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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Elihu Root

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 4-9 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of Elihu Root

Portrait: Elihu Root

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Elihu Root has a place in history as one of our foremost American statesmen and the Mohawk valley is proud to claim him as one of its native sons. Senator Root's constructive statesmanship has had not only a national but a worldwide influence. He stands with the five great citizens of the Mohawk valley who have left a vital impress on the destinies of all humanity — General Nicholas Herkimer, Elihu Root, Sir William Johnson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Owen D. Young.

Elihu Root was born at Hamilton College, in the town of Kirkland (named after the founder of the college), Oneida county, February 15, 1845. He is the son of Oren Root and Nancy Whitney Butterick. His birthplace was a house on the campus where his parents then resided, his father at that time being a professor of mathematics in the college. For a century the Root family has been closely identified with this institution, which is so worthily representative of the finest American ideals of our Mohawk valley life. Similarly, Elihu Root's family also is intimately concerned with the early settlement and development of Oneida county. The upper Mohawk valley is largely embraced in this great county and its first settlers were largely of New England ancestry. It is from this pioneer American stock that Senator Root is descended.

Elihu Root came from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and located in Vernon township, Oneida county, about one mile south of the present village of Vernon. Elihu Root, the pioneer, had a son, Oren Root, who was the father of Senator Elihu Root. Oren Root was born in the town of Vernon, November 1, 1803. He was graduated from Hamilton College in the class of 1833, and remained there as a tutor in mathematics, until 1837. In 1849 he was elected Professor of Mathematics and continued in that chair until he was succeeded by his eldest son, Oren Root, Jr., brother of Senator Root. Oren Root, Sr., died at the college on May 23, 1885.

Oren Root, Jr., was graduated in the Hamilton class of 1856. He held the Professorship of Mathematics until his death at the College, August 26, 1907. Edward Wallstein Root was the second son of Oren Root, Senior. He was graduated at Hamilton in the class of 1862, and was Professor of Chemistry from 1868 until his death in 1870. Oren Root, Edward Wallstein Root, and Oren Root, Jr., all lie in the beautiful College cemetery overlooking the valley of the Oriskany.

Elihu Root, the third son of Oren Root, was graduated from Hamilton in the class of 1864. At that time his brother, Oren Root, Jr., was principal of the Rome Academy and Elihu Root became an instructor in that school for the season of 1864-65. Mr. Root then went to New York and studied law in New York University, from which he was graduated in 1867, with the degree of LL. B. Upon his admission to the bar in that year the young man from the Mohawk Valley began the practice of law in New York city.

Hon. H. J. Cookinham of Utica wrote of Senator Root as follows, in his "History of Oneida County" (published in 1912):

"His unusual ability put him, while he was yet a young man, in the front rank among the lawyers in the metropolis. He was engaged in some of the heaviest litigations ever put before the courts and had remarkable success. He was United States attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1883 to 1885; was prominent in republican politics, and was opposed to what was known as the 'machine'. He was a delegate at large in the Constitutional convention of the state in 1894; was chairman of the judiciary committee in that convention; and the writer is able to speak from personal experience, as he served upon that committee with Mr. Root, that no member of the convention rendered the state a service so valuable as that rendered by Mr. Root, not only in connection with the work of the judiciary committee, but in regard to the entire convention. He was appointed secretary of war by President McKinley, August 1, 1899, and reappointed May 5, 1901. He resigned and was appointed secretary of state, July 1, 1905, by President Roosevelt. He was a member to settle the boundary question in Alaska and was elected to the United States senate from the state of New York in 1909. He was given the degree of LL. D. by many of the foremost American colleges, and also by many in foreign countries. His administration of public office is so able that * * some eminent statesmen have said of him, 'He is the foremost constructive statesman of the world'."

Elihu Root was made a trustee of Hamilton College in 1883, and, since 1912 has been senior trustee and chairman of the board. While secretary of war, under President McKinley (1899-1904), Mr. Root introduced many reforms in the organization and administration of the army. His great constructive ability was never more clearly evidenced than in this important cabinet position, for Secretary Root had never had any previous military training or experience.

In 1904 Mr. Root was made temporary chairman of the Republican National Convention. He was appointed secretary of state by President Roosevelt on July 1, 1905, following the death of Hon. John Hay, whom he succeeded. Secretary Root served from that time until January 27, 1909, and his great work in the cause of international peace and justice may be said to have dated from this fruitful period of his work as our administrator of foreign affairs.

In 1906 Secretary Root sailed on the United States Steamship Charleston for a tour of South American countries, in the cause of Pan-American union. Prior to this historic journey there was much jealousy and suspicion of the United States on the part of many of the South American nations. This diplomatic tour had epoch-making results in that Secretary Root's masterful diplomacy and even more powerful sincerity gave our southern neighbors a new insight into American national ideals and world aspirations. The Secretary's tour was one continuous ovation and he had many governmental and university honors conferred upon him in many of the South American capitals.

On the South American journey of 1906 Secretary Root's most important destination was Rio de Janiero, where the Pan-American Conference, of which Secretary Root was the honorary president, was held in the Palais d'Monroe. He also visited Para, Baija, Pernambuco, Santos, and Sao Paulo, in Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Buenos Ayres, Argentina. From Buenos Ayres, Senator Root sailed on the Charleston, through the Straits of Magellan to Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile; Callao, Peru and Cartagena, Colombia.

From 1909 until 1915 Mr. Root was a member of the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal, which has effectively settled a question that, for many years, was a source of irritation to both the United States and Canada. In 1910, Senator Root was counsel for the United States in the North Atlantic Fisheries Arbitration, an international question which found a satisfactory settlement as a fitting climax to the growing sentiment of friendship, which has gradually taken the place of the animosity formerly existing between the two great English-speaking countries of the world — the United States and Great Britain. Senator Root's lifelong influence has been uniformly in the direction of such rapprochement.

In 1910 Elihu Root was made president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which position he has continued to hold. In the same year Senator Root was made a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.

In 1912 Senator Root was made temporary and permanent chairman of the Republican National convention at Chicago. He there championed the cause of President Taft. Mr. Root's services in holding the republican party organization together at this critical period is a matter of national historical importance.

In 1912 Elihu Root was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This honor is conferred upon the world citizen who is considered to have done the greatest service to humanity in futhering the cause of peace, up to the time of the award, all prior recipients of the prize being automatically excluded. In Senator Root's case this great honor was abundantly deserved, for no man has done more in the cause of international conciliation and the furtherance of world peace by essentially practical means.

In 1912 Senator Root became chairman of the board of trustees of Hamilton College. In 1913 he was made chairman of the board of trustees of Carnegie Institute of Washington. In that year Senator Root again served as chairman of the New York State Republican convention. He was made president of the Hague Tribunal of Arbitration in 1913, when that body arbitrated matters concerning church property, between the countries of Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. In 1914 Senator Root was chairman of the New York State Republican convention for the fourth time.

In 1915 Hon. Elihu Root was elected chairman of the New York State Constitutional convention. He bore a large part in drafting a new state constitution, which was submitted to the people and defeated at the polls in the following election. A certain political element has always been bitterly opposed to Senator Root in politics, largely because of his safe and sane attitude in state and national politics. This political personal opposition was largely responsible for bringing to naught the constructive labors of the convention. The same need for a state constitution fitted to modern conditions exists today and future revision probably will largely follow that of the convention of 1915. In 1916 Senator Root was again chairman of the New York State Republican convention.

In 1917 President Wilson appointed Senator Root as an ambassador extraordinary to head a special diplomatic mission to Russia. The Bolshevik revolution rendered futile the journey of this special embassy, which was undertaken at a critical period of the World war. Its object was to aid Russia in her defence against Germany and to strengthen her support of the Allied cause, which the United States had recently joined.

In 1918 Hon. Elihu Root was made chairman of the United States Government War Savings Investment Society, which important position he has since held. In 1920 Senator Root was elected chairman of the New York State, Republican convention for the sixth time.

In 1920 the Council of the League of Nations invited Senator Root to become a member of the commission of international jurists who were asked to form a plan for a new Court of International Justice. This commission was composed of the following members: Mr. Elihu Root, United States; Judge Loder, Holland; Baron Descamps, Belgium; Lord Phillimore, Great Britain; M. de Lapradelle, France; Mr. Ricci Busatti, Italy; Senor Rafael Altimira, Spain; Mr. Adatci, Japan; Mr. Hagerup, Norway; Mr. Raoul Fernandes, Brazil.

This distinguished assembly of international jurists met at the Hague and drew up the statutes establishing the present International Court of Justice, under which that body has efficiently and satisfactorily functioned since its organization. The formation of this court was one of the greatest steps ever taken in the direction of international understanding, world peace and justice. Senator Root's work in the formulation of the statutes establishing this world court was most important and constitutes one of his most distinguished contributions to the cause of international conciliation. Forty-six nations signed the protocol of the Permanent Court of International Justice. The only important countries whose signatures are absent are the United States, Germany, Russia and Turkey. Thirty-five of the world's leading nations, aside from those mentioned, have ratified the protocol. On April 24, 1923, President Harding made an important address at the luncheon of the Associated Press in New York city, in which he advocated the adherence of the United States to the protocol establishing the International Court of Justice.

On April 26, 1923, Hon. Elihu Root delivered an address on the Permanent Court of International Justice, before the American Society of International Law, at its seventeenth annual meeting in Washington. The Court, of course, became involved in the seething bitterness of the aftermath of World war politics, from which it eventually will emerge, for calm and just consideration by the American people.

President Harding appointed Mr. Root as a commissioner plenipotentiary, acting for the United States, at the International conference for the limitation of armaments, held in Washington in 1921. The United States was represented by four commissioners having the rank and power of ambassadors — Secretary Hughes, Senator Underwood, Senator Lodge and Mr. Root — who took part in the constructive work of the conference, together with the ambassadors of the other countries represented: Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Japan, China, Australia, and Canada. The important work and results of this conference are already a part of world history.

Besides his public and political activities Senator Root has had many important minor connections which are of public interest. In 1907 he was Dodge lecturer at Yale, where he delivered four lectures on citizenship in its various phases. In 1913 Senator Root was Stafford Little lecturer at Princeton. He is a trustee of the New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, and American Federation of Arts; honorary vice president, Utica Society of Fine Arts, 1922; president of the New England Society in New York; president Union League Club of New York, 1893-95; president American society of International Law, 1904-5; president New York State Bar Association, 1910; president Bar Association of the City of New York, 1898-99, 1915-16; honorary president, American Institute International Law, 1915; president National Security League, 1917; president Century Club of New York, 1918. Mr. Root is an honorary member of the Institute of Advocates, Rio de Janiero, 1906; Corresponding Fellow, British Academy, 1916; member Institute de Droit International, Paris; fellow American Academy Arts and Sciences; honorary member of the following: American Institute of Architects, New York Chamber of Commerce, Society of the Cincinnati, American Philosophical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society. In 1919 he was awarded the Grand Cordon de l'ordre de la Couronne, of Belgium.

Mr. Root has been the recipient of many honorary degrees from American and foreign universities and organizations. Chief of these are the following: LL. D., Hamilton College, 1894; Yale, 1900; Columbia, 1904; New York University, 1904; Williams, 1905; Princeton, 1906; University of Buenos Ayres, 1906; Harvard, 1907; McGill, 1913; Union, 1914; University of Toronto, 1915; Colgate, 1919. Doctor of Political Science, University of Leyden, Holland, 1913. D. C. L., Oxford University, England, 1913. Member of faculty of Political and Administrative Sciences, University of San Marcos, Lima, Peru, 1906. Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Paris, 1921. Senator Root is the author of many important works on citizenship, law and government, the most important of which are: "The Citizen's Part in Government and the Essentials of the Constitution", 1913; "Addresses on International Subjects", 1916; "Addresses on Government and Citizenship", 1916; "Military and Colonial Policy of the United States", 1916; "Latin America and the United States", 1917.

Hon. Elihu Root's New York city residence is at No. 998 Fifth avenue. His business address is No. 31 Nassau street, where, as counsel, he is connected with the firm of Root, Clark, Buckner and Howland, of which his son, Elihu Root, Jr., is a member. Senator Root's summer home, voting and legal residence is at Hamilton College, Clinton, Oneida county. Here he maintains a beautiful old-fashioned home, which was built in 1817 and which has been the residence of three presidents of Hamilton College. The Senator's home faces the Hamilton College campus and has most picturesque grounds in the rear, which are kept in a state of natural beauty that is a delight to the artistic eye. A wooded park and a beautiful ravine lie to the west of the Root home and the winding woodland walks are a favorite resort of the Senator's recreation hours. Mr. Root's study is at the northeast corner of the house and here he spends much time and does a great deal of work during the summers he spends on College Hill. The house immediately north and adjoining Senator Root's home, was formerly the property of his father, Oren Root, but is now the residence of his son, Professor Edward W. Root, lecturer on art at Hamilton.

Senator Root is greatly interested in art, art education, and art interests in general. He has shown much interest in the formation of the Utica Society of Fine Arts and has readily lent it the support of his influence by becoming one of its two first honorary vice presidents. Senator Root believes that the time is ripe for the development of art interests in the Mohawk Valley and that Utica is the natural center for such artistic life and activities.

On January 8, 1878, Elihu Root was married to Clara, daughter of Salem H. Wales of New York city. Senator and Mrs. Root have three children: Edith, who married Major U. S. Grant, now stationed with the Third Engineers Corps, at San Francisco, where he has charge of the Sacramento River Control Works; Major Grant is a grandson of General Ulysses S. Grant. Elihu Root, Jr., who is a member of the law firm of Root, Clarke, Buckner and Howland of New York city; and Edward W. Root, lecturer on art at Hamilton College.

Hon. Elihu Root is deeply interested in Hamilton College, its work and its future. As the head of a family which has been identified with the college for nearly a century, as president of its board of trustees and most distinguished alumnus, Senator Root has had a most important influence in shaping the destiny of this historic school, which has had a very important educational mission in the cultural life of the upper Mohawk valley.

In an address delivered on the centennial of Hamilton College in 1912, Senator Root said in part:

"The richest possessions of the institution are the multitudes of lives, past and present that would never have been educated if the college had not been here; the intelligences that would not have been enlarged by learning and literature; the spirits that would not have been quickened but for her; the unrecorded influences for the betterment of a thousand communities to which her graduates have gone; the part she has played in the development of our country along lines of Christian civilization."

Hamilton College has had no better nor braver exponent of the great ethical principles for which she stands than Elihu Root, born on the college campus overlooking the beautiful Mohawk valley, and everywhere recognized as one of the great constructive statesmen of American history.

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