To Theodore Roosevelt, honor was synonymous with the way a man should live his life: with honesty, integrity and, well, honor. He also expected honorable behavior from the men he put into public office.
TR appointed his old friend Benjamin Franklin Daniels as the U.S. Marshal for Arizona Territory in February 1902 amid strong opposition from Arizona politicians who favored incumbent Myron McCord. Daniels had served in the Spanish-American war as a Rough Rider under TR’s command, and was a trusted comrade.
However, his appointment as Marshal was so controversial that in the letter confirming the appointment, TR wrote this warning: “You know that a great many scoundrels, men who have violated the laws, and men of vicious and seditious temperament, will be watching you eagerly and hoping that you make some slip….”
TR went on emphatically, proclaiming Daniels honor-bound to “make my judgment good.” He writes, “Now I wish you to feel to the fullest extent the weight of your responsibility, not only to the Government and yourself, but to me.”
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Benjamin Franklin Daniels, February 1, 1902. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.
To be honor-bound is to be obliged by one’s personal integrity, and TR firmly believed in the integrity of Benjamin Daniels. Unfortunately for Roosevelt, it was not long before he was forced to realize the man in whom he had placed his undiluted trust had broken the bond of honor by withholding one crucial piece of information. That piece was a felony conviction, some three decades earlier. Daniels, as a very young man, had been convicted of stealing Army mules and served three years in federal prison at Laramie City, Wyoming.
Although Daniels had since built a decades-long career in law enforcement and maintained a spotless reputation, this episode from his past was immediately made public upon his appointment as U.S. Marshal. Within a matter of weeks, Roosevelt was forced to ask for Daniels’ resignation. He did so with great regret. He believed in Daniels and trusted him implicitly, but he also appears angered to have been put in such a position. In a letter to Daniels dated February 17, 1902, TR writes, “I like you and trust you, and would employ you without hesitation in my private business. But as you must now see, you did a grave wrong to me as well as to yourself when you failed to be frank with me and tell me about this one blot on your record.”
Even as TR asks for Daniels’ resignation, however, he offers his trusted friend support and advice, writing, “If you stand straight and go about your duty as a man, you will do for yourself what no one else can do for you – you will give the lie to your enemies and you will put yourself in a position where in the future the men who believe in you, as I believe in you, will be able to repose trust in you, and use you in a responsible position.”
TR was honor-bound to Daniels, and made good his promise of support. Four years later, in 1906, Roosevelt again appointed Daniels as U.S. Marshal for Arizona Territory, a position he filled honorably for 40 months.
Eby, Jay W. Prescott Corral. "Ben Daniels: Felon, Rough Rider and Arizona Marshal." Territorial Times 3.1 (Fall 2009). Web. 9 April 2013. <http://www.prescottcorral.org/TT5/BenDaniels.pdf>