Theodore Roosevelt Declines Speaking Opportunity during 1884 Election and Votes for New Members of the Academy of Arts and Letters
When his wife and mother died on the same day in February 1884, two days after the birth of his first child, Theodore Roosevelt was distraught. He left his newborn daughter in the care of his sister and focused his attentions on his duties in the New York State Assembly and in the Republican Party. He supported the presidential aspirations of Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont and controlled the New York Republican state convention. He attended the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June, but supporters of James G. Blaine won the nomination for their candidate. Roosevelt reluctantly announced his support for Blaine and spent time on a ranch he had established the year before in the Dakota Territory. He returned to New York in October and campaigned for the Republican ticket, as this brief letter makes clear.
Founded in 1898, the National Institute of Arts and Letters was organized for “the advancement of art and literature.” Among the charter members of the Institute were Theodore Roosevelt, Daniel Chester French, Henry James, and Woodrow Wilson. In 1904, the Institute and two other organizations created the American Academy of Arts and Letters as an honor society for the country’s leading, architects, artists, composers, and writers, from within the membership of the Institute. As vacancies occurred through the death of members, existing members elected new members. The Academy also administers several awards and prizes in Literature, Music, and Fine Arts. In 1993, the Institute dissolved itself, and all 250 members were enrolled in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This envelope with Roosevelt’s signature held his ballot for new members. A penciled notation indicates it was from 1910.
The thirty-nine living members of the Academy, sometimes dubbed the “Immortals,” were invited to meet in New York City in December 1910 to select persons to fill the eleven vacancies, created by the deaths of such members as Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), Julia Ward Howe, and Winslow Homer.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Manuscript Letter Signed Secretarially, to W. A. M. Grier, October 20, 1884, New York, New York. On black-bordered mourning card. “B.” beneath signature may indicate that the card was written and signed by Roosevelt’s sister, Anna “Bye” or “Bamie” Roosevelt Cowles (1855-1931), who cared for Theodore Roosevelt’s infant daughter and did not marry until 1895. 2 pp., 4.5ʺ x 3.5ʺ. Also includes THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Typed Envelope Signed, that once included Academy of Arts and Letters ballot, ca. 1910. 1 p., 5.25ʺ x 4.125ʺ. Card has chipped corner and 1ʺ tear at bottom. Envelope has fold in center and lacks flap from opening.
W. A. M. Grier, Esq.
Have been out of town and just received your letter. Am greatly obliged to you for your kindness but I do not wish to run for any office this Fall. It is quite impossible for me to speak at the meeting on 25th as every day until election is engaged. Am very sorry
Theodore Roosevelt / B.
422 Mad. Ave. / Oct 20 / 84
Academy of Arts and Letters / Ballot for Candidates
Name of Member Voting / Mr. Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was born in New York City, graduated from Harvard University in 1880, and attended Columbia Law School. In 1880, he married Alice Hathaway Lee (1861-1884), with whom he had one daughter. Two days after their daughter’s birth, Alice Roosevelt died, plunging Roosevelt into grief. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1882 to 1884, and as president of the New York City Police Commissioners in 1895 and 1896, then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1898. After service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, he won election as Governor of New York and served from 1899 to 1900. He ran as Vice President to William McKinley in 1900, and became President in September 1901, when McKinley was assassinated. Reelected in 1904, Roosevelt was President until 1909. A prolific author and naturalist, Roosevelt was instrumental in the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, helped preserve the nation’s natural resources, and extended American power throughout the world with a focus on a modern navy. In 1912, he again sought the Republican nomination for President, but when the convention chose incumbent William Howard Taft, Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party and out polled Taft in the general election. The Republican division allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency.
William A. M. Grier (1833-1922) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated from Lafayette College in 1856. He learned telegraphy in 1850 and opened offices and instructed operators for the North & West Branch Telegraph company. After graduating from college, he became a banker in Danville, then Hazleton, Pennsylvania. From 1867 to 1881, he was the managing partner of a banking firm. In 1882, he moved to New York City, where he was president of the Corry Radiator Company until 1901. He supported James A. Garfield in 1880 and was the first delegate to vote for him at the Republican National Convention. He supported James Blaine in 1884.
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