ROOSEVELT, Theodore (1858-1919). President. Autograph letter signed ("Theodore Roosevelt") to James S. Lehmaier, [Albany, ca. 1882]. 3¾ pages, folio (7 11/16 x 12 in.), on rectos only, ruled paper, some light browning, few marginal chips and repaired tears, tiny losses at folds of final leaf slightly affecting signature.
THE YOUNG ASSEMBLYMAN GIVES A BLUEPRINT FOR GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: "WITHOUT A GOOD ORGANIZATION WE CAN DO NO WORK"
A quite exceptional letter almost certainly written during the period in which Roosevelt served as a New York State Assemblyman. Elected as a Republican in 1881 at 23 years of age, Roosevelt became the youngest member of the assembly when he took his seat in Albany in January 1882. Here, Roosevelt writes a detailed letter outlining his thoughts concerning circulars, voter registration and election districts to James S. Lehmaier, President of the Young Men's Republican Association of New York City: "I called in person so as to be able to talk over the proposed circulars. My idea is to send them out as soon as possible. The circular should be legible and brief, yet fully express the reasons we have for issuing them. That is they ought to say that all men are most earnestly invited to join; without distinction of party, as no pledges or promises are even implied by their attendance, that the object is to get all the young men to take and intelligent and active interest in politics, especially local politics; that to do this we will meet from time to time to discuss various measures affecting the city or state (not such general subjects as we discussed last year), and to organize so as to enable us to carry on efficient work when election day comes on by dividing up our district into sections, of each of which two or three men will have charge. These men will then go round and by circulars or, better still, by personal calls, see that the various voters are registered and that they are duly informed of the characters of the candidates and the reasons why they should or should not be supported; and each election district will have two or three of our men appointed [to it], who shall stay there and see that men vote rightly (not wander about the city talking, but working in a practical and organized way). Last year our great mistake was in making it a debating club, which is of no earthly use; and we ought to have been so organized as to be able to place two or three good men in each election district, to superintend circulars and ballots, get the voters to register and vote, (by personal appeal, if necessary) and themselves to overlook the work at the polls. We must make the club a live and practical one; and that can only be done by attending mainly to local and municipal issues, which come home at once to every man's interest. Without a good organization we can do no work...Our entire hope of success lies in dividing the labour, and making two or more men responsible for each small district, general talk amounts to nothing. When the men assemble, we will have the districts already mapped out...and make each man at once begin to get a knowledge of the voters of his district, if they are mostly democratic or republican, which of them he is acquainted with, how to influence them &c &c."
Roosevelt was a popular New York State Assemblyman, being reelected in 1882 and 1883. His youth and boundless energy, and his willingness to take on the political machine, earned him the nickname Cyclone Assemblyman. In 1886, Roosevelt was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Mayor of New York City. His suggestion for the creation of an "election district" was later implemented by the New York legislature. Today, each New York State Assembly District is divided into election districts.