President William McKinley Writes His Dying Vice President, Expressing His Hope That He Will Regain His Health

An uncommon McKinley ALS as President, and an extremely rare letter of a sitting president to a sitting vice president

Purchase $7,500

It illuminates the extraordinary if not unique nature of their close relationship as President and Vice President, which included their wives as well

It seems startling that someone who never held prior office outside of a state legislature could be nominated and elected Vice President of the United States, as was Garret...

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President William McKinley Writes His Dying Vice President, Expressing His Hope That He Will Regain His Health

An uncommon McKinley ALS as President, and an extremely rare letter of a sitting president to a sitting vice president

It illuminates the extraordinary if not unique nature of their close relationship as President and Vice President, which included their wives as well

It seems startling that someone who never held prior office outside of a state legislature could be nominated and elected Vice President of the United States, as was Garret A. Hobart in 1896. By the time convention delegates chose the last 19th century vice president, they had come to regard that office as little more than a device for balancing the ticket or maneuvering to carry a particular state. Since the Civil War, New Jersey had leaned toward Democratic presidential candidates. President Grover Cleveland had carried the state in 1892, but during the economic depression that followed, both houses of the New Jersey legislature and the governorship went Republican, suggesting that the state could be taken by the national ticket in 1896. The presidential nominee was already clear; it was William McKinley of Ohio. Hobart was a jovial, hospitable man, who displayed tact, charm, and the ability to work with people. These qualities made him an outstanding state legislator, and as attorney he built a lucrative law practice representing banks and railroads. Looking over the scene, there was no other Republican in New Jersey as strong as Hobart to help carry that swing state. McKinley’s campaign manager Mark Hanna wanted a ticket to satisfy the business interests of America, and Hobart, a corporate lawyer, fit that requirement perfectly. So Hobart was chosen to run with McKinley, and their political philosophies were completely in alignment. The ticket of McKinley and Hobart won by a half million votes, or 51 percent of the total cast. The Republican ticket carried 23 of the 45 states, including Hobart’s New Jersey.

President McKinley developed warm feelings for Hobart, and embraced the vice president as his friend, associate, and confidant. So much so that Hobart’s home on Lafayette Square became known as the “Little Cream White House,” and Hobart as the “Assistant President.” The Hobarts used their Washington residence to entertain lavishly—particularly because President McKinley’s wife suffered from epilepsy, which left her a recluse in the White House who could not shoulder its traditional social burdens. The President frequently attended Hobart’s dinners and afternoon smokers, where he could meet informally with party leaders from Capitol Hill. No previous vice president had visited the White House as often as Hobart, due in part to the warm friendship that developed between Ida McKinley and Jennie Hobart. President McKinley doted on his wife and grew to depend on Jennie Hobart, who visited Ida daily. “The President constantly turned to me to help her wherever I could,” Mrs. Hobart wrote in her memoirs, “—not because I was Second Lady, but because I was their good friend.” Whenever McKinley had to be away from his wife in the evenings, he would entrust her to Jennie Hobart’s care. He also invited Mrs. Hobart to White House social functions because her presence “gave him confidence.” In addition to seeing each other in Washington, the McKinleys and Hobarts vacationed together at Bluff Point on Lake Champlain.

McKinley looked on Hobart as a trusted adviser which made them, in the words of one acquaintance, “coadjustors in the fixing of the policies of the Administration to an extent never before known.” Arthur Dunn, a newspaper correspondent who covered presidents from Benjamin Harrison to Warren Harding, marveled that “for the first time in my recollection, and the last for that matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, as a part of the Administration, and as a part of the body over which he presided.” Dunn described Hobart as a “business politician,” whose knowledge of the “relations between business and politics” made his judgments extremely useful. McKinley even turned to his vice president for personal financial advice. McKinley turned over a portion of his monthly presidential salary, which Vice President Hobart invested for him.

Beginning in early 1899, Hobart suffered from fainting spells triggered by serious heart problems. That summer, the Hobarts regularly spent weekends at their summer house at the shore in West Long Branch, New Jersey. As Hobart suffered increasingly debilitating attacks and his strength declined, rumors spread that his illness would keep him from running again for vice president. In the fall, Hobart went home to his Paterson, New Jersey residence, and conceded that he must remain there and could not return to Washington to preside over the Senate when it reconvened in December. This public announcement was an admission that the vice president was “in virtual retirement,” with no hope of recovery. Hobart died on November 21, 1899. Arriving at the Hobart home in Paterson for the funeral, President McKinley told the family, “No one outside of this home feels this loss more deeply than I do.”

Autograph letter signed, as President, on Executive Mansion letterhead, June 3, 1899, to “Hon. G.A. Hobart” in Long Branch, and surely sent as a telegram, after the onset of his terminal illness, and filled with the love that both McKinleys bore for the Hobarts. “Mrs. McKinley joins me in affectionate birthday greetings with the hope that your journey was without discomfort and that your summer home will bring you health. Mrs. McKinley sends love to Mrs. Hobart. William McKinley.” This letter has been in a private collection for the past half century.

This is an extremely rare letter of a sitting president to s sitting vice president, just the third we have had in all our decades in the field. It is also an uncommon ALS of McKinley as President, one that illuminates the extraordinary if not unique nature of their close relationship as President and Vice President, and which included their wives as well.

Purchase Now $7,500

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