Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography

Nov 2, 2012 by

The story of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, in his own words, originally published in 1913.

A few of his own words about corruption:

“Where there is no chance of statistical or mathematical measurement, it is very hard to tell just the degree to which conditions change from one period to another. This is peculiarly hard to do when we deal with such a matter as corruption. Personally I am inclined to think that in public life we are on the whole a little better and not a little worse than we were thirty years ago, when I was serving in the New York Legislature. I think the conditions are a little better in National, in State, and in municipal politics. Doubtless there are points in which they are worse, and there is an enormous amount that needs reformation. But it does seem to me as if, on the whole, things had slightly improved.

When I went into politics, New York City was under the control of Tammany, which was from time to time opposed by some other — and evanescent — city Democratic organization. The up-country Democrats had not yet fallen under Tammany sway, and were on the point of developing a big country political boss in the shape of David B. Hill. The Republican party was split into the Stalwart and Half- Breed factions. Accordingly neither party had one dominant boss, or one dominant machine, each being controlled by jarring and warring bosses and machines. The corruption was not what it had been in the days of Tweed, when outside individuals controlled the legislators like puppets. Nor was there any such centralization of the boss system as occurred later. Many of the members were under the control of local bosses or local machines.

But the corrupt work was usually done through the members directly. Of course I never had anything in the nature of legal proof of corruption, and the figures I am about to give are merely approximate. But three years’ experience convinced me, in the first place, that there were a great many thoroughly corrupt men in the Legislature, perhaps a third of the whole number ; and, in the next place, that the honest men out- numbered the corrupt men, and that, if it were ever possible to get an issue of right and wrong put vividly and unmistakably before them in a way that would arrest their attention and that would arrest the attention of their constituents, we could count on the triumph of the right.”

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