Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 1904 Presidential Election: ALTON PARKER vs. THEODORE ROOSEVELT Pt 4

from the buying of the presidency 1904
President Theodore Roosevelt, who ascended to office after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, has used his executive powers to break up monopolies such as the Northern Securities Company and to intervene in business-labor disputes, turning the White House into a “bully pulpit” from which to castigate big business for its excesses. But when Roosevelt decides to run for a term of his own, he quietly goes to the same robber barons and trusts that he’s been attacking and hits them up for campaign contributions. Although the businessmen are uneasy about Roosevelt, they decide they don’t have much choice but to support him, since they view the Democratic Party as even more dangerously radical. Of the $2,195,000 raised by Roosevelt’s campaign, nearly three-fourths comes from corporate coffers. Wall Street financiers J.P. Morgan and George Jay Gould give, respectively, $150,000 and $100,000, while railroad baron Edward H. Harriman donates $50,000 of his own and raises $200,000 from others. A trio of insurance companies provides another $150,000. Standard Oil Company gives $125,000 in an effort to keep in the trustbuster’s good graces. All told, Roosevelt rakes in more than twice as much as his Democratic challenger, Alton B. Parker, who is forced to rely on a pair of wealthy donors, industrialist Thomas Fortune Ryan and banker August Belmont, Jr., for three-fourths of his war chest. (Democratic vice-presidential candidate Henry Davis, a mining magnate, is another major contributor.) Daniel Lamont, a former aide to Democratic President Grover Cleveland, bluntly tells Parker that his candidacy is doomed because corporations “have underwritten Roosevelt’s election just as they would underwrite the construction of a railroad to San Francisco.” In October, with Parker’s back against the wall, the Democratic candidate picks up on charges originally made by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and tries to make an issue of Roosevelt’s corporate fundraising, accusing him of blackmailing companies into making donations to avoid government disclosure of damaging information about them. Roosevelt angrily denounces the “wicked falsehood” that his campaign has extorted contributions from companies while avoiding the subject of why he has accepted so much cash from them. Nevertheless, he feels chagrined about his apparent sellout. “Sooner or later, unless there is a readjustment, there will come a riotous, wicked, murderous day of atonement,” he tells a reporter. In November, Roosevelt wins the election handily, taking 336 electoral votes to 140 for Parker, and trouncing the Democrat in the popular vote by 56.4 percent to 37.6 percent. To his backers’ consternation, he soon reverts to attacking big business. As steel baron Henry Clay Frick, a $50,000 donor, later complains, “We bought the son of a bitch, and then he did not stay bought.”

No comments: