Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha Bulloch (1835-1884), who grew up near today’s Roswell, Georgia on her father’s plantation worked by thirty-one slaves. Her two brothers James and Irvine had illustrious careers serving the Confederacy, and it is said that those patriotic uncles served as exemplary role models for him later in life. When he became president, TR labored in vain to entice Southern Democrats away from their party, as the damage done by the Republican party to the South seemed irreparable.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South
“When by accident Theodore Roosevelt came to the presidency in 1901, he entered that office with a desire to revise the political map of the country, for he was positive that a change in the traditional Republican attitude toward the Southern white voter would go far to break the Democratic political monopoly of the solid South.
Accordingly, in his early appointments and in his public speeches he attempted to pursue a course of conciliation calculated to entice the white citizen of the South away from the Democratic party.
After his departure from the Republican party in June 1912, however, Roosevelt realized at once that perhaps this was his chance to break the political monopoly of States below the Ohio River by organizing a rival party designed to appeal to Southern whites.
It was upon [growing] discontent [with Democratic leadership in the South] that Theodore Roosevelt proposed to found the new Progressive party in the South, which, freed of the incubus of the Republican label, would be “without one touch of sectional feeling,” and which therefore could offer the first serious opposition to Southern Democracy since the days of the old Whigs.
Yet the leader of the Progressive party was well aware that if a strong, permanent party were to be built in the South it would necessarily have to be organized upon a “lily white” basis.
[Roosevelt defined his position on race with], in the North there were numerous intelligent and honest Negroes who could be incorporated into the party machinery to the mutual good of both the individual and the party. The situation in the South, however, was a different matter. In this opinion, Roosevelt declared, he stood not on theory but upon actual observation.
For forty-five years the Republican party had been trying to build a successful organization there based upon black participation, and the result for a variety of reasons had been “lamentable from every standpoint.”
To repeat the experiment, he felt, would make a Progressive party victory impossible in the South, and would do nothing for the Negro except “to create another impotent little corrupt faction of would-be office holders, of delegates whose expenses had to be paid, and whose votes sometimes had to be bought.”
In conclusion, he maintained that the only man who could help the Negro in the South was his white neighbor; and therefore he hoped the Progressive party would put the leadership of the South into the hands of “intelligent and benevolent” white men who would see to it that the Negro got a measure of justice, something which the Northerner could not obtain for him, and something he could not obtain himself. Thus, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens were publicly disavowed by a former Republican president.”
(The South and the Progressive Lily White Party of 1912, George E. Mowry, Journal of Southern History, VI, May 1940, excerpts, pp. 237-242)