In the final months of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, his relations with Congress soured. Congress was putting the brakes on the Secret Service’s ability to investigate Congressmen, which, to Roosevelt, smacked of corruption and fraud. A vague and unsubstantiated reference to corrupt members of Congress as “the criminal class” in Roosevelt’s Eighth Message to Congress in December, 1908 had touched off hostilities between the President and Congress.
Roosevelt, who built his early career fighting corruption and waste in government, found himself at the end of his career still fighting the same war with largely the same results: frustration on the part of the other elected officials and immense popularity with the voting public. The Secret Service had been, as Roosevelt noted in his January 4, 1909 Message to Congress, “partly responsible for the indictment and conviction of a Senator and a Congressman for land frauds in Oregon.”
As Roosevelt’s career was coming to a close, his opponents, sensing daylight, began to resist more strongly; they wouldn’t have to deal with Roosevelt much longer. The Secret Service’s ability to investigate them was an annoyance and, to Congressional officials, smelled like abuse of power. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated that Roosevelt had used the Secret Service to harass and spy on political opponents.
President Roosevelt defended his use of the Secret Service in his January 4, 1909 Message to Congress. “I do not believe that it is in the public interest to protect criminals in any branch of the public service, and exactly as we have again and again during the past seven years prosecuted and convicted such criminals who were in the executive branch of the Government, so in my belief we should be given ample means to prosecute them if found in the legislative branch.” Congress voted to condemn Roosevelt by tabling his Message. To Roosevelt, Congress’s actions implied complicity.
With relations with Congress at their worst, and President-elect Taft slowly organizing his administration, it was the winter of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.