Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Robert Bacon (1902)

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Dear Bob:

Do you recollect when you wrote me a similar letter over four years ago just before the outbreak of the Spanish war? I have always prized that letter and now I shall prize this.

I sent you a copy of a letter ex-President Cleveland has just sent me and my answer thereto. Of course these letters are not to be made public, but if you have any friend upon whose discretion you can entirely rely, to whom you think you would like to show them, why do it. The situation is bad, especially because it is possible it may grow infinitely worse. If when the severe weather comes on there is a coal famine I dread to think of the suffering, in parts of our great cities especially, and I fear there will be fuel riots of as bad a type as any bread riots we have ever seen. Of course once the rioting has begun, once there is a resort to mob violence, the only thing to do is to maintain order. It is a dreadful thing to be brought face to face with the necessity of taking measures, however unavoidable, which will mean the death of men who have been maddened by want and suffering. I feel that whatever I possibly can do to avert such a necessity I must do; and that I must not cease in my efforts while even the slightest chance to success remains.

At the conference between the miners and the coal operators in my presence John Mitchell towered above the six operators present. He was dignified and moderate and straightforward. He made no threats and resorted to no abuse. The proposition he made seemed to me eminently fair. The operators refused even to consider it; used insolent and abusive language about him; and in at least two cases assumed an attitude toward me which was one of insolence. This was not important. But it was important that they should absolutely decline to consider matters from the standpoint of the interests of the public in any way. One of them demanded outright and several of them hinted that they were going [to ask?] that I use the United States Army in their interests, being seemingly ignorant that I had no power whatever to send into the mines a single soldier, unless the Pennsylvania governmental authorities, being unable to preserve order, appealed to me to do so. They kept referring to Cleveland’s course in the Debs’ riots as offering a parallel, which was a course either ridiculous or dishonest on their part; and Cleveland’s letter to me shows how entirely he sympathizes with my attitude in the matter. There is not the remotest resemblance between the situation in the coal fields as it now exists and the situation in Chicago when Cleveland interfered to protect national property. The operators forget that they have duties towards the public, as well as rights to be guarded by the public through its governmental agents. It is amazing folly on their part clamorously to demand by the public the exercise of the police powers, at no matter what expenditure of blood and money and yet to resent any suggestion that they have duties toward the public of which its governmental representatives must take cognizance. Owing to the peculiar division of our powers under the constitution, while Boston and New York are as much interest[ed] as Philadelphia in the coal famine, only Pennsylvania has immediate power to deal with the situation. If the trouble comes through disorder by the miners who thereby prevent people who wish to go to work from going to work, then Pennsylvania should afford the fullest protection, by any exercise of the military power, to the miners union or nonunion men, who may wish to work, and to the property of the mine owners. If the attitude of the mine operators on the other hand is insolent and improper then Pennsylvania through its legislature should take immediate action. I do not think I need assure you that in case I am called upon to act, through the inability of Pennsylvania to keep order and on the demand of her constitutional authorities, I will guarantee that order will be kept and life and property absolutely respected, and all men alike made to yield obedience to the law. But I wish to feel that I have done everything in my power to bring about a peaceful solution before any such dreadful alternative is forced upon me. The operators by their attitude have done all in their power to render such a peaceful solution impossible. But I have determined to inform Mitchell that if the miners will go back to work I will appoint a commission to investigate all the matters at issue and that I will do whatever I can to secure favorable action on their findings. I know nothing of the merits of the quarrel. Each side insists that it is wholly right. Commissioner Carroll D. Wright, in whom I have the utmost confidence has reported to me that while the issues are very complicated and while it his very hard to decide as to the rights and wrongs of the matter, there his certainly right and wrong on both sides. This finding alone in my opinion shows the impropriety of the operators’ attitude in declining to submit to any arbitration; or to have matters adjusted by a commission or committee of conciliation.

At any rate, whatever, with my limited powers, I can do toward securing a peaceful settlement, if possible in the interests of both parties, at least in the interests of the general public, will be done; and if the worst comes to worst, no matter how dreadful any responsibility put upon me, I shall try to meet it faithfully and fearlessly. Ever yours

P.S. The Sun, in view of my attitude, seems inclined to go over to the Democracy; which in New York has just declared for national ownership of the coal mines! Apparently the Sun fails to understand that what I am doing offers the surest ground for hope of successful opposition to such ruinous plans as that of national mine ownership.

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