In August 1876, 48-year-old James Roosevelt was absolutely devastated when his 45-year-old first wife, Rebecca, suffered a massive heart attack and died at their home in Hyde Park, New York. James mourned Rebecca’s death for nearly three years before deciding to try to end his loneliness and attempt to fill the void left by Rebecca’s passing. The widower — now north of 50 years old — even had a a particular woman in mind, and she happened to be a distant cousin. James, a member of the Hudson Valley branch of the Roosevelt family, began visiting the Long Island branch of the Roosevelt family, hoping to win the interest of 23-year-old Anna Roosevelt — better known as “Bamie” — Theodore Roosevelt’s older sister.
James’s efforts were unsuccessful. Bamie was not interested. However, his visits to Long Island were not entirely fruitless. The mother of Theodore and Bamie, Mittie, felt sorry for James and decided to play matchmaker. At a dinner party that Mittie hosted, she introduced James to 26-year-old Sara Delano and the two quickly hit it off. They married on October 7, 1880, and on January 30, 1882, Sara gave birth to their only child, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the future President of the United States.
When he was 23 years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt did what his father was unable to do years earlier — he joined the Hudson Valley Roosevelts and the Long Island Roosevelts by marriage. On March 17, 1905, Franklin married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of Bamie and Theodore. Since Eleanor’s father had died in 1894, the bride was escorted down the aisle and given away by her uncle Theodore, who just happened to be President of the United States at the time. At the wedding, the first President Roosevelt congratulated the future President Roosevelt on the marriage between the two distant cousins by telling FDR “Well, Franklin, there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”
We have had a handful of very forgettable major party candidates for President over the years — candidates who weren’t even thought of as particularly compelling contenders during their own time let alone ours. Such candidates usually won their party’s nomination because they happened to be compromise candidates palatable to enough delegates if their political party’s convention found itself deadlocked after a number of ballots while attempting to nominate a Presidential candidate. On several occasions these compromise nominees found themselves becoming unlikely, dark horse options for the Presidency itself. A few were even elected, like Franklin Pierce (won the 1852 Democratic nomination on the 49th ballot) and James Garfield (won the 1880 Republican nomination on the 36th ballot), for example.
In most cases, however, even the compromise candidates and darkest of dark horses were still politicians who had some form of support and at least some significant political experience, or were favorite son candidates that were well-known in their own states or regions.
The most forgettable Presidential nominee of a major party actually won the Democratic nomination on the very first ballot in 1904, but he was not a well-known man then and very few people remember him now. In 1904, popular President Theodore Roosevelt, who had succeeded William McKinley upon President McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, was seeking election to the Presidency in his own right. Many leading Democrats recognized that defeating Roosevelt was an unlikely prospect and declined to seek the Democratic nomination. William Jennings Bryan had been the Democratic nominee in 1896 and 1900 and would be nominated again in 1908, but he wanted no part of Roosevelt in 1904. Neither did former President Grover Cleveland, the Democratic nominee in 1884, 1888, and 1892, who leading Dems tried to convince to accept the ‘04 nomination.
Instead, the Democrats in 1904 turned to Alton B. Parker of New York. Parker had spent his career as a judge — he never served in the legislative or executive branch of any level of government at any point of his life. At the time of his nomination in 1904, Parker had been chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals since 1898. Prior to that, Parker had served as surrogate of Ulster County, New York (1877-1885) and as a New York State Supreme Court justice (1885-1898).
Judge Parker must have recognized that his chances were slim. He didn’t actively campaign and he made no big waves after resigning from the court to accept his party’s Presidential nomination. Parker understood that Roosevelt, a fellow New Yorker, was very popular. He also realized that the Democratic Party had given him a running mate who was nominated for Vice President almost as a lifetime achievement award. If Parker had even a puncher’s chance at the Presidency, the Democrats likely wouldn’t have nominated Henry Gassaway Davis for Vice President. Davis was a millionaire who had served in the United States Senate, representing West Virginia. However, Davis had left the Senate over 20 years earlier — when he retired as a Senator, Chester Arthur still had two full years left in his Presidency. In 1904, Henry G. Davis was 81 years old and still remains the oldest candidate ever nominated for the Presidency or Vice Presidency by a major party. It’s not likely that anybody will beat that record.
By nearly all accounts, Parker was an honest man, a dedicated public servant, and probably would have been a good President. But he never had a chance. Theodore Roosevelt handily defeated him and ensured his obscurity. Alton B. Parker is so obscure that he’s not even remembered by those who enjoy pointing out the obscurity of some of history’s once-important figures. I’ll turn to Irving Stone, author of one of the great books of Presidential (or, “almost-Presidential”) history, They Also Ran: The Story of the Men Who Were Defeated for the Presidency, to really hammer the point home about Judge Parker:
“He is the forgotten man among the forgotten men who Also Ran.
Of all the unsuccessful candidates for the Presidency of the United States no longer living, he [Alton B. Parker] alone has had no biography written about him.”
Today, 70 years after Irving Stone first wrote those lines in They Also Ran and nearly 50 years since the revised edition of Stone’s volume, Alton Brooks Parker remains forgotten and still has not been the subject of a biography.
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!”
Awesome job working the plug in there for Tributes and Trash Talk!
I’ve always found the JQA/Jefferson relationship fascinating. Obviously, the John Adams/Thomas Jefferson relationship is one of the most historic and interesting dynamics ever, especially since a lot of it is recorded through their letter to each other or about each other to others.
With JQA, though, what is interesting is that there was a great respect between them and must have been some sort of affection because John Adams, in one of his last letters to Jefferson, half-jokingly referred to JQA, who was President at that point, as “our John” and said that “I call him our John, because, when you were at the Cul de sac at Paris, he appeared to me to be almost as much your boy as mine.”
Like you said, there must have been some animosity on JQA’s part because Jefferson defeated his father. George W. Bush openly admitted to feeling the same way after Bill Clinton beat HIS father for the Presidency. Yet, there were many things that JQA and Jefferson agreed on politically and Jefferson’s protege, James Monroe, was half-mentor, half-partner to John Quincy Adams when Monroe was President and JQA was Secretary of State. Most interesting to me is that, in his personal diary shortly after Jefferson died, JQA eviscerated Jefferson while savagely critiquing Jefferson’s autobiography. It’s a strange relationship - more of a rollercoaster ride, in my opinion, than the off-and-on relationship between JQA’s father and Jefferson.
TR was an especially brutal critic of Jefferson. It’s kind of ironic that the incredibly wealthy Roosevelt saw Jefferson as something of an elitist. I think Roosevelt’s biggest issue was he despised hypocrites and he saw Jefferson as one of the most glaring hypocrites of them all because of slavery. There’s also the fact that Roosevelt looked down on men who didn’t fight when there was a battle to be joined. As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson fled when it appeared the British were on their way to capture him, and Roosevelt saw that as cowardice — even though Jefferson probably couldn’t have lasted 60 seconds in a battle in which he would have been vastly outnumbered by the British and likely would have been summarily executed for treason if he had been captured. Jefferson, as head of government in Virginia, made the right move by fleeing, but Roosevelt couldn’t forgive that or see it as anything but weakness.
26th President of the United States (1901-1909)
Full Name: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Born: October 27, 1858, 28 East 20th Street, New York City, New York
Term: September 14, 1901-January 20, 1909
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Charles Warren Fairbanks
Died: January 6, 1919, Sagamore Hill estate, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York
Buried: Young’s Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York
Theodore Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that you know is great, but very few people can name specific accomplishments that occurred during the Roosevelt Administration. TR, despite being a bombastic leader, guided the country through a relatively peaceful, prosperous time and helped calm the country in the wake of President McKinley’s assassination even though he was the youngest President in history. Because of his personality, Roosevelt helped expand American influence and power, and was something like a promoter for the American brand as this country became the great power of the 20th Century. TR’s Progressive shift modernized industry, politics, civil rights, and immediately made the 20th Century seem like an advanced time, even in comparison to the 1890s. Building the Panama Canal and mediating the peace talks between Japan and Russia (which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize) expanded American influence just as much as the Great White Fleet. Where would TR be on this list if he had never made the pledge not to run in 1908? It would have changed a lot of things, and possibly put TR in office as World War I broke out rather than Woodrow Wilson.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: 7 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 7 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 4 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 5 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 6 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 4 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 3 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 5 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 4 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 2 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 5 of 40
Anonymous asked: Would George W. Bush be flipping burgers if he didn’t have a wealthy background? (Meaning, do you think he could have had success on his own merits [Not neccesarily become president, just general success?] rather than have everything handed to him on a silver platter like in real life?) Same goes for JFK and both Roosevelts.
I think all of our Presidents have been ambitious men. While some of them have had advantages and opportunities that certainly helped their cause, I don’t think anyone has had the Presidency handed to them on a silver platter.
I’m no fan of George W. Bush, but the man worked hard to get where he was. He truly was the black sheep of his family, and his decision to run for Governor of Texas in 1994 while his brother, Jeb, was running for Governor of Florida was not a popular decision within his family. They thought that Jeb was the best bet and better prepared, but W. ran anyway. George W. Bush won and Jeb lost. I’m one of those people who will always be haunted by what happened in the 2000 election, but the election was as close as it was because George W. Bush was a better campaigner than Al Gore. Bush worked hard for what he accomplished, and after watching George W. Bush for almost two decades now, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to get in the way of something he’s determined to achieve.
JFK had money, but growing up in the Kennedy family wasn’t an easy thing to do. All JFK wanted to do in life was write some books and maybe become a journalist. He had no interest in being a politician, but the dreams that Joe Sr. had for the oldest Kennedy son, Joe Jr., were transferred on to JFK when Joe Jr. was killed. JFK worked to become a good politician. It wasn’t natural for him. His early speeches and and initial campaign was brutal, but he trained himself to be better. Running for President as a Catholic was difficult and Kennedy fought through terrible, chronic pain every single day of his life. JFK had a bad back BEFORE he fought in World War II. The Army rejected him because of his back and he was able to talk his father into using his connections to get him into the Navy. Then his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese ship and Kennedy swam for several hours while pulling a wounded member of his crew by his life jacket with his teeth. Nobody handed JFK a Purple Heart and war hero status; he earned it.
Theodore Roosevelt? Sure, he had money. But his dad died when he was 19 and his mother and wife died in the same house on the same day in 1884. TR was elected to the New York State Assembly at 23 years old. After the tragedy with his wife and mother, he moved to the Dakota Territory to clear his head. He looked ridiculous with his fancy New Yorker clothes and odd mannerisms, but he kicked the shit out of anyone who gave him trouble. He was a cattle rancher and a Sheriff in what was truly the wild west. TR ran for Mayor of New York City before he turned 30. Two Presidents from different parties (Harrison and Cleveland) appointed him to the U.S. Civil Service Commission from ages 31-37. By the time he turned 40, he had added president of the New York City Police Board, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, war hero in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and Governor of New York to his resume. At 42, he was elected Vice President. Before he turned 43 he was President. On top of all that, he wrote dozens of books with expert ability on a multitude of subjects. Again, nothing was given to him that he didn’t earn.
FDR? Yes, he had money. He was also a New York State Senator before he turned 30. Like his distant cousin, he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but he earned that position nearly 10 years earlier than TR did and served 7 years in the position (including World War I). At the age of 37, FDR was the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. A year later, he was paralyzed by polio, and he literally willed himself back into the public eye despite everyone telling him his career was finished. He was never fully able to walk again, but he worked so hard at trying to that he fooled millions of people. Before he turned 51 he had served a term as Governor of New York and been inaugurated as President. Through 12 of the most difficult years in the world’s history, FDR was President and kept fighting for what he felt was right even as it was clear that the job was killing him.
I think these men would have been successful at whatever they attempted to do if they focused their ambition and passion into whatever that goal might be.
Although Theodore Roosevelt was the only President born in New York City and the Roosevelts are widely identified with New York, TR’s mother was a Confederate sympathizer.
Martha Bulloch Roosevelt was born in Georgia and raised on a plantation with dozens of slaves. After marrying Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. in 1853 and moving to New York City, Martha — better known as “Mittie” — tried to hold on to her Southern roots. When Civil War broke out, she urged her husband — a strong Unionist and supporter of Abraham Lincoln — to purchase a substitute to serve in his place. Mittie couldn’t stomach the idea of her husband fighting in a war against her brothers, two of whom served in the Confederate Navy.
While Theodore Sr. agreed to her wishes and purchased a substitute, he also organized logistical support for Union soldiers and their families back home. Mittie Roosevelt provided a similar function — but to the Confederacy. Through Confederate agents working undercover in the Northeast, Mittie funneled food, clothing, and financial support to the people of the South.
Archie Butt was very close — personally and professionally — to both men. Butt served Theodore Roosevelt as a military aide both in Washington and overseas. Butt’s service in the Philippines is where he met Taft, who was Governor-General of the Philippines during the Roosevelt Administration.
Under Taft, Major Butt served in a role that would be similar today to the role played by the White House Chief of Staff. Butt was Taft’s confidant in all matters, and he certainly had a significant influence on the Taft Administration.
As the 1912 campaign heated up and it became clear that Roosevelt would challenge Taft, Butt was having a very difficult time with it because of his relationship with both men. Because Butt was a military man and Taft was the Commander-in-Chief, I don’t think there was any possibility of him abandoning Taft for TR in 1912. I think Roosevelt understand that, but I also think Butt and Taft were closer to one another anyway. Either way, it was a very stressful time for Taft, Roosevelt, and Butt.
Sadly, Archie Butt died on the Titanic in April 1912, as he was returning from a vacation that he had taken in Europe to help him deal with the stress that he had been facing. Both TR and Taft were saddened by Butt’s death; President Taft was particularly devastated. By that time the wind was already out of the sails for Taft’s re-election campaign, but Butt’s death took even more out of the President’s interest in winning another term.
One fortunate legacy of Butt’s life are the copious amounts of letters and writing that he left behind, which are an awesome insight into American History at that time, as well as the Presidents that he knew and served. Many historians draw heavily from Butt’s writings for their work, most notable Edmund Morris in Colonel Roosevelt.
Did you let him finish asking you to explain the joke, or did you just go ahead and dump him mid-sentence?