Elihu Root was a lawyer, diplomat, political leader, orator, cabinet member, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was born in Clinton, New York and attended a one-room schoolhouse on College Hill, then the village grammar school, and graduated as valedictorian from Hamilton College in 1864.
Following a year of teaching, Root enrolled in the law school at New York University. He received his degree and was admitted to the New York bar in 1867. He married Clara Wales in 1878 in New York City where he practiced law. In the 1870s his cases concentrated on corporate law. His advocacy of the interests of various railroads and financial institutions made him a wealthy man by the age of 30. During these early years, Root did not run for public office, but became active in local Republican politics.
A sensational, highly publicized case was the defense of "Boss" Tweed, leader of the infamous Ring whose scandalous looting activities were rampant in the 1870s. Years later Root addressed a graduation class of the Columbia Law School and referred to the Tweed case with this admonition: "No matter how vile the criminal, if he represents a constitutional right, you will do your country a service by defending him." Root was a conservative with deep respect for the majesty of the law.
His most important role was in defending American corporations and other companies that had failed, and advising business men how to cope with anti-trust laws. Corporation executives eagerly sought his legal help for several decades.
Root was chairman of the Board of Trustees of Hamilton College. An able administrator, he served over 40 years and because of his association with wealthy men, was able to steer large gifts to his college. A major benefactor, he established the Root Hall of Science and the Root Fellowship. His pride in the maintenance of the campus was vigilant; his fondness for every tree in Root Glen endured all his life.
In 1883, Elihu Root was appointed U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a position that allowed him to become acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt. He resumed his private practice in 1885. As Secretary of War under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, he made drastic reforms in the organization of the army and established the Army War College.
Elihu Root retired briefly in 1904, but answered the call to become Roosevelt’s secretary of state the following year. His accomplishments included bringing many State Department employees under civil service protection, improving U.S. ties to Latin American governments in the wake of the events in Panama and concluding the Root-Takahira Agreement with Japan. He also helped to settle a fisheries dispute with Britain in the North Atlantic and negotiated a variety of arbitration treaties.
In 1909, Root began a single term as a U.S. senator from New York. During this time, he supported William Howard Taft for the nomination in 1912, served as a member of the Hague Tribunal and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his many efforts on behalf of international understanding. Root declined reelection to the Senate in 1914.
His award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 was based upon his contribution to the cause of arbitration, to his defense of the sanctity of treaties and his earlier achievement in establishing an enlightened colonial system.
Elihu Root remained extremely active as an elder statesman. He was critical of Woodrow Wilson’s [neutrality] policies, but later supported the president during American participation in World War I. In 1917, he headed a diplomatic mission to Russia and later worked on behalf of the League of Nations and the World Court. Root was a delegate to the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-22.
In his final years, Root worked with Andrew Carnegie on a variety of international peace projects. While not well known to the casual student, Elihu Root was one of America’s most distinguished public servants. He was dedicated to advancing the use of arbitration as a means of enhancing peace prospects worldwide. He was not a starry-eyed idealist, but instead brought his talents as a tough-minded attorney to his task.A remarkable succession of honors. awards, honorary degrees, and citations came to Mr. Root. He devoted much of his 92-year lifetime to making friends for the United States. He is remembered as Oneida County's international statesman.