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Instinct and Inconsistency

August 16, 2017

President Theodore Roosevelt was instinctively inclusive.  He became President on September 14, 1901.  On October 16 he invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House.  This was the first time any President had included a black man among his dinner guests.  According to one Tennessee newspaper, this was “the most damnable outrage that has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States.”  The New Orleans Times-Democrat disapprovingly opined: “When Mr. Roosevelt sits down to dinner with a negro, he declares that the negro is the social equal of the White Man.”  Other newspapers and individuals uttered even harsher sentiments. The President was very disappointed by the reaction.  According to someone who knew him well, “Roosevelt seldom approached anyone as a member of a class, but almost invariably as an individual.”

The following year he appointed a black man to be Collector of the Port of Charleston.  It seemed like a good political decision because this office did not require much interaction with the public.  But, once again, there were complaints.  Even some of the President’s closest friends told him he had made the wrong decision.  He stood his ground and tried to convince them to consider the new Collector’s impressive qualifications rather than the color of his skin.

In 1905 he appointed a black woman to be postmistress at Indianola, Mississippi.  This seemed like a safe appointment because she had already served in that capacity.  At first everything was okay, but eventually, through no fault of her own, she was driven out of office.

In 1906, when Roosevelt received unfavorable reports regarding the black battalion stationed in Brownsville, Texas, he relied more on the official report than on his instincts.  In a later private conversation with a friend he was asked why he had been so harsh on the soldiers.  His reply was simple and regretful:  “Because I listened to the War Department, and I shouldn’t.”

 

2 Comments
  1. A lot of integrity on display there. Thanks for telling us about this aspect of his character.

    • Mitch, I thank you for reading my blog and making this comment. Theodore Roosevelt, although not always making the decisions someone from the 21st century might have made, was a man of integrity who rightly belongs on Mount Rushmore.

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