Scandal in the election of 1908 - History

Scandal in the election of 1908 - History


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1908- Scandal in the Election of 1908

Scandal in the election of 1908 - History

"Anything, everything, is possible." —Thomas Edison, 1908

The year 1908 began at midnight when a 700-pound "electric ball" fell from the flagpole atop the New York Times building—the first-ever ball-drop in Times Square. It ended 366 days later (1908 was a leap year) with a nearly two-and-a-half-hour flight by Wilbur Wright, the longest ever made in an airplane. In the days between, the U.S. Navy's Great White Fleet sailed around the world, Adm. Robert Peary began his conquest of the North Pole, Dr. Frederick Cook reached the North Pole (or claimed to), six automobiles set out on a 20,000-mile race from New York City to Paris, and the Model T went into production at Henry Ford's plant in Detroit, Michigan.

The events and innovations that occurred within that 12-month frame a century ago marked, in many ways, America's entry into the modern world. In some cases, they quite literally put modern America in motion. Whether practically significant or, like the automobile race around the world, essentially frivolous—a "splendid folly," one contestant called it—all reflected, and expanded, Americans' sense of what was possible. Buoyed by achievements, the country was more confident in its genius and resourcefulness—not to mention its military might—and more comfortable playing a dominant role in global affairs.

Nineteen hundred eight was an election year, and the parallels between it and 2008 are interesting. Americans of 1908 were coming off two terms of a Republican president who had abruptly set their country on a new course. He was a wealthy Ivy League-educated Easterner who had gone west as a young man and made himself into a cowboy. Like George Walker Bush, Theodore Roosevelt had entered the White House without winning the popular vote (an assassination put TR into office), then conducted himself with unapologetic force. And it was clear then, as it is now, that the country was heading into a new world defined by as yet unwritten rules, and that the man about to exit office bore not a little responsibility for this.

Americans of 1908 knew they lived in unusual times. And lest they forget, the newspapers reminded them almost daily. According to the press, everything that happened that year was bigger, better, faster and stranger than anything that had happened before. In part, this was typical newspaper hyperbole in part, it was simply true.

An essay in the New York World on New Year's Day of 1908 articulated the wonderment shared by many. The article, titled "1808-1908-2008," noted how far the country had progressed over the previous century. In 1808, five years after the Louisiana Purchase and two years after Lewis and Clark returned from their transcontinental journey, the population had been a mere seven million souls. The federal government had been underfunded and ineffectual. Technology—transportation, communication, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing—had been barely more advanced than during the Middle Ages of Europe. Now, in 1908, with the U.S. population at almost 90 million, the federal revenue was 40 times greater than it had been a century earlier, and America was on a par with Britain and Germany as a global power. U.S. citizens enjoyed the highest per capita income in the world and were blessed with railroads and automobiles, telegraph and telephone, electricity and gas. Men shaved their whiskers with disposable razor blades and women tidied their homes with remarkable new devices called vacuum cleaners. Couples danced to the Victrola in their living rooms and snuggled in dark theaters to watch the flickering images of the Vitagraph. Invisible words volleyed across the oceans between the giant antennas of Marconi's wireless telegraph, while American engineers cut a 50-mile canal through the Isthmus of Panama.

From the glories of the present the World turned to the question of the future: "What will the year 2008 bring us? What marvels of development await the youth of tomorrow?" The U.S. population of 2008, the newspaper predicted, would be 472 million (it's 300 million). "We may have gyroscopic trains as broad as houses swinging at 200 miles an hour up steep grades and around dizzying curves. We may have aeroplanes winging the once inconquerable air. The tides that ebb and flow to waste may take the place of our spent coal and flash their strength by wire to every point of need. Who can say?"

Not a day passed without new discoveries achieved or promised. That same New Year's Day, Dr. Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute declared in a medical paper that human organ transplants would soon be common. Meanwhile, the very air seemed charged with the possibilities of the infant wireless technology. "When the expectations of wireless experts are realized everyone will have his own pocket telephone and may be called wherever he happens to be," Hampton's Magazine daringly predicted in 1908. "The citizen of the wireless age will walk abroad with a receiving apparatus compactly arranged in his hat and tuned to that one of myriad vibrations by which he has chosen to be called. When that invention is perfected, we shall have a new series of daily miracles."

A few weeks before the year began, on the bright windless morning of December 16, 1907, thousands of spectators went to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to hail the departure of the Great White Fleet on its 43,000-mile voyage around the world. Roosevelt steamed in from the Chesapeake Bay aboard the presidential yacht, the Mayflower, to give a few last-minute instructions to fleet commanders and to add his considerable heft to the pomp and circumstance. As sailors in dress uniform stood at the rails and brass bands played on the vessels, the president watched. "Did you ever see such a fleet and such a day?" he shouted to his guests aboard the Mayflower. "Isn't it magnificent? Oughtn't we all to feel proud?" It was, he concluded, "perfectly bully."

For sheer majesty, the armada was impressive. "The greatest fleet of war vessels ever assembled under one flag," the New York Times reported. The 16 battleships were worth $100 million and comprised nearly 250,000 tons of armament. The Mayflower led the ships to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and as the ships' bands played "The Girl I Left Behind Me," Roosevelt gave a last wave of his top hat.

Loaded to the gunwales and painted bright white, the ships steamed away, stretching out into a three-mile column. Not everyone understood exactly why Roosevelt sent those battleships around the world. Even now, it's difficult to give a simple answer. At the time, some Americans worried that the voyage was extravagant, rash and likely to provoke a war, most likely with Japan. Indeed, Roosevelt harbored real concerns that Japan, newly emboldened by a recent naval victory over Russia and angered by the mistreatment of Japanese immigrants in America, might pose a threat to the Philippines and other U.S. interests. "I had been doing my best to be polite to the Japanese and had finally become uncomfortably conscious of a very, very slight undertone of veiled truculence," he would write a few years later of his decision to send out the fleet. "[I]t was time for a showdown."

But Roosevelt also filled those 16 ships with friendly greetings and U.S. dollars. Among his instructions to commanders were firm words on preserving decorum among the ships' 13,000 sailors. Throughout 1908, as the battleships steamed port to port, from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney, they were greeted with adulation and American flags. When the fleet finally reached Japan in October of 1908, tens of thousands of schoolchildren greeted it by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Tensions between the two countries evaporated, and the voyage, once belittled by many as a dangerous stunt, was now applauded as a stunning success. Seldom has a president combined so deftly a message of power with offerings of peace.

To Americans, who were treated to endless stories about the 14-month voyage in newspapers and magazines, the Great White Fleet was a show of strength. The U.S. Navy was now on a par with Germany's navy and second only to Great Britain's. And America, with its capacity to produce more steel than Britain and Germany combined, could build ships faster than any country on earth.

The sky was full of miracles. In New York City, stupendous new buildings pointed upward to where the future seemed to beckon. The Singer Building, headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was completed in the spring of 1908. At 612 feet, the "Singerhorn" (as wits soon began to call it, after the Matterhorn) was the highest inhabited building in the world. A few months later, the steel frame of the Metropolitan Life Building leapt over the Singer to 700 feet.

Illustrators imagined a future city of golden towers connected by slender suspension bridges and great masonry arches. Moses King, in a 1908 illustration, imagined dirigibles and other flying craft floating over vaulting towers and bridges in New York City, bound for destinations such as the Panama Canal and the North Pole. A caption referred to "possibilities of aerial and interterrestrial construction, when the wonders of 1908. will be far outdone."

No aerial wonder topped the Wright brothers' feats that year. Absent from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, since their first brief flights there in 1903—and not having flown a lick since 1905—they returned to nearby Kill Devil Hills in April to dig out their old shed and dust off their piloting skills. The Wrights' ability to fly had advanced beyond their first thrilling seconds in the air—but their competitors had also advanced, and the Wrights felt the pressure. A coterie of bright and ambitious young men had joined Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, to form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). On March 12, 1908, in Hammondsport, New York, Casey Baldwin, an AEA member, had flown above an icy lake for a distance of almost 320 feet. Four months later, on the Fourth of July, Glenn Hammond Curtiss flew an AEA craft nearly a mile over Hammondsport.

For the previous three years, as the Wrights had dallied with possible buyers of their aircraft, critics and competitors increasingly construed their reticence to fly as evidence of failure or, worse, of fraud. Now, in the spring of 1908, they had two offers of purchase—from the U.S. Army and a private French syndicate. Both offers depended on public demonstrations of the aircraft. After a few weeks of practice in Kitty Hawk, Wilbur sailed to France to demonstrate the Wright Flyer. Orville undertook his own flight trial at Fort Myer, near Washington, D.C. The time had come to put up or shut up.

It was 6:30 on the evening of August 8 when Wilbur climbed into the seat of his Wright Flyer at a horse track near Le Mans. He wore his usual gray suit, starched white collar and green cap, turned backward so it would not blow off in flight. The evening was calm, and so, outwardly, was he. This would be the first public demonstration of a Wright plane. Much, possibly everything, was riding on it. The last time he had flown—a private practice flight at Kitty Hawk in May—he had crashed and destroyed the plane. If he did so now, the French trials would be over before they had begun, and the name Veelbur Reet, as they pronounced it in Le Mans, would be the punch-line of a French joke.

Spectators watched from the grandstand as the twin propellers behind Wilbur started to spin. All at once, the plane shot forward on its track. Four seconds later, it was airborne, rising quickly to 30 feet, higher than most of the French aviators had flown but low enough to give the audience a view of Wilbur as he made a slight adjustment to the control levers. The plane instantly responded, one wing dipping, the other lifting, and banked to the left in a tight, smooth half circle. Coming out of the turn, the plane made a straight run down the length of the track, about 875 yards, then banked and turned into another half circle. Wilbur Wright looped the field once more, then brought the plane down almost exactly where he had taken off less than two minutes earlier.

The flight had been brief, but those 100 or so seconds were arguably the most important Wilbur had spent in the air since 1903. Spectators ran across the field to shake his hand, including the same French aviators who had only recently dismissed him as a charlatan. LŽon Delagrange was beside himself. "Magnificent! Magnificent!" he cried out. "We're beaten! We don't exist!" Overnight, Wilbur was transformed from le bluffeur, as the French press had tagged him, to the "Bird Man," the most celebrated American in France since Benjamin Franklin. "You never saw anything like the complete reversal of position that took place," he wrote to Orville. "The French have simply become wild."

Yet a few weeks later, Delagrange momentarily overshadowed Wilbur's achievement by flying for 31 minutes and thereby setting a new record in the air. Now, it was Orville's turn. On September 9, he took off from Fort Myer, Virginia. He'd already made a few brief desultory hops, but now he flew for family honor and national pride. The plane shot up and began soaring around the parade ground. After 11 minutes, it was clear Orville intended to beat Delagrange's record. The spectators watched him circle the field, taking about a minute per circuit, the engine of the plane crescendoing, fading, then crescendoing again. He had flown about 30 circuits when somebody called out, "By Jings, he's broken Delagrange's record!" According to the New York Herald reporter C. H. Claudy, everybody grabbed one another's hands, each man aware, according to Claudy, that he "had actually been present while aerial history was being reeled hot from the spinning wheel which made that awkward, delicate, sturdy and perfect wonder above their heads go round and round the field."

Orville had no idea he'd broken Delagrange's record. He was lost in flying. He canted into sharp corners and dipped low, skimming over the parade ground, then suddenly rose to 150 feet, higher than anything visible but the needle of the Washington Monument and the dome of the U.S. Capitol rising to the east, backlit by morning sun. "I wanted several times today to fly right across the fields and over the river to Washington," Orville later confessed, "but my better judgment held me back." After 58 circuits of the parade ground, he landed. He had flown 57 minutes and 31 seconds, nearly double Delagrange's record.

The Wrights held the attention of the world, and over the next week or so, as Wilbur flew above adoring crowds in France, Orville set ever longer endurance records at Fort Myer. On September 10, he flew more than 65 minutes on the 11th, more than 70 on the 12th, almost 75. That same day he set a new endurance record with a passenger— 9 minutes—and an altitude record, 250 feet.

Then, tragedy: on September 17, while flying over Fort Myer with an Army lieutenant named Thomas Selfridge, Orville crashed. He was badly injured. Selfridge was killed.

It appeared as if the crash might end the Wrights' career and set American aeronautics back years. Wilbur ceased flying in France, as Orville lay recuperating in the hospital, attended by his sister. But on September 21, Wilbur lifted off from Le Mans and began circling the artillery ground at Camp d'Auvours above his largest crowd ever, 10,000 spectators.When Wilbur surpassed Orville's flight of nearly 75 minutes, "a yell went up which defies description," according to the Herald. Still, he flew. The drone of the motor came and went, and the sky grew darker and the air cooler. At last, the plane descended and settled on the ground. Wilbur had flown for 91 minutes and 31 seconds, covering 61 miles—a new record. He had banished any conjecture that the Wrights were finished. "I thought of Orville all the time," he told reporters.

Wilbur saved his greatest triumph for the last day of the year. On December 31, 1908, he flew 2 hours and 20 minutes over Le Mans, winning the Coupe de Michelin and affirming the Wrights' place in history. "In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered," Scientific American stated, "and it must always be a matter of patriotic pride to know that it was two typical American inventors who gave to the world its first practical flying machine."

In October, during the climax of one of the most thrilling seasons in baseball history (the Chicago Cubs would snatch the National League pennant from the New York Giants, then defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series—which they haven't won since.), Henry Ford introduced his oddly shaped new automobile, the Model T. At 45, Henry Ford had been in the automobile business a dozen years, since building his first horseless carriage in a brick shed behind his Detroit home in 1896. Still, everything he had done was a warm-up to what he hoped to accomplish—"a motor car for the great multitude," he said.

Since most automobiles of the day cost between $2,000 and $4,000, only the well-off could afford them, and the machines were still largely for sport. An advertisement of the time, printed in Harper's Weekly, shows an automobile soaring over a hill as a gleeful mŽnage frolics inside. One passenger reaches into a basket. "There is no more exhilarating sport or recreation than automobiling," the ad says. "The pleasure of a spin over country roads or through city parks is greatly enhanced if the basket is well stocked with Dewar's Scotch 'White Label.' "

The fact that automobiles brought out the worst excesses of the rich, confirming what many Americans already believed about them—they were callous, selfish and ridiculous—added to the resentment of those who could not afford the machines. "Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the use of the automobile, a picture of the arrogance of wealth," Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson had said in 1906. Yet by the time he became president of the United States six years later, even socialists would be driving Model T's.

The automobile that rolled out of Ford's Piquette Avenue plant that fall did not look like a machine of destiny. It was boxy and top-heavy. The automobile writer Floyd Clymer would later call it "unquestionably ugly, funereally drab." The hard-sprung, church-pew seats made no concession to elegance or comfort. Rather, every aspect of the car was considered with an eye to lightness, economy, strength and simplicity. The simpler a piece of machinery, Ford understood, the lower the cost, and the easier it would be to maintain. Equipped with a manual and a few basic tools, a Model T owner could carry out most repairs himself. The new car's transmission would be smoother and longer lasting than any that had ever been designed. The small magnetized generator that provided a steady flash of voltage to ignite the automobile's fuel would be more dependable. The Model T was designed to ride high off the ground to give it plenty of clearance over America's infamously bumpy roadways, while the car's suspension system allowed it to handle the roads without tossing out occupants. Ford had also foreseen a day when the ditch at the side of the road would be less of a concern to motorists than oncoming traffic: he had moved the steering wheel to the left side, to improve the driver's perspective of approaching vehicles.

Ford Motor Company launched a national advertising campaign, with ads appearing in the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Weekly and other magazines. For an "unheard of" price of $850, the ads promised "a 4-cylinder, 20 h.p., five passenger family car—powerful, speedy and enduring." An extra $100 would buy such amenities as a windshield, speedometer and headlights.

Ford manufactured just 309 Model T's in 1908. But his new automobile was destined to be one of the most successful ever made. In 1913, Ford would institute the assembly line at his Highland Park, Michigan, plant. In its first year, the company more than doubled its output of Model T's, to 189,000, or about half the automobiles manufactured in America that year. By 1916, Ford would be making almost 600,000 cars a year and could lower the price of the Model T to $360, which produced more demand, to which Ford responded with more supply.

Henry Ford was superb at anticipating the future, but not even he could have predicted the popularity of the Model T and the effects it would have for years to come on how Americans lived and worked, on the landscape surrounding them and the air they breathed—on nearly every aspect of American life. The United States would become, in large part thanks to the Model T, an automobile nation.

It would be wrong to leave the impression that life was a frolic for most Americans. Vast numbers lived in poverty or near poverty. The working class, including some two million children who joined adults in steel mills and coal mines, labored long hours at occupations that were grueling and often dangerous. Tens of thousands of Americans died on the job in 1908.

In the fall of that year, the term "melting pot" entered the American lexicon, coined by playwright Israel Zangwill to denote the nation's capacity to absorb and assimilate different ethnicities and cultures. To our ears, the words may sound warm and delicious, like a pot of stew, but to Zangwill the melting pot was a caldron, "roaring and bubbling," as he wrote, "stirring and seething." And so it was. Violence erupted frequently. Anarchists ignited bombs. Gangs of loosely organized extortionists known as the Black Hand dynamited tenements in New York's Little Italy. Armies of disgruntled tobacco farmers, called Night Riders, galloped through Kentucky and Tennessee, spreading terror. Violence against African-Americans persisted, with dozens of lynchings in 1908. That August, whites in Springfield, Illinois—ironically, the hometown and resting place of Abraham Lincoln—tried to drive black citizens from the city, burning black businesses and homes and lynching two black men. (Like many events of 1908, even Springfield had a far-ranging impact: the riot led to the founding of the NAACP the next year.)

On the other side of the world, there was a breakthrough of sorts: on December 26, 1908, in Sydney, Australia, a 30-year-old African-American boxer from Galveston, Texas, named Jack Johnson stepped into the ring to fight Tommy Burns, the heavyweight champion of the world. Like every titleholder before him, Burns had refused to compete against a black man. But Johnson pursued Burns, badgering him until even whites began to suspect the Canadian was hiding beneath his white skin. Burns finally agreed to a match, but only with a deal that guaranteed him $30,000 of a $35,000 purse.

Johnson destroyed Burns before 25,000 spectators. Blood was pouring from Burns when police stopped the fight in the 14th round. The referee declared Johnson the victor. "Though he beat me, and beat me badly, I still believe I am his master," said Burns after the fight, already calling for a rematch.

Johnson laughed. "Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I just want to hear that white man come around whining for another chance." Eventually, Burns decided he did not want another chance after all.

Johnson would remain the heavyweight champion for seven years, fending off a series of "Great White Hopes." He would be sent to jail in 1920 after federal prosecutors, misapplying a statute meant to discourage prostitution, charged him with illegally transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes after he'd sent a train ticket to one of his white girlfriends. That was later, though. Now was Christmas, and Jack Johnson's victory was a gift for African-Americans to savor in the closing moments of 1908.

For all the problems, perhaps the most impressive trait Americans shared in 1908 was hope. They fiercely believed, not always with good reason, that the future would be better than the present. This faith was represented in the aspirations of the hardworking immigrants, in the dreams of architects and inventors and in the assurances of the rich. "Any man who is a bear on the future of this country," J. P. Morgan famously declared in December of 1908, "will go broke."

It's striking, in fact, how much more hopeful Americans were then than we are today. We live in a nation that is safer, healthier, richer, easier and more egalitarian than it was in 1908, but a recent Pew Research Center poll found that barely one-third of us feel optimistic about the future.

Of course, we are wiser now to the downsides of the technologies that were only just emerging in 1908. We cannot look at an airplane without knowing the death and destruction, from World War I to 9/11, that airplanes have wrought. Automobiles may have once promised exhilarating freedoms, but they also deliver thousands of deaths every year and horrendous traffic jams, and they addict us to foreign oil (1908 was the year, coincidentally, that oil was discovered in Iran) and pollute the atmosphere with, among other things, carbon dioxide, which will alter the earth in ways few of us dare imagine. The American military pride that sailed with the Great White Fleet on its voyage around the world in 1908 and was met with adoration at every port, is now tempered by the knowledge that much of the world despises us. We are left with the disquieting thought that the next 100 years may bear a price for the conveniences and conquests of the last 100.


9 Wilbur Mills And Fanne Foxe


Wilbur Mills was a lifelong politician, serving as a Democrat in the House of Representatives for 38 years and as chairman for the House Ways and Means Committee for 17 years, the longest tenure in the history of Congress. (This committee is responsible for all taxations, as well as a number of social programs.) Routinely called &ldquothe most powerful man in Washington,&rdquo Mills even considered a run at the presidency, a decision which would never come to fruition after the events of October 9, 1974.

Mills was pulled over by police at 2:00 AM because he had neglected to turn his headlights on. When the officer came up to his window, Mills was obviously drunk, with scratches on his face. They were caused by his female passenger, an Argentinean stripper known as Fanne Foxe (or &ldquothe Argentinean Firecracker&rdquo) who had fled the vehicle and fallen into the nearby Tidal Basin. (There were a number of other people in the car as well.) He was reelected just a month later, and decided to celebrate at a burlesque house where Foxe performed. Because of this scandal, and his alcoholism, Mills was taken off the Ways and Means Committee and never served another term in Congress.


9. The Sally Hemings Scandal

Thomas Jefferson had six children with Sally Hemings. Image credit: needpix.com

President Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, was a widower in 1782 but hardly single. He fell in love with Sally Hemings, who was his servant and of mixed-race. This scandal did not break out in real-time as its details were revealed years later when a journalist broke the story in 1802. It turned out that Jefferson and Hemings were together for more than thirty years and had six children. The story was not confirmed until 1998 when DNA analysis of their descendants showed a very high chance of kinship.


Whiskey Ring

Another scandal that occurred during Grant's presidency was the Whiskey Ring. In 1875, it was revealed that many government employees were pocketing whiskey taxes. Grant called for swift punishment but caused further scandal when he moved to protect his personal secretary, Orville E. Babcock, who had been implicated in the affair.


The Vote That Failed

By the gaudy standards of 19th-century American political ballots, it's not terribly impressive: a flimsy 3-by-13-inch oblong paper. Except for the typographical flourish at the top, the Smithsonian's 1888 Republican ballot from Hendricks County, Indiana, is a pretty ordinary version of the ballots Americans all over the country used to cast.

It lists the nominees for President and Vice President, followed by candidates for Indiana's 15 members of the Electoral College — the slightly arcane body that still actually elects our chief executives — and finally, the candidates for state and local offices. Indiana Democrats dealt with comparable tickets, each with its own distinctive graphics and design. Back then many ballots sported a more elaborate mix of slogans, typefaces, pictures and colors than the one shown here. Yet G.O.P. ballots from Indiana in 1888 may be the most significant in American politics. They were distributed wholesale to rascals who were divided into "blocks of five" and paid to cast them illegally. The public reaction to the scandal helped to change electoral history and establish the secret ballot.

In Colonial times Americans mostly declared their votes at the polls, out loud and in public. In 1888, voters in some states, notably Kentucky, still did so. The cerebral Pilgrims wrote their votes, a process that Rhode Islanders streamlined into what was known as a prox (or ticket) printed by each faction. By 1888 each party in each ward of most states produced its own ticket.

This method and the ward bosses who used it thrived because district ballot designs made secrecy impossible. In some states, politicos could buy votes confident of knowing whether the voters stayed bought they could watch at the polls as their conspicuously marked ballots descended into glass-sided ballot boxes. Sometimes voters handed their votes to election clerks for deposit, inviting further fiddling with the results. Apparently, ballot fraud was so common it developed its own vocabulary. "Colonizers" were groups of bought voters who moved en masse to turn the voting tide in doubtful wards. "Floaters" flitted like honeybees wafting from party to party, casting ballots in response to the highest bidder. "Repeaters" voted early and, sometimes in disguise, often. In Indiana, the absence of any voter registration especially invited such doings.

By September 1888, Indiana Republicans knew that native-son Presidential nominee Benjamin Harrison was in trouble. Harrison was a Hoosier and a high-tariff man, the darling of big business. His party was rich, rich, rich, but to win in the Electoral College where it counted, he needed to carry New York, the home state of President Grover Cleveland, and, for insurance (and honor), his own state.

Both states looked bad for Harrison. "Grover the Good" had won in 1884 despite sneers that he was a draft dodger and a womanizer. Famously charged with having had an illegitimate son several years earlier, the bachelor candidate did not deny it.

Cleveland's integrity and reform policies (promoting low tariffs and a civil service overhaul) impressed voters. The Republican campaign taunt "Ma! Ma! Where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!" proved prophetic. Warned at various times that his stand on tariffs would cost him votes — in his day tariffs paid the government’s bills (there was no income tax) — Cleveland eventually shot back, "What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?"

Yet one of the most brilliant triumphs of his first term was marrying his pretty 21-year-old ward, Frances Folsom, the daughter of his late law partner. Poised yet unaffected, "Frank" became our first style-setting, superstar First Lady. Everywhere she went, she drew adoring crowds. Women copied her hairdo and, on the mere rumor that she was against them, banished the bustles encumbering their dresses.

Cleveland, with a respectable record and a spectacular First Lady, became the first Democrat renominated for President since 1840. Then the robber barons began flooding Republican coffers with campaign boodle. In New York, Republican National Chairman Matt Quay spent lavishly to buy the support of renegade Democratic bosses in the big cities. The Republicans, it would seem, managed to finagle enough votes to control the election. Harrison was confident he would carry Cleveland's home state, where Cleveland was expected to run well behind his party’s victorious gubernatorial nominee. But Indiana still looked like a big problem.

For one thing, the state was already famous for ballot chicanery, which the Republican state platform roundly condemned. Ten years before, a U.S. marshal named W. W. Dudley had rounded up scores of Democrats accused of violating election laws. But at the time the special prosecutor, future Presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison ("Little Ben"), managed to secure only one conviction. Now, ten years later, "Little Ben" was at the top of one ballot, running for President, with Dudley as treasurer of the Republican National Committee. To Republican delegations trekking to Indianapolis, Harrison made honest voting — "a pure, free ballot . the jewel above price" — a leitmotif of his campaign. He exhorted one and all to free Indiana elections "from the taint of suspicion." But Dudley had other ideas. He was buying ballots wholesale. In a fabulously indiscreet circular on Republican National Committee stationery he instructed local leaders in Indiana: "Divide the floaters into blocks of five, and put a trusted man with necessary funds in charge," being sure to "make him responsible that none get away and all vote our ticket."

Near the campaign's close a suspicious Indiana railway postal agent intercepted one of the incriminating missives. Newspaper headlines followed. Dudley and Quay rallied to blast the Democratic "forgery," and Dudley slapped libel suits on the newspapers that printed it. The vote buying rolled on. Party faithful even brought voters over from Pennsylvania, which was safely in Harrison's column. With the whole nation watching, Dudley brazenly bought blocks of votes in Indiana. But instead of going to prison, where his personal knowledge of Dudley’s doings could have put him, Harrison went to Washington.

As President he boosted the already staggering protective tariff and depleted the U.S. Treasury with an orgy of pork barrel boondoggles approved by what Democrats called his Billion Dollar Congress. He turned Cleveland's civil service into a joke. Meanwhile, in defeat Cleveland flourished. He practiced law in New York. Frank gave birth to "Baby Ruth," a celebrated tyke whose name was bequeathed to a candy bar. Cleveland was content, save for a nagging sense of duty about balloting. Normally he dodged banquets and barbecues requesting "a few words," but when the Merchants' Association of Boston offered a forum, he rose to the occasion. In 1888, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had adopted the secret ballot system of New South Wales, then a territory in Australia. In a single year, 1889, nine states adopted the Australian method, including Indiana. There was a chance that the reform would catch on nationwide.

The most celebrated martyr to ballot fraud and vote buying, Cleveland lashed out against the "vile, unsavory" forms of self-interest that "fatten upon corruption and debauched suffrage." He called upon good citizens everywhere, to rise above "lethargy and indifference," to "restore the purity of their suffrage." And they did. A ballot-reform landslide swamped the nation’s legislatures. By the 1892 elections, citizens in 38 states voted by secret ballot. That year, they also returned Grover Cleveland and Frank to the White House.


Major Scandal: Petticoat Affair

Jackson’s career as an army general is full of its own controversies and scandals—not to mention the fact that he fatally shot rival Charles Dickinson in a duel. His presidency was no different.

When rumors surfaced that the secretary of war’s wife, Margaret O’Neill Eaton, had engaged in extramarital affairs, tensions arose between Eaton and the wives of the other cabinet members. Jackson, whose own wife was the victim of vicious rumors, fired most of his cabinet over the matter, including Vice President John C. Calhoun.


The Presidential Debates Of '08 — 1908, That Is

Mannequins of the presidential candidates "speak" to crowds at a New York amusement arcade in this illustration from Le Petit Parisien.

Archeophone Records, David Giovannoni

Hear Taft and Bryan speak

Bryan On Imperialism

Taft On The Philippines

Bryan On The Guaranty Of Bank Deposits

Taft On The Enforced Insurance Of Bank Deposits

Web Resources

It seems almost impossible to get away from the presidential campaign these days. The candidates are arguing on the radio in your car, plopping down in your living room on the TV, and even popping up on your computer.

For all that, you can thank William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft. Those two kicked off the era of the mass-media presidential campaign a century ago. And the modern parallels are uncanny.

In the spring of 1908, Bryan, a Democrat, was about to make his third run for president. Republicans had beaten him twice before, and a daunting opponent stood in his way: Taft, Teddy Roosevelt's hand-picked successor. The moneyed Republicans were the majority party, and Bryan was looking for any advantage he could find.

The National Phonograph Co., run by Thomas Edison, made Bryan an offer he couldn't refuse: record a series of two-minute mini-speeches on wax cylinders. The company would sell them for 35 cents each. Bryan even got paid $500, a handsome sum at the time. He donated the money to the Democratic Party.

Bryan was already a political innovator: He was making whistle-stop tours a half-century before Harry Truman's famous tour.

But in 1908, many people thought it improper to bring campaigns to the populace.

"The office was supposed to seek the man, the man wasn't supposed to seek the office. You weren't supposed to be too greedy for power," says Georgetown University history professor Michael Kazin. "So the idea of going around hawking yourself as if you were some sort of commodity, some sort of product, was seen to be unseemly by a lot of people."

The Republican Taft was far more "old school," but he refused to be outdone. Edison's company made recordings of him, as well. One recording accused the Democrats of a cut-and-run plan for the Philippines — a scenario not unlike debate over the Iraq war.

Taft also got $500 for his efforts, plus a new phonograph.

"The political culture into which these recordings entered was still the same one that had considered Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to be ridiculously short," says Indiana University's Patrick Feaster. Feaster is one of the liner-note writers for a new CD, Debate '08, which features the ground-breaking recordings of both candidates. "Speeches were long. These cylinders were two minutes. That was a big change."

David Giovannoni, who helped write and produce the CD, says the time limits on these cylinders forced the candidates to hone their messages.

"They may sound a little long and drawn out to us today, but I would argue that the 20th century's march to the sound bite begins with these recordings," he says.

Ron Cowen, who writes about the recordings in the magazine Science News, says the cylinders were played at rallies, in concert halls and for political clubs. It would be a half-century before the first general-election presidential debates were held, but a New York penny arcade created a mock '08 debate using the recordings. Mannequins of Taft and Bryan stood in front of a phonograph as the candidates' voices rang out.

Bryan's historic approach didn't win him the 1908 election, and these sorts of recordings soon died out. All three major candidates in the 1912 presidential election used the phonograph, but the recordings simply weren't making enough money.

Most Americans wouldn't routinely hear the voices of their candidates until a few years later, when they switched on that newfangled device, the radio.


The Mysteries of the Masons

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

To this day, nobody knows the true fate of Capt. William Morgan. A failed businessman and citizen of generally low repute, Morgan was abducted from his home, in the town of Batavia, New York, in the early morning of Sept. 11, 1826. He soon found himself in a Canandaigua jail cell, about 50 miles away, imprisoned for a debt of $2.65. The whole ordeal was doubtless confusing to Morgan, a man best known for his drinking. It likely became even more confusing when a stranger paid his bail. But that man had no intention of setting him free. Morgan emerged from the jail only to be forced into a carriage, reportedly screaming out “murder” while he was being dragged away.

This is the last anyone ever saw of Morgan, about whom little else is certain. Some said that he was not really a military captain, while others claimed that he had earned that title in the War of 1812. Others asserted that both theories were technically true: That he fought the British in 1812 as a pirate seeking plunder and was granted a pardon for his misdeeds by the president after the war. What we do know is that whatever happened to him, trapped inside that northbound carriage and fearing for his life, Morgan never came back.

Over the next few years, the details of Morgan’s abduction would slowly come to light, setting off a political firestorm and giving rise to the first third party in American politics. Evidence suggested that Morgan’s abduction was carried out by members of a secret organization known as the Masons. Americans soon came to believe in the existence of a Masonic plot to overthrow society from within the country’s very existence, many proclaimed, was now in jeopardy. What began as an obscure crime in upstate New York would spark one of the first episodes of political hysteria in American history, laying the foundation for a long line of political crusades to come.

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

The story of Morgan’s disappearance begins in the summer of 1826, when a new era was dawning in the nation’s history. Fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, the last of America’s founding generation was dying off—a turning point highlighted by the deaths of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the Fourth of July that year. What would become of America’s “great experiment” in democracy without the presence of the founders?

In upstate New York, then on the outer edges of America’s frontier, two men were occupied with a different question: how to secure personal fame and fortune. The first was David C. Miller, the publisher of Batavia’s Republican Advocate. Miller’s was an opposition paper, pitted against the policies of New York’s governor, DeWitt Clinton. Though he’d run the journal for more than a decade, he was still a struggling newspaperman searching for higher circulation. The second was William Morgan, who had moved his family restlessly throughout the countryside, working first as a brewer, now as a stoneworker, hauling his wife, Lucinda, and two young children from one failed venture to the next. Only two years earlier, Morgan had written of his desperation: “The darkness of my prospects robs my mind, and extreme misery my body.” The two men made an odd pair, but what they lacked in common background they shared in common circumstance—and now in common goals. Over that summer the two hatched a plan to expose to the world the inner workings of the secret society of Freemasons.

How, exactly, the two first came into contact is not known, but neither was held in high esteem by his community. According to one source, Miller was known to be a man “of irreligious character, great laxity of moral principle, and of intemperate habits” much worse things were said about Morgan. Not surprisingly, both men harbored deep-seated animosity toward Freemasonry, which served as a symbol for the establishment class.

Freemasonry is thought to have originated in England and Scotland sometime in the 1500s as a trade organization made up of local stoneworkers, but it soon took on a philosophical air. The triumph of reason began to be a focal point of the organization, as did dedication to deism, or the Enlightenment belief that the existence of God is apparent through observation and study rather than miracles or revelation. Over the centuries, the fraternity of Masons would expand throughout the world, as would its ceremonies and rituals, which involved strange symbols and oaths—in addition to its more benign emphasis on civic-mindedness, religious tolerance, and communal learning. The group met in secret.

Masons were overwhelmingly men of middle- and upper-class status—doctors, lawyers, and businessmen—who had the time and leisure to join what amounted to a social club for the well-to-do. Many of the founding fathers had been Masons, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin—indeed, 13 of the 39 signers of the Constitution claimed membership in the fraternity. In the years between America’s founding and 1826, Masonry had only grown more powerful, especially in New York. Gov. DeWitt Clinton was not only a Mason but had also been the grand master of the Grand Lodge of New York and the highest-ranking Mason in the country. By one estimate, more than half of all publicly held offices in New York were occupied by Masons.

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

Miller first hinted at some type of forthcoming revelation in an article published in the Advocate in August 1826. He had discovered the “strongest evidence of rottenness,” he wrote, evidence that compelled him and an unnamed collaborator, “to an act of justice to ourselves and to the public.” This bombshell was a book, to be compiled by Morgan and printed by Miller, detailing Masonic rituals and misdeeds at the highest levels of power. Morgan wasn’t a member of the Masons, but he had convinced other Masons that he was and had been granted access to a neighboring Masonic lodge. Morgan was thus able to witness the Masons’ ceremonies, recording their doings in a manuscript.


Election of 1896: Republican McKinley defeats Democrat Bryan

The Republicans The Republican nominating convention met in St. Louis in 1896. Marcus Hanna, the prominent Cleveland businessman and political operator, had lined up more than enough votes to assure the selection of William McKinley, the governor of Ohio and driving force behind the earlier McKinley Tariff. Thirty-four of the delegates walked out of the convention, refusing to accept the party's dedication to high protective tariffs and the gold standard. These Silver Republicans would later support the Democratic nominee. McKinley, despite having supported limited coinage of silver earlier in his career, adopted the party line. Garret Augustus Hobart of New Jersey, another friend of Hanna, was selected as the vice-presidential candidate. Despite the Silver Republicans' defection, the party's prospects were rosy. The country continued to be mired in the depression that followed the Panic of 1893 and it was expected that the voters would blame Cleveland and the Democrats. The Democrats The Democrats convened in Chicago to select their candidate. President Cleveland and his followers, the so-called Gold Democrats, were in the minority. The platform committee was split and ended up preparing two differing party statements, one favoring the free silver issue and the other opposing it. This temporary indecision set the stage for William Jennings Bryan, the 36-year-old two-term Congressman from Nebraska. His speech on the platform dilemma electrified the convention and led to both his nomination and the triumph of the free silver forces. Clearly one of the most famous political addresses in American history, the "cross of gold speech" cast the advocates of the gold standard as the crucifiers of Christ and the silver supporters as the true Christians. Bryan's nomination was no surprise. He and his managers had been working for months to line up the necessary delegates and Bryan had labored long and hard over his speech. Arthur Sewall, a wealthy shipbuilder from Maine, was selected for the vice-presidential slot in a vain effort to court New England votes. The Populists The Populist Party reached a critical juncture in 1896. Considerable sentiment existed for "fusion" with the Democrats, stemming from a fear of splitting the silver vote. However, Bryan and the Democrats showed little interest in other issues and some Populists worried, with ample reason, that a merger would dilute their identity and lead to the party's decline. In the end, the demand for silver was sufficient to bring the Populist nomination to Bryan, but the party asserted its independence by giving the vice-presidential nod to Thomas E. Watson of Georgia. The Campaign McKinley conducted a "front porch campaign" in which he remained at home in Canton, Ohio and trainloads of supporters (perhaps as many as 750,000) were brought in to hear him deliver short speeches tailored for his audiences. The lack of energy in such a campaign seems strange to modern observers, but several factors were at work:

  • Tradition held that presidential candidates should not actively seek votes by widespread campaigning, a spectacle thought to be beneath the dignity of the office McKinley's opponent, more than any other presidential aspirant, broke that tradition.
  • Mrs. McKinley was seriously ill and her husband was deeply devoted to her he refused to consider long campaign trips that would separate him from his wife.
  • McKinley was clearly an inferior public speaker compared to the polished and dramatic Bryan Mark Hanna and other advisors thought it unwise to do anything that might accentuate the difference between the two candidates.

Election of 1896
Candidates

William McKinley (OH)
Garret A. Hobart (NJ)

William J. Bryan (NE)
Arthur Sewall (ME)
Thomas E. Watson (GA)*


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