The man who would be president

1904 presidential candidate Judge Alton B. Parker, riding a horse on a road in Esopus (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

If you’ve ever taken one of the tour boats that ply the Hudson River’s Long Reach, like the Teal or the Rip Van Winkle, you’ve probably had Rosemont, the Esopus mansion formerly belonging to Alton B. Parker, pointed out to you – and unless you’re a serious history buff, you were probably wondering, “Who the heck was he, anyway?” Well, if the Democratic Party hadn’t been seriously split in 1904 between the conservative Bourbon Democrats led by former president Grover Cleveland and the Free Silver proponents who rallied around the party’s 1900 nominee, William Jennings Bryan, Alton B. Parker might’ve made Theodore Roosevelt a one-term president.

According to noted historian Irving Stone – who wrote admiringly about Parker in his study of defeated candidates, They Also Ran – the Cortland native, longtime Kingston lawyer and eventual chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals probably would’ve made a mighty fine president. But Teddy was a popular, colorful public figure and the Dems were squabbling over the US monetary standard, so their compromise nominee lost the 1904 election in a landslide and Ulster County lost its chance to have a second Presidential Library waving across the Hudson at FDR’s in Hyde Park.

At 7:30 p.m. this Monday, October 8, the Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society will bring Kingston attorney and local history maven John Wadlin to the theater at Vineyard Commons in Highland to present a program intended to pluck Alton B. Parker (1852 – 1926) from the dustbin of history and polish him off for our inspection. On Friday, October 19 at 5:30 p.m., the Senate House Museum will also devote the next installment in its monthly “Kingston’s Buried Treasures” lecture series to the same program.

Presumably the Senate House’s portrait of Parker, painted from life by the Swiss-born artist Adolfo Muller-Ury in the same year as the presidential campaign, will be displayed as part of the second event. One can’t help wondering if the candidate mightn’t have made a better showing in the election if he had only spent more time on the campaign trail and less time sitting for portraits. It is said that Parker never once left his riverside mansion to hit the hustings against Roosevelt; but in those days, such a style of campaigning from behind one’s desk was fairly standard. William Jennings Bryan, already a veteran of the Chautauqua Circuit when he ran for president both before and after Parker, was considered a maverick in his time as much for his nationwide barnstorming as for his radical platform.

Following his election defeat, Alton Parker returned to private life and the practice of law. His distaste for judicial activism was so strong that one of the complaints at his nominating convention was that, as a judge, he had kept his political views closely guarded to the point that nobody really knew what his positions were on the issues of the day. Once nominated and no longer practicing law, however, he considered it fair game to have opinions, and his platform did include support for the gold standard and opposition to trusts and government corruption. He generally opposed American intervention in foreign conflicts, imperialism and military spending except as needed to protect the home front. He was kindly disposed toward the labor movement and represented Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor before the US House of Representatives, though probably his most famous legal case was the 1913 impeachment of New York governor William Sulzer.

Find out more about this illustrious-but-nigh-forgotten mid-Hudsonite, either this Monday in Highland or on the 19th in Kingston. Both programs are free and open to the public, with no reservations necessary. Visit for more information.

John Wadlin will present a Lloyd History Program on Alton B. Parker, 1904 US presidential candidate from West Park, on October 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Vineyard Commons, located at 300 Vineyard Avenue in Highland. On October 19 at 5:30 p.m., Wadlin will reprise the program as part of the Kingston’s Buried Treasures series at the Senate House Museum at 269 Fair Street in Kingston, with parking available on Clinton Avenue. Admission to both programs is free.

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