Friday, July 8, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt to John St. Loe Strachey

On February 12, 1906, Teddy Roosevelt wrote a letter to the editor of the London Spectator. Here is what he wrote:

"Although I have been pretty steadily in politics since I left college, I have always steadfastly refused to regard politics as a career, for save under exceptional circumstances I do not believe that any American can afford to try to make this his definite career in life. With us politics are of a distinctly kaleidoscopic nature. Nobody can tell when he will be upset ; and if a man is to be of real use he ought to be able at times philosophically to accept defeat and to go on about some other kind of useful work, either permanently or at least temporarily until the chances again permit him to turn to political affairs. Every office I have held I have quite sincerely believed would be the last I should hold, the only exception being that during my first term as President I gradually grew to think it probable that I should be reelected."

In the same letter, he writes of the Senate :

"It is a very powerful body with an illustrious history, and life is easy in it, the Senators not being harassed as are members of the lower House, who go through one cam paign for their seats only to begin another. The esprit de corps in the Senate is strong, and the traditions they inherit come from the day when, in the first place, men dueled and were more considerate of one another s feeling, even in doing business ; and when, in the second place, the theories of all doctrinaire statesmen were that the one thing that was needed in government was a system of checks, and that the whole danger to government came not from inefficiency but from tyranny. In consequence, the Senate has an immense capacity for resistance. There is no closure, and if a small body of men are sufficiently resolute they can prevent the passage of any measure until they are physically wearied out by debate. The Senators get to know one another intimately and tend all to stand together if they think any one of them is treated with discourtesy by the Executive.

"I do not see that the Senate is any stronger relatively to the rest of the government than it was sixty or seventy years ago. Nor do I think that the Senate and the lower House taken together are any stronger with reference to the President than they were a century ago. Some of the things the Senate does really work to increase the power of the Executive. They are able so effectually to hold up action when they are consulted, and are so slow about it, that they force a President who has any strength to such individual action as I took in both Panama and Santo Domingo. In neither case would a President a hundred years ago have ventured to act without previous assent by the Senate. ... In this nation, as in any nation which amounts to anything, those in the end must govern who are willing actually to do the work of governing ; and in so far as the Senate becomes a merely obstructionist body it will run the risk of seeing its power pass into other hands."

This is only a partial lift out of that letter, the full text of it is in other books which I can't access due to copyright. But even with the partial, it's clear how Roosevelt had disrespect for our checks and balances.

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