Theodore Roosevelt and Russell J. Coles in Florida, March 1917. This Library of Congress image is misdated 16 March 1917 in the LOC record. Roosevelt however did not leave for Florida until the 23rd of that month.

Theodore Roosevelt was at the White House briefly on this date one hundred years ago. He was trying to gain an audience with President Wilson, who intentionally or not snubbed his predecessor by claiming to be too busy with Cabinet meetings in the wake of his speech to Congress the afternoon before. Wilson likely knew what Roosevelt was there to propose: that he, Roosevelt, be allowed to raise a division and then fight in France in the war. The Colonel had been talking about it ever since diplomatic relations had been severed with Germany some week before. Roosevelt had made plans in late winter to travel to Florida with scientist Russell J. Coles and fish for shark and devilfish. When Wilson called for Congress to convene a special session for April 2 Roosevelt felt no reason to revise his plans, reasoning that there was little he could do in the meantime. And so Roosevelt boarded a train on March 23 and traveled south to fish both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida. Roosevelt harpooned two large devilfish, one of them nearly a seventeen footer that was the second largest ever caught.

Like much of America Roosevelt was watching the news intently in those late March and early April days. Roosevelt did not gain an audience with Wilson on April 3, and he missed seeing his friend and confidante Henry Cabot Lodge as well. Roosevelt’s DC excursion must have caught official Washington off guard; Lodge certainly would have made himself available had he known Roosevelt was to be in town. At the White House Roosevelt left a flattering note for Wilson, which may or may not have been genuine, The 26th president had certainly campaigned for Preparedness and war since 1914 and so would have approved of Wilson’s call to arms; on the other hand both he and Lodge disliked Wilson intensely and the note may have been little more than an attempt to get on the president’s good side pending any decision on Roosevelt’s desire to fight in the war. Either way, Roosevelt left Washington in the late afternoon and was back in New York City by 9:00 pm, eager to see his sons and discuss the matters at hand.

(image/Library of Congress)