As has been explained, it was the intention of the stalwarts to make the primary election measure the main issue in the campaign of 1904. It was believed that, by concentrating on this issue, by conducting a vigorous stumping campaign led by Senators Spooner and Quarles, and by circulating literature explaining clearly the character of the proposed law, many who had been indifferent to the movement and others who had supported it could be convinced of its unwisdom and induced to cast their votes against the approval of the bill.
But these well laid plans came to naught. The factional feeling, the personal animosities--the poison in the political blood of the state that had been growing more deadly in its malignity during the four years of strife--reached a climax in the spring of that year.
Wisconsin had been sowing the wind of malice. It now reaped the whirlwind of hate. It had been planting suspicion and distrust; it now came to the harvesting of corrupt practices such as had never even been dreamed of. It had been scattering abroad the seeds of revolution; it was only prevented from garnering a crop of violence and bloodshed by the moderation of a large element of its people who had not yet lost their ability to reason and their respect for the law.
The republican state convention met at Madison on May 18, 1904, on a call issued by a majority of the members of the state central committee and against the protest of a minority of that body. At this convention was made the crucial test of the ability of citizens of Wisconsin with red blood in their veins to avoid the natural consequences of acts calculated to provoke a breach of the peace. The history of that convention is written in hundreds of pages of sworn testimony, official records, duly authenticated minutes of convention proceedings, and signed reports of committees. It is unnecessary to go into detail here, but a brief narrative outline of the events that brought about the subordination of the primary election issue to more important interests is required to make the history of that issue clear and definite in the minds of the reader.
It had been customary in years when presidential elections occurred to hold two state conventions, one in the spring for the election of delegates and alternates to the national convention and the nomination of an electoral ticket; the other in the summer to nominate a state ticket and adopt a state platform. In this way state issues were kept out of the convention that was called upon to deal only with matters of national interest.
For the first the in the history oi the state these two functions were combined and one convention was called to perform both offices. This was done in violation of party precedent and against the protest of a minority of the state central committee and many republican newspapers. There was no public demand for the change; there was no public sentiment in its favor; no interests of the people were to be served; no reform could be accomplished by and no valid excuse offered for the action of the majority of the committee in thus arbitrarily and without authority overriding the customs and established practices of the party.
When the convention met it was found that out of 1,065 delegates entitled to seats in the convention, 955 held credentials that were on their face valid and sufficient to entitle them to seats in that body and to participate in the work of organizing the convention. Of that number 496 1/6 were anti-La Foilette and 458 5/6 were La Follette delegates.
These men were entitled to organize the convention and pass finally upon the validity of the claims of the delegates whose seats had been jeopardized by the careless officers who had bungled the work of making out credentials. There were thirty-nine La Follette delegates present with defective credentials and eleven anti-La Follette delegatees were in the same predicament. In each of these cases the irregularity was not important or fatal and the admission of all of these delegates would have raised the respective votes of the two factions to 507 1/6 stalwart, 497 5/6 La Follette, with the stalwarts still in the majority.
But the state central committee majority, made up of sixteen rabid La Follette factionists, eight of whom were officeholders, determined to organize the convention themselves. They threw out the eleven stalwart votes on a trumped up contest and seated the thirty-nine La Follette delegates. They then, on contests that were clearly fraudulent and unfair, unseated forty-four delegates that held regular credentials, five of whom had been elected by direct vote in the Second ward of Milwaukee, and seated in their places delegates who held no credentials of any character. In only one case was a pretense of fairness attempted. This was the case of St. Croix county, where a contest--the only one--had been brought by the stalwarts, and in which case the committee reported in favor of dividing the vote equally between the legally elected stalwart delegates and the illegal La Follette claimants. In this way the roll of the convention was made up. No opportunity was given the convention to pass upon the qualifications of its own members, which it had a right to do. The majority of the committee usurped that right and exercised it arbitrarily.
But it was deemed necessary to adopt radical measures to carry out this high handed proceeding and it was done. A sergeant at arms was appointed who would do as he was told. What his instructions were does not appear as a matter of record, but his acts are eloquent on that point. He requested the chief of police of Madison and the sheriff of Dane county to appoint a large number of special officers to guard the convention and enforce order while the outrage was being perpetrated. The police chief, H. C. Baker, refused to comply with the request, but the sheriff was convinced that a riot was imminent and he commissioned a large number of deputy sheriffs to serve for this special occasion. These, together with the assistants to the sergeant at arms, guarded the convention. Among these deputies and assistants there were athletic partisans of the governor, state game wardens, oil and factory inspectors, football players from the university, at least one professional athlete, and men with police records. There are affidavits on file to substantiate these statements if any evidence is needed to convince readers of their truth.
The gymnasium building on the university grounds was prepared for the occasion with great care. All doors leading to that part of the building to be occupied by delegates were closed, locked, and braced in a substantial manner, with one single exception--a small door at the side of the building. A wire partition was erected between the delegates' portion of the hail and that occupied by the public. A "runway" was constructed of lumber leading from a point eighteen feet from the outside of the single narrow entrance to a point eleven and one-half feet inside the building. Along this runway, or passage, was posted a double line of muscular deputies and assistants numbering, according to one affidavit, at least forty.
Through this double line of guards the delegates were required to pass, and the passage was not a simple matter. Every person entering the runway was forcibly seized and his badge examined. He was roughly treated, manhandled by men appointed for that purpose, and in some cases he was forced to submit to language that was calculated to raise his temperature to fever heat. In this way the administration supporters testified to their respect for the representatives of republican voters who had been regularly elected to attend and participate in a republican state convention.
It should be remembered that the badges worn by the delegates and examined over and over again as the victims worked their way laboriously through the double line of guards had been furnished by the state central committee. The regularly accredited delegates, sent there by republican voters, to represent them, but whom the majority of the committee had determined to unseat, were not given badges and could not enter the building. They were not even admitted to that part of the hall assigned to the public as the tickets to that section also were carefully vised and passed out only to favored citizens. It was to prevent the entrance of the unseated delegates that the 100 or more men were employed as a force sufficient to enable the conspirators to successfully carry out their plans.
Subsequently a weak attempt was made to explain that an out break on the part of the stalwarts was feared, but there was no warrant for such a belief, it had been publicly and freely talked for days that, if the majority was refused its right to organize the convention, there would be a "walk out" and a second convention. Badges had been printed on which the word "Hiker" appeared in prominent type. All the world knows that the word "hike" means to "walk." Furthermore, on the evening before the convention was called to order at the gymnasium a meeting of the stalwart delegates was held at the Fuller opera house. At that meeting M. G. Jeffris of Janesville, one of the stalwart leaders, in an address outlining the program agreed upon, said;
I know you feel intensely upon this subject, but remember that when this body of delegates goes to the state convention we go as gentlemen. Remember that the eyes of the people of the state are upon you. Every man is called upon to suppress his feelings regardless of the indignities that may be heaped upon him and conduct himself as a gentleman so that when this matter is over everybody will be compelled to say that, while we insisted on our rights and shall insist to the end, yet at no time did we do any act that was not the act of a gentleman. We will go to that hall; we will insist that the delegates who have been duly elected and accredited to that convention be admitted to the hour of the hail. We will Insist upon our rights, but we will have them In such a manner that the people at large will say that we acted as gentlemen.They went as gentlemen and they were gentlemen to the end. Not one act of a stalwart; not one word even under the most humiliating personal insults while being pawed over at the door by administration bullies or, after entering the hall, where they were browbeaten and insulted by administration factionists, could be objected to as undignified or ungentlemanly. They presented their demands for a hearing in the strongest possible manner, appealing without hope for justice and fair play, and when they were voted down, or declared out of order--as was usually the case--they withdrew and organized a legal convention with a majority of the legally elected delegates in attendance. Whenever a vote was taken on a point raised, or a motion made by a stalwart delegate, the delegates illegally seated by the state central committee voted, as well as the assistants to the sergeant at arms and the deputy sheriffs when the roll was not called.
As an illustration of incidents occurring prior to the withdrawal of the anti-La Follette delegates, two brief excerpts from affidavits subsequently filed will suffice. One is from a sworn statement by W. F. Loomis, a La Follette delegate who did not withdraw but remained in the gymnasium convention until the end because he had been instructed by his constituents to vote for La Follette. Mr. Loomis later made a voluntary sworn statement in which he said, among other things:
That on getting there (to the delegate entrance of the gymnasium building) he found that all doors of admission to that part of said hall, allotted to delegates were barred except a side door, which was guarded by at least forty persons, some of whom wore badges upon which were printed "Deputy Sheriff;" others wore badges reading "Assistant Sergeant at Arms," and the remainder were dressed in policemen's uniforms. A double file of such guards was arranged extending some distance outside and inside of said doorway, so that in order to enter said convention hail it was necessary for the delegates to pass single file between said two lines of guards. Each member of said guard, in turn, grasped and took by the arm or clothing in a rude and insulting manner, ostensibly for the purpose of examining said badge to see that it entitled the person wearing it to admission to said convention hail. That this deponent saw one man who wore his badge on his vest instead of on his coat and he was refused admission until he put said badge on his coat.Spencer Haven, an anti-La Follette delegate from St. Croix county who was admitted to the convention with one-half vote, swore to the following facts:
Deponent further says that all of said guards were strangers to him, that they were all large muscular men, of heavy build, and evidently selected because of their physical strength. That on the inside of said convention hall, scattered around the sides of the building and in the aisles, were a great many persons of a similar description, wearing badges upon which was printed "Assistant Sergeant at Arms." Not less than sixty of said guards and assistant sergeant at arms were in that part of said hall allotted to delegates. That the deponent noticed said guards applauded La Follette's speakers and delegates and saw them repeatedly hiss, hoot and groan at anti-La Follette delegates speaking in said convention.
That on the inside of the convention hail, and scattered along the aisles and around the sides of the building allotted to delegates, were a great many persons of a similar description, wearing badges on which was printed "Assistant Sergeant at Arms." That during the proceedings of the convention upon votes taken viva voce they voted invariably with the La Follette faction, and in so voting, added their vociferous voices to the vote of said faction. That there was as many as a dozen of such persons so labeled "Assistant Sergeant at Arms" in the immediate vicinity of that part of the convention where this deponent was sitting, and their conduct was such in voting upon questions that came before the convention as to attract the attention of deponent and other delegates sitting near him, and finally some one of said delegates, in the presence and hearing of deponent, asked these persons, so labeled "Assistant Sergeant at Arms," whether they were delegates of the convention, and they replied "Yes," and that they were voting, and also remarked that they could vote louder than deponent and the other delegates sitting near him could.Before the convention was organized M. B. Rosenberry, a member of the minority of the state central committee, made a request of the chairman, Gen. Bryant, that he, Rosenberry, be recognized by the temporary chairman of the convention for the purpose of presenting a minority report of the state central committee, signed by six members. He was told to make arrangements with I. L. Lenroot who was to be temporary chairman, which he did, and was given a promise that he would be recognized immediately after the close of the temporary chairman's address. Mr. Rosenberry took a seat on the platform eight or ten feet to the left of, and behind the stand at which Mr. Lenroot stood when he addressed the convention. As he sat down he was surrounded by three persons, strangers to him, each a noteworthy example of physical prowess and each wearing a badge that indicated that he was an assistant to the sergeant at arms. These three men refused to allow Mr. Rosenberry to move or change his position at any time, but forcibly held him in his seat until Mr. Lenroot had finished his address. At the appointed time Mr. Rosenberry arose to his feet, with his guards still clustered about him, although he had explained to them who he was and that he had the consent of Gen. Bryant and Mr. Lenroot to his presence. In spite of this explanation, and although Mr. Rosenberry had several times requested his guards to cease interfering with his freedom, they persisted in their surveillance over his acts. On this point Mr. Rosenberry said in his affidavit:
It was impossible for him to move without personal encounter; that by reason of the fact that it was a time of great excitement and high tension, this affiant preferred to bear the personal humiliation incident to such insulting conduct on the part of said persons rather than precipitate a personal struggle ... and this affiant is informed and verily believes that said persons were engaged in such insulting conduct by the direction of their superiors, and that their action was part of a preconcerted plan to deny affiant, along with other anti-La Follette delegates, the common courtesies and rights of delegates in a republican convention.It may be added that, when Mr. Rosenberry had completed the reading of his report and attempted to move that it be substituted for the majority report, he was seized by his guards and forced into his chair.
The affidavits which establish beyond controversy the details of this most high handed proceeding fill a large volume and they are all of the same tenor. They tell of personal insults, exasperating taunts, and actual physical violence, all calculated, if not deliberately designed, to lead to physical resistance and bloodshed. In point of fact, there are few states where such proceedings would not have brought about an outbreak of hostilities and a resort to mob law.
But the sta1wart majority restrained themselves--to their everlasting credit be it said--and submitted with dignified composure to the repeated acts of injustice, and worse, that were inflicted upon them by the minority supported by physical force, ostentatiously displayed. The addresses made to the convention by M. B. Rosenberry, M. G. Jeffris, and E. R. Hicks were models of convention oratory, appealing as they did to the sense of justice that ought to have actuated the administration faction. Their appeals were met with taunts by the minority speakers, and they withdrew from the convention.