Joseph Ralph Burton was born on his father's farm, near Mitchell, in Lawrence county, Indiana, Nov. 16, 1852. His father was Allen C., and his mother was Elizabeth (Holmes) Burton. The Burton family, which is of English origin, came to America about the year 1750. John P. Burton, the great-grandfather of Joseph R., was a colonel in the Continental line in the war for American independence. Hutchinson Burton, a brother of the Revolutionary colonel, was a member of the Continental Congress from Virginia. William Burton, son of Col. John P. Burton and grandfather of Joseph Ralph Burton, was born near Asheville, N. C. He was a pioneer settler of Lawrence county, Indiana, locating near Mitchell in the year 1830. He was a farmer by occupation and a Democrat in politics. He was active in the civic life of the community and served several terms in the Indiana legislature. Allen C. Burton, the son of William Burton, was born near Lexington, Ky., and went with his parents to Indiana. Like his father, he was a farmer and a Douglas Democrat, but became a Lincoln Republican.
Joseph Ralph Burton reecived[sic] his elementary education in the district schools of his native county. He pursued an academic course of study in the Mitchell Seminary, of which his father was one of the founders, and which at that time was conducted by a relative, the Rev. Simpson Burton. He matriculated in Franklin College, at Franklin, Ind., under the special tutelage of Lincoln Wayland, the late editor of the "National Baptist," of Philadelphia. After completing a three-years course in Franklin College young Burton entered DePauw University, at Greencastle, Ind. While in the university he paid his own way by teaching elocution. He became dangerously ill in the middle of his senior year and was forced to leave college without receiving an academic degree. After leaving DePauw, Mr. Burton read law in the offices of the celebrated firm of Gordon, Brown & Lamb, of Indianapolis, and was admitted to the bar in that city, in July, 1875. He located for the practice of his profession at Princeton, Ind. During the campaign of 1876, before he had cast his first vote for President, he made a three months' speaking campaign for the National ticket, under the auspices of the Republican National Committee, and was on the electoral ticket.
Attracted by the greater opportunities for young men in the West, Senator Burton located in Abilene, Dickinson county, Kansas, in 1878. There he formed, with John H. Mahan, the law firm of Mahan & Burton, which soon acquired a large practice. Like most young lawyers Mr. Burton took an active interest in politics and was elected a member of the legislature of Kansas, in the year 1882. With his colleague, the Hon. C. B. Hoffman, Mr. Burton at once became interested in railway legislation. The members-elect were called together in a sort of rump session at Abilene previous to the regular session. The call for this caucus of legislators was signed by C. B. Hoffman, A. P. Collins, G. W. Martin, and J. R. Burton. The efforts of Mr. Burton and his associates resulted in the organization of the first railway commission in Kansas. He was a member of the house judiciary committee during his first session in the legislature, and was reëlected in the year 1884. During the session of 1885, as chairman of the committee on county seats and county lines, Mr. Burton had charge of the making of many new counties in southwestern Kansas. He was recognized as the leader of the house of representatives. In the year 1886 he was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress in the Fifth district. After a heated campaign, in which Hon. John A. Anderson, the incumbent, took part, he came within two votes of a nomination, a dark horse, the Hon. A. S. Wilson, finally winning. While campaigning for the Republican National ticket in the State of Maine, in the year 1888, Mr. Burton was nominated and elected for a third term in the legislature. He was the house leader of his party during the session of 1889 and declined all committee appointments. He introduced and secured the passage of an anti-trust bill, which became a law in 1889. What was substantially a copy of this law was passed by Congress, in June, 1890, and has since become well known as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Kansas measure was the first bill of this kind to become a law in the United States. In a speech before the Republican state convention, held in Topeka in the year 1890, Mr. Burton foretold the disastrous overthrow that befell the Republican party in the elections of that year. This speech, for a time, made him unpopular, but after the election his words of warning were remembered. In 1891 he spoke in a series of joint debates with Senator William A. Peffer, who had been elected by a combination of Populists and Democrats. These debates attracted attention throughout the country and resulted in his nomination for Congress in the Fifth district the following year. Senator Burton made his campaign for Congress in a district with a majority of more than 9,000 against him. He spent five months on the stump and was defeated by less than 1,300 votes. Although defeated, his campaign was the means of restoring his district to the Republican party. In the year 1894 he was a candidate for the United States senate. There were some seven other aspirants against him. He was also opposed by the Republican National committeeman from Kansas and by the entire regular organization of the party. He was defeated in the party caucus by one vote, the nomination going to Lucien Baker, a dark horse in the contest. He was again a candidate for the senate in 1896. He and the late Senator John J. Ingalls were the recognized candidates. He defeated Ingalls by a vote of more than seven to one in the caucus of his party, but the legislature was carried by the Democrats and the Hon. W. A. Harris was chosen senator.
In the campaign of the year 1898, although a private citizen, Mr. Burton was recognized as the leader of his party, and largely through his effort the Republicans were restored to power in Kansas. In the year 1900 Senator Lucien Baker was a candidate for reëlection, but was easily defeated by Mr. Burton, who was the unanimous choice of the Republican caucus. Mr. Burton's service in the United States senate is chiefly noted for his uncompromising opposition to the Cuban bill, which sailed under the name of Cuban reciprocity. In his fight on this measure, which he believed to be unwise, unjust to the people, and dangerous to the interests of his state, Senator Burton incurred the displeasure of President Theodore Roosevelt, the organized commercial interests, and especially of the notorious sugar trust. The enemies he made in the senate, in the defense of the industries and resources of Kansas, never ceased to pursue him until he was driven out of the senate and financially ruined. After his retirement from public life Mr. Burton returned to Abilene, engaged in business, and soon acquired a comfortable fortune. In the year 1907 he bought the Central Kansas Publishing Company, of which he and his wife are the sole owners, and purchased the "Salina Daily Union," which he has since conducted. In this paper he seeks to teach the members of both the Republican and Democratic parties the true principles of democracy as opposed to autocracy, which he believes has gained a dangerous foothold in the Republic.
Senator Burton was married, Oct. 10, 1875, to Mrs. Carrie Webster, daughter of Dr. E. V. Mitchell, of New Harmony, Ind. Mrs. Burton is related to the leading families of that famous colony immortalized by Lord Byron in "Childe Harold." The Senator and Mrs. Burton have no children, but they have generously assisted in the education of several nephews and nieces. Mrs. Burton is one of the most brilliant and versatile women in Kansas, as well as one of the most beloved. She has been a co-worker with her husband in all his enterprises, as well as in his public life. She enjoys the distinction of being the only United States senator's wife who has never had her picture taken. The family became residents of Salina in April, 1910.Pages 819-821 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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