Republican Party Campaigning during the Election of 1904

Aug 19, 2011

Today, Katie from New York, one of our summer interns, shares some of her discoveries while cataloging in the Theodore Roosevelt digital library collections.

The items I cataloged during this internship consisted primarily of incoming correspondence from late September through October of 1904. One of the first things that struck me was how high the volume of letters to the President was even at that time when there was a significant time lag between creation and receipt of a letter. It gave me an even greater respect for the work of President Roosevelt (not to mention his personal secretary, William Loeb) and started me wondering about the volume of correspondence faced by modern-day Presidents and officials who use a variety of technologies including email, social networking services, voicemail and more to communicate. It gave me an even greater respect for the archivists and librarians working to preserve the Presidential correspondence generated today and trying to design records management policies that will capture the most important exchanges.

Returning to Roosevelt’s presidency, as the volume of letters in the early fall of 1904 increased the focus was frequently on Roosevelt’s re-election efforts and the work of the Republican Committees across the nation. These documents demonstrated how much strategy and hard work went into political campaigns even before today’s continual polling and 24-hour news cycle. The first document that stood out to me was a letter from Booker T. Washington to Secretary Loeb in which he commends President Roosevelt’s nomination acceptance letter and asks Loeb to help him format a single line from the letter so that it could be reprinted in African-American newspapers and framed and hung on walls in people’s homes and offices. Roosevelt’s particular line that was so inspiring to Washington was “this government is based upon the fundamental idea that each man, no matter what his occupation, his race, or his religious belief, is entitled to be treated on his worth as a man, and neither favored nor discriminated against because of any accident in his position.”

This except provides a concise summary of some of the most important of the Republican Party’s values in the Progressive Era. This letter demonstrates that power and primacy that Roosevelt’s ideals and policies had for people during that time.

Letter from Booker T. Washington to William Loeb, September 15, 1904.

Letter from Booker T. Washington to William Loeb, September 15, 1904. From Library of Congress Manuscripts division.

A second document I worked on that demonstrated the political strategizing in which Roosevelt and the Republican Party were involved at the time is a much longer report from Republican Delegate James Clarkson on the historical relationship between the Republican Party and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. I find the history of the uneasy relationship between the Mormon Church and the United States government to be a fascinating part of American history. While on one level, this report is simply an expert’s account of the historical conflicts between the Mormon Church, it is simultaneously a strategy document outlining the reasons Mormon support will be important to the Republican Party in the election and Clarkson’s suggested strategies for maintaining cordial relations.

Detail, Letter from James S. Clarkson to Theodore Roosevelt, September 23, 1904.

Detail, Letter from James S. Clarkson to Theodore Roosevelt, September 23, 1904. From Library of Congress Manuscripts division.

Perhaps it was my own naiveté, but I hadn’t thought much about this kind of demographically-segmented political campaigning during the 1904 election, but this document makes clear that such conversations were ongoing and the Republican Party had a strong sense of strategy.

Katie received her M.L.I.S. and Certificate of Advanced Study in Digital Libraries from Syracuse University in May. In September she will be living in New York City where she hopes to work in reference at a special collections library.

Posted by Katie O'Connell on Aug 19, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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