The Wonderful Husband

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Eleanor thought this speech “Very good,” or so she told her mother-in-law—though later she admitted that for years afterward the family liked to tease Franklin about its imaginative version of American cooking—and she carefully clipped out a local newspaper story about the opening and sent it home to Sara, who proudly glued it into her scrapbook. Franklin was more realistic about his performance: “I had an awful time of it and wasn’t even introduced. I had to wander up to the front of the platform and the foolishness of my smile was only equalled by the extreme idiocy of the remarks that followed. You can imagine what a speech on gardening, and the raising of vegetables in general, by your son must have been like and I will say nothing more except that my appetite for those damned weeds has since that time departed.”

Eleanor’s worst fears about her husband’s fidelity would be realized.

However irritated Franklin may have been at having had to stand in for his wife, no hint of it was conveyed to Sara. Eleanor had opened the show “Very well,” he reported, “and spoke very clearly and well”…though, in fact, she had hardly spoken at all. Triumphs were to be shared; disappointments were kept to himself.

The Scottish reporter who covered the Roosevelts’ first public appearance noted that Franklin’s remarks had been interrupted several times by laughter and applause, but the crowd had shown the greatest enthusiasm when Eleanor was introduced. The local official who began the ceremony had seen no need to say anything more than that “Mrs. Roosevelt had a connection with the President of that great country, the United States (Loud applause)—a gentleman whom the world was applauding (Applause). …”

That applause echoed everywhere Franklin and Eleanor went during the final days of their honeymoon. Even the Fergusons’ tenants were eager to talk of Uncle Ted’s latest triumph, Eleanor was surprised to find. “They all seemed to know about it and take an interest. It is nice news, isn’t it?” On September 5, 1905, the same day Franklin and Sir Ronald were playing golf at St. Andrews, the Portsmouth Treaty was formally signed, ending the Russo-Japanese War. Theodore Roosevelt had been instrumental in arranging the talks at the U.S. naval base at Kittery, Maine, just across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that had at last led to peace. The political risks had been considerable; many of his advisers had warned him against involving himself in trying to settle a complicated foreign conflict that was of little interest to most Americans. But as he had told a friendly reporter while the outcome was still in doubt, “I thought it my plain duty to make the effort,” and that effort had now paid off. A Republican congressman had been waiting in the downstairs hall at Sagamore Hill to see TR when the news came that peace was at hand. The beaming President had pounded down the stairs, his visitor remembered. “It’s a mighty good thing for Russia, and a mighty good thing for Japan. And,” he said, thumping his own chest with pleasure, “a mighty good thing for me, too!”

 

It was a mighty good thing for him. Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic declared him a peacemaker. Summing up feelings on the Continent, the Berlin correspondent for the New York World wrote that President Roosevelt had emerged from the negotiations as “the most important figure in international statesmanship.” The Nobel committee would later award him its Peace Prize.

No one was more impressed than Franklin. “Everyone is talking about Cousin Theodore,” he wrote Sara in the last of his honeymoon letters, “saying that he is the most prominent figure of present day history.” Franklin eagerly agreed with that assessment; he admired Theodore Roosevelt more than any man on earth.

On September 12, the day before the young Roosevelts sailed for home, he left Eleanor at Garlant’s Hotel in London to finish packing their trunks and hurried into the street, a tall, slender figure in a straw boater, peering at the crowds through pince-nez he had bought nine years earlier in open emulation of his cousin Theodore.

He had one more important stop to make. At Henry Graves & Company, Limited, Printsellers & Publishers, located at 6 Pall Mall, he wrote out a check for twenty-five British pounds and waited while the clerk wrapped his purchase—a silverpoint drawing by the British artist C. J. Backer of his vigorous, triumphant hero.

The eager charm and relentless high spirits that Franklin Roosevelt exhibited as he escorted his shy bride across the Continent never deserted him, even when paralysis locked him into a wheelchair. Nor did the single-minded ambition, the refusal to confide, or the unwillingness to concede defeat that would one day help him surpass the record of the distant cousin he idolized.