Teddy Roosevelt picked for Navy job

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.


President McKinley continued to forge relationships with Congress to approve his economic policies as he would host multiple groups of politicians and government officials to the White House for Thanksgiving celebration dinners. He would also continue to interview and make selections to fill the various open positions in his administration.

One such appointment was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, was connected and possessed a strong interest in the job. He had written a book on the role of the Navy in the War of 1812 and campaigned for McKinley. He had been serving as the New York City Police Commissioner and was looking for a new challenge.

Both McKinley and Roosevelt believed that as an industrializing power, the United States would need to seek new markets for its products and raw materials. Teddy belonged to a group of jingoists who believed strongly in protecting those shipping lanes with a modernized navy, and they advocated being more aggressive in foreign affairs. The president was concerned by this and was reserved about the appointment. It took a combined lobbying effort of no fewer than 25 people to win Roosevelt the nomination, including two powerful men, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge and Vice President Garret Hobart.

According to the book “The President and the Assassin” by Scott Miller, the president invited his new appointee to a carriage ride through the streets of Washington. McKinley snapped the reigns of his team of horses and drove the carriage out of the White House grounds into the streets of the city. Roosevelt was thrilled this access to the nation’s leader and could not wait to burst with his update to McKinley on the deployment of American ships. The assistant secretary of the navy believed that the United States was on a collision course with Spain. As they bounced over the cobblestones, Roosevelt argued that America should dispatch an expeditionary force to Cuba and a squadron of ships be formed to harass the coast of Spain. And there was one more thing, “Our Asiatic squadron should blockade and possibly take Manila,” he insisted.

The Philippines, Spain’s largest colony in the Pacific was 9,000 miles away from America, and McKinley simply wanted the Spanish to leave Cuba and not get caught up in a global conflict. American naval planners linked Cuba to the Philippines, which in their estimation, would bring about change to the Caribbean faster if the U.S. would seize the far-away island.

McKinley listened politely, but refused to consider any objective other than averting war. Yet, as a veteran of the Civil War, the president understood the need to plan military strategies even in unlikely places. He would allow his young appointee the opportunity to plan war games and provide military options to his boss.

So, as McKinley finished his first year in the White House, he would celebrate a wonderful year of 1897 for him personally and for the country as America began his economic initiative.

He would enter into the year 1898 not knowing his full attention would be focused on the issue his assistant secretary of the navy warned him about on a carriage ride — war with Spain.

Mike Wilson is the Director of SCOPE Senior Services of Trumbull County and has traveled around the nation performing as William McKinley for the past 25 years.