Teddy Roosevelt Defends the Presidential Primary

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tags: Teddy Roosevelt, Presidential Primary



Geoffrey Cowan is the author of Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary.

On March 20, 1912, Carnegie Hall was filled to capacity. Only two months earlier, Theodore Roosevelt’s opponent and rival for the Republican presidential nomination Senator Robert La Follette had delivered a powerful address to an overflow crowd of cheering supporters in the same venue. Notwithstanding La Follette’s dramatic primary victory in North Dakota a day earlier, more than 3,000 people crammed into the lavish main hall to hear what the press was calling Roosevelt’s first speech of the campaign. 

 The balcony was filled with activists and social workers while the main floor glittered with men and women in evening dress. Another crowd of Roosevelt supporters filled the Carnegie Lyceum, a smaller theater and recital hall, and as many as 5,000 others, who could not gain admission, stood cheering in the street. The main floor had the excitement and flavor of opening night of the opera season. 

When Roosevelt bounded onto the stage, the building exploded with wild cheers. “Teddy, O! Teddy,” people shouted, waving handkerchiefs and hats from the galleries. 

Standing on the raised platform, Roosevelt waved his hand, asking his admirers to take their seats. But a shout came from the back of the hall, and most of those in the crowd jumped back to their feet and cheered for another two minutes. 

Roosevelt had been working on his speech for more than a week. Some of his closest advisors urged him to stress his conservative, pro-business credentials. They were trying, in part, to offset the impact of the proposal for the recall of judicial decisions in his Columbus speech, which had sent tremors through the business world, including many of his staunchest supporters. “All your friends and the committee here unanimously and strongly urge that your Carnegie Hall address be mainly a charter of business prosperity,” his former Secretary of the Navy wired from Chicago. The treasurer of Roosevelt’s New York campaign pleaded for such a statement: “If a strong chord of sympathy can be struck in your Carnegie Hall address with the aims of those who are working conservatively to develop large business enterprises on the basis of the square deal, I think it would do more for our cause between now and election time than any other subject which could be discussed there.” TR’s treasurer sat in a private box, hoping that Roosevelt would heed his advice.  ...




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