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Senator Jas. K. Vardaman






A. S. COODY, Publisher,

Jackson, Miss.


Copyright 1922 by



JUN 26 1922

Dedicated to
The memory of the late


Who embodied in his life and character all the qualities of

the ideal man.

"Dost thou look back on what hath been
As some divinely gifted man,
Whose life in low estate began
And on a simple village green;

"Who breaks his birth's invidious bar,

And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,

And grapples wi;h his evil star,

"Who makes by force his merit known
And lives to clutch the golden keys,
To mould a mighty state's decrees,

And shape the whisper of the throne;

"And moving up from high to higher,

Becomes on Fortune's crowning slope
The pillar of a people's hope,

The center of a world's desire."

The author makes grateful acknowledgement to


for reading sections of the manuscript and making sugges-
tions and corrections, and for especially valuable assistance
in preparing the Chapter on the Espionage Laws.


The subject matter of these sketches was prepared
for an address which I made before the Vardaman Club
of Jackson, Mississippi, in September, 1921. This address
met with such approval that at the request of many of
those present I have reduced it to writing, as nearly as
memory permits, with such additions as I have deemed

The purpose in publishing this booklet is not political ;
neither is the purpose to enter into any controversy with
any individual, nor to say anything or refer to anything
derogatory to the character or reputation of any other
person. If, incidentally, facts are recited which reflect in
any way upon any other person, it is done not with the in-
tention of injuring such person, but merely for the purpose
of stating such facts as are deemed necessary for the pur-
pose of this story. What is here set down is for Senator
Vardaman's friends, and not for his enemies ; or to refute
their arguments.

The purpose is to give a word picture of the public
career of James K. Vardaman, and, in a lesser sense, an
outline of the political happenings during the period that
he has served the people of Mississippi in an official way.

This is intended to be a simple narrative. I have
found that many of Senator Vardaman's best friends &re
in error in regard to many of the simple facts of his life.
For instance, many reasons have been assigned for his
wearing hair longer than does the average male citizen of
today. None of the reasons assigned are true, because
there is no reason except a matter of personal choice, sug-

— 8—

gested, perhaps, by the fact that men like Senator George,
Walthall and many others during the period of Vardaman's
young manhood, wore their hair in much the fashion that
his is worn today.

It has been frequently asserted that Vardaman was
left an orphan at a very early age, and that all of his boy-
hood and young manhood were devoted to the support of a
widowed mother and a number of small brothers and sisters.
As a matter of fact, Vardaman's father lived until after his
(Vardaman's) marriage.

Many of his friends are under the impression that Sen-
ator Vardaman's right arm was injured in the shooting af-
fair at Greenwood (reference to which is made hereafter).
The fact is that this arm was injured in an accident during
Vardaman's boyhood, while he was engaged in operating a
com sheller. Vardaman was entirely uninjured in the
shooting affair at Greenwood, although a bullet or two pass-
ed through his clothing.

A great many of his friends are also under a misappre-
hension as to his views on the race question. Many of them
merely think that Vardaman has played good politics in his
discussion of the negro question. As a matter of fact,
Vardaman is more in earnest, if such be possible, in his ad-
vocacy of certain measures in regard to the race question
than upon any other matter that he has presented to the
people of Mississippi. He has read everything available
upon this subject, political, historical and 1 scientific. He is
an authority upon matters of race, and his publicly stated
views are but a brief statement of the sentiments that he
sincerely entertains on this great question.

In a general way, there are two classes of men. They
may be classified as, first, those men who look upon other
men for what may be gotten out of them; and the second,

— 9—

and much smaller, class consisting of those men who look
upon their fellow men with the purpose of doing something
for them.

As an illustration of this latter class let us take the late
Dr. B. F. Ward, of Winona. His life and character are
familiar to many of the people of Mississippi. One of the
last instances in his life will serve the purpose. When Dr.
Ward was dying, some of his friends and relatives were
gathered in his room. Although so weak he could not
speak above a whisper, he noticed that all of his friends in
the room were standing, and he said to his daughter, who
was holding his hand, "Tell them to sit down." These were
his last words on earth. This sublime character, in the
last moments of life, was thinking not of himself, not of
that world to which he was going, but thinking, as he had
thought all his life, of others.

In every age and in every country there have been a
few men who have stood out above their fellows as the
mountain peaks of the race. They have been gifted with
qualities that their fellows did not possess, whether "di-
vinely gifted" does not matter. The history of these few
men will be practically the history of the world. To write
adequately the story of Pericles would be to write of the
golden age of Greece; to write of Ceasar would be to tell
the story of Rome during the period of his public service.

And it is always true that such men as these have their
devoted friends and bitter enemies. To borrow a thought
from Dr. Ward, there are three ways of aestroying the
great leaders of the people. The first is by the use of such
arguments and the advancement of such facts as are 1 ossi-
ble. When this method fails, resort is had to misrepre-
sentation and abuse, and the interjection of false issues.

This second method has been very assiduously follow-
ed in the case of James K. Vardaman. My first recollec-

tion of Vardaman is of a man misrepresenting to me his

When I was but a boy, I recall that with a number of
men I was working in the woods, engaged in the everyday
business of making staves. This opponent of Vardaman's
hunted us up and gave each of us a circular setting forth
with some ability the demerits of Vardaman, who was then
a candidate fcr Governor. He also informed us that Var-
daman was intensely hostile to the negroes of Mississippi,
and that his purpose was to run them out of the State, or
kill them, and that if he was elected Governor, the result of
his election would be that all of the negroes in Mississippi
would go elsewhere. A consummation very devcutly to be

The third and last method of getting rid of embarrass-
ing reformers and militant leaders of the people is by
assassination. Christ was crucified ; Socrates was given
the poison hemlock, ostensibly for discussing too freely the
amorcus Gods of Greece, but in reality because he was
teaching the young men cf Athens too much common ser-se
and democracy ; and' the great Roman leader Caesar was
assassinated, as were Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. How-
ever, this method is now obsolete, and is no longer practiced
by the best people.

In the preparation of these sketches, I have examined
a great many public documents and records, as well as
many documents of my own. I have carefully checked
these, and have verified my own conclusions by conferring
with a number of prominent men in public life, as to the
accuracy of the statements made. I therefore feel certain
that every statement of fact with reference to the life and
public services of Senator Vardaman is correct.

In the best written histories there are frequently er-
rors. If any are found in this booklet, I assure the reader
that they are unintentional, and if the reader will call my


attention to the error, with proper proof, correction will be
made, and acknowledgement gratefully rendered.

No attempt is made to cover all the events in Senator
Vardaman's life or even his public career. To do so, and deal
with all the things that have happened would require sev-
eral good sized volumes. It is my purpose to write a
larger book, when the partisan differences have abated, and
the passions engendered by political conflict have been
softened and subdued by the recollections of happy achieve-
ment. I will, therefore, appreciate the receipt of any in-
teresting fact, or circumstance in connection with the life
or career of Senator Vardaman.

For the sake of the critics, I here confess to many er-
rors of syntax, rhetoric, and all rules of composition. I
have attempted only to make myself understood, and if I
have accomplished this, I have no complaint to register.

A. S. C.

His Early Life; Training; and Work as Editor.

What constitutes a state?
Not high-raised battlement or laboured mound,

Thick wall or* moated gate,
Not cities proud with spires and turrets crowned;

Not bays and broad-armed ports
Where, laughing at the storm, rich navies ride

No: — men, high-minded men,
With powers as far above dull brutes endued

In forest, brake, or den
As beasts excel cold rocks and brambles rude;

Men who their duties know,
But knew their rights, and knowing, dare maintain

Prevent the long-aimed blow,
And crush the tyrant while they rend the chain;

These constitute a state.

— Sir William Jo"~es.

AMES KIMBLE VARDAMAN was born in Jackson
County, Texas, on July 26th, 1861, near the spot now
occupied by the city of Edna, which is the County site
of Jackson County. His mother was Miss Mollie Fox, who
was born in Huntsville, Alabama. His father was William
Sylvester Vardaman, who was born in Copiah County, Mis-

His parents were married at Carrollton, Mississippi,
and lived in Holmes County, Mississippi, for a number of
years, near the line -between Carroll and Holmes Counties.

In 1858 Vardaman's father, with his family, moved to
Jackson County, Texas, and purchased a plantation on the
Navidad River. He was not able to pay all of the pur-


chase price for this plantation, and equip it with the neces-
sary implements and purchase sufficient slaves to cultivate
it. This fact will account for the loss of the place at the
close of the war between the States.

Six children were born to Vardaman's parents, two
girls and four boys. At the outbreak of the war, Varda-
man's father entered the Confederate army, and served
under General Ross for four years.

Returning at the close of the war, he found his prop-
erty dissipated and his slaves freed, and owing a large sum
as the balance on his lands. In this situation, he packed a
few belongings into a wagon and with his family returned
to Mississippi, in 1868. The first year he spent in Yalo-
busha County, near what is now known as Torrance. The
next year he lived near Garner's Station, now known as
Scobey. Here the six Vardaman children were reared and
given such little education as the County schools afforded,
Vardaman's only schooling was obtained in a small log
schoolhouse located near what is now known as Tillatoba.

At a very early age young James was filled with an am-
bition to be a lawyer, and subsequently a politician. The
story is told that when he was about eight years of age it
was decided that it was necessary to remove his tonsils. In
those days competent surgeons and anaesthetics were very
rare. Young James was induced to submit peaceably to
the operation by being positively told that unless he did he
would never be able to be a speaker, and become a lawyer.

When he was about eighteen years of age his father
agreed that whatever he made in farming would be his and
could be used by him in obtaining an education. Young
James started in to make a crop, but later along in the
year, when the sun grew hot, he was impressed with the
idea that this was too slow a method of reaping a fortune.


He proceeded to make his father a present of his horse and
the growing crop, and went into the manufacture of cross
ties, with an equipment of three axes and two negro assist-

When the cross ties had been made, he purchased an ox
wagon and some oxen, and himself hauled the ties to the
railroad at Garner's Station. During this time he contin-
ued the study of law. He would load the wagon with the
cross ties, put the oxen in the road, and read until he reach-
ed the end of the journey. He would then unload the ties,
start the oxen on their way, and read on the way back to
the woods.

When this venture had been completed, and with a
fortune of something less than two hundred dollars, he went
to Carrollton and lived for a time with his uncle, Major
Pearson Money, the father of United States Senator Money.

Major Money had a very fine library, of books then in
common use, consisting principally of the classics. Varda-
man'3 cousin, William Vardaman Money, was a very highly
educated young man, and it was through association with
him and under his instruction that much of Vardaman's
education was obtained. During this time he was assidu-
ously engaged in the study of law in the offices of Helm and
Somerville, at Carrollton.

In those days, applicants for license to practice law
were examined orally in open court. The Bar at that time
was wont to travel around with the Court, from County to
County, and represent such clients as stood in need of their
services. When Vardaman applied for license the Judge
invited all of the members of the bar present to conduct the
examination. Among those present were Judge T. H,
Somerville and Judge William C. McLean, of Grenada.
Judge McLean was a classical scholar and possessed a very


profound knowledge of the law books of Blackstone and
other learned writers. He prided himself upon his knowl-
edge of the common law. We can imagine the scene of a
raw country boy, possessing small literary education and no
great knowledge of the law, subjected on a broiling July
afternoon to a gruelling examination at the hands of this
dignified and scholarly Judge. As one of the spectators
afterwards remarked, the Judge evidently desired to dem-
onstrate his knowledge of the law and the ignorance of the
applicant, and eminently succeeded in doing both.

The examination continued until the lamps had to be
lighted, and the subject of Blackstone, Coke on Littleton,
and other books of like character had been exhausted. But
at last the ordeal was over and 1 Vardaman was given license
to practice law.

The Judge requested him to write out the license, in
crder that he might sign it, but this was a subject that the
student had not mastered, and his prayer that he be allow-
ed until morning to prepare the license was readily granted.

Vardaman then moved to Winona and there began his
acquaintance with the late Dr. B. F. Ward, who continued to
be Vardaman's friend, devoted and unchanging, from that
time until the hour of his death. It is doubtless due large-
ly to the teachings of Dr. Ward that the Vardaman of today
has been developed.

A characteristic incident in the financial career cf
Vardaman was one which occurred the day after his arrival
in Winona. He had secured an office and paid for the
hauling of his books. After completing the task of arrang-
ing his books, etc., he opened the door for business in pos-
session of a cash capital of fifty cents.

He walked down en the streets, and met a man carry-
ing a petition in behalf of another whose house had been
burned. Vardaman very gravely subscribed and paid the


sum of fifty cents, and began his career as an attorney,

In 1884 Vardaman married Mrs. Anna Robinson, a
widow. While in Winona he achieved the average success
of a young lawyer of that period, and during idle times
edited a newspaper, the "Winona Advance." After a num-
ber of years he moved to Greenwood and began the practice
of law, also editing the "Greenwood Enterprise." He aft-
erwards sold this paper and established the "Greenwood
Commonwealth." He was elected to the legislature in
1890, and again in 1892, serving in all, six years. In the
middle of his second term he was unanimously elected
Speaker of the House of Representatives, and made one of
the most popular Speakers that body ever had.

While editing his paper at Greenwood, Vardaman be-
gan writing on the race question, and gained a statewide
reputation from the vigorous expression of his views upon
this and other questions of that period. During these years
the great national question was the controversy between the
Democratic party and the Peoples party. In this contest
Vardaman spoke in many parts of the State in behalf of
the Democratic candidates, and won the very cordial dis-
like cf the Peoples Party leaders. But in after years prac-
tically all of these leaders, upon the demise of the Populist
party, became the warm friends of Vardaman.

During the time he was the editor of the "Common-
wealth," Vardaman began the advocacy of prohibition. A
prohibitionist at that time was about as popu" r in LeFlore
County as a Bolshevist would be in Wall Street. A great
deal of feeling was aroused on all sides, and a plot was con-
cocted to assassinate Vardaman. This was discovered by
Dr. C. N. D. Campbell, of Greenwood, who is now County
Health Officer of LeFlore County. He went to Vardaman
and warned him of the plot, enabling him to prepare him-


self, so that when the shooting began Vardaman escaped
uninjured, and one of the other contestants was killed.

One reason for the report that Vardaman was injured
in this affair was the fact that his cousin, Colonel James
D. Money, was wounded. When the shooting ended, Var-
daman asked his cousin if he had been hit, the reply of
Coknel Money was, "Yes, I am hit in the leg, and if it
hadn't been for that fellow's leg I would have gotten him,"
meaning that the fellow had run away so fast that he es-
caped injury.

Vardaman made two campaigns for Governor before
he was elected. His first campaign was in 1899, and the
second in 1903. The first campaign was made under the
old convention system, and naturally resulted in his defeat.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Var-
daman volunteered his services and organized a company.
This was tendered toi Governor McLaurin to be mustered
in. The Governor disliked Vardaman and availing him-
self of the excuse that Vardaman possessed an injured right
arm, refused to issue a commission to him. His company
thereupon decided to withdraw from the service, but Var-
daman prevailed upon them to go ahead and do their duty
to their country. He returned home and was offered and
accepted a commission as Captain in the 5th U. S. V. I.
known as the Immune Regiments, and after reaching Cuba
was commissioned a Major.

While in Cuba the campaign of 1899 for Governor was
under way, and Vardaman requested that he be discharged
so that he might return home and enter the campaign.
Members of his company, however, reminded him of his
promise that he would stay with them until they got back
heme, and thereupon he withdrew his request and remain-
ed with the company until it was finally mustered out.


He then returned to Mississippi and entered into the
campaign for Governor a few weeks before its close. At
that time it was optional with the Counties as to whether
they held a primary or elected their delegates by the con-
vention system. Vardaman visited those counties where
an election was to be held, and carried every county in
which he made a speech. But of course, he could not, and
never has been able to carry or control a convention, and
was defeated for the nomination.

For a number of years Vardaman and his friends had
been denouncing the convention system, and demanding the
right of the white electors of Mississippi to name their pub-
lic officials. The result of this agitation was the passage
of the primary election law, which provided for a State-
wide primary for the election of all State officials, from
constable to Governor.

Vardaman entered the gubernatorial campaign in 1903,
having as his opponents Honorable Frank A. Critz of West
Point, and Honorable E. F. Noel, of Lexington. Noel was
the low man in the first primary, and Vardaman the lead-
ing man.

Many of Vardaman's friends felt that his race against
Critz in the second primary was a hopeless one, because
they believed that the friends of Noel were anti- Vardaman
and would vote solidly for Critz, but when the second pri-
mary was over it was found that Vardaman had increased
his lead over Judge Critz and was nominated as the Demo-
cratic candidate for Governor, and was elected in the fol-
lowing November elections.


As Governor of Mississippi.

"He makes no friend who never made a foe."

— Tennyson.

C%{ T has been frequently asserted that Vardaman was the
only Governor to be elected without opposition. This
grew out of the fact that at the general election in

November, 1903, no other party put out a candidate. Since

that time the Socialist party has placed a candidate's name

en the ticket.

It is a well known fact that Vardaman possesses more
loyal and devoted friends, and more bitter and implacable
enemies than any other public man in Mississippi. This is
naturally true when we consider that Vardaman is a man
of very positive convictions, and bold and aggressive in
his advocacy of the measures in which he believes. He is
apparently incapable of restraining himself when possessed
by an idea. He aptly illustrates the words of Heine,
where he says, "We do not take possession of our ideas, but
are possessed by them. They master us and force us into
the arena, where, like gladiators, we must fight for them."

However, many of the enemies of Vardaman are not
political, but think they have a personal reason for their
dislike. When he began the advocacy of prohibition, and
continued in the fight as editor, legislator, governor and
United States Senator, those persons who were making a
profit from the sale of liquor naturally felt unkindly to-
wards the man who was vigorously opposing their business,


and who, with the help of thousands of others, succeeded in
putting them out of business not only in LeFlcre County,
and Mississippi, but throughout the Nation.

Also, Vardaman was really the leader in the abolition
of convention politics in Mississippi, and those gentlemen
who controlled conventions, named officials, and profited
from the government of this State, naturally resented any
interference Math the system which they knew so well how
to operate to their political and financial advantage and

Although the Constitution of 1890 forbade the prac-
tice, the foundation for a number of fortunes in Mississippi
has been made through the leasing of convicts. Governor
Vardaman broke up this practice and put the convicts on
the State's lands, so that private individuals no longer
profited from their labor. This naturally offended a num-
ber of prominent and influential citizens.

As Governor, Vardaman defeated the so-called corpora-
tion land holding bill, and thereby incurred the displeasure
of the great landlords of the State. As Senator, his first
act of any prominence was to secure the raising of the tax
rate on large incomes from three to seven per cent. Nat-
urally, those persons fortunate enough tc possess an annual
income of a million or more dollars did not feel kindly to the
man who made them give seven per cent instead of three to
their government.

These, and other things of like nature, are the things

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Online LibraryArchibald Stinson CoodyBiographical sketches of James Kimble Vardaman → online text (page 1 of 17)