Hughes and the Adirondacks — “Somewhere in the woods of northern New York.”
“The present aloofness from politics” of Charles Evans Hughes leading up to the 1916 Republican National Convention, at which Hughes would be nominated for President without his consent, was reminiscent of four years earlier, when Hughes was “somewhere in the woods of northern New York” during the 1912 convention, The Barre Times of Vermont reported on June 8, 1916.
More precisely, Hughes, a Supreme Court justice and former New York governor, was vacationing at Camp Abenaki in Lake Placid.
“Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who through the excitement of the past week over the convention at Chicago, has seemed to be the least concerned of any of campers, despite the connection of his name with the nomination, is now comfortably settled wit his family at Camp Abenaki on the west side of Lake Placid and is devoting his time to fishing, boating and long walks,” The New York Times reported on June 23, 1912.
Others vacationing in Lake Placid near Hughes that summer included Victor Herbert, who was working on several new productions at his Camp Joyland; the Rev. Stephen S. Wise, a New York City rabbi and “close and personal friend” of Hughes; Mrs. Lina Abarbanell, noted light opera singer; and G.B. Pegram, a professor at Columbia University.
The Adirondack High Peaks was familiar territory to Hughes, who had vacationed and hiked there on various occasions, including two years when he used Lady Tree lodge at Saranac Inn as the summer governor’s residence.
There had been speculation for months in 1912 that Hughes might run for President, but Hughes distanced himself from the chatter.
“Justice Charles Evans Hughes of the United States Supreme Court is the ultimate choice of a great many Republicans in central New York for the Presidential nomination, as shown by a postcard poll made by a Cayuga County newspaper,” The Evening Post of New York City reported on March 12, 1912.
“The only conclusion to draw from the Ohio primaries is that wise politics demands the selection by the National Convention at Chicago of Charles Evans Hughes if he can be persuaded to take the nomination,” the Poughkeepsie Eagle editorialized on May 24, 1912.
Incumbent President William Howard Taft had received just 39.5 percent of the vote in his home state primary. Theodore Roosevelt received 55.3 percent, and Robert La Follette 5.2 percent in the Ohio primary.
“He (Hughes) is a real progressive, and he is also a first class fighting man in a campaign. Surely the people of Ohio have not forgotten the speech he made at Youngstown (campaigning for Taft) four years ago — the most effective speech of the campaign. Another one of that kind would give the Republican party irresistible enthusiasm in the struggle with the Democrats this fall,” the Poughkeepsie Eagle editorial continued.
“There is a possibility that Charles Evans Hughes, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and former governor of New York, may be nominated at the Republican National Convention to be held at Chicago this month,” The Evening Enterprise of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. reported May 29, 1912.
As the June 18 opening of the convention approached, there was doubt Hughes would be the nominee.
“Of course now and then a thought was given to the possibility that the ‘dark horse,’ Justice Charles Evans Hughes, might loom up suddenly as a compromise candidate for party unity,” the Western Kansas World of Wakeeney, Kansas, reported on June 15, 1912. “But the fact remained that the jurist declared himself before the campaign really started that he was not a candidate for the nomination eliminated him from serious consideration of the great bulk of the people.”
Still, some GOP insiders held out hope Hughes could be persuaded to run.
“He (Hughes) was, nevertheless, within reach of a telegraph (in 1912) , and it is reliably stated that a certain Republican statesman, a personal friend of Mr. Hughes and a leader of the party, more than once during the convention week wired the justice urging upon him the nomination,” The Barre Times reported four years later.
Perhaps because of that insistence, midway through the convention, Hughes made it clear, through Rabbi Wise, that he would not accept the nomination under any circumstances.
Wise, on June 21, issued a lengthy statement, from himself, to the Associated Press outlining reasons Hughes would not run for President. Wise said the statement, while not directly from Hughes, was based on an interview he conducted with Hughes at Camp Abenaki.
Four years later, it would be a different story. Hughes accepted the Republican nomination in 1916 and narrowly lost to incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Newspaper reports referenced in this post can be found at the Chronicling America historic newspapers data base of the Library of Congress or at the New York State Historic Newspaper 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.