He writes Harrison’s son, “I am very, very proud to have been first brought into the field of National politics by the appointment at your father's hands.”.
He also brings his reform principles to the White House: “I want a thoroughly fit and capable judge. I should prefer him to be young. What I most want, however, is that he should be fit.”; This letter, apparently unpublished and unknown, was preserved in the Harrison family for generations, until we...
He also brings his reform principles to the White House: “I want a thoroughly fit and capable judge. I should prefer him to be young. What I most want, however, is that he should be fit.”; This letter, apparently unpublished and unknown, was preserved in the Harrison family for generations, until we recently acquired it directly from a descendant
In 1883 the Civil Service Reform Act was signed by President Arthur, and it was designed to curb the effects of the spoil system on the American political system. The idea was that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation. But within the two main parties, and particularly in Congress where members sought to reward their supporters, there was great resistance to the law actually being given teeth. To enforce the merit system it created, the law also established the Civil Service Commission, which would be in charge of determining the rules and regulations of the act. The act also allowed for the President, by executive order, to decide which positions could be subject to the act and which would not.
Civil Service reform remained a prominent issue in the 1888 election and following Harrison's inauguration on March 4, 1889. He had campaigned as a supporter of the merit system, but now he had to make specific decisions about which positions would come under Civil Service and which not. Congress was widely divided on the issue, and Harrison spent much of his first months in office deciding on political appointments.
Theodore Roosevelt's dedication to civil service reform began in 1881, when at age 23 he became a member of the New York Civil Service Reform Association. As a New York State Assemblyman, he had worked hard for passage of the New York State Civil Service Act of 1883, the first state civil service act in the nation. His enthusiasm and perseverance to reform the civil service thrust him into the national spotlight, as he challenged the corrupt style of politics in his state. Roosevelt's efforts on behalf of reform brought him into the national spotlight for the first time. In the 1888 election, TR campaigned extensively for Harrison, and when Harrison was elected, he sought a Federal appointment. Roosevelt already had friends in high places (like Henry Cabot Lodge) who urged the new President to make use of his talents. On May 7, 1889, TR, then out of office and with no constituency or power base, took the train from New York to Washington, and there met with President Harrison at the White House. Harrison was impressed with him, and offered to appoint him as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner. TR accepted, and in that post he undertook the task of reform with the same honesty that he showed for all of his endeavors, and the full force of his energy and aggressiveness was put to the task of building up the Federal civil service system. He was reappointed to the post in 1892 by incoming President Grover Cleveland, thus continuing his fight for enforcement of civil service laws and against the spoils system until he left in 1895. Roosevelt’s years on the Commission were remarkably significant ones, as there he gained valuable administrative experience, matured politically, learned how to spar with the politically powerful, and found out how to survive attacks against him and his reforms.
Between 1895 and 1901 just six years passed. But those six years saw TR become a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War, gain national fame, become Governor of New York, and then, on March 4, 1901, take office as Vice President of the United States. On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot, and on the 14th he died. That put Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, a remarkable and almost unprecedented climb.
Typed letter signed, on White House letterhead, Washington, marked “Personal”, November 11, 1901, less then two months after taking office as President, to Russell B. Harrison, son of President Benjamin Harrison, expressing gratitude for having been given his start, and showing his quest for honesty in government was already in swing. “I am really very much pleased with the piece about me by your father. It was a great surprise to me. I need not say how much I value such a attribute. I had heard of it before, but I did not believe that it was genuine. I am very, very proud to have been first brought into the field of National politics by the appointment at your father's hands.
“That judgeship has given me a great deal of trouble. All the talk as to what I demand amounts to simply this: that I want a thoroughly fit and capable judge. I should prefer him to be young. What I most want, however, is that he should be fit. I shall not appoint the judge this month, acting on your suggestion. As you say, what I desire is the best equipped and experienced judge. I considered with great weight the advice of your father's old Attorney General, Mr. Miller. I shall look forward to seeing you and going over the matter before the end of this month. Let me say again how deeply I appreciate your father’s article. Nothing could have please me more.” This letter remained in the family of Russell Harrison until we recently obtained it directly from a descendant. It is apparently unpublished, as we cannot find reference to it, and has never before been offered for sale.
Benjamin Harrison had died of pneumonia in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 13, 1901, eight months before this letter. It is not clear what praise Harrison gave Roosevelt that so gladdened him. In late October 1901, TR changed the name of the Executive Mansion to the White House. Taking printing time into account, this letter must have been one from the first group of stationery reflecting that change.
Indianan Judge William A. Woods of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit died in June 1901. Roosevelt was under pressure from various factions in Indiana to appoint one of their favorites, and Russell Harrison seems to have been involved in trying to influence TR’s selection. In January 1902 Roosevelt named Francis E. Baker to fill the post, and he served until 1924.
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