When Vice President Garret Hobart died in November 1899, speculation began over who would replace him on the Republican national ticket in 1900. Governor Theodore Roosevelt was a popular choice (and ultimately the nominee), but was publicly and privately ambivalent about accepting the position. Several other names were put forward, including Secretary of War Elihu Root, Navy Secretary John D. Long, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, and Senator William Allison of Iowa.
Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, chairman of the Republican National Committee and President William McKinley’s campaign manager, wanted to nominate a pro-business national ticket with Cornelius Bliss, a prosperous entrepreneur and former interior secretary, as McKinley’s running mate. Harper’s Weekly cartoonist William Allen Rogers seemed to favor Bliss, as does cartoonist Grant Hamilton in this cover cartoon for Judge. Here, the illustration suggests a wedding portrait. The former interior secretary, in formal attire, smiles as he embraces the female personification of the vice presidency, who wears the toga of classical times. The couple is flanked by lilies, the symbol of purity and virtue, while the title plays on his name meaning “happiness” and its frequent use in the term “marital bliss.”
In the late-nineteenth century, a significant factor in choosing vice-presidential nominees was the expectation that they could contribute or raise large amounts of money for the campaign. Bliss fit that criterion perfectly as a wealthy businessman who donated heavily to the Republican Party and had a track record of successful fundraising, including as treasurer for the Republican National Committee (1892-1904). The fact that he had limited experience in government and had never run for public office was not considered very important. Despite the deaths of four previous presidents, neither major party seemed particularly concerned with filling the vice presidency with a man of presidential caliber who had a proven political résumé. Instead, geographical balance was a given, ideological balance was often a consideration, campaign speaking ability was increasingly an added benefit, and ensuring the campaign’s fiscal abundance was greatly desired.
Cornelius Newton Bliss was born into an old-line New England family born on January 26, 1833 in Fall River, Massachusetts. His father died when he was an infant, and at the age of 14, he moved with his mother and stepfather, Edward Keep, to New Orleans, where he completed his education and worked in his stepfather’s counting house. In 1849, Bliss was hired to work in Boston for Beebe and Company, the nation’s largest dry-goods firm, and soon rose to a management position. With the dissolution of Beebe & Co. in 1866, he became a partner in another dry-goods house, John S. & Eben Wright & Co. The firm’s main office eventually moved to New York City and became one of the nation’s largest dry-goods companies. In 1881, its name was changed to Bliss, Fabyan, & Company. He also served on the boards of various businesses and charities.
In New York, Bliss became active behind the scenes in Republican politics, while turning down several offers to run for mayor and a chance to seek the governorship in 1885. He served as chairman of the New York State Republican Committee in 1887-1888, contributed generously to the presidential campaign fund of Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and was president of the American Protective Tariff League for several years. In 1897, Bliss turned down McKinley’s offer of the cabinet post of Navy secretary before accepting the position of interior secretary. Soon bored by daily management of the department, he resigned on February 19, 1899, and resumed his business activities. The next year, he resisted encouragement from Senator Hanna and the press to seek the GOP’s vice presidential nomination. Bliss died in New York City on October 9, 1911.