Roosevelt the Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt as Civil Service Commissioner, 1889-1895

By Richard D. White Jr. | Go to book overview

4
1892
Making Progress in Civil Service Reform

WITH TUGBOATS STRAINING at her stern, the French liner La Normandie slowly backed away from the pier that jutted into the Hudson River from Manhattan's West Side.1 The huge ship left New York on schedule, just before noon on Saturday, January 9, 1892, and steamed eastward for the weeklong sail across the Atlantic. Passengers standing on the starboard side gazed up at Auguste Bartholdi's awesome Statue of Liberty, erected five years before on Bedloe's Island. As the city's skyline slowly slipped away to sternward, a warm southerly breeze turned falling wet snow into a light rain that glistened on the passengers' ulsters and umbrellas. For one of them, Theodore Roosevelt, the Atlantic voyage offered no vacation. He traveled alone, embarking on an uncomfortable trip to Europe in the midst of winter. He already missed his family, still in Washington, and felt guilty taking a month away from the Civil Service Commission, where he remained embroiled in fights with a hostile Congress, harassing newspapermen, and John Wanamaker.

Roosevelt sailed to France to deal with a family crisis. While his first six years in Washington provided overall happiness to the Roosevelts, sadness and worry lingered within their household. Theodore's brother, Elliott, was their most serious concern. Living in France with his wife and children, Elliott struggled with chronic mental and physical ailments for many years and by the w inter of 1892 was in danger. Theodore, despite his taxing work at the commission, felt he had no choice but to sail to Europe to aid his brother.

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