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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter III - My First Meeting With The Political Boss
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

After serving my apprenticeship as a ward worker, devoted friends from my home ward urged my name upon the Democratic leader, Mr. Robert Davis, for a place upon the Democratic legislative ticket for Hudson County. I had grown to have a deep regard and affection for this fine old fellow. While he was a boss in every sense, maintaining close relations with the Public Service Corporations of the state, he had an engaging human side. He never pretended nor deceived. With his friends he was open, frank, generous, and honourable in all his dealings, and especially kind to and considerate of the young men who became part of his working force. With his political enemies he was fair and decent. Many a time during a legislative session, when I was a member of the House of Assembly, word would come to us of the boss's desire that we should support this or that bill, behind which certain corporate interests lay. The orders, however, were clean and without a threat of any kind. He took no unfair advantage and made no reprisals when we failed to carry out his desires.

While a member of the New Jersey Legislature, the name of Woodrow Wilson began to be first discussed in the political world of New Jersey. It came about in this way: By reason of the normal Republican majority of the state the nomination by the Legislature in those days of a Democratic candidate for the United States senatorship was a mere compliment, a courtesy, a very meagre one indeed, and was generally paid to the old war horses of democracy like James E. Martine, of Plainfield, New Jersey; but the appearance of the doughty Colonel Harvey on the scene, at the 1907 session of the New Jersey Legislature, gave a new turn to this custom. A request was made by Colonel Harvey and diplomatically conveyed by his friends to the Democratic members of the Legislature, that the honorary nomination for the United States senatorship at this session of the Legislature should be given to President Wilson of Princeton. It may be added that I learned years afterward that Mr. Wilson was not a party to Colonel Harvey's plans; that once he even sent a friend as an emissary to explain to the Colonel that Mr. Wilson did not believe that the use of his name in connection with political office was a service to him or to Princeton University.

The suggestion that Woodrow Wilson be given the nomination was hotly resented by young men like myself in the Legislature. Frankly, I led the opposition to the man I was afterward to serve for eleven years in the capacity of private secretary. The basis of my opposition to Mr. Wilson for this empty honour was the rumour that had been industriously circulated in the state House and elsewhere, that there was, as Mr. Dooley says, "a plan afoot" by the big interests of New Jersey and New York to nominate Woodrow Wilson for the senatorship and then nominate him for governor of the state as a preliminary start for the Presidency. I remember now, with the deepest chagrin and regret, having bitterly assailed Woodrow Wilson's candidacy in a Democratic caucus which I attended and how I denounced him for his alleged opposition to labour. In view of my subsequent intimacy with Mr. Wilson and the knowledge gained of his great heart and his big vision in all matters affecting labour, I cannot now point with pride to the speech I then made attacking him. I am sure the dear doctor, away off in Princeton, never even heard of my opposition to him, although in my conceit I thought the state reverberated with the report of my unqualified and bitter opposition to him. In my poor vanity I thought that perhaps what I had said in my speech of opposition to him had reached the cloisters of Princeton. As a matter of fact, he never heard about me or my speech, and afterward in the years of our association he "joshed" me about my opposition to him and would often make me very uncomfortable by recounting to his friends at the White House how even his own secretary had opposed him when his name was first under consideration for the United States senatorship in New Jersey.

To me was given the honour of nominating at a joint session of the Senate and House Assembly the candidate opposed to Woodrow Wilson for the Senate, the Honourable Edwin E. Stevens. I recall the comparison I made between the claims of Colonel Stevens, the strict party man, and those of Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton professor. The speech nominating Woodrow Wilson at the joint session of the Legislature was the shortest on record. It was delivered by a big generous fellow, John Baader, one of the Smith-Nugent men from Essex County. When Essex County was called, he slowly rose to his feet and almost shamefacedly addressing the Speaker of the House, said, tremulously: "I nominate for the United States Senate Woodrow Wilson, of Princeton," and then, amid silence, sat down. No applause greeted the name of the man he nominated. It seemed as if the college professor had no friends in the Legislature except the man who had put his name forward for the nomination.

Colonel Stevens won the honorary nomination and Woodrow Wilson was defeated. Colonel Harvey, disgruntled but not discouraged, packed up his kit and left on the next train for New York.


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