Item #2622 Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]. THEODORE ROOSEVELT.
Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]
Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]
Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]

Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]

“I think it would pay far better to have a few active members possessing a genuine interest in political reform, than to have a large number of men who wished to collect to talk and drink.”
-Excerpt of Theodore Roosevelt’s letter to Republican leader James S. Lehmair, January 31, 1882

ONE OF THE EARLIEST KNOWN LETTERS FROM ROOSEVELT’S TIME IN THE NY STATE ASSEMBLY. Demonstrates TR’s skill and tenacity as a Republican political organizer and civic leader.

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, began his political career in the New York State Assembly when he was just 23. Born into a socially prominent family, he suffered from asthma as a child but his ability to overcome his poor health ultimately shaped his personal and political views. Rather than being overwhelmed by his illness he exercised vigorously, his health improved, and he developed a strong physique. He came to believe that motivation, hard work and the “strenuous life” could bring about major changes in all facets of life. Roosevelt graduated from Harvard and began his studies at Columbia Law School, ultimately withdrawing from Columbia to serve on the New York State Assembly. When his first term in the Assembly began on January 3, 1882, he was the youngest assembly member. In a letter to his former classmate, Charles G. Washburn, writing shortly after he was elected Roosevelt stated, "But don't think I am going to go into politics after this year, for I am not." (Thayer, 19) These were infamous words for a man who would dedicate his entire life to public affairs.

Newly-elected Assemblyman Roosevelt, frustrated by the deadlock created by Tammany Hall politicians, made his first ever speech to the legislature as an elected politician on January 24, 1882. In his personal diary that day he confided that this speech about the warring Democratic factions was “very well received.” (Roosevelt) One week later, on January 31, Roosevelt penned the letter offered here to influential Republican leader James S. Lehmair about the need for Republicans to focus on political reform to overtake the Democrats. The subject of the letter was his visit to the [James] Garfield Club (soon after renamed the Brooklyn Young Republican Club), a gathering of influential Republican party supporters who rallied public support for Garfield’s 1880 presidential campaign. Garfield won the election but Roosevelt was concerned that this social club had failed to create a sustainable Republican base. He wrote to Lehmair, “An active membership of twenty thoroughly good, live, energetic men, with an unlimited passive membership, which we could get out and control towards election day, would seem to me to be the best method [to build stronger support for upcoming elections]. If the club was put on a social basis I very much fear that it would come in the end to assume a social, and not political character; a result highly to be regretted.”

This wonderful handwritten letter is the earliest correspondence we could find demonstrating Roosevelt’s belief that a robust Republican base was needed to combat the graft and in-fighting of New York’s Tammany machine. As a young legislator he recognized that in order to beat Democrats at the polls, Republicans had to create a tight organization of like-minded colleagues who were willing to address pressing political issues. His unrelenting insistence on political reform and the inexhaustible energy he devoted to ending political corruption in both parties earned him the respect of his peers, the role of Assembly Minority Leader in 1883 and the nickname “Cyclone Assemblyman.” (Morris) His friendship with James Lehmair, the recipient of this letter, proved instrumental in securing the Republican nomination for Mayor of New York City in 1886. Though Roosevelt lost this bid, he went on to serve as New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, leader of the “Rough Riders” Cavalry during the Spanish-American War, Governor of New York and Vice President under William McKinley before becoming president of the United States, at the age of 42, in 1901.

Roosevelt’s ability to organize members of the Republican Party was the driving force behind his antitrust and anti-corruption policies which contributed to the end of the Gilded Age and paved the way for Progressivism and a new American political and economic landscape. This letter provides a window into Roosevelt’s no-nonsense leadership which redefined the Republican party and strengthened the role of the president. Only 60 when he died, his accomplishments reshaped American politics. As an assemblyman, city official and president, he believed that his ultimate purpose in life was to serve others and that politicians should use their power to bring about badly needed reform.

Full text of Roosevelt’s handwritten letter on State of New York Assembly Chamber stationery:

My Dear Lehmair,

Many thanks for your long and interesting letter. If I was not in the Legislature I should certainly extend you my most active support; as it is I give you my greatest sympathy. I hardly know what to advise about the project of making the club social; though the Garfield Club we visited was very pleasant, I should doubt if it had any great political weight. There would always be a great danger that the club would become merely a pleasure resort. I think it would pay far better to have a few active members possessing a genuine interest in political reform, than to have a large number of men who wished to collect to talk and drink, and in reality cared little for the true objects of the association. We might have a large number of names on the list, of people who would take an interest in it as election day drew near, we might also have a few real men who would of necessity have the real work devolve upon them. An active membership of twenty thoroughly good, live, energetic men, with an unlimited passive membership, which we could get out and control towards election day, would seem to me to be the best method. If the club was put on a social basis I very much fear that it would come in the end to assume a social, and not political character; a result highly to be regretted. The fault of our organization last year was, largely, that it was a mere debating society; we must have the political purpose of the club declared and always kept before it. I doubt if any organization which did not mean honest hard work could get along, or be of much service. But of course I shall be delighted to second any efforts which the majority of your gentleman should think best to be made in the interest of our association.

Excuse this scrawl, as there is a vigorous discussion going on round about me at present.

Very Truly Yours,
Theodore Roosevlet


Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]. Four pages written on two sheets of 5.5 x 9 in, State of New York Assembly Chamber letterhead. January 31, 1882. Usual mailing folds; punch holes in left margin of each sheet; otherwise fine with ink dark and crisp. Housed in custom presentation folder.

A REVEALING, VERY EARLY ROOSEVELT LETTER FROM THE BEGINNING OF HIS POLITICAL CAREER.

References:
John Milton Cooper. “Theodore Roosevelt.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodore-Roosevelt. 2022.

William H. Harbaugh. "Roosevelt, Theodore." American National Biography, https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093.
Sidney Milkis. “Theodore Roosevelt: Impact and Legacy.” UVA, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/presiden”t/roosevelt/impact-and-legacy.

Edmund Morris. “The Cyclone Assemblyman.” American Heritage, Volume 30, Issue 2. February/March 1979. https://www.americanheritage.com/cyclone-assemblyman#1.

Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt Papers: Series 8: Personal Diaries, -1884; Vol. 5, 1882, Jan. 1-Feb. 15. 1882. Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/mss382990722.

William Roscoe Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1919.

Price: $9,800 .