Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Harmonious Campaign


Chapter VI of Part One of Political Reform in Wisconsin (1910) by Emanuel L. Philipp (see Introduction and Contents)

Having succeeded in securing the nomination, Mr. La Follette went into the campaign with the solid strength of a united party behind him. There had been defections or bolting on the part of some of his followers in 1896 and again in 1898, but there was nothing of the kind in 1900. His net majority over his four competitors on election day was 103,745. The campaign was a vigorous one, and in every address delivered by him Mr. La Follette explained his primary election theory and appealed for support in his efforts to secure for Wisconsin the great blessings he professed to believe would follow the enactment of such a law.
The student of events will look in vain for any indication of a split in the republican party during the campaign of 1900, or any indication that a political eruption was impending. During the campaign the republican state central committee maintained offices at the Pfister hotel, the old republican headquarters. At the head of that committee as chairman was Gen. George E. Bryant, who was considered as a sort of political godfather to Mr. La Follette, and a large majority of the members of that body were dyed in the wool La Follette men. The campaign expenses were met in the usual way, the usual contributors chipping into the hat to create a fund with which to pay the cost incidental to maintaining speakers in the field, circulating literature, and perfecting a party apparatus in the several counties. A special train was engaged to take the candidate for governor through the state, to the end that he might meet his engagements with as little strain upon his physical strength as possible. All was harmony, cordial good fellowship, and hope that the factional differences that had more than threatened in former years had permanently disappeared.

After the close of the campaign, conditions remained unchanged. The white winged dove of peace had become the emblem of the Wisconsin republicans and she no longer lived in terror of being cooked or eaten raw by frenzied factionists. The republican state central committee met on Dec. 13 at the Pflster hotel and there exchanged congratulations and attended a banquet spread at the behest of their chairman in their honor. On Dec. 1 the governor-elect, who had returned that day from an Indiana health resort, where he had gone to recover from the fatigue of the campaign, gave to The Milwaukee Sentinel an interview which was printed on the first page of that paper the following morning. Brotherly love, harmony, sweet reasonableness and everything desirable and comfortable to have around were the lot of republicans at that particular time. In his interview Gov. La Follette said:
I wish to express my appreciation of the splendid support I recelvéd during the campaign. The campaign was ably managed by Gen. Bryant and Secretaries Host and Richter of the republican state central committee. They ran a thorough, clean campaign, and I commend them for their work and thank them for it. I deeply appreciate the support I had, both here at home and throughout the state. The gold democrats have again demonstrated their fidelity to principle in a striking manner. The large plurality given the republican ticket is a strong indorsement of the principles set forth in the republican state platform and shows that we have a united party to stand for those measures to which the party was pledged at the last state convention.
That was the situation when Robert M. La Follette was inaugurated governor of Wisconsin in January, 1901. He had been elected governor by "a united party." He was governor of the state and as such was entitled to the respect of all citizens, regardless of party. A majority of the members of both houses of the legislature elected with him were in sympathy with every reform movement that had been proposed or mentioned in the platform. No deadfalls had been set to catch him and no pits had been dug for him to fall into. There were men who believed he had made an unjust and malicious attack upon his predecessor, Gov. Scofield, in 1898, who were not too confident of the future, but they hoped for the best and were determined to give him a fair trial. No man could have been inducted into high office under conditions favoring him more than those that attended the inauguration of Gov. Robert M. La Follette.

A brief explanation is required here in order to clear away a mismunderstanding, purposely created, that has influenced the minds of certain citizens. It was said that eleven state senators met in Milwaukee on December 13, at the time of the meeting of the state central committee already mentioned, for the purpose of devising a plan to organize the senate in opposition to the governor. The eleven senators who attended a meeting on that day were composed of three La Follette men, seven who were not unfriendly to him, although they were not in sympathy with what they believed to be his tendency to radicalism, and one who had little if any faith in him, but was willing to give him a chance to "make good." The La Follette men were Edgar G. Mills, Superior; Andrew L. Kreutzer, Wausau, and D. E. Riordan, Eagle River. The "fair minded" senators were Julius E. Roehr, J. H. Green and William Devos of Milwaukee; John Harris, Elkhorn; J. A. Willy, Appleton; H. Hagemeister, Green Bay, and John Reynolds, Kenosha. The one senator who was sleeping on his arm as a matter of precaution was A. M. Jones of Waukesha.

This meeting was held for the purpose of talking over informally the makeup of the senate committees. The state senate, unlike the assembly, selects its own committees. The assignments are not made on the spur of the moment on the day the senate meets. They are the result of conferences, deliberation, correspondence, during which the wishes of the senators themselves are consulted so far as is possible. At the meeting referred to there were eleven members of that body out of a total of thirty-one republicans. At subsequent meetings, all informal and some merely accidental, the subject of committee assignments was discussed. When the members finally came together at the opening of the session the business of this character not already determined--and there had been a number of senators in attendance on the inauguration ceremonies--was closed up. When the senate was called to order on Jan. 9, three resolutions were introduced. Resolution No. 1 invited the clergy of Madison to open the daily sessions of the senate with prayer. Resolution No. 2 instructed the clerk to notify the assembly that the senate had organized and was ready for business. Resolution No. 3 introduced by Senator Stebbins, was the one appointing the committees of that body.

Had the meeting held in Milwaukee been antagonistic to Gov. La Follette, called for the purpose of planning to defeat his pet measure, the committee on privileges and elections would have been packed against the primary election bill. As a matter of fact, the committee before whom that bill would come was made up of Senators Hatton, Miller and Martin, three intense partisans of the governor; Senator Whitehead, a "progressive" who had taken a hand in previous primary legislation, who had helped to frame the corrupt practices act of 1897, and who was a leader in all tax reform legislation; and Senator Jones, the ultra-conservative.

With respect to this matter, one more point remains to be cleared up. In his message vetoing the Hagemeister bill several months later, Gov. La Follette said, among other things:
Immediately upon the organization of the legislature, many weeks before any bill had been offered upon the subject of primary election, it was boastingly announced and published that one of its branches had been so organized as to defeat the passage of any primary election legislation.
If such announcements and publications were made they were without authority and were untrue in substance and detail. Organization to defeat primary election legislation would have begun with the committee on privileges and elections. That commnittee was favorable to primary election legislation. The legislature convened on January 9; the Stevens primary bill was introduced in the assembly by Mr. Stevens and in the senate by Senator George P. Miller on January 28, nineteen days after the two houses convened. At best, nineteen days is not "many weeks," and although the bill for which the fight was finally made was a substitute, the statement of the governor did not specify that particular substitute, but said the alleged organization had been formed "many weeks before any bill was offered upon the subject of primary elections."