Early Invitations and Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Visit to Champaign and Urbana

During much of his political career, Theodore Roosevelt was an in demand speaker and after multiple invitations he came to central Illinois too. In fact, Illinois students played an early role in the efforts to bring the leading American statesman to town. Read on to learn more!

Republican Club Students Invite Governor Roosevelt (1899)

The first invitation to campus was at least as early as October 1899, when the reorganized Republican Club announced a plan to get Governor of New York Theodore Roosevelt to come to town. Not much more documentation is available; but while the governor would not visit at that time, there would be future efforts to get him to come for a visit.

The First Presidential Term (1901-1903)

Not long later, during the Roosevelt presidency, multiple student oratorical organizations would debate the impact of the president’s policies. In 1901, the Philomathean Society (Record Series 41/75/23) discussed the invitation of Booker T. Washington to the White House. In October and November 1902, the Adelphic Society (Record Series 41/75/1) debated the use of tariffs and the appointment of a tariff commission.

Just three years later, President Roosevelt had appointed a number of alumni and faculty to positions. In January of 1902, College of Engineering Dean N. Clifford Ricker (B.S., 1872; M.Arch, 1878; D.Arch, 1900) (Record Series 12/2/22) was appointed a member of a committee to certify the weight and fineness of government coins at the U.S. mint. Around the same time, Swedish Illini John A. Ockerson, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1878), was appointed chief of the liberal arts division of the 1903 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition at St. Louis. In 1904, future College of Engineering Dean William Freeman Myrick Goss was appointed to the Fuels and Structural Materials Advisory Board of the Geological Survey. Also around the same time, during the 1904 presidential election campaign, in April of 1903, there was even a local rumor that alumni John Farson (1872-1877), of Oak Park, might have been nominated as a vice presidential candidate. Later that month, a different rumor suggested that the University regiment would travel to Decatur to perform at a reception for the president.

The Second Presidential Term (1904-1908)

For the next few years, student oratorical organizations would continue to debate contemporary policy issues. In May of 1903, the Adelphic Society debated racial integration in the American South. In May of 1904, at the eighth interscholastic oratorical contest, one student, George S. Marks, of Elmhurst, delivered a speech endorsing President Roosevelt to run for a second term of office. In October of 1904, the Philomathean Society debated Mr. Roosevelt’s presidency while the Illiola Society (Record Series 41/75/15) member Anice Nichol delivered a speech titled “The Many-Sided Roosevelt”. In the spring, a March 1905 Adelphic talk “Senate vs. Roosevelt” was delivered by a Mr. Marsh. In April, the Adelphic Society debated the fitness of prospective vice presidental candidates. While in December of 1905, Philomathean Society members gave extemporaneous three-minute speeches on Roosevelt’s policies.

The University Invites President Roosevelt (1905)

The second invitation came in 1905, when President Roosevelt was invited to attend the inauguration of University president Edmund Janes James. While Mr. Roosevelt could not attend, he did write a letter of appreciation of both University President James and the University too (as seen above). Meanwhile, more oratorical debates would occur. In October of 1905, Adelphic Society members listened to R.R. Helm’s “Roosevelt in 1908” and C.J. Moynhian’s “Roosevelt’s Efforts to Reform Football”. While during the following fall, at least one Daily Illini cartoon compared recent campus reforms with Roosevelt Administration led reforms (as seen below).

During the second term of Roosevelt presidency, multiple cabinet members would visit campus while multiple alumni would enter careers in federal government. In 1905, former Secretary of Commerce and Labor and recently appointed Postmaster General George B. Cortelyou gave the University commencement address. In April of 1906, Secretary of the Treasury Leslie M. Shaw gave an invited lecture too. The following month, in May, inspired by President Roosevelt’s recent “muck raking”, Dean David Kinley gave the final Literature and Arts Assembly lecture on the obligations of educated people towards the government. He closed his remarks stating that “[s]uccess is measured by the amount of services rendered to society, and the man who sees something that is wrong and does not protest is failing to perform his full duty toward society.” The following year, in October of 1906, Secretary of War (and future president himself) William Howard Taft gave a talk at the local Walker Opera House too. The following spring, in April of 1907, former Illinois football coach (1903) George W. Woodruff was appointed assistant attorney general, The Daily Illini reported. That summer, in 1907, Education Professor Edwin G. Dexter was appointed Commissioner of Education in Puerto Rico. [1] In September, alumni Archibald B. Dorman, (A.B. 1904), of Taylorville, had been appointed to the consular service. In October, Comfort S. Butler, (A.B. 1909), of Cairo, L.H. Hill, and Archibald M. McGinnis Jr., (Electrical Engineering, 1907-1910), of Effingham, as members of the National Guard, served as part of a guard for President Roosevelt, which traveled down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois. That same month, the Ionian Society would debate if the President should run for a third term of office. In December, promoters for the Illinois-Wisconsin and Illinois-Iowa debates announced their intention to get the President and William Jennings Bryan to attend their upcoming debates. By December 10, it was announced that promoters were corresponding with Roosevelt and Bryan. The front page of the December 11 Daily Illini announced that Bryan was committed to speak while Roosevelt would attend. That evening, at the debates, it was revealed that both men were represented by local student impersonators.

Post Presidency and Roosevelt in Africa (1910)

During and after the final years of his presidency, local community members would continue to talk about Mr. Roosevelt and his leadership. In April of 1908, a new rumor had circulated of Roosevelt visit to campus. In December 1908, the international organization Cosmopolitan Club (Record Series 41/64/8) petitioned the Roosevelt Administration to intervene in the extradition of Lettish (of today’s Latvia) refugee Christian Rudowitz (December 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, and January 7). In October of 1909, as part of the Star Course Lecture series, it was announced that journalist Jacob Riis would give a campus talk at the end of the year. In November, an Ionian Society talk reviewed former president Roosevelt’s Smithsonian Expedition to East Africa and another talk supposed what his role in U.S. society would become after his trip. In December 1909, an off campus talk at the Unitarian Church debated Tolstoy and Roosevelt’s legacies as leaders. Also that month, Geology Professor Rufus M. Bagg would publish an article about the Roosevelt Deep Drainage Tunnel in Colorado. In February 1910, Ionian members would debate Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt’s abilities to meet “the political exigencies of a political crisis”. From mid-April through early May, the Walker Opera house screened British naturalist Cherry Kearton‘s documentary about the Smithsonian–Roosevelt African Expedition. Also in May, the 1910 Interscholastic Circus parade included performers reenacting scenes from the documentary.

The 1912 Election Campaign

By at least 1911, public interest in Colonel Roosevelt running for a third term of office included local students. In March 1910, Ionian members first debated if Mr. Roosevelt should run again. In September, the Adelphic Society would raise the same debate. In January of 1912, during a political science class straw vote, students narrowly chose Woodrow Wilson over Theodore Roosevelt as their favored presidential candidate. In February, for a Lincoln League organized straw vote, Mr. Roosevelt won the vote. In March, another Ionian Society debate affirmed his run for a third term. A March University Club vote put Wilson in the lead again. By early April, an announcement was made the Colonel Roosevelt would stop in Champaign as part of his election campaign during the afternoon of Monday, April 9. And indeed he arrived, one day earlier than planned.

On April 8, 1912, presidential candidate Roosevelt arrived in Champaign on a northbound train from Mattoon. For forty minutes at West Side Park, to a crowd of over 3000 people, Roosevelt advanced his key policy issues. First, that political change must come from the public rather than the government and that ideal public servants were honest, courageous, and had common sense. Second, that in order for the country to be a better place for our grandchildren that all Americans must be given a fair chance. Such a policy would include new laws or regulation of corporations to reduce “swindling” of the people, labor regulation to prevent child labor and women working longer than necessary, and government officials who truly represent the people. After his speech, Mr. Roosevelt was driven along Main Street to Urbana where he thanked the people for his reception before boarding his next train.

While the election campaign competition continued, Mr. Roosevelt would continue to tour the nation and he had planned to return to town again. Meanwhile on campus, students would continue to debate policy issues and the fitness of the current candidates. In late April, the Adelphic Society debated the candidates. In the 1912 Interscholastic Circus, student performers would impersonate both Roosevelt and Taft. As early as September, the Bull Moose Club of Champaign was seeking student members. One week later, the Adelphic Society debated Roosevelt’s creation of the Bull Moose party. A recent Philomathean Society straw vote had Wilson ahead of Roosevelt again. In early October, it was announced that Mr. Roosevelt would return to Champaign for two hours on a Wednesday afternoon, with plans to speak at West Side Park.

One day before he was due to return to Champaign, Mr. Roosevelt was shot during his speech in Milwaukee. Early rumors that the Champaign talk would be cancelled were refuted as late as Tuesday morning. By 4:30 pm, after receiving treatment at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, the severity of the bullet wound cast doubt on the visit. By Wednesday morning, all speeches were cancelled. The following day, at the first campus convocation of the fall semester, Dean David Kinley moved that resolution of sympathy and good wishes were sent to Roosevelt, “irrespective of differences in political opinions”. Locally, beginning on Mr. Roosevelt’s birthday on October 27, it was announced that the Bull Mouse Club would celebrate their “Founder’s Day” every four years on the date. For the inaugural Bull Mouse Founder’s Day, at locations throughout town, red bandanas, certificates, and badges were sold to raise funds for the party.

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[1] Edwin G. Dexter to Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, July 6, 1907, page 158, Record Series 1/1/802.

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