This was his only nomination for President of United States in the only successful presidential campaign he ever had.
Before McKinley’s assassination, four vice presidents – John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur – had assumed the nation’s highest office upon the death of a president. Not one had then won his party’s nomination for a presidential term in his own right. However, Theodore Roosevelt’s strong leadership, vigorous activity,...
Before McKinley’s assassination, four vice presidents – John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur – had assumed the nation’s highest office upon the death of a president. Not one had then won his party’s nomination for a presidential term in his own right. However, Theodore Roosevelt’s strong leadership, vigorous activity, and immense popularity made it likely that he would break historical precedence by winning the GOP presidential nomination in 1904. In the spring of 1902, about six months after assuming the presidency, Roosevelt assembled an informal campaign committee. Joseph B. Bishop, editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, oversaw the campaign in New York State. In 1902, 13 Republican state delegations from other states endorsed him, giving him 286 of the 498 votes needed for nomination. In early 1903, the president’s new personal secretary, William Loeb Jr., coordinated campaign information and advice from across the nation. Roosevelt’s only obstacle was a possible challenge from Sen. Mark Hanna, chairman of the Republican National Committee and a key advisor to the late McKinley. Conservatives unhappy with Roosevelt’s vigorous antitrust policy encouraged Hanna to run, but Hanna died.
The Republican National Convention was held at the Chicago Coliseum on June 21-23, 1904. Although not present, Roosevelt controlled practically every aspect of it. He handpicked Elihu Root, the former secretary of war, and Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon as the temporary and permanent convention chairmen. That both men were conservatives was part of the President’s dual strategy of unifying the party and moderating his image before the general election. Roosevelt chose all the convention speakers, the most important being the man who would place his name in nomination. He selected former New York governor Frank S. Black (whom TR had succeeded as governor) to deliver the nomination speech and Sen. Albert Beveridge to second the nomination. Although Roosevelt edited the speeches of other speakers, he did not touch Black’s; the words would be Black’s own.
Roosevelt’s choice of Black was an intriguing one. Roosevelt had defeated incumbent Governor Black in his quest for the 1898 gubernatorial nomination. Black’s administration had been accuses in a scandal involving contracts to improve the Erie Canal, and some prominent Republicans had been anxious to replace the tarnished Governor with the recently returned Colonel of the Rough Riders. Roosevelt handily defeated Black’s bid for renomination at the state convention. Here, six years later, the President magnanimously turns to his former foe to make his nominating address.
This is the original letter in which Roosevelt asked Black to nominate him. Typed letter signed as President, on White House letterhead, Washington, April 27, 1904, to Black. “My dear Governor Black: Would you be willing to make the nominating speech for me at the National Convention? I know no one who could do it as well.” This proved to be a wise choice.
As he stood before the convention, Black was a striking figure, tall and gaunt. In nominating Theodore Roosevelt for election in his own right as President of the United States, Black spoke these dramatic words of inspiration to the convention:
“You have come from every State and Territory in this vast domain. The country and the town have vied with each other in sending here their contributions to this splendid throng. Every highway in the land is leading here and crowded with the members of that great party which sees in this splendid city the symbol of its rise and power. Within this unexampled multitude is every rank and condition of free men, every creed and occupation. But to-day a common purpose and desire have engaged us all, and from every nook and corner of the country rises but a single choice to fill the most exalted office in the world…He is no stranger waiting in the shade, to be called suddenly into public light. The American people have seen him for many years, and always where the fight was thickest and the greatest need was felt. He has been alike conspicuous in the pursuits of peace and in the arduous stress of war…
“His qualities do not need to be retold, for no man in that exalted place since Lincoln has been better known in every household in the land. He is not conservative, if conservatism means waiting till it is too late. He is not wise, if wisdom is to count a thing a hundred times when once will do…Fortune soars with high and rapid wing, and whoever brings it down must shoot with accuracy and speed. Only the man with steady eye and nerve, and the courage to pull the trigger, brings the largest opportunities to the ground. He does not always listen while all the sages speak, but every day at nightfall beholds some record which, if not complete, has been at least pursued with conscience and intrepid resolution. He is no slender flower swaying in the wind, but that heroic fibre which is best nurtured by the mountains and the snow…A statesman grappling with the living problems of the hour, he gropes but little in the past. He believes in going ahead. He believes that in shaping the destinies of this great Republic hope is a higher impulse than regret. He believes that preparation for future triumphs is a more important duty than an inventory of past mistakes. A profound student of history, he is today the greatest history-maker in the world…
“This is the time when great figures must be kept in front. If the pressure is great, the material to resist it must be granite and iron. Whether we wish it or not, America is abroad in this world. Her interests are in every street, her name is on every tongue. Those interests, so sacred and stupendous, should be trusted only to the care of those whose power, skill and courage have been tested and approved. And in the man whom you will choose the highest sense of every nation in the world beholds a man who typifies as no other living American does, the spirit and the purposes of the twentieth century. He does not claim to be the Solomon of his time. There are many things he may not know but this is sure, that above all else he stands for progress, courage, and fair play, which are synonyms of the American name.
“There are times when great fitness is hardly less than destiny, when the elements so come together that they select the agent they will use. Events sometimes select the strongest man, as lightning goes down the highest rod. And it is with those events which for many months with unerring sight have led you to a single name which I am chosen only to pronounce: Gentlemen, I nominate for President of the United States the highest living type of the youth, the vigor and the promise of a great country and a great age, Theodore Roosevelt of New York.”
The speech aroused the convention to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. When he concluded, there was a great shout and the convention was on its feet. Flags were in the air, hats thrown up, people jumped up on chairs; the demonstration lasted for 23 minutes. Roosevelt was nominated unanimously on the first ballot with 994 votes and won a landslide victory in November. It was to be the only successful presidential campaign he ever had.
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