October, 26th, 1898: the Rough Rider on his way to the Governor’s mansion. TR Comes to Town, again…and again…and again…

October, 26th, 1898: the Rough Rider on his way to the Governor’s mansion. TR Comes to Town, again…and again…and again…

Inside Theodore Roosevelt School #43 on a visit by student volunteers from St. John Fisher College April, 2015

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.


Made in Rochester [Provided by Michael Nighan]

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.


October 27th, 1898

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).


Tue Oct 30 1900 page 13

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.


Giant McKinley/ Roosevelt Gold Bug Jugate Pin from the 1900 election campaign from Would Cruz crucify us on “a cross of gold?”

[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.

[On the 1904 campaign, see If Donald Trump becomes a footnote in political history, he will become William Randolph Hearst. And maybe Bernie Sanders is William Jennings Bryan]

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.

'Insane Man Shoots Roosevelt' Headline for Milwaukee Sentinel. October 15, 1912

‘Insane Man Shoots Roosevelt’ Headline for Milwaukee Sentinel. October 15, 1912 from 1860/1912 Redux?

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)]


The Douglass Monument Dedication June 9th, 1899

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:


see Frederick Douglass in Rochester: a gallery of images and words

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.


Wed Jun 13 1900 page 9

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.”


Thu Jun 14 1900 page 16

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.


from Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism to reprint “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898”

Michael J. Nighan


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.


from “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” 24 scenes and a modest appraisal

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


The Presidential Visits Series in its entirety: James Monroe to Donald Trump

1860/1912 Redux? from Michael Nighan

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism to reprint “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898”

“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” 24 scenes and a modest appraisal

On Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day

See the “News” at Northeast: Booker T. Washington’s visit with George Eastman

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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