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    William H. Taft Typed Letter Signed "Affectionately Yours/Bill" as Secretary of War, 1.5 pages, 5.5" x 9", conjoined leaves. War Department, Washington, November 13, 1904. To Hon. Howard C. Hollister, Cincinnati. Hollister and Taft were fellow jurists. In 1893, Hollister became Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Hamilton County, Ohio. At the time, Taft was a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Just five days before Taft wrote this letter, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt trounced the Democratic nominee, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals Alton B. Parker, winning 7.6 million to 5.1 million in popular votes and 336-140 in electoral votes. Roosevelt won every state except the eleven former Confederate states and the border states of Kentucky and Maryland. Taft writes, in full, "I have yours of November 10th. I agree with you that the victory is so great as to be almost alarming. We need to keep our heads and see that our house is put in order. This is no judgment in favor of a reckless government. It is only a vote of confidence which it is our duty to show that we deserve. The victory is so overwhelming that I cannot think that anything that was done in the way of speaking had any particular effect. The motions had to be gone through with, and we went through them, but the victory is a tribute to the personal popularity of the President. The question in the South makes one pause. There are many difficulties connected with it, and yet if some of the leaders would assume a heroic attitude and be willing to give up their representation, which they now unfairly hold, they could work out the problem themselves if they really hold toward the negro the earnest desire to better the race. Perhaps that is what will come out of this victory. Let us hope so."

    During the 1904 campaign, Southerners and conservative Democrats attacked Roosevelt for inviting Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House (1901) and for nominating a Black man, Dr. William D. Crum, to be Collector of the Port of Charleston, S.C. (1903). The New Orleans Daily States called the Washington dinner a "studied insult to the South." When asked if the opposition to Crum was limited to Democrats, South Carolina Senator Benjamin R. Tillman expressed the feeling of most white southerners when he said, "Why it is the Democrats who are kicking, of course. The color line is the party line in South Carolina. There are no white Republicans-not more than 500, I think, and I would be willing to wager not more than a thousand...The President has shown that he wants the negro vote and the Crum nomination is part of his stock in trade. We have no objection to that if he will only take his negroes to some part of the country where the people have no hesitancy in trusting their business to them." A month after the 1904 election, Roosevelt wrote to Henry Smith Pritchett, President of MIT, that "to say that the South's attitude is explained by these two acts [Dinner with Washington and appointment of Crum] is to say that the South is in a condition of violent chronic hysteria." After the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870 ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."), Southern states mobilized a vast campaign of suffrage restrictions such as registration laws and literary tests, in an effort to bar Black Americans from voting, maintaining Democratic party dominance. One form of voting restriction was the "Grandfather" clause that allowed men to register to vote only if they could have voted in 1867 or descended from an 1867 voter. This was the "question" referred to by Taft in this letter, the "Negro question."

    In his 1909 Inaugural Address, President Taft addressed the "question in the South." In part, "I look forward with hope to increasing the already good feeling between the South and the other sections of the country. My chief purpose is not to effect a change in the electoral vote of the Southern States...The consideration of this question can not, however, be complete and full without reference to the negro race, its progress and its present condition...While the 15th amendment has not been generally observed in the past, it ought to be observed." Not wishing to alienate the South, Taft adds that he supports "the right to have statutes of States specifying qualifications for electors subjected to the test of compliance with that is not the disposition or within the province of the Federal Government to interfere with the regulation by southern states of their domestic affairs." The "Negro question" was not "answered" by the federal government until the 1960s with the ratification of the 24th Amendment barring the poll tax and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With original 5.75" x 4.75" postmarked War Department envelope. This remarkable letter written by the future President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is in very fine condition.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
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