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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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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