Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Roosevelt, Theodore (1858-1919) to J. C. Martin

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also request a pdf of the image from us here.

Log in
subscribe to see this thumbnail image

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC07673 Author/Creator: Roosevelt, Theodore (1858-1919) Place Written: s.l. Type: Typed letter signed Date: circa 1910-1919 Pagination: 5 p. ; 26.7 x 20.3 cm

A high-resolution version of this object is available for registered users. LOG IN or SUBSCRIBE

Summary of Content: Disputes Martin's premise that a candidate's religion is important: "In no case does the man's religious belief in any way influence his discharge of his duties, save as to make him more eager to act justly and uprightly in his relations to all men." At the head of the letter is Roosevelt's note that this letter appeared in the Homeward Bound edition of his works. He has condensed it here "so as to deal with the permanent issue raised by Mr. Martin."

Background Information: The Homeward Bound edition was published in 1910.

Full Transcript: The original of this letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Mr .J. C. Martin concerning Religion and Politics, is published on page 1866 in volume VII of the Presidential Addresses and State ...Papers of Theodore Roosevelt (Homew[struck: ra][inserted: ar]d Bound Edition) issued by the Review of Reviews. I here give it condensed so as to deal with permanent issue raised by Mr. Martin.
Theodore Roosevelt

November 6, 1908.
My dear Sir:
I have received your letter running in part as follows; "While it is claimed universally that religion should not enter into politics, yet there is no denying that it does, and the mass of voters that are not Catholics will not support a man for any office, especially for President of The United States, who is a Roman Catholic.
I received many such letters as yours during the campaign. I did not answer any of these letters during the campaign because I regarded it as an outrage even to agitate such a question as a man's religious conviction, with the purpose of influencing a political election. But now that the campaign is over, when there is opportunity for men calmly to consider whither such propositions as those you make in your letter would lead, I wish to invite them to consider them, and I have selected your letter to answer.
(Your request is that a candidate) shall "let the world know what his religious belief is." This is purely his own private concern ; it is a matter between him and his Maker, a matter for his own conscience; and to require it to be made public under penalty of political discrimination is to negative the first principles of our Government, which guarantee complete religious liberty, and the right to each to act in religious affairs as his own conscience dictates.
[2] I should emphatically advise any candidate against thus stating publicly his religious belief. The demand for a statement of a candidate's religious belief can have no meaning except that there may be discrimination for or against him because of that belief. Discrimination against the holder of one faith means retaliatory discrimination against men of other faiths. The inevitable result of entering upon such a practice would be an abandonment of our real freedom of conscience and a reversion to the dreadful conditions of religious dissension which in so many lands have proved fatal to true liberty, to true religion, and to all advance in civilization.
To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life. You are entitled to know whether a man seeking your suffrages is a man of clean and up right life, honorable in all of his dealings with his fellows, and fit by qualification and purpose to do well in the great office for which he is a candidate; but you are not entitled to know matters which lie purely between himself and his Maker. If it is proper or legitimate to oppose a man for being a Unitarian, as was John Quincy Adams, for instance, as is the Rev. Edward Everett Hal, at the present moment Chaplain of the Senate, and an American of whose life all good Americans are proud -- then it would be equally proper to support or oppose a man because of his views on justification by faith, or the method of administering the sacrament, or the gospel of [3] salvation by works. If you once enter on such a career there is absolutely no limit at which you can legitimately stop. (This applies of course, equally to objecting to a candidate because he is a Roman Catholic.[inserted: )] This fact that he is such ought not to affect in the slightest degree any man's supporting him for the position of President. You say that "the mass of the voters that are not Catholics will not support a man for any office, especially for President of the United States, who is a Roman Catholic." I believe that when you say this you foully slander your fellow countrymen, I do not for one moment believe that the mass of our fellow citizens, or that[inserted: /]any considerable number of our fellow citizens, can be influenced by such narrow bigotry as to refuse to vote for any thoroughly upright and fit man because he happens to have a particular religious creed. Such a consideration should never be treated as a reason for either supporting or opposing a candidate for a political office. Are you aware that there are several States in this Union where the majority of the people are now Catholics? I should reprobate in the severest terms the Catholics who in those States (or in any other States) refused to vote for the most fit man because he happened to be a Protestant; and my condemnation would be exactly as severe for Protestants who, under reversed circumstances, refused to vote for a Catholic. In public life I am happy to say that I have known many men who were elected, and constantly re-elected, to office in districts where the great majority of their constituents were of a different religious belief. I know Catholics who have for many years represented constituencies mainly Protestant, and Protestants who have for [4] many years represented constituencies mainly Catholic; and among the Congressmen whom I know particularly well was one man of Jewish faith who represented a district in which there we[struck: e][inserted: r]e hardly any Jews at all. Al of these men by their very existence in political life refute the slander you have uttered against your fellow Americans.
I believe that this Republic will endure for many centuries. If so there will doubtless be among its Presidents Protestants and Catholics, and, very probably at some time, Jews. I have consistently tried while President to act in relation to my fellow Americans of Catholic faith. As I hope that any future President who happens to be a Catholic will act towards his fellow Americans of Protestant faith. Had I followed any other course I should have felt that I was unfit to represent the American people.
In my Cabinet at the present moment there sit side by side Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, each man chosen because in my belief he is peculiarly fit to exercise on behalf of all our people the duties of the office to which I have appointed him. In no case does the man's religious belief in any way influence his discharge of his duties, save as to make him more eager to act justly and uprightly in his relations to all men. The same principles that have obtained in appointing the members of my Cabinet, the highest officials under me, the officials to whom is entrusted the work of carrying out all the important policies of my administration are the principles upon which all good [5] Americans should act in choosing whether by election or appointment the men to fill any office from the highest to the lowest in the land.
Yours truly,

Mr. J. C. Martin,
Corner Fourth and Jefferson Streets,
Dayton, Ohio.

See More

People: Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919

Historical Era: Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929

Subjects: Progressive EraPoliticsGovernment and CivicsElectionReligionPresidentVice President

Sub Era:

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources