The History of Joliet – Chapter 28

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“Each man lifts his head higher when the nation does its duty.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

On a chilly Monday morning in October 1900, a large crowd started gathering in front of the courthouse in Joliet by 7:30 a.m. A train arrived less than an hour later and hundreds of people greeted it.

They all knew the famous face of Theodore ROOSEVELT, better known as just Teddy.

Teddy was a national hero. Two years earlier, he had led the Rough Riders up Kettle and San Juan Hills in Cuba during the Spanish American War. His victory had been celebrated as one of the highlights of that war.

And the San Juan Hill charge had placed him on the national election ballot as the Republican candidate for vice president. He was the running mate with President William MCKINLEY, who was going for a second term.

Joliet’s steel baron, Col. John LAMBERT, and other city leaders escorted ROOSEVELT to the courthouse square, where a special stage had been constructed. More than 5,000 were within the sound of his voice, the Joliet Daily Republican reported.

Hat in hand and wearing his famous smile as the chilly wind blew, ROOSEVELT bowed to the crowd, which was wild with cheers.

“I ask you to look not at words but at deeds,” the candidate said. “The worth of a promise whether made on a stump or off the stump comes in that promise being kept.”

ROOSEVELT talked about problems in the Philippines and problems in the south, where blacks weren’t being allowed to vote. He talked about the big trusts that had created monopolies in the nation.

“The first thing in dealing with an evil is to give the authorities the power to deal with it,” he said. “You cannot trust men who do not show by their actions an honest intention to meet a problem on its merits.”

Applause and cheers broke up the speech several times.

“Each man lifts his head higher when the nation does its duty,” ROOSEVELT said. “Each man hangs his head if the nation meets disgrace.”

At the conclusion, Col. LAMBERT proposed three cheers for Teddy ROOSEVELT. The crowd responded with enthusiasm.

But that enthusiasm was lost the following evening when William Jennings BRYAN spoke in the courthouse square. BRYAN and his running mate, Adlai STEVENSON, were the Democratic candidates opposing MCKINLEY and ROOSEVELT.

The crowd listening to BRYAN was just as large. But they weren’t applauding. They weren’t cheering.

The spirit for BRYAN had been hampered that day when the Joliet Daily Republican had reported that city employees were being exploited to pay for BRYAN‘s speech.

BRYAN had demanded $1,000 for his speech.

The newspaper story said that Joliet Mayor John MOUNT, with the approval of county Democratic Central Committee Chairman Mark HARRIS, had established a list of contributions from city employees.

The fees were $25 from each city department head, $50 from the city magistrates, $12 from police captains and sergeants, and $10 from policemen and firemen.

“Several other assessments have been made on persons who are accredited with being something in the MOUNT Machine,” the newspaper said. “Some of the men are pretty sore.”

As men in the crowd talked about the assessment fee, BRYAN‘s train was 1 1/2 hours late in arriving in Joliet. The crowd grew restless waiting. But many of them had been forced to attend just like they were forced to pay the fee. Their city government jobs depended upon them being there.

The newspaper said the crowd didn’t applaud or cheer BRYAN‘s words. At the time, BRYAN was considered as one of the most gifted orators in America. This election was the second of his three attempts to become president.

“It costs money for the privilege of listening to the eloquence of William Jennings BRYAN,” the newspaper summed it all up, adding that BRYAN‘s speech figured out to about $10 a minute from local Democrats.

MCKINLEY and ROOSEVELT won the presidential election in November. Six months later, MCKINLEY was shot by an assassin in Buffalo, N.Y.

Teddy ROOSEVELT then became the 26th president of the United States.

History calls him the trust buster because of his use of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to fight the nation’s giant financial monopolies. They say Teddy walked softly and carried a big stick.

Published October 06, 2001