There is, perhaps, not another word in the English language which is more abused than the word "politics" and its cognates. It is made to do duty in almost every conceivable line of thought; but the most vicious use made of it is to confound it with partisanship. Some men are so ignorant or so blinded by prejudice that they can not conceive of any politics aside from party. Hence, if you ask such a person what his politics is he will answer that he is a Republican, or he is a Democrat, or Prohibitionist, giving the name of the party with which he affiliates instead of any principles or policy of government which he accepts or advocates. A man may be a Reptiblican or a Democrat in a partisan sense and at the same time advocate a high tariff or low tariff or no tariff. He may belong to any of the parties of the present day and advocate a direct tax on all property alike, or a graduated tax, or a tax on real estate alone. He may favor national banks, state banks, private banks, or postal banks, and still be an orthodox Republican or Democrat. And so, with all other political questions that have come before the American people for the last century. Men of all parties have been on all sides of all questions without losing their standing in their respective parties.
Have political parties, then, no well established or well defined principles? We do not so assert. But the principles or doctrines of a party at one time may become the doctrines of the opposing party at another, or they may change without passing over the other side, or even while a protective tariff is the slogan of the Republican party there aremen in that party who look upon it with indifference, not to use a stronger word, while at the same time there are Democrats, so called, who regard a protective tariff as one of the essential elements of a safe and healthy administration.
Politics in its broadest sense is the science of government, and in a more restricted sense it means the principles and policy that should control the administration of government, whether national, state or municipal. With 'this definition of the word in mind, I propose to write a political history of our county, with only so much reference to the several parties that have figured in the politics of the county as is necessary to a full and fair understanding of the subject in hand. Where praise and honor are due to a party they shall be awarded, not because the writer belonged to or affiliated with that party, but because its principles and policy served the best interests of the people at the time and under the conditions then prevailing. Where censure and blame rightly belong to a party they shall not be withheld or covered up, whether the writer acted with that party or not. In a word, it is my intention to give a fair and candid history of the political status of the county from its beinning to the present time, regardless of party success or party failure.
"In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children," was a curse pronounced upon our great-grandmother when she was about to be expelled from the garden of delights. It has been verified, not only with individuals, but with nations as well. Kansas was born in the throes of a revolution, which for extent and ferocity has not been equalled since the days of Robespiere, and then only in the latter element. From the lakes to the gulf, and from ocean to ocean, the whole nation was stirred in its utmost depths, and notwithstanding the interest was of national extent and importance, all eyes were turned toward Kansas, where the war actually began long before the walls of Fort Sumter were battered down by rebel cannon. And Crawford county was not exempt from the general strife and turmoil, but in addition to the common cause in which all were interested, she had trials of her own to which but few other counties were subjected. The greater part of Crawford county was included in "The Cherokee Neutral Lands," which gave rise to numerous heated, and in some cases fatal, disputes, and which formed an important factor in shaping the early politics of the county. Even before the breaking out of the rebellion proper, while James Buchanan was yet president of the United States, he sent troops to drive the settlers from their homes, and these troops, true to the behests of their master, marked their course by applying the torch to the hay stacks and buildings of the settlers as they passed, leaving no trace of civilization behind them except the charred ruins of what had been quiet and peaceful homes.
was organized in the winter of 1866-7 from a part of what had been McGhee county, which embraced all that part of the state lying between Bourbon county and the southern line of the state. Temporary officers were appointed, and the first permanent officers were elected in November, 1867. But little attention was paid to parties, as the all-absorbing question was, "Shall the people be allowed to purchase their homes from the government, or must they buy them of Shylock, at whatever price he may stipulate?" The Land League was formed for the purpose of protecting the settlers in their rights against what they believed to be a swindle of gigantic proportions, and although the courts decided against them there were hundreds of men, some of whom are still living, who believed firmly that they were right and the courts were wrong.
Many conflicts occurred in which blood frequently marked the outcome, and no doubt excesses were committed on both sides; but, as both the state and national governments were backing the anti-leaguers, they could well afford to be the law-adibing element. But the case was finally settled in favor of Shylock, who got not one, but many pounds of flesh, and without the penalty for shedding Christian blood.
After the Neutral Land question was settled, and peace and quiet was restored, the people began to divide into parties for political purposes; but the questions that divided them then were quite different from those that have since agitated the public mind. The first thing to be settled was the location of a county seat. Crawfordville had been declared by the governor to be the seat of justice, but the people of the county were not willing to submit to the one man power in things purely local. The Girard Town Company had been organized and a site secured on the surveyed line of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad, which now seemed to be a fixed fact, and this gave it a decided advantage over its antagonist. After much disputing and several removals of the records, an election was held on the 15th of December, 1868, which decided by a vote of 375 to 312 in favor of Girard, and so the struggle ended.
While the railroad was under construction, and till the cars were running beyond Girard, there was a very bad element of society, which seemed, indeed, to hold the preponderance, and the third building erected in Girard was occupied as a saloon and at one time there were seventeen saloons in full blast, and all this in a population of less than 500. And as the saloon has always been an important and baneful factor in politics wherever it was allowed to exist, it is easy to surmise the political status of the town and county at that time.
in shaping the politics of the county as in all communities, was the local newspaper. The Press was moved from Fort Scott to Girard in the fall of 1869, and was run in the interest of the railroad without regard to party politics, as one of the proprietors and editors was a Democrat and the other a Republican. Both strongly favored the building of the road, and perhaps neither of them foresaw the effect which the road would have on the politics of the county and state. But a strange anomaly occurred in 1872 as all are aware, namely: That a Democratic national convention nominated a life-long Republican and abolitionist for the presidency. The senior editor of the Press, Dr. Warner, was a Democrat of the first water, and espoused the cause of Greeley, while Mr. Wasser was equally zealous in advocating the claims of Grant for re-election. This necessarily gave rise to a discord in the family, and as the railroad was no longer a bone of contention, the proprietors agreed to disagree, the senior going out and leaving the junior in peaceable possession of the plant and all its appurtenances, and the Press, with whatever ability the editor possessed, has been the Republican paper of the county till the present day, and has been run under the same management as when Dr. Warner left it.
But while the Press has always been a Republican paper since Dr. Warner left it, it has not always advocated the same doctrine or policy, but, like the candidates in their announcements, it has been "subject to the nominating conventions." In other words, it has advocated the party platform and the party candidates whatever these might be or however they might vary from other platforms of the party. Instances of these will be given later.
There has always been in Girard an element which was opposed to the saloon. At first this element strove through temperance organizations, such as the I. O. G. Templars, and later the Murphy movement, to suppress, or at least to control the saloon, but found that, like the untamed broncho, it would not be controlled by moral suasion, but on the contrary it controlled all other influences both in church and state. Churches were helpless to stem the tide of drunkenness that was sweeping over the country. Even temperance societies were entered by the devotees of rum for the purpose of controlling their action or of rendering them odious in public estimation. It is therefore not to be wondered at that when the prohibitory amendment was offered by the people of the state, the city of Girard gave so large a vote in its favor, the vote being about two to one in favor of the amendment. And it must be remembered that up to this time the two leading parties had been pretty equally balanced, the victory first to one and then to the other, so that the honor of the large vote for the amendment could not rebound to either party as such.
As to the two parties, the Democrats were in the ascendant for several years, and when at length the Republicans gained a partial victory in the county there was as much rejoicing and crowing over it as if a national victory had been won over a foreign foe. From this time forward for several years the Republicans succeeded in electing a majority of the county officers; but about the only thing involved in the several contests was, who shall hold the offices and secure the spoils, and these were several times divided between the parties.
From and after 1873, when Congress reduced silver from a standard to a subsidiary coin, the money question occupied an important place in national, state, and county politics. The Patrons of Husbandry had already prepared the minds of the people, in a great measure, for a reform in this respect, and Crawford county, as usual, led in the movement. And it is not singular that in this, as well as in all other reforms coming before the people, it was a general uprising of the common people instead of a few self-appointed leaders. And this was not because the county was destitute of men qualified to lead, but because the people had fully embraced the doctrine enunciated by Lincoln, that "this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." And when the people desired standard bearers they found them in their own ranks. True, they did not always make the wisest choice; but, being men of their own choosing, they found no difficulty in turning them down when it was necessary to do so.
In 1876 the Greenback party was organized as a part of the National Greenback party, and, strange to say, that party that made the greenbacks, and that paid them out to the soldiers in the field when it took about three dollars in that currency to buy one dollar in gold, was now the bitterest enemy that the Greenback party had to contend with. It may be that this party was somewhat chimerical in some of its claims and positions, but, as it appears to the present writer, it would have been more patriotic and rational to correct it where it was wrong and assist it wherein it was right, than to oppose it in toto simply because "it followed not us."
The Greenback party continued to be an important factor in the politics of the county for ten years, although it never was strong enough to elect its candidates, but it exerted an influence in molding the policy of the dominant parties, in the county, as well as in the state and nation.
This was the first organized opposition that the two old parties had in the county, although there were factions in both of them, partly on local questions, but more on "who shall be greatest." These factions caused many bitter strifes among the members of the two old parties, and helped to augment the membership and power of any new party that might be formed. The money question was a real issue, not only in the county, but throughout the entire country. Capital was very largely confined to the eastern money centers, and it was to their interest to make money scarce and costly. But if the Greenback principles prevailed, and all money was issued and controlled by the government instead of by corporations, it would take the power out of the hands of these corporations to contract or to expand the volume of currency at their own will and pleasure, and this was the very thing that Shylock dreaded, and determined to prevent. Hence the whole money power was exerted against this party, and although there were men in all the parties who were opposed to the then prevailing state of things, there were not enough of them to change the policy of the parties, and hence, after a gallant fight of ten years, the party was obliged to succumb, and give place to the Union Labor party, which was organized in 1886.
Crawford county bore a conspicuous part in all reform movements. While the Greenback party lasted this county did its full share in its support, and when the transition came it was an easy, matter for the reform forces to glide into the new organization, and this was the more readily done on account of the large labor element in the county. The coal mines in the southeastern part of the county, and later, the smelters, brought a large inflices of laborers, and these industries necessarily gave an impetus to other branches of labor, and although capital increased, and, as everywhere else, strove to control the political situation, there was too much intelligence among the laborers to be entirely brought under the domination of capital, and many of the miners and smelterers left the old parties and joined the Union Labor party, and continued with it till it gave place to another, which called for a more sweeping reform than any of its predecessors.
At the time the Union Labor party made its debut there appeared in the Republican party a man who had been tabooed and ostracised by many in his own party, even the Girard Press taking strong ground against him, but who, nevertheless, carried the brains of the party above his own shoulders. B. W. Perkins, of Cherokee county, then judge of the district court, was nominated for Congress in the Third district, of which Crawford county formed a part. And notwithstanding the bitter opposition and even denunciation which he had met in his own party, the Girard Press included, when he ran for district judge, the whole party gave him a hearty, and almost unanimous support for Congress; and well it might, for he did more to unite and harmonize the party, and thereby lead it to victory, than any man who had preceded him.
In 1888 a new element appeared in the politics of the county; a new star arose above the horizon. General Percy Daniels, one of the brainiest men that the state contained, and one who had been honored by the Republican party, he having been a life-long Republican, and who was spoken of in political circles as a candidate for state senator, wrote an open letter to the party, in which he took strong and decided grounds in favor of a graduated tax on large holdings and estatesnot on incomes, as some erroneously represented himstating at the same time that "no party could command his vote which did not hold the same view." Of course he was not nominated, but a much inferior man was nominated and elected, and the general was left to the peaceable cultivation of his farm. But his work in the cause of political reform did not end here. He continued to write and talk on his favorite theme until he succeeded in having it favorably recognized by a county convention, and a resolution passed the general assembly recommending it to Congress as a wise measure of Congressional legislation. He also formulated a bill embodying the same measure, and succeeded in keeping it before Congress for several sessions, but did not succeed in getting it enacted into a law, some of the friends of the measure deciding in their own minds that it would be ruled out by the supreme court as unconstitutional.
This measure, if enacted and carried out as General Daniels contemplateted, would not only put a stop to the rapid accumulation of vast fortunes, but would take a part of these accumulations from the present holders and restore it to those who produced it, namely, the laborers, the producers of all wealth. But as this is a history, and not an argument, we forbear further comment.
The Prohibitionists concluded that neither of the old parties was likely to do much for the enforcement of the prohibitory law. It had been violated so much that it was fast becoming a by-word and a jest among liquor men, and a disgrace to the state. It had been clearly demonstrated that it could be enforced whenever the proper authorities saw fit to perform their sworn duty; but this was so seldom as to form the exception instead of the rule. This led to formation of the Prohibition party, and proved how many were Prohibitionists in fact, or at least it showed that a great many cared more for party success than they did for the enforcement of the law. The Democrats, as a party, never claimed to be prohibitionists, although many of them had helped to secure the prohibitory amendment. On the other hand, the Republicans claimed that they "had done all for prohibition that had ever been done," which was practically nothing at all. In all, or nearly all, the large towns in the state, and in many of the small ones, liquor was as free as it was in Missouri. "What has this to do with the political history of Crawford county?" Very much; for it is a well established fact that wherever liquor is sold and used it forms an important, if not a controlling, factor in politics. Crawford county was no exception to the rule, and hence the real Prohibitionists deemed it necessary to organize a party; and for several years they maintained their organization intact and exerted a healthful influence on the politics of the county. Especially in 1888 was their influence felt when H. Clay Needham, Levi Belknap and Harry Potter stood in the front rank, and with other worthy coadjutors, made a gallant fight for law against anarchy, and for honesty against hypocrisy. Needham moved to California, Potter died, and Belknap in disgust went into business in Pittsburg, the very stronghold of the liquor element, since which time but little has been known or felt of the Prohibition party in the county, although it has not been without friends and supporters.
But the most exciting and perhaps the most important part of the history is yet to be told. The Republican party felt itself so strongly entrenched in power that it well nigh forgot that there was any other power in the county or in the state. In 1888 it carried the state by 80,000 majoritya majority phenomenal in the political history of the country. And Crawford county never lagged in peace or in war, when any great achievement was on the boards; so, of course, it bore its part in rolling up this immense majority. But there was an influence at work which was complacently smiled at by some, ridiculed by others and scarcely thought worthy of naming by a few. This was the Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union. It was a union of several labor organizations which had sprung up in different parts of the country, east and west, north and south, and which embraced men of all political parties and of all classes of laborers. Crawford county does nothing by halves. If right she is right all through, and if wrong she is as thoroughly wrong. When the Farmers' Alliance struck the county its principles appeared so just and reasonable to the farmers and laborers of the county that it was but a short time till almost every school district had its sub-alliance. Whatever might have been the purpose of the leaders, it was not the intention of the rank and file to make it a political party; but in their secret meetings they discussed the business situation of the country, the power of capital, the injustice done to labor, and the remedy for these wrongs until a very large majority of its members became convinced that the only remedy was through political action, and that this action must come through a new party, and the Alliance had become so strong in numbers, intelligence and wealth that they resolved to cut loose from all former parties and "to go into politics" on their own account. True, there was an element in the Alliance that opposed this movement, and most of this element left the Alliance, one man, then president of the County Alliance, going so far as to declare in public print that he would as soon think of leaving his wife as of leaving the Republican party.
At this time the Democratic party had almost ceased to maintain an organization in the county, and in 1892 the editor of the leading Democrat paper in the county went into a People's party convention and asked to be received, with his paper, into the party, stating at the same time that he could see no propriety in running a democrat paper without a Democrat following. And although more than half the members of the party came from the Republican ranks, it so completely broke up the other party that in Grant township, the stronghold of the party, there were but three votes polled for Cleveland in 1892. Yet all this time the Republican leaders were claiming that it was only an annex of the Democratic party.
Pages 63-74 from A Twentieth century history and biographical record of Crawford County, Kansas, by Home Authors; Illustrated. Published by Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, IL : 1905. 656 p. ill. Transcribed by Garrett Crozier, Sarah Sizemore, and Melissa Anderson, students at Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, in October, 2002.
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