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Charles W. Fairbanks

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Scarce handwritten letter by Theodore Roosevelt’s Vice President:

“I would commend to all young men and women the Golden Rule as rule of action.”

Charles Warren Fairbanks, 1852–1918.  26th Vice President of the United States, 19051909; United States Senator from Indiana, 1897–1905.  Autograph letter signed, Charles W. Fairbanks, one page, 5¼” x 6¾”, with integral leaf attached, on engraved stationery of the United States Senate, Washington, D.C., May 17, 1898.  With original envelope addressed in Fairbanks’s hand.

This is a scarce handwritten letter by Fairbanks.  A little over a year into his first term in the Senate, Fairbanks responds to the request of a penmanship student at the State Normal School in Emporia, Kansas, now Emporia State University, for a holograph sentiment, reminiscence, or word of advice to be included in albums devoted to the handwriting of prominent people. He writes, in full:  “I have been unable to answer your recent request until now.  /  I would commend to all young men and women the Golden Rule as rule of action.  /  Very respectfully . . . ”

Fairbanks, a lawyer, became a railroad financier and served as counsel to railroad magnate Jay Gould.  He made campaign speeches for Benjamin Harrison during the 1888 and 1892 presidential campaigns.  He strongly supported Republicans in the Indiana state legislative elections in 1894, positioning himself to be elected by the legislature—in the days before the direct election of Senators—to the United States Senate when the incumbent Democrat’s term expired in 1897.  He got additional attention as the temporary chairman of, and the keynote speaker at, the 1896 Republican national convention that nominated William McKinley for President and Theodore Roosevelt for Vice President. 

The Indiana legislature elected him to the Senate in January 1897.  Fairbanks was a close advisor to McKinley during the Spanish-American War while serving on key committees in the Senate.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt, who acceded to the presidency with the assassination of McKinley, upset many Republicans by insisting on the appointment of George Cortelyou as Republican Party chairman.  Although Roosevelt was unanimously nominated for a full term, the party turned its distaste for Cortelyou into opposition to the Roosevelt’s preferred vice presidential nominee and instead nominated Fairbanks for Vice President. 

As Vice President, the conservative Fairbanks actively opposed the progressive Roosevelt’s domestic program, which Roosevelt dubbed the “Square Deal.”  Roosevelt, who called Fairbanks a “reactionary machine politician,” kept him at arm’s length and gave him no real role in the administration.  When Roosevelt did not seek reelection in 1908, Fairbanks sought the Republican nomination but lost out to Roosevelt’s chosen successor, William Howard Taft.  In 1912, when Roosevelt, by then dissatisfied with Taft, ran a third-party campaign as the nominee of the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, Fairbanks opposed him and supported Taft. 

Fairbanks has written and signed this letter and addressed the accompanying envelope in jet black fountain pen.  The letter is tipped to part of an album page and shows a few stains from the glue used to mount it in the album.  The glue mainly affects the blank integral leaf, which is attached to the album page, but there are noticeable stains at the top and lower left corner of the front page, fortunately not affecting Fairbanks’ signature.  There is a small collector’s pencil notation in the lower left corner of the letter, and the accompanying envelope has the student recipient’s name written in pencil in another hand to the left of the address. The envelope has been opened cleanly and has normal postal markings, including a Washington, D.C., postmark on the front and an Emporia, Kansas, postmark on the back.  Overall, the letter is in very good to fine condition, and the envelope is fine.

Fairbank’s letters are scarce, but his handwritten letters are much more so. Our research found only one in auction results.  This letter is a nice example of Fairbanks’s holograph.


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