O’Neil, and others of his closest allies.

He was acting as though he were under some kind of emotional strain, seemed not to know how to handle himself. A day or so later he made another grandstand play on the floor, suddenly tendering his resignation from a committee when the Assembly refused to go along with the committees recommendation. The speech turned into a wild, childish diatribe against the whole Democratic Party. It was as if, like the tiny shrew in the cage, he would fling himself at the great Democratic snake and tear it to pieces before anyone knew what happened.

The difference between our party and yours,” he shouted across the aisle, “is that your bad men throw out your good ones, while with us the good throw out the bad.” The entire history of their party was rotten.

You can run down the roll from Polk, the mendacious, through Pierce, the Copperhead, to Buchanan, who faced both ways. You can follow the record of their party from its inception down to this time. . . . You can take the record made by their party now in this House; the shameless partisanship they have displayed; the avidity they have shown for getting control of even the smallest offices . . .

When in an interview held in the quiet of the Harvard Club in New York, many years later, Ike Hunt referred to Theodore as “the most indiscreet guy I ever knew,” it was moments such as this that he had in mind. “Yesterday, in a speech,” reported the New YorkObserver, “Mr. Roosevelt got up and said in effect that he couldn’t have his own way in that House and he wouldn’t stand it, so there!”

As it was, the Assembly merely refused to accept his resignation and passed on to other matters.

“Billy O’Neil and I used to sit on his coattails,” remembered Hunt. “Billy O’Neil would say to him: ’What do you want to do that for, you damn fool; you will ruin yourself and everybody else!’” Even Michael C. Murphy, the questionable guardian chosen by Uncle Rob, he of the swollen red face and shiny frock coat, could be heard from his seat nearby saying in fatherly fashion, “Now, Theodore, now, Theodore . . .”

But toward the end of the session another, smaller incident occurred, a different kind of apology having more to do with his make-up as a human being than with any question of moral principle. In his scathing attacks on the Democrats he had been concentrating on a particular member from Staten Island, the elderly Erastus Brooks, whom he picked on repeatedly. Brooks finally spoke up in his own defense and with great feeling, hitting hard at Theodore. When the speech ended and Brooks’ friends gathered about to congratulate him, Theodore came pushing through, tears in his eyes, holding out his hand. “Mr. Brooks,” he said, “I surrender. I beg your pardon.”

Success had come to him too fast, he later said; he had lost his perspective, “and the result was I came an awful cropper and had to pick myself up after learning by bitter experience the lesson that I was not all-important and that I had to take account of many different elements in life.”

All the same, his legislative record surpassed that of the first term. The civil service bill was enacted. And so also was the Cigar Bill—by both houses this time—though after a protracted battle in the courts the Cigar Bill was to be found unconstitutional. The judges sided with the manufacturers, whose counsel, former Secretary of State William Evarts, argued that socialism and communism were in back of the bill and that such home industry was actually beneficial to the “proper culture of growing girls.” In its final judgment, in 1885, the New York Court of Appeals asked how possibly a cigarmaker’s health and morals could be improved by forcing him from his home and its “hallowed associations.”

Theodore had spoken for the bill both in the Assembly and at a hearing in the governor’s office. Conceding at one point that the measure was in a “certain sense a socialistic one,” he said the terrible growing extremes of poverty and wealth in the cities demanded something be done, even if it meant modifying certain doctrines and principles. No children raised under conditions such as he had seen in the tenements would ever be fit for citizenship, he argued, echoing the old theme espoused by Charles Loring Brace and by his own father. In the end, however, he had resorted to the plea that the measure be passed if for no other reason than hygiene, an appeal which seems to have had no small influence on the preponderant number of cigar smokers among his colleagues.


Elected a third time in the fall of ’83, he returned to Albany in advance of the new session, late the December of Elliott’s wedding, determined to be named Speaker. The Republicans had gained a majority in the Assembly, largely because of what he and his Roosevelt Republicans had accomplished the session before, and so it seemed his time was ripe. But he lost when John J. (”Johnny”) O’Brien, Republican boss of New York City, an old Conkling henchman, once one of the Customhouse “boys,” withdrew his support at the last moment. Senator Warner Miller (Platt’s replacement in Washington) had shown Johnny “the valuables in the Treasury” that could become available were he to see his way clear to voting the right way. O’Brien had been the first powerful figure among the “regulars” to line up behind Theodore, and a main reason for Theodore’s confidence. Many of Theodore’s admirers had been skeptical at the time, sure that something was afoot.

The defeat was a bitter blow. He had wanted the job badly and felt he had earned it. The day after Christmas he had hired a suite at the Delavan House, the somewhat seedy hotel where he often took breakfast and where in years past so many other political fortunes had been won or lost. Old Thurlow Weed and William Seward, Tweed, Conkling, Chester A. Arthur, had all practiced their craft in the lobby and corridors and private suites of the Delavan, cajoled and traded, entreated, listened, charmed, bribed, threatened, flattered unmercifully, all in the endless give-and-take of political maneuver. And Theodore, as he said, had managed “a stout fight.”

The problem was the prospect of the political year ahead. A presidential election was in the offing, a Republican national convention less than six months away. Rivalry in the party, along the old Stalwart-Half-Breed lines, was as intense as ever, the Blaine people feeling it was their turn at last. And given the importance of New York at the convention, not to say in the general election, there was abnormally high interest in who was to occupy the Speaker’s seat at Albany. To the professionals it was business of the most serious kind. Scouting the lobby of the Delavan just after Christmas, one reporter remarked on the numbers of “friends of the Administration in Washington” who were present, “friends of United States Senator Miller . . . representatives of the Customhouse . . . friends of the corporations.”

Refusing to align himself with any faction, Theodore had declared, “I am a Republican, pure and simple, neither a ’Half-Breed’ nor a ’Stalwart’; and certainly no man, nor yet any ring or clique, can do my thinking for me.” But he was called “unsound” by the professionals—”That young fellow might go off like a rocket,” one of them warned. The Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds joined ranks against him and that decided it. At the party caucus New Years Eve the position of Speaker went to a “regular,” an underwear manufacturer from Little Falls named Titus Sheard.

Theodore knew in advance he was beaten and it was he who moved that Sheard’s nomination be made unanimous. Allowing that the defeat left him “chagrined,” he would claim later that by waging his own fight he had assured his standing as floor leader and consequently accomplished more than he would have as Speaker. Achievement was “the all-important thing,” position mattered “only in so far as it widened the chance of achievement.”

His Cousin Emlen, recalling the eagerness with which Theodore persisted, said he was “the most ambitious man I ever knew ...”

As recompense he was named chairman of the City Affairs Committee. Within days he had issued three major bills, one to reduce the power of the New York City aldermen and strengthen the office of mayor, another to put a limit on the city’s debt, and a third to raise the license fee for the sale of liquor. None was designed to please the “regulars,” but the first, the Reform Charter Bill, as he called it, was the one aimed directly at what he, like many others, saw as the fundamental cause for big-city political corruption. The aldermen, the legislative side of city government, were an amorphous and anonymous body to all but the professionals and those who did business with them. Yet the power wielded by the aldermen was tremendous, including, most importantly, the power of approval over the appointment of department heads. City government in New York had become an exceedingly big business, with a payroll of some $12 million and twelve thousand jobs, making it a larger employer, for example, than the Carnegie iron and steel works. But the aldermen, those who really ran the city (taking their orders from the bosses), were cloaked in very carefully maintained obscurity. Scarcely any voter could name even one alderman or explain what his duties were. Who was to tell who was accountable, let alone remember at election time. Which was exactly as the machine wished to have it.

The remedy, according to reform theory, was to simplify and concentrate power; and to make power as conspicuous as possible: give someone the responsibility and hold him responsible, that someone being the mayor. And the model was the business corporation. “Some one man must be given the power of direction,” preached Mayor Seth Low of Brooklyn; “... they [the public] understand that power and responsibility must go together from the top to the bottom of every successful business organization.”

The arrangement by which Seth Low ran Brooklyn was exactly what Theodore hoped to attain in New York. Theodore knew a good deal about Low, not only from what had appeared in the papers, but through Uncle Robert, who had worked with the young mayor as part of his duties concerning the Brooklyn Bridge, that great work now having been finished at last. Low functioned under a new Brooklyn city charter put in effect in 1882 and unlike any other. It made the mayor of Brooklyn the real, as well as the nominal, head of government, with absolute authority over the appointment of police commissioner, fire commissioner, health officers, treasurer, tax collector, and on down the line. This, said Low, was “a great and direct gain . .. because it creates and keeps alert a strong public sentiment, and tends to increase the interest of all citizens in the affairs of their city.” And by “all citizens,” he, Theodore, and other high-minded gentlemen concerned with municipal reform had specifically in mind the hordes of immigrants who, like Theodores cigarmakers, spoke little English, who were illiterate, bewildered by the political system, and thus easily manipulated by the political bosses (who, as it also happened, knew considerably more about these same people and what their real needs were than did the high-minded gentlemen concerned with municipal reform). It was not that the system must be simplified merely for the average citizen, but for what Seth Low called “the simplest citizen.”

In Brooklyn the results were astounding. In Brooklyn more people had voted in the election for mayor than in the election for governor. And having such power as Seth Low had, said Low himself, “appeals to the best that is in a man as strongly as it exposes him to the fire of criticism if he does not do well.”

To strip the New York aldermen of their power—those “creatures” of the bosses, as Theodore called them—and give New York a mayor like Seth Low struck nearly everybody but the bosses as eminently sensible, and so with his Reform Charter Bill Theodore had placed himself squarely in the forefront of a very popular cause. Quite rightly he saw it as his most important effort since entering politics.

Samuel Gompers had been impressed by his aggressiveness. On January 15, or less than a week after introducing the Reform Charter Bill, Theodore was made head of a special committee to investigate New York City government. Four days later, at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York, he opened hearings into the affairs of the city’s Department of Public Works, which of late, under the direction of Commissioner Hubert O. Thompson, had shown an increase in expenditures of some sixty-five percent and with no discernible benefit to the city. Thompson was well known in Albany, where he spent a disproportionate amount of his time “conferring” at the Delavan House. Early in his first term, Theodore had picked him out as among the most blatantly odious and fascinating political “creatures”—”a gross, enormously fleshly man with full face and thick, sensual lips; wears a diamond shirt pin and an enormous seal ring on his little finger.” And though Thompson, who had had prior experience with investigative hearings, succeeded in making the first session something of a joke at Theodore’s expense, it was Theodore’s intention to keep the hearings going at the hotel every Friday, Saturday, and Monday until the job was done.

It was a chance at last to do battle, good against evil, in New York itself and in what he liked to call “the full light of the press,” light he very obviously loved. He relished the publicity and he relished the battle itself. He loved a fight, more even than his father had. It was possibly the chief reason he loved politics, needed politics. He was never more pleased with himself than when he had made a “stout fight.” The political allies he cared most for were those who were fighters, who were “fearless,” like Joe Murray. He loved the camaraderie of such men. Of Billy O’Neil, the “best friend,” he would write, “we stood shoulder to shoulder in every legislative fight.”

Experience, moreover, had already taught him a grudging respect for the rogues who fought against him, who, too, were fearless and forthright in their fashion. Indeed, he preferred them to what he called the “parlor reformers,” “the timid good men” who stood on the sidelines. Unhappily, “blamelessness and the fighting edge are not always combined.” It was exactly because politics was a bear pit that he wanted in.

“A man should never put on his best trousers when he goes out to battle for freedom and truth,” advised Henrik Ibsen in his 1882 play, An Enemy of the People. Theodore never wore anything but his best trousers; he was every inch the “dude” the newspapers portrayed; he made no pretense by word or dress at being anything other than wellborn, never resorted, as Boies Penrose did, to being “one of the boys” by talking or acting like one of the boys. But in a political fight he fought tooth and claw. As the journalistMark Sullivan would observe, “Roosevelt did not regard politics as a gentleman’s sport, to be played in the spirit of a private duello, with a meticulous code about choice of time and place. Roosevelt had a trait of ruthless righteousness.’”

Years later, writing about his father’s old friend John Hay, Theodore made an acutely revealing observation—revealing of his own nature. The problem with Hay, he said, was his unwillingness to “face the rather intimate association which is implied in a fight.”

One must never shrink from what was “rough in life”; one must never recoil or flinch in the face of a Jay Gould or a Hubert O. Thompson. He had marked another verse in his Bible: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

Also, as Charles Eliot once observed, a man in a fight had little chance to be lonely.

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