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Theodore Roosevelt Supports World War I Draft, and Criticizes Wilson for Preventing His Volunteers from Preparing and Going to Aid of France
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“I ask that our country’s record in this war be kept in line with the heroic deeds of the past. Let us, for our own sake, at once send troops to France”

A remarkable letter of support for universal military service, for immediate involvement in World War I, his willingness to aid the effort by raising troops with Congressional authorization, and his reaction to President Wilson’s refusal to allow Roosevelt’s volunteer troops to be deployed in France before the draft army was ready. With three related documents.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT. Typed Letter Signed, to Otis Henderson Cutler. [New York, NY], April 25, 1917. 3 pp., 8½ x 11 in. Extensively annotated in black ink by Roosevelt, on Metropolitan Magazine stationery. With: A typed fair copy of Roosevelt’s April 25 letter incorporating his corrections (possibly prepared by the recipient), 3 pp.; With Cutler’s retained carbon copy of his May 14 response to Roosevelt, offering himself as a volunteer, 1 p.; With a follow-up letter from Roosevelt to Cutler discussing in detail Wilson’s refusal to deploy the divisions, consisting of a printed cover letter, May 25, 2 pp., with stamped signature, and its original attachment, a circular letter informing the volunteers that President Wilson had refused to deploy them, signed in type by Roosevelt, May 21, 3 pp.

Inventory #23954.01-.04       Price: $6,500

Partial Transcript of Roosevelt’s letter:

“I believe in the principle of obligatory universal military service with all my heart. I am not only earnestly backing the Administration’s bill, but I would back it if it were ten times as effective and as far reaching as it is ... If we had done our duty and had introduced this principle of universal obligatory training as our permanent policy and as the main feature of a great movement for preparedness two and a half years ago, when the war began there would be little need for volunteers now. But we have delayed so long … Under the circumstances, it is mere folly not to employ, in the interval, volunteers.... <2>.... ‘Universal service’ is not ‘universal’ unless it includes, not excludes, the service of the men of my proposed division; my effort is merely to include them and myself in their service, so as to make it really universal as far as we are concerned. I most earnestly hope that we shall furnish dollars and food for the fighting men. But if this is all we do, it will be shameful on our part, and our grandchildren will read, not with pride, but with humiliation, of our conduct. I ask that our country’s record in this war be kept in line with the heroic deeds of the past. Let us, for our own sake, at once send troops to France, where their presence will both be impressive to our enemies and helpful to our allies. Not a moment should be lost in sending over the force.

… The pinch will be severe unless the people join in efforts, such as yours, for the prompt development of the agricultural, no less than the military and industrial resources of the country….” 

There is excellent content throughout the archive, not transcribed here, but worthy of reading!

Historical Background

After serving as president from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt was unhappy with his hand-picked successor, Republican William Howard Taft. Roosevelt took his final foray into presidential politics in the election of 1912. Failing to re-capture the Republican nomination from the incumbent, Roosevelt left to form the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party. A four-way contest pitting Roosevelt against Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and Socialist Eugene Debs (who also ran for his fourth and final time) split the Republican vote, electing Wilson. Stung by the loss, Roosevelt searched for new adventures, finding them at the head of the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition to South America. Upon his return, Roosevelt became an editor for the Metropolitan magazine for $25,000 a year, from 1914 until his death in 1919.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, Roosevelt strongly supported the Allies and advocated robust action against Germany, especially regarding submarine warfare. He was among Woodrow Wilson’s harshest critics and wrote numerous essays condemning Wilson’s refusal to enter the European conflict.

The present letters were written to the financier and industrialist Otis Henderson Cutler, Chairman of the American Brake Shoe & Foundry Company, concerning Roosevelt’s plan to raise volunteer divisions to fight in France along with regular American troops (similar to his “Rough Riders” in the Spanish-American war). In March 1917, Congress authorized Roosevelt to raise a maximum of four divisions for service in Europe. The United States finally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. However, on May 19, 1917, Wilson wrote to Roosevelt refusing to permit these volunteer divisions to be deployed. Roosevelt then sent the circular letter enclosed in this correspondence to all who had already volunteered for military service.

Cutler himself had inquired about volunteering (“I am wondering if you would have any chance in your division for an old dub like myself, about fifty years old and without previous military and technical training,” he rather touchingly writes).

Roosevelt’s three-page April 25 letter to him concerns the introduction of universal military training, and includes much on plans for the volunteer force, with almost a hundred words added or emended in ink in Roosevelt’s hand. Cutler had been attempting to raise troops in Rockland County, New York, and his enthusiasm for the cause had clearly endeared him to the ex-President, who was deeply concerned at what he felt was a national humiliation engendered by America’s late entry into the war. This is a remarkable correspondence, exhibiting as it does the deep-felt antipathy between Roosevelt and Wilson (Roosevelt once referred to Wilson as a “damned Presbyterian hypocrite”), Roosevelt’s hallmark militancy, and the enthusiasm of those who would have served under him.


Small rust-marks from paper clips, the usual folds, generally in very fine condition.

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