“The Most Absurd Political Campaign of Our Time”: Teddy Roosevelt, Alton Parker and the Election of 1904
The candidates who squared off in the presidential election of 1904, Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Democrat Alton Parker, were both native to New York State; beyond that one commonality, they were a study in contrasts. Parker was tall and rangy, but with a tentative demeanor that seemed to apologize for looming over others. Parker resigned his post as the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, to run for the nation’s highest office. True to his calling and by all accounts a thoughtful decision maker on the bench, Parker was quiet and professorial, and an unimpressive speechmaker with a voice like a cracked reed. The barrel-chested, bull-voiced Roosevelt, on the other hand, had been tapped for the vice presidency by William McKinley on the strength of his renown as the Rough Rider who led his troops up San Juan Hill in 1898, as if he had carried the country on his shoulders to victory in the Spanish-American War. The living embodiment of the national will that found its expression in “Manifest Destiny” and the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt was arguably the most physical president America has ever had. Sometimes overcome by pent-up energy, Roosevelt would jump up from his seat in the Oval Office and hike in a straight line for five miles, climbing, jumping, and swimming all barriers natural or manmade he encountered on the way. This exercise exhausted the few staffers and security officers who could keep up with him, but Roosevelt would return refreshed and invigorated.