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Roosevelt and His Era

Civil Service

Letter to W.A. AikenIn 1889 Roosevelt became one of the three commissioners in the United States Civil Service Commission and by far the most energetic and honest such commissioner in the commission's history. After his tenure of six years, some 26,000 jobs formerly available only as political patronage were transformed into civil service positions.

In 1891 he wrote to W.A. Aiken concerning his ideas about how to make the Federal decennial census and permanent census bureau a more efficient agency. It should be made part of the "classified service" because "[o]nly in this way will it be possible to guarantee that it will do its work in an entirely nonpartisan way, and without such guarantee we had better not have one [I.e., a census bureau] at all."

He ends his letter in a typically Rooseveltian manner telling Aiken that he is "of course entirely at liberty to use this in any way which you think proper." He was not afraid to make known his beliefs and to defend them.

Theodore Roosevelt Manuscripts (Collection), 1882-1926 VC21258

Albany Legislature

Chapter V heading of American Ideals titled Phases of LegislationThis chapter in his book American Ideals is TR’s description of the significance of the New York State Legislature. He notes the “magnitude of the interests affected by State legislation,” chiefly because New York, the Empire State, is a “commonwealth more populous than any one of two-thirds of the kingdoms of Europe …”

Roosevelt, a man of great integrity, was never afraid of speaking his mind, and in this short essay he notes that the Legislature is in the “fullest sense of the term, a representative body.” He has sat in the Legislature, he notes, with “bankers and bricklayers, day-laborers, saloon-keepers, clergymen, and prize-fighters.”

While he notes that the Legislature is not perfect, it “is by no means as bad a body as we would be led to believe if our judgment was based purely on what we read in the great metropolitan papers.”

Governor Theodore Roosevelt

Photograph of Roosevelt with American Press CorpsRoosevelt became governor of New York on January 1, 1899, and served with his usual energy and integrity. He was able to get some very progressive legislation made into law, including the most advanced civil service reform law in the nation, and laws aimed at improving the conditions in the tenement sweatshops, strengthening factory inspection procedures, and supporting the eight-hour day law for children and women.

Being governor did not seem to use enough of his boundless energy, so he wrote two books during his first year in office: his classic Rough Riders and his biography of Oliver Cromwell. He also continued his heavy schedule of speechmaking and ceremonial occasions as these two letters to Col. George C. Treadwell, his military secretary, indicate.

His relations with the press were relaxed and generally cordial. Everyday that he was in Albany he met twice with the Capitol press corps and, while answering their questions, he regaled them with anecdotes and gossip. The gossip was understood by the corps to be not for publication and this was enforced by immediate exile from the Governor’s office!

Active Reformer

Roosevelt attempted to reform government agencies during his term as governor much as he had done as police commissioner in New York City and later as president.

In this letter to Eugene A. Philbin, district attorney in New York City, he discusses appointments to the board of trustees of the New York Soldiers and Sailors Home in Bath, New York. Famed General Daniel Sickles was one of the trustees of that institution and TR, against the wishes of the board, was attempting to reform its administration.

The Squair Collection includes many letters of Roosevelt and his family.

Letter to Eugene PhilbinTranscription:

State of New York
Executive Chamber

March 3, 1900.

Hon. Eugene A. Philbin
#111 Bway, New York City

My dear Mr. Philbin:--

I thank you for your letter of the 2nd inst in reference to the Bath Soldiers Home investigation.
I am very glad to learn that I shall get the report in time to take into account its recommendations in making my nomination to the Senate.

I was much amused at General Sickles letter to you. It showed the qualities which have ruined his usefulness as a Manager of the Institution. One fairly comic feature was his misunderstanding as to why I wished a preliminary report. He was actualy unable to see that instead of its being a move in the interests of the trustees, it was to prevent such delay as would insure the retention in office of the present trustees until after the meeting of the legislature in January next.

With great regard and congratulations upon the way you have been performing your task, I am,

Faithfully yours,

[signed, Theodore Roosevelt]

Lyle Squair, compiler - Theodore Roosevelt Collection - SC22110