Library DrawingThe CONNector

JULY 2000Volume 2 Number 3

Observing the President:
Eyewitness Accounts from the State Archives

Mark Jones, State Archivist

Writing Letter Clip ArtIn this year of presidential politics and campaigns, the State Archives offers for your amusement eyewitness descriptions of two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt. The first is found in two letters from John Miller Edwards to William Brooks Bristol written in April 1826. These letters are contained in the State Archives collection, Correspondence of the Bristol Family of New Haven, 1815-46. William Brooks Bristol was the son of prominent New Haven attorney and Superior Court Judge, William Bristol. By 1826, he had graduated from Yale College and was studying law. John Miller Edwards was the third son of Henry W. Edwards, later a governor of the state. In 1826, Henry W. Edwards was representing Connecticut in the United States Senate. John Miller was twenty-one years old and a graduate of Yale College.

Dear Bill

. . .I went with my father and Mr. Ingersoll. Father told me to stick by him and after some ten minutes pushing & squeezing we made our way up to Mrs. Adams. . . we moved off to Mr. John Quincy Adams - well - here stood Mr. President Adams, a short stocky man... I tell you what Bill I felt rather large when I found the President was not a bigger man than myself. I don't mean that he is not a greater man or a stouter man, but I felt rather lofty to look down on the President and say "how do you do Mr. Adams."... My father shook hands with him and them introduced me. John Quincy grabbed hold of my hand and gave me an immortal shake. He almost shook my arm off. I was not use [sic] to such play and hardly knew what to make of it. However it was the Presidents shake and was right of course. "How do you do sir. I am happy to see you." He did not say, "how do you do sir" like common folks. No. No. The President dont shake hands or do such things like other people. He has a way of his own. What you may call a Presidential way.

. . . I received your letter a few days ago and was very much gratified and edified by the perusal of it. I went up to see Mr., I beg his pardon, His Excellency the Hon. John Quincy Adams, the other evening. . . But by gum, Billy, he's a full team & and it is my opinion that if he pursued the same course through this administration that he has done as yet he will be re-elected almost to a certainty which I for one hope may be the case. You ask me whether he chews tobacco. I never have seen him chew yet at his levees for that would not be polite you know, but judging from the looks of his mouth I should think he took a sly cud once in a while.


The next excerpt is the August 22, 1901 entry in a diary entitled, "Occasional Happenings," kept by Ella Fairchild Burr in 1900-1901. She was twenty-five years old when this letter was written. At the time, Ms. Burr was working as a typist for Governor Morgan Bulkeley. Her entry describes a visit to Hartford and speech made by President Theodore Roosevelt. By August 1901, Roosevelt had been President for eleven months, having ascended to that office after the assassination of President William McKinley on September 14, 1900.

Aug. 22:... At noon Elizabeth and I took a trolley around the city to see the decoration for Roosevelt...At 4:00 the President'' train pulled in and the salute of 21 guns was given. We had a very good view of him as he came down the street. Met Lois at six and after a short stop at the office we went directly to the Coliseum. Found Harry Wilcox and he proved a great help in keeping the crowd off me. We had good seats and enjoyed it all with the exception of the hissing when the chairman arose. The President spoke on our relations to Cuba, Porto Rico [sic] and the Phillippines [sic]. He is not handsome and has an odd way of making his voice shrill when saying anything humorous, and rises on one toe often as he speaks. his teeth are almost as funny as his caricatures, but he is a dignified and very pleasing gentleman.

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