Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    Possibly the earliest known letter handwritten by FDR as a publicly elected official.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt: Autograph Letter Signed as New York Senator.
    -March 21, 1911. Albany, New York. Two pages (facing). State Senate letterhead.
    -To: Lewis.
    -Fine condition.

    Serving in only the third month of his first elected position as a public servant, FDR writes to a fellow Harvard Class of 1904 graduate. In full, "Dear Lewis-/ Thanks so much for your letter- Coward! Our stenogs are evidently better trained!/ We are having a pretty strenuous time and my only wish is that the class of 1904 constituted the Legislature of the State of New York./ I hope we can end this deadlock soon and get some good compromise candidate-Unfortunately it is only too true that 30 men can't dictate to 87- the best we can do is veto./ You'll be a good Democrat some day./ Sincerely..." Roosevelt was the first Democrat elected from his Dutchess County district since 1884 and quickly became a leader of a group of reformers who opposed the Tammany Hall machine of Manhattan that dominated the state Democratic Party. Roosevelt soon became a popular figure among New York Democrats and was reelected for a second term in November 1912; he resigned from the New York State Senate on March 17, 1913.

    The incident this letter alludes to is known as the "Blue-Eyed" Billy Sheehan affair. In those days, the state legislatures chose U.S. Senators. The issue was the choice of a successor to Republican Senator Chauncey Depew. The Democrats controlled both legislative chambers in New York and were in a position to elect a Democrat as the new senator from New York. Al Smith and the Tammany Hall political machine had chosen Billy Sheehan, a man with close ties to the utility interests. Roosevelt was opposed to him and what he stood for and gathered a group of "rebels" or "insurgents" who were willing to stand with him against Tammany Hall. Since this little group held the balance of power between the Tammany bloc and the Republicans, they were able to checkmate the plan for Sheehan and eventually force the compromise selection of Judge James J. O'Gorman as the Democratic candidate, who was quickly elected.

    This is a significantly important and historic letter. It is very possibly the earliest ALS in private hands from FDR's days as a state senator. The content regards his first major political battle, an event that marked the "beginning of the end" to the power that Tammany Hall had enjoyed for decades, and propelled a young politician from Hyde Park into the public limelight for the first time. Worthy of the finest private or institutional collections.


    More Information:

    The extended description below was supplied by the consignor. We are making it available to our web bidders who are interested in more in-depth research and broader historical perspective. Please note that presentation (i.e. framing), lot divisions, and interpretations of condition and content may occasionally differ from our descriptions. Assertions of fact and subjective observations contained in this description represent the opinion of the consignor. These remarks have not been checked for accuracy by Heritage Auctions, and we assume no responsibility for their accuracy; they are offered purely to allow the bidder insight into the way the consignor has viewed the item(s) in question. No right of return or claim of lack of authenticity or provenance based upon this extended description will be granted.

     

    In FDR's own hand in its entirety, an autograph letter signed, one page (two facing pages), 4to, on The Senate of the State of New York, Albany, New York letterhead, extremely interesting, rare, and historically significant letter signed by the new State Senator for the 26th District of New York, barely in his third month of service after his first electoral victory for public office on November 8, 1910. This personal letter, written entirely in FDR's own hand, is to a fellow Harvard University classmate of 1904, and concerns FDR's thoughts about the first major conflict he became embroiled in as a New York State Senator: the infamous "Blue-eyed Billy Sheehan Affair." FDR writes in his own hand: "Dear Lewis–/ Thanks so much for your letter–Coward! Our stenogs are evidently better trained!/ We are having a pretty strenuous time and my only wish is that the class of 1904 constituted the Legislature of the State of New York./ I hope we can end this deadlock soon and get some good compromise candidate–Unfortunately it is only too true that 30 men can't dictate to 87–the best we can do is veto./ You'll be a good Democrat some day./ Sincerely,/ Franklin D. Roosevelt." Wow! Elected to his very first political office barely four months before this letter was handwritten, FDR was actively attempting to endear himself to reformers by daring to oppose the Tammany Democratic political machine. The first major political fight of his nascent career involved the Democratic nomination for United States Senator from New York. The Tammany boss, Charles Francis Murphy (1858-1924), who ruled Tammany from 1901 until his death in 1924, supported William F. ("Blue Eyed Billy") Sheehan. However, FDR and about twenty other Democrats – dubbed the "insurgents"– refused to give Sheehan their votes. The rebels held out until March 31, ten days after FDR handwrote this letter to his Harvard college friend, when Tammany bowed, withdrawing Sheehan and substituting Judge James A. O'Gorman, who quickly won the election. FDR later allied himself firmly with reform elements in the Democratic Party by his vigorous campaign for Woodrow Wilson in the election of 1912, which led to his later appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, providing for FDR his first national political forum. It was also during this early political battle in 1911 that FDR first met Louis McHenry Howe, barely a month before this letter was written. Howe interviewed Roosevelt about the Sheehan uprising for the New York Herald. The newspaperman left the interview with a story, and with a sense of FDR's political potential. Howe, it seemed, impressed Roosevelt as well. The men became friends, and the rest, as they say, is history. This is an extremely early and rare FDR letter of immense significance given that it was handwritten to a college friend within months of FDR first becoming a New York State Senator, and in the midst of his first major political battle, a contest that would have lasting impact on his name, his emerging political reputation, and the course of his future political activities. Tammany Hall was the executive committee of the Democratic Party in New York City historically exercising political control through the typical boss-ist blend of charity and patronage. The name was derived from a pre-Revolutionary War association named after Tammanend, a wise and benevolent Delaware Indian chief. When Tammany was organized in New York in 1789, it represented middle-class opposition to the power of the "aristocratic" Federalist Party. Incorporated in 1805 as a benevolent body, the Society of Tammany became identified with the Democratic Party by means of identical leadership within both organizations. The makeup of the society was substantially altered in 1817 when Irish immigrants, protesting Tammany bigotry, forced their right to membership and benefits. Later Tammany championed the spread of the franchise to white propertyless males. Nevertheless, the society's appeal to particular ethnic and religious minorities, the doling out of gifts to the poor, and the bribing of rival political faction leaders, among them the notorious "Boss" William M. Tweed, made the name Tammany Hall synonymous with urban political corruption. Tammany's power was formidable in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but its control over New York politics was diminished when years after this 1911 episode in which FDR, the newly elected Democratic Senator from Hyde Park, tangled with Tammany President Franklin D. Roosevelt reduced Tammany's status to a county organization after it failed to support him in 1932 during his first campaign for President of the United States. It further declined in power during the reform administrations of mayors Fiorello H. La Guardia (1933-1945) and John V. Lindsay (1966-1973). This handwritten letter may be the earliest surviving handwritten correspondence from FDR after he entered public life as a New York State Senator from Dutchess, Columbia, and Putnam counties in 1911.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    7th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 487

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 June 7 Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    We had a wonderful time in New York during the October 2013 Historical Manuscripts auction that featured my mother’s papers collected during her tenure as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s secretary. In fact, the entire experience from beginning to end has been a pleasure.
    Howard Ballou,
    Brandon, MS
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 September 21 - 22 The David and Janice Frent Collection Presidential &  Political Americana, Part VI Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 September 21 - 22 The David and Janice Frent Collection Presidential & Political Americana, Part VI Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED $648,838