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“It is extraordinary how impossible it seems to be to make men learn the lessons of history. Apparently you … have absolutely forgotten how things were done in the early days of the Republican party. There was no attempt made to insist upon uniformity of action in every state…. Of course, I am no more to be compared to Lincoln than the present crisis is to be compared to the Civil War; but the principles are the same in the two cases…” THEODORE ROOSEVELT.
Typed Letter Signed, New York, N.Y., August 14, 1914, to Henry M. Wallace, a Detroit businessman and member of the National Progressive Committee for Michigan. On personal stationery, 4 pp. 8 x 9½”.
Challenging a demand for party conformity, Roosevelt recalls the flexibility of Lincoln and his fellow Civil War Republicans in accomplishing their aims. Roosevelt was threatened with a Progressive Party censure over his support of a “fusion candidate” for New York governor in 1914 (after Roosevelt himself refused to run). In this response, the former president stands firm. Keeping with his priority of fighting both Democratic and Republican political machines in New York, he supported Harvey Hinman on a “fusion” ticket of Progressives and Republicans. The Progressive Party was apoplectic, declaring that the party “would not stand for a candidate for Governor who was not an out-and-out Progressive.”
“…I have just been shown your letter to [Albert] Beveridge in which you say that you desire that the entire National Committee of the Progressive party meet and ‘censor’ the action taken in the State of New York and also everybody connected with the same. You of course understand that I was more connected with this action than anyone else. You are entirely at liberty to go ahead with your proposal and censure me and the others. I shall certainly not alter my position in the matter. There is no man in this country who would be so pleased and so benefited by the action you suggest as Barnes. He and Murphy have for years been fighting every proposal for a fusion of decent citizens to secure good government in either the State or the City of New York. The present primary law was framed by the two machines with this end in view. The men like myself have for years in New York been endeavoring to make decent citizens understand that they ought not to be misled by machine talk of regularity into keeping the machines continually in power. Your proposal is to reinforce Messrs. Barnes  and Murphy by having the Progressive Party in New York adopt the same attitude that the old parties have adopted, and ensure the domination of one of the old machines – doubtless at this time the Republican machine – in the State. You would play the game of the machine Republican leaders. I fear you would convince the best men in the State that we had already grown so machine ridden ourselves as to put party above principle……It is extraordinary how impossible it seems to be to make men learn the lessons of history. Apparently you and the gentlemen who feel as you do have absolutely forgotten how things were done in the early days of the Republican party. There was no attempt made to insist upon uniformity of action in every state. During the War Massachusetts was an overwhelmingly Republican State and the Republicans were a unit against Slavery and for the Union. In that state Republicans were run for Governor every year on a platform straight against Slavery and straight in favor of the Union. Ohio was a very close state, very doubtful. It was lukewarm and possibly hostile as regards Slavery. In that State the Republicans ran in succession for Governor two War Democrats, two men who had voted against Lincoln but who were for the Union, and they ran on a Union ticket [inserted in Roosevelt’s hand: ; not on an anti-slavery ticket;] It would have been folly to have made Ohio do as Massachusetts did or Massachusetts do what Ohio did. There were [inserted in Roosevelt’s hand: a] very few extremists, Wendell Phillips, for instance, who took substantially the view that you now take and who frantically denounced Lincoln because he was not extreme enough and thorough-going enough for them. Of course, I am no more to be compared to Lincoln than the present crisis is to be compared to the  Civil War; but the principles are the same in the two cases…”
Roosevelt had just returned from his perilous voyage into the Amazon rain forest, and still suffering bouts of malaria, sought the company of his family at Sagamore Hill. Almost immediately upon his return, and only two years after his “Bull Moose Party” run for the presidency, Roosevelt appeared willing to mend fences with Republicans. After seeing Roosevelt deliver a speech on his South American journey to the National Geographic Society, newsman Gus Karger reported to ex-President Taft that there was “something pathetic in that midnight gathering of Progressives at the Colonel’s feet. I could not help but feel that in cold blood … he was contemplating the best methods of ‘dumping’ them if their canine loyalty should become uncomfortable to himself.”
In May 1914, Roosevelt was approached by Progressives seeking mid-term election help. Roosevelt himself refused to run for New York governor, and then disappointed many Progressive leaders by supporting some non-Progressive candidates, especially Harvey Hinman, who Roosevelt supported as the Progressive Party candidate for governor. Hinman, a Republican, had declared that he would be the candidate of any party that attacked Democratic boss Charles Murphy, and Republican State Chairman William Barnes and committed himself, if elected, to “weeding out the corruption, inefficiency, incompetency, waste, and extravagance which now exist” in government.
Roosevelt’s evolving position was colored by the outbreak of World War I in Europe on July 28. He found he had more in common with former Republican allies than with many pacifist Progressives. Roosevelt quickly became an outspoken critic of President Wilson’s neutrality policy. As the slaughter in Europe increased throughout the fall of 1914, Roosevelt’s outspoken advocacy of entering the war against Germany put him at odds with many pacifist Progressive comrades such as Jane Addams.
Roosevelt’s position backfired, alienating Hinman from rank-and-file Republicans while creating a schism in the Progressive party. Roosevelt eventually withdrew his support, but the damage was already done. Hinman lost the Republican primary to machine candidate Charles S. Whitman, who then won the general election. Progressive candidate Frederick Davenport came in a distant sixth place. This result, like Roosevelt’s defeat to Wilson in 1912, shows how difficult it has been for third parties to thrive in America. The 1914 elections effectively destroyed the “Bull Moose” progressive party that had done so well in 1912.
The Republican State Chairman Barnes would unsuccessfully sue Roosevelt for libel a few weeks after this letter. Roosevelt won the case in a Syracuse courtroom later that year. Barnes then stepped down from the chairmanship, arguing that by so doing he would deprive the Progressive Party of their raison d’ětre. It appears that Wallace did not follow through on the threatened Progressive censure of Teddy Roosevelt that summer.
Albert Marquis, The Book of Detroiters (1914), p. 509
New York Times, July 22, 1914, “Roosevelt Says He’s Pleased.”
New York Times, July 28, 1914, “Hinman Has Made No Pledges”
New York Times, August 16, 1914, “Roosevelt a Bar in Hinman’s Race.”
New York Times, August 22, 1914, “Roosevelt Recalls Support of Hinman.”
Patricia O’Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White
House (New York, 2005), pp. 259-268.