President Theodore Roosevelt Expresses Condolences to the U.S. Ambassador to France in Such a Way That Brings to Mind His Own Devastating Loss of a Beloved Wife

He writes Horace Porter, whose wife had died suddenly, that he understands how he feels

“I know how useless it is to try to say any word of sympathy at such a time…”

On February 14, 1884, 28-year old Theodore Roosevelt was at work in the New York state legislature attempting to get a government reform bill passed when he was summoned home by his family. He...

Read More

President Theodore Roosevelt Expresses Condolences to the U.S. Ambassador to France in Such a Way That Brings to Mind His Own Devastating Loss of a Beloved Wife

He writes Horace Porter, whose wife had died suddenly, that he understands how he feels

“I know how useless it is to try to say any word of sympathy at such a time…”

On February 14, 1884, 28-year old Theodore Roosevelt was at work in the New York state legislature attempting to get a government reform bill passed when he was summoned home by his family. He returned to the house to find his mother, Mittie, had succumbed to typhoid fever. On the same day, his wife of four years, Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment. Only two days before her death, Alice Lee had given birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice. The double tragedy devastated Roosevelt. He ordered those around him not to mention his wife’s name. Burdened by grief, he abandoned politics, left the infant Alice with his sister Bamie, and, at the end of 1884 struck out for the Dakota territories, where he lived as a rancher for two years. So he understood the intense pain and trauma of losing a spouse.

Horace Porter was born into a leadership family. His grandfather was General Andrew Porter, a distinguished soldier of the Revolution, and subsequently the first Surveyor General of Pennsylvania (a branch of science in which he had been the pupil of the eminent David Rittenhouse). His father was governor of Pennsylvania, one uncle governor of Michigan and another President Tyler’s Secretary of War, and his aunt was the grandmother of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Porter was the Chief of Ordnance for the Army of the Potomac when still in his twenties. He came to the notice of Ulysses S. Grant, who took a liking to the young man. Porter served as Grant’s aide-de-camp and personal secretary for the rest of the Civil War, and when Grant became President, Porter followed him to the Executive Mansion as his personal secretary there. Porter tried to warn Grant of the corruption of his friends, but Grant sadly took no heed. President McKinley appointed Porter U.S. Ambassador to France in 1897, and President Theodore Roosevelt continued him in that post. While in France Porter paid for the recovery of the body of John Paul Jones and sent it to the United States for re-burial.

Porter married Sophie King McHarg in 1863, and she went with him to Paris. She died there at age 63, the New York Times reporting the death thusly: “April 7, 1903. Mrs. Horace Porter Dead: Wife of American Ambassador to France expires suddenly. A chill developed into congestion of the lungs-Gen. Porter prostrated-American colony in Paris shocked.”

In April and May of 1903, Roosevelt made his famous eight-week, 25-state tour of the American West. He visited Wyoming, and spoke at Yellowstone National Park. His route, like a 14,000-mile lasso flung to rope the whole West, snagged points as far north as Fargo, N.D., and as far south as Los Angeles. While he was on this trip Mrs. Porter died. TR sent a telegram of condolence, but it nagged at him that that was not enough in the face of Ambassador Porter’s huge loss. At the end of his trip, he followed up with a letter.

Typed letter signed, Washington, June 9, 1903 to Porter, expressing his feelings in such a way that it inevitably brings to mind his own loss almost 20 years earlier. “I have telegraphed you already. Let me now on my return home send you just a line to say how deeply I sympathize with you in your loss. I know how useless it is to try to say any word of sympathy at such a time; but I wish you at least to know that I have been thinking of you.” He adds a P.S. “It gave me almost a pang to find that you had remembered me, and had sent me the photograph of the picture concerning which I had written you.”

In 1902 the artist Theobald Chartran was commissioned to created the official portraits of both President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt. TR loved the one of Edith but disliked the one of himself, which he eventually destroyed. He sent a letter to Porter telling him of Edith’s portrait and sending a photograph. It is this photograph that TR mentions in this letter.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services