Chapter XV of Part One of Political Reform in Wisconsin (1910) by Emanuel L. Philipp (see Introduction and Contents)
The action of the state senate, while it received the support of the entire stalwart membership of that body, was not in accord with the judgment or wishes of the more conservative members. There was a disposition on the part of several senators, of whom Senator Whitehead was the most positive and uncompromising in his opinion, to defeat the measure, and they had the votes to do it if that plan had been decided upon. But other counsel prevailed.
It is a well known fact that the stalwart faction lacked leadership during the years 1901, 1902, and 1903. There was no "boss." The wing of the republican party represented as defending the caucus and convention system in the interests of the "bosses" could not produce one solitary boss in its hour of need to lead it in a campaign. It was not because there were no men of ability in the stalwart ranks. In point of fact it was charged at times that there were no privates in the opposition army--they were all major generals. There was an abundance of material for leadership, but no leader.
At the the the primary bill was passed in 1903 the lines between the factions had been sharply drawn and the two United States senators and certain members of congress had found themselves, without any overt acts of hostility on their part, forced into the anti-administration camp. Among the latter was Representative Babcock, probably one of the best equipped political leaders in the nation and one of the men who had aided Gov. La Follette in his campaign for the nomination in 1900. Mr. Babcock had then served nearly ten years as chairman of the republican congressional committee and he had won golden opinions from the members of congress whose interests he had protected in several campaigns. But he made no attempt to organize the opposition to Gov. La Follette largely because of his respect for the amenities which require that the senators be first consulted when the interests of the party in the state become a subject of discussion and controversy.
Other republicans were restrained by the same considerations from volunteering to take upon themselves the management of the campaign, which explains why the stalwart forces were, in fact, an army of volunteers without officers or organization during those eventful years. There was complaint from members of the legislature of the failure of the national leaders to line up an effective organization against the encroachments of the governor. When the legislature met there were almost as many opinions as to the proper course to pursue as there were stalwarts in the two houses and it was discovered that it would be impossible to agree upon any line of action unless the United States senators and members of congress openly allied themselves with the members of the party at home with whom they were known to be in sympathy.
In this emergency a messenger was sent to Washington for the purpose of explaining the situation to the two senators and the members of the lower house, particularly Congressman Babcock, and get them to agree upon some line of action. Senator Quarles out of deference to Senator Spooner's seniority, declined to move without the express sanction of the latter, but he signified his willingness to do his full duty in the work of redeeming the party in the state from political disruption. Mr. Babcock took the same position, arguing that it was the senior senator's place to either lead the party himself or consent to the selection of some other person to assume the responsibilities as well as the labors of leadership. There was conference after conference, Senator Spooner's well known distaste for practical politics, together with his disinclination to authorize another, however able and willing to lead, to speak and act for him, making it impossible for days to come to an understanding.
The final outcome of the conference however, was that Mr. Babcock was delegated to come to Wisconsin and assume the leadership of the stalwart, or conservative republicans. One of the conditions laid down by Senator Spooner before the arrangements were completed was that the primary election bill with a referendum clause was to be passed by the state senate. It was agreed that the two United States senators and the members of congress who were not in accord with Gov. La Follette were to take an active part in the next campaign for the purpose of defeating the bill when it was presented to the people for their indorsement by popular vote.
Having succeeded in the mission that took him to Washington, the messenger returned to Wisconsin and reported. He was followed in a few days by Mr. Babcock who established himself at Madison and undertook to advise the stalwarts in the legislature as to the course they should pursue. He assured the stalwart senators that they could count on the co-operation of Senators Spooner and Quarles, as well as certain congressmen of whom he was one, and that an earnest effort would be made to perfect a real organization, one that could go into a campaign with a prospect of winning.
With this understanding the stalwart members of the state senate agreed to carry out the plan proposed by Mr. Babcock, as originally outlined by Senator Spooner, although Senator Whitehead and others were not convinced of its wisdom. Mr. Babcock assumed the responsibilities of the position assigned to him by the other leaders and it was by his direction that the primary bill, objectionable as it was to the stalwart state senators, was passed practically in its original form with the referendum section attached.
The conference of the two houses on the primary bill did not accomplish anything. The members agreed to disagree as the final outcome of several meetings, and the assembly solved the problem by changing or amending the Gaveney referendum amendment in a manner to meet the approval of the senate. The change made was merely to submit the entire question to a vote of the people at the general election in November, 1904, instead of submitting the question of applying the law to the nomination of state and legislative candidates only. This action was taken on May 19, and the senate concurred in the amendment on May 20 by a vote of 26 to 3. Senators Hatton and two democrats, Merton and North voting against it. Senators Hagemeister, Kreutzer, Randolph, and Wolff were absent.
But, between the time the conference committees were appointed and the passage of the bill by the two houses, a new record was made up. It should be remembered that about every conceivable amendment to the measure had been offered and rejected by the assembly at the time the bill was considered under special order. Also other bills, introduced by individual members who believed it had been given them to see the proper solution of the primary election problem, had been killed from time to time by both houses. In this way the entire ground had been covered, apparently.
But the assembly conferees came to the meeting armed with six distinct propositions, all embodying amendments that already had been acted on by one or both houses of the legislature. They insisted on having their propositions considered, but the senate conferees replied that all of these propositions had been presented to and voted down already, and were not, therefore, proper subjects of consideration by the conference committees. An adjournment was then taken and at a latter meeting a seventh proposition was made by the assembly conferees, which was rejected by the senate conferees for the same reason that they refused to consider the first six offers of amendment.
Meanwhile, the minutes of the meetings were carefully kept and the investigator of the subject will find in the assembly journal for that year, pages 902 to 911, the entire story as it was reported by the committee of that house together with the seven propositions in detail. The record there made up is as complete as could be desired by the most technical writer of campaign literature with one exception. The stalwarts had learned their lesson in 1901 and they were not caught without a record of their own. They had made all the propositions now presented by the administration committeemen and had written them into the official record. Their propositions had been rejected. They now replied that these amendments had been considered and rejected by the legislature; they could not be presented again at the same session. At least, the conference committee could not consider amendments that have been disposed of finally.
Whatever the judgment of the student of events may be at this time of the action of the two houses on the primary bill in 1903, it can not be said that the stalwarts made any tactical blunders in their management of the measure either in the two houses or in conference. They did not aid in the manufacture of material to be used against them in the campaign the following year. The question in that campaign was put "up to the people" themselves and the literature circulated during the campaign by the administration organization did not, because it could not, truthfully charge the stalwarts with repudiating platform pledges in that respect at least. They had given the voters an opportunity to speak for themselves at the ballot box.