As this is a history of the primary election movement in Wisconsin it is unnecessary to go into details with respect to all of the incidents that punctuated the political feud born in the opening months of Gov. La Follette's first administration and continuing with increasing bitterness for four years. But, whatever the real cause of the feud may have been, the defeat of the administration primary bill by the state senate was the excuse publicly put forth in justification of the declaration of war by Gov. La Follette himself. There is reason to believe another issue would have been made to serve the purpose had this one failed, for there are ambitious men who can thrive only through agitation. But the primary bill had been defeated and it was therefore made the issue to the defense of which the personal admirers of the governor could be rallied. It was a providential bone of contention that would furnish an opportunity for just the kind of a fight most desired by the Wisconsin Napoleon of politics.
The record of that political contest is one of which Wisconsin men have no occasion to be proud--and the end is not yet. It is a record of passion and prejudice; a record of intense bitterness; a record of persecution and reprisal, of wrong and retaliation; a record of broken friendships and the birth of lasting enmities; a record of "malice, hatred and all uncharitableness." Reputable, clean business and professional men were arraigned before the bar of public opinion, tried, and unjustly convicted, without a hearing, of all manner of offenses against the common good. Private citizens who cherished no political ambitions were assumed to have committed the most serious political crimes and the assumption was accepted as conclusive evidence of their guilt.
The rule that "every seed shall bring forth fruit after its kind" is a universal law, as certain and immutable in its operations in the mental as in the physical realm. Where malice is planted malice will spring up and bear fruit after its kind. Suspicion, distrust, falsehood, injustice, all germinate and grow like rank weeds in the human soul and choke out the beneficent and nobler promptings of friendship based on mutual confidence, esteem and brotherly love.
The pernicious seeds of political and social discord were scattered broadcast throughout the state, and, be it said to our shame, there were so many citizens who were prepared to believe the worst that could be said about their fellows that the crop harvested was a bountiful one. Neighbor was arrayed against neighbor and brother against brother; social circles were divided and the influence of the controversy in some instances invaded the sacred places and church congregations were in a measure affected by it. The old good natured rivalry that had characterized contests between the republican and democratic parties became a memory, for democrats trespassed upon republican ground and took a hand in the factional fight, the social democrats standing back meanwhile and vociferously applauding every abusive epithet hurled by either faction at the other.
Of a truth, Wisconsin cut a sorry figure before high heaven and in the face of the peoples of the earth in the year 1902.
After the adjournment of the legislature steps were taken to organize in an effective manner the members who were opposed to the methods and policies of the administration. Eighteen senators and forty-one members of the assembly joined in this movement. Of the eighteen senators, all had voted against the administration primary election bill. Of the forty-one assemblymen, twenty-eight had voted against the bill when it came up for engrossment and third reading and thirteen had voted for it.1
As an explanation of the reasons that inspired them to organize a league, these members of the legislature issued a public statement, called by the administration newspapers a "manifesto," in which they set forth plainly the principles for which it was their purpose to contend as an organization. Unlike most public documents of the kind this statement is not too long for reproduction and it is here given in full together with the names of all the signers as they appeared in the columns of The Sentinel on Aug. 18, 1901.
To the Republicans of Wisconsin:In the light of subsequent events this statement of principles reads like a prophecy. The league failed in its mission and the party it was designed to save from disruption was disorganized. It is surprising that so temperate a statement of important, not to say fundamental, truths should excite such violent antagonism, but the fact that the organized members who put forth this statement of principles were variously designated as "the Bolters' league," "the Eleventh Story league," the "platform repudiators," the "corporationists," the "corruptionists," and were given other and kindred titles of reproach, was not calculated to restore a cordial, friendly understanding between the wings of the party.
The undersigned, republican members of the legislature of 1901, are convinced that the republican party of Wisconsin is upon the verge of a crisis which can only be averted by organized effort on the part of all republicans who consider party welfare above personal ambition.
As representatives of the people, we view with alarm the persistent effort to strengthen the executive at the expense of the legislative department of the state.
The constitution says: "The legislative power shall be vested in the senate and assembly." The perpetuity of our institutions depends upon the independence and integrity of each of the coordinate branches of our government. Neither is responsible to the other, but each is responsible to the people. Neither should submit to dictation from the other. Any attempt to subordinate the legislative department to the control of the executive is revolutionary and deserves prompt and emphatic rebuke. The public interest demands that among the several departments of government there be cordial and courteous co-operation.
These propositions are so fundamental that they are more vital than party success itself.
Many unwarrantable interferences with the exclusive powers of the legislature and attempts to coerce acquiescence in unreasonable acts and unwise experiments at the last session were contrary to the welfare of the people of Wisconsin, and created bitter factional differences in the republican party.
The party must not permit itself to be divided, and possibly destroyed by factional disputes. Its purposes are too high, its work too important, to be dominated for personal ends.
For these reasons we present to you the necessity of a wholesome organization, which shall truly represent the whole party and safeguard its principles. We have not in contemplation an organization for a single campaign, but one that shall be permanent and as comprehensive as the party it represents.
In furtherance of such an organization, rooms have been leased on the eleventh floor of the Herman building, In Milwaukee, where all republicans will be welcome, and where opportunity will be afforded to enroll In the Wisconsin Republican league.
In view of the fact that the people of Wisconsin have for four years lived amid the alleged blessings that are inseparable from the primary election plan in full and complete operation, the men who signed a statement in which that system of making nominations was described as an "unreasonable and unwise experiment" are entitled to have their names printed with the statement. Nor will they object to have the people of the state reminded that they favored a modified form of the law in 1901.2
In the legislature of 1901 there were thirty—one republican senators and eighty-one republican members of the assembly. Two senators died before the organization of the league--Senators Stebbins and Fearne--leaving but twenty-nine republican senators in August, 1901. The names of eighteen of the twenty—nine members of the upper house appear on the membership roll of the league, and forty—one of the eighty—one members of the lower house also signed the roll. The membership of the new organization thus embraced a majority of the republicans in each house and a majority of the entire republican membership of the legislature had they met in joint session.
1. The thirteen were Speaker George H. Ray, and Assemblymen Frost, Hanson, Jones, Lane, Rossman, Willott, Young, Duerrwachter, Haggerty, F. Johnson, Park, Silkworth. Eight of these assemblymen also voted for the bill when it came up for final passage in the assembly. They were: Speaker Ray, and Messrs. Frost, Hanson, Jones, Lane, Rossman, Willott, and Young.
2. In order that the history of the movement may be made complete the names of the signers are here given:
Senators.--W. H. Bissell, Lodi; William H. Devos, Milwaukee; Barney. A. Eaton, Milwaukee; John C. Gaveney, Arcadia; J. Herbert Green, Milwaukee; Henry Hagemeister, Green Bay; John Harris, Elkhorn; A. M. Jones, Waukesha; A. L. Kreutzer, Wausau; Frank McDonough, Eau Claire; Elmer D. Morse, Princeton; 0. W. Mosher, New Richmond; William O'Nell, Washburn; John F. Reynolds, Genoa Junction; D. E. Riordan, Eagle River; Julius E. Roehr, Milwaukee; John M. Whitehead, Janesvllle; Albert T. Willy, Appleton;
Assemblymen.--Charles Barker, Milwaukee; John M. Barlow, New Lisbon; Willard E. Burdeau, Flintvllle; H. Cleopas, Belolt; A. Clark Dodge, Monroe; Everett E. Dow, La Grange; P. G. Duerrwachter, South Germantown; Almeron Eager, Evansville; George Ela, Rochester; Fred J. Frost, Almond; John A. Haggerty, Ferryville; Andrew C. Hansen, Mindora; Fred Hartung, Wauwatosa; Andrew Jensen, New London; Franklin Johnson, Baraboo; James Johnston, Mukwonago; Evan R. Jones, Sparta; Francis B. Keene, Milwaukee; Nathan E. Lane, Phillips; Joseph Maloney, Bloomer; Edwin A. Miller, Hixon; Herman Miller, Wausau; Levi A. Miner, South Milwaukee; John E. Norton, Milwaukee; Philo A. Orton, Darlington; John N. Owen, Racine; Harry J. Park, Spring Valley; Herman Pomrening, Milwaukee: K. E. Rasmussen, Rice Lake; George H. Ray, La Crosse; George P. Rossman, Ashland; Charles A. Silkworth, Osseo; Dwight S. Slade, Slades Corners; Albert E. Smith, Delevan; Henry L. Soltwedel, Milwaukee; George Spratt, Sheboygan Falls; R. F. Thiessenhusen, Milwaukee ; Edwin A. Williams, Neenah; Joseph Willott, Jr., Manitowoc; John H. Young, Eau Claire.