In keeping with our Presidential visits series, on October 26th, 1898, Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican candidate for New York Governor, campaigned in Rochester. Michael also written Roosevelt in 1860/1912 Redux?
Today Michael looks closely at four of at least eight visits to Rochester made by Theodore Roosevelt.Theodore Roosevelt (he thoroughly disliked being called “Teddy,” but reluctantly acquiesced in being referred to as “TR”), our youngest and most energetic president, visited Rochester at least eight times during his public career. Four of them during last minute peripatetic political campaign trips in late October.
TR also passed through Rochester several times, the most famous instance being in 1901. While vacationing in the Adirondacks in 1901, the recently elected vice president learned that President McKinley (who was thought to be recovering from an assassin’s bullet) had died in the early morning hours of Sept. 14. Jumping aboard an express train, Roosevelt, now our 26th President, highballed through Upstate and Rochester to his rendezvous with destiny in Buffalo.
A Life of Political Campaigning
TR’s first appearance in Rochester was on Oct. 26, 1898 during his campaign for governor. Playing off his status as a hero of the Spanish-American War, the Colonel, as he liked to be called, proclaimed to the crowd:
In my regiment of Rough Riders, I had men from the North, South, East and West; men of money and men without money. I treated the Northerner as I treated the Southerner; I treated the poor Rough Rider as I treated the rich Rough Rider; and so it shall be if I am elected governor – every man shall be treated on his merits as a man.
As his campaign train pulled out of the Rochester station the next day, a gaggle of local politicians and notables presented TR with a walking stick on the occasion of his 40th birthday.
Less than two weeks later, though winning only a plurality of the vote, Roosevelt led the Republican ticket to a sweep of all state offices. (Note, TR rose from governor, to VP to president in 2 years, 8 mo. and 14 days).
Roosevelt’s next campaign appearance, and his last as a candidate for office (oddly enough, he never visited Rochester while serving as VP or as president), came two years later on Oct. 30, 1900 when he arrived here to beat the drum for the re-election of President McKinley and for himself as the Republican candidate for vice president. Following a national whistle stop tour that had seen Roosevelt travel over 19,000 miles and deliver 600 speeches, including addresses that afternoon in Canandaigua, and Penn Yan, TR arrived late for his Rochester appearance, hitting town at 9:30 PM in a driving rain storm which had forced the cancellation of a large parade organized in his honor. Despite the weather and the lateness of the hour, Roosevelt reportedly galvanized a crowd in Fitzhugh Hall, estimated at over 5,000, by his attack on Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his advocacy of “free silver.” Less popular with some parts of his audience perhaps were statements such as:
I believe that much can be done both to better the conditions of the wage workers, and to lessen some of the undoubted abuses of corporate wealth. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with any man who in good faith works along reasonable lines to these ends.
[On the 1900 campaign, see Would Cruz crucify us on “a cross of gold?”]
Although Roosevelt bypassed Rochester during his 1904 election campaign, it’s interesting to note that two of America’s largest manufacturers of that year’s hot political item, the campaign pin, were Rochester companies; the F.F. Pulver Co, and Bastian Brothers.
It would be another decade before Roosevelt would next visit Rochester, this time to campaign on Oct. 29, 1910 for the Republican-Progressive gubernatorial candidate, Henry L. Stimson.
It was during this stop that TR created a catch phrase which became, however briefly, a mainstay of the Republican campaign against Tammany Hall. It seems that during the Democratic nominating convention, (coincidently held in Rochester the previous month), Charles Murphy, the boss of Tammany Hall and thus of the entire state Democratic Party, had set up shop in Room 212 of a local hotel. As TR explained matters:
The only indication that any member of the convention received of the part they were to play was in the form of a preemptory message, “You are wanted in Room 212!’
According to TR, that summons went out to every candidate, delegate, or wielder of influence:
The convention consisted of a man in a room” cried TR And now, the Democratic candidate has been selected, and the Democratic platform written, in Room 212. Now Mr. Murphy sends to the people of the State of New York the message, “You are wanted in Room 212’. Are you going?”
No! shouted the Rochester audience, Room 212”, Room 212 they chanted. The phrase caught on and was likewise chanted at TR’s subsequent campaign rallies through Election Day. Sadly, for all Roosevelt’s efforts, a week later Stimson went down to defeat in a Democratic sweep of all state-wide offices.
Roosevelt’s last campaign appearance in Rochester, indeed his last appearance of any kind here, was on Oct. 16, 1914. By now a full-fledged, third-party Progressive (having come in second behind Woodrow Wilson, but ahead of incumbent Republican president William Howard Taft in the landmark election of 1912), Roosevelt was stumping for the Progressive Party’s gubernatorial and senatorial state-wide candidates against the GOP and Democratic slates. Once again, all his candidates went down to defeat in another Democratic sweep.
[On the 1912 election, see 1860/1912 Redux?]
The 1914 election was of particular significance in New York State in that it was the first year in which the voters directly elected a US Senator under the 17th Amendment. And of local interest that year was the July convention of the Socialist Party held in Rochester where, in a foreshadowing of Bob Duffy’s selection as Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, another Rochesterian. Mrs. Florence C. Kitchelt, was nominated by the Socialists for Lt. Governor.
[see Maurice Isserman’s “Inheritance Lost: Socialism in Rochester, 1917 – 1919”(Rochester History, 1977)]
Of the other four times TR visited Rochester, his most memorable was on June 9, 1899 when as governor he gave the dedicatory address for the unveiling of the Frederick Douglass monument which, following a subsequent move, now resides in Highland Park. The governor paid homage to Rochester’s leading citizen, declaring that:
Let us strive to pay the respect due his memory by living in such a manner as to determine that a man shall be judged for what a man is; without regard to his color, race or creed , or ought else but his worth as a man.
Gov. Roosevelt returned to speak on June 13, 1900 at the University of Rochester’s Semi-Centennial celebration, one day after the school’s board of trustees voted to take the radical step of permitting women to attend the university. After lecturing on the topic of “Promise and Performance: The Duties of Citizenship,” TR paid the U of R a left-handed compliment by comparing it to Daniel Webster’s characterization of his alma mater, Dartmouth, “It is a small college, but there are those who love it.”
On June 12, 1913, a part of a generic campaign for progressive reforms, TR spoke at three locations in Rochester before a combined audience of 8,000 who came to hear him support the establishment of political party primaries as the way to combat the political bosses’ “smoke-filled room” selection of candidates for office.
Returning three months later, on Sept. 27, 1913 Roosevelt spoke about “The Invisible Government” of Tammany Hall and the need for implementing progressive government as a check against the evils of Tammany Hall. With an eye on the 1916 presidential election, and sounding not unlike some of the presidential candidates in 2016, TR proclaimed:
We progressives are fighting the battle not merely of the men and women in the Progressive Party, but of the plain people, of the decent citizens, of the ordinary men, women and children everywhere …Remember we are fighting the battles of the rank and file of both the Republican and the Democratic parties when we war against the corrupt machines which have stolen from the rank and file the right to manage their parties.
Roosevelt’s 1898 campaign for Governor would lead to controversy within the African-American community (most of whom in New York voted for TR).
On August 15, 1898 Lt. Colonel Roosevelt returned to Montauk Point as the “Rough Rider” who led the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry to success on the slopes of San Juan Hill.
During the battle, his white volunteers had fought alongside black troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry. In an October 15th speech to the Afro-American Mass Meeting of Saratoga Convention nominations at the Lennox Lyceum in New York, Roosevelt lavishly praised the heroics of the African-American soldiers.
However, when Roosevelt published his campaign autobiography The Rough Riders in 1899, he omitted much of his praise for the 9th and 10th Cavalry. Instead, Roosevelt’s comments are condescending towards the black troopers, including the claim that during battle the troopers were “peculiarly dependent on their white officers.”
The African-America community felt betrayed. So much so that in The New Negro for a New Century (1900), Booker T. Washington was uncharacteristically blunt in criticizing Roosevelt for both negatively characterizing the 9th and 10th Cavalry and downplaying their heroics.
For more on Roosevelt and the African-American soldiers in the Spanish-American War, see Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism to reprint “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” and “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” 24 scenes and a modest appraisal