Letters from Teddy

4 Apr

Another feature I hope to provide regularly here at Wellington House is that of selections from the wartime letters and writings of former president Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt fascinates me greatly, and could with some justice be called the best prose stylist of all the American presidents.  Quality aside, there’s also the quantity: Roosevelt produced dozens of books and hundreds of articles, chapters, addresses and the like on any topic you can imagine.  Ecology, religion, physical fitness, literary study, travel, military history… it’s all there.

The letters he both sent to and received from various figures in the years after his presidency are a treasure.  They show an amazingly talented and charismatic man determined to maintain his influence on the world stage in spite of no longer being in the Oval Office.  They also show a man who was not afraid to speak candidly in private what his position as a former president made it impossible to say in public.

Some of the better ones are too long for me to transcribe just now (including an excellent one to Sir Edward Grey in January of 1915), but I will get to them in time.  For now, I’m going to start with two telegrams that were sent during a somewhat earlier war — that between Russia and Japan in 1905.  They have considerable relevance to us here, however, as the first is addressed to Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the second to Tsar Nicholas II.  Their status as telegrams should account for their rather clipped style; rest assured that his actual letters are much more mellifluous.

August 27, 1905.  Oyster Bay.

To William II:

Peace can be obtained on the following terms.  Russia to pay no indemnity whatever and to receive back north half of Sakhalin for which it is to pay Japan whatever amount a mixed commission may determine.  This is my proposition to which the Japanese have assented reluctantly and only under strong pressure from me.  The plan is for each of the contending parties to name an equal number of members of the commission and for them themselves to name the odd member.  The Japanese assert that Witte has in principle agreed that Russia should pay something to get back the north half of Sakhalin and indeed he intimated to me that they might but it back at a reasonable figure, something on the scale of that for which Alaska was sold to the United States.

These terms which strike me as extremely moderate I have not presented in this form to the Russian Emperor.  I feel that you have more influence with him than either I or anyone else can have.  As the situation is exceedingly strained and the relations between the plenipotentiaries critical to a degree, immediate action is necessary.  Can you not take the initiative by presenting these terms at once to him?  Your success in the matter will make the entire civilized world your debtor.  This proposition virtually relegates all the unsettled issues of the war to the arbitration of a mixed commission as outlined above, and I am unable to see how Russia can refuse your request if in your wisdom you see fit to make it.

August 31, 1905.  Oyster Bay.

To Nicholas II:

I thank you heartily for your message.  I congratulate you upon the outcome and I share the feelings of all other sincere well-wishers to peace in my gratitude for what has been accomplished.  I earnestly hope for every blessing upon you and your great country.

Much more to come — including a letter of congratulation from Roosevelt to General John Pershing, and another in cordial and candid thanks to King George V.

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