Words from another time, another universe

Back in the days of typewriters, dictionaries were a great obstacle to my developing what my detractors call “time-management skills.” I couldn’t look up one word without running across another that fascinated me, which in turn caused me to look up another, then three more, and one and on, each word opening the floodgates of dopamine in my brain as I utterly forgot what I had set out to do.

The Web is a dictionary taken to the nth power.

Today, I stuck up for our Founders’ vision of a republic rather than a democracy, which caused Bud to say fine, if that’s what you want, then let’s return to precisely their vision. That caused me to say that I was for repealing the 17th Amendment. Then, when I went for a link to explain to readers which amendment that was, I started reading about the debate at the time over this “reform.” I saw that William Jennings Bryan (you know, the guy Clarence Darrow took apart at the Monkey Trial) was for the change, and Elihu Root opposed it. Thinking Mr. Root was perhaps a man after my own mind, I went and looked him up.

And I read on Wikipedia this excerpt from a letter he wrote to The New York Times in 1910, while serving as a U.S. senator from New York:

It is said that a very large part of any income tax under the amendment would be paid by citizens of New York….

Elihu Root

The reason why the citizens of New York will pay so large a part of the tax is New York City is the chief financial and commercial centre of a great country with vast resources and industrial activity. For many years Americans engaged in developing the wealth of all parts of the country have been going to New York to secure capital and market their securities and to buy their supplies. Thousands of men who have amassed fortunes in all sorts of enterprises in other states have gone to New York to live because they like the life of the city or because their distant enterprises require representation at the financial centre. The incomes of New York are in a great measure derived from the country at large. A continual stream of wealth sets toward the great city from the mines and manufactories and railroads outside of New York.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Imagine that. A serving politician who actually wrote not only in favor of an income tax when there wasn’t one, but told his own constituents why they should shoulder a particularly large portion of that burden. Now there’s a man of principle for you.

You will ask now whether he was re-elected. Well, he didn’t run again.

But it’s not like he retired. He went on to serve in several prominent capacities. In 1912, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for “his work to bring nations together through arbitration and cooperation.” Nevertheless, he would later oppose Woodrow Wilson’s initial position of neutrality as WWI broke out. He believed German militarism must be opposed.

He was a reluctant candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 1916. Charles Evans Hughes won the nomination, and went on to lose to Wilson.

I think I might have voted for Root, given the chance.

18 thoughts on “Words from another time, another universe

  1. Brad

    Oh, and by the way, the reason Root didn’t run for re-election was in protest over losing the argument over the 17th Amendment. He refused to seek election to the office of senator under the new system of direct, popular election.

  2. Mark Stewart

    Despite being named after Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton College actually survives, thrives, because of Elihu Root.

    It’s amusing to note that his son, Elihu Root III, was later a professor of mathematics and was known on campus as Cube Root – although that was a bit before my time.

  3. Steven Davis II

    Mark – are you talking about Hamilton College on the USC campus? If so, “thriving” isn’t the correct word to describe it. There are more than a dozen reasons on the top of my head to justify it’s scheduled total renovation scheduled to begin next summer. “Gutting” is more of the appropriate word for what it’s in for.

  4. Mark Stewart


    I didn’t know that there was a building known as Hamilton on the USC campus. So, no.

    Are there Elihu Roots here, too?

  5. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I believe Mark is an alumnus of the distinguished boutique liberal arts college in New York State

  6. Ralph Hightower

    I thought that repealing the 17th Amendment would be a bad idea.

    But, then, I think that’s a great idea! Senators won’t have to worry about raising funds for their election campaign; therefore, they shouldn’t be owned by corporations or PACs.

    Then again, imagine that the state legislature is filled full of Nikki Haleys or Jackie Knotts…

    Incumbency is a difficult thing to defeat.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, it isn’t a Potted Ivy, but has decent prestige as well as a really high price tag. It’s small and elite and expensive, and not well known. Boutique seems to fit.

  8. Mark Stewart

    I’m glad I never heard the term potted Ivey back when I applied.

    It’s not Williams though. Or Amhurst.

    And too much of higher education is knee-jerk.

  9. Silence

    I did one year at a “boutique” or “New Ivy” school, then transferred to a fine public institution of higher learning in the Southeastern Conference! Love them Southern ladies.

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