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Kansas Hails Rough Rider; Attacks Trusts

March 2023
1min read

This revolution of political attitude was encouraged by other personal contacts White made as a result of The Real Issue . In Chicago, where the book was published, he met socially Hamlin Garland, Clarence Darrow, Finley Peter Dunne (Mr. Dooley). In New York, where McClure ’s, Collier ’s, and the American magazines were published, he met and talked with Lincoln Steffens, Ida M. Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, and other creators of the journalism soon dubbed “muckraking” by T.R. himself. There thus developed an increasing tension between White’s “literary” and “political” impulses. An acute observer might have measured it on the editorial oaere of the Gazette .

White was a born writer. He had a talent for caricature, for comedy and pathos, along with an addiction to verbal extravagance, akin to Charles Dickens’ or Mark Twain’s. He had a gift for narrative, a sharp sense of color and drama, a shrewd wit, a genius for the pungent phrase. And he had something even more rare: a widely encompassing empathy, animated by loving kindness. His kindness was rooted in a simple, profoundly optimistic faith. There is an “evening-up process of nature,” he editorialized in November, 1901, after rains had broken the devastating drought of that year. “The great stream of tendency, the scheme of things here, call it what you will—fate, destiny, providence, or God—is good. Viewed largely and from beyond the shadow of the passing hour, seen big in perspective, the trend of all motion and force seems good. Nature—bloody with tooth and claw, as some have called her—is at heart and in her soul infinitely kind.”

But it was in “the shadow of the passing hour” that White’s “political” impulses necessarily operated; and in 1901 they still proceeded from a Social Darwinism wherein the sanguinary fang-and-claw was central and human kindness peripheral, if present at all. They so proceeded, however, with considerably less assurance than formerly. When McKinley was assassinated in September of that year, White gave full expression to the ethnic bigotry implicit in Social Darwinism. He wrote bitterly of “millions of Polacks and Hunkies and Italians, the very scum of European civilization,” who increasingly replaced “honest, wellpaid, intelligent, conscientious American labor” in Eastern mines and factories and, in their mistaking of freedom for license, inclined toward anarchy. “The Polack who shot McKinley is as incapable of understanding American liberty as a tiger is of understanding the Beatitudes.” Yet his assignment of ultimate blame in this editorial marked a change in his basic attitude. “For half a century the greed of the great captains of industry has been almost untrammeled,” he declared; it was this “greed of money makers” that had “filled America with human vermin.”

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