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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
Perkins: … Curiously enough we figure up 81 or 82 votes on the first ballot. … Now I have purposely tried to minimize the vote on the first ballot and have given out that we expect 70 or 75. … On the second ballot we know we will have more than 75 and then we will be in the running. … A good many are after me about your not being a Republican. I have made this suggestion to [Idaho’s Senator William E.] Borah, for him to think over. … I said, “You want the Colonel and his party. Now suppose that I could get our people [the Progressives] to authorize me to say to you, confidentially, that provided the Colonel, the right Vice President and the platform were put up, we would immediately pick up our banners, walk down to the Coliseum and surrender, body, boots and breeches.” Borah said, “That is some suggestion.”
Roosevelt: George, that is a master stroke. It must have made a great impression.
“I think Hughes a good deal of a skunk in the attitude he has taken.”
Wednesday and Thursday, June 8 and 9 As the conventions opened the professionals of each party managed to maintain control of the convention machinery and to pave the way for compromise. Progressive William Draper Lewis met with Senator Lodge and together they drafted the party platforms, which were nearly identical. Party leaders also managed to engineer the appointment of a conference committee consisting of five Progressives and five Republicans. On Thursday evening Medill McCormick of Illinois, a pro-Roosevelt Republican, explained to the Colonel the composition of the Republican committee.
McCormick: … The Republican convention has just appointed a conference committee consisting of [Murray] Crane [of Massachusetts], Nicholas Murray Butler, ex-Congressman Johnson of Ohio, Borah and Reed Smoot. … In my delegation the tide today turned very strong for Hughes. For instance, some fellows who have been close friends of mine personally, although I have opposed them politically, have given me a private tip to get out of the way. …
Roosevelt: Now tell me, when do you think the nominations will come?
McCormick: The nominations will be made some time tomorrow. The Bull Moose [Progressive] crowd are now over in the auditorium, appointing their conference committee. …
Roosevelt: Of course I have never believed that there was a chance of my nomination and I have been very anxious that the thing should work out right for the country’s best interest. Hughes has been a big disappointment thus far. I guess there is no need to tell you that I think Hughes a good deal of a skunk in the attitude he has taken.
While Roosevelt and McCormick were talking, the Progressives appointed their delegates to the conference committee. Perkins headed the group, which also consisted of Governor Hiram Johnson of California, Charles J. Bonaparte of Maryland, John M. Parker of Louisiana, and H. S. Wilkinson of New York.
Their first session with the Republicans, held at the Chicago Club, was orderly, congenial, frank—and fruitless. When the Progressives offered Roosevelt as a “compromise” candidate, Nicholas Murray Butler stated that “under no circumstances whatever would the Republican convention consent to his nomination.” Perkins asked the Republicans to suggest someone else. This they refused to do, saying that they could not commit the convention to any man so early in the game. At 3:30 A.M. on Friday, June 9, the conferees adjourned, having accomplished nothing.
Friday, June 9 After learning of the failure of the meeting, the Republican convention proceeded to the nomination of candidates, a complicated, windy process which consumed most of Friday. Many Progressive delegates reacted by demanding that Roosevelt be selected at once, without regard for the Republicans. At 3:30 on Friday afternoon William Allen White of Kansas was on the private wire to Oyster Bay, asking Roosevelt’s permission to go ahead with his nomination in the Progressive convention.
White: … We feel that we can go over a couple of ballots but that it would be a little dangerous to go further than that.
Roosevelt: I do not think we ought to nominate until they [the Republicans] have had a full chance. … You know I haven’t committed myself in any way about running on a third ticket, but as you know I am very reluctant to do so.
Roosevelt: I can see that only damage would come from it. I think it would hurt to nominate me until they have acted. …