All that you need to know about the 1904 presidential election: Teddy Roosevelt beat the knickers off someone you’ve never heard of.
As boring and predictable as the race was nationally, it was political mortal combat in the trenches of the highly-partisan Santa Rosa newspapers. The battle began quietly enough, with each editor sniping at the presidential nominee on the opposing side. Then salvos were fired against the other party’s candidate for Congress, first raising questions about the man’s capabilities, then attacking his character and even manhood. And finally it became take-no-prisoners warfare against everyone on the opposing side, especially the editor of the other paper. By early November, it wouldn’t have been surprising to come across Press Democrat editor Finley and Republican editor Lemmon slugging away on Fourth street.
Nothing needs to be said here about Teddy Roosevelt, except that Mr. Fairbanks, named in some of the posts below, was his veep. Heading the Democratic ticket was the forgettable and dolorous duo of Judge Alton B. Parker and 80 year-old Henry G. Davis. Parker was the 3rd (or 4th) pick for a compromise candidate, nominated only because party superstar William Jennings Bryan didn’t want to make a third consecutive run, and because conservative Democrats loathed candidate William Randolph Hearst, who they viewed as a playboy with populist leanings. Octogenarian Davis was given the nod because everyone thought the wealthy industrialist would gratefully pay for the campaign (he didn’t). In the end, the Parker/Davis ticket was a 19th century throwback in a year when Americans were focused upon the promise of twentieth century progress. They ended up carrying only the 17 states of the old Confederacy, save Missouri.
The surprise in reading the local election year news was that racial discrimination was so often an underlying theme, starting with the Press Democrat’s editorial shock over an African-American child appearing onstage at the Republican Convention, warning it was a portent of dreaded racial equality. But officially, race was a non-issue for Democrats in 1904. The national party platform didn’t mention race at all, except to condemn Republican “race agitation” as a threat that could reopen wounds “now happily healed.” As such, it wasn’t a plank as much as it was a talking point to bash Republicans. (The Republican National Committee would produce a historically valuable “campaign textbook” in 1908 to counter such attacks.)
One reason that Democrats stayed clear of race issues that year was probably Bryan’s decision not to run. In each previous election campaign he had courted African-American support, arguing that Republicans had only given them “janitorships” in exchange for their vote. What Democrats offered was only Jim Crow discrimination, of course, and Bryan didn’t seem to understand that Blacks disliked being second-class citizens. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing Bryan didn’t understand.
The election of 1904 continues in four parts.
THE RACE ISSUE
The South is enthusiastic for Judge Parker and would be so if there were but one issue in the campaign. To them the all-absorbing and overpowering issue is the negro question and they are anxious for the defeat of Roosevelt on account of that issue, if for no other reason. A recent communication to the Washington Post by a negro named Henry B. Baker serves to accentuate the negro issue more than anything that has lately appeared. In that communication, he calls attention to the difference between the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. He says that at the Republican Convention the colored man was treated as a companion, friend, and brother, that there he was made to feel as though he were not only a political but social equal; that the delegates followed the advice and example of President Roosevelt, who teaches that the colored man deserves to be treated as a social equal. He says that to emphasize this fact, he had the courage to have at his table, Prof. Booker T. Washington, and that, if Roosevelt is elected, it will so encourage the negro men that they will demand that Booker Washington shall be the Republican candidate for Vice-President in 1908. He calls attention to the scene in the Republican Convention, when a beautiful white girl was placed upon the stage and by her side a negro boy, and that they led the cheering, thus making an example of President Roosevelt’s idea of the equality of the races. He then points out that the Democratic Convention was a white man’s convention, of a white man’s party, and that in it, there was not a single negro man. Talk like that will do more to make the race question one of the leading issues of this campaign than anything else that could be suggested. There are many doubtful states in the North that will give to the Democrats sufficient Republican votes upon the negro question alone to send them into the Democratic column.– Press Democrat, August 10, 1904
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