Saturday, February 11, 2017

What Shall We Do with Roosevelt

Heartsick Americans were tortured this week by photos of former President Barack Obama kite surfing with Richard Branson off the British Virgin Islands and having such a wonderful old time, exercising smile muscles that we almost forgot he has. As one of the youngest former presidents this country has ever seen, he may have a very long retirement ahead. What shall he do?

T.E. Powers addressed this issue for another relatively youthful ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, in a cartoon feature that appeared in the Chicago Examiner on Sunday, February 11, 1917 under this headline:

Syd Hoff tells us that William Randolph Hearst recruited Thomas E. Powers (1870-1939) to draw editorial cartoons for his newspapers during the circulation wars with Joseph Pulitzer, a job which Powers held for nearly 40 years. Powers's obituary describes him as a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, the subject of this multi-panel spread.
From the obituary:
Mr. Powers first attracted the attention of Theodore Roosevelt when he pictured the President threatening tall, silk-hatted figures labeled "The Trusts" with the then famous "big stick." His satirical thrusts at "grafting politicians" or others whose right to public office he challenged, however, usually were tempered with broad humor.
I should note that silk-hatted figures representing trusts were a well-established staple of editorial cartoons well before Mr. Powers came along.

Powers was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his family moving to Kansas City "before I was old enough to appreciate the product on which the 'fame' of that fair city rests," as he told Editor and Publisher in 1906. His cartooning career began at the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Herald before heading to New York. In addition to editorial cartoons, he also created half a dozen comic page strips, and is credited with drawing the first American newspaper color comic.

"The leak" in this next selection refers to the leak then under investigation of President Wilson's Christmastime peace proposal to stock and commodities brokers (see the Gibb cartoon here).

The bottom panel of this next section has Roosevelt sailing up the River of Doubt, or Rio da Dúvida, a tributary of the Amazon renamed after the former president, who led an expedition in the area with the famed Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon in 1913-14. Upon his return, Roosevelt wrote in Through the Brazilian Wilderness of battling rapids and waterfalls to find the previously uncharted river's headwaters.

I have not been able to find what exactly inspired this cartoon — presumably some comment by former President William Howard Taft, judging from the newspaper headline. Roosevelt and Taft were publicly criticizing each other in January over the League to Enforce Peace (cf. one of the Harry Murphy cartoons last week); Taft was a founding member of the League and spoke in support of President Wilson's foreign policy, whereas Roosevelt attacked both.

When the Chicago Examiner published this cartoon, Roosevelt had been out of office for eight years, but not out of the public arena. He had run for President on the Progressive ticket four years after leaving office, and made a run for the Republican nomination another four years after that. Only 58 years old in 1917, he was just three years older than Barack Obama is today.

As it turned out, however, Roosevelt would only live two more years. His death had nothing to do with the assassin's bullet still in his body since 1912, or the debilitating asthma he had overcome as a child. He died in his sleep on January 5, 1919 of a blood clot that got into his lungs.

The Vice President, Thomas Marshall, is quoted as saying "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

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