Leedy's Administration.Gov. John W. Leedy, the second Populist governor of Kansas, was inaugurated at the opening of the legislative session which began at noon on Jan. 12, 1897, with Lieut.-Gov. A. M. Harvey presiding in the senate, and W. D. Street as speaker of the house. At 4 p. m. the same day Gov. Leedy's message was read to the general assembly. In his introduction he contrasted the conditions in Kansas with those in the East, as follows:
"While, according to the press of the nation's most populous metropolis, her children linger in the streets untaught, except in the lore of the pavement; unfed, except at the hand of charity; unhoused, except in the kennels they dispute with creatures scarcely less miserable, the commonwealth of Kansas rejoicing in a public school system which is the most grateful heritage we received from our fathers and the best legacy we can leave to our children, finds ample house room and school room for every Kansas child and for such straggling waifs as come to us from where penury and parsimony stalk side by side. There are no tramps in Kansas, except those birds of passage who flit by us, grim reminders of the conditions in older communities."
Referring to the report of the state treasury he showed the finances of the state to be in a healthy condition at the close of the fiscal year on June 30, 1896, when there was a balance in the treasury of $604,529.10, a bonded indebtedness of only $788,500, and a permanent school fund of $7,016,993.10.
The various state educational, charitable and penal institutions were discussed in detail, and in connection with these institutions the governor said: "A visiting board for all charitable, educational and penal institutions of the state, with power to come and go, and report abuses to the governor, would be a good thing. Several states have adopted this system of the supervision of the different institutions, in order to guard against the treatment often accorded the inmates through the neglect of the officials in charge."
He expressed his willingness to coöperate with the legislature in the establishment of such a visiting board, but no law was passed during the sessions to carry his notions into effect. The governor also recommended the abolition of the forestry stations in the western part of the state, if it could be legally done, and the discontinuance of the silk station at Peabody. The silk station was ordered to be sold, and all laws for the encouragement of silk culture were repealed, but the forestry stations were continued and an appropriation made for their benefit.
Gov. Leedy was elected as the candidate of the Populist party, one of the fundamental dogmas of which was the regulation of railroad rates by law, and it was but natural that a large part of his message should be devoted to this subject.
"The question of the regulation of transportation companies," said he, "has been one that has commanded the attention of the legislatures of the various states since railroads were first introduced. These corporations have received their charter rights from the various states, and these states naturally concluded that they had the right to regulate and control the corporations that they thus had created. This view of the case was constantly combatted by the corporations, who claimed, as they were private corporations, that they were not subject to state legislation so far as their charges were concerned, a view that they have not yet abandoned. When the courts of the states began to hold that they were public corporations, and therefore amenable to the legislatures of the states, they appealed to the Federal courts, claiming, first, that they were private corporations, and, second, that if they were quasi public corporations, the regulation of them could only be had through the Federal Congress. The courts having sustained this view, the people of the various states then demanded that Congress should pass such legislation and create such boards of control as were necessary to secure to the people their just rights in the matter. In obedience to this demand Congress eleven years ago created that subterfuge for justice called the Interstate Commission, and enacted legislation that was supposed by the people to be for the purpose of securing their rights and controlling these corporations. After eleven years of weary waiting the people are now told by this commission in its tenth annual report, just issued, that the law under which they were acting was defective and had been held by the court of last resort as inoperative and unconstitutional.
"I therefore recommend that the legislature pass a maximum freight law that will be fair to corporations and just to the people. I believe also that the board of railroad commissioners should be clearly vested with the judicial powers of a court and given the power to adjust fares and freights within the State of Kansas as they deem just, and not exceeding the maximum rate, and that their powers shall be made definite and certain, but subject to appeal to the supreme court of the state. . . . If the corporations will accept such just and fair regulations, subject to review by the supreme court of the state, well and good; but if in the future, as in the past, they flock under the protecting wing of the Federal courts, where justice to the people seems not only blind, as it should be, but deaf and dumb also, then I advise the people of Kansas to seek for justice out of court. In doing so, I can only point to one route by which it can be obtained, and that is for the states west of the Mississippi river to build a road of their own to tide water by the shortest and most direct route, which will put them in a position to command the situation without getting into any complication with the railroad companies or the Federal courts."
Notwithstanding the radical utterances and plain recommendations of the governor and the fact that the People's party had a good working majority in each branch of the general assembly, no law regarding railroad rates was passed during the session. True, a bill was passed, but, for reasons which will appear later, the governor withheld his approval and it did not become a law. The session lasted from Jan. 12 to March 20, the longest in the history of the state up to this time. On Jan. 27 William A. Harris was elected United States senator, to succeed William A. Peffer, for the term beginning on March 4, 1897. Over 2,000 bills were introduced during the session, but fewer than 300 of them actually became laws. The principal acts were those relating to banking; providing for the Australian system of voting in all elections; prohibiting sheriffs of counties and mayors of cities from appointing non-residents as deputies to preserve the peace and quell disorders, and making any person, company or corporation importing into the state any person or persons to act as peace officers liable to a fine of $10,000; removing from some 50 persons political disabilities imposed by the constitutional amendment of Nov. 5, 1867; requiring railroad companies to fence their right-of-way through farms; the anti-trust law; authorizing cities to build waterworks and electric lighting plants when the people voted in favor of such; requiring all mortgages to be recorded in the county where the real estate forming the basis of the security was located; creating a text-book commission and providing for a uniform system of text-books in the public schools.
Soon after coming into office William Stryker, the superintendent of public instruction, found fault with the text-book on civil government because it defined greenbacks as "promises to pay money," and had the book revised defining these notes as "paper money and a legal tender."
The year 1897 was one of general prosperity in Kansas. The wheat crop was unusually large and many farmers paid off mortgages of longstanding. A large oil refinery was established at Neodesha, Wilson county; gas wells were sunk at various places in the southeastern part of the state; the salt industry was greatly developed, and new factories sprang up in a large number of the principal cities and towns.
When war with Spain was declared in the spring of 1898 Kansas did not wait for a demand to be made upon her for volunteers. On April 18 a company marched to the governor's office, where the officers announced that they were ready to be mustered into the service of the United States. Five days later came the president's call for 125,000 men, of which Kansas was required to furnish 2,230. The quota was promptly filled, and throughout the war, especially in the Philippines, the Kansas troops met every call of duty in a way that added to the military reputation of the state. (See Spanish-American War.)
In the political campaign of 1898 four tickets were presented to the voters of Kansas. A Republican state convention met at Hutchinson on June 8 and nominated William E. Stanley for governor; H. E. Richter, lieutenant-governor; George A. Clark, secretary of state; George E. Cole, auditor; Frank E. Grimes, treasurer; A. A. Godard, attorney-general; Frank Nelson, superintendent of public instruction; Willis J. Bailey, Congressman-at-large; William R. Smith, associate justice. The platform declared in favor of the Nicaraugua canal; strengthening the navy, and liberal pension laws, and criticised Gov. Leedy's administration for its failure to carry out the pledges made prior to his election.
On the same day (June 8) the Prohibition state convention met at Emporia. William A. Peffer was nominated for governor; Robert T. Black, lieutenant-governor; J. B. Garton, secretary of state; Horace Hurley, auditor; John Biddison, treasurer; Mrs. R. N. Buckner, superintendent of public instruction; Mont Williams, Congressman-at-large. In addition to the customary declarations regarding the evils of the liquor traffic, the platform contained the following: "We regard civil government as an ordinance of God, and recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as King of Kansas, and therefore believe that the administration of civil affairs should be in harmony with the law and in His spirit."
On June 15 the Populist state convention assembled at Topeka and the Democratic state convention at Atchison. A conference committee of the two parties recommended the renomination of the entire fusion ticket elected in 1896, to-wit: Governor, John W. Leedy; lieutenant-governor, A. M. Harvey; secretary of state, W. E. Bush; auditor, W. H. Morris; treasurer, D. H. Hefflebower; attorney-general, L. C. Boyle; superintendent of public instruction, William Stryker; Congressman-at-large, J. D. Botkin.
The Social labor party, a new factor in Kansas politics, entered the arena with the following ticket: Governor, Caleb Lipscomb; lieutenant-governor, N. B. Arnold; secretary of state, D. O'Donnell; auditor, E. A. Cain; treasurer, W. H. Wright; attorney-general, W. L. Rose; superintendent of public instruction, Etta Semple; Congressman-at-large, F. E. Miller; associate justice, A. A. Carnahan. The platform of this party demanded more paper money; better pay for soldiers; the breaking up of the land monopoly, and the government control of all other monopolies.
At the election in November the entire Republican state ticket was victorious, the vote for governor being as follows: Stanley, 142,292; Leedy, 134,158; Peffer, 4,092; Lipscomb, 635. The majorities received by the other Republican candidates were practically the same as that of Gov. Stanley.
During the campaign the question of regulating railroad charges by law was again widely discussed, and on Dec. 15, 1898, Gov. Leedy issued the following proclamation:
"Whereas, assurances have reached me to the effect that if the legislature shall be convened, suitable legislation for the regulation of railroad charges can be enacted, and deeming such matter of sufficient importance to justify the convening of the legislature in special session:
"Now, therefore, I, John W. Leedy, governor of the State of Kansas, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the constitution of the state, do hereby convene the legislature of the State of Kansas to meet at the capital of the state, at the hour of 4 o'clock p. m., on the 21st day of Dec., 1898."
At the appointed time the general assembly met and the two houses organized with the same presiding officers as at the regular session of the preceding year. Consequently no time was lost in effecting an organization, and the governor's message was submitted the same day. In it the governor explained the reasons for the failure of the regular session of 1897 to enact a railroad rate law. Said he:
"Although the present executive and a majority of each house of the present legislature were elected under a pledge to enact a maximum rate law, when the time arrived for fulfilling that pledge the menace of a judicial decision by the highest tribunal in the land, which would make legislative regulation of railroad charges practically impossible, caused many to doubt the wisdom of attempting the promised legislation; and such difference of opinion prevailed that the executive felt called upon to withhold his approval from the compromise measure finally passed. There was then pending undetermined in the supreme court of the United States a case which involved the question whether, as to railroad legislation, the legislatures of the theoretically sovereign states should be reduced to the level of city councils or district school boards, upon the reasonableness, as well as the authority, of whose acts courts may sit in judgment. The decision of that case, announced soon after the adjournment of the legislature, fully justified the fears and anticipations of those who deemed it futile to pass a maximum rate bill; for it rendered such an enactment a mere proposal of legislationnot a lawwhich must be submitted to the Federal court for approval or rejection. That decision declared by that whether the rates of transportation prescribed by a legislature are reasonable is a judicial question, and that, first, a single Federal judge, and finally five Federal justices, may, upon that question, reverse and hold null the deliberate judgment of an entire legislature.
". . . I therefore recommend that the legislature confer upon the board of railroad commissioners full judicial power to try, hear and determine all questions as to the reasonableness or unreasonableness of every charge made by a railroad company for services rendered wholly within this state in the transportation of property; that they be authorized to try, determine and enter judgment declaring what are, at the time of rendering the decision, reasonable charges for the transportation of property between different points over each and all railroad lines in this state; and also what are reasonable charges for switching, demurrage, and all other charges imposed by them from the time of the reception of each and every kind and class of freight to its delivery to the consignee, etc. . . . The commissioners should be given abundant power to carry their judgments into execution, and to see that the law which prohibits the companies from taking more than the reasonable rate determined by them is enforced, and to this end the legislature should provide an attorney for the board, whose special duty it shall be to appear wherever necessary to protect the interests of the state in the enforcement of the law."
Gov. Leedy also recommended that the people be given the right to recover damages from such railroad companies as should persist in exacting greater rates that those fixed by the board as reasonable. His recommendations were generally followed by the legislature, which abolished the old board of railroad commissioners and created in lieu thereof a "court of visitation." This court was to consist of three judges, to be appointed by the governor on the first Monday in April, 1899, and these judges were to serve until their successors should he elected by the people at the general election in 1900. Each member of the court was to receive a salary of $2,500 a year and the term of office was fixed at four years. The court was given power and jurisdiction throughout the state to try and determine all questions relating to railroad rates, switching and demurrage charges, etc.; to apportion charges between connecting roads; to classify freight; to require the construction and maintenance of depots, stock yards, switches, and other facilities for public convenience; to compel reasonable and impartial train and car service for patrons; to regulate crossings and intersections of railroads; to prescribe rules concerning the movement of trains; "to restrict railroad corporations to operations within their charter powers, prevent oppressive exercise thereof, and compel the performance of all the duties required by law." In short, the court was given a general supervisory power over practically all the operations of the railroad companies doing business in Kansas, and to accomplish this end power was conferred on the court to summon juries, as a court of equity, in any case or matter brought before it for consideration.
Other acts passed by the legislature at the special session provided for the abolishment of the boards of police commissioners in cities of the first class, and the establishment in their place of a fire and police commission which should have control of both the fire and police departments; amended the election laws in the matter of printing the ballots; created a state labor society; transferred to the court of visitation the regulation of telegraph companies; and provided certain regulations concerning the increase of the capital stock of corporations or the consolidation of two or more companies. There was also passed an act making a reduction of 40 per cent. in telegraph tolls, but it was subsequently declared unconstitutional.
The special session lasted until Jan. 9, 1899, which was the second Monday, the time specified by the state constitution for the inauguration of a new governor. Gov. Leedy's administration therefore came to an end with the extra session of the general assembly, and Gov. Stanley was inaugurated.Pages 133-137 from volume II 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 July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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