By L. A. Coolidge
In July, 1899, President McKinley faced a serious problem. The war with Spain had been fought and won. Within the short period of a year the United States had accepted the responsibility for the present control and future development of Cuba, Porto Rico and the Philippines. The regular army of the United States under emergency legislation was more than double in size what it had been a few months before. Instead of being located at a few coast fortifications and a few frontier posts, it was scattered in active service over half the globe. The War Department had suddenly developed into the most important of all government departments, with tasks before it far transcending any questions of mere military administration. Almost unconsciously and as a matter of administrative convenience, the War Department had become responsible for the government of the islands which had formed the colonial dependencies of Spain—islands inhabited by millions of people of different races, religions, laws and traditions. It had become responsible for the proper inauguration of a new stage of national development—a task demanding great foresight great executive genius and extraordinary political wisdom. At that moment the Secretary of War resigned, and President McKinley found himself confronted with the necessity of choosing a successor.
The selection was one which could not be lightly made. The President recognized that no ordinary man could meet all the requirements of the position. It may be doubted whether he really expected to find a man who would be fully equal to the many exactions that would be made upon a new war secretary.
The best he could hope, after determining which of the functions of the department would be of greatest immediate importance, was to secure one who could be trusted to meet that pressing requirement. The most urgent question was that of the administration of the new possessions, involving as it did the preservation of order and the substitution of an American system of government for the mediaeval systems which had prevailed for centuries under the rule of Spain. For this task he concluded that he needed first of all a lawyer of preeminent ability. He selected Elihu Root.