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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXVI - Wilson Versus Hughes
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


After the delivery of the speech of acceptance on September 2nd quiet ruled over the Wilson camp at Shadow Lawn. This lull in the matter of politics was intensified by the President's absence from Shadow Lawn because of the death of his only sister, which called him away and for a while took his mind and his energies from the discussion of politics.

On September 11th, the state elections in Maine were carried by the Republicans. The total vote was the largest ever cast in Maine in a state election. The Republican majorities ranged from 9,000 to 14,000. There had been a vigorous contest in Maine by both parties and the Republicans were greatly heartened by the result in the hope that "as goes Maine so goes the Union."

There is no doubt that the result in Maine, which many Democrats were of the opinion was a forecast of the results throughout the nation in November, had a depressing effect. The Republicans accepted it as a harbinger of victory and the Democrats as an indication of defeat. On the night of the Maine elections I kept close to the telephone at the Executive offices and engaged in conferences with two or three practical politicians from New Jersey. It was interesting to watch the effects of the returns from Maine upon these men. When the returns, as complete as we could get them at twelve o'clock on the night of September 11th, came in, James Nugent, one of the leading politicians of Essex County, New Jersey, who was in the room, took from my desk a copy of the "World Almanac", and referring to the returns of previous elections, said: "Of course, the Republicans will hail this as a great victory, but if they will sit down and analyze the gains they have made, they will find no comfort in them, for to me they indicate a Democratic victory in November. If the Democrats make proportionate gains in other states, you can absolutely count upon a Democratic victory in 1916."

This prophecy was verified by the results of the election of November 7th.

It was difficult and almost impossible between the date of the speech of acceptance and the first of October to revive interest in the Democratic campaign and to bring about a renewal of hope of success that had almost been destroyed by the psychological results of the Maine election.

Frequent demands were made upon us at the Executive offices at Asbury Park to get busy and to do something. "Wilson was not on the front page and Hughes was busily engaged in campaigning throughout the West." But the President in his uncanny way knew better than we the psychological moment to strike. He went about his work at the Executive offices and gave to us who were closely associated with him the impression that nothing unusual was afoot and that no Presidential campaign was impending. I made frequent suggestions to him that he be up and doing. He would only smile and calmly say: "The moment is not here. Let them use up their ammunition and then we will turn our guns upon them."

The psychological moment came, and the President took full advantage of it. One afternoon in September the President telephoned me at the Executive offices at Asbury Park to have the newspaper men present for a conference that afternoon; that he would give out a reply to a telegram he had received. With the newspaper group, I attended this conference. It appeared that an Irish agitator named Jeremiah O'Leary, who had been organizing and speaking against the President and trying to array the Irish vote against him, wrote an offensive letter to the President, calling attention to the results of the Maine elections and to the New Jersey primaries, and to his anticipated defeat in November. The President handed to the newspaper men the following reply to O'Leary:
I would feel deeply mortified to have you or anybody like you vote for me. Since you have access to many disloyal Americans and I have not, I will ask you to convey this message to them.
This sharp and timely rebuke to the unpatriotic spirit to which O'Leary gave expression won the hearty and unanimous approval of the country to the President. Nothing like this bold defiance came from Hughes until a few days before the election.

The Democratic campaign, within twenty-four hours after the publication of the O'Leary telegram, was on again in full swing.

At this same newspaper conference the President, who had not seen the newspaper group since his arrival at Long Branch, discussed the campaign, so that they might have what he called the "inside of his mind." His criticism of the campaign that Justice Hughes was conducting contained bitter irony and, sarcasm. Evidently, the petty things to which Mr. Hughes had adverted in his campaign speeches by way of criticizing the President and his administration had cut the President to the quick. One of the newspaper men asked him what he thought of Mr. Hughes' campaign, and he laughingly replied: "If you will give that gentleman rope enough he will hang himself. He has forgotten many things since he closeted himself on the bench, and he will soon find himself out of touch with the spirit of the nation. His speeches are nothing more or less than blank cartridges and the country, unless I mistake the people very much, will place a true assessment upon them."

The newspaper men left this conference heartened by the reply he had made to O'Leary and with the firm conviction that the Democratic candidate was just "playing" with Hughes and would pounce upon him at the psychological moment.

In the delivery of the campaign speeches at Shadow Lawn each Saturday afternoon President Wilson took full advantage of the swing toward the Democratic side which was manifest after the publication of the famous O'Leary telegram. While the Republican candidate was busily engaged in invading the West in his swing around the circle, the Democratic candidate each week from his porch at Shadow Lawn was delivering sledge-hammer blows at the Republican breastworks. As the Republican candidate in an effort to win the West was heaping maledictions upon Dr. E. Lester Jones, the head of the Geodetic Survey, a Wilson appointee, the President calmly moved on, ripping to pieces and tearing to shreds the poor front behind which the Republican managers were seeking to win the fight.

Mr. Hughes campaigned like a lawyer, Mr. Wilson like a statesman. Mr. Hughes was hunting small game with bird shot, Mr. Wilson trained heavy artillery on the enemies' central position. The essential difference between the two men and the operations of their minds was made clear in the campaign. No one would wish to minimize the unusual abilities of Mr. Hughes, but they are the abilities of an adroit lawyer. He makes "points." He pleases those minds which like cleverness and finesse. He deals with international affairs like an astute lawyer drawing a brief. But has he ever quickened the nation's pulse or stirred its heart by a single utterance? Did he ever make any one feel that behind the formalities of law, civil or international, he detected the heartbeats of humanity whom law is supposedly designed to serve? Mr. Wilson was not thinking of Mr. Hughes, but perhaps he was thinking of the type of which Mr. Hughes is an eminent example when he said in Paris: "This is not to be a lawyers' peace."

Every speech of President Wilson's was, to use a baseball phrase, a home run for the Democratic side. They were delivered without much preparation and were purely extemporaneous in character. The Republican opposition soon began to wince under the smashing blows delivered by the Democratic candidate, and outward proof was soon given of the fear and despair that were now gathering in the Republican ranks. With a few short trips to the West, and his final speech at Long Branch, President Wilson closed his campaign, with Democratic hopes on the rise.

The happenings of Election Day, 1916, will long linger in my memory. I was in charge of the Executive offices located at Asbury Park, while the President remained at Shadow Lawn, awaiting the news of the first returns from the country. The first scattered returns that filtered in to the Executive offices came from a little fishing town in Massachusetts early in the afternoon of Election Day, which showed a slight gain for the President over the election returns of 1912. Then followed early drifts from Colorado and Kansas, which showed great Wilson gains. Those of us who were interested in the President's cause were made jubilant by these early returns. Every indication, though imperfect, up to seven o'clock on the night of the election, forecasted the President's reŽlection.

In the early afternoon the President telephoned the Executive offices to inquire what news we had received from the country and he was apprised of the results that had come in up to that time. Then, quickly, the tide turned against us in the most unusual way. Between seven and nine o'clock the returns slowly came in from the East and Middle West that undeniably showed a drift away from us.

About nine-thirty o'clock in the evening I was seated in my office, when a noise outside in the hallway attracted my attention and gave me the impression that something unusual was afoot. The door of my office opened and there entered a galaxy of newspaper men connected with the White House offices, led by a representative of the New York World, who held in his hands a bulletin from his office, carrying the news of Hughes' election. The expression in the men's faces told me that a crisis was at hand. The World man delivered his fateful message of defeat for our forces, without explanation of any kind. To me the blow was stunning, for the New York World had been one of our staunchest supporters throughout the whole campaign and yet, I had faith to believe that the news carried in the bulletin would be upset by subsequent returns. Steadying myself behind my desk, I quickly made up my mind as to what my reply should be to the World bulletin and to the query of the newspaper men whether we were ready to "throw up the sponge" and concede Hughes' election. Concealing the emotion I felt, I dictated the following statement, which was flashed through the country:
When Secretary Tumulty was shown the World bulletin, conceding Hughes' election, he authorized the following statement: "Wilson will win. The West has not yet been heard from. Sufficient gains will be made in the West and along the Pacific slope to offset the losses in the East."
Shortly after the flash from the World bulletin was delivered to me, conceding Hughes' election, the President again telephoned me from Long Branch to find out the latest news of the election. From what he said he had already been apprised by Admiral Grayson of the bulletin of the New York World. Every happening of that memorable night is still fresh in my memory and I recall distinctly just what the President said and how philosophically he received the news of his apparent defeat. Laughingly he said: "Well, Tumulty, it begins to look as if we have been badly licked." As he discussed the matter with me I could detect no note of sadness in his voice. In fact, I could hear him chuckle over the 'phone. He seemed to take an impersonal view of the whole thing and talked like a man from whose shoulders a great load had been lifted and now he was happy and rejoicing that he was a free man again. When I informed him of the drifts in our favour from other parts of the country and said that it was too early to concede anything, he said: "Tumulty, you are an optimist. It begins to look as if the defeat might be overwhelming. The only thing I am sorry for, and that cuts me to the quick, is that the people apparently misunderstood us. But I have no regrets. We have tried to do our duty." So far as he was concerned, the issue of the election was disposed of, out of the way and a settled thing. That was the last telephone message between the President and myself until twenty-four hours later, when the tide turned again in our favour.

An unusual incident occurred about 8:30 o'clock in the evening, shortly after my talk with the President. I was called to the telephone and told that someone in New York wished to speak to me on a highly important matter. I went to the 'phone. At the other end in New York was an individual who refusing to give his name, described himself as a friend of our cause. I thought he was one of the varieties of crank, with whom I had been accustomed to deal at the White House on frequent occasions during my life there; but there was something about his talk that convinced me that he was in close touch with someone in authority at Republican headquarters. In his first talk with me, and in subsequent talks during the night of the election and on the following day, there was a warning to us, in no way, or by the slightest sign, to give up the fight, or to concede Hughes' election. He said: "Early returns will naturally run against Wilson in the East, particularly in Illinois and Iowa," and intimated to me that the plan at Republican headquarters would be to exaggerate these reports and to overwhelm us with news of Republican victories throughout the country. Continuing his talk he said: "The Wilson fight will be won in the West. I shall keep you advised of what is happening in Republican headquarters. I can only tell you that I will know what is happening and you may rely upon the information I shall give you."

All night long the loyal newspaper men and I kept vigil at the Executive offices. As I read over the bulletins that came to me, particularly those from Republican headquarters in New York, I was quick to notice that although the Republican managers were blatantly proclaiming to the country that the fight was over, for some reason or other, the Republican candidate, Mr. Hughes, who was at his headquarters at the Hotel Astor, was silent.

Just about this time there was another message from the mysterious stranger in New York. The message, as I recall it, was as follows: "They [meaning the Republican managers] are trying to induce Hughes to claim the election, but he is unwilling to make an announcement and is asking for further returns. You boys stand pat. Returns that are now coming in are worrying them. Don't be swept off your feet by claims from Republican headquarters. I know what is happening there."

Shortly after this telephone message came a bulletin from Republican headquarters, stating that the Republican managers were then in conference with Mr. Hughes and that a statement from Mr. Hughes would soon be forthcoming. This unusual coincidence convinced me that the man who was telephoning me either was on the inside of affairs at Republican headquarters, or had an uncanny way of knowing just what the managers were doing.

Up to eleven o'clock every bit of news ran against us. Finally, the Brooklyn Eagle, a supporter of the President, and then the New York Times, our last line of defense, gave way and conceded Hughes' election, but the unterrified Democrats at the Executive offices stood out against any admission of defeat.

The mysterious stranger was again on the wire, saying that there was consternation in the Republican ranks; that George Perkins had just conferred with National Chairman Willcox and had left Willcox's room, shaking his head and saying to one of the attachťs of headquarters, that "things were not looking well." A few minutes later a bulletin came from Republican headquarters confirming the story the mysterious stranger had just told over the 'phone.

All the while I was keeping in touch with our headquarters in New York City, and about 10:30 o'clock Robert W. Woolley, the publicity man of the Democratic National Committee, 'phoned me and advised me not to concede anything and assured me that the returns from the West, now coming in greater drifts, indicated Wilson's reelection.

When I left the telephone booth, David Lawrence, the Washington correspondent of the New York Evening Post, who a few weeks before had predicted, in a remarkable article, the election of Wilson, and who was my friend and co-labourer during that night (in conjunction with Mr. L. Ames Brown, a noted newspaper man of Washington, connected with the Democratic National Committee) conferred with me, and from a table he had prepared showed me how the small states of the West, which the returns indicated were now coming into the Wilson column, would elect the Democratic candidate, and that under no circumstances must we, by any chance, in any statement, concede the election of Hughes.

All night long telephone messages, very brief, would come from the mysterious stranger in New York, and quickly there would follow bulletins from Republican headquarters confirming everything that he said. These messages came so rapidly that I was soon convinced that this individual, whoever he was, had the real inside of the Republican situation. So convinced was I that I followed up my statement of the early evening with additional statements, claiming the election for Mr. Wilson.

Just about the break of day on Wednesday morning, as David Lawrence, Ames Brown, and my son Joe, were seated in my office, a room which overlooked a wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, we were notified by Democratic headquarters of the first big drift toward Wilson. Ohio, which in the early evening had been claimed by the Republicans, had turned to Wilson by an approximate majority of sixty thousand; Kansas followed; Utah was leaning toward him; North Dakota and South Dakota inclining the same way. The Wilson tide began to rise appreciably from that time on, until state after state from the West came into the Wilson column. At five o'clock in the morning the New York Times and the New York World recanted and were now saying that the election of Mr. Hughes was doubtful.

Without sleep and without food, those of us at the Executive offices kept close to the telephone wire. We never left the job for a minute. The last message from the mysterious stranger came about one o'clock, the day following the election, when he 'phoned me that, "George Perkins is now at Republican headquarters and is telephoning Roosevelt and will soon leave to inform Roosevelt that, to use his own words, 'the jig is up,' and that Wilson is elected." Shortly after, from Republican headquarters came a bulletin saying: "George Perkins is on his way to confer with Mr. Roosevelt."

Some months after the election the mysterious stranger came to the White House offices, and without identifying himself, informed me that he was the individual who on the night of the election had kept me in touch with Republican headquarters, and then astounded me by telling me that in some mysterious way, which he did not disclose, he had succeeded in breaking in on the Republican National Committee wire and had listened in on every conversation that had passed between Willcox, Hughes, George Perkins, Harvey, and Theodore Roosevelt himself during the night of the election and the day following.

Mr. Wilson arose the morning after the election, confident that he had been defeated. He went about his tasks in the usual way. The first news that he received that there had been a turn in the tide came from his daughter, Margaret, who knocked on the door of the bathroom while the President was shaving and told him of the "Extra" of the New York Times, saying that the election was in doubt, with indications of a Wilson victory. The President thought that his daughter was playing a practical joke on him and told her to "tell that to the Marines," and went on about his shaving.

When the President and I discussed the visit of his daughter, Margaret, to notify him of his reŽlection, he informed me that he was just beginning to enjoy the reaction of defeat when he was notified that the tide had turned in his favour. This will seem unusual, but those of us who were close to the man and who understood the trials and tribulations of the Presidency, knew that he was in fact for the first time in four years enjoying the freedom of private life.

Mr. Wilson's imperturbability on election night was like that of sturdy Grover Cleveland, though temperamentally the men were unlike. Mr. Cleveland used to tell his friends how in 1884 he had gone to bed early not knowing who was elected, and how he learned the news of his election next morning from his valet, after having first made inquiries about the state of the weather. In 1892 Mr. Cleveland, his wife, and two friends played a quiet game of cards while the returns were coming in. In reciting these reminiscences, the old warrior used to say that he never could understand the excitement of candidates on election nights. "The fight is all over then," he would say, "and it is merely a matter of counting the ballots." Mr. Wilson preserved the same calmness, which appeared almost like indifference. In 1912 he sat in the sitting room of his little cottage in Cleveland Lane in Princeton quietly reading from one of his favourite authors and occasionally joining in the conversation of Mrs. Wilson and a few neighbours who had dropped in. In a rear room there was a telegraphic ticker, an operator, and some newspaper boys who at intervals would take an especially interesting bulletin in to Mr. Wilson, who would glance at it casually, make some brief comment, and then return to his book. One of the guests of the evening who read in a newspaper next day a rather melodramatic and entirely imaginative account of the scene, said: "The only dramatic thing about the evening was that there was nothing dramatic."

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