DescriptionFranklin D. Roosevelt: Autograph Letter Signed as New York Senator.
-December 4, 1912. Hyde Park, New York. One page. 8" x 10.5". New York State Senate stationery.
-To: Mr. Clayton L. Wheeler.
-Two horizontal folds, deep toning, else fine.
FDR, discussing his own health, writes "I am only just recovering from an attack of typhoid fever and have not had an opportunity before this of telling you how very glad I am that you won out, and are to be in the Senate for the next two years with me. You have made a great record in your normally Republican district - and I am encouraged to think that the voters appreciate it." Wheeler was a fellow Democrat and senator-elect during the pivotal election year of 1912.
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In FDR's own hand in its entirety, an autograph letter signed, a very historic and extremely rare letter dated December 4, 1912, the month after his re-election under very special circumstances to a second term as a New York State Senator. FDR writes this letter in his own hand from Hyde Park, New York on The Senate of the State of New York, Albany/ Franklin D. Roosevelt, 26th District/ Chairman/ Committee on Forest, Fish and Game letterhead. FDR writes in his own hand to his fellow New York State Senator-elect Clayton L. Wheeler, mentioning a significant health-event in his own life that nearly cost FDR re-election himself to the New York State Senate: "My dear Wheeler – / I am only just recovering from an attack of typhoid fever and have not had an opportunity before this of telling you how very glad I am that you won out, and are to be in the Senate for the next two years with me. You have made a great record in your normally Republican district – and I am encouraged to think that the voters appreciate it./ Very sincerely yours,/ Franklin D. Roosevelt." This letter is rare and fascinating for several reasons. First, FDR writes Representative and Senator-Elect Wheeler after recovering from typhoid fever, and writes his fellow Democrat to congratulate him on winning his election as a Democrat in a "normally Republican district," much like FDR himself did two years earlier by winning his election to the State Senate as a Democrat from Dutchess, Putnam, and Columbia Counties in the Hudson River Valley of upstate New York, also a "normally Republican district." Also, in a rare moment, FDR mentions his own health issues at the time. Two years earlier FDR met Colonel Louis McHenry Howe. Drawn together by mutual political interests, the two became close friends. After defying Tammany Hall during his first term in the New York State Senate in 1911 in the selection of the United States Senator from New York, when he and about twenty other Democrats – dubbed the "insurgents" – refused to give their votes to Tammany's candidate William F. ("Blue Eyed Billy") Sheehan. The rebels held out until March 31, 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, much like Clayton L. Wheeler was doing in the New York State Assembly. In 1912, FDR again defied Tammany, this time by supporting Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey for the Democratic Presidential nomination. After Wilson won the nomination, FDR ran for re-election to the State Senate, however he fell gravely ill with typhoid fever during his 1912 campaign for re-election to the New York State Senate. Louis McHenry Howe was asked by Eleanor Roosevelt to manage FDR's campaign, and Howe carried the campaign to a successful conclusion. The personal and political bonds between FDR and Howe were cemented through this attack of typhoid fever in 1912 that FDR makes reference to in this hand written letter to Wheeler from December 4, 1912. More specifically, when FDR was re-nominated for State Senator from the 26th District of New York, he had anticipated that a formal support of his re-election was all that he could expect from the local and state Democratic organizations; few, if any, of the Party regulars would actively work for him. Indeed, he would be lucky if he were not covertly knifed by the Perkins crowd and by the Tammanyites from outside his district. His problem was a small-scale replica of Woodrow Wilson's. If he were to be victorious over his Republican opponent, Jacob Southard, a banker who was also a public utilities president, and over his Progressive opponent, George A. Vossler, he would have to capitalize upon the reputation he had made as a fighting independent, yet he could not afford to do so in ways that aroused the active opposition of his own Party's organization men. Certainly, FDR must wage a very personal campaign in 1912, more vigorous than that of 1910, his first election triumph. Hence, his decision to make another month-long automobile tour of the district, visiting every remote corner of the three counties as he had done two years before. He had looked forward to it, remembering the pleasurable excitements of his encounters with farmers singly and in crowds, the sense of triumphant power that had come to him as he received their applause and felt that he had won their support – remembering too, how beautiful the October countryside had been, with blue haze on distant hills and glorious colors everywhere, and how sweet the air had been to breathe, sharp with frost in the mornings and faintly pungent, almost always, with the smoke of burning leaves. But now this planned tour was impossible. Personal activity of any kind was impossible. Lodged in his 47 East Sixty-fifth Street in New York City suffering from typhoid fever, remaining bedridden and utterly miserable with a low but ceaseless fever, personal activity of any kind was impossible. FDR must lie helpless in his narrow room staring at the ceiling and walls while his defeat was inevitably accomplished at the polls and, with it, the end of a political career that had begun so promisingly. For how could he survive in politics if he failed of re-election in what seemed certain to be a big Democratic year in 1912, in the State of New York as well as in the Nation itself? FDR sent for Howe, who at the time was with his family at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts. History was truly in the making, which is why this December 4, 1912 handwritten letter to Clayton L. Wheeler by FDR is so rare and special. On election day, November 5, 1912, less than a month before FDR's handwritten letter to Clayton, he received 15,590 votes to Southard's 13,889 and Vossler's 2,628. Clayton L. Wheeler, of Hancock, Delaware County, New York , was a Democrat and member of the New York State Assembly from Delaware County, 1911-1912; member of New York State Senate 39th District, 1913-1914 (the election FDR writes Wheeler about in this December 4, 1912 handwritten letter; defeated, 1930; candidate for United States Representative from New York 34th District, 1922; delegate to Democratic National Convention from New York, 1924, 1932 (alternate). An unbelievably rare and special content letter from FDR, written in his own hand shortly after winning re-election to the New York State Senate and recovering from typhoid fever, in the midst of once again defying Tammany Hall, cementing his political and personal relationship with Louis McHenry Howe, and becoming a national viable force for the progressive elements of the Democratic Party through his collaboration with Woodrow Wilson, reaching out to an incoming colleague in the next session of the New York State Senate whom FDR felt also represented a force for progressive Democracy in a "normally Republican district," much like himself at the time.
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