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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XI - Executive Leadership
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

The election of Martine having been settled and the preferential vote having been validated through the courageous handling of a delicate situation, the new Governor was firmly in the saddle. His leadership had been tested and only the fragments of the Old Guard machine were left. The road was thus cleared of all obstacles in his own party that might be put in the way of his programme of constructive legislation.

Having delivered his first message, which contained a full and detailed discussion of his whole programme, he applied himself with great energy and industry to the task of preparing bills for introduction in the Senate and House. Not content with the mere delivery of his message, he put himself entirely at the disposal of the members of the Legislature and industriously applied himself to the task of preparation until the following measures: Regulation of Public Utilities, Corrupt Practices Act, Direct Primaries Act, and the Employers' Liability Act, were in shape to be introduced.

While his leadership was vindicated as a result of the Smith-Martine fight, the contest had undoubtedly left many bitter scars and enmities which soon manifested themselves in the unfriendly attitude of the Smith men in the Legislature toward the new Governor and particularly toward his programme of constructive legislation. For awhile after the election of Martine they seemed subdued and cheerfully resigned to defeat; but when the new Governor launched his legislative programme they began eagerly to attack it in many subtle ways. While there were some members of this group who honestly opposed the Governor's programme because of their conservative tendencies, the majority of the opposition were bent upon "putting it to sleep," because, forsooth, it bore the Wilson label. The new Governor quickly grasped the full significance of the situation and openly challenged the opposition. To accomplish his purpose, he did an unprecedented thing. He invited the Democratic members of the Legislature to meet him in the Supreme Court Room of the State House and there, face to face, he laid before them various items of his programme and challenged the opposition to lay their cards on the table. In the course of this conference one of the leaders of the Smith-Nugent faction expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole programme, challenging the new Governor's right to be present at the conference; even intimating that his presence was an unconstitutional act which might subject him to impeachment. The new Governor, undisturbed by this criticism, turned to the gentleman who had challenged his right to be present at the conference, and said:
You can turn aside from the measure if you choose; you can decline to follow me; you can deprive me of office and turn away from me, but you cannot deprive me of power so long as I steadfastly stand for what I believe to be the interests and legitimate demands of the people themselves. I beg you to remember, in this which promises to be an historic conference, you are settling the question of the power or impotence, the distinction or the ignominy of the party to which the people with singular generosity have offered the conduct of their affairs.
Some of the members of the Legislature came to my office after this conference and told me of the great speech the Governor had just delivered and how defiantly he had met the attack of his enemies. This caucus gave an emphatic endorsement of his legislative programme and in a few weeks the House of Assembly had acted upon it, and the various bills that constituted his entire programme were on their way to the Republican Senate. How to induce favourable action at the hands of the Republican Senate was a problem. There were very few members of the Senate whose ideals and purposes were in agreement with those of the Governor.

When the bills reached the Senate, the Governor began daily conferences with the Republican members of that body, discussing with them the items of his programme and urging speedy action upon them. As a part of the programme of inducing the Republicans to support him, a friend of mine who was on the inside of the Republican situation reported to me that it was the opinion in the Republican ranks that the new Governor was too much a professor and doctrinaire; that he was lacking in good-fellowship and companionship; that while the members of the Legislature who had conferred with him had found him open and frank, they thought there was a coldness and an austerity about him which held the Governor aloof and prevented that intimate contact that was so necessary in working out the programme we had outlined.

We finally decided that the fault lay in the lack of social intimacy between the new Governor and the members of the Legislature. In my social and official contact with Mr. Wilson I always found him most genial and agreeable. When we were at luncheon or dinner at the old Sterling Hotel in Trenton he would never burden our little talks by any weighty discussion of important matters that were pending before him. He entirely forgot all business and gave himself over to the telling of delightful stories. How to make the real good-fellowship of the man an asset in dealing with the members of the Senate was a problem. I very frankly told him one day at luncheon that many members of both legislative bodies felt that he was too stiff and academic and that they were anxious to find out for themselves if there was a more human side to him. In order to give him an opportunity to overcome this false impression we arranged a delightful dinner at the Trenton Country Club, to which we invited both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate. The evening was a delightful one. In the corner of the little room where the dinner was served sat three darky musicians who regaled the little group with fine old southern melodies. It was real fun to watch the new Governor's conduct in this environment. He was like a boy out of school. He was no longer the college professor or the cold man of affairs. He delighted the members of the Senate who sat about him with amusing stories, witty remarks, and delightful bits of sarcasm. At the close of the dinner, Senator Frelinghuysen walked over and challenged him to a Virginia Reel. He accepted this invitation and the crowd of men were soon delighted to see the Somerset senator lead the new Governor out on the floor and his long legs were soon moving in rhythm with the music.


The White House

3 RN JM 75 Govt.

Windsor, Vermont, July 5, 1915

Hon. Jos. P. Tumulty,
The White House,
Washington, D.C.

---- is down and out in his newspaper work and desperately in need of employment. Says there is a vacancy as foreign trade adviser in the State Department and also one in the District Play Grounds department. Would be very much obliged if you would see if something can be done for him in either place. His address 221 A. Street, Northeast.

Woodrow Wilson.

* * * * *

Dear Tumulty,

I want to issue this statement to help Mr. Hoover and his Commission in the splendid work they are doing, and head off mischief-makers (or, rather, one particular mischief-maker who is a little out of his mind) on this side the water.

Will you not please read it to Lansing over the phone and, if he has no objection to offer, give it out?
A glimpse at the President's human side.]

After all, men are just boys, and this bringing together of these practical men on so happy and free an occasion did much to convince the members of the Senate that the new Governor after all was like themselves, a plain, simple man, modestly trying to serve the interests of a great state.

This affair broke the ice, and after that there was a close intimacy between the Governor and the members of the Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, and this co÷peration soon brought about the enactment of the whole Wilson programme. Never before had so comprehensive a programme been so expeditiously acted upon by a legislative body. The Legislature had convened in January and by the middle of April every campaign pledge that the Governor had made had been kept, although the Senate with which he had to deal was largely Republican.

As the legislative session progressed it appeared that certain Democratic senators were reluctant to follow his leadership. Indeed it was also apparent that the Republicans were alike unwilling to act favourably upon his legislative suggestions. In this situation he summoned the Democratic senators and reminded them of the party pledges in the platform and served notice that if they did not vote for these measures they would have to explain to their constituents. He then summoned the Republican senators and said to them, in effect, this: "The legislation proposed was promised in the Democratic platform. That is not your platform. Therefore, you are not pledged to this action. But if you obstruct the action I shall have to trouble you to go with me to your districts and discuss these matters with your constituents and tell them why you consider this bad legislation and why you resisted it."

The newspapers of the country soon began to discuss the achievements of the Wilson administration in New Jersey and immediately the name of the Governor began to be mentioned in connection with the Presidency.

One of the matters of national importance with which he was called upon to deal during this legislative session was the passage of railroad grade- crossing legislation. In response to the agitation that had long existed in New Jersey for the elimination of grade crossings, the Democrats had inserted a radical plank in their platform in reference to it, and, acting upon this, the Legislature had passed a grade-crossing bill, to which the railroads of the state strenuously objected. It was a matter of the greatest public interest and importance that for many years had been the subject of bitter controversies throughout the state. While the bill was before the Governor for consideration, the railroad attorneys had prepared long, comprehensive briefs attacking the bill as unjust to the railroads and as containing many features which in their essence were confiscatory. When the bill came before the Governor for final action no one considered for a moment the possibility of a veto, first, because of the traditional attitude of the Democratic party of New Jersey in the matter of grade crossings; and, secondly, because of the effect a veto would have upon the progressive thought of the country. I recall very well my discussion with him in regard to this most important bill. Realizing that he was at this time looming up as a national figure, and knowing that the Progressives of the country were awaiting with keen interest his action on the bill, I feared the effect upon his political fortunes that a veto of the bill would undoubtedly have.

The Baltimore Convention was only a few months away and it was clear to me that no matter how safe and sane were the grounds upon which he would veto this legislation, his enemies in the Democratic party would charge him with being influenced by the New Jersey railroad interests who were engaged in a most vigorous campaign against the passage of this legislation. In fact, when we came to discuss the matter, I frankly called this phase of it to his attention. I tried to make him see the effects such a veto would have upon his political fortunes, but he soon made it clear to me that he was unmindful of all such consequences. After thoroughly considering the matter, he finally decided to veto the bill. In discussing the matter with me, he said: "I realize the unjust and unfortunate inference that will be drawn by my political enemies from a veto of this bill, but the bill, as drawn, is unjust and unfair to the railroads and I ought not to be afraid to say so publicly. I cannot consider the effect of a veto upon my own political fortunes. If I should sign this bill it would mean practically a confiscation of railroad property and I would not be worthy of the trust of a single mail in the state or in the country were I afraid to do my duty and to protect private property by my act." His attitude toward the bill was clearly set forth in the veto, part of which is as follows:
I know the seriousness and great consequence of the question affected by this important measure. There is a demand, well grounded and imperative, throughout the state that some practicable legislation should be adopted whereby the grade crossings of railways which everywhere threaten life and interfere with the convenience of both city and rural communities should as rapidly as possible be abolished. But there is certainly not a demand in New Jersey for legislation which is unjust and impracticable.

* * * * *

The non-enactment of this bill into law will, of course, be a serious disappointment to the people of the state, but it will only concentrate their attention upon the just and equitable way of accomplishing the end in view. I do not believe that the people of the state are in such haste as to be willing to work a gross injustice, either to the railroads or to private owners of property, or to the several communities affected.
Of course his political enemies made free use of this veto in an effort to injure him throughout the country in every state campaign where his fortunes as candidate were involved. As a matter of fact, his veto of this bill did shock the people of the state, but when they seriously considered the matter in all its aspects, they felt that their governor had, at least, done an honourable and a courageous thing in refusing to approve it.

Discussion of him as a strong Presidential possibility was steadily growing. I had felt a delicacy about talking of this with him, but in a walk that we were accustomed to take along the banks of the Delaware and Raritan Canal between office hours, I, one day, made bold to open, the subject in this way: "It is evident from the newspapers, Governor, that you are being considered for the Presidency." I could plainly see from the way he met the suggestion that he did not resent my boldness in opening the discussion. I told him that we were receiving letters at the Executive offices from various parts of the country in praise of the programme he had just put through the legislature. As we discussed the possibilities of the Presidential situation, he turned to me in the most solemn way, and putting his hand to his mouth, as if to whisper something, said: "I do not know, Tumulty, that I would care to be President during the next four years." And then looking around as if he were afraid uninvited ears might be listening, he continued: "For the next President will have a war on his hands, and I am not sure that I would make a good war President." This reply greatly excited my curiosity and interest and I said: "With what nation do you think we will have a war?" Very cautiously he said: "I do not care to name the nation," and our little talk ended. This statement was made to me in April, 1911. Was it a prophecy of the war that was to burst upon the world in August, 1914?


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