December 22, 1904

Theodore Roosevelt Accepts a Gift of Fine Fabric From Which to Make His 1905 Inauguration Day Suit

Typed Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 2345
Anyone reading the newspapers - or maybe, the tabloids - about how certain recent presidents, leaving the White House, gathered up and took home all manner of gifts, illegally, will be astonished to read this letter by Theodore Roosevelt accepting, "with utmost pleasure", the gift of very expensive fabric for his 1905 inaugural suit...

While it has always been true that Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution names bribery as an impeachable offense, it hasn't been until the mid-1960's that citizens (and even foreign governments) couldn't give lavish presents, quite lawfully, to the chief executive. Hence, when Massachusetts textile manufacturer Thomas Sykes offered, on December 20th 1904, a gift to President Roosevelt that the Sykes family had likewise offered to at least three of his predecessors, Roosevelt bounded to accept it. Writing two days later, he replied enthusiastically:

I have received your letter of the 20th instant, stating that you had made the cloth for the inauguration suits of Messrs. Garfield, Harrison and McKinley, and that you wished to give me the cloth for a similar suit. I accept it with the utmost pleasure. Will you please send the material to M. Rock, Tailor, 315 Fifth Avenue, New York, who will make it up for me?

From fabric to fit, however, was a trial-and-error affair, which ultimately saw Roosevelt fuming - albeit, at his tailor. With the March 4, 1905 inauguration less than two weeks away, Roosevelt wrote [Shapell Manuscript Collection: dated February 19, 1905] that the "cut and hang" of the frock coat "are so bad that I do not like to wear it on inauguration day; as for the trousers, I don't think any change can help them." He needed a tailor to come to the White House, soonest...

Roosevelt, however, took the Oath of Office dressed impeccably - a far cry from the first time he took the presidential Oath, when on Saturday, September 14, 1901, his ascension to the presidency was so unexpected, he had to borrow clothes to wear to a make-shift swearing-in. Just hours before, he had been hiking high in the Adirondacks; then, suddenly, President McKinley, recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in an assassination attempt the week before, worsened and died - and Vice-President Roosevelt, fresh off Mount Marcy, urgently needed something decent to wear. He scrambled, then, to borrow a frock coat, striped trousers, a waistcoat, a four-in-hand tie and patent leather shoes - that he might be sworn-in as President like a gentleman.
Whether, incidentally or not, the Sykes family provided the fabric for Garfield's presidential suit, they had a hand in creating the material for presidents Harrison, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Indeed, the cloth of which these different suits was made came to be sold thereafter as among the highest priced fabrics on the market, duly named "Inauguration" cloth, "McKinley'" cloth and "Presidential" cloth, respectively. They were similar black undressed worsted, made of the very finest counts of yarn, from the finest wool obtainable. London shrunk, the goods turned out very soft, with a beautiful finish - as befit an American president on Inauguration Day. Typed Letter Signed, as President, 1 page, octavo, the White House, December 22, 1904. To Thomas W. Sykes of The North Adams Manufacturing Company in North Adams, Massachusetts. With transmittal envelope.
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