Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 Election as U.S. President

The presidential and vice presidential candidates for the Republican Party in 1904 were President Theodore Roosevelt and Charles W. Fairbanks and for the Democratic Party, Alton B. Parker and Henry Davis.

Roosevet&FairbanksParker & Davis







Republican Party’s Nomination of Roosevelt (and Fairbanks)

At the Republicans’ June convention in Chicago, Roosevelt was unanimously nominated on the first ballot, and the leaders of the conservative wing of the Party selected Fairbanks, a conservative Senator from Indiana with close ties to the railroad industry, for the running mate. Roosevelt was not pleased with Fairbanks, but did not think it was worth fighting about.

Sagamore Hill
Sagamore Hill

On July 27th, 54 solemn Republicans went to Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, New York  on the north shore of Long Island,[1] to enact their party’s “most hallowed ritual: a formal notification of nomination to its presidential candidate.” [2]

Roosevelt in a 12-minute speech that day accepted the nomination. He, of course, praised the Republican Party and slammed the Democrats. He had two comments regarding business issues. He stated, “In dealing with the great organizations known as trusts, we [need] . . . to point out that [the laws] . . . actually have been enforced, and that legislation has been enacted to increase the effectiveness of their enforcement.” Roosevelt added, “The problems with which we have to deal in our modern industrial and social life are manifold; but the spirit in which it is necessary to approach their solution is simply the spirit of honesty, of courage, and of common-sense.”

His more formal letter of acceptance of September 12th reiterated these points and praised the previously mentioned “successful suit against the Northern Securities Company merger,” the enforcement of “the anti-trust and interstate commerce laws, and the action of the last Congress in enlarging the scope of the interstate commerce law [in the Elkins Act], and in creating the Department of Commerce and Labor, with a Bureau of Corporations, [that] have for the first time opened a chance for the National Government to deal intelligently and adequately with the questions affecting society, whether for good or for evil, because of the accumulation of capital in great corporations.”

The Campaign

Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, John Hay, in a letter to American historian and author, Henry Adams, called this campaign “the most absurd political campaign of our time.” Roosevelt did not actively campaign. Instead he issued statements form his front porch at Sagamore Hill, and the Republican Party received large campaign contributions from wealthy capitalists, including J.P. Morgan, the financial leader of Wall Street and a director of the New York Central Railroad; Edward H. Harriman, the president of the Union Pacific Railroad and also a director of the New York Central; and Henry C. Frick, the steel baron.

1904 TR poster

Roosevelt’s campaign slogan The Square Deal reiterated his comment on the settlement of the 1902 coal miners’ strike. He promised to “see it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more.” This pledge summed up Roosevelt’s belief in balancing the interests of business, consumers, and labor. The Square Deal called for limiting the power of trusts  (a person having control of a large corporation so that no others can succeed in the economy), promoting public health and safety, and improving working conditions.

The Election Results

The results of the November 8th election were not close. Roosevelt and Fairbanks had 7,626,000 votes (56.4%); Parker and Davis, 5,084,000 (37.6%). The Electoral College margin for Roosevelt and Fairbanks was even wider: 336 (70.6%) vs. 140 (29.4%); the following map shows the geographical distribution of the electoral votes (Republican in red; Democrat in blue):



[1] Sagamore Hill is now a National Historic Site, currently closed for renovation.

[2] Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex at 343-64 (Random House; New York, 2001).