Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina was a painful thorn in the side of “Roosevelt the First,” as Mencken referred to TR. When Roosevelt seized control of the Dominican Republic’s customs office after the United States Senate refused to ratify a treaty sanctioning this act, Tillman demanded that Senators should stand on their feet and say to Roosevelt, “You have got to obey the law or we shall take you by the throat , sir.”
Tillman Against Roosevelt’s Republican Machine
“The most durable of Ben Tillman’s many animosities was his hatred of Theodore Roosevelt. This grew out of the President’s withdrawal of an invitation to attend the White House banquet of February 24, 1902, in honor of Prince Henry of Prussia. The South Carolinian was invited because he was a member of the Senate naval committee, but between the invitation and the dinner occurred the Tillman-McLaurin brawl. “Had the President sent a mutual friend in a quiet way suggesting that it would be an awkward situation, any man who knows me at all knows how quickly I would have relieved him of his obligation to me.”
He let it be known that he considered the President’s implications indecent and insulting and that he was willing to abide by the judgment of “all brave and self-respecting men.” Privately he declared that he had been treated “in a cowardly and ungentlemanly way” by “this ill-bred creature who is accidentally President.” He swore never to enter the White House again until it was occupied by another.
Earlier attacks upon imperialist policies were intensified when Roosevelt became responsible for them. The South Carolinian’s first foray was against efforts to subjugate the Filipinos. While the President insisted that for “every guilty act committed by our troops . . . a hundred acts of far greater atrocity have been committed by the hostile natives,” Tillman questioned the conduct of American soldiers. Were they not “occupying the attitude of butchers and practicing cruelties that would disgrace the Inquisition?”
Behind the administration’s plan of government for the Philippines he saw “the desire of some men to get ungodly and indecent wealth.” The President’s agents were given “the same autocratic power the Czar exercises in Russia” and were frustrating plans for local self-government.
The coup by which Roosevelt secured Panama was of a startling character . . . [and it would have been preferable, Tillman said, to have taken Panama openly rather than intrigue] “in the disreputable, dishonorable creation of a so-called republic in a back room.” If it was true that the President had used the method of the “sneak-thief” and the “bully,” he ought to be impeached.
When Roosevelt denied complicity in the Panama Revolution, Tillman said that circumstantial evidence against the President was such that he should reveal all facts before the Senate ratified the treaty. This was a fair and simple demand [but] the Republican majority, brushing constitutional sophistries aside, acquiesced in what the President had done. To this day the mystery of the Panama Revolution remains unsolved.
Roosevelt’s extremely Northern attitude toward the black man seemed especially designed to inflame [Southern society]. Protests by Southern whites [against Reconstruction-like policies] were treated “with contumely and contempt” by the President. Venal motives underlay this action. The Republican machine desired to secure the Negro vote in the border States and to control the Southern Republican delegates in the national conventions. Such conditions accounted for the fact that outraged Southerners “rush to do an unjust and improper thing.”
(Pitchfork Ben Tillman, South Carolinian, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1944, pp. 408-411; 415-416)