May 04, 2012
Looking at the first few days of May, Theodore Roosevelt often started new ventures at this time of year.
On May 7, 1889, Theodore Roosevelt started his tenure as a Civil Service Commissioner. This position was fondly recalled by Roosevelt as giving him “my first opportunity to do big things.” The Civil Service Commission appealed to the reform-minded young man and he went into the role with his usual gusto. Though he made as many enemies as he did friends, Roosevelt tried to combat corruption he saw in the government throughout his time on the Commission. Roosevelt eventually found the work frustrating, being able to change too little too slowly in order to bring effective civil service reform to the country.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Edward Porritt, January 12, 1895. MS Am 1454 (24-2). Houghton Library. Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.
By May 6, 1895, Roosevelt moved on to a new role as a Police Commissioner of New York City. Roosevelt’s political career had stagnated and he was almost too disenchanted to accept the Police Commissioner position when offered it. However, his wife Edith enlisted Henry Cabot Lodge to help her convince her husband to get back into the fray. Reform was also needed among the corrupt police force of New York and Roosevelt went into the job with his usual zeal. Corrupt police captains and inspectors fell to Roosevelt’s Commission until in-fighting stopped Roosevelt’s progress. It was during this period that Roosevelt went on his famous midnight walks through the stews of New York with Jacob Riis and other newspapermen, catching sleeping cops off guard and seeing a level of poverty on New York City’s streets that would have been unimaginable to the upper class Roosevelt.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Frank S. Black, January 8, 1897. MS Am 1541 (293a). Houghton Library. Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.
After a successful tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Navy following his time as Police Commissioner, Roosevelt resigned his post on May 6, 1898, to form the 1st Volunteer Calvary to serve in the Spanish-American War, an outfit which history would remember as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Roosevelt’s leadership of the Rough Riders would result in his “crowded hour” at the Battles of San Juan and Kettle Hills, forever cementing the Rough Riders into the history books.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in Texas, 1898. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, 2002.