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A Cows and Bulls Story

G.D. Wahlberg was the private secretary of Harry Sinclair.  Archie Roosevelt had told his brother Ted that Wahlberg had seen evidence of former Interior Secretary Albert Fall violating his oath of office.  Ted got Congressman Nicholas Longworth and Senator William Borah involved, and everyone agreed that both Archie and Wahlberg should testify before the Senate committee.

But when Archie called Wahlberg, the latter refused to cooperate.  Ted then took the phone and told Wahlberg he would be forced to testify if civic pride were an insufficient motivation.  Then, appealing to Wahlberg’s better self, Ted flatly stated, “It’s your plain duty as an American citizen.”

When both men appeared before the committee, Archie spoke first.  He told them that Wahlberg had seen a $68,000 check signed by Harry Sinclair made out to Secretary Fall.  Wahlberg then testified, “Mr. Roosevelt is mistaken.  I never mentioned a check for sixty-eight thousand dollars.  What I said was that Mr. Sinclair had sent Secretary Fall a present of six or eight cows and bulls.”

Wahlberg’s explanation was met with laughter and incredulity.  Although there was still not enough evidence for the Justice Department to indict, Wahlberg’s ludicrous testimony provided an opening for further inquiry.  Eventually, Albert Fall would go to jail and Harry Sinclair would pay a heavy fine.

Ted had done his civic duty in bringing his brother and Wahlberg before the committee.  Unfortunately, he had also opened himself up to criticism, some fair and some unfair.  Why didn’t he stop the transfer of the Teapot Dome oil reserves from the Navy to the Interior Department?  After all, he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  Meanwhile, a Congressman from South Carolina was defaming him on the House floor.

What Archie Knew

The Senate Committee on Public Lands had been receiving testimony for three months, but there was still no direct evidence of influence peddling by the Executive Branch.  Then, in late January 1924 the Assistant Secretary of the Navy received an urgent call from his brother in New York.

Archie, an employee at Sinclair Oil, informed his brother they needed to speak privately, and soon.  What was so important that it could not be discussed over the telephone?  The Assistant Secretary was about to leave for New York on other business, so he met Archie as soon as he arrived.

Archie was obviously panicked.  He had learned that a quid pro quo had been arranged between Harry Sinclair and Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall.  Sinclair’s private secretary had seen a check for $68,000 made out to Fall and signed by Sinclair.  This happened around the time Sinclair Oil secured the lease, also signed by Mr. Sinclair, for the Teapot Dome oil reserve.

The Assistant Secretary and his brother Archie immediately left for Washington, D.C.  They consulted with their brother-in-law, who just so happened to be the House Majority Leader.[1]

They consulted with the Senator from Idaho who was important enough to be offered the chance to run for Vice President in 1924 and secure enough in his own person to turn it down.  At the Assistant Secretary’s house with all the aforementioned present, everyone agreed that Archie should voluntarily testify at the Senate investigation.

But one more thing was needed.  In order to corroborate Archie’s testimony, Sinclair’s private secretary also needed to appear before the committee.  Would he cooperate?  Archie would call him and ask.


[1] In 1925 their brother-in-law would be elected Speaker of the House.

Troubled Waters Over Oil

When future President Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he issued orders to Admiral Dewey to “KEEP FULL OF COAL.”  That was the fuel used by the U.S. Navy in 1898. 

When Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. became Assistant Secretary, the Navy was using oil.  That’s why they kept reserves of oil at Elk Hills, California and Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

TR Jr. had once been on the board of Sinclair Oil and had secured a position there for his brother Archie.  Harry Sinclair was a friend.  When TR Jr. joined the Harding Administration, Sinclair and his company were not connected to the Navy’s oil reserves.

All that changed when TR Jr.’s boss in the Navy Department colluded with the Secretary of the Interior to enrich themselves with oil money.  It cannot be emphasized enough that TR Jr. was completely innocent of any wrongdoing, but that did not matter to the Democrats in Washington, to the press, or to a skeptical public.

When the scandal first broke, TR Jr. thought his career was over because he owned one thousand shares of Sinclair Oil stock.  Fortunately, he had placed matters in his wife’s hands when he joined the Administration.  He was greatly relieved to discover that he had already sold that stock at a loss long before the conspirators had devised their criminal scheme.

Starting in late October 1923 the Senate Committee on Public Lands received testimony regarding these crimes without finding any direct evidence of influence peddling.  Then, in late January 1924 TR Jr. received an urgent call from his brother Archie.

But Then Something Happened

Three famous[1] Roosevelts have been Assistant Secretary of the Navy:  Theodore Roosevelt, his son and namesake, and his nephew-in-law Franklin Roosevelt.  Two of the three became President of the United States after serving as Governor of New York.  The third ran for Governor of New York and lost.  He was never nominated for President.

Theodore Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary in 1897 and 1898.  After becoming a war hero he was elected Governor of New York in 1898.  Because he could not be controlled by the Republican state political boss, the party removed him from the governorship by nominating him for Vice President.  He dutifully accepted his party’s nomination, and upon election he believed that would be the end of his political career.  But then something happened.

Franklin Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary during most of the Wilson Administration.  He was nominated for Vice President in 1920 but his party lost.  The next year he contracted polio.  He thought that would be the end of his political career.  But then something happened. 

Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. served two Administrations from 1921 to 1924.  From 1895 to 1922 the Republican Governors of New York had outnumbered the Democrats two to one.  Since the Democrat won in 1922, it seemed a sure thing that 1924 would be a Republican year, especially with Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. as the nominee.  But then something happened.

He was not the perpetrator, but perhaps he should have recognized what was happening.  He was, after all, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  His boss, Secretary Denby, was forced to resign because of what happened.  The Secretary of the Interior would even go to prison.  What had happened?  


[1] At least two other members of the Roosevelt clan filled this office.

The Russo-Japanese War

Tsarist Russia and Imperial Japan each had designs on Manchuria and Korea during the early years of the 20th century.  The Russians were seeking a warm water port, and the Japanese had economic interests in the region.  China had leased Port Arthur to Russia, but they did not really control the region. 

The Russo-Japanese War began in February 1904.  From that time until September 1905 more than 100,000 people were killed.  Japan was winning, but Russia did not want to become the first European power to lose a war to an Asian country.  Unless someone intervened, the bloodshed would continue.

If Japan were to utterly defeat Russia, America’s Open Door Policy would be in jeopardy.  U.S. interests could still be served by a limited Japanese victory, but would the Russians stop fighting?  They needed an opportunity to save face.  Meanwhile, an internal uprising, a sort of dress rehearsal for the 1917 revolution, was happening in Russia.  Ending the Russo-Japanese War would permit the Tsar to focus more on matters at home.

This is where President Theodore Roosevelt comes in.  In September 1905, via his personal involvement, he got the warring parties to sign the Treaty of Portsmouth.  The next year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  But Roosevelt was no Utopian theorist.  He knew that every solution would eventually be the source of another problem.  The Japanese had destroyed the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsu Shima.  How long would it be before Japan threatened U.S. interests in the Pacific?  He determined to commission more warships against that eventuality.  Decades later when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Theodore Roosevelt’s nephew-in-law would be President and would have to lead the U.S. into war against Japan.

The Medal and the Prize

Theodore Roosevelt, the son and namesake of the 26th President, was an officer in both World Wars.  During World War II he was a brigadier general.  He died of natural causes in July 1944 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for directing the troops at Utah Beach on D-Day.

President Theodore Roosevelt, the colonel who led the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment up Kettle Hill during the Spanish-American War, was also a posthumous recipient.  Unlike his son, who was awarded the Medal of Honor only a few months after his death, President Roosevelt did not receive this recognition until the 21st century.

General Roosevelt was being considered for the Distinguished Service Cross, but this was upgraded from the original recommendation.  Colonel Roosevelt was hoping to be considered for the Medal of Honor, but he lost favor with the Secretary of War because of the Round Robin letter. 

The Colonel and the General are not the only father and son to receive the Medal of Honor.  Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur and General Douglas MacArthur were so honored for their actions during the Civil War and World War II respectively.  Neither award was posthumous.

Theodore Roosevelt is the only U.S. President to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  Because he was a heroic military figure, he is not so popular with some sectors of 21st century America.  However, he also received the Nobel Peace Prize, and unlike some recent recipients whose accomplishments for peace have been quite academic, President Theodore Roosevelt performed an actual service that ended real bloodshed.  Ironically, the Colonel who had to wait 103 years to receive the highest military honor, received the Nobel Peace Prize the year after he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War.

The Colonel Would Never Do That

The Secretary of War was not happy.  He had accompanied the President on a trip to congratulate the recently victorious troops.  As soon as the President saw the Colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment at the railroad station, he jumped out of his carriage and gave him a hearty handshake.

The Secretary of War had not been happy when he began the trip.  The Colonel had embarrassed him with harsh criticism.  It was bad enough that the Colonel had taken the lead in signing a letter that was then countersigned by all the leading officers, but he had sent a separate letter under his own signature that was even harsher.  Now both letters had been published in the press.  What was the Colonel trying to accomplish?

The Colonel simply wanted his sick troops to have better food and a better environment in which to recover from tropical illnesses.  He wanted them to return to U.S. soil so they could rest up and be made ready to fight in Puerto Rico if the war continued.

When both letters came out, the President was at first upset.  People in the War Department wanted to court martial the Colonel.  But the Colonel had bravely provided cover for the career officers who didn’t want to risk their military pensions.  Now, on September 4, 1898 the President was smiling and shaking hands with the Colonel.

The Colonel had been right all along.  Another man might have tried to balance the feelings of his superiors against the dire needs of the men under his command.  The Colonel would never do that.  That’s just how Theodore Roosevelt was.

Almost Everyone Was Happy

In 1884 Theodore Roosevelt was a Party man.  He proved this by holding his nose and voting for his Party’s Presidential candidate.  In 1898 he was still a Party man.  When Party insiders asked him how he might proceed if he became Governor of New York, he replied that he would not “make war on Mr. Platt [the Party boss in New York] or anybody else if war could be avoided.”  He also expressed “the sincere hope that there might always [be] harmony of opinion and purpose.”

In 1898 Theodore Roosevelt was a man of politics.  He tempered the preceding remarks by asserting his prerogative to consult with anyone and to “act finally as my own judgment and conscience dictated.”  When asked to accept the nomination of the Independents, Roosevelt replied that although he would run as a Party regular, he would accept the endorsement of the Independents only if he were already the Republican nominee for Governor.  This proved to be a winning strategy.

Theodore Roosevelt was always a man of perpetual motion.  The discussions above had been conducted behind the scenes while he was still an officer in the U.S. Army.  Toward the end of summer 1898 President McKinley arrived at Montauk railroad station on his way to Camp Wikoff in order to thank the recently victorious troops.  As he was getting into his carriage, he saw Colonel Roosevelt about twenty yards away.  McKinley jumped out of his carriage while Roosevelt dismounted and hastily removed his right glove.  The two smiled and shook hands as McKinley exclaimed, “Col. Roosevelt, I’m glad to see you looking so well.”

Someone else was in McKinley’s carriage, and he was not so happy with the Colonel.

Platt’s Predicament

In the 1880’s Theodore Roosevelt was a Party man.  When the Liberal Republicans bolted and voted for the Democratic candidate in 1884, Roosevelt remained faithful.  He had great respect for Democrat Grover Cleveland and more than a little disdain for Republican James Blaine, but he stuck with his Party.  Blaine lost the election, but the Republicans who opposed him lost the trust of the Party leadership.  Theodore Roosevelt, although severely criticized at first, came through the ordeal relatively unscathed.  He was later appointed to the Civil Service Commission by Republican President Benjamin Harrison and reappointed by President Cleveland during his nonconsecutive second term.  Roosevelt would eventually run for President as a third-party candidate, but that was after serving as President for almost two terms and being disappointed by his hand-picked successor.

Theodore Roosevelt was a man of politics.  When he first expressed an interest in public life, friends and family informed him that it was beneath his dignity to hang out with the “rough and brutal and unpleasant” people at the ward level.  Roosevelt replied: “…that if this were so it merely meant that the people I knew did not belong to the governing class, and that the other people did – and that I intended to be one of the governing class…”

Theodore Roosevelt was a man of perpetual motion.  Although Senator Platt did not want Roosevelt to be elected Governor of New York in 1898, he desired even less that a Democrat get that office.  He endorsed Roosevelt but expressed his misgivings as follows:  “If he becomes Governor of New York, sooner or later, with his personality, he will have to be President of the United States… I am afraid to start that thing going.”

Gaining the Political Advantage

In 1896 Theodore Roosevelt needed to know whether prospective Senator Thomas Platt would oppose his nomination as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Thomas Platt needed to garner support in the New York state legislature in order to become a U.S. Senator.  Roosevelt’s recent service as New York City police commissioner, his long tenure on the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and his still remembered time as a state legislator had made him popular with the people.  His endorsement would be a big boost for Platt.

But Roosevelt had long been tied to Platt’s chief rival.  Joseph H. Choate was a distinguished jurist, a liberal Republican, and one of Roosevelt’s early political mentors.  When Roosevelt was first elected to the New York state assembly, he told Choate, “I feel that I owe both my nomination and my election more to you than to any other one man.”  However, that did not stop Roosevelt from occupying a seat at Platt’s table when the organization men endorsed Platt. 

Roosevelt served well in the Navy Department.  He then became an officer in the Army during the Spanish-American War.  When on July 1, 1898 Roosevelt led his men to victory at Kettle Hill, the people of New York heard about this and started a Roosevelt for Governor boom.

By July 20, perhaps even earlier, Senator Platt learned of the enthusiasm for Roosevelt and pondered how to manage events to his own advantage.  He really didn’t want Roosevelt to become Governor, but neither could he allow the incumbent Governor to run again.  Governor Black had been a faithful soldier in Platt’s army, but he had angered too many people.  If he were nominated, he might lose; but if Colonel Roosevelt were nominated,…