November 16, 1907

William A. Rogers


Analogies, Napoleonic Wars; Mayoral Elections; New York State, Government/Politics; Presidential Administration, Theodore Roosevelt; State Elections;

Parsons, Herbert; Roosevelt, Theodore; Burton, Theodore;

Cleveland; Ohio;

No caption.

This cartoon conveys the harsh political realities of the off-year elections in the fall of 1907 for President Theodore Roosevelt and his fellow Republicans, who fared poorly as voters went to the polls in the midst of the economic panic of 1907.  Here, Roosevelt (front) grimaces—his famous toothy smile turned upside down—as he treks through the bitterly cold (political) blizzard like Napoleon retreating in the face of the ruthless Russian winter.  He is followed by Congressman Herbert Parsons, Roosevelt’s close friend and political ally who was chairman of the New York County Republican Party, and by Congressman Theodore Burton of Ohio, the president’s handpicked and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Cleveland. 

Herbert Parsons was born in New York City in 1869.  He studied at private academies in New York City, St. Paul’s School (Concord, New Hampshire), Yale University (class of 1890), the University of Berlin, and Harvard Law School.  After admission to the New York Bar in 1894, he began practicing at the law firm of Strong & Cadwallader in New York City before establishing his own partnership of Parsons, Shepard & Ogden.  In 1899, he was elected as a Republican from the 25th “Silk-Stocking” District to serve on the New York Board of Aldermen, and was reelected two years later.  He served as chairman of the Aldermanic Finance Committee and was a key advisor to Seth Low, the reform mayor (1901-1903).   

In 1904, Parsons was elected to first of three consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1905-1911).  In 1906, President Roosevelt successfully maneuvered to place Parsons as president of the New York County Republican Party over the candidate of “Boss” Thomas Platt.  Parsons worked closely with Roosevelt to carry out the president’s wishes and to ensure him the loyalty of county Republicans.  In 1907, Parsons crafted an odd political alliance between New York Republicans and supporters of maverick publisher William Randolph Hearst, which ended in the electoral failure depicted in the featured cartoon.  In January 1910, Parsons surprised political observers by resigning as county chairman of the New York Republicans, and that November lost his bid for a fourth congressional term in a year that saw the Democrats regain control of the House. 

At the end of his term in March 1911, Parsons resumed his law practice in New York City, but remained active in Republican politics by serving as a delegate to state and national conventions through 1920.  Relations with his party became strained when his support for the League of Nations led him to back the Democratic presidential candidate in 1920, James Cox, over the Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding.  During World War I, Parsons served as a lieutenant colonel on the staff of General John Pershing.  He was a member of several prominent clubs, and active in charity work, serving as the president of the Greenwich Settlement House, the Memorial Cancer Hospital, and the Board of Trustees of Canton Christian College.  He died in 1926 from wounds suffered in a motorcycle accident.

Theodore Elijah Burton was born in 1851 in Jefferson, Ohio, the son of a Presbyterian minister.  After receiving a public school education, he attended Grand River Institute (Ohio) and Grinnell College (Iowa) before graduating from Oberlin College (Ohio) in 1872.  He read law at a firm in Chicago, and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1875, commencing a practice in Cleveland.  In 1886, he was elected as a Republican to the Cleveland City Council, and in 1888 to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Two years later, he lost a race for reelection to Democrat Tom L. Johnson, but returned to Congress in 1894 for the first of eight consecutive terms in the House (1895-1909).  As chairman of the Committee on Rivers and Harbors (1898-1908), he pushed for real improvements to the nation’s ports and waterways, while standing firmly against pork barrel legislation.  Respected on both sides of the aisle for his intelligence, hard work, and fairness, Harper’s Weekly described him (1907) as “the kind of man whom people ask to ‘referee’ things—whether it be a baseball game or a factional fight in the party.”

By 1907, Burton had set his sights on replacing Joseph Foraker in the U.S. Senate, but President Roosevelt convinced him to try to unseat Tom L. Johnson, Burton’s old rival who was then mayor of Cleveland.  Burton lost (as caricatured in this cartoon), and Harper’s Weekly speculated that his political career might be injured, but the Ohio legislature elected him in January 1909 to replace Foraker in the U.S. Senate.  In the Senate, Burton supported the policies of President William Howard Taft, and backed his fellow Ohio Republican against his former “boss,” Theodore Roosevelt, who ran for president on the Progressive ticket in 1912.  Stung by criticisms of his controversial stances in favor of the Payne-Aldrich tariff and neutralization (non-fortification and international access) of the Panama Canal, Burton declined to seek reelection in 1914.

Burton then practiced law and served as a bank president in New York City.  In 1916, Ohio Republicans nominated him as their favorite-son candidate for president (Charles Evans Hughes won the nomination).  In 1920, Burton returned to the U.S. House, where he served until his resignation in December 1928.  He was appointed in 1922 by President Warren Harding (who in 1914 had replaced Burton in the Senate) to the World War Debt Funding Commission.  He delivered the keynote address at the 1924 Republican National Convention, and served as an adviser to Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.  In December 1928, Burton was again elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in October 1929.

Robert C. Kennedy

June 17, 2024

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