This month, as the world awaits the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election, we look back to correspondence between Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild and the American statesman Theodore Roosevelt.
Nathaniel Mayer ('Natty') 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), took over the senior partnership of N M Rothschild & Sons in 1879. Under Natty and his brothers, the bank arranged many international loans, and developed mining interests in the New World. Natty was an MP, and became the first Jewish peer in 1885, taking the title Lord Rothschild of Tring.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (1858-1919) served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909. As a leader of the Republican Party, he became a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century. Roosevelt successfully overcame early health problems, combining a strenuous lifestyle with an exuberant personality. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley, resigning after one year to serve with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Returning a war hero, he was elected Governor of New York in 1898. In the Presidential election of 1900, Roosevelt was chosen as McKinley's running mate, and helped McKinley to a landslide victory based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservatism. Following the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901, Roosevelt succeeded to the office. During the years of his presidency, he continued to promote progressive policies.
Rothschild and Roosevelt
It is not known when Lord Rothschild and Roosevelt first became acquainted. Very little of Natty’s original correspondence exists; some tantalising fragments survive. It is possible that the house of Rothschild came to the attention of Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York in the late 1890s; a prime mover in the development of the New York subway system was the Rothschilds’ agent in the United States, August Belmont Jnr, who set up the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1902. His father, August Belmont Snr was the longest serving president of the Democratic National Committee.
In the election of 1904, Roosevelt famously promised to give every American a "square deal". In November 1904, The White House sent this note to Natty, “with hearty thanks for your congratulations” which was presumably sent in reply to a telegram from Natty to the President on his re-election earlier that month. After leaving office in 1909, Roosevelt went on safari in Africa and toured Europe, meeting Natty and other members of the Rothschild family in London in 1910.
The 1912 presidential campaign was to prove shockingly eventful for Roosevelt. The campaign was bitterly contested, with Democrat Woodrow Wilson the eventual victor. Failing to win the presidential nomination against his Republican rival William Howard Taft, Roosevelt created the Progressive Party (nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party"), which nominated him and ran candidates for other state offices. In April 1912, Natty's son, Charles Rothschild (1877-1923) wrote to his French cousins “No doubt you have received from [August] Belmont all the news of the Presidential Election, the chances of the two rivals Taft and Roosevelt seems to be extraordinarily even, but the fact that the latter pledged himself not to stand again for the Presidency has caused some Republicans to Vote Democrat!”
On 14 October, 1912, while campaigning in Milwaukee, Roosevelt was shot by a saloon-keeper named John Flammang Schrank. The bullet lodged in his chest after passing through the speech and glasses case he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not reached his lung, and declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his 90-minute scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. Roosevelt carried the bullet with him for the rest of his life, as it was deemed too dangerous to attempt removal. Natty, whose brother Leopold (1845-1917) had been the target of an assassination attempt outside New Court in April 1912, wrote to Roosevelt to express his horror of this attack and sent his best wishes.
A mutual respect
Lord Rothschild and Roosevelt shared similar political views; a muscular conservatism. Natty would have approved of Roosevelt’s accomplishments which included a commitment to conservation and the environment, and his expansion of the United States Navy. Roosevelt’s successful efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize, and the approbation of the Rothschilds, who were only prepared to enter into business with Japan after the war had ended, issuing a major loan in Paris as well as London and the United States on behalf of the Japanese government in 1905.
Roosevelt was the first President to appoint a Jewish cabinet member, Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Oscar Solomon Straus (1850-1926), who served from 1906 to 1909. Concerned with the plight of European Jews, Natty warmly supported this appointment. On 2 July 1906, Natty wrote to his French cousins “Mr Oscar Strauss lunched with me: I have known him for many years, not personally, but we have corresponded together; he is a strong American, a great Hebrew by race, religion & feeling, and he is an intimate friend of Roosevelt, & although he does not wish it known, will probably soon be a member of Roosevelt's Government: at any rate he hopes and thinks so … it is very important that Mr Strauss should get the office Roosevelt wants to give him; because not only would it be a sign to Russia, but it would facilitate a great deal many questions connected with the immigration of Russians & Poles into America.”
RAL 000/848/37/1 (iv)