Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
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Posts tagged "1916"

As Election Day 1916 approached, former New York Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes appeared to be heavily favored to defeat incumbent President Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson was so certain of his impending defeat that he decided that he would resign after Hughes won the election. 

President Wilson — who held a doctorate in government — felt that the transition period from Election Day (in November) until Inauguration Day (in March) was too long to have a lame duck President, particularly while World War I was getting underway in Europe.  In what would have been an unprecedented act, Wilson had decided that, in the event of a Hughes victory, he would appoint Hughes as Secretary of State.  Then Wilson would resign the Presidency and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would also resign so that Hughes could immediately assume the Presidency.

On Election night, it appeared that was exactly what would happen.  Early returns showed a solid lead for Hughes and some outlets called the election for the man Theodore Roosevelt called “the bearded iceberg”.  By midnight, Hughes had won 254 Electoral votes and was 12 short from clinching the Presidency.  By winning California, where the votes were still being counted, Hughes would lock up 13 more Electoral votes and be the President-elect of the United States.  

Confident that the undecided results would play out in his favor, Hughes went to sleep.  The country was 32 years — eight Presidential campaigns — away from the Chicago Tribune’s infamous “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” blunder, but the latest editions of newspapers on November 7, 1916 also jumped the gun.  The New York Times and New York World were among many newspapers which either strongly suggested that Hughes was heading towards victory or outright declared him the winner, some of which ran photos of the Republican candidate’s bearded face alongside headlines blaring “THE PRESIDENT-ELECT: CHARLES EVANS HUGHES”. 

As the night dragged on into morning, though, it became clear that California would go for President Wilson.  When a reporter called the New York City hotel to speak to Charles Evans Hughes, who had gone to sleep confident of a victory, one of Hughes’s still-jubilant aides told the reporter, “The President is sleeping.”  The reporter responded, “When he wakes up, tell him he is no longer President.”

By the next morning, Wilson had won re-election with a narrow victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College.  The surprising overnight turnaround in President Wilson’s political fortunes resulted in his extraordinary and unprecedented plan for an expedited succession to prevent a lame duck President being relegated to the what-could-have-been pile.    

Charles Evans Hughes must have been stunned by his loss.  It took him 15 days to send President Wilson a letter congratulating him on his victory and conceding the election.  Hughes was approached several more times by the Republican Party to run for President, but he declined.  In 1921, he was appointed Secretary of State by President Warren G. Harding and continued on at the State Department under President Coolidge.  In 1930, Hughes returned to the Supreme Court, accepting President Hoover’s nomination and serving as Chief Justice until 1941.

As Election Day 1916 approached, former New York Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes appeared to be heavily favored to defeat incumbent President Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson was so certain of his impending defeat that he decided that he would resign after Hughes won the election. 

President Wilson — who held a doctorate in government — felt that the transition period from Election Day (in November) until Inauguration Day (in March) was too long to have a lame duck President, particularly while World War I was getting underway in Europe.  In what would have been an unprecedented act, Wilson had decided that, in the event of a Hughes victory, he would appoint Hughes as Secretary of State.  Then Wilson would resign the Presidency and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would also resign so that Hughes could immediately assume the Presidency.

On Election night, it appeared that was exactly what would happen.  Early returns showed a solid lead for Hughes and some outlets called the election for the man Theodore Roosevelt called “the bearded iceberg”.  As the night dragged on, though, and it became clear that California would go for President Wilson, the extraordinary plan that Wilson had hatched to prevent a lame duck President was relegated to the what-could-have-been pile. 

When a reporter called the Hughes campaign’s headquarters to get a reaction to the rapidly changing circumstances, an aide to Hughes said that candidate had gone to sleep and somewhat presumptuously added, “The President cannot be disturbed”.  The reporter said, “Well, when he wakes up, tell the President he isn’t President anymore”. 

By the next morning, Wilson had won re-election with a narrow victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College.