In the fall of 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt barnstormed New England on behalf of Republican congressmen. He wanted as many elected as possible in the upcoming midterm elections.
He had spent less than a year in the White House, having risen to commander in chief upon the assassination of William McKinley on Sept. 6, 1901.
Roosevelt was only 43 years old and an object of some fascination, especially in Europe. From New Haven to Bangor to Burlington, wildly enthusiastic crowds met him with music, military salutes, flowers and flags.
He had not run for president before. In fact, he’d been drafted reluctantly to run for vice president. Roosevelt barnstormed New England in part to lay out themes that would win election in 1904: business regulation, manifest destiny and the need for a strong U.S. Navy. He also harped on the virtues of outdoor living and outdoor work, which he said promoted vigor and good citizenship.
The trip, though, ended in tragedy when a runaway streetcar ran over his bodyguard, William Craig. Roosevelt had grown fond of Craig, who read comic books with his four-year-old son. The accident happened in Pittsfield, Mass., toward the end of Roosevelt’s barnstorming trip. The president, himself cut and bruised, quieted the crowds that greeted him on the way home.
How Roosevelt Barnstormed New England
On Aug. 22, 1902, he left his home in Oyster Bay aboard the naval yacht Sylph, landing in New Haven at 1:29 p.m. His secretary, William Loeb (father of the longtime Manchester Union-Leader publisher), had planned the itinerary.
Roosevelt and his entourage headed a procession of carriages through New Haven’s slums, the factory district and the city center. They covered four miles in less than an hour with the Connecticut National Guard providing an escort. Crowds lined the street, cheering and waving flags and handkerchiefs – as they did everywhere the president went.
By 3 p.m. he was in Meriden, where he gave a short speech, and then by 4:18 he reached Hartford by train. In Connecticut’s capital he was driven around in an electric car, also an object of fascination. In Pope Park, a Catholic priest presented him with an enormous horseshoe of flowers given by the working people of Hartford.
Roosevelt told the crowd, “I should, of course, be unfit for the position I occupy if I did not give my best thought and purpose to it and if I did not have the interest of the toiler of America – and also those who work with the head – at heart.”
In Hartford, he attended a formal dinner and gave a speech defending imperialism. Then he spent the night with a prominent Republican, John T. Robinson. The next day he left for Willimantic by train, but requested the workingman’s horseshoe of flowers be placed on the engine.
The Trust Speech in Providence
Roosevelt chose Providence to make a campaign issue of breaking up the trusts, delivering what was later called “his famous trust speech.”
“One of the features of the tremendous industrial development of the last generation has been the very great increase in private, and especially in corporate fortunes,” he said. Along with the benefits of industrial organization came evil – inequality, poor health and a loss of the feeling of brotherhood, he said.
“The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are the creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them, but it is in duty bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown. There is clearly need of supervision – need to possess the power of regulation of these great corporations through the representatives of the public wherever, as in our own country at the present time, business corporations become so very powerful alike for beneficent work and for work that is not always beneficent.”
Roosevelt then took Sen. Nelson Aldrich’s yacht to the home of socialite Winthrop Chanler, where he spent the night. The next day he attended the christening of Chanler’s new baby, Theodore, acting as his godfather. Theodore Chanler would grow up to become a composer, teacher and music critic for the Boston Herald.
In Massachusetts, he spent the night of August 24 at Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge’s waterfront mansion in Nahant. It had been an exhausting day. He had left Newport by train and waved to cheering crowds when the train slowed in Stonebridge, R.I., Fall River, Taunton and Mansfield in Massachusetts. More crowds in Boston, where he boarded a special train to Lynn. Then he boarded a carriage and drove four crowd-lined miles to Nahant.
Near midnight, while he slept at the Lodge estate, an intoxicated gentleman appeared under his window and tried to serenade him with a song called “Annie Rooney.” The military guard threw water on him.
The next day brought a speech at the Nahant Public Library, a long one in Lynn and a longer one in Boston at Symphony Hall. On August 26th he passed through three states, delivered eight speeches and encountered a quarter million people. Roosevelt praised imperialism in Lowell. He met his old barber from North Dakota in Lawrence. And he told an unruly crowd in Haverhill the United States needed to strengthen its navy.
“Whether we will it or not, we as a nation front a great destiny,” he told the cheering crowd in Lawrence, Mass.
Teddy Roosevelt Barnstormed Maine
That same day the people of Dover, N.H., heard Roosevelt speak about the need for honesty, courage and common sense in public and private life.
The train engine overheated in Biddeford, Maine, giving Roosevelt a chance to deliver another speech. In Old Orchard Beach, he spoke from the back of his railroad car. In Portland, he shared the platform with Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top. Then he drove around Portland, visited the Longfellow House and at 4:50 p.m. left on the train for Lewiston, where he addressed 10,000 people. He stopped for two minutes in Brunswick. Auburn came next. He spoke at twilight and got off a joke, or perhaps a nonsequiter: “I have an archaic temperament, and I wish you all large families, by the way,” he said. Maybe he was tired.
Roosevelt made it to Augusta in time for dinner and the final speech of the day.
The next day in Bangor he reunited with his old Maine guide, Bill Sewall. “I am glad to see you Bill,” Roosevelt said. “You ain’t no gladder than I be,” Sewall replied. The president recalled they had eaten muskrat together the last time Roosevelt had a meal in Maine. He invited Sewall to join him on the train to New Hampshire.
Roosevelt had slept on the train from Maine, but a cheering crowd woke him up when it stopped in a small village. He threw on his overcoat to wave to the people, his socks and long underwear peeping out from beneath the hem.
Roosevelt arrived in Manchester with a crowd pleaser. He mentioned Revolutionary hero John Stark, who penned New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto.
“It is about 125 years ago that Molly Stark’s husband had a sawmill here,” Roosevelt said said. “He had his saw mill. He did his work here, but when the country called to arms he was going to do his duty or Molly Stark was going to be a widow.”
The president gave a speech in Nashua, one in Concord and one at the Weirs. He visited John Hay in Newbury. Then he went to Newport, N.H., to the game park owned by the late robber baron, Austin Corbin. There he shot a boar.
He then went to Cornish to visit his friend Winston Churchill — the American novelist, more famous then than the English politician.
R & R in Vermont
A speech at the State Fair in Windsor kicked off the Vermont leg of the trip. Roosevelt hit White River Junction, South Royalton, Bethel and Randolph. Fifteen minutes after finishing a long speech in Montpelier he was on a train to Burlington, stopping briefly in Waterbury. In Burlington the governor held a reception for him.
By then, the exhausted Roosevelt needed some rest and relaxation. He boarded a yacht to Thompson’s Point, where he busily acknowledged the crowd’s greetings. That night he stayed at U.S. Treasury Secretary L.M. Shaw’s house. The next day he went to Shelburne Farms, home of Dr. Seward Webb and his wife, Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Webb. Roosevelt spent the afternoon inspecting the horses.
After 36 hours on the shores of Lake Champlain, Roosevelt barnstormed more Vermont towns. Enthusiasm grew as he progressed through the state. It was Labor Day, and he praised the working man in short speeches along the way. In Middlebury he spoke from the rear of the train, then stopped at Sen. Redfield Proctor’s house. School children almost buried his carriage with flowers. He gave a short speech about the Monroe Doctrine, then delivered remarks in Rutland, Ludlow, Bellows Falls and Brattleboro, praising Civil War veterans and the working man. Then on to Northfield, Mass., where he spent the night in the Northfield Hotel, and delivered a speech the next day.
The Pittsfield Tragedy
On Sept. 2, 1902, Roosevelt barnstormed the Massachusetts towns of Millers Falls, Athol, Gardner, Fitchburg, Worcester and Springfield, where he carefully examined the latest model of the Springfield rifle. Then he visited Westfield and Dalton before encountering tragedy in Pittsfield.
The top brass of the Pittsfield Electric Street Railway disobeyed the Secret Service orders to shut down the streetcar. They got behind schedule so they urged the driver, Euclid Madden, to go faster.
Euclid Madden did as ordered. But as he rounded a steep curve near the country club, he saw to his horror the presidential carriage crossing the tracks. The streetcar driver frantically clanged the bell, but too late.
“Look out! Hold fast,” shouted William Craig as he tried to shield the president. Those were his last words.
The streetcar barreled into the carriage, fatally injuring one of the horses, who screamed in pain. Craig fell under the trolley, which crushed his skull and ground him under the wheels, killing him instantly.
Roosevelt flew out of the carriage and landed on his face in the mud. The crowd had to restrain him from attacking Madden. (Read what happened to Euclid Madden here.)
Roosevelt Barnstormed No More
A pall fell over the rest of the journey. The president had a black eye, swollen cheek and cut lip as he traveled by train through Lenox, Stockbridge and Great Barrington. He asked the crowds not to make noisy demonstrations and spoke only a few words.
In Connecticut he quieted the crowds in New Milford, saying he wouldn’t give a speech because a bad accident had killed a man he esteemed. He met with an enormous crowd in Bridgeport, but asked to be excused from a scheduled speech because of the tragedy.
He boarded the Sylph and went home to Oyster Bay.
With thanks to A Bittersweet Journey: Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 New England Trip by James Blase.