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This Country of Ours by  H. E. Marshall




[595] UPON McKinley's death Theodore Roosevelt, The Vice-President, became President. He was the youngest of all the Presidents, being only forty-two when he came into office.

Mr. Roosevelt was in the mountains with his wife and children when the news that the President was dying was brought to him. At nine o'clock at night he started off on a long drive of thirty-five miles to the railway station. The road was narrow, and steep, and full of mudholes, and the drive through the darkness was one of danger.

A little after five in the morning the station was reached. Here a special train was waiting which carried the Vice-President to Buffalo as fast as might be. But he was too late to see his President in life. For while he was still on his wild drive through the night, President McKinley had passed peacefully to his last rest.

Mr. Roosevelt was the youngest of all presidents, and he brought to the White House a youthful energy and "hustle" such as no President had before. He had strong opinions to which he never hesitated to give voice, and perhaps since Lincoln no President had been so much a dictator.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in Roosevelt's presidency was the beginning of the Panama Canal.

You remember that when Columbus set forth upon the Sea of Darkness his idea was to reach the east by sailing [596] west. And to this day of his death he imagined that he had reached India by sailing westward. But soon men found out the mistake, and then began the search for the North-West Passages by which they might sail past the great Continent, and so reach India.

The North-West Passage, however, proved a delusion. The men turned their attention to the narrow isthmus by which the two vast continents of North and South America are joined. And soon the idea of cutting a canal through this narrow barrier began to be talked of.

But time went on and the Spaniards who held sway over the isthmus did no more than talk. Then an adventurous Scotsman was seized with the idea of founding a colony at Darien. He meant to build a great harbour where all the ships of the world would come. Merchandise was to be carried across the isthmus by camels, and soon his colony would be the key of all the commerce of the world.

Such was his golden dream, but it ended in utter failure.

Still the idea grew. Men of many nations began to discuss the possibility of building the canal. And at length the French got leave from the Government of Colombia and work on the canal was begun. But after working for many years the French gave up the undertaking, which was far more difficult, and had cost far more money than they had expected.

Meanwhile the Americans had become much interested in the scheme, and they had begun to think of cutting a canal through the isthmus at Nicaragua. Then when the French company went bankrupt they offered to sell all their rights to the canal to the United States. There was a good deal of discussion over the matter. For some people thought that the Nicaragua route would be better. But in the end it was agreed to take over the canal already begun, and go with it.

Everything was arranged when the Colombian Senate [597] refused to sign the treaty. By this treaty they were to receive ten million dollars, besides a yearly rent for the land through which the canal ran. But that sum seemed to them now too small, and they refused to sign the treaty unless the money to be paid down should be increased to twenty-five million dollars.

This the United States was unwilling to do. Everything came down to a standstill, and it seemed as if the Panama scheme would have to be given up, when suddenly a new turn was given to affairs. For the people of Panama rose in rebellion against Colombia, and declared themselves a republic.

The United States at once recognised the new republic, and before a month had passed a treaty between the United States and the Republic of Panama was drawn up and signed, and the work on the great canal was begun.

A good many people, however, were not very pleased at the manner in which the struggle had been ended. They thought that the United States ought not to have taken the part of rebels in such haste. But the President was quite satisfied that he had done the right thing, and that it would have been base not to help the new republic.

In 1902 Mr. Roosevelt had become president "by accident." If it had not been for the tragedy of President McKinley's death he would not have come into power, and the thought grieved him somewhat. So when he was again elected President he was quite pleased. For now he felt that he held his great office because the people wanted him, and not because they could not help having him.

Few Presidents have grown so much in popularity after coming into office as Mr. Roosevelt. People felt he was a jolly good fellow, and throughout the length and breadth of the land he was known as "Teddy."

"Who is the head of the Government?" a little girl was asked.

[598] "Mr. Roosevelt," was the reply.

"Yes, but what is his official title?"

"Teddy," answered the little one.

During this presidency Oklahoma was admitted to the Union as the forty-sixth state. Oklahoma is an Indian word meaning Redman. It was part of the Louisiana Purchase, and had been set aside as an Indian reservation. All the land, however, was not occupied and as some of it was exceedingly fertile the white people began to agitate to have it opened to them. So at length the Indians gave up their claim to part of this territory in return for a sum of money.

This was in 1889 and President Harrison proclaimed that at twelve o'clock noon on the 22nd of April the land would be opened for settlement. Long before the day people set out in all directions to the borders of Oklahoma. On the morning of the 22nd of April at least twenty thousand people had gathered on the borders. And as soon as the blowing of a bugle announced that the hour of noon had struck there was a wild rush over the border.

Before darkness fell whole towns were staked out. Yet there was not enough land for all and many had to return home disappointed. The population of Oklahoma went up with a bound but it was not until eighteen years later, in September, 1907, that it was admitted to the Union as a state.

In 1909 William H. Taft became president. Mr. Taft had been Governor of the Philippines, and had shown great tact and firmness in that post. He and President Roosevelt were friends, and Roosevelt did all he could to further his election.

During Mr. Taft's presidency the last two states were admitted to the Union. Ever since the Civil War New Mexico had been seeking admission as a state, and at one [599] time it was proposed to call this state Lincoln. That suggestion, however, came to nothing, and some years later it was proposed to admit New Mexico and Arizona as one state. To this Arizona objected, and at length they were admitted as separate states, New Mexico on the 6th of January and Arizona on the 11th of February, 1912. Both these states were made out of the Mexican Concession and the Gadsden Purchase.

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