The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 11, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER XI
POLITICS IN NEW YORK STATE

From 1910 to 1927

Hughes and Roosevelt joined forces in 1910, in support of a direct primary bill, but the measure was defeated, the voting indicating hat as many Republicans as Democrats were opposed to the proposed change. The ex-President was fast losing ground in State politics. By a vote of 20 to 15, he was defeated by Vice-President Sherman for the temporary chairmanship of the State Republican Convention in 1910. Some of the delegates that voted for Sherman id so thinking that President Taft wished it so; but soon afterwards Taft denied that he had in any way shown a leaning toward Sherman in this connection. Whereupon Sherman, at the next opportunity demanded that an inquiry be made into the charge that he had been chosen chairman through misrepresentation. A committee was appointed by the State Convention and this committee, by a vote of twenty-two to fifteen, decided that there had been no misrepresentation.

As a matter of fact, most Republican leaders were somewhat relieved that Sherman, not Roosevelt, had been chosen. The ex-President was already voicing thoughts that many political leaders did not like. His "New Nationalism," they thought, was too radical, too progressive. Roosevelt would abolish "boss rule"; he was "against the domination of the party and the public by special interests," political or otherwise. In general, Roosevelt was jolting the party wagon, and soon some of those who had had easy riding heretofore might be thrown out. So the "regular" Republican leaders were not thinking kind thoughts of their ex-President at the moment. Moreover, the President and ex-President were not on the best of terms.

Still, in the State convention in September it was demonstrated that Roosevelt still possessed a stronger following than any other New York Republican. The State Committee presented Sherman's name for the chairmanship, and Roosevelt was nominated from the floor. A vote showed that 561 favored Roosevelt and that 445 were for Sherman. There was no opposition to the election of Elihu Root for permanent chairman. A law partner of Root, Henry L. Stimson, United States District Attorney, was Roosevelt's choice for Governor. Stimson was nominated on the first ballot, Edward Schoenck being chosen for Lieutenant-Governor. Wadsworth tried to prevent endorsement of the Hughes policy, but lost by 610 votes to 403. As a matter of fact, the reform record of Hughes was too valuable a campaign asset to be thrust aside by the organization forces. Roosevelt was thought to be cool toward the Taft administration, but the fact that the State convention, which Roosevelt dominated, enthusiastically indorsed President Taft, does not seem to confirm the thought.

Democratic affairs in the State were undergoing drastic change at this time. Tammany was under a cloud, and Democrats thought it better that the society should remain obscured for the moment. No Tammany delegates were invited to a Democratic meeting held in Saratoga, in September, 1909. A Democratic League grew out of this meeting of reformers. They were to be led by John Alden Dix, to whom Murphy was shrewd enough soon to turn for help in reorganizing Tammany. With its support, Dix was chosen to head the Democratic State Committee, and, after Mayor Gaynor had refused to stand for the Governorship, Dix was nominated.

Republicans were not very sanguine of success. Roosevelt's was a magnetic personality, but his "New Nationalism" was shaking the party. Democrats, of course, would like to help him to shake it to pieces, destroying him with it. The Democratic State platform denounced Roosevelt's plan in the following words: The party pledges itself anew to the old nationalism embodied in the Constitution." Platform orators urged the people to hold to conservative methods. To make matter worse for Roosevelt, very many Republicans suspected that he was trying to pave his way for a third term as President. Even the radically inclined among the voters were conservative enough to turn their "thumbs down" on such an aspiration. Democrats and some "old Line" Republicans agitated the people so much on this point that Root felt impelled to raise a warning finger. The Presidential term was not the only subject that called for discussion at that time. He said: "A good many Republicans at this time seems to ignore all the grave and substantial issues that are before the people of the State, and intend to vote at the coming election upon no issue whatever, but simply as an expression of feeling against Mr. Roosevelt." #1 Root saw much that he could commend in the "New Nationalism," but in any case, he thought that the personal feelings of conservatives should be set aside, unless they indeed wished to defeat the Republican party. Strange as it may seem, very many Republicans on election night "openly rejoiced at every return indicating Democratic victory." Their rejoicing was not that new nationalism had been defeated, but that Roosevelt had been denied a third term.

New Yorkers were not alone in the reaction against Roosevelt. Republicans in other States manifested positive antipathy to the ex-President. Consequently, the Democrats were victorious in many strong Republican States. In New York, the Democratic candidate for Governor turned a Hughes plurality of almost 70,000 in 1908 into a Dix plurality of almost as much in 1910. The vote was: Dix, 689,700; Stimson, 622,299. #2

Democrats in Control--For the first time in almost two decades the Democrats in 1911, found themselves in control of both Assembly and Senate; and for the first time since David B. Hill was defeated in 1894, did a Democratic Governor hold the reins of government. The old ex-Governor did not live to see the Democrats go to victory; his death occurred about a fortnight before election day. Thomas C. Platt, who for so many years had dominated the Republican party in the State, also died in that year.

Time was passing on, and while the new order was not triumphant, the old order was changing. Dix was thought of as a reformer. Although indebted to Murphy for his success--at least to some extent--he was not tied to Tammany. Dix was more like Hughes, and the Independent Democrats looked forward confidently to his administration. Murphy soon found that he could not sway the Legislature quite as easily as he would have like to. In the matter of choosing a Democrat to succeed the Republican Senator, Chauncey M. Depew, in the Untied States Senate, the independent Democrats vigorously opposed Murphy's choice, William F. Sheehan. The Tammany chief has to fall back on his second choice, Justice James A. O'Gorman, before he could win enough insurgents' support to elect the latter. For almost three months the Senatorial struggle has been uppermost in the minds of the legislators, and although Murphy finally triumphed, the insurgents found some satisfaction in having checked the Sheehan movement. Still, Murphy was probably satisfied with the situation. As the New York "Times" pointed out on April 1, the insurgents may have been "fighting for a principle," but so had Murphy--"the principle of Murphy rule"; and Murphy had won his fight.

The Governor had also so engrossed the Legislature in the fight that the reform measures Dix had had in mind had been neglected, and a disastrous fire in the Capitol further dislocated legislative procedure. The first session was along one. It did not end until July 21, and even then little had been accomplished. In fact, Tammany hindrance and Tammany demand had forced the Governor into many compromise actions which were not at all in accord with his campaign promises. The New York "Times," which ad h ad implicit confidence in Dix, soon had to confess its disappointment. "It begins to look," said an editorial in February, 1911, "as if there was nobody in the State quite so careless about the success and the reputation of Governor Dix's administration as the Governor himself." The Governor was even more embarrassed in 1912 by the changes brought about in the elections of November, 1911. The Legislature once more was dominantly Republican.

It is of interest to more that in 1912, for the first time in New York history, a Socialist was among the elected legislators. Rev. George R. Lunn, whose socialistic views while mayor of Schenectady had attracted nationwide notice, was given a seat in the Assembly, on the Socialist ticket.

Early in 1912, when it was known that the ex-President's progressive ideas would be carried to the public and into the national convention, Roosevelt began to lose ground more rapidly among Republicans. The Republican State convention, in April, was obviously anti-Roosevelt, though delegates chosen for the National convention were not instructed for Taft. However, of the New York delegation of ninety, Roosevelt could only be sure of seven. He succeeded much better in other States, but was not satisfied. Suspecting "steam-roller" tactics, Roosevelt went himself to Chicago to fight his own convention battle. An attempt was made to exclude contesting delegations from any voice in the Committee on Credentials. Roosevelt challenged them. He lost the opening skirmish, and was more disastrously defeated later. The national Convention decided only twenty of 254 contests in Roosevelt's favor. Apparently, matters were not going his way. Soon he became so dissatisfied, so sure that Taft would be carried through, that he gave up all part in the proceedings. This cleared the way for the Taft group. Warren G. Harding presented Taft's name, and Nicholas Murray Butler seconded on behalf of New York. So the nomination was decided on the first ballot, Taft receiving 561 votes and Roosevelt only 107. Seventy-six New York delegates voted for Taft, and eight for Roosevelt. Elihu Root was chairman of the convention.

Roosevelt's supporters, however, would not take the defeat quietly. They went into a separate convention in Chicago, in August, and formed the Progressive party, nominating the ex-president for the Presidency and Hiram W. Johnson, of California, for the Vice-Presidency.

Republicans viewed this division of their party with dismay, but Democrats were delighted. Still both parties were having trouble. Radicalism was upsetting the regular course of things political. Bryan was as distasteful to the average New York Democrat as Roosevelt was to conservative Republicans. Bryan was not known to be himself hoping for nomination, but it was soon apparent that he intended to force his views upon the convention. He caused consternation when he declared himself opposed to "any candidate representative of or under obligations to J. P. Morgan, Thomas F. Ryan, August Belmont, or any other member of the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class." He would deny seats to all capitalistic delegates. He withdrew the latter demand, but his other proposal was carried, even Belmont himself voting affirmatively, with the New York delegation. At the first ballot for President, Champ Clark, of Missouri, received 440-1/2; Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey, 324. Harmon was next with 148, ninety of which were cast by New York. They held solidly to Harmon for nine ballots, but on the tenth ballot, the New York delegation switched to Clark. Clark had by this time advanced to 556, but Wilson was more then 200 behind. Bryan had at first supported Clark, but later turned to Wilson, the change taking place soon after New York dropped Harmon for Clark. Bryan was determined to defeat any candidate supported by the Empire State. The fight was long and desperate, but the Nebraskan slowly improved the changes of Wilson. At the twenty-sixth ballot, the two leaders were about equally supported, but another fifteen ballots put Wilson in first place. The deadlock seemed hopeless, however, and one New York delegate--Stanchfield--did not hesitate to speak his thoughts. "We have heard for months gone by," he said, " that Colonel Bryan b y his voice and influence was supporting Woodrow Wilson in one place, that he was supporting Champ Clark in another, that he was combatting Harmon here and Underwood there, all of the time desiring and intending, in pursuit of his own selfish ends, to produce a deadlock in this convention in order that he might be the recipient of the fruits of this controversy." New York held on grimly to Clark while Bryan quietly worked out his plan to bring a recess for a few weeks, with the possibility that upon resumption both Clark and Wilson would be dropped. But when, after the forty-fifth ballot the voting stood; Wilson, 633; Clark, 306; Underwood, 97' Foss, 27; Harmon, 25; Underwood withdrew. Then New York dropped Clark for Wilson, and the next ballot gave Wilson the nomination, with 990 votes to 84 for Clark. Bryan, like Roosevelt, had been defeated. Thomas R. Marshall was the unanimous choice for Vice-President.

Roosevelt, at the head of the Progressives, campaigned with characteristic vigor, his efforts being ably abetted by his running mate, Hiram Johnson. Led by two such outstanding personalities it is not surprising that they captured a majority of the Republican strength. They destroyed Taft's chances, and temporarily wrecked the Republican party, but they were unable to spread corresponding chaos among the Democrats. Wilson received 6,286,214 of the popular vote; Roosevelt only 4,126,020. The Taft strength was only 3,483,922. In New York Taft ran ahead of the Roosevelt, drawing 455,487 votes to 390,093 cast for Roosevelt. Wilson's vote in New York was 685,573--almost as much as Bryan received in 1908. The electoral College balloting was: Wilson, 435; Roosevelt, 88; Taft, 8.

In the Gubernatorial contest, Henry Clay Sulzer, Democrat, carried the State by 205,454 votes more than were cast for the Republican candidate, Job E. Hedges, #3 Oscar Straus, a former cabinet minister under Roosevelt, was the Progressive candidate, but he ran about 50,000 behind the Republican. Dix would have liked to b ere-nominated, but Wilson did not encourage the movement; so Murphy did not support Dix in the State convention a determined as the otherwise might have. The death of Vice-President Sherman, on October 30, brought Nicholas Murray Butler onto he Taft ticket.

Governor Sulzer Impeached--There were only four Progressives in the new Assembly. The Democratic strength was 103, and the remainder were Republicans of the old order. The Sulzer administration seemed destined to enjoy an unobstructed way. Few for a moment thought that the term would prove the most sensational and tragic in the history of the State. Murphy, perhaps, saw the dark clouds approaching, but even he thought it would pass without breaking over them. Sulzer gave cause for worry; he was taking his executive responsibilities very seriously, but, as Murphy reasoned, others had been equally determined to guard the rights of all the people, and Tammany still existed. The new governor might "kick over the traces" when curbed by the Tammany bridle rein, or when asked to run alongside Murphy, but he would soon be broken to double harness. If he couldn't, or wouldn't, why--why anticipate trouble? Tammany had broken many fractious colts in its time.

A Democrat was Speaker of the House in 1913. Merritt, the Republican Speaker, had had to give way to Alfred Emanuel smith, one of Gotham's brightest young representatives. Smith was in his thirtieth year when, in 1903, he had first come into the Assembly; and although for some years he did not do spectacular things in the Legislature he steadily grew to be more and more a factor in its deliberations. He, too, viewed his public responsibilities seriously. Legislative problems were personal problems to Smith. It is said that veteran legislators fund the bulky annual appropriations literature more useful for shaving paper than for reading, but smith found interest in the print. His study of this and other literature emanating from the State printer made him more conversant with legislative matters than most of the other Assemblymen. He could talk intelligently, and convincingly, on the merits or demerits of many financial bills about which the average representative knew little, and cared less. By 1911 the Legislature thought well enough of the confident, straight-speaking and clear-thinking young man from New York to entrust him with the majority leadership in the House; and two years later he became the logical Democrat for the vacant Speakership. There was unanimity of opinion as to this, and he did not disappoint them. Smith was an out-and-out Tammany man, but even Tammany's enemies had confidence in the ability and fairness of the genial young man from the waterfront. Tammany was also in control of the Senate, under Robert F. Wagner, President pro tem.

The fight between Sulzer and Murphy began almost immediately after the inauguration. It was vigorously fought, and Murphy was the stronger. By April the Governor had reached such a state of dejection that he wrote out his resignation. Soon afterwards courage returned, and he determined to fight. The definite break had occurred on April 12, when Sulzer "warned the Tammany leader that he would wreck the party if he persisted in shielding grafters and in violating platform pledges." "Murphy retorted that Sulzer was an ingrate, whom he would disgrace and destroy." Murphy knew the vulnerable parts of Sulzer's armor, and finally, on September 18, 1913, the members of the Court of Impeachment met at Albany. The case is too lengthy to even review here, #4 but the court found Sulzer culpable, so by a vote of 43 to 12, he was removed from the Governorship, but not disqualified from holding public office in the future. Murphy had won.

For the first time in New York State history, a Governor had been impeached. Public opinion was divided on the case, but undoubtedly Sulzer's affairs had been marked by a moral turpitude that opened him to attack. The financial discrepancies were trivial by comparison with those of earlier cases against public servants, but they were sufficient to establish guilt and secure conviction when pressed by a relentless enemy. Sulzer had flouted stronger power and he had been crushed. The finding had been just, but was without mercy.

There were many who looked upon the ex-governor as a martyr; indeed, the progressive candidate for the Assembly in his district withdrew in his favor, and Sulzer was elected. This, however, was the reaction of sentiment rather than a close study of the charges that had brought about the impeachment. Nevertheless, the Sulzer prosecution did Tammany no good. Vindictiveness generally reacts upon the vindictive. The next Assembly was made up of seventy-nine Republicans, forty-eight Democrats, nineteen Progressives, and four others. Tammany had swept away an intractable Governor, but in doing so had lost a Legislature. The sceptre of government was wrested from the hands of Tammany even in its own locality--New York City. John Purroy Mitchel succeeded Gaynor as Mayor of New York in 1914.

Lieutenant-Governor martin H. Glynn succeeded to the Governorship upon the impeachment of governor Sulzer. The new governor found a Republican House easier to deal with then Sulzer had found Tammany. Sulzer's primary bill, which had been thrown out of the legislature in 1913 was to all intents identical with one that was easily steered through the legislature in 1914. A ballot law somewhat like that of Massachusetts was also passed, and, with the ratification of a constitutional amendment, the election of United States Senators was no longer in the hands of a legislative caucus. Thaddeus C. Sweet succeeded Smith as Speaker.

Under the new primary law the main business of State conventions was entrusted to the people. Glynn presented his claims to the voters, and at the primaries of September 28 secured the Democratic nomination for Governor. The Republican nomination was won by Charles S. Whitman, a brilliant lawyer, widely known by his fearless work as district attorney of New York. The progressive nomination was sought unsuccessfully by ex-governor Sulzer. He was not the choice of the party leaders. They favored the nomination of Frederick M. Davenport, and in the heat of the primary campaign the latter did not represent Sulzer as a martyr he had seemed o be a year earlier. Davenport "bitterly assailed Sulzer as a political and moral bankrupt." Sulzer exercised his right of direct appeal to the people, but they also had changed. Sulzer lost at the primaries, polling only three votes to every four cast for Davenport. However, the ex-Governor won the Prohibition nomination, also that of the so-called American party. The contest for the Republican nomination for United States Senator was an active and close one between James W. Wadsworth, Jr., and Congressman William M. Calder. Wadsworth won, and James W. Gerard, the Ambassador to Germany, secured the Democratic nomination.

During the summer the Republican leaders held a convention, or "conference," at Saratoga, to adopt a platform and organize party support of the Republicans nominated by the people at the primaries. The Democrats did likewise, their campaign guns being pointed chiefly "against the Barnes domination of the Republican party," but the people had not forgotten Tammany's part in the Sulzer case, and although they did not way Sulzer they would not have Tammany. The Republicans gained an overwhelming victory in the fall election. Whitman was elected Governor by a majority of 145,432 #5 over Glynn.

Commenting on the defeat of Governor Glynn, the Democratic paper, New York "World," said: "The governor's political defeat is the inevitable result of trying to be friendly enough to Tammany to gain its support and independent enough of Tammany to win the support of the anti-Murphy Democracy. The thing the Governor tried to do cannot be done. The ticket that he ran on was loaded down with Murphy candidates . . . . .it reeked of Tammany corruption."

Wadsworth, who had won the seat in the United States Senate by a majority of 67,693 over Gerard, was still in his 'thirties, though he had been prominent in State politics for many years. For five years he had been Speaker in the State Assembly, and he had attended two national conventions. Some of his enthusiastic friends were already seeing "Presidential timber," in him; the patronymic itself carries one back to stirring episodes of colonial days, and the man was worthy of such an outstanding real American family.

The World War Period--With a vigorous Republican Governor of the reform type, and an overwhelmingly Republican Legislature, the State seemed to be in Republican hands, but at least one great New Yorker did not think so. Theodore Roosevelt distrusted William Barnes, the Republican "boss." The public prints carried Roosevelt's charge that Barnes "was in political alliance with Murphy and that he was part of a corrupt alliance between crooked business and crooked politics." A suit for libel followed, and although during the trail it seemed that, on technical grounds, the day was going against the high minded Great American, it was apparent to the jurors that the ex-President was actuated by the best motives and trying to promote the good of the American people. So it happened that the Progressive leader emerged triumphant from this law suit. Barnes was bitterly disappointed.

One of the great vents of 1915 was the Constitutional Convention, which convened at Albany on April 6, with Elihu Root as president. During a hot summer, the delegates held to their work, and in September completed the revision. The excellent amendments, however, were submitted separately to the people, and all the painstaking gratuitous labor of some of the best legal minds of the State when for naught. The amendments were not ratified, and therefore the State had to go on under the somewhat defective constitution of 1894.

The elections of 1915 somewhat weakened the hold of Republicans on the State, the Democrats gaining notable victories in New York City. Nevertheless, the Legislature was still strongly Republican. Sweet, for the third time, was elected speaker.

Alfred E. smith was now sheriff of New York Country, this apparently being his reward for good work in the Assembly. There had been surprisingly unanimous approval of his candidacy, even the Republican daily, the New York "Tribune," saying editorially on September 3, 1915: "The City of New York could well afford to pay Alfred E. smith all the prospective emoluments of the Sheriff's office as a consideration for his continuing to represent a local Assembly district at Albany. In the past ten years, there had been no Republican, progressive, or Democrat in the State Legislature who had rendered as effective, useful, downright valuable service to this town as Ex-Speaker Smith. . . . . " #6 Elihu Root, in his final address to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention of 1915, said: "Of all the men in the Convention, Alfred E. Smith is the best-informed man on the business of the State of New York."

The Presidential year of 1916 found Republicans and Democrats of New York deliberating over the Presidential claims of more great Americans of New York residence than she had considered in almost any previous Presidential year in her history. Governor Whitman hoped to be in line for the nomination, but even he saw that the claims of another great New Yorker, Charles E. Hughes, now chief-justice of the United States Supreme court, were stronger. Now that Republicans and Progressives has drawn together, no one could ignore the claims of Theodore Roosevelt. Again, the qualification of the former Secretary of State, Elihu Root, were so outstanding as to draw the attention of most of the conservative Republicans. He was the choice of the "Old Guard" for the State leadership. They would rally round him with enthusiasm. Indeed, at a meeting of seventy-five prominent Republicans in April, Elihu Root had been endorsed as "the ablest living American." Events seemed to be shaping favorably for Root, as Roosevelt had declared that he "would not enter any fight for the nomination"; furthermore, that he considered a nomination of himself "would be a mistake'; and as Hughes had refused to be a candidate, or to hold out any hope that he would accept if nominated, the chances of Root seemed bright.

Nevertheless, all three names were presented in the Republican national convention at Chicago, that of Hughes by Governor Whitman, that of Root by Nicholas Murray Butler, and that of the "Rough Rider" by Senator Fall of New Mexico. The first ballot showed Hughes in the lead, with 253-1/2 votes, Root third with 103 votes, and Roosevelt eighth with 65 votes. In the second ballot the three New Yorkers led the field, a rare distinction for NY State in a National convention. Any of the three would have made a great president, but, needing only one, the next ballot manifested an almost unanimous preference for Chief-Justice Hughes. He received 949-1/2 votes. Soon thereafter, he resigned from the Supreme Court to enter vigorously into the Presidential campaign.

The Democrats had recommended President Wilson, no other name indeed being presented in convention. The election was fought on the war issue, the Democratic slogan being "He kept us out of war." Roosevelt's tirades against the Wilson administration for its unpreparedness for war had no effect. Apparently, a majority--though a bare majority--of the people wished to keep the United States out of the war which since 1914, had involved more than half the world, and brought much suffering to America and other neutral Nations.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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