ROOSEVELT, Theodore (1858-1919), President. Typed letter signed ("Theodore Roosevelt") as President, to James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture, with six autograph corrections or additions, Oyster Bay, N.Y., 11 September 1906. 2 pages, 4to, on White House stationery.
"IT IS BAD BUSINESS TO SOLIDIFY LABOR AGAINST US." A matter-of-fact letter concerning the reality of the political situation and Roosevelt's views on labor, written during his second term as president. Addressed to James Wilson, the Secretary of Agriculture, Roosevelt expresses concern over the upcoming Congressional elections. He notes the unfavorable political climate in six states: Maine, where prohibition "caused us a mighty unpleasant time in getting our four Congressmen"; Illinois, where it might be the "sagging back" after the election victory of 1904; Pennsylvania, where the obstacle would be Penrose, the political boss of Philadelphia; New York, where the obstacles were Platt and Odell; Ohio and Iowa.
Roosevelt also addresses political battles in Congress over labor issues: "...I do not think that Congress was quite wise in their treatment of the labor people. After Gompers issued his circular attacking the Congressmen it was too late to do anything but make a resolute fight," but then recommends a cautious balanced approach, "It is bad business to solidify labor against us. I need hardly tell you that I believe in refusing any unjust demand of labor just as quickly as I would refuse any unjust demand of capital; but great care should be taken when assuming a position antagonistic to labor on one point to make it clear as a bell that we are not as a whole antagonistic, but friendly, to labor."
Theodore Roosevelt, elected in the midst of a expanding Progressive movement which called for social reform, was the first president to throw some of the power of the White House behind the cause of organized labor. One of Roosevelt's biographers notes: "some of Roosevelt's most significant accomplishments were in labor relations. He conferred with union officials more than any of his predecessors and supported bills to create an eight-hour-day law for state employess, increase the number of factory inspectors, and establish more stringent regulation of working conditions in the tenements where clothing and cigars were made" (Miller, Theodore Roosevelt: A Life, p. 330).