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Reminiscences of Minnesota politics online

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that on the first ballot Davis and Austin each received 77 votes ;
and thereafter Davis constantly gained, while Austin steadily
lost. Years afterward I was told by one of Austin's friends
that most of them considered he made a great mistake in writ-
ing that letter, and that they blamed me for suggesting it to
him. But I have always considered it a manly and proper
thing for Governor Austin to do, furthermore, that but for
this letter Washburn would have been nominated, many Davis
men preferring him to Austin under the circumstances.

The convention met July 16, 1873, and in the preliminary
skirmish the Washburn forces seemed to have a victory over
the combined opposition in the election of William H. Yale of
Winona as temporary chairman by a decisive majority, but
subsequent events failed to justify this promise. The final bal-
lot gave Davis 155 and Washburn 152 votes, thus by a narrow
margin nominating our candidate and changing the entire po-
litical history of the state. Many interesting and exciting epi-
sodes occurred during the convention. A disputed ballot for
Davis was found under the lining of General Sanborn's hat,
used as a ballot box, and was counted, no doubt properly ; if it
had not been counted, Davis would still have had a majority.
The excitement over the result was almost painful in its in-
tensity. Davis appeared on the platform and made, as would
be expected, a splendid acceptance speech.

A very influential personage in the Washburn ranks at this
time, and in the ranks of the Ramsey element at all times, was
General R. N. McLaren of St. Paul, United States marshal. He
was an intelligent, systematic and tireless worker against us,
and had many admirable qualities and was as generous and
honorable an opponent as one ever meets in political warfare.
One of his good qualities was a graceful, manly acceptance of
defeat. He knew when his side was whipped. General Mc-
Laren came to me on the floor of the convention as soon as the
result was known and said: "You must be chairman of the
Republican State Committee; you have earned it; Davis'


friends are entitled to it in making his campaign, and I will
try to see that you get it." I had no desire for the position
with its responsibilities, and I told him I would not be ap-
pointed, as I knew the dominating influences of the convention
operating through Chairman Yale too well to believe that this
concession would be made. I was correct in my judgment. C.
H. Pettit of Minneapolis was made chairman of the committee ;
it had little interest in Davis or the ticket; it raised a consid-
erable campaign fund, but spent very little, turning over about
three-quarters of it to the committee for the ensuing campaign.
Davis made speeches throughout the state, and was every-
where received with enthusiasm. The people were with him,
but the machine was against him. It was desired that his ma-
jority should be small. Ara Barton was the Democratic nomi-
nee, and Davis' majority was something like 6,000, as against
three times that number for Grant as President the preceding

One thing which dampened the enthusiasm of the Ramsey
Republicans who had opposed Davis, was the fact that his en-
thusiastic young friends, immediately after his nomination,
raised the cry of ''Davis for Senator in 1875." Davis himself
looked with favor on this proposition, but was doubtful about
the expediency of mixing it up with his current gubernatorial
campaign. Still, as the state senators to be elected with him
in November would hold over and have a vote in the United
States senatorial election in 1875, it was necessary to make at
least some preliminary movements in that direction. As one
of those movements, Davis requested me to become a candi-
date for state senator from my district in St. Paul. I was an-
tagonized by Hon. E. F. Drake, capitalist, railroad president,
successful in business, able and experienced in politics, who
was an avowed Ramsey man. The district embraced the Fourth
and Fifth wards of St. Paul and the county towns. There were
twenty delegates in the district convention, and when they
went into secret caucus, I had twelve of them pledged and Mr.
Drake had eight. But Col. John L. Merriam was a delegate
inside, and when the doors were opened it was announced that
Drake had received twelve votes to Castle eight, and that


Drake was nominated. This was a sample of the vicissitudes
of politics to which we had already become accustomed and of
which we were all to learn more later on.


Cushman K. Davis was inaugurated governor early in Jan-
uary, 1874. Shortly before his inauguration I was requested
by Adjutant General Mark D. Flower, who like myself had
been one of his ardent supporters, to go with him and ask
Davis to appoint A. R. McGill as his private secretary, McGill
having served four years in that capacity for Governor Austin
with distinguished ability. Governor-elect Davis promptly told
us that he had already decided to appoint "Deacon" Wilford
L. Wilson to that position. This was an unthought of thing to
both of us, but I promptly recognized its wisdom and emphat-
ically endorsed it. Davis was then under thirty-five years of
age and had the reputation of being, to draw it gently, a little
"wild," which reputation was very largely undeserved, but
which made it especially appropriate that the antechamber of
his official home should be occupied by a man twenty years
older than himself, of the highest character for purity of morals
and dignity of bearing as well as sincere religious faith and
practice. Mr. Wilson's appointment was at once a guarantee
of correct politics and dignified administration.

Senator Hoar of Massachusetts, in his eloquent memorial
address after the death of Senator Davis, used this language :
"He met every occasion with a simple and quiet courtesy. There
was not much of deference in it ; there was no yielding or sup-
plication or timidity in it. ' ' The aged and dignified Massachu-
setts senator, accustomed for years to deference from every-
body, showed in this phrase a tinge of disappointment that he
had never received such from this stalwart young colleague
out of the west. I never saw Governor Davis show much defer-
ence to people in all his career, but must make an exception in
the case of Mr. Wilson. He showed him unquestioned defer-
ence and respect from the beginning.

When it was discovered that Davis could not make McGill
his private secretary, Governor Austin, in the last days of his
administration, appointed McGill insurance commissioner, in


the place of Pennock Pusey who resigned for that purpose.
Davis was not consulted about this and resented it as an in-
fringement on his prerogative. He was naturally sensitive and
somewhat suspicious ; and though he then admired McGill, and
years afterward learned to trust him implicitly, to lean on him
unreservedly and to confide his highest interests to his keeping,
he was dissatisfied with this procedure. As a means of check-
mating it, if found advisable, Davis went before a notary pub-
lic and signed an oath of office immediately after the Legislat-
ure had canvassed the vote, and two days before the public in-
auguration. He thus became legal governor, and the appoint-
ment of McGill, which was promptly sent in by Governor Aus-
tin, was of no validity. The Senate held up the appointment
until after the inauguration; but a few days later Davis per-
sonally requested the senators to confirm it, and from that time
forward he was one of McGill's warmest friends. The fact of
his taking the oath of office in advance was probably never
known to more than three persons, and is only narrated now
as an unwritten incident of politics which throws a side light on
the relations and motives of the parties interested.

Soon after his inauguration, Governor Davis became an
avowed candidate for United States senator to succeed Alex-
ander Ramsey at the election to be held in the winter of 1875.
W. D. Washburn and Horace Austin also entered the field as
candidates, and the autumn of 1874 was largely devoted by
their friends to securing the nomination of candidates for the
Legislature in their interest. It was the field against Ramsey,
and the three gubernatorial rivals in 1873 were now allies. In
Ramsey county the conflict raged with great bitterness. Hor-
ace Thompson, president of the First National Bank, secured a
nomination for the Legislature in the fifth ward, and though
after his nomination he recognized Davis sentiment in St. Paul
to the extent of pledging himself to vote for Davis for senator,
enough Republicans in the fifth ward had become alienated to
join with the Democrats and elect F. R. Delano as their repre-
sentative, although Flower, McCardy, T. S. White, myself, and
many other Davis men, vigorously supported Mr. Thompson,
relying on his promise which, no doubt, would have been ful-
filled and might have been decisive in Davis' favor.


This year W. S. King of Minneapolis was nominated for
Congressman; he was bitterly opposed by the St. Paul Press,
under the management of Mr. Wheelock, who lavished his
choicest morsels of invective in voicing his hostility. The peo-
ple were warned against ''The strumpet of corruption which
strides in naked horror through the land," and were told how
deeply they would be disgraced if King were allowed to suc-
ceed. He was nominated, however, and elected, but the pre-
science of Mr. "Wheelock was apparently justified. The Pacific
Mail scandal came to the surface and Mr. King spent a consid-
erable portion of his official term in Canada, evading the serv-
ice of a subpoena to appear as witness in a Congressional in-
vestigation, on the alleged ground, believed by many to be
absolutely correct, that he was thereby protecting the precious
reputations of many unsullied senators and congressmen.


The winter of 1875 witnessed, during the legislative session,
the memorable senatorial contest which resulted in the defeat
of Alexander Ramsey and the election of S. J. R. McMillan,
then Chief Justice by recent appointment of Governor Davis.
The leading candidates against Ramsey were Davis, Washburn,
and Austin. The mooVn'ne. that is, the Federal office holders
and the railroad and capitalist element, carrying what we
younger men called the "barrel" with them, presented a united
front in favor of Ramsey. Davis was then leading candidate
in opposition, and many of his sanguine friends believed he had
the certainty of ultimate victory. There was no specially valid
reason, as appears from this distant perspective, why Ramsey
should have been displaced. He had served two terms in the
Senate after creditable records as Territorial and State gov-
ernor. But we were impatient and really thought he was too
old to longer perform efficient service. The shortness of our
vision and the irony of fate were vividly presented to my mind
twenty-five years later, when I saw ex-Senator Ramsey, still
hale and vigorous at the age of eighty, on a front seat at the
funeral of Senator Davis, worn out and stricken down at the
age of sixty-two.

When the legislature of 1875 assembled, active work began
and the adherents of the different candidates were rounded up.


A secret caucus to nominate for United States senator was
called for a certain evening, and the preceding night a confer-
ence of the friends of Governor Davis was held in his room at
the capitol. Twenty-nine or thirty senators and representatives
were personally present and each solemnly pledged himself to
support the governor in the caucus. Two or three more were
vouched for, so that we fully counted on a minimum of thirty-
two votes. When the caucus met the next evening, Davis re-
ceived twenty-one votes on the secret ballot. His real friends
then saw how they had been deceived and resolved to expose
the treachery. Senators L. F. Hubbard and Thomas H. Arm-
strong, who led the Davis forces, demanded a recess for con-
sultation. They finally secured it and called on the Davis men
to go to the governor's room. Twenty-nine men responded to
the call, gathered around the governor and looked each other
in the face. Senator Hubbard said, "Who of us are the trait-
ors? The only way to find out is to abandon the caucus and
appeal to the vote in the Legislature, where each man must be
recorded." The result was that the caucus was adjourned and
never again reassembled in force. Ramsey's adherents held
what we called a "rump" caucus and nominated him. But
this was not considered binding on those who did not partici-
pate, and the friends of the other candidates carried the fight
into the open session of the Legislature. Here Davis received
his twenty-one votes ; he discovered who his true friends were,
and was enabled to give a pretty good guess as to who were the
traitors. After many weary days of caucusing and balloting
and criminating, a compromise was effected by which all the
other candidates were dropped and Judge McMillan, whom
nobody had thought of at the beginning, least of all himself,
was elected senator. He was re-elected in 1881, served cred-
itably but not conspicuously for twelve years, and then in 1887
Davis came into his own.

One of the first acts of Senator McMillan, in the spring of
1875, was to recommend to President Grant the removal of J. A.
Wheelock, editor of the Press, from the position of postmaster
of St. Paul, to which he had recently been reappointed after
serving four years. Frederick Driscoll, his business associate,


was assistant postmaster, both salaries, aggregating about
$7,000 a year, thus going to the support of the Eepublican
organ. The President demurred, but Senator McMillan insisted,
and since by long precedent the local postoffice is considered
the personal perquisite of a senator, he finally had his way.
Dr. David Day, his brother-in-law, received the post office which
he held nearly fourteen years and administered with marked
efficiency. But the iron entered the soul of the party organ.
The defeat of Ramsey and the loss of the post office absolved
the Press from its party fealty; having about that time con-
solidated with the old Democratic Pioneer, it became an inde-
pendent newspaper with all that the name implies. It freely
criticised Republican administrations, state and national, and
for some time gave little support to party candidates, state or
local. But Mr. Wheelock was too loyal a Republican, and too
ardent a controversialist, to remain long in a position of neu-
trality. Within a year or two, the exaltation of Pillsbury in
the party measurably consoled him for the occultation of Ram-
sey. The Pioneer Press donned its war bonnet and plunged
into the midst of the fray, on the Republican side.

Governor Davis declined the re-election which he could have
had for the asking in spite of some hostilities within the party,
caused by the so-called "bolt" of his adherents in the Legis-
lature. As a matter of fact, that movement never injured the
political status of any who participated in it. Senator Hubbard
was elected governor a few years later, and all the other friends
of Davis in the Legislature had honorable political careers dur-
ing the next decade. None of them was willing to give up his
heritage as a Republican or surrender his prerogatives of local
leadership. During the few years preceding, some of the ablest
Republicans in the state had been driven from the party, after
more or less serious defeats for nominations, etc., by the dom-
inant faction, among them Thomas Wilson, James Smith, Jr.,
Morton S. Wilkinson, Ignatius Donnelly, and William L. Ban-
ning. But the "Davis men" swallowed their defeat, justified
their insurrection, and stood by their colors.

John S. Pillsbury was nominated for governor by the Repub-
lican State Convention of 1875, his opponents being Dr. J. H.


Stewart, of St. Paul, and Ex-Governor Horace Austin. Pills-
bury was elected in November and served six years, through
three terms, the only governor of Minnesota up to this time
who has enjoyed that distinction.

During Governor's Davis' term he tendered me several offi-
cial positions which I declined, as I was then practicing law in
St. Paul and preferred my professional work. Finally, on No-
vember first, 1875, he offered me the position of adjutant gen-
eral, which Mark D. Flower resigned, for the brief remainder
of his term. As this would not interfere with my plans, the
duties of the office alluded to then being somewhat nominal
and the salary correspondingly low, I accepted, and held over
several months under Governor Pillsbury. I then voluntarily
retired and Gen. H. P. Van Cleve, one of the recognized heroes
of the Civil War, succeeded me.


The year 1876 was made memorable by the Hayes and Til-
den campaign for the presidency. At the convention which
elected delegates to the Republican National Convention, I was
made a member at large of the Republican state central com-
mittee. When the committee organized, George A. Brackett of
Minneapolis was elected chairman and I was elected treasurer.

Dr. J. H. Stewart of St. Paul was nominated for Congress
to succeed Col. William S. King, whose service had been neither
creditable to himself nor acceptable to his constituents. The
Pioneer Press was lukewarm in its support of Dr. Stewart, and
the Dispatch, the only other daily paper in the city, was
avowedly a Democratic organ. Finding that H. P. Hall, the
owner of the Dispatch, was willing to sell it at a reasonable
price, a movement was inaugurated in the special interest of
Dr. Stewart to purchase the paper. Many leading Republicans
promptly subscribed to the stock of the new concern, among
them Senators Windom and McMillan, Governor Pillsbury, ex-
Governor C. K. Davis, Postmaster Day, Russell Blakely, D. M.
Sabin, General McLaren, General Hubbard, and others. Some
of these subscribers made it a condition that I should take
editorial charge of the paper, at least until after the Novem-
ber election, to which I consented. We took possession of the


Dispatch September 13, 1876, and in one day transformed it
from a belligerent Democratic to an equally aggressive Repub-
lican sheet, to the great astonishment of many members of both
parties who were not in the secret. The remaining six weeks
of the campaign were made as lively as possible, and at the
election Dr. Stewart was successful, and the State went for
Hayes by a large majority.

After election there seemed to be a unanimous desire on
the part of the Dispatch stockholders that I should continue
as editor-in-chief of the paper, which position after delibera-
tion I finally accepted. This terminated my professional work
as a lawyer and began a career in daily journalism which I
continued, except a short interval, for about nine years. The
Dispatch under my direction warmly advocated the re-elec-
tion of Senator Windom, and no formidable candidate ap-
peared against him. The tremendous excitement succeeding
the election, as to whether Hayes or Tilden had been chosen, is
a matter of history and need not be detailed here. Suffice it to
say that Minnesota had her share of the excitement and par-
ticipated freely in the criminations and recriminations which
were indulged in.


The first important political event of 1877 was the com-
promise at Washington by which the electoral commission was
established to pass upon the electoral vote as between Hayes
and Tilden, which resulted in the victory of Hayes by the nar-
rowest possible margin, 8 to 7.

When the Legislature met at St. Paul no opponent to Sen-
ator Windom appeared, nevertheless he left his important du-
ties in Washington and came here to look after his interests.
Even after the Republican caucus had unanimously endorsed
him and Windom had ostensibly returned to Washington, it
developed that he tarried in Winona until he had actually been
elected, thus betraying a nervousness and lack of confidence in
his friends or in himself which was entirely unjustifiable.

John S. Pillsbury was re-nominated and re-elected gov-
ernor; the state central committee of the previous year was
continued, Mr. Brackett remaining chairman and myself treas-


urer during the years 1876 to 1878. I was furthermore secre-
tary and treasurer of the state central committee (C. K. Davis,
chairman) from 1881 to 1883, and chairman of the committee
from 1884 to 1886. In 1884 our committee conducted the
Blaine and Logan campaign, giving the ticket the then unprec-
edented Republican majority of 42,000 in this state. During
all these campaigns I handled or was cognizant of all moneys
collected and disbursed by the committees. It is a significant
fact, in view of some heavy expenditures of campaign funds in
this state during subsequent years, that the largest sum dis-
bursed in any of these campaigns was the fund of 1884 which
amounted to exactly $850.


At the Congressionl Convention of 1878, W. D. Washburn
of Minneapolis defeated Congressman J. H. Stewart for the
Republican nomination in this district. Ignatius Donnelly suc-
ceeded in getting the Democratic and "Granger" nomination.
Then followed the celebrated "Little Brass Kettle" campaign,
which created great excitement throughout the district, then
embracing practically the whole of Minnesota north and west
of St. Paul. Washburn was elected by over 3,000 majority, but
Donnelly contested the election on the alleged technical irreg-
ularity of a few. votes in Minneapolis, relying on a Democratic
Congress to seat him. Donnelly came very near succeeding in
this attempt, and the contest which was kept up during the
entire two years of Washburn 's term largely neutralized his

I favored Stewart for the nomination, but ardently sup-
ported Washburn for the election both in the Dispatch and on
the platform.


Previous to the Republican State Convention for 1879, it
was announced that Governor Pillsbury would be a candidate
for nomination a third time. There was no precedent for this
proposition, and it was strongly opposed by many strong party
men. Lieutenant Governor J. B. Wakefield and Gen. L. F.
Hubbard were candidates for the nomination, and both had
extensive support.


The Dispatch, under my control, vigorously opposed the
renomination of Governor Pillsbury, although he and many of
his supporters were still stockholders in the paper. Consider-
able bitterness was engendered during the pre-convention can-
vass. Pillsbury was nominated by the convention, and al-
though the Dispatch supported him loyally as the party can-
didate, and although he was elected by a comfortable majority,
I personally incurred his lasting enmity. The ill feeling be-
tween us lasted for twelve years, when it was finally termi-
nated through the intervention of our mutual friend, Ex-Gov-
ernor Marshall.

Pillsbury was nominated by the convention, as stated; but
the remainder of the opposition "slate," which our friends
made up, was victorious in the convention, namely, for lieuten-
ant governor, C. A. Gilman, secretary of state, F. Von Baum-
bach, and treasurer, Charles Kittelson. Mr. Gilman here spe-
cially displayed the qualities of political astuteness and stead-
fastness, which were often seen later.

As a result of experiences in this pre-convention contro-
versy, the Dispatch thenceforward assumed an independent
attitude within Republican party lines. It adopted for its own
guidance a platform of civil service reform and the elimina-
tion of state and federal officeholders from active manipulation
of party politics. We thus antedated by more than twenty-
five years the current Roosevelt policy which now commands
practically universal approval. In this course I was sustained
by stockholders owning more than a majority in amount of the
capital of the paper, although a numerical majority of the
stockholders, comprising officeholders and adherents of what
we called the "old machine," were arrayed against me.


The lines were again drawn early in 1880 between the two
elements of the party. The Republicans of the state were, ad-
mittedly, overwhelmingly in favor of nominating James G.
Blaine for President. The officeholders and the machine were

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