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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Roosevelt's First Presidential Proclamation

When Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in the library of Ansley Wilcox's home on September 14, 1901, most Americans remained in a state of shock and grief over the death of their beloved President. Some wondered and even worried about what type of president Roosevelt would make. Roosevelt took several steps to calm the fears of the nation and give comfort to mourners. Shortly before the inauguration he made a statement to those gathered in the library that the newspapers printed the following day.

I shall take the oath at once in accord with the request of you members of the Cabinet, and in this hour of our deep and terrible national bereavement I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace, the prosperity and the honor of our beloved country.¹

After the ceremony, the new President, Cabinet members, and several other advisors met in Ansley Wilcox's study to draft Roosevelt's first presidential proclamation. Filled with crossed out sentences and added words, the first draft clearly shows Roosevelt's apprehension. After rewriting the draft, he threw the original away and issued a typed copy to the press. Wilcox, understanding the importance of the events taking place in his home, removed the papers from the wastebasket and placed them in his scrapbook. Following is Theodore Roosevelt's first presidential proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America:
A proclamation: First part. A terrible bereavement has befallen our people. The President of the United States has been struck down--a crime committed not only against the chief magistrate, but against every law-abiding and liberty-loving citizen.

President McKinley crowned a life of largest love for his fellow men, of most earnest endeavor for their welfare, by a death of Christian fortitude; and both the way in which he lived his life and the way in which in the supreme hour of trial he met his death WILL REMAIN FOREVER A PRECIOUS HERITAGE of our people.

It is meet that we as a nation express our abiding love and reverence for his life, our deep sorrow over his untimely death.

Now, therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do appoint Thursday, September 19, the day in which the body of the dead President will be laid in its last earthly resting place, as a day of mourning and prayer throughout the United States. I earnestly recommend all the people to assemble on that day in their respective places of divine worship there to bow down in submission to the will of Almighty God, and to payout of full hearts their homage of love and reverence to the great and good President whose death has smitten the nation with bitter grief. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.²

Questions for Reading 2

1. Why might some people have been worried or even upset about Roosevelt becoming President? (Refer to your textbooks for information on Theodore Roosevelt's progressive policies if necessary.)

2. Why do you think Roosevelt stated that he planned to "continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley"? Do you think this was a reasonable claim? Why or why not?

3. Why did Wilcox keep Roosevelt's initial draft of the proclamation? How does it add to our understanding of the people, the place, and the event involved?

4. Are there words in the proclamation that are unfamiliar to you? If so, circle them and try to find out what they mean.

Reading 2 was compiled from documents housed at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

¹Buffalo Courier, September 15, 1901.
²
Buffalo (NY) Express, September 15, 1901.

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