Mark Twain Excoriates Theodore Roosevelt as a Butcher, a Ruffian and a Bully

January 5, 1909

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Mark Twain Excoriates Theodore Roosevelt as a Butcher, a Ruffian and a Bully
Autograph Manuscript
4 pages | SMC 1706

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      Background

      An extraordinary unpublished manuscript, in which Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) bitterly indicts the conduct and character of President Theodore Roosevelt. A butcher, a dive-keeper, a ruffian and a bully, Clemens asserts that Roosevelt is “The Head of the Greatest Nation on Earth” only by circumstances over which he had no control. This denunciation flows from a report - rumored and treated with clumsy sarcasm in the press, but about which Clemens has heard a personal account - concerning an incident said to have occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1908, when the President was horseback riding in Rock Creek, Maryland, and a fifteen year-old girl attempted to ride past him. At the last minute, however, the girl recognized the President and fell back – but Roosevelt was so affronted that he “charged rearward," harshly abusing her and ordering her off the path.
       
      Have we ever had a President before of whom such a story could be told & find believers? Certainly not. It would be recognized as a foolish & extravagant invention, a manifest lie; for we have never had a President before who was destitute of self-respect & of respect for his high office; we have had no President before who was not a gentleman; we have had no President before who was intended for a butcher, a dive-keeper or a bully, & missed his mission by compulsion of circumstances over which he had no control. Will the story be believed now? Yes, & justifiably. No one who knows Mr. Roosevelt will doubt that in its essence the tale is true.
       
      Clemens concludes by calling the President “the same ruffian” who rewarded a subordinate’s brutal treatment of a lady in the waiting-room of the White House with a promotion.


      Autograph Manuscript (unsigned), of an unpublished article; 4 pages, octavo, Stormfield, January 5, 1909.

      With photostat of article from The New York Sun, by-lined Washington and dated December 18, 1906, reporting the incident to which Clemens here refers; and a photostat of a piece from The New York Times attacking the Sun’s coverage of the incident.
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      Dictated at Stormfield,

      ^Jan. 5, 1909.  I saw only three references to that curious Presidential performance of two or three weeks ago -- the one where the Chief Magistrate treated a young girl harshly.  One of these was in the New York Times.  The substance of it, as I remember it, was to this effect.  An article or an editorial in the Sun charged Mr. Roosevelt -- who was out riding in the country, with friends -- with striking, with his "crop," the horse of a young girl who violated etiquette by riding past him.  It was further charged that [text is crossed out] Mr. Roosevelt sternly rebuked the girl, besides, for her lack of manners.  Continuing, the Times added some elephantine attempts at sarcasm, to the effect that the girl & her father were arrested & sent to a military dungeon to be 

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      tried by court martial, etc.  I could make nothing out of the thing.  I could not make out whether anything 
      at all had happened or not.  There seemed to have been a Rooseveltian incident, but the size & style of it were hopelessly obscured by the Times's unhappy attack of clumsy & idiotic satirics.

      But we have a visitor, to-day, who furnishes what he claims to be the facts. He got them from a friend of the girl's father. To-wit. The President, with three friends, was out in the country taking a horseback ride.  Presently a girl of fifteen appeared in the rear -- on horseback.  She closed the interval, & was intending to ride by, when she recognized the [text is crossed out] President by his ^ shoulders, or perhaps his ears, [text is crossed out] & slackened her pace & fell back a few paces.  After a little, the Head of the Greatest Nation on Earth whirled about 

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      & charged rearward & exclaimed to the child --


      "Don't you know who I am?  You have followed me long en^ough.  Where are your manners?"

      The frightened girl explained.

      "I was in a hurry, & was going to ride by, but when I saw it was the President, I --"

      "Never mind about that! [text is crossed out] Yonder's a side-road -- take it. Go!"

      The girl burst into sobbings & said --

      "It is the road to my father's house, sir. I was going to take it as soon as -- "

      "Go -- will you!"

      Which she did. The father wrote a note to the President complaining, but got no reply.

      Have we ever had a President 

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      before of whom such a story could be told & find believers?  Certainly not.  It would be recognized as a foolish & extravagant invention, a manifest lie ; for we have never had a President before who was destitute of self-respect & of respect for his high office ; we have had no President before who was not a gentleman; we have had no President before who was intended for a butcher, a dive-keeper or a bully, & missed his mission by compulsion of circumstances over which he had no control.  Will the story be believed now? Yes, & justifiably.  No one who knows Mr. Roosevelt will doubt that in its essence the tale is true.  This is the same ruffian whose subordinate ruffian brutally treated a lady in the waiting-room [text is crossed out] of the White House three years ago, & was rewarded for it by being appointed postmaster of Washington.