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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter XVIII


THE Half-breed faction continued its successes without serious interruption and dominated the Republican party. In 1902 they won without great difficulty, and La Follette was re-elected governor together with a legislature the majority of which was sympathetic with our purposes. The opposition, however, although badly demoralized, did not abandon the conflict. They continued their efforts and preserved an organization sufficient, at least, to take advantage of mistakes growing out of the overconfidence of the Half-breed leaders.

In 1904, when La Follette was nominated at the Madison convention, the old-line Republicans withdrew and established a rump convention which nominated S. A. Cook. This gave rise to the question of regularity which was taken before the Supreme Court. La Follette was declared to be the nominee on the Republican ticket, the rump convention was held to be irregular, and Cook, who was as honorable a man as I ever knew, accepted the decision without a word of protest and withdrew. The Stalwarts, or regular Republicans, thereupon nominated former Governor Schofield, who received only twelve thousand votes.

In the third congressional district the Hall-breeds met with defeat. Their candidate, J. J. Blame, was pitted against Joseph W. Babcock, against whom the strength of the Half-breed faction was concentrated. W. D. Conner, chairman of the state central committee, wrote to me during the campaign, saying that a delegation from the district had assured him that with a fund of fifteen hundred dollars for expenses they could defeat Babcock and suggested that if I would contribute half the amount he would contribute a similar sum personally, as the committee itself was without funds. I sent my check for one thousand dollars. The efforts of the Half-breed leaders were futile. It was disclosed afterward that Henry Overheck and thirty-eight game wardens, who were in the employ of the state government, went into the district on a single train to participate in the fight. Nevertheless Babcock was elected. Despite the part I had played in the campaign we remained good friends up to the time of his death. More than once in later years he said that the mistake of his life had been not to have thrown his support to me when the senatorial campaign was on in 1898. It would have prevented many misunderstandings, he explained, and saved him many regrets.

The Stalwarts, who apparently had an unlimited campaign fund, were being aided, according to reports current at the time, by interests outside the state. It was said that they had at their disposal two or three hundred thousand dollars contributed by eastern railroad corporations who were viewing with alarm the interest aroused by the fight in Wisconsin to equalize taxation and compel the transportation interests to bear their just proportion of the burden. In any event, they made a very energetic and systematic canvass in 1904. But their efforts were unavailing. We won by a majority of 50,000 and it was estimated, and I think accurately, that we received the votes of 40,000 independent or "fair-minded" Democrats who supported La Follette and the ticket generally. Of the popular attitude toward the issues we had raised there could be no question.

The important political problem before the legislature, which we controlled, was the election of a Senator to succeed Senator Quarles. Governor La Follette had always said that he would not go to Washington. The question thereupon arose whether enough strength could be mustered to elect me.

Inexplicable difficulties began to arise. Governor La Follette took the attitude that his aid would not be sufficient to bring about my election because of the opposition of two men, H. L. Ekern and E. N. Warner, the latter the member from his own assembly district in Madison. He expressed keen regret over his inability to induce Warner to come to my support; and that insurmountable obstacles should have stood in the way of my going to the Senate, he said, "almost broke his heart."

While this discussion was going on I pursued a noncommittal course, saying that I would not urge that any action be taken at that time. I merely suggested to La Follette and the other half-breed leaders that I might obtain eight or ten Stalwart votes, as many of the Stalwarts were very friendly to me personally and bore me no ill will because of my support of the reforms instituted through the half-breed faction. This immediately aroused vehement protest from the half-breed leaders, who had obviously arrived at such a point of confidence in their ability to dominate the politics of the state that they foreswore everything that savored of compromise. For every Stalwart vote gained, they insisted, ten Half-breed votes would be lost. It began to be apparent to me that the Half-breeds had other plans.

The legislature met in January, about which time Governor La Follette asked me to come to Milwaukee to meet some of the members and other political leaders. Lenroot, then speaker of the Assembly, Walter Hauser, Judge Chynoweth, Mr. Myrick, editor of the Free Press, and several others were at the conference. For three hours plans for the senatorial election were discussed, during all of which time I listened but said nothing. The conclusion was reached that neither I nor anyone else except La Follette could be elected, and he again insisted that he did not wish to and would not go to the United States Senate.

Lenroot and some of the others then proposed that La Follette be elected and that, in the meantime, they canvass the legislature to ascertain whether a sufficient number of votes could be obtained to elect me, in which event La Follette would decline the office and I would go to Washington instead. The talk went on up to midnight. During the entire conference the only observation I made was that I could secure eight or ten Stalwart votes. Invariably this met with the declaration that it would be a disadvantage rather than an advantage upon the assumption that the Stalwart votes would alienate the HaIf-breeds, a rather extreme supposition, to my mind. As it was I lacked only two votes short of a majority, but this seemed to have no weight in the council.

La Follette was elected Senator in January, 1905. So far as I could observe no effort was made to elect anyone else. I had learned still another lesson on the uncertainties of politics.

Even after his election La Follette was obviously reluctant to relinquish the governorship and did not go to Washington for a year after he was commissioned to represent the state in the upper house of the national legislature. During this time, the year of 1905, Wisconsin had only one Senator.

The reasons for this reluctance I will not attempt to explain. About this time, however, I began to hear from other quarters. Lieutenant-Govern or Davidson, who was associated with Hall at the very outset of the reform movement which led to the creation of the so-called Half-breed faction, told me that some of the La Follette leaders had come to him and said that La Follette would give up the governorship and go to the Senate if he would agree not to become a candidate for the office of Governor again in 1906 after he served for the remainder of La Follette's term,-- a proposition which, to my mind, at least, was indefensible from any point of view. Subsequently, I was told, La Follette himself went to Davidson and said that he would resign and go to the Senate if Davidson would give his word that he would not run in 1906. Davidson replied that he would make no such agreement if he never became Governor of the state.

On the evening of the same day Governor La Follette issued a call for an extra session of the legislature to make some slight alterations in a bill. This was done and La Follette immediately afterward resigned the office of Governor and went to Washington. Davidson succeeded him as Governor, taking office on January 1, 1906.

Then came the aftermath of this particular episode. When time for the canvass of 1906 arrived, Davidson declared his candidacy and La Follette decided to fight. He held a conference in Chicago with Haugen, Myrick, editor of the Free Press, Lenroot, and one or two others, and subsequently Lenroot was brought out as a candidate for Governor in opposition to Davidson, whose standing in the state and whose early efforts in support of the reform movement availed nothing against the decree of the so- called Progressive Republican leaders. He was slated for sacrifice for no apparent reason. La Follette took the stump in behalf of Lenroot and in his speeches bitterly denounced Davidson, declaring that he was not fit for the office.

Having watched this shifting of events from the background, I told La Follette that he had made a serious political blunder in bringing out Lenroot to oppose Davidson and that the people of the state were fair-minded and would support the latter. The Free Press, too, espoused Davidson's cause. How far the La Follette plans went awry may be gathered from the results of the primary election. Davidson received 100,583 votes; Lenroot, 61,178. In the election proper Davidson's plurality was 80,000 votes. The record he achieved during his administration bore out, I still believe, the predictions I had made to La Follette. A number of excellent laws for the regulation and taxation of public service corporations and the regulation of freight rates were enacted, some of which have served as a pattern for other states.

Whether or not I entered into the calculations of La Follette when he was wavering between retaining the governorship and going to Washington I will not say, but one or two incidents seemed to indicate that the possibility of my election to the Senate in the event of his refusal to go was as much a consideration as the possibility of Davidson becoming becoming a candidate for Governor in case he did go. His decision to choose the latter course appeared to me, at least, very sudden; for shortly before his resignation as Governor he assured me that he had no intention of going to the Senate.

In the autumn of 1905, when La. Follette was still in this undecided frame of mind, Judge Chynoweth, one of his lieutenants, came to Marinette to see me. The ostensible purpose of his visit was to inspect a large barn my brother, S. M. Stephenson, had erected in Menominee, to obtain ideas for the improvement of a farm he intended to give his son. Chynoweth's farm was not much larger than the barn itself and it was about as reasonable to pattern a log house after a skyscraper as to suppose that he was to gain any practicable information; but these political errands always had to have an object other than the real one. On the first visit he came on Saturday and remained at my daughter's house over Sunday. On the second he remained at my house all night. The conversation covered a wide range of subjects, but the nucleus of it was a statement made by Chynoweth that La Follette was to call the extra session of the legislature, coupled with the assertion that the Governor had no intention of going to the Senate.

"Who will be elected in his place?" I asked Chynoweth. ''I don't know," he replied; "but La Follette still thinks you cannot be elected."

To this I made no response and the discussion veered to other subjects. So the verbal sparring went on for the greater part of Sunday, while he was at my house, during which time at intervals he reverted to the question of the forthcoming extra session and the possibility of La Follettes abandonment of his senatorial plans. My question invariably met with the same reply, but vouchsafed no comment and offered no suggestions.

At length, unable to elicit all of my own intents and purposes, Chynoweth said bluntly: ''What have you in mind? I can see that you are thinking of one thing and talking about others."

"Well, Chynoweth," I replied gravely, "Talleyrand says that language was made to conceal thoughts."

That concluded the discussion. La Follette's emissary - I assumed that he was acting in that capacity - went home no wiser concerning my plans than when he came. The extra session of the state legislature was called and La Follette began his senatorial career soon afterward.

John C. Spooner, the senior Senator from Wisconsin, resigned his his office on March 4, 1907. When the announcement was made a number of the leading Republicans of Wisconsin telegraphed and wrote to me urging me to become a candidate to succeed him for the unexpired portion of his term. This I decided to do and on March 4 made a public announcement asking for the appointment for the remaining two years. At the same time I wrote to Senator La Follette,— with whom my relations were still friendly,— informing him of my decision to become a candidate. He replied that he had expected me to take that course and assured me that he would do all that he could to assist me. He found it necessary, he said, to go to Pittsburgh to deliver an address, after which he would come to Madison. In the mean time his law partner, Rogers, expressed the opinion that Hatton would be elected.

In any event I was not to have the field to myself. In a day or two four other candidates entered the lists: Representative Cooper, of the First Congressional District; Representative Esch, of the Seventh; Mr. Lenroot, of Superior; and State Senator Hatton, of Waucapa. All of us opened headquarters at, Madison.

At the outset I had the advantage over the others. About twenty votes had been assured me, one or two more than any of the others could muster. After a time the legislature went into caucus and met night after night without any change in the relative strength of the candidates. In due time Senator La Follette arrived in Madison, called in his friends in the legislature and asked them to vote for me. The La. Follette influence, however, appeared to be very ineffective at this time, for it brought about no appreciable change in the situation. To what extent it was exercised others may surmise for themselves. Senator La. Follette himself said that he could do no more that he had because the men generally recognized as his followers or supporters were his friends. A sudden delicacy of feeling. I suppose, forbade any zealous attempt. to influence the action or mould the convictions of these men whom the outer world had erroneously regarded as parts of a well organized political machine. That, least, was the impression I received and I was given to understand that the idea that La Follete's aid was more than sufficient to turn the scale in my favor was without foundation. Neither did the fact that the voluminous political history of the preceding seven or eight years would have been a "blank page'' but for my aid and influence count for anything.

At the end of seven weeks, during which time none of the contestants had made any marked progress, the legislative caucases having been entirely fruitless, a committee of five was appointed by the two houses to wait upon the candidates at the Avenue Hotel. Since the legislature itself had failed to break the deadlock, Duncan McGregor, as chairman and spokesman of the committee, suggested that the five candidates themselves solve the problem by choosing one of their own number to bear the honors, the other four withdrawing from the contest. If this were not done, he said, the legislature would take matters into its own hands entirely without regard for any of the. candidates and set out to elect a Senator in whatever way it deemed best.

When McGregor had concluded his statement the committee withdrew and the five candidates remained in the room. For some time a perfunctory conversation about everything except the subject under consideration was carried on, each one avoiding taking the initiative in proposing a solution of the perplexing problem and each refusing to relinquish any advantage. At length the conversation lapsed and silence fell upon the gathering. Each one sat back and waited for another to make an opening. Mr. Cooper finally broke the spell which seemed to have settled upon us and brought, out the ludicrous aspect of the conference by observing that he had been in many political assemblages, but never in one where there was so much loud talking. This provoked a laugh. On heels of it I ventured the suggestion that I was the oldest of the five candidates and that if I were elected for the unexpired term of Senator Spooner I would not be a candidate in 1908. This would enable the other four to go before the people in the forthcoming primaries on even basis. The proposal met with the inevitable silence. No one agreed to anything; no one had all to express. As the situation was obviously hopeless, we all withdrew after a time and went to our headquarters.

For two weeks longer the struggle continued. On May 13. the other four candidates and their friends came together in the office of the State Treasurer and agreed that Hatton was the strongest candidate and threw their support to him. I went my own way. On the same day, when the legislature met, Hatton received fifty votes - two short of the number necessary. This was brought about, it was said at the time, by the withdrawal of two members of the legislature by one of the progressive leaders hostile to Hatton. On the following day, May 16, I received fifty-five votes, three more than a majority. At noon on May 17, I was formally elected.

Under the circumstances I felt that the election was unconditional so far as political promises were involved. I had announced at the outset of the fight that if I were elected for the two years without opposition I would not become a candidate at the regular election, and I reiterated the promise at the fruitless conference of the five candidates at the Avenue Hotel in Madison. The conditions were not observed. I therefore felt quite free to do as I chose in the future and I followed that course.


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