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The Second Administration of
Theodore Roosevelt
In his second administration (1905-1909), Theodore Roosevelt continued to be an activist president in both foreign and domestic affairs.  In 1905, he played a central role in mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize the next year.  In 1905-1906, he also helped mediate a dispute between Germany and France over Morocco.  Tension between Japan and the United States had been building over the issue of Japanese immigrant workers, who were resented by white Americans in the West.  In early 1907, Roosevelt and Secretary of War William Howard Taft negotiated a “Gentleman’s Agreement” in which Japan agreed to prohibit passports for travel to the United States, except for Hawaii.  In 1908, improving relations between the two countries resulted in the Root-Takahira Treaty, which attempted to secure peaceful trade in the Pacific. 

In 1906, Roosevelt signed three major pieces of domestic legislation into law.  The Pure Food and Drug Act established the Food and Drug Administration, which was charged with inspecting all food and drugs intended for humans; mandated prescriptions from state-licensed physicians for the purchase of certain drugs (thereby restricting the patent medicine business); and required warning labels for habit-forming medicines.  The Meat Inspection Act established sanitary standards for slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants and authorized the Department of Agriculture to inspect animals intended for human consumption before and after slaughter.  The Hepburn Act gave greater authority to the Interstate Commerce Commission by allowing it to decide which shipping rates were “reasonable” and banning free railroad passes (often given to politicians).  Roosevelt’s relatively good record on the treatment of black American was marred in 1906 when he dishonorably discharged 167 black soldiers for insubordination after none admitted guilt or knowledge about a shooting spree in Texas, which resulted in the death of one townsman.  (In 1972, they were exonerated and given honorable discharges.)

In the 1906 congressional elections, progressive Republican candidates in the North and progressive Democrats in the South tended to be successful; however, overall the Republicans lost 28 seats in the U.S. House, resulting in a majority reduced by 56 (from 250-136 to 222-164).  In 1907, the United States suffered an economic panic, affecting primarily the banking system and the stock market.  Although severe, the economy began recovering in the spring of 1908.  That year, Roosevelt signed the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which allowed national banks to issue additional currency during economic emergencies.  It also created the National Monetary Commission, whose 1912 report led the next year to establishment of the Federal Reserve banking system.

The Republican Nomination
President Roosevelt had announced after the 1904 election that he would not seek another term in 1908.  Instead, he persuaded Secretary of War William Howard Taft to become a candidate, and then worked to ensure the nomination of his handpicked successor.  The son and grandson of judges, Taft had been content with his career as a federal judge (1892-1900).  However, in early 1900 his politically ambitious wife, Helen, persuaded him to accept President William McKinley’s offer to head the Second Philippines Commission.  In July 1901, he was named as the colony’s first civil governor.  Taft proved to be an excellent and fair-minded administrator, helping to improve the standard of living and to lay the foundation for a stable government.  Because of his commitment to finishing his work in the Philippines, he turned down two offers from the president to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, which was his ultimate goal. 

In 1904, Roosevelt convinced Taft to accept the position of secretary of war, which would allow him to continue overseeing the Philippines.  In that office, his public pronouncements increasingly aligned with those of the president’s.  Although he wrote to his wife that year, “Politics … makes me sick,” he had begun to set his sights on the presidency.  In response to criticism, Taft stated that he took the president’s side on issues because they shared political principles and goals.  Likewise, Roosevelt believed that Taft was the best man to continue his policies.

Nevertheless, there were other aspirants for the Republican presidential nomination.  Governor Charles Evans Hughes of New York announced his availability on January 31, 1908, but refused to take steps to secure the nomination, insisting that the party should seek him.  Roosevelt had pushed for Hughes’s election in 1906, and the two men shared a reform philosophy, but the president personally disliked the aloof governor.  Vice President Charles Fairbanks wanted to be president, but had been virtually shut out of policymaking and administrative duties by Roosevelt.  Nevertheless, Fairbanks did run as the favorite-son candidate of his home state of Indiana.  Other names mentioned for the nomination included Senator Joseph Foraker of Ohio, Attorney General  Philander C. Knox of Pennsylvania, Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon of Illinois, Governor Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, and Frank S. Black, a former New York governor. 

Taft’s nomination campaign was managed by Arthur I. (“Jake”) Vorys, a prominent Ohio lawyer, Charles P. Taft, the candidate’s wealthy half-brother, and Frank H. Hitchcock, who resigned as assistant postmaster general to join the team.  Roosevelt allowed Taft and Hitchcock to use the patronage system to appoint men favorable to Taft’s candidacy.  Consequently, by the time of the national convention, he had pledges of support from 97 of the 125 delegates who were federal employees.  Hitchcock also got pledges from 128 of 194 Southern delegates, a quarter of the number needed for nomination.  (The support of Southern black delegates was facilitated by President Roosevelt taking blame for the Brownsville Affair.)  By March 31, 120 Republican congressmen had endorsed Taft, with 33 for Cannon, 25 for Knox, 20 for Fairbanks, 19 for Hughes, and 3 for La Follette.  Twenty Republican senators had announced for Taft, while no other candidate had more than five in his camp. 

An obstacle developed for the Taft campaign in the candidate’s home state of Ohio.  Foraker announced he would not seek another senatorial term in return for a favorite-son endorsement from the Ohio delegation.  The state’s junior senator, Charles Dick, not only supported Foraker’s effort, but also used his position on the Senate postal committee in an attempt to thwart Taft’s use of patronage.  Foraker was also backed by Warren Harding, Ohio’s lieutenant governor and future president (1921-1923), and George Cox, the Cincinnati Republican “boss.”  Neither candidate would back down, but Taft took personal charge of the situation.  He won 36 of 38 county primaries in Ohio on February 11, 1908, and the state convention endorsed him in March.  The victory was significant, although not decisive. 

In mid-April, the combined number of delegates for his rivals exceeded Taft’s, 203-199, but he continued to amass votes.  In 1908, a few states held the relatively new innovation of a direct primary, and Taft did well in them.  By April 22, his delegate total was 261 of the 481 needed for nomination; by May 3, it was 312; and by the end of the primary season on May 17, he had surpassed the requisite majority by 103 for a total of 584 pledged delegates.  There were 223 cases of contested delegate credentials, but the Roosevelt men on the Credentials Committee resolved 220 in favor of Taft.

The 1908 Republican National Convention met at the Chicago Coliseum on June 16-19.  On the second day, the mention of Roosevelt’s name by convention chairman Henry Cabot Lodge triggered a 49-minute chant of “four, four, four years more” by delegates eager for the president to break his vow against a third term.  It ended only when Lodge firmly insisted, “anyone who attempts to use his [Roosevelt’s] name as a candidate for the presidency impugns both his sincerity and his good faith.”  Weeks before, a rough draft of the party platform was written by key Taft supporters and edited at the White House by the candidate, the president, and a few advisors.  The document was printed in The New York Times before the convention met, and was little changed by delegates. 

The Republican platform began by extolling the accomplishments of the Roosevelt administration, with special sections highlighting economic opportunity and business revival.  Its first two “Pledges for the Future” notably modified the traditional Republican commitment to high tariffs and the gold standard.  The first plank called for a special congressional session to enact tariff revision.  It argued that trade protectionism should be guided by the principle of equalizing “the difference between the cost of production at home and abroad, together with a reasonable profit to American industries.”  It endorsed setting maximum and minimum rates by law, and advised free trade with the Philippines, except for sugar and tobacco.  The second plank approved the recently passed Aldrich-Vreeland Act and urged “a more elastic and adaptable [monetary] system.”  However, the final sentence pledged “that every dollar shall be based upon … gold.”

(continued)

 
 
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