News of the re-nomination of Charles Evans Hughes at Saratoga Springs on Sept. 15, 1908 for a second term as New York governor spread far and wide, an indication of the national prominence of Hughes.
“The action of the New York Republican convention in re-nominating Governor Charles Evans Hughes will meet with the approval of every lover of good, clean government who has watched the struggle of the fearless executive against the combined forces of race-track gambling and corporate greed, and Governor Hughes deserves the congratulation of clean men of every state, irrespective of politics,” The Evening Statesman of Wala Wala, Wash. editorialized on Sept. 16, 1908.
At the Utah state Republican Convention, meeting at Salt Lake City, delegates “cheered loudly for some time” when an Associated Press bulletin announcing Hughes’ re-nomination was read to the convention.
“A resolution was offered instructing the chairman to telegraph the congratulations of the convention to Governor Hughes. It was carried with a ‘whoop,’” the Iowa County Democrat, a Wisconsin newspaper, reported about the congratulations from Utah.
Hughes, a Glens Falls native, had started out 1908 with huge popularity.
In January 1908, The Hughes Alliance formed to support Hughes as a presidential candidate, and Hughes indicated that he was willing to run.
Hughes fell out of favor with some New York Republicans, including state GOP Chairman Timothy Woodruff, when Hughes pushed through legislation to enforce a state Constitution prohibition on gambling at horse racing tracks, causing tracks around the state to close.
Hughes at one point said he would not run for re-election as governor, but in late July he issued a statement from Lady Tree Lodge at the Saranac Inn in the Adirondacks, where Hughes and his family were spending the summer, that he had reconsidered and would run if re-nominated..
“Some time ago I said privately that I did not desire a re-nomination and that I felt that I could not undertake to serve a second term. This, however, was for reasons entirely personal,” Hughes said, according to an Aug. 1, 1908 report in the Mechanicville Saturday Mercury. “Upon further reflection I am convinced that I have no right to regard those reasons as controlling and that if re-nominated I will accept.”
Newspaper editors rejoiced.
“Gov. Hughe has announced his willingness to accept the nomination for governor, to the great pleasure of a great host of people throughout the state who believe in political righteousness and are willing to work for it,” The Madrid Herald of St. Lawrence County editorialized. on July 30, 1908.
“Mr. Hughes has made the best Governor New York has ever had. He has lifted that office to a high level of influence and made it respected in the state and outside the state,” editorialized the Boston Post of Massachusetts.
“Gov. Hughes announcement that he ‘is willing’ has broken up the vacations of about half the leaders in the state,” quipped the Atlanta Journal of Georgia.
Anti-gambling groups rallied behind Hughes.
The Citizens’ Anti-Race Track Gambling Committee asked pastors of every church in the state to read from the pulpit an “urgent plea” of support for Hughes re-nomination, The Madrid Herald reported on Aug. 13, 1908.
The Columbia County Law and Order League launched a letter-writing campaign urging state Republican Committee members to re-nominate Hughes, “a man of the strictest integrity, who will successfully and fearlessly execute the people’s sovereign rights,” The Columbia Republican reported on Aug. 18, 1908.
In the end, President Theodore Roosevelt, from behind the scenes, strong-armed the state Republican Committee to re-nominate Hughes.
Direct primaries, a reform Hughes championed, had not yet become law in New York.
“A prominent party leader called up the Executive office the morning of the nomination and inquired who would be the President’s choice in case it was impossible to nominate Hughes,” the Lake George Mirror reported on Sept. 18, 1908. “He was told that it was Hughes first and last and that there was no second choice and also that it might be well to get on board the band wagon while the climbing was good.”
Roosevelt was not necessarily a fan of Hughes, but he recognized the governor’s popularity with voters.
Hughes biographer Betty Glad wrote that Roosevelt told William Howard Taft: “Hughes is not a man I care for; he is not a man whose actions have really tended to the uplifting of political life; but he is financially an entirely honest man and one of much ability.”
Hughes received 827 out of 1,009 votes to win re-nomination on the first ballot.
“The opposition to the re-nomination of Governor Hughes reached its last ditch apparently in the small hours of the morning,” the Bismarck Daily Tribune of North Dakota reported on Sept. 16, 1908. “The name of Dr. David Jayne Hill, ambassador of the United States to Germany, was that about which the anti-Hughes ‘allies’ made their last attempt of stand. It took the subject of gossip from 3 until 9 a.m. and then vanished.”
Other than Hughes, Assembly Speaker James W. Wadsworth received 151 votes, and John K. Stewart received 31 votes.
Even Saratoga County delegates were convinced to vote for Hughes.
“The convention went fairly wild with the first real speech of the roll call when Saratoga announced, ‘Eleven for Charles Evans Hughes,’ because Saratoga is the home of racing,” the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia reported.
Newspaper reports referenced in this post can be found at the Chronicling America Library historic newspaper database of the Library of Congress or the New York Sate Historic Newspapers website, a project of public libraries.
Maury Thompson is a freelance historian of politics, labor organizing and media in New York’s North Country. He lives in Glens Falls, N.Y., the birthplace of Charles Evans Hughes.