Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics

Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics

Harry Lembeck

Language: English

Pages: 544

ISBN: 161614954X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In August 1906, black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, were accused of going on a lawless rampage in which shots were fired, one man was killed, and another wounded. Because the perpetrators could never be positively identified, President Theodore Roosevelt took the highly unusual step of discharging without honor all one hundred sixty-seven members of the black battalion on duty the night of the shooting. 

This book investigates the controversial action of an otherwise much-lauded president, the challenge to his decision from a senator of his own party, and the way in which Roosevelt’s uncompromising stance affected African American support of the party of Lincoln.
Using primary sources to reconstruct the events, attorney Harry Lembeck begins at the end when Senator Joseph Foraker is honored by the black community in Washington, DC, for his efforts to reverse Roosevelt’s decision. Lembeck highlights Foraker’s courageous resistance to his own president. In addition, he examines the larger context of racism in the era of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, pointing out that Roosevelt treated discrimination against the Japanese in the West much differently. He also notes often-ignored evidence concerning the role of Roosevelt’s illegitimate cousin in the president’s decision, the possibility that Foraker and Roosevelt had discussed a compromise, and other hitherto overlooked facts about the case.
Sixty-seven years after the event, President Richard Nixon finally undid Roosevelt’s action by honorably discharging the men of the Brownsville Battalion. But, as this thoroughly researched and engrossing narrative shows, the damage done to both Roosevelt’s reputation and black support for the Republican Party lingers to this day.




















head. Was Tillman's vote for his resolution worth it? AS EVERYONE WAITED FOR Roosevelt's next message with its report from the Purdy-Blocksom investigation, Foraker's resolution was held aside as Republicans tried to maintain the presumption of presidential authority, and Democrats came up with tactics to harass them. On January 11 Assistant Attorney General Milton D. Purdy met with President Roosevelt at the White House to go over his and Major Blocksom's investigation. It supported Roosevelt's

on some of the minor points.”36 Just before ending, he said of that part of Special Orders No. 266 debarring the soldiers from future civilian employment with the government, “I am now satisfied [it] was lacking in validity…and I have directed that such portion be revoked.” He ended with reference to his authority: “The order was within my discretion, under the Constitution and the laws, and can not be reviewed or reversed save by another Executive order. The facts do not merely warrant the

Washington Papers, 9:141. 8. Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World (Salem, NH: Ayer, 1998), p. 270. 9. Ibid., p. 205. 10. Ibid., pp. 211–12. 11. Ibid., p. 99. 12. Charles B. Flood, Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year (Boston: Da Capo, 2012), p. 86. 13. “Roosevelt and Taft Said to Have Clashed,” New York Times, November 21, 1906. 14. William Howard Taft, letter to Helen H. Taft, November 21, 1906, cited in The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A

Roosevelt wrote that Crane “has been in touch with Foraker and [Boies] Penrose and…the whole opposition and reactionary crowd” and suggesting Crane was not acting so much as a peacemaker as he was a Foraker advocate. Theodore Roosevelt, letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, April 12, 1907, Henry Cabot Lodge Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. 22. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography, p. 352. 23. Foraker, Notes of a Busy Life, 2:383. 24. See William Howard Taft, letter to C. P. Snow,

Born” with a stanza from the poem “Itylus” by Algernon Charles Swinburne: O sister, sister, thy first-begotten The hands that cling and the feet that follow, The voice of the child's blood crying yet, Who hath remembered me? who hath forgotten? Thou hast forgotten, O summer swallow, But the world shall end when I forget.30 For Du Bois, there were many things he could not forget. His son, Burghardt. And injustice. WHEN MINGO SANDERS MET Mary Church Terrell in Washington, he had come to the

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