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T. R. On The Telephone
By private wire from Oyster Bay Roosevelt angled for the 1916 Progressive and Republican nominations, but his strategy backfired and killed the Progressive party
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
Brown: Mr. Perkins wanted me to ask you if you had considered the fact that that letter would probably eliminate you from any further chance in that convention.
Roosevelt: … I have passed that stage. I have considered everything in connection with it. I wish that letter presented at once. …
Perkins himself made one last effort to bend the strong Roosevelt will.
Perkins: There are five or six of us here, discussing this situation. [We] feel that … it would be better not to turn in the Lodge letter now.
Roosevelt: I disagree with you. I considered that whole thing when I wrote that letter. I must request you definitely and at once to put that letter before the conferees.
Against such a positive command no one could argue. Wearily, and with profound misgivings, Perkins arranged for the statement to be read to the two conventions. While he was doing so Roosevelt talked again with some of his more radical supporters. To former Governor Robert Bass of New Hampshire he explained his position with special clearness.
Roosevelt: I do not ask our people to accept one of the burglars. I do not ask them to accept any man who isn’t of the highest character and who does not stand absolutely square on the issues of today. I think Hughes has shown himself in the most contemptible possible light, and so I am not now asking any of our people to support him; that must be determined by events; but I do feel that if the Republicans are willing to do what I have asked, the Progressives should join with them. …
Bass: I believe the Republicans will nominate Hughes. We cannot accept a man whose position is totally unknown to us, and the only thing we can do is to place our nomination in your hands, to be held in trust and to do with as you see fit and in accordance with the things we have stood for.
Roosevelt: Well, Bob … you are proposing to put a very, very heavy burden on me. … We have got to see what the Progressive and Republican conventions do with my communication. …
The conventions acted as everyone but Roosevelt had expected they would act. When Perkins addressed the Progressives, his speech was continually interrupted by hoots and catcalls, and at his presentation of the names of Hughes and Lodge, “loud agonizing No’s echoed through the hall.” The Republicans listened phlegmatically to the reading of Roosevelt’s suggestion and then proceeded to give Hughes the nomination at once, and unanimously at that. As soon as word of this reached the Progressives, they simply swept the protesting Perkins out of the way and nominated Roosevelt by acclamation.
This nomination was completed at 12:37 on Saturday afternoon. Less than ten minutes later the leaders were talking to Roosevelt again on the private wire. Different points of view were presented to him as to what he should do about the nomination, but it was Roosevelt himself, speaking to Perkins, who made the decision.
Roosevelt: George, we have got to have our skirts absolutely clear. … And here is my thought: that I should answer them [the Progressive delegates] that if they wish a definite answer now I must refuse to accept and must ask them to nominate someone else; however, if they wish, and only if they wish, I am content to act as follows: that is, to turn over to the National Committee my conditional refusal to accept the nomination and run on a third ticket until the committee has had an opportunity to find out where Hughes stands. … Then, if the National Committee thinks Hughes’s attitude is entirely satisfactory, they can so announce and no further action on my declination will be taken.
Perkins agreed and Roosevelt rang off to prepare a statement along these lines. While various drafts of his statement were being formulated and revised, he continued to talk with important Progressive delegates throughout the afternoon. Among them was his son.
Theodore, Jr.: Hello, father.
Roosevelt: Hello, my son.
Theodore, Jr.: In the first place, in connection with that statement of yours, I think we want to be particularly careful, if we are going to support Hughes as we probably will, that we say nothing that will reflect on him in our statements here. … The statement reads as if you did not approve of Hughes. You don’t, of course.
Roosevelt: Of course I will support him, but I will not be responsible for him.