February 16: Luncheon Gossip; Building a Better Political Mousetrap

Theodore Roosevelt may be finally close to announcing, it's a good time to be looking for a job in Washington, and William Jennings Bryan welcomes Arizona into the union. 

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Theodore Roosevelt may be finally close to announcing, it's a good time to be looking for a job in Washington, and William Jennings Bryan welcomes Arizona into the union. (Click here for an introduction to The 1912 Project; click here for previous installments.) 

At The Outlook Offices Again Last night, Theodore Roosevelt continued to do his best to not say anything publicly about his campaign intentions, going to the Plaza Hotel to give a speech on "Civics and Their Relation to Architecture" at the annual dinner for the American Institute of Architects. (The top award went to the East River Homes on 77th Street.) , According to the New York Tribune, "The Colonel consented to deliver [a speech] only on the condition tthat reporters were barred." Roosevelt may be doing his best to remain a cipher, but he has hardly been silent. The big news yesterday was of a Valentine's Day meeting at the offices of The Outlook, where T.R. is associate editor, with a number of Republican power brokers from around the country -- including the California governor, newspaper publishers from Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Chicago -- to go over the text of a speech he's scheduled to give in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 21. "The conference at which Gov. Johnson was present began late in the forenoon, and at 1:30 o'clock the conferrees, headed by Col. Roosevelt, walked to the National Arts Club in Gramercy Square, where they had luncheon," The New York Times reports. They add, "Col. Roosevelt would make no comment on the conference, simply telling the newspapermen that he had not a word to say."

But the stroll to lunch seems to have given reporters a chance to pepper the other attendees about what they had discussed and it is not difficult to read between the lines: "Do I think he will be a candidate?" said William Flinn, a part owner of The Pittsburgh Leader, repeating the reporter's question. "Can't you tell what I think from my attitude? ... I came over a few days ago to find where the Colonel stood, and I have opened Roosevelt headquarters in Pittsburgh, and they will stay open."

Reacting to the news, the Boston Evening Transcript has a good roundup of all the rumors: "A week ago the Roosevelt men around town were saying that something would be heard to drop in the direction of Oyster Bay in about ten days. This morning Medill McCormick (who's running the Roosevelt headquarters in Washington) remarked that Mr. Roosevelt would issue a statement in about three days. This news has been more or less confirmed by New York dispatches. Anyway, the politicians are expecting a statement from Roosevelt about next Sunday or Monday."

This Is Now That Was Then With the expectations that Roosevelt is going to give up his undecided status any moment, the exchanges in the papers between him and President Taft (or their surrogates) has been looking more like an open campaign. Responding to Taft's big speech in which he called Progressives "political emotionalists or neurotics," Roosevelt's man McCormick issued a statement that began hot:  "The Administration has embarked upon a policy of political 'suicide and murder' -- murder if possible and suicide if necessary." It goes on to add, "The country will not be confused by the President's characterization of Col. Roosvelt's supporters as political neurotics. It has noticed that the elements which opposed President Taft's nomination in 1908 are back of the movement for his renomination, under the leadership of the extreme reactionaries in the House and Senate."

McCormick may not want to lean on that last point — that the conservative wing of the G.O.P. opposed Taft in 1908 — too heavily because, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch points out via the Boston Evening Transcript, in 1908 Roosevelt and Taft were positively smitten. From some of the letters they dug up from Roosevelt back then:

  • "My belief is that of all the men that have appeared so far, you are the man who is more likely to receive the Republican nomination, and who is, I think, the best man to receive it.
  • "I do not believe there can be found in the whole country a man so well fitted to be President."
  • "In Mr. Taft we have a clean man, who combines all these qualities to a degree which no other man in our public life since the Civil War has surpassed."

Boomtimes in D.C. The Sun in New York has a fun look at what the campaign looks from the ground in Washington. All the campaign activity in Washington — the opening of offices for Taft, Roosevelt, La Follette, Harmon, Wilson, and Clark, and the hiring of staffs to fill them — has been a boon for the local economy. "Publicity men, inventors of political moustraps, photographers and mimeograph artsist are reaping a rich harvest in Washington now. Incidentally, the real estate men are doing a little business in the renting line. Many college students and some girls who lost their jobs in the reduction of the census force are getting temporary employment," writes their Washington correspondent. "A newspaper man" — perhaps this very one? — "who walked three blocks in Washington declared he was offered a job as a publicity agent from four different booms in his brief journey."

Bryan Gossip Two days ago, the Washington Herald ran a little gossip item about a rumor that William Jennings Bryan might has maybe shifted his preference for the Democratic nominee from Woodrow Wilson back to Missouri Rep. Champ Clark. "A quiet little luncheon given yesterday at the Capitol by Speaker Champ Clark has started the tongues of political wiseacres wagging," the item began. The lunch, as it turns out, was in honor of Bryan's daughter, Mrs. Grace Bryan Hargraw and among the guests included several Bryan allies who were thought to be backing Wilson. "The political affiliations of the guests caused rumors to be freely circulated to the effect that Bryan, who some months ago was a Clark man, but who later appeared to favor Wilson as the Democratic leader, is coming back into the Clark fold."

Bryan couldn't be on hand for the luncheon himself because he was in Phoenix to celebrate Arizona becoming the 48th State in the Union. Arizona is such a Democratic and Progressive stronghold that, according to Boston Evening Transcript, just after George W. P. Hunt was sworn in as governor he refused "to occupy a reviewing stand built by non-union labor. The governor and his party retired to the Capitol while another stand was being erected by union men." Back in Bryan's home state of Nebraska, the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal carries a report that, asked by reporters after his speech at the ceremony, "he refused to say positively whether he would or would not be a candidate for the presidency."

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