Posted tagged ‘Teddy Roosevelt’

When Friends Become Enemies

January 8, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   December 31, 2014


I recently read The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s an excellent historical work dealing with the presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, as well as the rise of the importance of journalism.

Taft was Roosevelt’s choice to follow him as President. He had served as Governor General of the Philippines as it was being freed from Spanish rule as a result of the Spanish-American War. Taft loved the Philippines, as did his family, but Roosevelt kept wanting him to come back and be a part of his cabinet as Secretary of War. The correspondence between the two men shows how close they were as friends. Finally Taft agreed to come back to the States and be a part of Roosevelt’s cabinet.

William Taft was always loyal to his president, even when he might not totally agree with him. As the 1908 Presidential election was gearing up Roosevelt, who had earlier said he would not run for a third term, put his support behind Taft. Upon Taft’s election Teddy left the country for a year to enjoy traveling and an extended African safari.

It is at this point in their friendship that the seams start coming apart. Taft wrote a very affirming letter to Roosevelt that was never delivered to him. Taft was taken back by the Roosevelt never responded, and Roosevelt was a little perturbed that Taft had not corresponded with him.

Gifford Pinchot, the head of the Forest Service under Roosevelt and Taft, was then relieved of his position. Pinchot was a close friend of Roosevelt’s, who was still in the midst of his African adventures. When Pinchot shared the news with Roosevelt with his personal biases inserted in the story, Roosevelt was angry at what Taft had done. He began to doubt the man he had picked to be his successor. Once again, however, he had not gotten the whole story. The firing of Pinchot was Taft’s only option after some of the actions that Pinchot has taken.

Distance played a significant role in the parting of the former president’s and current president’s close relationship. Roosevelt was stubborn enough to keep his distance even after he returned from his travels. Taft was gracious enough to think only the best.

The story proceeds with the unfortunate stroke of Nellie Taft that effected her speech. It was evident that Nellie was a valuable help mate of her husband throughout his career in Ohio, the Philippines, and Washington. To have her require rest and therapy for months was an ongoing grief that Taft had to bear. It could be said that the President didn’t sense a great deal of compassion from Roosevelt during this time. He had been there for Teddy in his deepest difficulties, but Roosevelt was not very empathetic in return.

Distance, life circumstances, and difficulties sometimes bring that separation between friends. For these two great men it brought them to a point where they were more resembling of being enemies, to the point that Roosevelt split off of the Republican party, forming a third party and running against Taft and Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election. In fact, Roosevelt’s differences with Taft split the Republicans and resulted in victory for Wilson.

Misunderstandings, poor communication, false rumors, and assumptions can sometimes undermine what was a strong kinship.

At the end of the book, however, Taft has a chance meeting with Roosevelt at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago six years after the failed election. Roosevelt in taking to someone about the encounter said, “By Godfrey, I never was so surprised in my life. I no more thought of him being in Chicago than in Timbuctoo. But wasn’t it a gracious thing for him to do?” (The Bully Pulpit, Kearns, page 745)

That started a new friendship between the two former presidents that became increasingly stronger in the last months of Roosevelt’s life. He passed away seven months later.

How often we fail to draw close to those we’ve drifted apart from. Stubbornness isolates. The refusal to admit wrong keeps us in our separate corners. At the end of our time we realize the tragedy of opportunities lost and friends sent away.

It happens to so many of us…even presidents!