Theodore Roosevelt Selects His Campaign Manager For His 1904 Presidential Campaign

He asks - cajoles - Cornelius Bliss, who had helped McKinley get elected, to become his campaign manager

Bliss accepted and led the highly successful campaign, TR’s only presidential run as a Republican

 

This campaign led to the first calls for campaign finance reform, and this letter was cited in the investigation

Cornelius N. Bliss was a partner in one of the largest wholesale dry-goods firms in the country....

Read More

Theodore Roosevelt Selects His Campaign Manager For His 1904 Presidential Campaign

He asks - cajoles - Cornelius Bliss, who had helped McKinley get elected, to become his campaign manager

Bliss accepted and led the highly successful campaign, TR’s only presidential run as a Republican

 

This campaign led to the first calls for campaign finance reform, and this letter was cited in the investigation

Cornelius N. Bliss was a partner in one of the largest wholesale dry-goods firms in the country. Involved in politics, he knew fellow New Yorker Chester A. Arthur and served as chairman of the Republican committee in New York in 1887 and 1888, contributing much to the success of the Benjamin Harrison ticket in his state in the 1888 election. Presidents Arthur and Harrison both wanted to offer him cabinet posts, but he declined on the grounds that his wife was a semi-invalid and could not move from their New York home to Washington. He served as Treasurer of the Republican National Committee from 1892 to 1904, and became friendly with William McKinley in his early years in that office. In January 1896, McKinley asked Bliss to become Secretary of the Treasury in his incoming administration, but Bliss declined on the same grounds. He did work closely with the McKinley campaign, and with McKinley’s campaign manager Mark Hanna. From Hanna, Bliss learned much about running a national campaign, and how to get corporations to make major contributions.

In the end McKinley just could not accept no for an answer, and as a result of his persistence Bliss accepted the post of Secretary of the Interior in McKinley’s Cabinet. Bliss’s daughter came to Washington to serve as his hostess in lieu of his wife. Then, in 1900, a result of the death of his vice president Garrett Hobart, McKinley needed a new vice presidential candidate for his reelection run. He offered the post to Bliss, who declined. So the party chose Theodore Roosevelt. TR never liked Hanna, the feeling was mutual, and in any event Hanna died before the 1904 campaign got into swing. So when it came time for Roosevelt to launch his 1904 presidential campaign, he immediately turned to Bliss.

This is the original letter in which TR requested – actually cajoled – Bliss to accept the campaign manager post. We obtained it directly from the Bliss descendants, and it has never before been offered for sale.

Typed letter signed, on White House letterhead, two pages, May 6, 1904, marked “Personal”, to Bliss, urging him to take the office and offering him pretty much carte blanche in the campaign if he would do so. “My Dear Mr. Bliss: I have just received your letter and read It to Cortelyou and Payne, both of whom will see you tomorrow or the next day. I also showed it to ex-Postmaster General Smith. Now, my dear Mr. Bliss, I most earnestly hope, for the sake of the party and the country—not to speak of my own sake—that you will make up your mind to the sacrifice and will accept. If you do not I am not sure that there is anyone who can with advantage take the place, and I am sure there is no one who can begin to fill It as you will. You were in McKinley’s Cabinet: you were Hanna’s right-hand man: you are known all over the country as a public servant of marked ability and the highest probity; you are known to the business world as a representative business man: you have the confidence of the people, as no one else whom we could choose for the place could have it. You will not only render a great service by your work in the campaign, but from your position you would become of right one of the trusted and intimate advisers in all matters before the administration for the next four years, if we were successful. This would mean that your influence would be exerted as it could be in no other way. If you do not take the position you will nevertheless work almost as hard during the campaign, but your work will then redound very much less to your credit, and very, very much less to my advantage. You will have an executive committee and an advisory committee practically of your own choice, a vice chairman of the East, a treasurer of your own choice, and a vice chairman of the West, who will deal with the West. Your chief care will be New York State, and in New York State Odell, as chairman of the State committee, will take an immense amount of the burden off your hands. Speaking quite truly, I believe the work will not be anything like the work of the ordinary chairman has of necessity been, and that it will not he a very serious drain upon you. I know that there will be a certain amount at wear and worry, and I appreciate fully how much I am asking of you: but I sincerely believe that the burden will not be overpowering, and I know that the service you can render will be literally inestimable. I appeal to you as strongly us I can to say ‘yes’. Very faithfully, yours. Theodore Roosevelt.”

Roosevelt mentions three people in his letter. George Cortelyou was a trusted TR advisor. He served as the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor from February 18, 1903 to June 30, 1904. From 1904 through 1907, Cortelyou also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, working for TR’s successful re-election. He would serve as Postmaster General from March 6, 1905 to January 14, 1907 and was then TR’s Secretary of the Treasury. Henry C. Payne was a member of the Republican National Committee between 1880 until his death in late 1904, becoming vice chairman and, ultimately, chairman of the Republican Party. In that post, Payne was instrumental in convincing Theodore Roosevelt to run alongside William McKinley in the presidential election of 1900. Later, President Roosevelt would name Payne, his benefactor and friend, postmaster general in 1901. Charles E. Smith, the former Postmaster General, was a national figure who had drafted the Republican Party platform in 1896.

It is interesting to note that the issue of campaign financing first seriously arose In the campaign of 1904. The methods employed by Bliss and the Republican managers were less systematic (and less productive) than those developed by Hanna. Corporations still contributed, but there was no methodical or massive assessment of business as Hanna had made. But late in the campaign, Democratic nominee Alton Parker charged that Roosevelt, though responsible for enforcing the antitrust laws, had improperly accepted large campaign gifts from big corporations. In a speech at Madison Square Garden, Parker attacked the political corruption arising from the acceptance of such gifts, and called for clean elections. Four days before the election, Roosevelt angrily denied the charge, denouncing Parker’s statements as “unqualifiedly and atrociously false.”

In 1906 the New York Legislature Insurance Investigation Committee, known as the “Armstrong Committee”, took testimony on claimed abuses, and issued a report critical of the industry and highlighting a number of questionable practices. The presidents of the three largest insurance companies resigned and some of their corporate officers were indicted for grand larceny. Since the companies had made political contributions, the report also recommended a prohibition on such corporate contributions. It was an admitted fact that corporations gave money to candidates, and that President Roosevelt had been the beneficiary of a good deal of it. Relying on the Armstrong Committee report, the Democratic press revived Parker’s charges of the campaign of 1904 – that TR accepting such funds was corrupt, or at least could lead to corruption. In October 1912, a few weeks before the presidential election in which TR ran as a Progressive, a special Senate investigating committee headed by Moses E. Clapp, a Republican from Minnesota, held hearings on the matter. Nothing substantial was found, but press attention to the issue was not helpful to Roosevelt’s campaign.

The Clapp Committee made specific note of this very letter and took testimony relating to it. Charles H. Duell, assistant treasurer of the Republican National Committee, testified before the committee that Bliss told him that in the sound money campaign in 1896 every bank and trust company in New York City but one, and most of the insurance companies, made contributions to the Republican National Committee; that in 1900 few of them did and that in 1904 still less. Nevertheless, some 73 per cent of the total Republican campaign fund in 1904 came from corporations, according to the testimony before the same committee by George R. Sheldon, treasurer of the Republican National Committee in 1908.

It is entirely legitimate, President Roosevelt wrote to George B. Cortelyou, to accept contributions, no matter how large they are, from individuals and corporations with the explicit understanding that they are given and received with no thought of any more obligation on the part of the National Committee or of the National Administration than is implied in the statement that every man shall receive a square deal. “We cannot under any circumstances afford to take a contribution which can be even improperly construed as putting us under an improper obligation”. Roosevelt therefore instructed Cortelyou to return a check for $100,000 to the Tobacco Trust, which was about to undergo prosecution as an illegal combination, and a check for the same amount to the Standard Oil.

Whatever the truth of the stories circulated in 1904, and whatever the inspiration for the Parker charges, the outcry of the Democratic candidate in that year initiated the movement which later culminated in the adoption of the first federal corrupt practices act – prohibiting contributions by corporations and banks to national party campaign funds.

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