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Elihu Root Correspondence

An inventory of his correspondence at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Mar 1989

Biographical History

Elihu Root (1845-1937) was an American lawyer and politician who served as Secretary of War under President William McKinley and Secretary of State under President Theodore Roosevelt, and was elected to the United States Senate in 1909.

1845 Born in Clinton, New York on February 15th
1864 Graduated from Hamilton College
1867 Graduated from the Law School of New York University
1883-1885 United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
1894 Delegate to the State Constitutional Convention
1899-1904 U.S. Secretary of War
1905-1909 U.S. Secretary of State
1909-1915 United States Senator
1912 Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
1917 Ambassador Extraordinary to Russia
1937 Died in New York City on February 7th

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Elihu Root Correspondence is a collection of 127 predominantly incoming items written between 1874 and 1935 by a lawyer who served as U.S. Secretary of War under President McKinley, U.S. Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, and later as United States Senator from New York. Whether serving at the national or state level, Root maintained his involvement with Republican Party politics, and many of the letters in the collection (Henry J. Cookinham, Samuel G. French, Samuel Koenig, Richard A. McCurdy, Timothy L. Woodruff) reflect Root's concern with the party's role in restoring the confidence of voters in the wake of the widespread abuse of public trust by Tammany Hall. Urging Richard A. McCurdy to join the Republican Club, Root writes (11 Mar 1895):

...when occasion arises for the effective assertion of distinctive Republican sentiment your voice could be heard through its agency no matter how many corrupt County Committee men are bought out or how completely the regular organization fails to represent the party.

A few years later, responding to several telegrams warning that "the insistence upon a State Republican ticket in King's County was blocking the chance of anti-Tammany fusion," Root addressed New York State Lieutenant-Governor Timothy L. Woodruff (23 Sep 1909):

... the Republican Party of the State as a whole will be very severely punished by a great mass of voters who will be disaffected and disgusted if there is not a fusion. Whether rightly or wrongly, they will charge the failure to us and we shall have to suffer for it.

Stressing the importance of party unity in defeating the powerful and corrupt stranglehold of the Tammany machine, Root cautions Samuel Koenig (21 Oct 1913):

I hope all Republicans in the City will vote for Mr. [John Purroy] Mitchell [sic] & the Anti-Tammany ticket which he heads. That is the Republican ticket & it represents the principles for which we have been fighting in the City for many years.
Unless your professions have been false pretences we must support that ticket now even though we might have preferred another candidate. That is the only way now to decrease the power of Tammany Hall. Surely all the Republicans must wish to do that when they consider the shameful and humiliating record in the government of our State which has resulted from the executive and legislative control of Tammany at Albany.

Concerning his own ambitions for national public office, Root outlined his thoughts about the Vice-Presidency for Henry J. Cookinham (15 Dec 1899):

It is of course gratifying to have the commendation which is involved in being seriously talked about for the nomination, and it is especially gratifying to have such feeling in the county where I was born and where my family have lived since its settlement. I have, however, no such desire for the office as to lead me to be a candidate for it, and I do not intend to be. My real desire is to get the work done which I am engaged upon, and get back to the bar. If I am ever called upon to consider the question of the Vice-Presidency, it will be because somebody else wants it, not because I do.
As my observation indicates that such great offices do not go around hunting people out, I do not regard the matter as practicable.

In addition, there are also a number of letters in response to suggestions that Root consider approval of various pieces of legislation, including the Telepost Bill and an amendment to a corporation tax bill (H.H. Platt). Also, there is a series of letters to Timothy L. Woodruff written between 1900 and 1901 concerning a bill to cede jurisdiction to the federal government of the land under water south of Governor's Island (28 Dec 1900):

The benefits to the entire City of New York will be very great, and the benefits to Brooklyn will be especially so. The improvement contemplated will enable us to make permanent arrangements for transacting business at that point, to maintain a more respectable garrison and to provide for interior defense by establishing batteries of rapid fire guns - a matter of very great importance because as the defenses of the Harbor are now arranged, if a fast little boat were to get up through the Narrows with rapid fire guns, she would have the City of New York at her mercy.

Becoming impatient with the measure which Root believed would "go through [the State legislature] as a matter of course," the then U.S. Secretary of War threatened (04 Feb 1901):

Of course if the people of New York don't want the improvement made, the people of the rest of the country will not experience any sorrow. They are all pressing for the expenditure of Government money in their own localities, and for the erection and enlargement of army posts and fortifications in the neighborhood of their own cities.

Similarly, in a letter to then Comptroller of the Currency, John J. Knox, Root communicates his alarm concerning a plan by the federal government to tax bank deposits (29 Jul 1881):

The Commissioner of Internal Revenue has just started upon a raid on the State banks here which if persisted in must it seems to me very seriously affect your wards, the National Banks. He proposes to levy the tax upon deposits, upon the gross deposits before the daily exchanges & to enforce the tax upon the difference between the net and gross deposits for the past sixteen years ... I hope that the project will be abandoned. If it is not there will be a monkey & parrot time here. Depositors do not look at claims of such magnitude against their banks with serenity.

In addition, the collection also contains a number of responses to recommendations for various appointments (Cephas Brainerd, H. B. Brown, Ashley W. Cole, Jacob H. Gallinger, Edward W. Hatch, Samuel Koenig, Robert C. Morris, William C. Osborn) as well as recommendations by Root to New York State Governors Benjamin B. Odell and Frank W. Higgins concerning appointments to the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, First Department.

Also, there are several speaking and/or dinner invitations (Otto T. Bannard, William Barbour, Robert E. Ely, Oscar F. Fellows, Chester S. Lord, Isabel Lord, George McAneny, Thomas J. Watson) as well as a number of responses to invitations to appear at ceremonial functions. Asked to attend the Hooker Memorial Exercises in Boston by Lieutenant- Governor of Massachusetts Curtis Guild, Root declines (11 May 1903):

My son is graduated from college on that day, and if I were to be absent the results in my family would be worse than anything that has ever happened in the Philippines. Moreover, personally and confidentially, I am tired and sick of making speeches, and am unhappy over four or five which are piled up before me already.

There are also some responses to the receipt of reading material which was sent to Root (William E. Curtis, Julius Chambers, Willis F. Johnson), and a number of personal letters to Charles H. Butler, John P. Clarke, and A. P. Saunders and his family.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection contains one series, Correspondence, which is arranged chronologically. A Selected Index of Correspondence is located at the end of the finding aid.


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Subject Headings


Brainerd, Cephas, 1831-1910.
Brown, Henry Billings, 1836-1913.
Butler, Charles Henry, 1859-1940.
Chambers, Julius, 1850-1920.
Cookinham, Henry J., 1843-
Curtis, William Eleroy, 1850-1911.
Elliott, Charles B. (Charles Burke), 1861-1935.
Ely, Robert Erskine, 1861-
Finley, John H. (John Huston), 1863-1940.
Fishel, Henry W.
Gallinger, Jacob Harold, 1837-1918.
Hickok, Paul Robinson, 1877-1945.
Higgins, Frank Wayland, 1856-1907.
Johnson, Willis Fletcher, 1857-1931.
Joline, Adrian H. (Adrian Hoffman), 1850-1912.
Knox, John Jay, 1828-1892.
Koenig, Samuel S., 1872-1955.
Lord, Chester Sanders, 1850-1933.
Lord, Isabel Ely, 1871-
McAdoo, W. G. (William Gibbs), 1863-1941.
McCurdy, Richard A. (Richard Aldrich), 1835-1916.
McMahon, Martin Thomas, 1838-1906.
Miller, Charles Ransom, 1849-1922.
Odell, Benjamin B. (Benjamin Barker), 1854-1926.
Osborn, William Church, 1862-
Robb, Ellis D.
Root, Elihu, 1845-1937.
Saunders, Arthur Percy, 1869-

Corporate Bodies

Republican Party (N.Y.)
Republican Party (U. S. : 1854- )
Tammany Hall.


Legislators -- United States.
Political parties -- New York (State) -- History -- Sources.
Politicians -- United States.


New York (State) -- History -- 1865-
New York (State) -- Officials and employees -- Selection and appointment.
New York (State) -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.

Genres and Forms




Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Elihu Root Correspondence
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents


Selected index to correspondence


Selected index to correspondence