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Walter LaFeber : The "Hidden Hand Presidency"
Walter LaFeber In terms of personality, McKinley and Roosevelt, I think, could not have been more different. McKinley was quiet. He was unfailingly sensitive to other people and to other races, I might say, when he was dealing with them. He was a person who was known for understatement. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was a person who believed that the White House should be used as a bully pulpit and that he, obviously, should be the preacher. Roosevelt was willing to be out front on these policies in a way that McKinley would prefer to have been behind the scenes, to conduct what's later called a "hidden hand Presidency". With Theodore Roosevelt there's very seldom anything that's hidden. Roosevelt is our front. He exaggerates, where McKinley is much more restrained. He is a person who is extremely active physically. McKinley is a person who usually stays at home and reads or talks with people. He doesn't do anything more in terms of the strenuous life than take carriage rides around Washington. McKinley and Roosevelt are very different people and I think one of the ways of understanding that difference occurred in a rather tragic way after McKinley's assassination in September of 1901 and the Roosevelt Family moved into the White House. And as they moved into the White House, they suddenly discovered that McKinley and his wife had used very few rooms in the White House. The White House had not been used by McKinley really.

McKinley and Roosevelt saw eye to eye on foreign policy. They both wanted the United States to be a major Pacific power. They both wanted the United States to be a major imperialist player. They both wanted to build up the American military, especially the US Navy, very, very rapidly. And they did so. The United States had no battleships in the late 1880s. Within a dozen years we'd be one of the four or five greatest navies in the world with this battleship fleet. The difference, I think, between the two is that while Roosevelt and McKinley both wanted to use Presidential powers to the utmost, McKinley wanted to do it quietly and behind the scenes while Roosevelt wanted to do it publicly and with great excitement and to make sure that the American people understood what he was doing and were coming along with him. McKinley preferred to get it done rather than to in any way, shape, or form to excite anyone by what he was doing. The quieter things were, the better McKinley liked them. Roosevelt and McKinley had very different temperaments in this sense. There is another difference, and that is that although both of them used Presidential powers in new ways and in a sense McKinley was really a pioneer for the Presidential powers that Theodore Roosevelt would later use as President. Again, McKinley wanted to do these quietly. He did not use the White House as a bully pulpit to tell the American people what he was doing. Roosevelt, on the other hand, would use Presidential powers and then would go to a joint session of Congress and send a paper telling them exactly what he was doing and telling them, as he did, that in 1904 that if they didn't want to go along, that was too bad because he was going to do it anyway. McKinley would have never done things that way. And in that sense the temperament of the two people, I think, is an interesting contrast even while their foreign policy objectives are very close.

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