Ohio History Journal

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The Sage of Athens: Charles H.

Grosvenor and Presidential Politics in

Ohio in 1908




Now largely forgotten by Ohioans, Charles H. Grosvenor (1833-1917) was

an important political figure in Ohio during the late nineteenth and early

twentieth centuries. An Athens lawyer and veteran of the Civil War,

Grosvenor entered state politics in 1873 upon his election to the Ohio House

of Representatives, where he served as speaker from 1876 to 1878. He

reached the pinnacle of his political prominence as a member of the United

States House of Representatives from 1885 to 1891 and again from 1893 to

1907, representing the Eleventh District. A strongly partisan Republican

known for his conservatism and sharp debating skills, Grosvenor achieved a

national reputation as a formidable speaker, entertaining Chautauqua audi-

ences. Representative Champ Clark, a Missouri Democrat who later became

speaker of the House of Representatives, referred to Grosvenor as "a capital

debater, quick at repartee-sometimes as savage as a meat-ax, sometimes as

bitter as gall."l Grosvenor also presented a striking and somewhat awesome

appearance with his thick white hair and exceptionally long snowy whiskers.

A number of Grosvenor's Ohio contemporaries, such as President William

McKinley and Senator Joseph Benson Foraker, have been the subjects of ex-

cellent studies, and various memoirs and autobiographies of Ohioans have

helped to illuminate certain personalities and events of the period.2 Yet

Grosvenor's political career has received comparatively little notice. In the

accounts of his contemporaries, he appears in scattered references to isolated

fragments of his life, while the general surveys of Ohio history either ignore

him or mention him only briefly. He deserves better treatment. This essay

sketches his role in the presidential campaign of 1908 in Ohio by examining

his letters to William Howard Taft, the Republican presidential nominee that



Leonard Schlup is a librarian in the Language, Literature, and History Division of the Akron-

Summit County Public Library in Ohio.


1. Champ Clark, My Quarter Century of American Politics (2 vols.; New York, 1920), II,


2. For President Hayes's opinion of Grosvenor, see Rutherford B. Hayes to James A.

Garfield, January 13, 1881, in Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, ed. Charles

Richard Williams (5 vols.; Columbus, 1924), 111, 637. A recent biography of Hayes is Ari

Hoogenboom, Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President (Lawrence, 1995).