President Theodore Roosevelt Announces His Determination to Make the First Appointment of a Black Person to a Federal Post in Any State

“I wish to appoint Charles W. Anderson Collector of Internal Revenue because I want to appoint a colored man to a conspicuous position in my own State.”

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Anderson’s district would be Wall Street in New York, the most important collector district in the nation; TR sought to improve race relations, and in the spirit of this letter, just days after said that the goal should be to secure “the man of one color…the rights that no one would grudge...

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President Theodore Roosevelt Announces His Determination to Make the First Appointment of a Black Person to a Federal Post in Any State

“I wish to appoint Charles W. Anderson Collector of Internal Revenue because I want to appoint a colored man to a conspicuous position in my own State.”

Anderson’s district would be Wall Street in New York, the most important collector district in the nation; TR sought to improve race relations, and in the spirit of this letter, just days after said that the goal should be to secure “the man of one color…the rights that no one would grudge him if he were of another color.”

Theodore Roosevelt believed strongly in equality. As governor of New York, he ended school segregation. Just one month after he was sworn in as President, he invited Booker T. Washington, a black civil rights activist, to dine at the White House. The resulting uproar against Roosevelt over the claimed impropriety was enormous, and only increased after TR, on Washington’s recommendation, appointed a black justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. The appointee, Robert Terrell, went on to become the first black federal judge. Roosevelt also appointed progressive judges and encouraged the prosecution of peonage cases in the South, which meant opposing southern laws allowing blacks to be forced into involuntary servitude in order to pay off debts to their employers. But segregation was riding high in the South at that time, and opposition to his policies there was furious. So although his actions made important points about equality, he felt there was little he could actually accomplish in the South itself.

But it was different in the North, and there TR intended to be more aggressive. Booker T. Washington tells the story from here in his book “My Larger Education”. “Before Mr. Roosevelt became President, not a single colored man had ever been appointed, so far as I know, to a Federal office in any Northern state. Mr. Roosevelt determined to set the example by placing a colored man in a high office in his own home city, so that the country might see that he did not want other parts of the country to accept that which he himself was not willing to receive. Some months afterward, as a result of this policy, the Hon. Charles W Anderson [a black attorney] was made collector of internal revenues for the second district of New York. This is the district in which Wall Street is located and the district that receives, perhaps, more revenue than any other in the United States. Later on, Mr. Roosevelt appointed other colored men to high office in the North and West, but I think that anyone who examines into the individual qualifications of the colored men appointed to office by Mr. Roosevelt will find, in each case, that they were what he insisted that they should be men of superior ability and of superior character.”

Cornelius N. Bliss was chairman of the Republican committee in New York in 1887 and 1888, and contributed much to the success of the Benjamin Harrison ticket in his state in the 1888 election. He served as treasurer of the Republican National Committee from 1892 to 1904. He turned down the offer of becoming Secretary of the Treasury under President McKinley, but accepted the post of Secretary of the Interior, maintaining that position until 1899. While in office, Bliss focused on forestry and Indian affairs. Offered by McKinley the vice presidential slot in his 1900 reelection campaign, he declined, so the nod went instead to Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904, Bliss was Roosevelt’s campaign manager, and he continued to advise TR thereafter.

Typed letter signed, on White House letterhead, Oyster Bay, February 2, 1905, to Bliss, being the original letter revealing his momentous decision to appoint Anderson to the post discussed by Washington. “I wish I could see you in person. I wish to appoint Charles W. Anderson Collector of Internal Revenue because I want to appoint a colored man to a conspicuous position in my own State. I think I can put Mr. Treat in some other good position unless he makes it impossible for me.”

At the time he wrote this, Charles H. Treat was serving in the post that TR wanted Anderson to fill, so he would effectively be asking Treat to resign. Treat cooperated, and in 1905 Roosevelt rewarded him by naming him Treasurer of the United States.

We obtained this letter directly from the Bliss descendants, and it has never before been offered for sale.

Just 11 days after sending this letter, Roosevelt delivered a stirring speech to the New York City Republican Club. In this speech, he discussed the country’s current state of race relations and his plan for improving them. In his argument for racial equality, Roosevelt used the rising tide raises all ships metaphor, stating that if morality and thrift among the colored people could be raised then those same virtues among whites would rise to an even higher degree. At the same time, he warned that the debasement of the blacks will in the end carry with it the debasement of the whites.

To show how bold and revolutionary Roosevelt’s actions were, when he appointed Anderson the only presidential-appointment offices ever previously given to a black person were Frederick Douglass being named recorder of deeds in the District of Columbia, and he and Ebenezer Bassett being named ambassadors to the all-black nation of Haiti. And these men served neither in the North or South. The blacks who held positions in the South during Reconstruction were filling state and not federal offices.

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