Volume XI · Spring 1956 · Number 3
--GLYNDON G. VAN DEUSEN
On March 4, 1909, Theodore Roosevelt laid down the burdens of the Presidency, or rather placed them on the broad back of his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, and with that youthful exuberance which was so much a part of his nature prepared to go big-game hunting in Africa. What followed was a year of safari in which some three thousand beasts, including nine lions, thirteen rhinoceroses, and seven hippopotamuses, lost their lives. As Gamaliel Bradford once observed, Roosevelt killed lions as though they were mosquitoes, and smote mosquitoes as though they were lions.
Fascinating as he found the hunting of African game, Roosevelt did not permit it to monopolize his attention. He wrote a series of articles for Scribner's, the substance of which was later embodied in his African Game Trails; he kept up correspondence with a number of friends; and he developed plans which had begun to take shape before he had left the United States for visiting Egypt and the principal capitals of Europe on his way back to Oyster Bay. Fifty-one years old, blind in one eye, his amazing vitality already beginning to show signs of the strain of the strenuous life, he was still capable of laying out and following through an itinerary that would have staggered many a man twenty years younger.
Among the capitals which the Colonel of the Rough Riders was determined to visit was Berlin, and among the world leaders whom he was determined to see was Kaiser Wilhelm II. The latter, and the growing might of Imperial Germany, were very much at the center of a world which was being shaken by the alarums and excursions of power politics, and Roosevelt longed to get a close-up of the German leader and of the political figures who surrounded him.
There was still another factor in Roosevelt's desire to go to Berlin. He wanted to play a part in what appeared to be a significant effort to guarantee world peace.
One of the active agitators for peace was Andrew Carnegie. The erstwhile steel magnate, who was now as zealous in the prevention of war as he had been in the accumulation of millions, was obsessed with the idea of converting the swashbuckling Kaiser into the protagonist of a peaceful world order, and he was furthermore determined to use his friend Roosevelt as a means to this great end. Carnegie spoke with the authority of millions of dollars behind him, and when he spoke men listened. He bombarded Roosevelt with letters during the latter's African trip, declaring that the Colonel must go to Berlin, get the Kaiser to agree to moves that would end the tension building up in Europe, and then cross the Channel and consult with the British as to the final proposals that would seal the doom of war. To this Roosevelt replied accepting the idea with some reservations, and declaring that he could and would use one of Carnegie's letters, when he talked with the Kaiser.
Carnegie sought and found a number of supporters for this scheme. Elihu Root was for it, in somewhat qualified fashion. So was Nicholas Murray Butler. President Taft was glad to see the effort made. But, at least for the moment, the central figure was Roosevelt. He was to impress upon the Kaiser the importance of the latter's leadership in establishing arbitration treaties that would end the arms race and any threat of twentieth-century war. It was crucial, Carnegie felt, that Roosevelt should be able to cross over from the Continent to London with the assurance for Britain that the German Emperor was committed to a joint effort for peace by the three leading branches of the "Teutonic race."
Roosevelt had scarcely accepted Carnegie's plan in toto, for he regarded it as too sweeping to be realistic. He was in favor of a league, or at least an understanding among the Great Powers for the elimination of "unrighteous, foolish or needless war"; he favored an "effective arbitral tribunal, with power to enforce at least certain of its decrees"; he was anxious to see the termination of the arms race then in progress between Great Britain and Germany. This was a point of view several degrees less idealistic than that of the master of Skibo Castle, but it appeared, nevertheless, to put the Colonel on the side of the angels, and Carnegie's hopes were high that through the enlistment of the man from Oyster Bay much good could be accomplished.
The great Nimrod began emerging from Africa in February, 1910, already committed to going to Berlin. Months earlier, in fact, steps had been taken to pave the way for his visit to that metropolis. The American Ambassador to Germany, David Jayne Hill, was a close friend of Carnegie. Hill was exceedingly anxious to make the visit a success, for he also was a zealous promoter of world peace. He threw himself heartily into the preparations for Roosevelt's coming to Berlin, and as the months went by became involved in an increasingly hectic correspondence with the man who was rapidly becoming the cynosure of all the eyes in Europe.
For Roosevelt was making one headline after another as he journeyed toward the West. In Egypt he delivered a sound verbal spanking to the Egyptian nationalists and, much to their rage, extolled the virtues of British imperialism. In Italy the doughty Colonel had, as he expressed it, "an elegant row" with Pope Pius X, and read a lesson in Christian tolerance both to the Papacy and to certain Methodist missionaries, one of whom had sorely offended His Holiness by designating him as "the whore of Babylon." Everywhere that Roosevelt went he seemed to be surrounded by a blaze of light, and some of that light was lurid. Everywhere he was deluged with invitations to see historical monuments, attend municipal functions, and expound the gospel of virtue as he saw it. As he moved from one capital to another, the pace of his hegira became faster and faster. He was in Vienna by the middle of April, recording his shocked amazement at seeing Franz Joseph and his dignitaries rinsing out their mouths from their finger bowls. Then he dashed about Paris for some five hectic days. Brussels saw him for a day; the Hague for scarcely more than that. Then came a jump to Copenhagen, a couple of days at Christiania, and finally two at Stockholm from whence he was to go to Berlin.
As the Rooseveltian progress made headway, so did the plans for his visit to the German capital. These were not made without some difficulty. At first Roosevelt had thought he might arrive in Berlin in April, but on learning that the Kaiser would not be there at that time, the visit was postponed until May. In due course the Kaiser expressed a desire to entertain the great American traveler, and May 10 was settled upon as the day on which they should meet. But then a hitch occurred, for the Kaiser informed Ambassador Hill that he could not be in Berlin before May 12. This news was coupled, however, with the statement that he would be glad to receive the Colonel as his personal guest in the Imperial Palace from May 12 to May 14. The invitation made no mention of Mrs. Roosevelt, who was traveling through Europe with her husband.
As might be expected, the invitation provoked a strong reaction from the Colonel. He would not go to the Castle, he told Hill, unless Mrs. Roosevelt was also invited. Hill was to inform the Kaiser that the latter's returning to Berlin in time to see him was much appreciated; that one of the things Roosevelt had had most on his mind in coming abroad was to meet the German ruler; that he had much to tell the Kaiser and still more that he wished to hear from the German potentate; that he appreciated the invitation to the Schlossmore than he could say, but that he and Mrs. Roosevelt would be together at the Embassy, where he would hold himself in readiness to come to the Schloss or wherever the Kaiser wished and whenever he might wish it. Roosevelt repeated that he would not go to the Schloss without Mrs. Roosevelt, adding that he wished to give the Kaiser no hint of a desire that the invitation should be extended to her.
Perhaps Hill moved discreetly; perhaps there was a belated recognition of the convenances at the Palace itself. At any rate, the American Ambassador was able to inform the Colonel that, by a remarkable coincidence, the letter explaining his views on the visit to the Schloss had reached the Embassy on the same day with another communication from His Majesty which extended the invitation to Mrs. Roosevelt.
The Colonel's lady was now to stay at the Palace, but the Kaiser's interest was the Colonel. He declared that he wanted to meet Roosevelt at the train which brought him into Berlin; that he intended to attend the lecture which Roosevelt was to give at the University; and that it was his wish that the Roosevelts should stay with him at the Schloss for no less than three days.
But the program of events thus outlined by the imperial potentate did not wholly meet with Roosevelt's approval. He was profoundly touched, he wrote Hill, by the Kaiser's wanting to meet him at the train, and he would do whatever the latter wished. But unless the Kaiser objected, the Roosevelts would like to reach Berlin on May 9, go directly to the Hills, and stay there until the twelfth when Roosevelt would deliver his lecture ("in English, of course"). Then they would be happy to go with the Kaiser from the lecture hall to theSchloss for the much-discussed visit.
It was the Kaiser's turn to be obdurate. He informed the Embassy that it was his wish that Roosevelt should not arrive in Berlin before himself, for he did want to meet his guest at the train. He was therefore returning to Berlin two days earlier than had been his intention. He would reach Berlin on May 10 at nine o'clock in the morning, and he requested the Colonel to time his movements so that he would not arrive in the city before that hour on that day.
There was nothing to do but yield, and Roosevelt asked Hill to arrange a special train from Stockholm to Berlin to reach the city on the morning of May 10. The train, Hill was told, should be commodious enough to accommodate the Colonel and his wife, their son Kermit and their daughter Ethel, three secretaries, a valet, a maid, and some six reporters.
While these negotiations were going on, Hill was being bombarded by letters from 2 East 91st Street in New York, where Carnegie was becoming increasingly anxious about the course of events. The little ironmaster himself was not lacking in determination, and he was more than anxious to push the Kaiser toward acceptance of an arbitral court whose judgments should be binding upon all nations. But he was hearing disquieting rumors to the effect that Roosevelt was only going to urge disarmament upon the Kaiser. Even if disarmament curtailed the arms race, said Carnegie in the simplified spelling which had become his passion, it would only mean "two nabors quarrelling, armd with one pistol each instead of two," and he warned Hill to see to it in some way that the meeting between the two great men did not have any such pusillanimous outcome.
And now, as the days of the meeting drew near, the Colonel became more and more particular about those details of his visit over which he had some command. At the Schloss, of course, he would be at the mercy of the Emperor, but the other two days were his own, and he intended to use them as he saw fit. There was to be no public reception, he told Hill; "they are always obnoxious." If the Ambassador thought it absolutely necessary, he might go to some big entertainments, but he did not want to do so, for they were always "an unmitigated bore." A limited reception for Americans at the Embassy might be a good thing, particularly since it could be used to stave off outside invitations that must be refused. Of course he would not accept invitations from any American Association of Commerce and Trade or any other such body, and a report in the Paris Herald that he was being invited to visit the principal municipal institutions of Berlin produced a violent reaction. There were limits, he wrote Hill, and the Berliners must respect them. Everywhere he had gone he had cut down by at least fifty per cent what it was proposed he should do. "I don't want to see any municipal institutions," he fumed, and Hill was to see to it that no such obligation was thrust upon him.
What the Colonel did want to do was relatively simple. He wanted to meet some of the German political leaders with whom he could discuss the "big questions" of the day. He wanted to meet the German big-game hunter and photographer Schillings (a luncheon for that purpose was arranged by Joseph Grew, then Second Secretary to the Embassy at Berlin). He wanted to see one of the homes for the aged in Berlin, visit the Natural History Museum, and go to a big bookseller and get some books on hunting. He and Mrs. Roosevelt would be glad to attend the luncheon which was being tendered them by the German Chancellor, and also the reception by the Oberburgmeister at the Rathaus, and they wished to lunch or dine with the French Ambassador, Jules Cambon. Hill was to guide himself accordingly.
All was finally arranged as the Colonel wished, even to getting the reporters in the party, not some of them but all of them, full access to the public functions. On May 4, he wrote from Christiania that he was happy with the outcome of Hill's efforts. "That's fine!" he informed the Ambassador. Hill was doing a "capital" job.
Hill was likewise pleased and hopeful about the visit, especially about the three days which Roosevelt was scheduled to spend at the Schloss. He was sure that each man would find in the other much to admire. There would be "long and intimate intercourse," he wrote to Carnegie, and he was certain that a great deal of good would come of it.
Then the carefully laid plans were disrupted by an unexpected tragedy.
On May 6, 1910, at a quarter to twelve in the evening, Edward VII, the Kaiser's uncle, died of a heart attack. The Kaiser was much perturbed. He and his Court went into mourning, and the great preparations that had been in the making for Roosevelt's visit were quietly laid to one side. The three days' stay at the Schlosswas cancelled.
Roosevelt and his family spent the entire time at the Embassy. The Hills and the Roosevelts did go out to Potsdam one day and have lunch with the Imperial household, and the following day Roosevelt went to Döberitz in the morning for the military manoeuvres and was photographed "lecturing the chief of the German army," as the Kaiser wrote on the picture which he presented to the Colonel. The Kaiser also attended Roosevelt's lecture at the University. These were the limits of their companionship.
The most that could be said, Hill wrote Carnegie, was that there had been several short interviews and private conversations in which the two men appeared to the onlookers to be "very earnest and very friendly." The Kaiser had given the Colonel a number of books, some of a religious and some of a military nature, and in these he had written friendly inscriptions. "They seemed very fond of each other," said Hill hopefully, "and the friendship may yet mean much for the world's good."
Roosevelt's own account of his meeting with the Kaiser was more illuminating than that of the American Ambassador. A sum total of eight hours of conversation left the Colonel convinced that the Kaiser was intelligent, had a sense of humor, a rather wide range of knowledge, and some rather doctrinaire opinions on a wide variety of subjects. On many aspects of international morality, Roosevelt found himself and the Kaiser poles apart, but on one point they were in agreement —"a cordial dislike of the kind of washy movement for international peace with which Carnegie's name has become so close associated."
Carnegie, of course, knew nothing of this injurious description of his peace efforts. Had he known it, he would have been deeply hurt. As it was, he was only disappointed. It was a pity, he told Hill, that Roosevelt had not had three days of close association with the Emperor. The master of Skibo Castle was still certain that he saw in the immediate offing an international court of arbitration that would be a definite and complete answer to the threat of war. He felt sure that Roosevelt was a believer in such a court and that, given the chance, he could and would have converted the Kaiser to the same point of view.
Was there ground for Carnegie's belief in the role that Roosevelt might have played? By 1910 Roosevelt had progressed beyond the juvenile bellicosity which had characterized his early public career. The Roosevelt of 1910 was not the drum beater of twenty years before. He had learned to abhor war's carnage; he had learned to prize peace as a great good. Scornful though he was of Carnegie's utopianism, something of the Colonel's love of peace might have impressed the Kaiser in the course of three days of intimate talk.
But, on the other hand, the odds against any such development were great. Like the Kaiser, Roosevelt believed that war is sometimes necessary; that peace must be protected by armed strength. Like the Kaiser, he was disposed to put great trust in shining armor. Like the Kaiser, he was a hearty believer in defensive war, in swift and condign punishment being visited upon the aggressor. The Colonel of the Rough Riders, as Hill told Carnegie, was indeed "a magnificent ally" in the cause of peace, but he loved it as a medieval knight loved it, being always ready to go out and slay in the name of righteousness. "Perhaps," said Hill sadly, "Perhaps he fits the time——."
Roosevelt did fit the time far better than Carnegie. The truth of this was demonstrated four years later, when the world's leading statesmen blundered into the First World War, and the "international mind" of Nicholas Murray Butler, the dreams of Carnegie, and Roosevelt's rather vague concept of an association of nations were lost amid the smoke and thunder of the guns.
They were lost for the time being, but they have since reappeared. The ideal which they represent still struggles for existence, and it is now aided and abetted by man's newly discovered ability to blow himself and his world into kingdom come. Together, the yearning for peace and the capacity for self-destruction may usher in an era when atomic energy may safely be transferred from weapons to space ships. When that time comes, the historian of the new era may well accord Carnegie a higher place on the roster of the world's immortals than is given to the Rough Rider from Oyster Bay, and the Berlin Incident of 1910 may be merely an illustration of what life was like in an older and darker age.