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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). An Autobiography. 1913.

XV. The Peace of Righteousness

THERE can be no nobler cause for which to work than the peace of righteousness; and high honor is due those serene and lofty souls who with wisdom and courage, with high idealism tempered by sane facing of the actual facts of life, have striven to bring nearer the day when armed strife between nation and nation, between class and class, between man and man shall end throughout the world. Because all this is true, it is also true that there are no men more ignoble or more foolish, no men whose actions are fraught with greater possibility of mischief to their country and to mankind, than those who exalt unrighteous peace as better than righteous war. The men who have stood highest in our history, as in the history of all countries, are those who scorned injustice, who were incapable of oppressing the weak, or of permitting their country, with their consent, to oppress the weak, but who did not hesitate to draw the sword when to leave it undrawn meant inability to arrest triumphant wrong.

All this is so obvious that it ought not to be necessary to repeat it. Yet every man in active affairs, who also reads about the past, grows by bitter experience to realize that there are plenty of men, not only among those who mean ill, but among those who mean well, who are ready enough to praise what was done in the past, and yet are incapable of profiting by it when faced by the needs of the present. During our generation this seems to have been peculiarly the case among the men who have become obsessed with the idea of obtaining universal peace by some cheap patent panacea.

There has been a real and substantial growth in the feeling for international responsibility and justice among the great civilized nations during the past threescore or fourscore years. There has been a real growth of recognition of the fact that moral turpitude is involved in the wronging of one nation by another, and that in most cases war is an evil method of settling international difficulties. But as yet there has been only a rudimentary beginning of the development of international tribunals of justice, and there has been no development at all of any international police power. Now, as I have already said, the whole fabric of municipal law, of law within each nation, rests ultimately upon the judge and the policeman; and the complete absence of the policeman, and the almost complete absence of the judge, in international affairs, prevents there being as yet any real homology between municipal and international law.

Moreover, the questions which sometimes involve nations in war are far more difficult and complex than any questions that affect merely individuals. Almost every great nation has inherited certain questions, either with other nations or with sections of its own people, which it is quite impossible, in the present state of civilization, to decide as matters between private individuals can be decided. During the last century at least half of the wars that have been fought have been civil and not foreign wars. There are big and powerful nations which habitually commit, either upon other nations or upon sections of their own people, wrongs so outrageous as to justify even the most peaceful persons in going to war. There are also weak nations so utterly incompetent either to protect the rights of foreigners against their own citizens, or to protect their own citizens against foreigners, that it becomes a matter of sheer duty for some outside power to interfere in connection with them. As yet in neither case is there any efficient method of getting international action; and if joint action by several powers is secured, the result is usually considerably worse than if only one Power interfered. The worst infamies of modern times—such affairs as the massacres of the Armenians by the Turks, for instance—have been perpetrated in a time of nominally profound international peace, when there has been a concert of big Powers to prevent the breaking of this peace, although only by breaking it could the outrages be stopped. Be it remembered that the peoples who suffered by these hideous massacres, who saw their women violated and their children tortured, were actually enjoying all the benefits of “disarmament.” Otherwise they would not have been massacred; for if the Jews in Russia and the Armenians in Turkey had been armed, and had been efficient in the use of their arms, no mob would have meddled with them.

Yet amiable but fatuous persons, with all these facts before their eyes, pass resolutions demanding universal arbitration for everything, and the disarmament of the free civilized powers and their abandonment of their armed forces; or else they write well-meaning, solemn little books, or pamphlets or editorials, and articles in magazines or newspapers, to show that it is “an illusion” to believe that war ever pays, because it is expensive. This is precisely like arguing that we should disband the police and devote our sole attention to persuading criminals that it is “an illusion” to suppose that burglary, highway robbery and white slavery are profitable. It is almost useless to attempt to argue with these well-intentioned persons, because they are suffering under an obsession and are not open to reason. They go wrong at the outset, for they lay all the emphasis on peace and none at all on righteousness. They are not all of them physically timid men; but they are usually men of soft life; and they rarely possess a high sense of honor or a keen patriotism. They rarely try to prevent their fellow countrymen from insulting or wronging the people of other nations; but they always ardently advocate that we, in our turn, shall tamely submit to wrong and insult from other nations. As Americans their folly is peculiarly scandalous, because if the principles they now uphold are right, it means that it would have been better that Americans should never have achieved their independence, and better that, in 1861, they should have peacefully submitted to seeing their country split into half a dozen jangling confederacies and slavery made perpetual. If unwilling to learn from their own history, let those who think that it is an “illusion” to believe that a war ever benefits a nation look at the difference between China and Japan. China has neither a fleet nor an efficient army. It is a huge civilized empire, one of the most populous on the globe; and it has been the helpless prey of outsiders because it does not possess the power to fight. Japan stands on a footing of equality with European and American nations because it does possess this power. China now sees Japan, Russia, Germany, England and France in possession of fragments of her empire, and has twice within the lifetime of the present generation seen her capital in the hands of allied invaders, because she in very fact realizes the ideals of the persons who wish the United States to disarm, and then trust that our helplessness will secure us a contemptuous immunity from attack by outside nations.

The chief trouble comes from the entire inability of these worthy people to understand that they are demanding things that are mutually incompatible when they demand peace at any price, and also justice and righteousness. I remember one representative of their number, who used to write little sonnets on behalf of the Mahdi and the Sudanese, these sonnets setting forth the need that the Sudan should be both independent and peaceful. As a matter of fact, the Sudan valued independence only because it desired to war against all Christians and to carry on an unlimited slave trade. It was independent” under the Mahdi for a dozen years, and during those dozen years the bigotry, tyranny, and cruel religious intolerance were such as flourished in the seventh century, and in spite of systematic slave raids the population decreased by nearly two-thirds, and practically all the children died. Peace came, well-being came, freedom from rape and murder and torture and highway robbery, and every brutal gratification of lust and greed came, only when the Sudan lost its independence and passed under English rule. Yet this well-meaning little sonneteer sincerely felt that his verses were issued in the cause of humanity. Looking back from the vantage point of a score of years, probably every one will agree that he was an absurd person. But he was not one whit more absurd than most of the more prominent persons who advocate disarmament by the United States, the cessation of up-building the navy, and the promise to agree to arbitrate all matters, including those affecting our national interests and honor, with all foreign nations.

These persons would do no harm if they affected only themselves. Many of them are, in the ordinary relations of life, good citizens. They are exactly like the other good citizens who believe that enforced universal vegetarianism or anti-vaccination is the panacea for all ills. But in their particular case they are able to do harm because they affect our relations with foreign powers, so that other men pay the debt which they themselves have really incurred. It is the foolish, peace-at-any-price persons who try to persuade our people to make unwise and improper treaties, or to stop building up the navy. But if trouble comes and the treaties are repudiated, or there is a demand for armed intervention, it is not these people who will pay anything; they will stay at home in safety, and leave brave men to pay in blood, and honest men to pay in shame, for their folly.

The trouble is that our policy is apt to go in zigzags, because different sections of our people exercise at different times unequal pressure on our government. One class of our citizens clamors for treaties impossible of fulfilment, and improper to fulfil; another class has no objection to the passage of these treaties so long as there is no concrete case to which they apply, but instantly oppose a veto on their application when any concrete case does actually arise. One of our cardinal doctrines is freedom of speech, which means freedom of speech about foreigners as well as about ourselves; and, inasmuch as we exercise this right with complete absence of restraint, we cannot expect other nations to hold us harmless unless in the last resort we are able to make our own words good by our deeds. One class of our citizens indulges in gushing promises to do everything for foreigners, another class offensively and improperly reviles them; and it is hard to say which class more thoroughly misrepresents the sober, self-respecting judgment of the American people as a whole. The only safe rule is to promise little, and faithfully to keep every promise; to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

A prime need for our nation, as of course for every other nation, is to make up its mind definitely what it wishes, and not to try to pursue paths of conduct incompatible one with the other. If this nation is content to be the China of the New World, then and then only can it afford to do away with the navy and the army. If it is content to abandon Hawaii and the Panama Canal, to cease to talk of the Monroe Doctrine, and to admit the right of any European or Asiatic power to dictate what immigrants shall be sent to and received in America, and whether or not they shall be allowed to become citizens and hold land—why, of course, if America is content to have nothing to say on any of these matters and to keep silent in the presence of armed outsiders, then it can abandon its navy and agree to arbitrate all questions of all kinds with every foreign power. In such event it can afford to pass its spare time in one continuous round of universal peace celebrations, and of smug self-satisfaction in having earned the derision of all the virile peoples of mankind. Those who advocate such a policy do not occupy a lofty position. But at least their position is understandable.

It is entirely inexcusable, however, to try to combine the unready hand with the unbridled tongue. It is folly to permit freedom of speech about foreigners as well as ourselves—and the peace-at-any-price persons are much too feeble a folk to try to interfere with freedom of speech—and yet to try to shirk the consequences of freedom of speech. It is folly to try to abolish our navy, and at the same time to insist that we have a right to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, that we have a right to control the Panama Canal which we ourselves dug, that we have a right to retain Hawaii and prevent foreign nations from taking Cuba, and a right to determine what immigrants, Asiatic or European, shall come to our shores, and the terms on which they shall be naturalized and shall hold land and exercise other privileges. We are a rich people, and an unmilitary people. In international affairs we are a short-sighted people. But I know my countrymen. Down at bottom their temper is such that they will not permanently tolerate injustice done to them. In the long run they will no more permit affronts to their National honor than injuries to their national interest. Such being the case, they will do well to remember that the surest of all ways to invite disaster is to be opulent, aggressive and unarmed.

Throughout the seven and a half years that I was President, I pursued without faltering one consistent foreign policy, a policy of genuine international good will and of consideration for the rights of others, and at the same time of steady preparedness. The weakest nations knew that they, no less than the strongest, were safe from insult and injury at our hands; and the strong and the weak alike also knew that we possessed both the will and the ability to guard ourselves from wrong or insult at the hands of any one.

It was under my administration that the Hague Court was saved from becoming an empty farce. It had been established by joint international agreement, but no Power had been willing to resort to it. Those establishing it had grown to realize that it was in danger of becoming a mere paper court, so that it would never really come into being at all. M. d’Estournelles de Constant had been especially alive to this danger. By correspondence and in personal interviews he impressed upon me the need not only of making advances by actually applying arbitration—not merely promising by treaty to apply it—to questions that were up for settlement, but of using the Hague tribunal for this purpose. I cordially sympathized with these views. On the recommendation of John Hay, I succeeded in getting an agreement with Mexico to lay a matter in dispute between the two republics before the Hague Court. This was the first case ever brought before the Hague Court. It was followed by numerous others; and it definitely established that court as the great international peace tribunal. By mutual agreement with Great Britain, through the decision of a joint commission, of which the American members were Senators Lodge and Turner, and Secretary Root, we were able peacefully to settle the Alaska Boundary question, the only question remaining between ourselves and the British Empire which it was not possible to settle by friendly arbitration; this therefore represented the removal of the last obstacle to absolute agreement between the two peoples. We were of substantial service in bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the negotiations at Algeciras concerning Morocco. We concluded with Great Britain, and with most of the other great nations, arbitration treaties specifically agreeing to arbitrate all matters, and especially the interpretation of treaties, save only as regards questions affecting territorial integrity, national honor and vital national interest. We made with Great Britain a treaty guaranteeing the free use of the Panama Canal on equal terms to the ships of all nations, while reserving to ourselves the right to police and fortify the canal, and therefore to control it in time of war. Under this treaty we are in honor bound to arbitrate the question of canal tolls for coastwise traffic between the Western and Eastern coasts of the United States. I believe that the American position as regards this matter is right; but I also believe that under the arbitration treaty we are in honor bound to submit the matter to arbitration in view of Great Britain’s contention—although I hold it to be an unwise contention—that our position is unsound. I emphatically disbelieve in making universal arbitration treaties which neither the makers nor any one else would for a moment dream of keeping. I no less emphatically insist that it is our duty to keep the limited and sensible arbitration treaties which we have already made. The importance of a promise lies not in making it, but in keeping it; and the poorest of all positions for a nation to occupy in such a matter is readiness to make impossible promises at the same time that there is failure to keep promises which have been made, which can be kept, and which it is discreditable to break.

During the early part of the year 1905, the strain on the civilized world caused by the Russo-Japanese War became serious. The losses of life and of treasure were frightful. From all the sources of information at hand, I grew most strongly to believe that a further continuation of the struggle would be a very bad thing for Japan, and an even worse thing for Russia. Japan was already suffering terribly from the drain upon her men, and especially upon her resources, and had nothing further to gain from continuance of the struggle; its continuance meant to her more loss than gain, even if she were victorious. Russia, in spite of her gigantic strength, was, in my judgment, apt to lose even more than she had already lost if the struggle continued. I deemed it probable that she would no more be able successfully to defend Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria than she had been able to defend Southern Manchuria and Korea. If the war went on, I thought it, on the whole, likely that Russia would be driven west of Lake Baikal. But it was very far from certain. There is no certainty in such a war. Japan might have met defeat, and defeat to her would have spelt overwhelming disaster; and even if she had continued to win, what she thus won would have been of no value to her, and the cost in blood and money would have left her drained white. I believed, therefore, that the time had come when it was greatly to the interest of both combatants to have peace, and when therefore it was possible to get both to agree to peace.

I first satisfied myself that each side wished me to act, but that, naturally and properly, each side was exceedingly anxious that the other should not believe that the action was taken on its initiative. I then sent an identical note to the two powers proposing that they should meet, through their representatives, to see if peace could not be made directly between them, and offered to act as an intermediary in bringing about such a meeting, but not for any other purpose. Each assented to my proposal in principle. There was difficulty in getting them to agree on a common meeting place; but each finally abandoned its original contention in the matter, and the representatives of the two nations finally met at Portsmouth, in New Hampshire. I previously received the two delegations at Oyster Bay on the U. S. S. Mayflower, which, together with another naval vessel, I put at their disposal, on behalf of the United States Government, to take them from Oyster Bay to Portsmouth.

As is customary—but both unwise and undesirable—in such cases, each side advanced claims which the other could not grant. The chief difficulty came because of Japan’s demand for a money indemnity. I felt that it would be better for Russia to pay some indemnity than to go on with the war, for there was little chance, in my judgment, of the war turning out favorably for Russia, and the revolutionary movement already under way bade fair to overthrow the negotiations entirely. I advised the Russian Government to this effect, at the same time urging them to abandon their pretensions on certain other points, notably concerning the southern half of Saghalien, which the Japanese had taken. I also, however, and equally strongly, advised the Japanese that in my judgment it would be the gravest mistake on their part to insist on continuing the war for the sake of a money indemnity; for Russia was absolutely firm in refusing to give them an indemnity, and the longer the war continued the less able she would be to pay. I pointed out that there was no possible analogy between their case and that of Germany in the war with France, which they were fond of quoting. The Germans held Paris and half of France, and gave up much territory in lieu of the indemnity, whereas the Japanese were still many thousand miles from Moscow, and had no territory whatever which they wished to give up. I also pointed out that in my judgment whereas the Japanese had enjoyed the sympathy of most of the civilized powers at the outset of and during the continuance of the war, they would forfeit it if they turned the war into one merely for getting money—and, moreover, they would almost certainly fail to get the money, and would simply find themselves at the end of a year, even if things prospered with them, in possession of territory they did not want, having spent enormous additional sums of money, and lost enormous additional numbers of men, and yet without a penny of remuneration. The treaty of peace was finally signed.

As is inevitable under such circumstances, each side felt that it ought to have got better terms; and when the danger was well past each side felt that it had been over-reached by the other, and that if the war had gone on it would have gotten more than it actually did get. The Japanese Government had been wise throughout, except in the matter of announcing that it would insist on a money indemnity. Neither in national nor in private affairs is it ordinarily advisable to make a bluff which cannot be put through—personally, I never believe in doing it under any circumstances. The Japanese people had been misled by this bluff of their Government; and the unwisdom of the Government’s action in the matter was shown by the great resentment the treaty aroused in Japan, although it was so beneficial to Japan. There were various mob outbreaks, especially in the Japanese cities; the police were roughly handled, and several Christian churches were burned, as reported to me by the American Minister. In both Russia and Japan I believe that the net result as regards myself was a feeling of injury, and of dislike of me, among the people at large. I had expected this; I regarded it as entirely natural; and I did not resent it in the least. The Governments of both nations behaved toward me not only with correct and entire propriety, but with much courtesy and the fullest acknowledgment of the good effect of what I had done; and in Japan, at least, I believe that the leading men sincerely felt that I had been their friend. I had certainly tried my best to be the friend not only of the Japanese people but of the Russian people, and I believe that what I did was for the best interests of both and of the world at large.

During the course of the negotiations I tried to enlist the aid of the Governments of one nation which was friendly to Russia, and of another nation which was friendly to Japan, in helping bring about peace. I got no aid from either. I did, however, receive aid from the Emperor of Germany. His Ambassador at St. Petersburg was the one Ambassador who helped the American Ambassador, Mr. Meyer, at delicate and doubtful points of the negotiations. Mr. Meyer, who was, with the exception of Mr. White, the most useful diplomat in the American service, rendered literally invaluable aid by insisting upon himself seeing the Czar at critical periods of the transaction, when it was no longer possible for me to act successfully through the representatives of the Czar, who were often at cross purposes with one another.

As a result of the Portsmouth peace, I was given the Nobel Peace Prize. This consisted of a medal, which I kept, and a sum of $40,000, which I turned over as a foundation of industrial peace to a board of trustees which included Oscar Straus, Seth Low and John Mitchell. In the present state of the world’s development industrial peace is even more essential than international peace; and it was fitting and appropriate to devote the peace prize to such a purpose. In 1910, while in Europe, one of my most pleasant experiences was my visit to Norway, where I addressed the Nobel Committee, and set forth in full the principles upon which I had acted, not only in this particular case but throughout my administration.

I received another gift which I deeply appreciated, an original copy of Sully’s “Memoires” of “Henry le Grand,” sent me with the following inscription (I translate it roughly):

PARIS, January, 1906.

“The undersigned members of the French Parliamentary Group of International Arbitration and Conciliation have decided to tender President Roosevelt a token of their high esteem and their sympathetic recognition of the persistent and decisive initiative he has taken towards gradually substituting friendly and judicial for violent methods in case of conflict between Nations.

“They believe that the action of President Roosevelt, which has realized the most generous hopes to be found in history, should be classed as a continuance of similar illustrious attempts of former times, notably the project for international concord known under the name of the ‘Great Design of Henry IV’ in the memoirs of his Prime Minister, the Duke de Sully. In consequence they have sought out a copy of the first edition of these memoirs, and they take pleasure in offering it to him, with the request that he will keep it among his family papers.”

The signatures include those of Emile Loubet, A. Carnot, d’Estournelles de Constant, Aristide Briand, Sully Prudhomme, Jean Jaurés, A. Fallières, R. Poincaré, and two or three hundred others.

Of course what I had done in connection with the Portsmouth peace was misunderstood by some good and sincere people. Just as after the settlement of the coal strike, there were persons who thereupon thought that it was in my power, and was my duty, to settle all other strikes, so after the peace of Portsmouth there were other persons—not only Americans, by the way,—who thought it my duty forthwith to make myself a kind of international Meddlesome Mattie and interfere for peace and justice promiscuously over the world. Others, with a delightful non-sequitur, jumped to the conclusion that inasmuch as I had helped to bring about a beneficent and necessary peace I must of necessity have changed my mind about war being ever necessary. A couple of days after peace was concluded I wrote to a friend: “Don’t you be misled by the fact that just at the moment men are speaking well of me. They will speak ill soon enough. As Loeb remarked to me to-day, some time soon I shall have to spank some little international brigand, and then all the well-meaning idiots will turn and shriek that this is inconsistent with what I did at the Peace Conference, whereas in reality it will be exactly in line with it.”

To one of my political opponents, Mr. Schurz, who wrote me congratulating me upon the outcome at Portsmouth, and suggesting that the time was opportune for a move towards disarmament, I answered in a letter setting forth views which I thought sound then, and think sound now. The letter ran as follows:

September 8, 1905.

My dear Mr. Schurz: I thank you for your congratulations. As to what you say about disarmament—which I suppose is the rough equivalent of “the gradual diminution of the oppressive burdens imposed upon the world by armed peace”—I am not clear either as to what can be done or what ought to be done. If I had been known as one of the conventional type of peace advocates I could have done nothing whatever in bringing about peace now, I would be powerless in the future to accomplish anything, and I would not have been able to help confer the boons upon Cuba, the Philippines, Porto Rico and Panama, brought about by our action therein. If the Japanese had not armed during the last twenty years, this would indeed be a sorrowful century for Japan. If this country had not fought the Spanish War; if we had failed to take the action we did about Panama; all mankind would have been the loser. While the Turks were butchering the Armenians the European powers kept the peace and thereby added a burden of infamy to the Nineteenth Century, for in keeping that peace a greater number of lives were lost than in any European war since the days of Napoleon, and these lives were those of women and children as well as of men; while the moral degradation, the brutality inflicted and endured, the aggregate of hideous wrong done, surpassed that of any war of which we have record in modern times. Until people get it firmly fixed in their minds that peace is valuable chiefly as a means to righteousness, and that it can only be considered as an end when it also coincides with righteousness, we can do only a limited amount to advance its coming on this earth. There is of course no analogy at present between international law and private or municipal law, because there is no sanction of force for the former, while there is for the latter. Inside our own nation the law-abiding man does not have to arm himself against the lawless simply because there is some armed force—the police, the sheriff’s posse, the national guard, the regulars—which can be called out to enforce the laws. At present there is no similar international force to call on, and I do not as yet see how it could at present be created. Hitherto peace has often come only because some strong and on the whole just power has by armed force, or the threat of armed force, put a stop to disorder. In a very interesting French book the other day I was reading how the Mediterranean was freed from pirates only by the “pax Britannica,” established by England’s naval force. The hopeless and hideous bloodshed and wickedness of Algiers and Turkestan was stopped, and could only be stopped, when civilized nations in the shape of Russia and France took possession of them. The same was true of Burma and the Malay States, as well as Egypt, with regard to England. Peace has come only as the sequel to the armed interference of a civilized power which, relatively to its opponent, was a just and beneficent power. If England had disarmed to the point of being unable to conquer the Soudan and protect Egypt, so that the Mahdists had established their supremacy in northeastern Africa, the result would have been a horrible and bloody calamity to mankind. It was only the growth of the European powers in military efficiency that freed eastern Europe from the dreadful scourge of the Tartar and partially freed it from the dreadful scourge of the Turk. Unjust war is dreadful; a just war may be the highest duty. To have the best nations, the free and civilized nations, disarm and leave the despotisms and barbarisms with great military force, would be a calamity compared to which the calamities caused by all the wars of the nineteenth century would be trivial. Yet it is not easy to see how we can by international agreement state exactly which power ceases to be free and civilized and which comes near the line of barbarism or despotism. For example, I suppose it would be very difficult to get Russia and Japan to come to a common agreement on this point; and there are at least some citizens of other nations, not to speak of their governments, whom it would also be hard to get together.

This does not in the least mean that it is hopeless to make the effort. It may be that some scheme will be developed. America, fortunately, can cordially assist in such an effort, for no one in his senses would suggest our disarmament; and though we should continue to perfect our small navy and our minute army, I do not think it necessary to increase the number of our ships—at any rate as things look now—nor the number of our soldiers. Of course our navy must be kept up to the highest point of efficiency, and the replacing of old and worthless vessels by first-class new ones may involve an increase in the personnel; but not enough to interfere with our action along the lines you have suggested. But before I would know how to advocate such action, save in some such way as commending it to the attention of The Hague Tribunal, I would have to have a feasible and rational plan of action presented.

It seems to me that a general stop in the increase of the war navies of the world might be a good thing; but I would not like to speak too positively offhand. Of course it is only in continental Europe that the armies are too large; and before advocating action as regards them I should have to weigh matters carefully—including by the way such a matter as the Turkish army. At any rate nothing useful can be done unless with the clear recognition that we object to putting peace second to righteousness.

Sincerely yours,

HON. CARL SCHURZ, Bolton Landing,
Lake George, N. Y.

In my own judgment the most important service that I rendered to peace was the voyage of the battle fleet round the world. I had become convinced that for many reasons it was essential that we should have it clearly understood, by our own people especially, but also by other peoples, that the Pacific was as much our home waters as the Atlantic, and that our fleet could and would at will pass from one to the other of the two great oceans. It seemed to me evident that such a voyage would greatly benefit the navy itself; would arouse popular interest in and enthusiasm for the navy; and would make foreign nations accept as a matter of course that our fleet should from time to time be gathered in the Pacific, just as from time to time it was gathered in the Atlantic, and that its presence in one ocean was no more to be accepted as a mark of hostility to any Asiatic power than its presence in the Atlantic was to be accepted as a mark of hostility to any European power. I determined on the move without consulting the Cabinet, precisely as I took Panama without consulting the Cabinet. A council of war never fights, and in a crisis the duty of a leader is to lead and not to take refuge behind the generally timid wisdom of a multitude of councillors. At that time, as I happen to know, neither the English nor the German authorities believed it possible to take a fleet of great battleships round the world. They did not believe that their own fleets could perform the feat, and still less did they believe that the American fleet could. I made up my mind that it was time to have a show down in the matter; because if it was really true that our fleet could not get from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it was much better to know it and be able to shape our policy in view of the knowledge. Many persons publicly and privately protested against the move on the ground that Japan would accept it as a threat. To this I answered nothing in public. In private I said that I did not believe Japan would so regard it because Japan knew my sincere friendship and admiration for her and realized that we could not as a Nation have any intention of attacking her; and that if there were any such feeling on the part of Japan as was alleged that very fact rendered it imperative that that fleet should go. When in the spring of 1910 I was in Europe I was interested to find that high naval authorities in both Germany and Italy had expected that war would come at the time of the voyage. They asked me if I had not been afraid of it, and if I had not expected that hostilities would begin at least by the time that the fleet reached the Straits of Magellan? I answered that I did not expect it; that I believed that Japan would feel as friendly in the matter as we did; but that if my expectations had proved mistaken, it would have been proof positive that we were going to be attacked anyhow, and that in such event it would have been an enormous gain to have had the three months’ preliminary preparation which enabled the fleet to start perfectly equipped. In a personal interview before they left I had explained to the officers in command that I believed the trip would be one of absolute peace, but that they were to take exactly the same precautions against sudden attack of any kind as if we were at war with all the nations of the earth; and that no excuse of any kind would be accepted if there were a sudden attack of any kind and we were taken unawares.

My prime purpose was to impress the American people; and this purpose was fully achieved. The cruise did make a very deep impression abroad; boasting about what we have done does not impress foreign nations at all, except unfavorably, but positive achievement does; and the two American achievements that really impressed foreign peoples during the first dozen years of this century were the digging of the Panama Canal and the cruise of the battle fleet round the world. But the impression made on our own people was of far greater consequence. No single thing in the history of the new United States Navy has done as much to stimulate popular interest and belief in it as the world cruise. This effect was forecast in a well-informed and friendly English periodical, the London Spectator. Writing in October, 1907, a month before the fleet sailed from Hampton Roads, the Spectator said:

“All over America the people will follow the movements of the fleet; they will learn something of the intricate details of the coaling and commissariat work under warlike conditions; and in a word their attention will be aroused. Next time Mr. Roosevelt or his representatives appeal to the country for new battleships they will do so to people whose minds have been influenced one way or the other. The naval programme will not have stood still. We are sure that, apart from increasing the efficiency of the existing fleet, this is the aim which Mr. Roosevelt has in mind. He has a policy which projects itself far into the future, but it is an entire misreading of it to suppose that it is aimed narrowly and definitely at any single Power.”

I first directed the fleet, of sixteen battleships, to go round through the Straits of Magellan to San Francisco. From thence I ordered them to New Zealand and Australia, then to the Philippines, China and Japan, and home through Suez—they stopped in the Mediterranean to help the sufferers from the earthquake at Messina, by the way, and did this work as effectively as they had done all their other work. Admiral Evans commanded the fleet to San Francisco; there Admiral Sperry took it; Admirals Thomas, Wainwright and Schroeder rendered distinguished service under Evans and Sperry. The coaling and other preparations were made in such excellent shape by the Department that there was never a hitch, not so much as the delay of an hour, in keeping every appointment made. All the repairs were made without difficulty, the ship concerned merely falling out of column for a few hours, and when the job was done steaming at speed until she regained her position. Not a ship was left in any port; and there was hardly a desertion. As soon as it was known that the voyage was to be undertaken men crowded to enlist, just as freely from the Mississippi Valley as from the seaboard, and for the first time since the Spanish War the ships put to sea overmanned—and by as stalwart a set of men-of-war’s men as ever looked through a porthole, game for a fight or a frolic, but withal so self-respecting and with such a sense of responsibility that in all the ports in which they landed their conduct was exemplary. The fleet practiced incessantly during the voyage, both with the guns and in battle tactics, and came home a much more efficient fighting instrument than when it started sixteen months before.

The best men of command rank in our own service were confident that the fleet would go round in safety, in spite of the incredulity of foreign critics. Even they, however, did not believe that it was wise to send the torpedo craft around. I accordingly acquiesced in their views, as it did not occur to me to consult the lieutenants. But shortly before the fleet started, I went in the Government yacht Mayflower to inspect the target practice off Provincetown. I was accompanied by two torpedo boat destroyers, in charge of a couple of naval lieutenants, thorough gamecocks; and I had the two lieutenants aboard to dine one evening. Towards the end of the dinner they could not refrain from asking if the torpedo flotilla was to go round with the big ships. I told them no, that the admirals and captains did not believe that the torpedo boats could stand it, and believed that the officers and crews aboard the cockle shells would be worn out by the constant pitching and bouncing and the everlasting need to make repairs. My two guests chorused an eager assurance that the boats could stand it. They assured me that the enlisted men were even more anxious to go than were the officers, mentioning that on one of their boats the terms of enlistment of most of the crew were out, and the men were waiting to see whether or not to reënlist, as they did not care to do so unless the boats were to go on the cruise. I answered that I was only too glad to accept the word of the men who were to do the job, and that they should certainly go; and within half an hour I sent out the order for the flotilla to be got ready. It went round in fine shape, not a boat being laid up. I felt that the feat reflected even more credit upon the navy than did the circumnavigation of the big ships, and I wrote the flotilla commander the following letter:

May 18, 1908.

My dear Captain Cone:
A great deal of attention has been paid to the feat of our battleship fleet in encircling South America and getting to San Francisco; and it would be hard too highly to compliment the officers and enlisted men of that fleet for what they have done. Yet if I should draw any distinction at all it would be in favor of you and your associates who have taken out the torpedo flotilla. Yours was an even more notable feat, and every officer and every enlisted man in the torpedo boat flotilla has the right to feel that he has rendered distinguished service to the United States navy and therefore to the people of the United States; and I wish I could thank each of them personally. Will you have this letter read by the commanding officer of each torpedo boat to his officers and crew?
Sincerely yours,

Commanding Second Torpedo Flotilla,
Care Postmaster, San Francisco, Cal.

There were various amusing features connected with the trip. Most of the wealthy people and “leaders of opinion” in the Eastern cities were panic-struck at the proposal to take the fleet away from Atlantic waters. The great New York dailies issued frantic appeals to Congress to stop the fleet from going. The head of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs announced that the fleet should not and could not go because Congress would refuse to appropriate the money—he being from an Eastern seaboard State. However, I announced in response that I had enough money to take the fleet around to the Pacific anyhow, that the fleet would certainly go, and that if Congress did not choose to appropriate enough money to get the fleet back, why, it would stay in the Pacific. There was no further difficulty about the money.

It was not originally my intention that the fleet should visit Australia, but the Australian Government sent a most cordial invitation, which I gladly accepted; for I have, as every American ought to have, a hearty admiration for, and fellow feeling with, Australia, and I believe that America should be ready to stand back of Australia in any serious emergency. The reception accorded the fleet in Australia was wonderful, and it showed the fundamental community of feeling between ourselves and the great commonwealth of the South Seas. The considerate, generous, and open-handed hospitality with which the entire Australian people treated our officers and men could not have been surpassed had they been our own countrymen. The fleet first visited Sydney, which has a singularly beautiful harbor. The day after the arrival one of our captains noticed a member of his crew trying to go to sleep on a bench in the park. He had fixed above his head a large paper with some lines evidently designed to forestall any questions from friendly would-be hosts: “I am delighted with the Australian people. I think your harbor the finest in the world. I am very tired and would like to go to sleep.”

The most noteworthy incident of the cruise was the reception given to our fleet in Japan. In courtesy and good breeding, the Japanese can certainly teach much to the nations of the Western world. I had been very sure that the people of Japan would understand aright what the cruise meant, and would accept the visit of our fleet as the signal honor which it was meant to be, a proof of the high regard and friendship I felt, and which I was certain the American people felt, for the great Island Empire. The event even surpassed my expectations. I cannot too strongly express my appreciation of the generous courtesy the Japanese showed the officers and crews of our fleet; and I may add that every man of them came back a friend and admirer of the Japanese. Admiral Sperry wrote me a letter of much interest, dealing not only with the reception in Tokio but with the work of our men at sea; I herewith give it almost in full:

28 October, 1908.

Dear Mr. Roosevelt:
My official report of the visit to Japan goes forward in this mail, but there are certain aspects of the affair so successfully concluded which cannot well be included in the report.

You are perhaps aware that Mr. Denison of the Japanese Foreign Office was one of my colleagues at The Hague, for whom I have a very high regard. Desiring to avoid every possibility of trouble or misunderstanding, I wrote to him last June explaining fully the character of our men, which they have so well lived up to, the desirability of ample landing places, guides, rest houses and places for changing money in order that there might be no delay in getting the men away from the docks on the excursions in which they delight. Very few of them go into a drinking place, except to get a resting place not to be found elsewhere, paying for it by taking a drink.

I also explained our system of landing with liberty men an unarmed patrol, properly officered, to quietly take in charge and send off to their ships any men who showed the slightest trace of disorderly conduct. This letter he showed to the Minister of the Navy, who highly approved of all our arrangements, including the patrol, of which I feared they might be jealous. Mr. Denison’s reply reached me in Manila, with a memorandum from the Minister of the Navy which removed all doubts. Three temporary piers were built for our boat landings, each 300 feet long, brilliantly lighted and decorated. The sleeping accommodations did not permit two or three thousand sailors to remain on shore, but the ample landings permitted them to be handled night and day with perfect order and safety.

At the landings and railroad station in Yokohama there were rest houses or booths, reputable money changers and as many as a thousand English-speaking Japanese college students acted as volunteer guides, besides Japanese sailors and petty officers detailed for the purpose. In Tokyo there were a great many excellent refreshment places, where the men got excellent meals and could rest, smoke, and write letters, and in none of these places would they allow the men to pay anything, though they were more than ready to do so. The arrangements were marvelously perfect.

As soon as your telegram of October 18, giving the address to be made to the Emperor, was received, I gave copies of it to our Ambassador to be sent to the Foreign Office. It seems that the Emperor had already prepared a very cordial address to be forwarded through me to you, after delivery at the audience, but your telegram reversed the situation and his reply was prepared. I am convinced that your kind and courteous initiative on this occasion helped cause the pleasant feeling which was so obvious in the Emperor’s bearing at the luncheon which followed the audience. X., who is reticent and conservative, told me that not only the Emperor but all the Ministers were profoundly gratified by the course of events. I am confident that not even the most trifling incident has taken place which could in any way mar the general satisfaction, and our Ambassador has expressed to me his great satisfaction with all that has taken place.

Owing to heavy weather encountered on the passage up from Manila the fleet was obliged to take about 3500 tons of coal.

The Yankton remained behind to keep up communication for a few days, and yesterday she transmitted the Emperor’s telegram to you, which was sent in reply to your message through our Ambassador after the sailing of the fleet. It must be profoundly gratifying to you to have the mission on which you sent the fleet terminate so happily, and I am profoundly thankful that, owing to the confidence which you displayed in giving me this command, my active career draws to a close with such honorable distinction.

As for the effect of the cruise upon the training, discipline and effectiveness of the fleet, the good cannot be exaggerated. It is a war game in every detail. The wireless communication has been maintained with an efficiency hitherto unheard of. Between Honolulu and Auckland, 3850 miles, we were out of communication with a cable station for only one night, whereas three [non-American] men-of-war trying recently to maintain a chain of only 1250 miles, between Auckland and Sydney, were only able to do so for a few hours.

The officers and men as soon as we put to sea turn to their gunnery and tactical work far more eagerly than they go to functions. Every morning certain ships leave the column and move off seven or eight thousand yards as targets for range measuring fire control and battery practice for the others, and at night certain ships do the same thing for night battery practice. I am sorry to say that this practice is unsatisfactory, and in some points misleading, owing to the fact that the ships are painted white. At Portland, in 1903, I saw Admiral Barker’s white battleships under the searchlights of the army at a distance of 14,000 yards, seven sea miles, without glasses, while the Hartford, a black ship, was never discovered at all, though she passed within a mile and a half. I have for years, while a member of the General Board, advocated painting the ships war color at all times, and by this mail I am asking the Department to make the necessary change in the Regulations and paint the ships properly. I do not know that any one now dissents from my view. Admiral Wainwright strongly concurs, and the War College Conference recommended it year after year without a dissenting voice.

In the afternoons the fleet has two or three hours’ practice at battle maneuvers, which excite as keen interest as gunnery exercises.

The competition in coal economy goes on automatically and reacts in a hundred ways. It has reduced the waste in the use of electric light and water, and certain chief engineers are said to keep men ranging over the ships all night turning out every light not in actual and immediate use. Perhaps the most important effect is the keen hunt for defects in the machinery causing waste of power. The Yankton by resetting valves increased her speed from 10 to 11 1/2 knots on the same expenditure.

All this has been done, but the field is widening, the work has only begun.


When I left the Presidency I finished seven and a half years of administration, during which not one shot had been fired against a foreign foe. We were at absolute peace, and there was no nation in the world with whom a war cloud threatened, no nation in the world whom we had wronged, or from whom we had anything to fear. The cruise of the battle fleet was not the least of the causes which ensured so peaceful an outlook.

When the fleet returned after its sixteen months’ voyage around the world I went down to Hampton Roads to greet it. The day was Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1907. Literally on the minute the homing battlecraft came into view. On the flagship of the Admiral I spoke to the officers and enlisted men, as follows:

“Admiral Sperry, Officers and Men of the Battle Fleet:
“Over a year has passed since you steamed out of this harbor, and over the world’s rim, and this morning the hearts of all who saw you thrilled with pride as the hulls of the mighty warships lifted above the horizon. You have been in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres; four times you have crossed the line; you have steamed through all the great oceans; you have touched the coast of every continent. Ever your general course has been westward; and now you come back to the port from which you set sail. This is the first battle fleet that has ever circumnavigated the globe. Those who perform the feat again can but follow in your footsteps.

“The little torpedo flotilla went with you around South America, through the Straits of Magellan, to our own Pacific Coast. The armored cruiser squadron met you, and left you again, when you were half way round the world. You have falsified every prediction of the prophets of failure. In all your long cruise not an accident worthy of mention has happened to a single battleship, nor yet to the cruisers or torpedo boats. You left this coast in a high state of battle efficiency, and you return with your efficiency increased; better prepared than when you left, not only in personnel but even in material. During your world cruise you have taken your regular gunnery practice, and skilled though you were before with the guns, you have grown more skilful still; and through practice you have improved in battle tactics, though here there is more room for improvement than in your gunnery. Incidentally, I suppose I need hardly say that one measure of your fitness must be your clear recognition of the need always steadily to strive to render yourselves more fit; if you ever grow to think that you are fit enough, you can make up your minds that from that moment you will begin to go backward.

“As a war-machine, the fleet comes back in better shape than it went out. In addition, you, the officers and men of this formidable fighting force, have shown yourselves the best of all possible ambassadors and heralds of peace. Wherever you have landed you have borne yourselves so as to make us at home proud of being your countrymen. You have shown that the best type of fighting man of the sea knows how to appear to the utmost possible advantage when his business is to behave himself on shore, and to make a good impression in a foreign land. We are proud of all the ships and all the men in this whole fleet, and we welcome you home to the country whose good repute among nations has been raised by what you have done.”