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10. The Vice Presidency


There is no instance on record of an election of a Vice President by violence. - John Hay

Big business had become concerned at Roosevelt’s “altruistic” ways. “The movement was against privilege in business,” wrote Roosevelt.1 Senator Platt tried to convince Roosevelt to run for Vice President to get him out of New York. On January 22, 1900 Roosevelt wrote:

On Saturday Platt for the first time stated to me very strongly that he believed I ought to take the Vice-Presidency both for national and for State reasons. I believe Platt rather likes me, though I render him uncomfortable for some of the things I do.

By February third he had figured it out:

I have found out one reason why Senator Platt wants me nominated for the Vice-Presidency. The big moneyed men with whom he is in close touch and whose campaign contributions have certainly been no inconsiderable factor in his strength, have been pressing him very strongly to get me put in the Vice-Presidency, so as to get me out of the State. It was the big insurance companies, possessing enormous wealth, that gave Payne his formidable strength and they to a man want me out. The great corporations affected by the franchise tax, have also been at the Senator. In fact, all the big moneyed interests that make campaign contributions of large size and feel that they should have favors in return, are extremely anxious to get me out of the State. I find that they have been at Platt for the last two or three months and he has finally begun to yield to them and to take their view. Outside of that the feeling here is very strong against my going. In fact, all of my friends in the State would feel that I was deserting them and are simply unable to understand my considering it.2

He wrote Bamie:

there are lots of big politicians and especially lots of big Wall Street men who furnish the money to politicians and both classes are against me. They would like to see me put in the Vice Presidency because they think I will be harmless there. I have definitely decided that I will not take the Vice Presidency, and this you are at perfect liberty to mention to anyone.3

Henry Cabot Lodge also wanted T.R. to run for Vice President. He felt sure that if Roosevelt would run for Vice President in 1900, he would be elected President in 1904. “I have thought it over a great deal and I am sure I am right,” he wrote. Most people, including Roosevelt, were puzzled by his attitude. Vice Presidents at the time usually did not have the opportunity to run for President. They just faded from public memory. They also had nothing to do and Roosevelt was constitutionally unable to function in a job where there was nothing to do. “I confess I should like a position with more work in it,” he said.4 (“Cabot feels that I have a career. The dear old goose actually regards me as a presidential possibility of the future,” T.R. wrote.)5
On February 2, 1900, Theodore wrote, “I can see nothing whatever in the Vice-Presidency for me. It would be an irksome, wearisome place where I could do nothing. I would a great deal rather be Governor for two years than Vice President for four. I shall not say anything publicly until I hear from Platt and Cabot, but I have made up my mind that it is the Governorship that I want.”6
On February 7, 1900, Roosevelt wrote to Platt, “The more I have thought over it, the more I have felt that I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than Vice President.” Joseph Bishop, worried that Theodore would be forced to run for Vice President, wrote John Hay. John Hay wrote back in reassurance:

My dear Bishop:

I have your letter of the 10th of April, and I think you are unduly alarmed.
There is no instance on record of an election of a Vice President by violence, and I think people here are looking in quite another direction.

Yours sincerely,
John Hay

Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley said being Vice President “is not a crime exactly” but “kind of a disgrace - like writing anonymous letters.”7
Senator Platt planted newspaper articles which stated that Governor Roosevelt was the logical candidate for Vice President. Upon seeing these articles Roosevelt said, “I can’t help feeling more and more that the Vice-Presidency is not an office in which I could do anything.”8
He wouldn’t mind so much, he told Lodge, “if the place held out a chance of doing really good work” but, he felt, “the chance for a Vice President to do much is infinitesimal.” 9
Therefore, T.R. decided not to accept the nomination:

With the utmost reluctance I have come to a conclusion that is against your judgement...As you know I feel that to consider the Presidency in any way as a possibility would be foolish. American politics are kaleidoscopic, and long before the next five years are out, the kaleidoscope is certain to have been many times shaken and some new men to have turned up. The only thing for me to do is to do exactly as I have always done; and that is, when there is a chance of attempting a bit of work worth the trial, to attempt it...There is ample work left for me to do in another term,--work that will need all my energy and capacity--in short, work well worth any man’s doing...But in the Vice Presidency I could do nothing. I am a comparatively young man and I like to work. I do not like to be a figurehead. It would not entertain me to preside in the Senate....I could not do anything; and yet I would be seeing continually things that I would like to do, and very possibly would like to do differently from the way in which they were being done. Finally the personal element comes in. Though I am a little better off than the Sun correspondent believes, I have not sufficient means to run the social side of the Vice Presidency as it ought to be run. I should have to live very simply, and would be always in the position of “poor man at a frolic.”...I should not want to consider it when the office is in fact merely a show office. So, old man, I am going to declare decisively that I want to be Governor and do not want to be Vice President. Publicly I shall only say I don’t want to be Vice President. Edith bids me to say that she hopes you will forgive me! 10

He went as a delegate to the Philadelphia convention. A friend warned Edith that if she went with him, “You will see your husband unanimously nominated for the office of Vice President of the United States.”11
Lodge warned:

If you go to that Convention, however, as a delegate, as I see stated in the newspapers, you will be nominated, as the situation looks today, and if you are nominated in that Convention you will be unable to refuse. The party will take the ground that they have done a great deal for you and always stood behind you, and that now that they want a service of you you must give it. If you persist in refusing in the presence of the Convention which nominates you I am very much afraid it will hurt in future, and there are lots of good men who are strongly for you now who will not like it. I have been worrying about this ever since I saw that you were to go as a delegate...If you stay away with your absolute declination, which you have already put out, I do not think you will be nominated...I know of course that it is too late for you not to be chosen a delegate, but it will be easy enough for you to find at the last moment that you cannot go to the Convention and let an alternate take your place.12

T.R. replied, “I believe that I would be looked upon as rather a coward if I didn’t go.” Lodge replied simply, “I cannot conceive of anybody thinking you a coward.” Later Cabot wrote, “I think that by absolutely declining and remaining away from the Convention you might escape the nomination, but even that is doubtful.” 13
When Mark Hanna heard that Roosevelt was at the convention, he was panic-stricken. He loved McKinley and had a terrible premonition that McKinley would die and Roosevelt would become President. Hanna thought Roosevelt was mentally unstable. In his terror of the future, Hanna was the one becoming unstable. He had fits of anger alternating with feelings of insecurity at McKinley’s coolness towards him.14
Roosevelt said of Hanna:

Senator Hanna appeared on the surface to have control of the Convention. He was anxious that I should not be nominated as Vice-President. Senator Platt was anxious that I should be nominated as Vice-President, in order to get me out of the New York Governorship. Each took a position opposite to that of the other, but each at that time cordially sympathized with the other’s feelings about me...15

Someone said that every time Platt and Hanna met and parted, Hanna used to search his pockets carefully to make sure Platt had not dropped Roosevelt into one of them.16

When Hanna realized that if Roosevelt did not run for Vice President, McKinley might not win the election, he came over to Platt’s side. But he wasn’t happy about it. “Do whatever you damn please!” he said. “I’m through! Everybody’s gone crazy! What’s the matter with all of you? Here’s this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for Vice-President. Don’t any of you realize there’s only one life between that madman and the Presidency?”17
A statement was drafted in Roosevelt’s room refusing the nomination for Vice President. Roosevelt was told that if he signed that statement he would not be nominated. He looked at it. Somehow it did not seem right. People were counting on him to run. He did not think he had the right to refuse this nomination. Instead, he decided to “change the phrasing.” By the time he had finished “changing the phrasing” the statement was totally rewritten. It had become a plea to please not nominate him, a plea for the members of the convention to respect his wishes so that he could run for a second term as Governor of New York. But, it was clear, he would accept the nomination if offered:

In view of the revival of the talk of myself as a Vice-Presidential candidate, I have this to say. It is impossible too deeply to express how touched I am by the attitude of those delegates, who have wished me to take the nomination....I understand the high honor and dignity of the office, an office so high and so honorable that it is well worthy of the ambition of any man in the United States. But while appreciating all this to the full, I nevertheless feel most deeply that the field of my best usefulness to the public and to the party is in New York State; and that, if the party should see fit to renominate me for Governor, I can in that position help the National ticket as in no other way. I very earnestly hope and ask that every friend of mine in this Convention respect my wish and my judgment in this matter.

He might as well have said “I accept the nomination.”18
He then asked to be alone. When everyone had left,he sat near the open window where he could feel the breeze on his face, and read. His sister Corinne said, “He was absolutely detached as if vice-presidential nominations, political warfare, illicit and corrupt methods of all kinds in public life were things not known to his philosophy.”19
The next day, he made a dramatic entrance. He strode down the aisle wearing a Rough Rider hat to the chants of “We want Teddy. We want Teddy.” “Gentlemen,” one delegate said, “That’s an acceptance hat.” T.R.’s biographer Hermann Hagedorn wrote that he wore the hat to hide a nasty cut on his head which he got when dislodging Alice from a cliff. But he liked the hat and was glad that he had brought it. Mark Hanna turned to Lodge and said, “Teddy ought to be spanked.”20
Bim Bimberg had manufactured a huge number of McKinley-Roosevelt buttons. If Roosevelt wasn’t nominated, he said, “there will be a dent in the Delaware River caused by Bim committing suicide.”
Roosevelt, luckily for Bim, was nominated with every vote except his own.
T.R. honestly considered that this was the end of his career. But, he said, “I have had a first-class run for my money, and I honestly think I have accomplished a certain amount.”
He wrote:

The thing could not be helped. There were two entirely different forces at work. The first was the desire to get me out of New York, partly because the machine naturally prefers some one more pliable, but mainly because of the corporations’ or rather the big speculative corporations’ unhealthy attitude toward me. This desire was absolutely unoperative as regards results, for I stood Mr. Platt and the machine on their heads when the trial of strength came and forced the entire New York delegation to declare for some one else. It was the feeling of the great bulk of the Republicans that I would strengthen the National ticket and they wanted me on it at all hazards. Mr. Hanna was quite as much opposed to my going on as Mr. Platt was to my staying off, but both were absolutely and utterly powerless. While of course I should have preferred to stay where there was more work, I would be both ungrateful and a fool not to be deeply touched by the way in which I was nominated. The vital thing in this election is to re-elect President McKinley and to this I shall bend all my energies. If we succeed, well and good, and as regards myself I shall try most earnestly, and I most humbly hope not to forfeit the respect and good will of the people who put me in as Vice President. If we are beaten, my own disappointment will not be a drop in the ocean to my bitter regret and alarm for the Nation.21

Since it was considered undignified and unstatesmanlike for a President to campaign himself, Roosevelt was asked to do the campaigning. He wrote:

I wish in this campaign to do whatever you think wise, whatever is likely to produce the best results for the Republican ticket. I am as strong as a bull moose and you can use me to the limit. One side of the problem is the fact that I must not seem to neglect my duties as Governor of New York.22

He made a vigorous campaign. “Tis Tiddy alone that’s r-runnin, an’ he ain’t runnin’, he’s gallopin’,” said Mr. Dooley.23
McKinley and Roosevelt defeated William Jennings Bryan and Adlai E. Stevenson. “I feel sorry for McKinley,” said one Republican campaign worker. “He has a man of destiny behind him.”24
When reporters congratulated T.R. on the outcome of the election he said, “Please don’t. I don’t really feel that I am subject for congratulation. This election tonight means my political death.”25
The only duty T.R. performed while Vice President was to preside over the Senate for the week the extra session lasted. “I shall get fearfully tired in the future no doubt and of course I should like a more active position,” he said. 26 The Senate adjourned on March 8 until December. Lost without anything to do, Roosevelt considered resuming his legal studies.
His supporters had hopes of a run for the Presidency in 1904. He went on speaking tours around the country. “The trip was a revelation,” he wrote Lodge. He was “greatly astonished at the feeling displayed for [him], not only in Colorado and Kansas but in Missouri and even in Illinois.” There seemed to be “popular movements started on his behalf.” The Illinois people “genuinely want[ed] him.” The people who spoke to him were “national committeemen, chairmen of state committees, Congressmen and the like” in short, “not nobodies.” There was ”undoubtedly a feeling for me,” he said, quite surprised.27
But he was still convinced that the Vice Presidency was “not a stepping stone to anything but oblivion.”28
Edith worried about money, but tried to look on the bright side. As Vice President, Theodore could “get the rest that he sadly needs” and “an easy time for the next four years.”29
While the Roosevelts were on vacation in the Adirondacks, President McKinley was shot. The bullet tore a hole in his stomach and was lodged too deeply to be removed. “As soon as I heard the news I came straight to Buffalo,” T.R. wrote Lodge. “My position was of course most delicate,” but “I felt that the only course to follow was [the most natural one] and that the natural thing to do was to come at once to Buffalo, where I might see how the President was getting on; and to stay here until he was on the high road to recovery.”30 When he got there McKinley began to improve and Roosevelt was told to leave in order to play down the danger of the wound. The stock market had taken a dive but rallied when the President appeared to be getting better. Gangrene finally took the President’s life and Roosevelt was sent for again. Sitting in a meadow in the Adirondacks, he watched a runner coming up the trail. “I instinctively knew he had bad news,” Roosevelt said, “the worst news in the world.” On September 14 he was sworn in as President of the United States. At forty-two he was the youngest man ever to become President.
On the funeral train Hanna said, “I told William McKinley it was a mistake to nominate that wild man at Philadelphia. I asked him if he realized what would happen if he should die. Now look, that damned cowboy is President of the United States!”31