TO HIS SECRETARY OF WAR REQUESTING THAT THIS FORMER CONFEDERATE SOLDIER, NOW SERVING IN HIS CABINET, REFRAIN FROM PUBLIC APPEARENCES WITHOUT SPEAKING TO HIM FIRST
ROOSEVELT, THEODORE. (1858-1919). Historian, naturalist, 26th President (1901-1909), and first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1906). Revealing Typed Letter Signed, “Theodore Roosevelt,” as President, on White House, Washington letterhead. Marked ‘Personal’. One page, quarto. ‘Oyster Bay, N.Y.’, August 29, 1908. To “Luke E. Wright, Secretary of War, Washington D.C.” Roosevelt writes:
“My dear Mr. Secretary: A lot of people have been importuning me to get you to speak. My impression is that it would be unwise to do so. I think the South was really pleased at your nomination; but I think that if you spoke it might cause a reaction. I know that this is the view of Judge Lurton, for instance. At any rate, before you decide to accept an invitation to speak do go over the matter with me. Sincerely yours, Theodore Roosevelt”
With Jim Crow Laws firmly established throughout the United States by 1910, Theodore Roosevelt is apprehensive about the public’s reaction if Luke E. Wright, Secretary of War from 1908-9 and a Confederate veteran, were to speak publicly. Stressing that Judge Horace Harman Lurton of the Sixth Court of Appeals, himself a veteran of the Confederacy, also opposes a public appearance by Wright, Roosevelt is able to use sectional ties to defuse the possible sectional and racial tensions caused if Wright were to speak. Obviating possible reactions by silencing Wright, Roosevelt shows his political prowess and highlights the domineering attitude that alienated so many Republicans from their President. Roosevelt himself showed mixed feelings on issues of race; in 1906 he condemned the San Francisco School Board when it sought to segregate Japanese schoolchildren, but the same year he also discharged three African-American regiments without honor when they refused to testify in a case concerning the shooting of a bartender in Texas. Also of note is that while Roosevelt was in office, Booker T. Washington, became the first African-American to dine at the White House, and as President, Roosevelt appointed the nation’s first Jewish Cabinet Secretary, Oscar S. Straus. A complex man, this letter shows that in all cases Roosevelt placed the safety and betterment of the nation above personal predilections concerning matters of race. An extraordinary letter, worthy of inclusion in the finest of Presidential collections.