Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Conflicting Decisions

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

At the convention held in the Fuller Opera house the same evening a committee on credentials was appointed to which was delivered the record of the credentials secured by the minority of the state central committee. The copies of the credentials were examined by the committee and all cases where contests had been filed were presented to and acted upon by the convention itself. When this work was completed and a vote was taken it was found there was present in the stalwart convention, and voting, 567 duly elected republican delegates, or a majority of sixty-nine votes of the entire number legally qualified to sit in a republican convention.

This majority then proceeded to nominate a state ticket at the head of which the placed the Hon. S. A. Cook as the republican candidate for governor. Senators J. C. Spooner and J. V. Quarles, Representative J. W. Babcock, and the Hon. Emil Baensch were elected delegates to the republican national convention. A platform was adopted and a state central committee chosen. In order that, so far as was practicable, the split in the party might be confined to the state ticket and prevented from affecting the candidates on the national ticket, arrangements were made to name as presidential electors the men chosen at the gymnasium convention.

As a part of the platform adopted by the convention held at the Fuller opera house--which platform was not printed in the blue book the following year among other platforms of all parties--the following plank is found:
Seventh--The last legislature enacted and has submitted to the people to be voted upon at the general election a proposed primary election law. This law proposes a radical change in the nominating procedure of all parties, and affects every elector in the exercise of one of his functions, and we approve of the action of the republican senate in declining to put into immediate operation by a majority vote of one party such a law, without first giving an opportunity to all the voters of the state, each voter upon his own responsibility and conscience to pass upon it at the polls. It has passed the platform stage. If it shall not be the will of the people to do away with all conventions in the future, we favor the enactment of such legislation as shall provide specifically for the election and accrediting of delegates, and the legal effect which shall be given to credentials duly executed, to the end that it shall be impossible for any power but the convention itself to overrule the prima facie title of delegates and turn preliminarily a majority into a minority.
The convention that continued in session at the gymnasium building also adopted a platform in which was placed a primary election plank which reads as follows:
We indorse and approve the administration of Gov. Robert M. La Follette as conspicuously able, honest and economical. Through his fearless, conscientious and statesmanlike advocacy of a faithful compliance with party promises and against the most malicious and corrupt opposition, a primary elector, employer, employe, will, in accordance with just principles of government, without coercion or intimidation, be able to express his true conviction at the polls. We regret that the opponents of this measure, in violation of the party's most sacred promises and three times repeated in its platform, have thus far been able to postpone the operation of the law, and we denounce such action on their part as a breach of good faith to their constituents and as treason to the republican party. We heartily commend the primary election law proposed by the last legislature to all fair minded citizens, regardless of party affiliation, for their approval at the polls. This measure should stand above partisan consideration as going to the ground work of popular government. The campaign leading up to this convention must illustrate to all citizens of Wisconsin the difficulty of securing a true expression of the popular will under the present caucus and convention system, when private interests conflict with public welfare.
When the contesting delegation elected by the gymnasium convention, R. M. La Follette, Isaac Stephenson, J. H. Stout, and W. D. Connor, appeared before the national committee in Chicago, a full and fair hearing was given them. Six hours were consumed in listening to the arguments of the attorneys for the two sets of delegates; certified copies of all the credentials were at hand; the minutes of the two conventions and affidavits of all parties who had anything of importance to say bearing on the case were exhumed, questions were asked and answered, and the committee decided unanimously in favor of the legality of the anti-La Follette convention and recommended that the delegates elected at that convention be seated.

The matter was then referred to the committee on credentials appointed by the national committee and the evidence was all laid before that body. The attorney for the La Follette delegates, however, did not make an argument, contenting himself with filing a statement to the effect that he believed the committee was prejudiced and that his clients would not receive a fair hearing. The committee spent a part of one afternoon, the evening, the night, and a part of the next forenoon in examining the evidence in the case. The matter was thoroughly and impartially examined into and the decision of this committee was the same as that of the national committee. The vote to recommend that the stalwart delegates be seated was unanimous.

The republican national convention finally passed upon the merits of the contest and, by a practically unanimous vote, seated John C. Spooner, Joseph V. Quarles, Joseph W. Babcock, and Emil Baensch as the regularly elected and duly qualified delegates from Wisconsin.

Having secured a decision from the national committee, the committee on credentials of the national convention, and the republican national convention itself, there still remained the necessity of appealing to the Supreme court. Walter L. Houser, an uncompromising partisan of the governor, was secretary of state and it was his duty to make up the ballots to be used at the election in November. All who were acquainted with the secretary did not stop to question what his course would be. They knew he would ignore the decision of the national convention and place the names of the candidates nominated at the gymnasium convention on the ticket as the regular republican nominees. Certain formal steps were taken to induce him to accept the republican national convention as the highest authority in the republican party and the Supreme court was asked to order him to comply with the request.

The decision of the court, handed down on Oct. 5, one month before the election was a peculiar one. This decision was written by Justice Marshall, a dissenting opinion being filed by Chief Justice Cassoday, who held that the court had jurisdiction and that the nominees of the Fuller opera house convention were the regular nominees of the republican party. A majority of the court, however, held that, under the statutes, the republican state central committee was the only body that had jurisdiction to determine the regularity of its own proceedings or the proceedings of a republican convention. In other words, it was the supreme authority in the state; it could, if it decided to do so, ignore the decision of the national convention. It had a right to usurp authority that belonged to the convention itself, and, should its action be impeached, it could hear, try, and determine its own case.

This is not to be taken as a criticism of the Supreme court's decision. It is merely intended as a comment on the remarkable statute construed by the court when it rendered its decision. The court is entitled to and must always be accorded the most profound respect. It is permitted, however, to condemn a law that furnishes a statutory warrant for an outrage on justice and political morals. A law that will rob the majority of any party of the fruits of victory by permitting a minority to govern, is not a good law. The result of the election disposed of that law, as no delegates are elected now, and the offending statute may be permitted to rest in peace.

it is not surprising that, in the midst of a controversy like the one described the primary election law was, in a measure, lost sight of. Senators Spooner and Quarles, M. G. Jeffris, J. G. Monahan, and other speakers referred to it in their addresses while stumping the state, but there were other matters of more recent birth that called for explanation at length. Only brief and occasional mention was made of the proposed law in the literature circulated by the stalwart central committee. The campaign was in fact, one of personalities, as is always the case in factional party, as well as in family quarrels. It thus came about that an issue which had been fought over and discussed at length for three years was practically smothered at the the it came up for final approval or defeat at the polls.

The result was that the primary election measure was indorsed by the voters at the polls by a majority of 50,507. The total vote cast on this question was 210,891, while the total vote cast for all candidates for governor that year was 449,570, of which Gov. La Follette received 227,253, and George W. Peck, the democratic candidate, 176,301. The total vote on the primary election question was less than one-half the vote for governor; it was less by 16,362 than the vote for La Follette; it fell 11,416 short of the combined vote against La Follette. The vote in favor of the measure was 96,554 less than the La Follette vote, and the vote against it fell short 142,125 of the combined vote against La Follette.

Following the decision of the Supreme court, the stalwarts lost all semblance of an organization and their forces were divided as a natural consequence. Large numbers voted the democratic ticket. Others, who could not overcome their republican training, voted for the La Follette ticket on the score of regularity as laid down by the court. The original stalwart candidate, S. A. Cook, had withdrawn from the race and Maj. Edward Scofield, former governor, had been placed on the ticket, But no pretense was made of supporting that ticket. Maj. Scofield himself asked republicans to vote for Peck. A bare 12,136 old line republicans could not bring themselves to the point of voting for a democrat or for La Follette and they voted for Scofield against his protest. Thus the governor was re-elected for a second time and the primary election law was indorsed by the people.