Elihu Root
38th United States Secretary of State
In office
July 19, 1905 – January 27, 1909
PresidentTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded byJohn Hay
Succeeded byRobert Bacon
41st United States Secretary of War
In office
August 1, 1899 – January 31, 1904
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded byRussell A. Alger
Succeeded byWilliam Howard Taft
United States Senator
from New York
In office
March 4, 1909 – March 3, 1915
Preceded byThomas C. Platt
Succeeded byJames Wolcott Wadsworth Jr.
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
March 12, 1883 – July 6, 1885
PresidentChester A. Arthur
Preceded byStewart L. Woodford
Succeeded byWilliam Dorsheimer
Personal details
Born(1845-02-15)February 15, 1845
Clinton, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 7, 1937(1937-02-07) (aged 91)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Clara Wales
RelationsOren Root II (Brother)
EducationHamilton College (BA)
New York University (LLB)

Elihu Root (/ˈɛlɪhjuː ˈrt/; February 15, 1845 – February 7, 1937) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as Secretary of State under President Theodore Roosevelt and as Secretary of War under Roosevelt and President William McKinley. He moved frequently between high-level appointed government positions in Washington, D.C. and private-sector legal practice in New York City. For that reason, he is sometimes considered to be the prototype of the 20th century political "wise man," advising presidents on a range of foreign and domestic issues.[1] He was elected by the state legislature as a U.S. Senator from New York and served one term, 1909–1915. Root was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912.

Root was a leading lawyer, whose clients included major corporations and such powerful players as Andrew Carnegie. Root served as president or chairman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. As Secretary of War under McKinley and Roosevelt, Root designed American policies for the new colonial possessions, especially the Philippines and Cuba. His role in suppressing a Filipino revolt angered anti-imperialist activists at home. Root favored a paternalistic approach to colonial administration, emphasizing technology, engineering, and disinterested public service, as exemplified by the ethical standards of the Progressive Era. He helped design the Foraker Act of 1900, the Philippine Organic Act (1902), and the Platt Amendment of 1901, which authorized American intervention in Cuba in the future if needed to maintain a stable government. He was a strong advocate of what became the Panama Canal, and he championed the Open Door to expand world trade with China.[2] Root was a prominent opponent of women's suffrage and worked to ensure the New York state constitution allowed only men to vote.

Root was the leading modernizer in the history of the War Department, transforming the Army from a motley collection of small frontier outposts and coastal defense units into a modern, professionally organized, military machine comparable to the best in Europe. He restructured the National Guard into an effective reserve, created the Army War College for the advanced study of military doctrine, and—most important—set up a general staff. As Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, Root modernized the consular service by minimizing patronage, promoted friendly relations with Latin America, and resolved frictions with Japan over the immigration of unskilled workers to the West Coast. He negotiated 24 bilateral treaties that committed the United States and other signatories to use arbitration to resolve disputes, which led to the creation of the Permanent Court of International Justice.[3][4] In the United States Senate, Root was part of the conservative Republican support network for President William Howard Taft. He played a central role at the Republican National Convention in 1912 in getting Taft renominated. By 1916–17, he was a leading proponent of preparedness, with the expectation that the United States would enter World War I. President Woodrow Wilson sent him to Russia in 1917 in an unsuccessful effort to establish an alliance with the new revolutionary government that had replaced the czar.[5] Root supported Wilson's vision of the League of Nations, but with reservations along the lines proposed by Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

Early life and education

Elihu Root was born in Clinton, New York, to Oren Root and Nancy Whitney Buttrick, both of English descent.[6] His father was professor of mathematics at Hamilton College. After studying at local schools, including Williston Seminary, where he was a classmate of G. Stanley Hall, Elihu enrolled in college at Hamilton. He joined the Sigma Phi Society and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society[7] After graduation, Root was an instructor of physical education for two years at Williston Seminary and taught for one year at the Rome (N.Y.) Free Academy.[citation needed]

Despite his parents' encouragement to become a Presbyterian minister, Root went to New York City to attend New York University School of Law,[8] from which he graduated in 1867. His brother Oren Root Jr. then became a minister and followed in their father's footsteps as a Mathematics professor at Hamilton.[9]

Law career

After admission to the bar in New York, Root went into private practice as a lawyer. While mainly focusing on corporate law, Root was a junior defense counsel for William "Boss" Tweed during his corruption trial. Among Root's prominent and wealthy private clients were Jay Gould, Chester A. Arthur, Charles Anderson Dana, William C. Whitney, Thomas Fortune Ryan, and E. H. Harriman. Root was among the friends who were present when Arthur was informed that James A. Garfield had died, and that Arthur had succeeded to the presidency.[10] He served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from March 12, 1883 to July 6, 1885.[11]

Root's law practice, which he began in 1868, evolved into the law firm Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, a predecessor of today's Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.[12]

Defense of William M. Tweed

Root was part of the defense counsel that William M. “Boss” Tweed created to defend himself during Tweed's first court case in January 1873. Other members of the defense counsel included John Graham and David Dudley Field II. This first trial ended when the jury could not agree on a verdict. A second trial began November 1873 and this time Tweed received a sentence of twelve years in prison and a $12,750 fine from judge Noah Davis.[13]

Opposition to women's rights

Root was a prominent opponent of women's suffrage. As chairman of the judiciary committee of a New York State constitutional convention in 1894, Root spoke against women's right to vote, and he worked to ensure that the right was not included in the state constitution. He would remain an active opponent of feminism for the rest of his career, becoming the president of an anti-suffrage league in 1917.[14]

Later law career

On January 19, 1898, at elections for the newly formed North American Trust Company, the elected members of the executive committee included Root.[15]

U.S Attorney and Secretary of War

Crowds listen as Root delivers the opening speech of the 1904 Republican National Convention
Crowds listen as Root delivers the opening speech of the 1904 Republican National Convention

Root received his first political appointment from President Chester A. Arthur, when he was named as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, Root served as the United States Secretary of War 1899–1904. He reformed the organization of the War Department. He enlarged West Point and established the U.S. Army War College, as well as the General Staff. He changed the procedures for promotions and organized schools for the special branches of the service. He also devised the principle of rotating officers from staff to line. Root was concerned about the new territories acquired after the Spanish–American War. He worked out the procedures for turning Cuba over to the Cubans, ensured a charter of government for the Philippines, and eliminated tariffs on goods imported to the United States from Puerto Rico. When the Anti-Imperialist League attacked American policies in the Philippines, Root defended the policies and counterattacked the critics, saying they prolonged the insurgency.[16] During the summer of 1902, Root visited Europe, including France and Germany.[17] Root left the cabinet in 1904 and returned to private practice as a lawyer.

Secretary of State

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Root with William Howard Taft in 1904
Root with William Howard Taft in 1904

In 1905, President Roosevelt named Root as the United States Secretary of State after the death of John Hay. As secretary, Root placed the consular service under the civil service. He maintained the Open Door Policy in the Far East.

On a tour of Latin America in 1906, Root persuaded those governments to participate in the Hague Peace Conference. He worked with Japan to limit emigration to the United States and on dealings with China. He established the Root–Takahira Agreement, which limited Japanese and American naval fortifications in the Pacific. He worked with Great Britain in arbitration of issues between the United States and Canada on the Alaska boundary dispute, and competition in the North Atlantic fisheries. He supported arbitration in resolving international disputes.

United States Senator

In January 1909, Root was elected by the legislature as a U.S. Senator from New York, serving from March 4, 1909, to March 3, 1915. He was a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He chose not to seek re-election in 1914.

During and after his Senate service, Root served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, from 1910 to 1925.

In a 1910 letter published by The New York Times, Root supported the proposed income tax amendment, which was ratified as the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

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

The reason why the citizens of New York will pay so large a part of the tax in New York City is the chief financial and commercial center 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 center. 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.[18]

Professor Alfred McCoy argues that Root was the first "foreign policy grandmaster" in American history and that Root more than any other figure is responsible for transforming America into a world power. According to McCoy, Root devoted his time as Secretary of State and as a Senator to ensuring that the United States would have a consistent presence in world affairs, and Root helped to establish the Special Relationship between the United States and Great Britain. Root helped to ensure that powerful business interests and the intellectual elite supported an interventionist foreign policy.[19]

World War

See also: American entry into World War I

Portrait of Elihu Root
Portrait of Elihu Root

In 1912, as a result of his work to bring nations together through arbitration and cooperation, Root received the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the outbreak of World War I, Root opposed President Woodrow Wilson's policy of neutrality. Root promoted the Preparedness Movement to get the United States ready for actual participation in the war. He was a leading advocate of American entry into the war on the side of the British and French because he feared the militarism of Germany would be bad for the world and bad for the United States.

He supported Wilson once the United States entered the war. In June 1916, he scotched talk that he might contend for the Republican presidential nomination, stating that he was too old to bear the burden of the Presidency.[20] At the Republican National Convention, Root reached his peak strength of 103 votes on the first ballot. The Republican presidential nomination went to Charles Evans Hughes, who lost the election to the Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

In June 1917, at age 72, Root went to Russia, which had just overthrown the czar. He headed a mission sent by President Wilson, the Root Commission, to arrange American co-operation with the new revolutionary government. Root remained in Petrograd for close to a month, and was not much impressed by what he saw. American financial aid to the new regime was possible only if the Russians would fight on the Allied side. The Russians, he said, "are sincere, kindly, good people but confused and dazed". He summed up the Provisional Government very trenchantly: "No fight, no loans."[21] This caused the Provisional government to initiate offensives against Austrian forces in July 1917 that ended in failure and retreat of Russian forces. The resulting steep decline in popularity of the Provisional government opened the door for the Bolshevik party.[22]

Root was the founding chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, established in 1918 in New York.

Later career

In the Senate fight in 1919 over American membership in the League of Nations, Root supported Lodge's proposal of membership with certain reservations that allowed the United States government to decide whether or not it would go to war. The US never joined, but Root supported the League of Nations and served on the commission of jurists, which created the Permanent Court of International Justice. In 1922, when Root was 77, President Warren G. Harding appointed him as a delegate of an American team headed by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. They participated in the Washington Naval Conference (International Conference on the Limitation of Armaments).[23] He was a presidential elector in the 1924 presidential election.[24]

Root's former home in Washington, D.C.
Root's former home in Washington, D.C.

Root also worked with Andrew Carnegie in programs for international peace and the advancement of science, becoming the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.[citation needed] Root was also among the founders of the American Law Institute[25] in 1923, and also helped create The Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. Root served as vice president of the American Peace Society, which publishes World Affairs, the oldest U.S. journal on international relations.[citation needed]

In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Root was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (from Belgium) and the Grand Commander of the Order of George I (from Greece).[citation needed] Root joined the Empire State Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1895, based on his descent from Elihu Root (1772–1843), and was the second cousin twice removed of the publisher Henry Luce.[citation needed] Root was the last surviving member of the McKinley Cabinet and the last Cabinet member to have served in the 19th century.[citation needed]


After getting established, in 1878 at the age of 33, Root married Clara Frances Wales (died in 1928). She was the daughter of Salem Wales, the managing editor of Scientific American. They had three children: Edith (who married Ulysses S. Grant III), Elihu, Jr. (who became a lawyer), and Edward Wales Root (who became Professor of Art at Hamilton College).

Root was a member of the Union League Club of New York and twice served as its president, 1898–99, and again from 1915 to 1916. He also served as president of the New York City Bar Association from 1904 to 1905.

He became the president of the National Security League in 1917, succeeding his mentor Joseph Hodges Choate. Root spoke in favor of war and in opposition to women's suffrage as head of the league.[14]

Death and legacy

Elihu Root Gold Medal
Elihu Root Gold Medal

Root died in 1937 in New York City, with his family by his side. A simple service was held in Clinton, led by Episcopal bishop E.H. Coley of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York.[26] Root is buried, along with his wife Clara (who died in 1928), at the Hamilton College Cemetery.[citation needed]

His son, Elihu Root Jr. graduated from Hamilton College and became an attorney and the husband of Alida Stryker, whose father M. Woolsey Stryker was the president of Hamilton College.[27] His daughter Edith married Ulysses S. Grant III.

During World War II the Liberty ship SS Elihu Root was built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.[28]

Root's home in Clinton, which he purchased in 1893, became known as the Elihu Root House, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1972. The United States Army Reserve Base in New York Mills, New York bears his name.[citation needed]

The Elihu Root Gold Medal is awarded to the six highest scoring civilian competitors in the National Trophy Rifle Team Match and are subsequently named as team members. The captain and coach of the highest-scoring civilian team are named as the coach and captain of the team. All eight members receive Elihu Root gold medals.[citation needed]

Works by Elihu Root



Published addresses

See also


  1. ^ Akiboh, Alvita. "'No anecdotes are told of Elihu Root': America's Twentieth Century Wise Man". U.S. History Scene. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  2. ^ Robert Muccigrosso, ed., Research Guide to American Historical Biography (1988) 3:1329–33
  3. ^ Cross, Graham (2012). The Diplomatic Education of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1882-1933. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-137-01453-5.
  4. ^ Muccigrosso, ed., Research Guide to American Historical Biography (1988) 3:1330
  5. ^ "Tells How Allies Failed in Russia: Col. Robins Says Boastful American Propaganda Led Russian Army to Quit; Root Mission Knifed Here" (PDF). The New York Times. March 7, 1919. p. 18.
  6. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time, Volume 11 page 15
  7. ^ History of the Society Archived 2009-07-09 at the Wayback Machine, Rutgers.edu, accessed Oct 9, 2009,
  8. ^ O'Neill, Johnathan (February 15, 2013). "Constitutional Conservatives in the Progressive Era: Elihu Root, William Howard Taft, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr". The Heritage Foundation.
  9. ^ "History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A." threerivershms.com.
  10. ^ "Chester A. Arthur, Theta '48, Second to take Oath in New York as President". The Diamond of Psi Upsilon. Chicago, IL: Psi Upsilon Fraternity. January 1, 1930. p. 106.
  11. ^ Hartford, William J. (January 1, 1900). "Hon Elihu Root, Secretary of War". The Successful American. New York, NY: Press Biographical Company. p. 26.
  12. ^ "Pillsbury. At-a-Glance" (PDF). Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  13. ^ Allen, Oliver E. (1993). The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. pp. 138–139. ISBN 0-201-62463-X.
  14. ^ a b Marshall, Susan E. (1997). Splintered Sisterhood. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 66, 79. ISBN 9780299154639.
  15. ^ "A Place for Colonel Trenholm; Head of North American Trust Company -- W.S. Johnston Succeeds Him in American Surety". The New York Times. New York City, United States. January 20, 1898. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  16. ^ James R. Arnold (2011). The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902–1913. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 171–72. ISBN 9781608193653.
  17. ^ "The United States and France". The Times (36835). London. August 1, 1902. p. 3.
  18. ^ "ROOT FOR ADOPTION OF TAX AMENDMENT; No Danger to State Bonds in Income Provision, He Argues, Answering Hughes. LETTER READ IN ALBANY State and Municipal Issues, He Says, Are Protected by the General Principles of the Federal Constitution". March 1, 1910 – via NYTimes.com.
  19. ^ McCoy, Alfred (September 15, 2015). "Barack Obama Is a Foreign Policy Grandmaster". The Nation. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  20. ^ Stefan Lorant, The Glorious Burden (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), page 540.
  21. ^ David Mayers (1997). The Ambassadors and America's Soviet Policy. Oxford University Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780195115765.
  22. ^ Buultjens, Ralph (November 7, 1984). "Opinion | U.S. 'AID' TO THE BOLSHEVIKS" – via NYTimes.com.
  23. ^ u-s-history.com Washington Naval Conference – Retrieved 2011-12-18
  24. ^ "State Electors Will Be Given Oath Monday". The Republican-Journal. Ogdensburg, N.Y. January 10, 1925. p. 10 – via NYS Historic Newspapers.
  25. ^ Institute, The American Law. "Governance - The American Law Institute". American Law Institute.
  26. ^ "Clinton Pays Tribute At Elihu Root Funeral; Simple Service Held". The Cornell Daily Sun. February 10, 1937 – via Cornell University Library.
  27. ^ Exhibition by Elihu Root, Jr. at Hamilton College (https://www.hamilton.edu/gallery/exhibitions/history-of-exhibitions/elihu-root-jr-class-of-1903-lawyer-painter Archived 2011-06-22 at the Wayback Machine)
  28. ^ Williams, Greg H. (July 25, 2014). The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476617541. Retrieved December 7, 2017.


  • Hewes, James E., Jr. From Root to McNamara: Army Organization and Administration, 1900–1963. (1975)
  • Jessup, Phillip C. Elihu Root. (1938) — The standard biography.
  • Leopold, Richard W. Elihu Root and the conservative tradition. --Elihu Root and the Conservative Tradition]. (1954)
  • Needham, Henry Beach. “Mr. Root and the State Department”. The World's Work: A History of Our Time, vol. 6 (November 1905), pp. 6835–6840.
  • Semsch, Philip L. "Elihu Root and the General Staff." Military Affairs (1963): 16-27.
  • Skowronek, Stephen. Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1982) pp 212-247.
  • Ten Eyck, Andrew. “Elihu Root: A Study Of The Man And His Ways”. The Outlook, vol. 129 (October 19, 1921), pp. 429–430.
  • White, Richard D. "Civilian management of the military: Elihu Root and the 1903 reorganization of the army general staff." Journal of Management History (1998).
  • Zimmermann, Warren. First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power (2004) excerpt and text search
  • The National Cyclopædia of American Biography. (1939) Vol. XXVI. New York: James T. White & Co. pp. 1–5.
Political offices Preceded byRussell A. Alger U.S. Secretary of WarServed under: William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt August 1, 1899 – January 31, 1904 Succeeded byWilliam Howard Taft Preceded byJohn Hay U.S. Secretary of StateServed under: Theodore Roosevelt July 19, 1905 – January 27, 1909 Succeeded byRobert Bacon U.S. Senate Preceded byThomas C. Platt U.S. senator (Class 3) from New York March 4, 1909 – March 3, 1915 Served alongside: Chauncey Depew, James O'Gorman Succeeded byJames Wolcott Wadsworth Jr. Honorary titles Preceded byAdelbert Ames Oldest living U.S. Senator April 12, 1933 – February 7, 1937 Succeeded byNewell Sanders
Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article about Elihu Root.