This unique Comment of the Day, by Steve-O-in NJ, has come closer to cheering me up than anything else today. Taking of from my post about the historical chaos set off by Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to split the Republican Party in 1912, Steve-O draws on his impressive knowledge of history to give us what Paul Harvey called, “The rest of the story. Well, what would have been the rest of the story.
Here is Steve-O’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Today’s Chaos, Ethics And Alternate History Note: Teddy’s Fateful Decision”:
I’m late to the table, but I love playing “what if?” So, here’s my take on the alternative future where Teddy Roosevelt did not run in 1912. He was a year back from Europe and disgusted that Taft was approaching the task of governing completely different than he had. To Roosevelt, a president was a trustee of the people’s power, to use it for them as best he saw fit. Taft saw the president as more a chief magistrate, who should be careful not to exceed his enumerated powers – when not hitting the links. Roosevelt swore he’d topple Taft, if not as the Republican nominee, then as the nominee of his own party. However, a few of his friends who could talk to him frankly told him, “Ted, there are times you act like you’re about six years old, but this is the six-year-oldiest. You can run, but all it will do is split the Republican vote and hand the White House to that dead-eyed, ivory-tower, political neophyte from Princeton. Is that what you want? This country isn’t yours to use for your own vendetta or destroy when you don’t get your way.”
Angry, but seeing the point, Teddy dropped out of public life and retired to Sagamore House in Oyster Bay to write and figure out what was next for him at 54. Although he took no part in the 1912 election, his neutrality was enough to guarantee Taft a second term and send Woodrow Wilson back into academia. Vice President James Sherman died shortly before the election. As a gesture to his former friend, who he still respected, Taft replaced him with political sage and longtime Republican public servant Elihu Root. Roosevelt’s account of his many meetings with the rulers of Europe during his time there, “The Gilded Path,” was published in 2013, and his proposal for a stronger international community and a possible international court, “A Firmer Foundation,: was published the next year…a month before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand touched off a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and the Kaiser foolishly delivered “the German Blank Check.”
Wisely, Taft and Root avoided getting involved as the war spread to Belgium and France, then the UK and Russia kept their treaty obligations while Italy broke theirs. They looked with disgust on the destruction of Belgium, horror on the “race to the sea,” and half-relief, half disbelief as the “Taxicab Army” stopped the Germans just shy of Paris. Meantime they struggled to keep order in the Western Hemisphere, with much diplomacy and demonstration, but only intervening as a last resort, which meant only in Mexico, to back General Huerta, who finally pacified the country after years of revolution and attempted to lead it into democracy, a step at a time. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were left to their own devices, since they were not considered essential.
The war in Europe continued into 1916. The Battle of Verdun became an endless abbatoir of French, German, British, and other lives. The British Grand Fleet, although suffering greater losses, achieved a strategic victory as they turned back the German High Seas Fleet in the Battle of Jutland, making the Germans realize submarine warfare was their only hope to break the tight British blockade. The Easter Rising came…and failed, but the British committed a PR blunder of the first water by executing the leaders, turning Irish public opinion against them. The Austrians and Italians repeatedly threw back one another’s advances by the Isonzo. Russia started to fall apart, but had not yet revolted.
Determined not to leave this mess to his successor, who might decide the US needed to get involved, Taft sent an urgent message to his estranged friend asking for a meeting. They met at Grey Towers, the home of Roosevelt’s political ally and rising GOP politician (who had been dismissed by Taft) Gifford Pinchot, who made the house available for the purpose. Taft offered Roosevelt an appointment as “special envoy to Europe” for the purpose of trying to end the war, since he had successfully mediated an end to the Russo-Japanese war in Portsmouth, NH. Surprisingly, Roosevelt accepted, hoping he might succeed where the Pope had failed, since he knew many of the sovereigns involved. After many messages, it was arranged for delegates to meet at the then-new Peace Palace in The Hague toward the end of July.
Roosevelt had a tall order ahead of him. The French wanted Alsace and Lorraine back. The Belgians wanted their nation back plus reparations. The Italians wanted Fiume and disputed territory. Still with boundless energy, Roosevelt went back and forth between the various breakout sessions, exploiting his name and personal relationships. Finally a treaty was hammered out that gave the parties, if not all they wanted, enough to make everyone all right with the results. Germany would withdraw from Belgium, return disputed territories to France, and pay an indemnity to the Belgians for the destruction. Austria-Hungary and Italy would draw a new border, much the same as before. The Russians would be given certain territorial concessions in what had been Poland. On August 18, 1916, the treaty was signed, and the guns finally fell quiet. World War One ended more than two years before it did in our world, with a lot less impact on that generation. The flags of three empires that would have otherwise come down still flew, for Germany had not revolted, Austria-Hungary had not collapsed, and Russia was spared the stress that finally pushed it over the edge.
Elihu Root campaigned to succeed Taft, and, in light of this victory, was guaranteed success that fall. A certain Austrian artist never achieved much, for he did not have as much discontent to play on. The lives of malcontents V.I. Ulyanov and Iosef Dzugashvili ended with the slam of a czarist prison door. Nicolas II, Karl I, Wilhelm II, and Victor Emmanuel III reigned on. There was no Prohibition. The battleship was king at sea a while longer. Teddy Roosevelt, awarded a second Nobel Peace Prize and multiple other awards including a golden statue of St. Francis of Assisi which adorned his study desk at Sagamore House, might well have thought he had made a perfect world, or close to it, by the time an embolism ended his life on January 6, 1919. How wrong he was. This just gave Europe a few more decades to chafe under the yoke of monarchy, before it was decided enough was enough…but that’s a story for another day.