Elihu Root Sr.

Portrait of Elihu Root.

Subject: Elihu Root Sr.
Date of Birth: February 15, 1845
Date of Death: February 7, 1937
Artist: Theobald Chartrain
Location: Buttrick Hall, 1st Floor, Lobby

Sitter: Elihu Root was born in Clinton, New York, on February 15, 1845 to Oren Root and Nancy Whitney Buttrick. His father was professor of mathematics at Hamilton College. After studying at local schools, including Williston Seminary, Elihu enrolled in college at Hamilton College, where he joined the Sigma Phi Society and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Root continued his education at New York University School of Law. After his graduation in 1967, he became a successful lawyer and worked with clients including Andrew Carnegie.

In 1899, Root was appointed to President William McKinley’s Cabinet as Secretary of War. Despite his lack of military experience, McKinley had faith in Root because of his vast knowledge of legal principle. In this position, Root reformed the War Department and the Civil Service and effectively managed the United States’ new territories of Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. After McKinley’s death, President Theodore Roosevelt kept Root in his position as Secretary of War for the remainder of his truncated first term and then appointed him Secretary of State in 1905.2 It was here that Root did perhaps his most important work in attempting to establish international law as the first form of recourse vis-à-vis international tensions. Root declined the Republication nomination for president, but remained active in politics and international relations, serving as a U.S. Senator from New York from 1909-1915. Root also served as a trustee of Hamilton College from 1883 until his death in 1937 and received the Nobel Prize for his work in international relations. On February 7, 1937, Root passed away in New York, New York.3

Artist: The portrait was completed by Theobald Chartran in 1903, shortly after he finished a painting of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was born in Besancon, France and attained fame early in his career for his skill as a painter.  Later in his career, he went on to paint James Gordon Bennett, President McKinley, Pope Leo XIII and Andrew Carnegie.

Portrait at Hamilton: This oil painting was gifted to Hamilton College in 1903 by Elihu Root Jr., and was placed in the President’s office in July 1967.  The portrait is located in the lobby of Buttrick Hall.

1. “The Public Career of Elihu Root”,  Hamilton College Alumni Review 3 (January 1938): 46.

“New Portraits of 1912,” Hamilton College Alumni Review 15 (January 1950): 85.

Hamilton College Archives, Accession #0000.373, College Portraits Card Index.