Friday, May 24, 2013

Chicago Political Shenanigans, Old School

Abraham Lincoln was the second man nominated as the candidate for the Republican Party. The first was John C. Feemont in 1856. The Republicans separated themselves from the Whigs over the issue of slavery.

The expected front-runner for the 1860 Republican nomination was William H. Seward of New York. If they had chosen any place other than Chicago for their convention, Seward may have won. The convention was held at the Wigwam, a wooden convention hall that was built soon before and burnt down soon afterwards. The Wigwam was located on Wolf's Point the northeast shore of the convergence of the North and South branches of the Chicago River. It is now a parking lot.

Lincoln, who had lost the race to Stephen A. Douglas for the Illinois seat in the Senate, but had made a national name for himself in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, had dithered on the decision to run for president. Joseph Medill, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, credited himself for convincing Lincoln to run. It wasn't until the favorable reception of Lincoln's Cooper Union Address speech in New York 1860, that Lincoln decided to run.

The six-foot, redheaded mayor of Chicago, "Long John" Wentworth also hoped for the nomination. Credentials were challenged - and forged - claques were paid to shout down opposition speakers, and 'spontaneous' torchlight parades appeared and disappeared. When Wentworth early on realized he was not going to secure the nomination, he put his support - and all of his shenanigans - behind Lincoln.

Stephen A. Douglas, also from Illinois, was the Democratic Party front-runner in 1860 at their convention in Charleston, South Carolina. The Democrats could not reach a consensus and the convention was adjourned without nominating a candidate. When the convention was re-convened in Baltimore, Maryland, Douglas won on the second ballot. The cost was that many Southern Democrats walked out of the convention. Two other Democratic candidates, John Bell and John C. Breckinridge, split the Democratic vote three ways, thus ensuring the election of Lincoln.

After Lincoln's election, he named Seward as his Secretary of State. Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, known at that time as "Seward's Folly".

An interesting historical note is that John Bell's running mate, Edward Everett, later gave the two hour speech at Gettysburg that overshadowed Abraham Lincoln's two hundred and seventy-eight word Gettysburg Address, of which the world did, in fact, note and did long remember. Everett's words are not remembered.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tale of Two Cities

And why, in April 1919, would the Chicago Tribune have society notes for New York and Washington, D.C.? Was this a second city form of low self-esteem?


Society notes were common columns in newspapers of that day. The columns would chronicle who had whom to dinner, who was a houseguest of whom, who was opening their summer house, who was closing their city home, and who was leaving for Europe on what ship.

Keeping track of the society New York and Washington was reasonable considering the former publisher of the Tribune, Joseph Medill McCormick (known as Medill), became the senator from Illinois the month before. Medill was the brother of one of the co-publishers of the Tribune, Robert R. McCormick. The other co-publisher and first cousin of the McCormick brothers, Joseph Medill Patterson, would soon be leaving the Tribune for New York to create a new newspaper New York Daily News in June.

Friday, April 12, 2013

On the Town

The story has been published in all the Roosevelt biographies for nearly a half a century. Here are the basics: Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Deleno Roosevelt returns home ill from a tour of the World War I battlefields of France in September 1918. When his wife, Eleanor, unpacked his luggage she discovered a cache of love letters to Franklin from her social secretary Lucy Mercer. The marriage is shattered. There is talk of divorce. Franklin is reminded that Lucy Mercer is a Roman Catholic and cannot marry a divorced man. Louis Howe, Franklin's political advisor, tells him that he cannot attain higher office as a divorced man. Finally, Franklin's mother, Sara, tells him that she will cut him off financially if he divorces his wife.

It is an interesting story, no doubt true, but it seems to be told from Eleanor's perspective. All the arguments to continue the marriage are addressed to Franklin. There are no arguments as to why Eleanor should continue the marriage.

At that time, Eleanor was the mother of five children between the ages of three and thirteen. Although she came from a privileged life, she may not have had enough personal wealth to maintain her status without Sara Roosevelt's help.

Eleanor could not have turned to her side of the family. Her brother Hall was married, beginning his own family and may have began his decline into alcoholism. Her uncle Theodore Roosevelt, disappointed that the Wilson administration would not use him in World War I, was mourning the loss of his son, Quentin, who died in France in July 1918; he was only months away from his own death in January 1919. The grandmother who raised Eleanor, Mary Ludlow Hall, was also nearing the end of her life; passing away in August of 1919.

The biographers have this as a life-changing crisis in the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor. So, I was surprised to find the following while reading the newspapers from a mere seven months after this crisis.

Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 21 April 1919, "Washington Society"

Society will be lining up actively for the Victory loan and Salvation Army drives which will be on tomorrow. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, wife of the president is honorary chairman of the loan committee, and Mrs. Thomas Riley Marshall, wife of the vice president, honorary chairman of the "army" committee, having wired from Arizona that she would "do anything for the Salvation army and Evangeline Booth."
Working for the loan will be Mrs. Charles S. Hamlin, Mrs. Blaine Beale, Mrs. Archibald Hopkins,… Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Louis Brownlow and others.

Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 22 April 1919, "Washington Society"

Washington, D. C., April 21 — [Special] — Maj. Gen. George Barnett, commandant of the Marine corps, made the presentations tonight at the Easter ball given at the Marine Barracks under the auspices of the Woman's Army and Navy league and the guests were received by Mrs. Emerson H. Liscum, president of the league, assisted by Mrs. Newton D. Baker, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. George Barnett and Mrs. Alexander Sharp, chairman of the ball committee.

Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 25 April 1919, "Washington Society"

Washington, D. C., April 24 — [Special] — Maj. Gen. George Barnett and Mrs. Barnett entertained at dinner tonight at the commandant's house, Marine barracks, in compliment to the acting secretary of the navy and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mrs. Barnett's sister, Mrs. Henry Mustin, is with her for a visit preparatory to opening her N street, which was rented for the winter months.