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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XIV - Wilson And The Old Guard
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

Old line politicians, like Roger Sullivan of Illinois and Tom Taggart of Indiana, were turned to the Princetonian by his notable speech at the Jackson Day dinner and now gave sympathetic ear to the New Jersey Governor's claims for the nomination. An incident which happened at the conclusion of the banquet, as the Governor was on his way to make his train for New Jersey, illustrates the character of the victory he had won over difficulties which at the time seemed insurmountable. The old Illinois leader, Roger Sullivan, greeted the candidate in the most friendly way as he left the banquet hall, saying to him as he grasped his hand: "That was a great speech, Governor," and then, drawing closer to him, added: "I cannot say to you now just what the Illinois delegation will do, but you may rely upon it, I will be there when you need me," This remark did not seem of importance at the time, but when we discussed the incident the next day at the Capitol at Trenton we both felt that, at a critical moment of the convention Roger Sullivan could be relied upon to support us and to throw the vote of Illinois our way. Sullivan kept his promise in real, generous fashion. When it seemed as if the Baltimore Convention was at the point of deadlock, and after the Illinois delegation had voted many times for Champ Clark, Sullivan threw the full support of Illinois to the New Jersey Governor, and thus the tide was quickly turned in favour of Mr. Wilson's candidacy for the Presidency.

I had often wondered what influence beyond this Jackson Day banquet speech had induced this grizzly old political warrior to support Woodrow Wilson. Afterward I learned the real cause of it from men who kept in close touch with the Illinois delegation during the trying days of the Baltimore Convention.

Everyone who knew Roger Sullivan knew the great influence which both his fine wife and devoted son wielded over him. His son, Boetius, a Harvard graduate, had early become a Wilson devotee and supporter, and the correspondence between father, mother, and son, contained a spirited discussion of the availability of the New Jersey man for the Democratic nomination. The interest of Mrs. Sullivan and her son continued throughout the days of the Convention, which they both attended, and at the most critical moment in the proceedings of the Convention when a point was arrived at when the Illinois vote was decisive, the Illinois leader left a conference where he was being strongly urged by Mr. Wilson's friends to support the New Jersey Governor, to have a final conference with Mrs. Sullivan and their son before he would finally agree to throw his support to Wilson.

Everyone at Baltimore knows the result of this conference and how the inner councils of the Sullivan family prevailed. Illinois swung to Wilson and he was soon nominated. It was said, after the New Jersey man's nomination and election, that he showed base ingratitude to Roger Sullivan, the man who more than any other single individual in the Convention had brought about his nomination. Mr. Sullivan's devoted friends in Illinois were particularly bitter at the apparent coldness of Mr. Wilson toward their friend and idol. The President, as a matter of fact, was never unmindful of his obligation to Sullivan for the personally loyal way he had stood by him at Baltimore, and in every way while he was President he let those associated with him know that Sullivan and his friends, wherever it was possible, should be preferred in the matter of the distribution of patronage in Illinois.

The thing, however, which irritated Sullivan's friends and made many of them irreconcilable foes of Woodrow Wilson was his apparent unwillingness to say a good word for Sullivan when he announced his candidacy for the United States senatorship of Illinois. This presented an opportunity for President Wilson to pay the old debt and "even up" things with Roger. Realizing the delicacy of the situation and how deeply the progressive element in the Democratic party throughout the country might misunderstand and even resent his putting his "okeh" on the candidacy of the Illinois leader for the senatorship, nevertheless, upon considering the matter, he decided to do so and prepared a generous and wholehearted letter of endorsement of Sullivan. He felt that as a good sportsman he was bound in honour to do this for the man whose influence and support, thrown to him at the right moment of the Convention, had brought about his nomination for the Presidency. But there were other and deeper reasons urging him on to endorse his old friend. He knew how eagerly and earnestly Sullivan had fought for him at Baltimore and how in doing so he had won the enmity of the eastern wing of the Democratic party. The old bosses in the party, like Smith and Murphy, had often twitted Sullivan on his support of Wilson and threatened reprisals. Sullivan, however, stood like adamant against these influences and showed an allegiance to the New Jerseyman which earned the admiration and affection of every Wilsonite in the country. The President felt confident that should Roger Sullivan be elected to the Senate, he could count upon him to stand by and loyally support him and the Administration. At this very time the President was beginning to realize in the keenest way the necessity for real, loyal backing in the Senate. Many of the men whom he had personally supported for the Senate in the various senatorial fights throughout the country, especially those who were known as progressive senators, like Hardwick and Smith of Georgia, O'Gorman of New York, and Martine of New Jersey, had grown indifferent and were reluctant to follow his leadership in anything. The so-called Old Guard in the Senate, made up of men like Mark Smith of Arizona, Senators Martin and Swanson of Virginia, Ollie James of Kentucky, John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, Joe Robinson of Arkansas, Billy Hughes of New Jersey, Senator Culberson of Texas, Senator Simmons of North Carolina, and Senator Smith of Maryland, contrary to every prophecy and prediction made by their enemies, stood with the President through every fight in the finest and handsomest way, never deserting his leadership for a moment. Often he would say to me when we were discussing the senatorial situation: "My head is with the progressives in the Democratic party, but my heart, because of the way they stood by me, is with the so-called Old Guard in the Senate. They stand without hitching." He knew that, while Roger Sullivan was a conservative, he could be relied upon in every emergency to back him up even to the point of sacrifice. What President Wilson wanted more than anything else, as he often said, was a team that would work with him. Sullivan was just this type of man, and beyond everything else his loyalty had been tested and could be relied upon in every emergency.

In the light of these circumstances, the President decided finally to throw his hat in the ring in favour of the boss of Illinois for the United States senatorship. The letter advocating Sullivan's election was dictated and signed by the President, and is as follows:
October 12, 1914.


I have read with the greatest interest the account you were kind enough to send me of the Illinois Democratic State Convention. It is full of fine promise for the party; for it shows all the elements of the party heartily drawing together for a successful campaign; and with this union success is sure to come.

You call my attention to the fact that some Democrats are urging voters to cast their ballots for the Progressive candidate for the Senate of the United States rather than for the nominee of the Democratic primaries. You ask me if I approve of this. I do not. I have held myself very strictly to the principle that as a party man I am bound by the free choice of the people at the polls. I have always stood by the result of the primaries; I shall always do so; and I think it the duty of every Democrat to do so who cares for the success and sincerity of his party. Mr. Sullivan has been selected in a fair primary, and therefore he is entitled to the support of his party.

Sincerely yours,

House of Representatives.
This letter and the contents of it will be a matter of news to Sullivan's friends throughout the country. Many, doubtless, will inquire why it was not published at the time. The reason it failed to reach the stage of publication can in no way be attributed to Woodrow Wilson. He never recalled it and the original is in my files. This may be surprising news to the friends of the dead leader, Roger Sullivan, but it is only fair to Mr. Wilson to say that he never hesitated in rushing to the defence of his old friend in the most generous way. He wrote this letter with the full realization of just how much it might personally injure him with the progressive thought of the country. The letter, after being written and signed by the President, was held in reserve by me until Sullivan's friends in Chicago, those in close touch with his affairs there, felt free to advise its publication. I was directed by them to release it, but the order for its release was countermanded by one of the advisers close to Sullivan, who telephoned me that it was thought inadvisable to have the President come into the campaign in Sullivan's behalf, the reason being that the publication of Wilson's letter might arouse the passionate antagonism of Theodore Roosevelt, who was about to begin a tour of Illinois in behalf of Sullivan's opponent. I was advised later that the individual with whom I dealt in this matter and upon whose direction the letter was withheld from publication had no authority to act for Sullivan in the matter and that Sullivan and his friends were deeply disappointed at Mr. Wilson's apparent unwillingness to take up the cudgel for his old friend. Many times I tried to make clear to Sullivan's friends just what the attitude of the President was, but whether I succeeded I do not know. The President, secluded in the White House, away from the madding crowd, never realized the basis of Sullivan's disappointment, for he felt that he had "gone through" for his friend and had not forgotten for a moment Sullivan's advocacy of him at Baltimore, When the news of Sullivan's death was brought to him at a time when he, also, was seriously ill, his lips quivered, great tears stood in his eyes, and turning to Mrs. Wilson, who stood beside his bed, he said: "Roger Sullivan was a wonderful and devoted friend at Baltimore," and then, turning to me, he said: "Tumulty, I sincerely hope that you will personally go to Chicago and attend the funeral and tell Mrs. Sullivan how deeply I grieve over the death of my old friend."


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