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May 20th, 2019

When William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President. McKinley's closest advisor, Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, thought that this was a double tragedy. Hanna had tried to keep Roosevelt off the ticket with McKinley. At the 1900 Republican convention, he said "Why, everybody's gone crazy! What is the matter with all of you? Here's this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for Vice President. Don't any of you realize that there's only one life between that madman and the Presidency?" Even Roosevelt himself did not want to abandon his position of governor, but he did have ambitions for president in 1904.

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Roosevelt was not the first Vice-President to assume the Presidency upon the death of an incumbent. But he would become the first such incumbent to run for election to the office. None of the previous "accidental Presidents" (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Jackson or Chester Alan Arthur) had won their party's nomination for President in the subsequent election. Roosevelt would change that. At the Republican convention held in Chicago from June 21–23, 1904, Roosevelt's nomination was virtually assured. A dump-Roosevelt movement had considered replacing him with Hanna, but Hanna's death in February 1904 had eliminated that possibility. Roosevelt was nominated unanimously on the first ballot. To balance the ticket, conservative Senator Charles W. Fairbanks from Indiana was chosen as the vice-presidential nominee. The Republican platform called for maintenance of the protective tariff, increased foreign trade, and upholding the gold standard.

The Democrats considered putting former candidates William Jennings Bryan and former President Grover Cleveland up against Roosevelt, but both declined to run for president. Instead the front runner was an unlikely name, Judge Alton B. Parker, a Bourbon Democrat from New York. Parker was the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. He was respected by both Democrats and Republicans in his state, a crucial one in the upcoming election. Parker refused to work actively for the nomination, but did nothing to discourage his nomination. Grover Cleveland endorsed Parker. The Democratic Convention was held in St. Louis, Missouri, from July 6–9, 1904. The nomination would prove to be contentious. Parker had been out of active politics for twenty years and did not have any political enemies or record to defend. But he still faced opposition from the more liberal wing of the party. William Jennings Bryan still held considerable influence in the party, and he disliked Parker for being a Gold Democrat. He called Parker as a tool of Wall Street and declared that no self-respecting Democrat could vote for him.

Publisher and now congressman William Randolph Hearst of New York owned eight newspapers, all of them friendly to labor and other populist causes. But even Hearst could not attract Bryan's support. The prospect of having Hearst for a candidate frightened conservative Democrats. Parker received 658 votes on the first roll call, 9 short of the necessary two-thirds. Before the result could be announced, 21 more votes shifted to Parker. As a result, Parker handily won the nomination on the first ballot with 679 votes to 181 for Hearst.

After his nomination, Parker informed the convention by letter that he supported the gold standard. The letter added, "As the platform is silent on the subject, my view should be made known to the convention, and if it is proved to be unsatisfactory to the majority, I request you to decline the nomination for me at once, so that another may be nominated before adjournment." Former Senator Henry G. Davis from West Virginia was nominated for vice-president; at 80, he was the oldest major-party candidate ever nominated for national office. Davis had received the nomination because it was believed he could deliver his state for the Democrats and because he was also a millionaire mine owner, railroad magnate, and banker. The hope was that he would support the campaign financially. In the end, Democrats would be disappointed on this front.

The campaign was marked by goodwill, mostly due to the fact that Parker and Roosevelt were so similar in political philosophy. Both candidates supported the gold standard, both believed in fair treatment for the Filipinos and supported their eventual liberation and both believed that labor unions had the same rights as individuals before the courts. The only dissent seemed to be within the parties themselves. The radicals in the Democratic Party denounced Parker as a conservative while the conservatives in the Republican Party denounced Theodore Roosevelt as a radical.

During the campaign, Joseph Pulitzer's New York World carried a full page story about alleged corruption in the Bureau of Corporations. Roosevelt admitted certain payments had been made, but the issue did not become a significant one. He appointed George B. Cortelyou as his campaign manager. As former Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Cortelyou was able to use his connections to elicit large contributions from these corporations. The Democrats accused Cortrelyou of a conflict of interest, but the charge was not proven until after the election. In 1907, it was disclosed that insurance companies had contributed heavily to the Roosevelt campaign. Parker also received financial support from the J. P. Morgan banking interests. New York state Senator Patrick Henry McCarren, a prominent Parker backer, was on the payroll of Standard Oil at the rate of twenty thousand dollars a year.


In the end, voters decided that as their was little difference in the position of the candidates, they may as well stick with the known entity. Roosevelt won a landslide victory, taking every Northern and Western state. He was the first Republican to carry the state of Missouri since Ulysses S. Grant in 1868. Voting in Maryland was extremely close. On November 30, Roosevelt was declared the statewide victor by just 51 votes. Roosevelt won the election by over 2.5 million popular votes. He won 56.4% of the popular vote. Thomas Watson, the Populist candidate, received 117,183 votes. Roosevelt received 336 votes in the electoral college compared to 140 for Parker. Most pundits agree that Roosevelt won the election on the strength of his charisma and popularity and because most Americans were contented with their lives at the time. Not everyone was so contented though. Three per cent of the electorate voted for Eugene V. Debs and his Socialist Party.


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