American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview

ELIHU ROOT (1845-1937)

Served 1905-1909

Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt

Republican

Elihu Root, secretary of state from July 7, 1905, to January 27, 1909, was a major figure in American law, politics, and foreign relations during the greater part of his long life. His first cabinet office was that of secretary of war, from 1899 to 1904. Upon resignation as secretary of state in 1909, he became a senator from New York. As secretary of state, as senator, and as an ex-senator, he was the foremost American exponent of the judicial approach to the development of international institutions and organizations to maintain peace.

Elihu Root was born February 15, 1845, in Clinton, New York. His father, Oren Root, was then a young teacher moving from school to school; in 1849 he became professor of mathematics at Hamilton College in Clinton, a position he would hold until near the end of his life. The family was proud of its descent from English families that had settled in New England and New York during the seventeenth century. Root's mother, Nancy Whitford Buttrick, was a granddaughter of Major John Buttrick of the Massachusetts Minute Men who commanded them at Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775. Elihu Root graduated from Hamilton College in 1864 and taught for a year at an academy in Rome, New York. He then entered New York University, from which he received a bachelor of law degree in 1867.

Admitted to the New York bar in 1867, Root had considerable success almost from the first. In 1873 he won the favorable attention of other lawyers when he served as one of the defense counsel for the notorious Tammany boss, William Marcy Tweed, then on trial for larceny, forgery, and other offenses. One result of this experience was association with a senior member of the defense, David Dudley Field. In Field's office Root read the Draft Outlines for an International Code, which Field had written the year before; Root's interest in international law began at that time. Marriage to Clara Wales, daughter of a prominent Republican, Salem Wales, editor of the Scientific American, soon opened to Root opportunities to work with Republican leaders. When President Chester A. Arthur appointed him to a two-year term as U.S. attorney for southern New York in 1883, Root's influence in legal

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