"To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!” was supposedly said by Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who tried to settle the coal strike of 1902 in any way he could. Early citations are lacking; there is a senator’s testimony in 1936 memoirs (see below).
“To hell with the Constitution!” is cited from the 1860s and was spoken during the Cripple Creek (CO) strike of 1903.
Wikipedia: Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919; pronounced /ˈroʊzəvɛlt/ ROE-zə-velt) was the 26th President of the United States. He is well remembered for his energetic persona, his range of interests and achievements, his leadership of the Progressive Movement, his model of masculinity, and his “cowboy” image. He was a leader of the Republican Party and founder of the short-lived Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party of 1912. Before becoming President (1901–1909) he held offices at the municipal, state, and federal level of government. Roosevelt’s achievements as a naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier are as much a part of his fame as any office he held as a politician.
Wikipedia: Coal Strike of 1902
The Coal Strike of 1902 was a strike by the United Mine Workers of America in the anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania. The strike threatened to shut down the winter fuel supply to all major cities (homes and apartments were heated with anthracite or “hard” coal because it had higher heat value and less smoke than “soft” or bituminous coal). President Theodore Roosevelt became involved and set up a fact-finding commission that suspended the strike. The strike never resumed, as the miners received more pay for fewer hours; the owners got a higher price for coal, and did not recognize the union as a bargaining agent. It was the first labor episode in which the federal government intervened as a neutral arbitrator.
13 September 1866, Patriot (PA), pg. 5:
People wake up! White men, if you want to preserve the ballot-box pure, and to bequeath to your children the same white man’s Government which you received from your ancestors, arouse and defeat the tricksters, who, to subserve their own base purposes, tell their adherents to “throw conscience to the devil;” who say that “it is numbers not intelligence we want,” and who blasphemously cry—“To hell with the Constitution!”
22 January 1868, Patriot (PA), pg. 2:
Since the time when the “Great Commoner” (!) cried—“To hell with the Constitution!” it is doubtful if any Radical editor has ever considered it worth while to examine the Great Charter, even to discover whether the later declaration of the same personage be true that all the Rump legislation upon “reconstruction” has been performed “outside the Constitution.”
6 February 1868, Patriot (PA), pg. 4:
It did not however, suit the malignant dictators in Congress to pursue such a lawful and just course. They declared “to hell with the Constitution,” and acting entirely outside of it, as they have admitted, they invented a new policy, unknown to the laws or institutions, which they call “reconstruction.”
The Cripple Creek Strike, 1903-1904
By Emma Florence Langdon
Victor, CO: Press of Victor Daily Record
“TO HELL WITH THE CONSTITUTION.”
“To hell with the constitution. We are going by the governor’s orders,” said Major McClelland, acting judge advocate and counsel for the military authorities, according to the statement of Attorney John M. Glover.
“I was in the office of District Attorney Trowbridge when Tom McClelland and Willis V. Elliott were preparing information against Editor Kyner for libel. Referring to the seizure of the office of the Victor Record, I said to McClelland, ‘Your people apparently have not much respect for the constitution. That was a blow at the freedom of the press,’ to which McClelland replied: “To h--- with the constitution. We are going by the governor’s orders.’ To which I replied: ‘We will have some of you gellows pleading for your liberty before a jury where the governor’s orders don’t go.’ McClelland replied: ‘We will take care of that when we come to it.’ Elliot was present and heard this conversation.”
Immediately upon the appearance of the foregoing McClelland denied that he made the remark that he was not going by the constitution, which at once brought forth the following from Mr. Glover.
“Cripple Creek, Colorado, Oct. 5, 1903. (...)”
8 January 1904, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, “War in Colorado between Militia and the Miners,” pg. 1:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Col., Jan. 8.—“The militia will stay in Cripple Creek until unionism is wiped out.”
“Only the Lord and the military powers know what our next move will be.”
“To hell with the constitution, we are not following the constitution.”
Printed on a big poster in black type, these three sentiments are credited respectively to General Chase, Judge Advocate McClelland and Adjutant General Sherman M. Bell, all of the militia of Colorado.
18 March 1905, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 8, col. 2:
USE OF WORD “HELL”
The following communication is in explanation of “Jack” London’s use of the word “hell” in connection with the constitution:
“Editor OAKLAND TRIBUNE, Dear Sir: In yesterday’s (Thursday) issue of your paper I noticed an item wherein Jack London is quoted as saying in a speech he recently read: ‘To hell with the Constitution.’ I want to say that when London used these words, he was quoting Gen. Bell, of Colorado, the bosom friend of Roosevelt. So you see the words are Bell’s and not London’s. As a subscriber of the TRIBUNE, I should be pleased to see this matter corrected in a conspicuous manner in the columns of your paper. Respectfully, William Schneider, Fruitvale, Cal.”
20 March 1905, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 6, col. 1:
Jack London ran last in the mayoralty race, but his campaign is still reverberating through the press. His expression “To hell with the Constitution!” promises to become as widely celebrated as Vanderbilt’s famous remakr, “D--n the people!” Now, we cannot apprehend that Mr. London really meant any harm to the Constitution. It is not likely that he is acquainted with the instrument, and only bade it defiance in the spirit that inspired the young Indian buck to shhot his maiden arrows at the man in the moon. It does no more harm. The man in the moon was not harmed and the embryo warrior got the hang of his elbow. Besides, Author London is only shooting at a mythical man-in-the-moon in the Constitution.
Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive
Roosevelt Labor Letters
Written: May 18, 1907
First Published: May 18, 1907 Appeal to Reason
Source: DEBS: His Life Writings and Speeches 1908 by The Appeal to Reason newspaper, Girard, Kansas. Pages 247-252;
Online Version: E.V. Debs Internet Archive, 2008
Again, has the President ever heard of one Lieut. T. E. McClelland?
And of the expression, “To hell with the constitution,” made by said McClelland?
Is this treasonable language?
Did the President condemn it?
3 November 1913, Gettysburg (PA) Times, pg. 6:
“He has stolen most of his thunder from my speeches. I am the originator of the phrase ‘to hell with the constitution.’ I used it in Chicago, and have always in season and out of season, whenever I have spoken on the subject, proclaimed that lynching ought to follow rape.”
(South Carolina Senator Benjamin R. Tillman on Governor Cole L. Blease—ed.)
As I Knew Them:
Memoirs of James Watson, former United States senator from Indiana
By James Eli Watson
Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Whereupon he literally shouted: “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”
I was dumfounded at this assertion by the President who had taken a solemn oath to defend the Constitution, but I decided to regard it as one of Teddy’s outbursts that he did not intend to carry into effect, and so let it go.
Jack London, sailor on horseback:
A biographical novel
By Irving Stone
Garden City, NY: Doubleday
The scandal had no sooner died down than Jack gave another lecture in which he mentioned that William Lloyd Garrison had said, “To hell with the Constitution!” when he was condeming slavery in 1856, and that General Sherman Bell had said it more lately in putting down strikers.
December 1938, The Crisis, pg. 393, col. 1:
... governors like Cole Blease (who shouted: “to hell with the Constitution when it interferes with lynching"):...
Memoirs of Governor Murray and true history of Oklahoma:
Together with his biography, philosophy, statesmanship, and Oklahoma history, interwoven
By William H Murray
Boston, MA: Meador Pub. Co.
I heard one State Senator in 1936 make a speech in which he said: “To Hell with the Constitution when people are hungry!”
Portrait of America:
From Reconstruction to the Present
7th edition, volume 2
By Stephen B. Oates
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin
“To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!” Remarks like that caused old Joe Cannon to sigh, “Roosevelt’s got no more respect for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license.”
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • (0) Comments • Friday, February 26, 2010 • Permalink