Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 11, 1852:

Charles Fairbanks' Birthday

The 26th Vice President of the United States, Charles Warren Fairbanks, has a distinction he shares with only one other vice president (Adlai Stevenson), namely that, after serving one term, he was later renominated for the post -- but lost. Fairbanks was Theodore Roosevelt's vice president, in office from 1905 to 1909, and in 1916 was on the Republican ticket with Charles Evans Hughes.

That election was exceptionally close, but Hughes-Fairbanks lost, thus depriving the nation of a president and vice president with the same first name (that has happened only once, when John C. Calhoun was John Quincy Adam's vice president). Had Fairbanks won, he would presumably have died in office, since he did in fact die in 1918.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Senator Fairbanks of Indiana had his eye on the presidency, and had a powerful patron in his friend William McKinley, but the president's untimely death and the rise of Theodore Roosevelt detoured Fairbanks into the vice presidency: "In the summer of 1904 Senator Charles Warren Fairbanks wanted to be president of the United States," wrote Mark O. Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office, in Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993 (1997). "Many in 1900 had seen him as the natural successor to his good friend President William McKinley. Now, however, it was not the fallen McKinley who occupied the White House, but Theodore Roosevelt, and the president appeared on his way to easy renomination at the 1904 Republican convention. When members of the Republican Old Guard suggested Fairbanks for vice president, the senator saw an opportunity for advancement... The vice-presidency might prove a good place from which to maneuver for the 1908 convention, and anything could happen with the impetuous Roosevelt in the White House. As... Mr. Dooley speculated, 'Th' way they got Sinitor Fairbanks to accipt was by showin' him a pitcher iv our gr-reat an' noble prisidint thryin to jump a horse over a six-foot fence.'

But TR survived his term and, unfortunately for Fairbanks, didn't want him to occupy the White House. "Roosevelt could hardly conceal his scorn for Fairbanks," Hatfield continued. "The president liked to tell amusing stories about his uninspiring vice president and would often discuss his preferred successors in Fairbanks' presence without mentioning the gentleman from Indiana. When Fairbanks and New York Gov. Charles Evans Hughes both showed some strength as possible nominees in the summer of 1908, Roosevelt seemed stunned. As he exclaimed to a Hughes supporter before the convention, 'Do you know whom we have most trouble in beating? Not Hughes—but Fairbanks! Think of it—Charley Fairbanks! I was never more surprised in my life. I never dreamt of such a thing. He's got a hold in Kentucky, Indiana, and some other states that is hard to break. How and why is beyond me.' This strength, though, was illusory compared to the influence wielded by Roosevelt on behalf of Taft. After gaining the nomination, Taft went on to win an easy victory over William Jennings Bryan in November."

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