The contest came to a head when the primary election bill was reported by the committee of the assembly and the vote on passing it to engrossment and third reading was taken. Day by day the men opposed to the measure had been gaining confidence. They even ceased talking about compromises as they began to hope they could defeat the measure entirely. They no longer urged that as a last resort the question be submitted to the people by referendum. Dozens of men who had maintained a neutral position at first now came out in opposition to the measure, having heard the arguments before the committee and given the subject consideration on their own account. There was a distinct educative value attached to the controversy and the seeds sown were beginning to sprout.
Another factor was beginning to have an effect on the situation. The close friends of the administration were attempting to convey the impression that they were the anointed ones and in possession of the ark of the covenant. To them was given the right to speak with authority and they must be obeyed. To disagree with the governor was represented as a peculiar species of treason complicated with impiety, blasphemy, and lese majeste. Men who dared to express opinions without having first had them vised at the executive chamber by the governor himself or by "Jerre" became politically unclean and were classed under three general heads as "corruptionists," "corporation corruptionists," or "corrupt hirelings." The spirit of the master was breathed into the members of the faction and it was bitter as gall.
On Monday, March 18, the bill came before the assembly in the form of a substitute reported for passage by the committee, Assemblyman John C. Karel dissenting. There was no material difference between the substitute and the original bill.1 It was placed on the calendar for Tuesday, the following day, and made a special order for the evening of that day, the purpose being to railroad it through under the whip.
Columns have been written and printed about that memorable session of the assembly, beginning at 7:30 p. m., March 19, 1901, and closing in the chill of an early March morning. In his veto message returning the Hagemeister bill to the senate weeks later, Gov. La Follette told the story as he wanted it printed in the legislative records. Magazine contributors who revel in descriptive writing have painted word pictures of it that were as vivid as a rarebit dream. Stump speakers have described it in language that made their audiences gasp and wonder to what extremities staid old Wisconsin was drifting. And yet, it was not such a remarkable session.
Before the bill could be brought to a vote, the question being on engrossment and third reading, one of the members who was opposed to its passage moved a "call of the house" and his motion was supported. The member who made the motion was E. A. Williams, a republican, who lived at Neenah. This was not such an extraordinary proceeding. A "call of the house" had been made that same day, March 19, on motion by Assemblyman Eline of Milwaukee, when senate bill No. 394 was under consideration. A motion to suspend the rules and act on the bill at once had just been taken and resulted in a vote of 65 to 19 in favor of the motion. Mr. Eline, who was opposed to the bill, then moved a call and he was sustained. In the case of the primary bill, a motion to substitute the committee bill for the original Stevens bill had been made and resulted in an affirmative vote of 53, negative 39, there being at that the eight absent members. Had the friends of the bill been able at any the during the night to muster fifty-one votes they could have raised the call.
While the call was in force the members could transact no other business. The sergeant at arms was out looking for members absent without leave. The only motions that could be entertained were "to dispense with further proceedings under the call," or "to adjourn." Until the call could be raised, therefore, the only thing the members could do was to visit. A long night passed under such conditions naturally calls for some means of relieving the monotony and passing the time, but there was nothing doing in the assembly chamber that night that need call for special remark; nothing that ninety-two big, robust men, awake and looking for amusement, would not be likely to do under similar conditions at any time.
But Gov. La Follette did not see in that session an ordinary occurrence. To his mind there was malicious villainy and corrupt plotting at the bottom of the entire business. Although his veto message was not written until nearly two months later, his story of the conspiracy that came to a head on that eventful night is worth repeating and should be considered in the light of known facts. He said:
Before the introduction of the primary election bill the attempt was made to arouse distrust concerning it, and to thoroughly discredit the measure in advance. Upon its presentation to the legislature--so framed as to comply with the pledge made to the people of the state--a systematic campaign of misrepresentation of the bill and its supporters was industriously prosecuted. The general purpose of the measure, the plain meaning of its provisions, the certain effect of the law in operation, the necessary and reasonable expense, each and all furnished theme for persistent falsification and malicious assault. An array of federal officeholders, joining with certain corporation agents and representatives of the machine in the regular legislative lobby, moved upon the capitol, took possession of its corridors, intruded upon the legislative halls, followed members to their hotels, tempted many with alluring forms of vice, and in some in stances
brought them to the capitol in a state of intoxication to vote against the bill. This sets forth in part the character of the opposition, but omits to take account of some of the means used, or attempted to be used, to prevent the passage of the measure.
This sounds like an indignant protest against specific acts believed to be subversive of good government and in conflict with the higher political ethics. But before sharing in the governor’s indignation it is best to examine certain self evident facts that require no affidavits to establish their reliability.
It is impossible to find a record of any "campaign of misrepresentation of the bill and its supporters" after the bill was introduced and while it was pending before the committee. The columns of the newspapers do not give any indication of such a campaign. The speeches made before the committee do not furnish the evidence required. The fact that the opposition was entirely at sea during that time was well known. With the exception of Mr. Monahan, who adopted as his motto, "pass the bill or kill it," those opposed to the measure were in favor of a compromise, a fact that is made evident by Mr. Chynoweth’s statement that a compromise would not be considered.
Second--It is charged in the complaint that the campaign of misrepresentation had to do with the "general purposes of the measure, the plain meaning of its provisions, the certain effect of the law in operation, and the necessary and reasonable expense." Wisconsin people of today are in a position to know whether these points were misrepresented or fairly considered.
Third--When the bill came up in the assembly under special order there was a call of the house. A roil call revealed the fact that five members were absent without leave and two with leave. No business could be transacted until the five members were found and escorted to the chamber, and no members could leave the chamber while the call was in force. As this was the time when the mob is supposed to have taken possession of the capitol, it may be of interest to note that members could not be "followed to their hotels" at a time when they could not leave the chamber, and no man in his right mind would tempt a member with "alluring forms of vice" under the conditions that obtained in the chamber.
Fourth--The "array of federal office holders" consisted of James G. Monahan, William G. Wheeler, and Henry Fink. These men were present during the evening out of curiosity and an aroused interest in the question before the assemnbly. Two of them had offices in Madison, and, having been interested in public affairs for years, naturally drifted to the assembly chamber on that evening. Neither of them remained until the close of the act. Mr. Fink was in Madison on business. He did not go there to attend the session, but, being there, he spent a part of the evening at the capitol, as is his custom.
Fifth--If by "certain corporation agents" is meant the railroad representatives at Madison, every member of the legislature knows that they did not take a hand in the proceeding that evening. There were important bills pending before the legislature in which the railroads were interested and their representatives were careful not to offend the governor. There had been no breach between the corporations and the governor at that time. That came later. The primary bill did not affect the railroads in any way and their representatives were wise enough to keep "hands off" where the governor’s pet measure was concerned. Even if they had been disposed to oppose the bill, open opposition on their part would have been sheer madness, and no one ever accused them of not knowing their business.
Sixth--There was an unusual number of people at the capitol during the early hours of the night when the call of the house was in force. Many of them were interested in seeing the pending bill defeated while others were interested in seeing it pass. All had a right to be there. All were citizens of the state. The debate had aroused interest in the measure and the knowledge that it had been made a special order for that evening called out a crowd, but the crowd did not all go there to work for or against the bill. They were there out of curiosity, nothing more, and they did not stay until the end. The workers for the bill were as active, if not more so, than those who opposed it. Any reflection on the activity displayed by the opponents of the measure will reflect with equal force upon its friends.
Seventh--It is true that there was one instance, where a member was brought to the capitol "in a state of intoxication." The case of this member was a peculiar one. When sober he was inclined to question the divine right of the governor; when intoxicated he was an ardent administration supporter. He was under the influence of the administration workers when he became intoxicated on that particular occasion, but he was stolen by the opposition and locked in a committee room to sober off. There were dozens of men in attendance that night who knew the facts relating to this incident. It was common knowledge among the members of the legislature. The search for the missing man by the administration runners was a warm one, but they did not find him until the opposition were satisfied that he knew "where he was at." He was reported present at 10 o’clock p. m., and remained in the chamber during the night. He was entirely sober when he voted against the bill the following morning.
Another member who had slept off the effects of copious potations during the night was brought to the assembly chamber in the morning by the sergeant-at-arms and Henry Overbeck, an administration "whip." This man voted to raise the call and to pass the bill. While he was not in a state of intoxication when brought to the chamber, he was suffering from recent overindulgence and refused to accompany the officer to the capitol until he was given a "bracer" to steady his nerves. The search for this member was a long one because he had realized his condition and found a hiding place into which the searchers could not penetrate. These were the only men who were "brought to the chamber" to vote. This is the foundation upon which was built that part of the charge laid at the door of the legislature by Gov. La Follette which relates to the use of liquor as a corrupting agent on that particular occasion.
This may not. be as interesting a story of the all night session of March 19, 1901, as the one told by the La Follette press bureau later, but it has the advantage of being literally true and uncolored. What it lacks in sensationalism, in picturesqueness, in dramatic force, it makes up in veracity and harmony with the facts.
When morning came the administration forces had secured enough votes to order the bill to engrossment and third reading and they raised the call by a vote of 52 to 45. The previous question was ordered by a vote of 56 to 41 and the bill was ordered to a third reading by the same vote. It is manifest that some of the men who favored the passage of the bill--or at least voted for it when it came up--aided in preventing the call from being raised. There was no debate on the measure.
An analysis of the vote by which the primary election bill was ordered to a third reading discloses the fact that--to adopt the terms that later came into use to designate the factions--of the 56 votes for the measure 13 were cast by stalwarts, 2 by democrats and 41 by half breeds. Of the 41 votes against the measure, 26 were cast by stalwarts and 15 by democrats.
When the vote on the final passage of the measure was taken three days later, but 9 stalwarts voted in the affirmative while 31 voted against it. Of the democrats 2 voted for and 16 against the bill. Forty-one half breeds, all there were in the assembly, voted in the affirmative. Had it not been for men who later became stalwarts, the primary election bill would have failed in the assembly.2
1. The members who signed the report were E. H. Steiger, chairman; E. Ray Stevens, who gave his name to the bill; W. W. Andrew, W. J. Middleton, L. N. Coapman, and John A. Henry.
2.The vote by which the bill was ordered to engrossment and third reading was as follows: (Assembly Journal, page 589)
Ayes.--Messrs. Ainsworth, Anderson, Andrew, Babb, Brunson, Cady, Clark, Coapman, Cook, Dahl, Duerrwaechter, Erickson, David Evans, Jr., Fenlon, Frost, Galaway, Gilman, Haggerty, Hall, Hanson, Henry, Hodgins, Holland, F. Johnson, H. Johnson, Jones, Krumrey, Lane, Lenroot, McCormick, McGill, McMillan, Manuel, Middleton, Overbeck, Park, Price, Rankl, Roe, Rogers, Root, Rossman, Sarau, Silkworth, Smalley, Steiger, Stevens, Sturdevant, Swenhoid, Thomag, Valentine, Whitson, Willott, Young, Zinn, and Mr. Speaker.--56.
Noes.--Messrs. Barker, Barlow, Benson, Burdeau, Cleophas, Collins, Dodge, Dow, Eager, Ela, Eline, Evan W. Evans, Fessenfeid, Flaherty, Gagnon, Gawin, Hartung, Jenson, Johnston, Karel, Katz, Keene, Kern, McCabe, McComb, Maloney, E. A. Miller, Minor, Norton, Orton, Owen, Pomrening, Rasmussen, Schellenburg, Slade, Smith, Soltwedel, Spratt, Thiessenhausen, E. A. Williams, and J. C. Williams.--41.