Coming Soon–The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

A prior post announced the forthcoming Kenneth Burns’ documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” about Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to be shown on National Public Television in the Fall of 2014. Now we have the following schedule and details of the seven two-hour episodes:

Date Title
September 14 “Get Action (1858-1901)”—The early lives of Theodore and Franklin.
September 15 “In the Arena (1901-1910)”—Theodore transforms the office of the presidency while Franklin courts and weds Eleanor.
September 16 “The Fire of Life (1910-1919)”—Theodore leads Progressive crusade that splits his own Republican Party and enables Democrat Woodrow Wilson to become President.
September 17 “The Storm (1920-1933)”—Franklin serves as Governor of New York and becomes Democratic presidential nominee in 1932.
September 18 “The Rising Road (1933-1939)”—Franklin brings same sense of optimism and energy to White House as his cousin Theodore had.
September 19 “The Common Cause (1939-1944)”—Franklin breaks the third-term tradition and tries to persuade reluctant country to enter World War II.
September 20 “A Strong and Active Faith (1944-1962)”—Franklin is determined to see World War II through to victory. Eleanor fights for civil liberties.

In addition, in September the entire documentary will be available on DVD, and Knopf Doubleday will publish an oversized volume of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History containing nearly 800 photographs documenting the lives of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and (to a much lesser extent) their wives and families. The author, historian Geoffrey C. Ward, argues that “the similarities and not the differences” between Teddy and FDR are compelling. Both bucked the reins of their parties, though the one remained a Republican for most of his political career while the other redefined Democratic Party politics; both were children of privilege whose sense of noblesse oblige included a fundamental sense of fairness. Both surpassed all that was expected of them and transcended class to embrace an American-ness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt’s Involvement in the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

A prior post reviewed the U.S. presidential election of 1900, in which Republicans William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt were the winning candidates for President and Vice President. Now we focus on Roosevelt’s involvement in that election.

Attending the Republican Party’s National Convention

The involvement began at the Republican Party’s national convention in Philadelphia in June. Although Roosevelt repeatedly had opposed suggestions that he be the Party’s vice presidential nominee, he did attend the convention as a New York delegate-at-large. Once there, he made dramatic arrivals in the city and on the convention floor.

Roosevelt commanded the attention of the entire convention when he seconded the nomination of McKinley. In the words of his biographer, Edmund Morris, Roosevelt “moved confidently through his prepared text, speaking at a torrential speed unusual even for him, his body trembling with the force of his gestures.”[1] He said that the Republican Party in the prior election “did not promise the impossible . . . and kept our word. . . . [the U.S.] has reached a pitch of prosperity never before attained . . . . So it has been in foreign affairs [as well].” He concluded his seconding speech with these words:

  • “We stand on the threshold of a new century big with the fate of mighty nations. . . . The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean on either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. . . . We challenge the proud privilege of doing the work that Providence allots us, and we face the coming years high of heart and resolute of faith that to our people is given the right to win such honor and renown as has never yet been vouchsafed to the nations of mankind.”

On the convention’s vote on his own vice presidential nomination, Roosevelt cast the only negative vote, but immediately afterwards told party officials that he would be a loyal member of the team. He said, “I am as strong as a bull moose, and you can use me to the limit taking heed of but one thing and that is my throat.”[2]

Roosevelt confirmed his acceptance of the nomination in a lengthy letter of September 15th (two and a half months after the convention) that repeated some of the points of his seconding speech at the convention and that attacked the issues promoted by William Jennings Bryan.

Roosevelt’s letter also addressed the “serious problem” presented by “the great business combinations . . . [or] trusts.” This real problem was “immensely aggravated” by “honest but wrong-headed attacks on our whole industrial system in the effort to remove some of . . . [its] evils. . . . No good whatever is subserved by indiscriminate denunciation of corporations generally, and of all forms of industrial combination in particular.”   Instead, the “real abuses” need to be attacked first by finding out and publicizing the facts regarding “capitalization, profits and all else of importance.” Those facts would “enable us to tell whether or not certain proposed remedies would be beneficial.”

 Campaigning

As indicated in a prior post, Roosevelt conducted a real “whistle-stop” campaign from the rear of a railroad train in 1900. He covered 21,000 miles, giving 673 speeches in 24 states to an estimated three million people. These speeches defended the gold standard and McKinley’s foreign policy. He attacked Bryan for wanting to “paralyze our whole industrial life” and for appealing to “every foul and evil passion of mankind.”

Theodore Roosevelt speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt "Whistle-Stop" Speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt “Whistle-Stop” Speech 1900

 

The Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt’s compilation of his “Complete Speeches,” however, only has six campaign speeches, three of which are rebuttals of William Jennings Bryan.[3] The other three bear comment.

 

 

The Labor Question” Speech

Roosevelt on his campaign train from Quincy, Illinois to Chicago in September was accompanied by three railroad executives: my maternal great-great-uncle, William Carlos Brown, then General Manager of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad; Theodore P. Shonts, then the President of the Illinois & Iowa Railroad (“I&I RR”);[4] and Paul Morton, then the President of the Santa Fe Railroad (“the Santa Fe”).[5]

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown
T.P. Shonts
T.P. Shonts
Paul Morton
Paul Morton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have not been able to discover the substance of the conversations the four of them had on the train, but they presumably discussed the issue of federal regulation of business, especially railroads. The three railroaders presumably also were present in Chicago on Labor Day when candidate Roosevelt gave a remarkable speech, even to 21st century ears, on “The Labor Question.”[6]

The general theme of the speech was the importance of “the spirit of brotherhood in American citizenship” that is fostered by association with others not in our “own little set.” Roosevelt emphasized this from his own life in working with “mighty men of their hands” in the Northwest cattle country, with farmers and with “skilled mechanics of a high order.” He added that he had been “thrown into intimate contact with railroad men [and] . . . gradually came to the conclusion that [they] . . . were about the finest citizens there were anywhere around.” Presumably the three railroad executives with him on that trip were included in that group.

Therefore, Roosevelt argued, we “must beware of any attempt to make hatred in any form the basis of action.” He continued, “our chief troubles come from mutual misunderstanding, from failing to appreciate one another’s point of view [and] the great need is fellow feeling, sympathy, brotherhood.”

At the end of the speech, Roosevelt sketched his approach to the issues of the day. He said, “Before us loom industrial problems large in their importance and in their complexity. The last half-century has been one of extraordinary social and industrial development. . . . It is not yet possible to say what shall be the exact limit of influence allowed the State, or what limit shall be set to that right of individual initiative. . . .” Therefore, undertaking efforts to change the State’s involvement in these areas should be with caution and humility. “We can do a great deal when we undertake soberly, to do the possible. When we undertake the impossible, we too often fail to do anything at all.”

The “Free Silver, Trusts and the Philippines” Speech

On September 7th in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roosevelt castigated Bryan’s “Free Silver” proposal as “the one and only way to insure wide-spread industrial and social ruin.”

Roosevelt also touched on the problems of industrial combinations or trusts that had been raised by Bryan. Roosevelt conceded that “trusts have produced great and serious evils. There is every reason why we should try to abate these evils and to make men of wealth, whether they act individually or collectively, bear their full share of the country’s burdens and keep as scrupulously within the bounds of equity and morality as their neighbors.” However, he added, “wild and frantic denunciation does not do them the least harm and simply postpones the day when we can make them amenable to proper laws.” Repeating his letter of acceptance of the vice presidential nomination, Roosevelt said the first thing was to learn “exactly what each corporation does and earns,” thereby enabling the formulation of “measures for attacking the . . .[ evils] with good prospects of success.”

The “Prosperity, Unity and National Honor” Speech

Roosevelt’s last major speech before the November 6th election was on October 26th at New York City’s old Madison Square Garden.

According to the New York Times, when he arrived at the Garden, “the buzzing sound of many voices became a roar of cheers and the 14,000 people . . . yelled with all their might as they waved small and large American flags. . . . For ten minutes the uproar was deafening. . . . Just as the enthusiasm had reached a climax Gov. Roosevelt spied his wife in [the audience] and bowed and smiled. For the first time his teeth were in plain sight. This little act aroused the people to renewed cheering, drowning the loudest noise which could be produced by two bands of fifty men playing ‘A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.’”[7]

Eventually Roosevelt spoke. He lambasted Bryan’s “Free Silver” proposal and his seeking “to sow seeds of malice and envy” in the manner of Robespierre. “No greater evil, oh, my fellow countrymen, can be done this nation of ours than to teach any group of Americans that their attitude should be one of sullen hatred and distrust of their fellows.” Such “bitter class hatreds . . . leads ultimately to class strife, . . . to the loss of liberty . . . [whose] most dangerous enemy [is] anarchy, license, mob violence in any form.”

He concluded by appealing to his fellow countrymen “to keep the conditions under which we have grown so prosperous” and to maintain “the honor of a mighty nation.”

Conclusion

After winning the 1900 election, President McKinley and Vice President Roosevelt were inaugurated on March 4, 1901. In his short inaugural address, Roosevelt said, “For weal or for woe, for good or for evil, . . . [playing “a leading part in shaping the destinies of mankind”] is true of our own mighty nation. Great privileges and great powers are ours, and heavy are the responsibilities that go with these privileges and these powers. . . . We belong to a young nation, already of giant strength, yet whose political strength is but a forecast of power that is yet to come. We stand supreme in a continent, in a hemisphere.”

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[1] Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt at 767-68 (Random House; New York; 1979).

[2] Id. at 768. In 1912 after the Republican Party re-nominated William Howard Taft as its presidential candidate, over Roosevelt’s opposition, Roosevelt organized the Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party) and ran as its presidential candidate. With these two parties splitting the conservative vote, the Democratic presidential candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won the election.

[3] The rebuttals of Bryan were in Detroit on September 7th and Evansville, Indiana on October 12th and in a published letter of October 15th.

[4] Shonts grew up in Centerville, Iowa, and after graduating from Illinois’ Monmouth College, worked in Iowa as a bookkeeper, then an attorney and as an executive of a construction company that built stretches of railroad track. This lead to his becoming an executive for the I&IRR. In 1905 then President Roosevelt appointed Shonts to be the Chairman of the Isthmian [Panama] Canal Commission, a position he held until March 1907, when he became President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which operated  New York City’s rapid transit system.

[5] Morton was born in Michigan and grew up in Nebraska as the son of a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; his older brother was the founder of Morton Salt. In 1904 President Roosevelt appointed Morton as Secretary of the Navy, but in 1905 he was forced to resign after evidence surfaced that the Santa Fe under his presidency had granted illegal rebates. Morton, however, then became the President of the Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York City.

[6] This account of the Quincy-Chicago trip is based on a January 30, 1907, letter from Brown to Schonts saying “I often think of the trip from Quincy to Chicago, when . . . you and Paul [Morton] and I had the pleasure and the honor of a ride across Illinois with Theodore Roosevelt, then a candidate for Vice-President.” (Image (# 71-0572) provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org.) I plead for anyone who has more information about the Quincy-Chicago trip or the discussions the three railroad executives had with Roosevelt to share such information in a comment to this post.

[7] Gov. Roosevelt Speaks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 1900).

Questioning President Lyndon Johnson

In March 1966, during my final semester of law school, I was one of 38 national finalists for 16 White House Fellowships. This fellowship program had been started in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to provide one-year high-level positions in the White House and Executive Branch to future leaders so that afterwards the individuals could take that experience into their regular jobs and be better informed about important public policy issues and the workings of the federal government and, therefore, be better citizen leaders.[1]

 

East Room, White House

The other finalists and I were brought to a Virginia retreat center for interviews by members of the Fellows Commission, including John Gardner (then U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Department) and C. Douglas Dillon (former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Department). Afterwards on March 29th we all were bused to the White House and mid-afternoon were escorted to the East Room where the winners would be announced.

Before the announcement, however, President Johnson unexpectedly entered the Room. He first joined his daughter Luci Baines Johnson, who was substituting for her ill mother, to greet the finalists. The President then walked around, shaking hands and making individual comments. Johnson then called for everyone’s attention. He said that when he was a young man in Washington, he always wondered what it would be like to come to see the president and what the president would say while the young Johnson knew what he hoped the president would say. Johnson then remarked that perhaps the finalists would like to ask him questions rather than hearing him give a dry lecture.[2]

There was an awkward silence. The other finalists and I were hesitant to ask the first question, and Johnson told a few jokes to loosen up the people in the Room.

Finally one of the finalists asked what previous presidents would have been selected as Fellows if there had been such a program in their day. Johnson laughingly replied that Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy undoubtedly would have been selected, but he did not think that Truman and Johnson himself would have made it. Other finalists asked Johnson questions about the Viet Nam war, the current visit to Washington of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Fellowship program itself.[3]

Lyndon Johnson & Bill Moyers

Word of this impromptu presidential question and answer session got back to the White House Press Room, and journalists belatedly arrived and stood at the back of the Room taking notes. Johnson’s Press Secretary, Bill Moyers, was next to Johnson during the session and kept trying to end it, but Johnson was enjoying himself and continued to respond to questions.

During this session I was standing about 10 feet from President Johnson. There was concern at the time about inflation with the February 1966 Consumer Price Index up 0.5%, the highest increase in that month since 1951, and whether the President would ask Congress for a tax increase to fight inflation. So I asked the President if he would be seeking such a tax increase.

Tugging at his big right ear lobe, Johnson responded in a folksy manner in his Texan drawl. He first said that he was more worried about economists than he was about the economy and that he had not made up his mind on the tax increase idea. He added that he did not want to ask for an increase, especially in a midterm election year, but if he decided a tax increase was necessary to cool off the economy, he would ask Congress for a “modest” rise of 5 to 7 per cent in the taxes paid by individuals and corporations. Johnson also said he had ruled out reductions in federal government spending and wage and price controls as other ways to combat inflation.[4]

The President’s Daily Diary for that day says that this answer and his “mention of the Tax Rise to be proposed” was the headline in many newspapers the next day, as indeed it was.[5]

This news the next morning prompted a sharp decline in the stock market–the largest in two weeks. Reacting to this market decline, the President around noon on March 30th told journalists that he “absolutely” had not made up his mind about the need for a tax increase. The market responded with a momentary uptick, but it closed lower that day.[6] Thereafter I joked that I caused the stock market to fall.

At the conclusion of the meeting the prior day in the State Dining Room, the announcement of the 18 new Fellows was made.[7] I was not one of the lucky ones.


[1] White House, White House Fellows, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/fellows.

[2] Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Daily Diary Collection (March 29, 1966), http://www.lbjlibrary.org/collections/daily-diary.html.

[3]  Id.

[4] Id.; Pomfret, Johnson Favors 5-to-7% Tax Rise If Any Is Needed, N. Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10B12FC3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Rossant, Flexibility and Taxes; Johnson’s Hint of Relaxing Opposition To Rise Is Gain for ‘New Economists,’ N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D11FE3E59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3; Wicker, The Inflation Debate, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F1071FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Editorial, The Economy’s Pulse, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10617F83F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[5] Id.

[6]  Abele, Tax Uncertainty Upsets Markets, N.Y. Times, Mar. 31, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D15F63959177B8EDDA80B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[7] Capital Fellows End a Year at Top, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10E1FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.