Ohio History Journal

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Blacks and the Republican

Nomination of 1908





Theodore Roosevelt's decision not to seek the Republican presidential nomina-

tion in 1908 left the field open to several Republican hopefuls, but his influence in

the party and control of its machinery made it clear that the candidate he sup-

ported would win the nomination as well as the national election that followed.

This was especially important when it is remembered that national politics dur-

ing the first decade of the twentieth century was dominated by the Republican

party. As a minority party, the Democrats offered the American people only sec-

tional candidates with little or no national appeal.

There were several Republicans whose national reputations and positions on

the major issues of the day caused Roosevelt to consider them as serious con-

tenders for the party's nomination in 1908. The leading contenders were Charles

E. Hughes, governor of New York, and two members of the Cabinet, Secretary

of State Elihu Root and Secretary of War William H. Taft. Hughes, Root, and

Taft were followed by Senator Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio whose presidential

ambitions were on the rise with the approach of the party's national convention in


Hughes, one of the leading reform governors of the nation, first gained na-

tional attention in 1905 as counsel for the "Armstrong Committee," a legislative

committee of the New York State Senate investigating insurance and related

frauds. Partly as a result of the diligent work he performed as counsel, the As-

sembly passed a number of laws which extended greater protection to insurance

policy holders, attempted to prohibit corporations from making political contribu-

tions and influencing the outcome of elections, and curtailed the activities of

lobbyists and special interest groups. More important for the nomination in 1908,

however, was the fact that Hughes was able to parlay his role in these investiga-

tions into a victory over the New York Republican machine of Benjamin Odell

for the party's gubernatorial nomination in 1906. As a candidate for governor,

Hughes had the support of the national administration; President Roosevelt sent

Secretary Root to Utica to deliver an address in Hughes' behalf which some his-

torians contend played an important role in the outcome of the election.1

Although he had helped to elect Hughes governor of New York in 1906, Roose-

velt felt he would not make a good presidential candidate and could not compare



1. Harold Gosnell, Boss Platt and His New York Machine; A Study of the Political Leadership of

Thomas C. Platt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Others (New York, 1924), 277-284; Philip C. Jessup,

Elihu Root, 2 vols. (New  York, 1938), 118-123.

Dr. Haney is Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University.