Ansley Wilcox

Ansley Wilcox (January 27, 1856 - January 26, 1930) was an American scholar, Oxford graduate, lawyer, civil service reform commissioner, New York political insider and friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was sworn in as 26th US President at the library of Wilcox's neo-classical style home, the Ansley Wilcox House at 641 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, New York after the assassination of William McKinley, on September 14, 1901.

Life and rise to prominence

Ansley Wilcox was born near Augusta, Georgia on January 27, 1856. Like Theodore Roosevelt's mother Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, his mother was from the South and his father from the North. During the Civil War his family moved to Connecticut and he later studied law at Yale. Wilcox also attended Oxford University and while in England met Cornelia Rumsey, a young woman from Buffalo on holiday with her family. After leaving Oxford, Wilcox moved to Buffalo, New York where he joined a law firm and married Cornelia in 1878. Cornelia's father, Dexter Rumsey, gave them a house at 675 Delaware Avenue as a wedding present. His wife died in childbirth in 1880, leaving a daughter, Nina. In 1883, Ansley Wilcox married Cornelia’s younger sister, Mary Grace Rumsey. Once again, Dexter Rumsey gave his daughter and son-in-law a house as a wedding present, this one at 641 Delaware Avenue. Their only child, a daughter Frances, was born there in 1884.

Buffalo was a fast growing industrial city when Ansley Wilcox arrived. Although a young man, he soon became known for his legal expertise, charitable works and his love of golf. Corporate law was his specialty but he also taught a course in medical jurisprudence at the University of Buffalo. Like Roosevelt, he was a reformer and a conservationist. The two men met in the early 1880s when they were appointed by Governor Grover Cleveland to a special commission on civil service reform. Both men also served on the commission to create the Niagara Reservation, a protected park area around Niagara Falls. Though he never ran for public office, Wilcox was very interested in politics. He was a friend of at least three presidents , Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft). It was Wilcox who first proposed the idea of holding local elections during odd numbered years to avoid conflict with state and federal elections during even numbered years. He was an independent Republican who broke ranks and voted for Democrat Grover Cleveland in the presidential election of 1884. He supported Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 but in the election of 1912 he threw his support to Republican incumbent Taft, rather than to Progressive Party candidate Roosevelt, whose presidency had begun in his Library.

Wilcox is also remembered as a founder of the Charity Organization Society and the Fitch Creche, the first day center for working mothers in the United States. Many of these groups met informally the Wilcox home to make decisions and plan events. He was also a founding member of the Wanakah Country Club and enjoyed riding his horses and polo ponies in Delaware Park. The garden at 641 Delaware was also one of his passions. Although a professional gardener was on staff, Wilcox often tended the flowers himself.

In 1917, Ansley Wilcox retired from his law firm. He spent his time in charity work, golfing, riding and gardening. He also took a particular interest in the politics behind the development of the hydro-electric power plants in Niagara Falls in the 1920s.

Ansely Wilcox died of throat cancer on January 26, 1930, one day before his 74th birthday. He is buried in the Rumsey plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery (Buffalo).

Today, the Wilcox house is the oldest part of a National Historic Site including the lone surviving structure from the Buffalo Barracks compound. Due to tensions between the U.S. and Anglo-Canada, a military post was constructed to ensure border security. Built in 1839, the post encompassed all the land from Allen Street to North Street and Delaware Ave to Main Street. The structure that would later be incorporated into the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site started life in 1840 as the Barrack's officer's quarters.

Theodore Roosevelt sworn into office in the Wilcox home

On September 6, 1901, while attending the Pan-American Exposition, anarchist Leon Czolgosz twice shot President William McKinley. Although early doctor's reports on the President's condition were positive, McKinley's condition soon worsened. Theodore Roosevelt, the vice president, assured that McKinley would recover, headed up to Vermont to give some speeches and to take a planned vacation. Roosevelt had thus gone on to a planned family camping and hiking trip to Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks when a runner finally caught up with him and told him that McKinley's condition had greatly worsened and that he was on his death bed. Not wanting to simply show up in Buffalo and wait on McKinley's death, Roosevelt was pondering with his wife, Edith, how best to respond to this turn of events, when additional news reached him that McKinley would soon die. Roosevelt was rushed by a series of stagecoaches to North Creek train station. At the station, Roosevelt was handed a telegram that said only that the President had died. Turning the telegram upside down and reading it again, Roosevelt expressed a sense of helplessness that the telegram contained no additional information and said only that McKinley had died at 2:30 AM on the morning of the 14th. Officially having learned that he was now President of the United States, Roosevelt continued by train from North Creek to Buffalo. Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo later that same day, accepting an invitation to stay Wilcox's home. He had known Wilcox since the early 1880s when they had both worked closely with New York State Governor Grover Cleveland on civil service reform. Wilcox would recall that "the family and most of the household were in the country, but he [Roosevelt] was offered a quiet place to sleep and eat, and accepted it. For the actual swearing in, the most appropriate site was determined to be the Wilcox home. Approximately 50 dignitaries, family members and cabinet officials gathered in the front library for the inauguration. Federal Judge John R. Hazel administered the oath. No photograph image exists of the ceremony itself, although the room was heavily photographed after the inauguration had concluded. Today this home is known as the Ansley Wilcox House at Buffalo, New York borrowing Wilcox's morning coat. Roosevelt did not swear on the Bible nor on any other book, making him unique among presidents. Mark Hanna lamented that "that damned cowboy is president now," giving expression to the fears of many old line Republicans.

Opposition to Roosevelt on the Progressive Ticket

When Roosevelt bolted from the Republican Party in the 1912 presidential election and ran on the Progressive Party ticket, Wilcox, a loyal party man, could not countenance such a move on TR's part and served notice that he could not support his presidential bid.

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