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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
Roosevelt: Now, George, it’s hard to know what is best to do. If they nominate me shall I take a little time to decide? Should I take two or three hours to consider it? What is your judgment?
Cortelyou: I should think so, because if they nominate at once that would be before the other convention opened. You could accept it at once, but from our point of view that would look as though you wanted to take snap judgment.
Roosevelt: But, my dear boy, I do not intend to accept.
Cortelyou: I know, but in talking with the conference committee tonight I imagine G. W. cannot show his hand on that.
The difficulty Roosevelt now faced was this: If he were to oppose Hughes, whom could he suggest (other than himself) as an alternative? As the conference committee met again in another attempt to find a common candidate, everyone realized that this was the last chance for the “bosses” to exert the control they liked to think they possessed. If they could not agree, the separate nominations of Roosevelt and Hughes would surely follow in the morning.
But agree they could not. The Progressives still insisted they had no name to offer but Roosevelt’s; the Republicans rejected him, but would suggest no one else.
Shortly before 3 A.M. the committee adjourned. But as the weary conferees were leaving the club, Perkins asked Nicholas Murray Butler if he would be willing to talk to Roosevelt on the private wire. Butler asked for time to discuss this idea with some of his friends, and after they had agreed he hurried to Perkins’ room at the Blackstone. Perkins got Roosevelt on the phone at ten minutes to three.
Perkins: I must talk very quickly and then will put Nicholas Murray Butler on the telephone in a minute. All I want to be sure to do is to tell you that you must not say in any way that you are for this man, that man or the other. … He will try hard to see if you personally will stand for [Elihu] Root, [Charles W.] Fairbanks or some one of that sort. …
Roosevelt: What is the use of it?
Perkins: I don’t know. This is all along the line of trading out before morning. …
Roosevelt: Hello; this is Colonel Roosevelt.
Butler: Hello; this is Murray Butler.
Roosevelt: How do you do, President of Columbia College?
Butler: We have been having a very interesting time out here. … Now the situation in the Republican party is just this: The so-called [here Miss Kihm missed a phrase— probably “favorite sons”—Ed.] cannot hold their vote from Hughes much longer. The outlook now is that Hughes will be nominated on the first or second ballot in the morning. That is to me and a great many of us a desperate calamity. The fact of the matter, whether Mr. Hughes knows it or not, is that all the pussyfooters and pro-Germans in Chicago are for him, and that of itself has excited my suspicion.
Roosevelt: And he is not going to make any statement until after his nomination?
Butler: No, and then it will be futile. … Now I regard it as impossible to elect him, no matter who endorses him. I regard it as assuring four more years of this awful Wilson. I am most anxious—and I have a great many of our people in condition to talk sense—to find some way, if possible, to prevent Hughes’s nomination, and there is only one way to prevent it, and that is to say to them that someone has been found who is satisfactory to the Progressives and who has your support. …
Butler then made three suggestions: Elihu Root, Charles W. Fairbanks, who had been Roosevelt’s Vice President and a senator from Indiana, and Philander C. Knox, a veteran of the Senate and of Cabinet posts. Of these Root was clearly the largest figure both in intellect and in experience, having served in the Senate and as secretary of state and of war. But he was over 65, and he was particularly hated by the Progressives for his cynical smothering of the Roosevelt forces in the 1912 Republican convention. Both Butler and Roosevelt realized he was hopeless as a compromise candidate. The others, lesser men, received serious consideration.