STRANGE GH: Namesake of Dewey Hill had strange presidential run

Mar 6, 2012


But what most people may not know is Dewey once was engaged in the nomination process for the Republican Party as candidate for the office of president of the United States.

George Dewey was born Dec. 26, 1837, in Montpelier, Vt. He was a general and admiral of historic proportions, but his run for president was said to be misguided and embarrassing.

Dewey entered the U.S. Navy as an acting midshipman from the 1st Congressional District of Vermont in September 1854. He is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He achieved the exceptional rank of Admiral of the Navy by special act of Congress in 1903, with his date of rank retroactive to 1899.

In 1899, Deweymania was sweeping the nation, and by the following year chatter began urging George Dewey to run for president.

“If the American people want me for this high office, I shall be only too willing to serve them,” Dewey told the press.

He went on to point out that, “Since studying this subject, I am convinced that the office of the president is not such a very difficult one to fill.”

Can you imagine a candidate saying this today: The office of president is not such a very difficult one to fill?

Dewey imagined he’d just follow orders like a good soldier since the chief executive job, in his view, was to merely “execute the laws of Congress.”

“I have always executed the orders of my superiors,” Dewey said.

His candidacy was plagued by many public relations gaffes. And the more Dewey spoke, the more his ignorance of issues of the day became apparent. This caused few, in short order, to take him seriously.

“A great sailor should have a better chart in a strange sea,” one reporter wrote.

Dewey had also angered some Protestants in November 1899 by marrying a Catholic, Mildred McLean Hazen, the widow of Gen. William Babcock Hazen. She was also the daughter of Washington McLean, owner of The Washington Post, so it appeared to some that Dewey would have the press in his pocket.

Dewey also reportedly gave Mildred the house that the nation had given him following the Spanish-American War.

Dewey conjured up more criticism when he offhandedly told a newspaper reporter that, “Our next war will be with Germany.” Prophetically, he was right on that one — twice.

Perhaps the straw that broke the proverbial Republican elephant’s back was when Dewey admitted in an interview with the press to never having voted in a single presidential election.

Dewey was a great naval commander, but wasn’t cut out to be commander-in-chief.

Failing to secure any serious backing for his presidential bid, he endorsed President William McKinley for re-election and served out the remainder of his days as the head of the General Board of the Navy Department.

An exposé published in the Hartford Republican newspaper on April 27, 1900, put forth the notion Dewey had run for president out of anger concerning an unpaid pension President McKinley failed to approve. The sum denied to Dewey was $10,000, an equivalent of nearly $259,000 today.

“The president wanted to pay this sum to the admiral, but the law would not permit it,” the newspaper said. The measure concerned Dewey holding “two offices” during his service, and the government did not allow compensation for amounts exceeding $2,500.

The report claimed Dewey thought McKinley “had robbed him of his just dues” — and after speaking to the president on the telephone about it, was livid with rage and exclaimed McKinley had “treated him like a dog.”

Thus, it may never be known if Dewey’s run for president was out of love for country or his anger seeking retribution on McKinley.

Adm. George Dewey, the man whose name adorns a hill in Grand Haven, died at the age of 79 on Jan. 16, 1917.

President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement the day after the General’s passing: “He rendered a service to the Navy quite invaluable in its sincerity and quality of practical sagacity. It is pleasant to recall what qualities gave him his well-deserved fame: his practical directness, his courage without self-consciousness, his efficient capacity in matters of administration, the readiness to fight without asking questions or hesitating about any detail.”

Admiral-able, but not presidential.


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