Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt to Captain Charles O’Neil, Chief of the Ordnance Bureau

                        [Washington, D.C.] February 28, 1898.

My dear Captain O’Neil:

     The enclosed statement explains itself. I don’t want to bring this matter in any way officially before the Department, but, writing to you personally, don’t you think it inadvisable for Prof. Alger1 to express opinions in this way? Captain Bradford2 has all along believed that Prof. Alger is absolutely in error in his views. He believes that the explosion was not accidental. Captain Clover3 is inclined to the same belief. I should certainly feel that it was not advisable for either of them to make public any such statement, and it seems to me that it is inadvisable for Prof. Alger to make these statements. I don’t know the conditions under which he made them; and, besides, I don’t want to bother the Secretary,4 or to bring on any wrangle in the Department, and I should just like to get your views about the matter unofficially. Mr. Alger cannot possibly know anything about the accident. All the best men in the Department agree that, whether probable or not, it certainly is possible that the ship was blown up by a mine which might, or might not, have been towed under her; and when we have a court sitting to find out these facts it seems to me to the last point inadvisable for any person connected with the Navy Department to express his opinion publicly in the matter, and especially to give elaborate reasons for one side or the other. The fact that Mr. Alger happens to take the Spanish side and to imply that the explosion was probably due to some fault of the Navy, whether in the Construction Department, or whether among the officers, has, of course, nothing to do with the matter.

Very truly yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Source Note: TDS, DLC-MSS, PTR. Addressed below close: “Captain Charles O’Neil,/Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance,/Navy Department.” The place was taken from other of Roosevelt’s correspondence at this time.

Footnote 1: Capt. Philip R. Alger was a professor of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy and an expert on ordnance and the chemistry of explosives. According to his obituary, the morning after Maine was destroyed Alger “put up a bulletin at the Navy Department stating that the vessel had been blown up from an internal explosion. The act caused a commotion, and the notice was soon ordered down by Mr. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy.” The New York Times, 24 February 1912.

Footnote 2: Capt. Royal B. Bradford was chief of the Bureau of Equipment and held the rank of Rear Admiral.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. Richardson Clover was head of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long.

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