Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him Chapter XIII - The "Cocked-Hat" Incident byTumulty, Joseph P.
While Governor Wilson came out of this controversy with the two Colonels,
Harvey and Watterson, with flying colours, he was by no means beyond the
danger line. His enemies both within and without the party hotly contested
his leadership, and the bitterness of the opposition grew in proportion as
his candidacy gained daily advantages. Everything possible was done to
block his progress and to make more difficult his road to the Presidency.
Everything he had ever said or written, especially his "History of the
American People," was carefully examined in the hope of finding some way
to discredit him. All the guns of the opposition were turned upon him, but
nothing seemed sufficient to block his progress. All the charges,
intimations, insinuations, and slanders that were industriously circulated
by his enemies were without effect, and the trained political minds in his
own camp were apprehensive lest his candidacy had reached its climax too
long before the convention. How to maintain the present advantage was the
problem that perplexed them. They were hopefully looking forward to the
benefits that would accrue to their candidate in the round-up of
candidates at the famous Jackson Day dinner, scheduled for early January,
1912. This dinner was an annual affair and was eagerly looked forward to.
It was expected that the leading lights of the Democratic party would
attend this dinner, including Colonel W. J. Bryan, Champ Clark, Oscar
Underwood, ex-Governor Folk of Missouri, Roger Sullivan of Illinois, and
the New Jersey Governor's friends were confident that because of his
ability as a public speaker he would make a strong and favourable
impression. They were not disappointed.
We were awaiting the Jackson Day dinner with great expectations, and
congratulating ourselves that we were now safely "out of the woods," and
that things would move smoothly for our candidate, when like a bolt from,
the blue came the publication of the famous Joline "cocked-hat" letter,
which caused another panic in the ranks of the too-optimistic Wilson
This letter was written by Mr. Wilson to Mr. Adrian Joline, a Princeton
alumnus and prominent New York lawyer at the time of the split in the
Democratic party over the silver question. The letter is as follows:
Princeton, New Jersey,
April 29, 1907.
MY DEAR MR. JOLINE:
Thank you very much for sending me your address at Parsons, Kan.,
before the board of directors of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway
Company. I have read it with relish and entire agreement. Would that
we could do something, at once dignified and effective, to knock Mr.
Bryan once for all into a cocked hat!
Cordially and sincerely yours,
The publication of this letter came at a most inopportune time for the
Wilson candidacy, and how to meet it was one of the most difficult
problems that the Wilson forces had to face. Our enemies were jubilant.
They felt that at last they had broken our lines and that we would not be
able to "come back."
At this time I was at the State House at Trenton and I received a telegram
from the Governor, requesting that I come at once to Washington, where he
was conferring with the leaders of his forces in an effort to find some
way to neutralize the bad effects of the Joline cocked-hat story in
advance of the Jackson Day banquet, at which Mr. Bryan would be present.
On my arrival in Washington I went to the Willard Hotel and found the
Governor hi a conference with William F. McCombs, Tom Pence, Senator
O'Gorman, and Dudley Field Malone. We discussed the situation fully and
the character of reply the Governor should make by way of explanation of
the Joline letter. Mr. Josephus Daniels, a friend and associate of Mr.
Bryan, was sent to confer with Mr. Bryan in order that Mr. Wilson might
have a close friend at hand who could interpret the motives which lay back
of the Joline letter and impress upon Mr. Bryan the present favourable
attitude of Mr. Wilson toward him. Mr. McCombs suggested that the Governor
address an open letter to Mr. Bryan, voicing his regret over the
publication of this letter and assuring him of his present kindly feelings
toward him. I vigorously opposed Mr. McCombs' suggestion, arguing that no
explanation of the Joline letter could be made to Mr. Bryan that would
wear the appearance of sincerity, or be convincing, and that the letter
having been written there was nothing to do to extenuate it in any way and
that the wise thing was to make a virtue of necessity. I suggested that on
the following night, when the Governor was to deliver his address at the
Jackson Day dinner, he could, in the most generous and kindly way, pay a
handsome tribute to Mr. Bryan for his unselfish service to the Democratic
party throughout the dark years he had been its leader; that I felt that
he would appreciate a tribute of this kind and that he would resent any
explanation of this incident which would appear to be truckling or
apologetic in character. This plan was finally agreed upon. In the very
beginning of his speech, in the most tactful way, Governor Wilson paid a
tribute to the Great Commoner by saying, as he turned to Mr. Bryan: "When
others were faint-hearted, Colonel Bryan carried the Democratic standard.
He kept the 'fires burning' which have heartened and encouraged the
democracy of the country."
The speech at the Jackson Day dinner was a triumph for Woodrow Wilson.
While it was a tempestuous voyage for him, with many dangerous eddies to
be avoided, he emerged from the experience with his prestige enhanced and
with his candidacy throughout the country strengthened. The Bryan-Joline
crisis was safely passed. In the presence of the newspaper men at the
banquet, Mr. Bryan put his arm around Mr. Wilson's shoulders in an
affectionate way, and thus happily concluded the incident which for a time
threatened to wreck a great enterprise.
On his return from Washington to Trenton, Governor Wilson told me that Mr.
Bryan had bidden him not to worry about the publication of the Joline
letter, saying: "I, of course, knew that you were not with me in my
position on the currency," and Woodrow Wilson replied: "All I can say, Mr.
Bryan, is that you are a great, big man."