Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915 Chapter XX
It was not long before
I came to the realization that in my campaign for the Senate I was
confronted by many perplexing difficulties. If the odds were against
anyone, they were against me. Other candidates had the advantage of
having been long in the field and had accomplished much in the way
of perfecting an organization and canvassing the state. I, on the
contrary, had done nothing, and the men with whom I had been
associated and whom I had aided in the past were against me. If the
fight was to be made, it was to be made by me alone.
Obviously I could no
longer expect the support of the Half-breed faction, which had been
absorbed by the La Follette machine. The indifference which the
so-called progressive leaders had hitherto displayed crystallized
into open opposition. On the other hand, some of my opponents had
been in the field for months and had made a definite and systematic
plea for the support of some of the classes of voters upon whom I
depended for success.
It was necessary for
me to start from the very beginning, form an organization of some
kind and make up for the time that had been lost to overcome the
handicap obtained by those who had been in the field before me. W.
D. Connor, who had been chairman of the Republican state central
committee for four years, controlled the machinery of the Republican
organization and was in possession of the voting lists and names of
the leaders in every county. My efforts to secure these and his good
will were to no purpose.
The time was short.
and I set out to build up the machinery of campaigning with the
least possible delay. E. A. Edmunds, of Appleton, I placed in charge
of the organization work. J. A. Van Cleve, of Marinette, and J. H.
Puelicher, of the Marshall and IlsIey Bank of Milwaukee, took charge
of the expenditures. We were all more or less at sea in the matter
of the details of the work and had to obtain information as best we
could without considering the cost.
Letters were written
to every postmaster and county clerk with requests for poll lists
and the names of voters. Sometimes they were obtained; many times
they were not. Wherever possible, men were employed to bring
together and take charge of a local organization through which the
questions at issue could be put, before the electorate. Campaign
literature was distributed in more or less haphazard fashion because
of the difficulties confronting us, and campaign paraphernalia was
sent out in great quantities. In Milwaukee alone I had constantly
employed more than a score of clerks and stenographers who did
nothing but attend to this work arid the correspondence. The
expenses for postage exceeded twelve thousand dollars. Probably
there was no campaign that had ever been carried on in a more
wasteful or extravagant manner considered from a business point of
view; but there was no time for checking up, no opportunity to
ascertain whether the money were being expended to the best
advantage, or, possibly, whether in some cases it were being
expended at all. Time was too valuable for us to attempt to retrace
our steps or to ascertain in what respect the methods we were
employing were defective.
It would have been to
my advantage to go into every county in the state, but even this was
impossible because of the very pressing business affairs which
engaged my attention at this time. For twenty of the sixty days I
was out of the state. During the last five days preceding the
primary election I was able to visit only seven out of the
seventy-one counties. Neither were some of my opponents very
scrupulous in the methods they used to fight me. The report was
assiduously spread that I was seventy- nine years of age and that I
could not remember my own name without serious reflection. It is
true that I was seventy-nine years of age. As most men at this time
of life have retired from both business and politics, if they have
been so fortunate as to live that long, it was quite natural that
many people should have half believed that there was basis for the
charge that I was too feeble to perform public service. To those
that knew me or had seen me the absurdity of the charge was obvious.
I was then and am still actively in charge of my business affairs
and employ approximately four thousand men. Shortness of memory has
been the least of my failings. I recall vividly, as this record of
events will probably, show, incidents that occurred three-quarters
of a century ago; and my capacity for keeping in mind dates and
places has astonished my friends.
That my seventy-nine
years did not weigh heavily upon me must have been observed by those
who saw me; for everywhere I stopped in the seven counties I
visited, the majority I polled was appreciably larger than
elsewhere. When the final test came I won by a plurality of 10,000
votes, carried thirty-nine out of seventy-one counties and was
second in twenty. Had I been able to visit all of the counties I
could, I am convinced, have brought the plurality up to between
sixty and seventy-five thousand.
It seemed that the
gravest of my difficulties were over, but I soon realized that they
had just begun. Despite the primary law, which had been one of the
conspicuous reforms the La Follette wing of the party had demanded
and to the enactment of which I had contributed much, my election
was by no means assured. When it came to carrying out the purposes
of the measure the legislature cast it lightly aside and I was made
to pay the penalty on grounds that were afterward proven to be
The legislature met
and the La Follette members of the Senate declared against me. With
them four Democrats and one Socialist joined forces, giving them a
majority in the upper house. The Assembly was in my favor. On
January 26, the two houses met separately. The Senate I carried by
one vote and the Assembly by an ample majority. Even after this I
was not to be permitted to receive my commission without a prolonged
struggle. The next day the two houses held a joint session, and all
that was necessary under the law was the reading of the journals and
the formal announcement of my election. This was prevented by the
Lieutenant-Governor, John Strange, a La Follette supporter, who
refused to put the question.
In the meantime my
own supporters grew lax in their efforts and when the joint session
convened each day thereafter I fell short of the number of votes
necessary to elect. Sometimes, however, I missed by a very narrow
margin. On one occasion I lacked but one vote. C. E. Estabrook, of
Milwaukee, a member of the Assembly, who professed to be my friend,
voted for Edmnunds, my campaign manager. Had he voted for me the
contest would have been closed. As it was the struggle went on until
March 4, when I was finally elected by a majority of three votes.
The La Follette
Republicans, however, left no stone unturned to encompass my defeat.
Meanwhile a joint committee of the legislature was appointed to
investigate the primary election, the Senate members of which were
Messrs. Marsh and Morris - two La Follette Republicans and Husting,
a Democrat from Dodge County, who has since been elected to the
United States Senate, all of whom were opposed to me. Five members
were appointed by the Assembly.
The proceedings of
that investigation have become a part of public record. To repeat
the history of the long and dreary undertaking would be superfluous
here. Every check that I paid out - representing in the aggregate
$107,000 was submitted for examination. Every item of expense was
accounted for so far as the brief time at our disposal during the
campaign permitted. The experience was a costly and disagreeable one
for me. My secretary and many other persons were summoned as
witnesses and told in detail what had been done. My bank accounts
and books were scrutinized as evidence. Everything that could
possibly afford information was laid bare. As a result of the
inquiry my added expenses were in excess of $20,000.
The whole proceeding,
which was instituted in large part by J. J. Blame, one of the most
radical La Follette followers, to whom I had given $1,000 some years
before, was summed up by the investigating committee in its majority
report as follows:
or other charges may always be preferred in the legislature against
any man nominated, and used as an excuse to defeat the will of the
people as expressed at the primary. Personal, factional, and
political reasons were responsible in most instances for the attempt
to repudiate the primary during the last session of the legislature.
Almost every subterfuge and excuse imaginable was resorted to by
some Republicans even to the extent of caucusing with Democrats and
Social Democrats, to defeat the Republican party nominee. Members
were coerced to absent themselves from the sessions day after day to
prevent a quorum being present. Members were flattered and cajoled
by complimentary votes to defeat an election. Caucuses were held
when the purpose of the law was to avoid caucusing. Specific charges
were preferred to supply an excuse for defeating the people's
expressed wish, and yet a subsequent investigation of these charges
showed that Senator Blame who preferred them never pretended to have
enough evidence to convict any candidate in the primary and only
preferred them "to set this thing in motion," according to his own
testimony. This investigation was urged by many for factional and
political purposes only, and to defeat the Republican party nominee.
The large expenditure of money by Republican candidates was known to
the electorate at the time of the primary nomination as well as it
was known to the members of the legislature later.
Here I might moralize
at some length, if I were so minded, upon the rectitude of political
maneuvering. The expenditure of money seems to be a relative thing,
the moral turpitude depending upon not how but for what it is spent.
For all of the money I devoted to the upbuilding and promotion of
the Half-breed faction, the election of La Follette as Governor, and
the smashing of the old inner ring of the Republican party, in
direct campaign contributions and donations to candidates and for
the establishment of a newspaper to give voice to the cause, the
great cause of which, I had been told, I was "the source of
unfailing power," I was commended in terms so flattering that I
hesitate to set them down here. For spending one-fifth of that
amount upon my own election under the most adverse circumstances and
in the face of the most bitter and unscrupulous opposition, I was
condemned out of hand. The practice that was justified in the one
case was condemned as most reprehensible in the other. The primary
election put forward as one of the cardinal principles of
progressive reform was tossed aside without even the good grace of
The expenditures of
some of the other candidates were by no means small and time was
when an outlay for a senatorial campaign far greater than mine had
not evoked denunciation. More than once during this period I was
reminded of the election of John L. Mitchel, whom I knew very well,
in whose behalf, I have heard it said on good authority, $250,000
was expended. General Bragg, the defeated candidate, also my friend,
observed that he had been shot with a gold bullet. None the less
Mitchel escaped indictment for political manslaughter.
The men who took the
most conspicuous part in the fight against me in Wisconsin were the
political associates of La Follette. The whole trend of affairs
indicated that the opposition was well organized, and certainly it
was most persistent. Senator Sanborn, of Ashland, a La Follette
Republican, met me iii the Pfister Hotel in Mulwaukee shortly after
the primary election and said, as he shook hands with me, that I had
won fairly and that he would support me. Subsequently in an
interview he made the same statement. When he entered the
legislature, however, the existence of a primary law and his
apparent convictions availed nothing. Whether he changed his mind or
acted in accordance with orders from higher up, he voted against me.
This and other incidents indicated how persevering the opposition
Vindication in the
state legislature did not bring my troubles to an end. My opponents
in the state Senate, failing in their first move, clung tenaciously
to their purpose and carried the fight up to the United States
Senate, where a small group of progressive Republicans, at that time
more or less cohesive, took the initiative in an investigation. Here
the controversy bore a slightly different aspect. The over campaign
expenditures was on. The so-called progressive ideas were expanding
and my election served as a convenient peg upon which to hang
declarations of political probity for the delectation of the voters
to whom the progressive appeal was addressed. Here again no specific
charges were brought forward; the violation of no law was alleged.
Had it not been for the bite and cry raised over the progressive
propaganda, I am convinced that the Senate would never have taken
the trouble to make the investigation.
But the time was for
me unpropitious. The whole story was gone over a second time.
Witnesses were summoned again; every detail of the campaign was
scrutinized by the Senate investigating committee. Two large volumes
of testimony attest the energy of the investigators. When the
inquiry was concluded a report was brought in upholding the validity
of my election. After a period of protracted debate covering a wide
range of subjects, not a few of which had little to do with the law
or morals of campaign expenditures, the report was adopted by the
Senate. Fortunately there were men of conviction in that body and my
vindication I owe to them.
At last the fight was
over and I was secure in my position. But the bitter experience had
cost me many an illusion - perhaps the greatest loss I had sustained
- and shook my faith in human kind.
For almost seventy
years I had dealt with all sorts and conditions of men. I had blazed
trails with them through the forest, spread my blanket beside theirs
on the snow, logged with them in the winter camps, and shared with
them the (hangers of log driving and sailing vessels on the lakes.
Thousands I have taught the way of lumbering. In my employ I have
had and now have grandfather, father, and son working together. I
have also known men of large affairs - merchants, railroad builders,
manufacturers, capitalists - to whose energy and foresight the
developed country is a monument. None of these has suffered loss
It remained for me in
these later days to discover how quickly, in the come and go of
politics, convictions can he discarded, principles abandoned, and
obligations overlooked, and how readily the gauge of political
progress veers to the currents of political animosity and ambition.
To sum up, I had laid
the plans and given the impetus which resulted in the organization
of the Half-breed faction, to which was due the sanely progressive
legislation enacted in Wisconsin. I had contributed to the campaign
funds of La Follette and many of his lieutenants, most of whom, I
believe, would never have held political office if left to their own
resources. In the aggregate I had expended approximately $500,000.
For this I had been assured that without me the history of this
achievement would have been a blank page.
The moral of this
narrative I leave for others to draw. From a large view it affords,
I think, food for reflection, particularly as to the value of the
primary. In setting out to correct abuses by this method, is it not
possible that we have opened the way for other abuses? By the
limitation of campaign expenditures for legitimate purposes,
arousing popular interest in problems of government and putting
before the electorate the political issues involved in an election,
has not the political system been modified to the advantage of the
party or faction in control of the machinery of government and of
party organization, giving them an advantage almost impossible to
overcome? Do the people really take sufficient interest, in
primaries to make them gauges of the actual trend of popular
thought? These are perplexing questions and I shall not attempt to
answer them, but I believe that in time they will demand a reply.
My work in the
political field is done. Upon the expiration of my last term in the
Senate it was with relief that I announced that I would no longer
seek public office, although even then many had urged me to keep on.
I was quite willing to leave that to younger men who rightly aspire
to political place.
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