No one, other than railroad workers, was around on Sept. 5, 1916 when the campaign train of Republican presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes stopped at the Louisville, Kentucky station, en route to Lexington and eventually upstate New York.
Hughes, a former New York governor, abandoned his plan to make a speech, and, after posing for a photographer, took a “morning stroll” with his wife and enjoyed a joke with a campaign staffer.
“Before the candidate’s car left the station, a band straggled into the train shed and by playing southern melodies evoked applause which was intended obviously for Hughes,” reported United Press correspondent Perry Arnold.
Arnold did glean an important news item at the stop – at least important to residents of New York’s North Country: Hughes was planning a visit to a military preparedness camp at Plattsburgh, NY, tentatively on Sept. 12.
The camp trained citizens for potential military service during the summers of 1915 and 1916. It was part of the Preparedness Movement that Major-General Leonard Wood and Theodore Roosevelt championed after the outbreak of of the First World War in Europe.
Charles Evans Hughes Jr., son of the presidential candidate, and Archie Roosevelt, son of Theodore, were among those that trained there earlier in the summer of 1916. The younger Hughes was at the camp in June when Hughes was nominated to run for President.
“He (the son) was immediately made the center of many friends,” The Ticonderoga Sentinel reported. “The young man received the news very calmly. His first question was, ‘Has father accepted?'”
It actually was Sept. 14 when the Hughes campaign train made it to Plattsburgh, in Clinton County, arriving at noon from the south. Hughes’ wife, his secretary, and “a large party of newspaper representatives” accompanied him.
“A large and representative body of ladies and gentlemen from all parts of the county” met Hughes at the depot, The Plattsburgh Sentinel reported on Sept. 15.
Hughes and a caravan of about 100 automobiles decorated with American flags paraded from the depot to the Witherill Hotel, where Hughes was to rest for a few hours before a 4 pm visit to the training camp.
“Crowds lined the walks of Bridge and Margaret streets, and the distinguished visitor frequently raised his hat in response to the applause which greeted him,” The Sentinel reported.
Hughes was elected New York governor in 1906 and 1908. He resigned as governor in 1910 to accept appointment as a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice. He resigned from the court in June 1916 to accept the GOP presidential nomination, running against incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Hughes, that afternoon, didn’t actually tour the camp “in a conspicuous way,” but watched from Major-General Leonard Wood’s quarters as trainees paraded, perhaps not wanting to overly politicize the visit. Hughes missed seeing an anti-Wilson cartoon posted on the camp’s bulletin board.
Clinton County Republican Chairman John Haughran organized a reception committee that gathered at the Witherill Hotel at 7 pm to escort Hughes to speak at the Plattsburgh Theatre.
“The procession was soon formed and headed by the Keeseville band, followed by the committee, acting as an escort to the next president, proceeded through Margaret and Clinton streets to the theatre, which was filled to capacity long before the hour set before the opening of the meeting,” The Sentinel reported.
“When Governor Hughes stepped upon the stage, the large assemblage arose and cheered him vigorously for three minutes,” the report continued. “Never before had the Plattsburgh theatre contained as large an audience, which included many ladies, including the next first lady of the land, who occupied a seat on the stage next to that of her husband.”
The 1916 presidential campaign is the “most vital national campaign since 1860,” said W. E. Pierce, introducing Hughes to the capacity crowd.
“Plattsburgh and the Champlain Valley are signally honored by the presence of the distinguished American who is our guest tonight,” Pierce said, “a great Governor of the Empire State, a great jurist, whose every public act and utterance has but served to strengthen his wonderful hold on the esteem and the affection of his fellow citizens.”
Pierce praised Hughes’ “sterling character” that made him “the highest example of the Americanism which is the very life of our nation.”
Hughes opened his speech talking about the importance of military training camps, such as the one at Plattsburgh that he visited earlier.
“I admire the patriotic spirit which leads men voluntarily to come forward and submit to discipline in the defense in their country,” he said. “This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and if it ceases to be the home of the brave it will soon cease to be the land of the free.”
Hughes said military training has “civil and social value” that is equally important with national security.
“It is a training school in democracy. It is a discipline that knits men together in a wholesome comradeship. It is a splendid up building of character,” he said. “It is a great means of drawing men of all sorts and conditions together in a recognition of a common fellowship and in the delight of wholesome cooperation.”
Military preparedness was a major issue in the campaign as U.S. leaders and the general public debated whether to enter the worldwide war. The Wilson campaign slogan was, “He kept us out of war.”
Hughes said the military should be prepared to defend the U.S., if necessary. “We must be firm in the maintenance of our rights if we should maintain our international influence,” Hughes said. “We must be prepared for every emergency if we shall really have our land and our privileges secure. We must have the spirit of sacrifice if we would have the achievement of peaceful progress.”
Hughes called for continued emphasis on “the success of the plain people.” “This is not a country for isolated success, where the few may exploit the many,” he said. “It is a country devoted to the principle that under the rule of reason and by organized public opinion we shall have a diffusion of prosperity, shall be elevated, and every man, however humble his occupation, will have a sense of pride because he is a citizen in a land where justice reigns.”
Hughes called for civility in politics.
“Our friends on the other side of the aisle – for so I delight to call them – we are having our campaign – we are very earnest and erect in our campaign. It is a time for assessment, for appraisal and candid statement. No one can object in this country to full and fair discussion. That is the very spirit of our institution,” he said. “But we are all friends, however divided politically. I do not desire in speaking of those who do not agree with me to the slightest disrespect. If the argument is sound it will carry without any suggestion of personal enmity. We do not need that in our campaigns. What we need it fairness and the truth, and let the electorate decide.”
Hughes narrowly lost the presidential race to Wilson, but served as U.S. Secretary of State in the cabinets of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and was Chief Justice of the United States.
Photo of Leonard Wood and Charles Evans Hughes Reviews Citizen Soldiers at the Plattsburg Training Camp in Sept 1916.