ROOSEVELT, Theodore. Typed letter signed ("Theodore Roosevelt") to Capt. John G. Bourke, with seven word interlinear addition, Washington, D.C., 9 February 1893. 1 1/3 pages, 4to (10 7/16 x 8 in.), on rectos only, Civil Service Commission stationery, small stain at upper left corner of both pages, otherwise in fine condition.
"I HATE TO BRING IN ANY QUESTION OF RACE ORIGIN INTO OUR POLITICS, AND I WANT TO SEE US ALL ACT SIMPLY AND PURELY AS AMERICANS"
As Commissioner of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, Roosevelt writes a forceful revealing letter to Bourke, a captain and ethnologist at the War Department, addressing his political approach to race, religion and cultural heritage. Roosevelt counsels Bourke to avoid racial commentary: "... I hate to bring in any question of race origin into our politics, and I want to see us all act simply and purely as Americans; in other words, my dear sir, act precisely as you have always acted. To me it is equally abhorrent to object to a man because he is of a certain race origin, or to bid for the voters of that race by a plank put in specially for them as such, and not as American citizens. I can no more understand, for instance, voting against a man because he is a Catholic by conviction, and Irishman by descent, than I can understand putting in an American political platform an Irish home-rule plank, with which we have nothing at all to do. I know you sympathize with me in both these respects..."
Roosevelt had struggled against machine politics since his early days as a New York State Assemblyman. Sponsoring Gov. Cleveland, he supported the Civil Service Reform Act. In 1889, President Harrison appointed Roosevelt Commissioner of the U.S. Civil Service Commission and he was promptly reappointed by Cleveland when he won his second term in the White House. In this post, Roosevelt was a strict enforcer of civil service laws. Roosevelt's views on race were more progressive than a significant portion of his contemporaries. However he was wary of how that might affect his political career: "Roosevelt's personal attitude toward blacks was contradictory, a result of the constant war between his social consciousness...and his politician's sense of the immensity of the problem and poor prospects for success" (Miller, Theodore Roosevelt, a Life, p. 363).
Provenance: Paul C. Richards Autographs, 1983.