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Practically Everything You Write Goes Into History

Jul 22, 2011

As the interns wrap up their hours throughout this month, we ask them to share some of their discoveries while working in the Theodore Roosevelt digital library collections. Today, Beth from California shares with us some of her favorite finds.

The first letter I cataloged for the Theodore Roosevelt Center was about hunting bears. Immediately, I knew that my internship would be all I had hoped for. I read letters to Roosevelt about all sorts of topics, from flower parades to the Russo-Japanese War. Most of the documents I cataloged were dated from July to August 1904, a time when Roosevelt was preparing for the presidential election of 1904. While reading letters discussing his campaign and letter of acceptance, I saw that many people of the time respected Roosevelt and knew he would hold an important place in the history of the United States. Even Alton B. Parker, his Democratic opponent in the election, felt he could write to Roosevelt to ask for an autograph. In this letter from July 25, 1904, Parker asks Roosevelt to sign a photograph for the Pach brothers.

Letter from Alton B. Parker to Theodore Roosevelt, July 25, 1904.

Letter from Alton B. Parker to Theodore Roosevelt, July 21, 1904. From The Library of Congress Manuscript division.

People of the time knew Roosevelt was going to be of interest to future generations. Certainly, George B. Cortelyou, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, had an idea of the broad impact Roosevelt would have. In a letter from August 12, 1904, Cortelyou is somewhat distraught because of a letter Roosevelt sent him about the Northern Securities matter. Concerned with how future historians will interpret this letter, Cortelyou replies, “Practically everything you write goes into history. Your correspondence will naturally be published some day, and what you have said in portions of this letter to me rings so true that it would inevitably be selected as indicative of your character; but it is addressed to me and it carries an inference, plain and unmistakable, that is unwarranted by the facts.”

Letter from George B. Cortelyou to Theodore Roosevelt, August 12, 1904.

Letter from George B. Cortelyou to Theodore Roosevelt, August 12, 1904. From Library of Congress Manuscript division.

Cortelyou understood that Roosevelt’s legacy would endure long past the time in which they lived. Perhaps he could sense that Roosevelt’s strong character would be remembered over 100 years later. Cortelyou was right about Roosevelt’s correspondence being published, although I doubt he could have envisioned how widely accessible that correspondence would become with the advent of digital libraries.

Beth received an M.S.I from the University of Michigan. She is currently helping to process the Stephen Jay Gould papers at Stanford.

Transcript of Cortelyou Letter:

August 12, 1904
Personal

Dear Mr. President:
I have your letter of August 11th about the Northern Securities matter. If I did not know you as well as I do I should resent your sending me such a communication. Whatever may be my shortcomings – and they are many – I think I have a fair degree of moral fiber, certainly enough to measure up to the requirements of this Northern Securities case. I am conducting this campaign for your reelection on as high a plane as you have conducted the affairs of your great office. It is not likely that one who has been so intimately associated with you or who has so much at heart your welfare and success would permit any consideration whatever to weaken the force and effect of the splendid achievements of your administration. This is not a question of the stress or burden upon me. All that I have had before and in ample measure; but the campaign management could easily become a matter of sore stress to me if I should have to feel that you believe it necessary when each emergency arises to admonish me as to my duty. Practically everything you write goes into history. Your correspondence will naturally be published some day, and what you have said in portions of this letter to me rings so true that it would inevitability be selected as indicative of your character; but it is addressed to me and it carries an inference, plain and unmistakable, that is unwarranted by the facts. Let me tell you briefly what these facts are:

From information that came into my possession which I knew to be correct, I learned that steps had been taken to act upon the phase of the Northern Securities case which we discussed when I was recently in Washington. I saw in the papers that Mr. Moody was scheduled to leave Washington on the Dolphin, and it was stated that he would stop at Newport and go from there on a trip into the Adirondacks. I knew that he was not familiar with certain details of the case, and to have it come to a head again while he was absent would embarrass all of us. I knew too that by coming here I could put him in possession of certain facts he needed for a full understanding of the matter. The nature of these I can tell you when I see you. There is no weakening, no let-down, no desire or attempt to do a thing out of harmony with your position in the whole case. I think Mr. Moody has written you giving you his impressions. He expressed himself to me as exceedingly pleased to have learned what he ascertained here. The incident has been helpful in many ways, and you need not give yourself the least concern as to any feature of it being a departure from what is believed to be the right position to be taken by you and by those in any way representing you.

Now do not for a moment think that I have any feeling in this matter. You are always frank and direct with me, and I shall be just as frank and direct with you.

We are making good progress in all our work. Practically everything that you or Mr. Loeb have referred to in your communications is either underway or projected. We shall use Marion Butler. We have even had it in mind to encourage the unspeakable blackguard from the northwest to whom you refer, for he is in a position where he can now be of some service to a good cause; but in using the fellow I can never forget his venomous attacks upon President McKinley and others of our friends.

I have many things to tell you which I am sure will be of interest, and if it is possible for me to get to Washington Sunday or Monday I shall do so.

With warmest regards, believe me always,
Sincerely yours,
George B. Cortelyou

Posted by Beth Noyes on Jul 22, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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