Theodore Roosevelt on 1891 Lynchings in New Orleans

On March 14, 1891, eleven Italians in New Orleans were taken from a jail and lynched by a mob. The eleven men, along with eight others who survived the day, had been arrested in connection with the murder of New Orelans police chief David Hennessy.

The crowd was angry that six of the nineteen men had received outright acquittals, and mistrials had been declared for another three after the jury hearing the case deadlocked on charges against the men.

On March 21, 1891, Theodore Roosevelt, then serving on the United States Civil Service Commission, wrote a letter ot his sister Anna Roosevelt Cowles in which he wrote:

Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.

A little over a decade later, Roosevelt would condemn lynching in his 1906 message to Congress–albeit heavily laced with overtly racist rhetoric.

There is but one safe rule in dealing with black men as with white men; it is the same rule that must be applied in dealing with rich men and poor men; that is, to treat each man, whatever his color, his creed, or his social position, with even-handed justice on his real worth as a man. White people owe it quite as much to themselves as to the colored race to treat well the colored man who shows by his life that he deserves such treatment; for it is surely the highest wisdom to encourage in the colored race all those individuals who are honest, industrious, law-abiding, and who therefore make good and safe neighbors and citizens. Reward or punish the individual on his merits as an individual. Evil will surely come in the end to both races if we substitute for this just rule the habit of treating all the members of the race, good and bad, alike. There is no question of “social equality” or “negro domination” involved; only the question of relentlessly punishing bad men, and of securing to the good man the right to his life, his liberty, and the pursuit of his happiness as his own qualities of heart, head, and hand enable him to achieve it.

One thought on “Theodore Roosevelt on 1891 Lynchings in New Orleans”

  1. Teddy has always been one of my favorite historical figures. I have heard he was also very prejudice toward Catholics…is this true?

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