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
Posts tagged "Charles Evans Hughes"

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.

On the night of March 18, 1917, several hundred Republican leaders gathered in the Union League Club in New York City.  With German U-boats engaging in unrestricted warfare and sinking American ships on the high seas despite United States neutrality in World War I, the Republicans demanded that President Woodrow Wilson declare war against Kaiser Wilhelm II’s belligerent empire, infuse fresh warriors into the stagnant European war, and prove that the U.S. was a truly international power that was only getting stronger in the midst of the American Century.

After the meeting, three of the nation’s most influential and powerful Republicans sat down to dinner in a nearby cafe.  Charles Evans Hughes was a former New York Governor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and had narrowly lost the 1916 Presidential election to President Wilson four months earlier in one of the closest elections in American history.  Theodore Roosevelt was also a former New York Governor, had served as President from 1901-1909, and his third party challenge for the Presidency in 1912 had split the GOP, sabotaged the re-election chances of his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, and ensured Wilson’s first Presidential election victory.  Elihu Root, 72, had stepped away from the Senate two years earlier, had previously served as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and then Secretary of State, and was frequently mentioned as a potential Presidential contender.

As they discussed the crisis at hand and envisioned American entry into the war, Roosevelt — a vicious critic of President Wilson, who disliked TR just as strongly — passionately spoke of his hope to lead American soldiers into battle in Europe much like he had done nearly 20 years earlier with the Rough Riders in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.  At 58 years old, Roosevelt was overweight, nearly deaf, blind in one eye, and had never fully recovered from a near-fatal bought of malaria that he contracted during a seven-month-long expedition in unexplored jungles of Brazil a couple of years earlier.  Partly due to his age, but mostly due to their contentious relationship, it was unlikely that President Wilson would grant Roosevelt his wish.  But with tears welling in his eyes and his voice breaking, the former President told Hughes and Root how badly he hoped to serve his country one last time.  ”I must go,” said Roosevelt, “but I will not come back.”

Roosevelt’s emotional declaration dramatically silenced his fellow Republican statesmen at the table.  Hughes, who would later become Secretary of State and then Chief Justice of the United States, solemnly looked at Roosevelt (who had once said that the sober, reticent Hughes was a “bearded iceberg”) without saying anything.  It was Root, who had served in Roosevelt’s Cabinet throughout almost all of TR’s Presidency, who finally spoke up.

"Theodore, if you can make Wilson believe that you will not come back, he will let you go!"

I got a review copy today from Simon & Schuster of a book that I think many of you might be interested in: FDR and Chief Justice Hughes: The President, the Supreme Court, and the Epic Battle Over the New Deal(BOOKKINDLE). 

I’m frequently asked about books on FDR and the New Deal, and this one also features Charles Evans Hughes, who might be the most accomplished American who was never elected President.  I have a ton of books on my to-read list, but after thumbing through a few pages of FDR and Chief Justice Hughes, I may have to skip ahead of some of those books and bump this to the front of the line.

It looks like a great read, so you might want to check it out.  It will be released on February 7th, but you can order it now so you receive it next week.

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.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Who do you think was the best Secretary of State of the last 100 years?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

He was only Secretary of State for two years (1947-1949), but George C. Marshall, in my opinion, was the greatest American diplomat of the past 100 years.  Marshall, of course, developed the Marshall Plan, which helped relieve war-torn Europe and won him the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. 

By the way, outside of the State Department, General Marshall probably was one of the most qualified Americans who never served as President of the United States.  Marshall was the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and what that means is that he was the guy who basically picked the Generals who won the war.  Marshall was a priceless asset to President Roosevelt and President Truman during the war and after the war.

Besides General Marshall, I’d also include Charles Evans Hughes, who served as Secretary of State under President Harding and President Coolidge (and was another guy who probably should have been President himself).  Also, Cordell Hull — the longest serving Secretary of State — who served throughout almost three full terms of FDR’s Administration.

Depending on your political affiliation, there are also many who have high opinions of other 20th/21st Century Secretaries of State.  Quite frankly, the United States has done historically well — particularly in the last 50 years — with the person that have been put at the helm of the State Department.  These names are all people who did some important things that significantly affected American policy and the world as a whole:   John Foster Dulles (President Eisenhower), Dean Rusk (President Kennedy and President Johnson), Henry Kissinger (President Nixon and President Ford), George Schulz (President Reagan), James Baker (President Bush 41), and Madeline Albright (President Clinton).  Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are tainted by the Iraq War, but Powell is a heavyweight on the world stage and Rice is a remarkable leader.  Hillary Clinton is on her way to being a very important Secretary of State and might be the MVP of the Obama Administration so far.

Asker savagemike Asks:
Thanks for the great answers, Anthony. Always insightful. That's why I haven't asked anything in a while, I wanted to try to ask some really good questions but I run out of ideas after a while hahaha! OK here's one:
Out of all the people who have run for President and lost, who do you think would have had the largest positive impact on the country had they won the election? Who do you think would have had the largest negative impact?
I mean people who actually received a decent amount of votes in the general election.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think that I kind of answered this question in the past, but not only do I not remember if I answered it, but I don’t even remember what my answer might have been.  This is why I need to finish putting together an index of my Questions and Answers.

Anyway, I think two losing candidates stand out as being able to have made a major positive impact on the country had they instead won their election.  The first would be Charles Evans Hughes, who lost to Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  I think Hughes would have been a great President, especially during the time period.  Wilson was a good wartime leader, but after the war his intransigence, his arrogance, and his stubborn actions first in Paris and then with the Senate upon his return to the United States was very bad for this country.  Plus, Wilson was virtually incapacitated for the last two years of Presidency due to his stroke and the cover-up of his poor health.

The other candidate would be Al Gore.  If Gore had won in 2000 he couldn’t have stopped al-Qaeda from flying planes into buildings on September 11, 2001, but he wouldn’t have sent troops into Iraq and he wouldn’t have alienated most of the world because of his actions.

The largest negative impact would easily have been George McClellan in 1864.  If McClellan had defeated Lincoln in 1864, he would have quickly moved to end hostilities in the Civil War, without any regard to the continued preservation of the Union or permanently solving the slavery question.  McClellan and the Democrats were ready to live with a Southern Confederacy in 1864 and end the fighting immediately.  This would have saved some lives in the Winter of 1864-1865, but it would have invariably led to more bloodshed in the future to resolve the unfinished conflict.