Facts of Reconstruction, The



It was upon the territory which now comprises the States of Kansas and Nebraska that the preliminary battles in the interest of freedom were successfully fought. This is especially true of that part of the territory which now comprises the State of Kansas. But not only for that reason has that State occupied a prominent place before the public; other events of national importance have had their birth there. It was Kansas that furnished one of the Republican United State Senators who voted against the conviction, of Andrew Johnson,—who had been impeached by the House of Representatives for high crimes and misdemeanors in office,—and thus secured the President's acquittal. That State also furnished one of the most remarkable men that ever occupied a seat in the United States Senate, John J. Ingalls.

I distinctly remember him as an able and brilliant young Senator when,—in 1875, under the leadership of Senator George F. Edmunds, of Vermont,—he took a prominent part in the successful fight that was made in that body to secure the passage of the Sumner Civil Rights Bill. It was this fight that demonstrated his fitness for the position he subsequently occupied as one of the distinguished leaders on the Republican side of the Senate. He was a natural born orator, having a wonderful command of the English language; and, while he was somewhat superficial and not always logical, he never failed to be interesting, though he was seldom instructive. For severe satire and irony he had few equals and no superiors. It was on this account that no Senator was anxious to get into a controversy with him. But for two unfortunate events in the career of John J. Ingalls he would have filled a much more important position in the history of his country than it is now possible for the impartial historian to give him.

Kansas, unfortunately, proved to be a fertile field for the growth and development of that ephemeral organization known as the Populist party,—a party that had secured a majority in the Legislature that was to elect the successor to Mr. Ingalls. The Senator evidently had great confidence in his own oratorical ability. He appeared to have conceived the idea that it was possible for him to make a speech on the floor of the Senate that would insure his reëlection even by a Populist Legislature. In this,—as he soon found out, to his bitter disappointment,—he was mistaken. He no doubt came to the same conclusion that many of his friends and admirers had already come to, that in bidding for the support of the Populists of his State he had made the mistake of his life. The impression he made upon the public mind was that he was devoid of principle, and that he was willing to sacrifice his own party upon the altar of his ambition.

But it was neither known nor suspected that he contemplated making a bid for the support of the Populist members of the Legislature until he delivered his speech. When, therefore, it was announced that Senator Ingalls would address the Senate on a certain day, he was greeted, as on previous occasions, with a large audience. But this was the first time that his hearers had been sadly disappointed. This was due more to what was said than how it was said. Then it was plain to those who heard him that his heart was not in what he was saying; hence the speech was devoid of that fiery eloquence which on previous occasions had charmed and electrified his hearers. But, after that speech, when one of his auditors would ask another what he thought of it, the reply invariably was a groan of disappointment. When the immense crowd dispersed at the conclusion of the speech instead of smiling faces and pleasing countenances as on previous occasions, one could not help noticing marked evidences of disappointment in every face. The impression that had been made was, that it was an appeal to the Populist members of the Legislature of his State to return him to the Senate, in exchange for which he was willing to turn his back upon the party which he was then serving. It was almost equivalent to an open declaration of his willingness to identify himself with the Populists, and champion their cause if they would reelect him to the seat he then occupied. From the effects of that fatal blunder the Senator never recovered.

Another thing that lessened the distinguished orator and Senator in the estimation of the public was his radically changed attitude upon questions affecting the political, social and industrial status of the colored Americans. From a brilliant and eloquent champion and defender of their civil and political rights he became one of their most severe critics. From his latest utterances upon that subject it was clear to those who heard what he said that the colored Americans merited nothing that had been said and done in their behalf, but nearly everything that had been said and done against them. Why there had been such a radical change in his attitude upon that subject, has been an inexplicable mystery. The only explanation that I have heard from the lips of some of his former friends and admirers was that it was in the nature of an experiment,—the expectation being that it would give him a sensational fame throughout the country, which could be utilized to his financial advantage upon his retirement to private life. This explanation would have been rejected without serious consideration, but for the fact that some others have pursued the same course for the same reason, and their hopes have been, in a large measure, realized. In his bid for the support of the Populist members of the Legislature of his State the Senator had established the fact that he did not have very strong convictions upon any subject, and that those he had could be easily changed to suit the times and the occasion.

Nebraska, though not very strong politically, is one of the most important States in the West. It has sent a number of men to the front who have made an impression upon the public mind. For many years no State in the Union was more reliably Republican than Nebraska. A large majority of its voters, I am sure, are not now in harmony with the Democratic party,—nor have they ever been so,—but it is true, at the same time, that thousands of those who for many years acted with the Republican party, and voted for its candidates, have become alienated, thus making Republican success at any election in the State close and doubtful, and that, too, regardless of the merits of opposing candidates or the platform declarations of opposing parties.

For this remarkable change there must be a good and sufficient reason. The State in its early history was sparsely populated, and stood very much in need of railroads for the development of its resources. In those days, railroads were very popular, and the people were in a mood to offer liberal inducements to those who would raise the means to furnish them with the necessary transportation facilities.

For the same reason the Federal Government made valuable concessions in the interest of railroad construction in the Western States. Since the railroads, thus aided, were in a large measure the creatures of the State and Nation they thereby acquired an interest in the administration of the National and State Governments,—especially those of the State,—that they otherwise would not have had.

The construction of the roads went on at such a rapid rate that they soon acquired such a power and influence in the administration of the State Government that the people looked upon it as being dangerous to their liberties. In fact it was claimed,—a claim, no doubt, largely supported by the facts,—that the State Government was actually dominated by railroad influence. No one, it was said, could be elected or appointed to an important office who was not acceptable to the railroad interests. This state of affairs produced a revulsion among the common people; thousands of whom decided that they would vote against the Republican party, which was then,—as it had been for many years,—in control of the State Government because of its having allowed such a state of affairs to be brought about.

Edward Rosewater, editor and proprietor of the Omaha Bee, the most influential Republican paper in the State, took sides against the railroad interests. The result was that Nebraska, for the first time, elected a Democratic governor.

But many of the Republicans who acted with the Democrats on that occasion could not see their way clear to remain in that party, though some of them were not willing to return to the ranks of the Republicans. So they decided to cast their lot with the Populist party, which in the meantime had made its appearance upon the field of political activity. While the Democratic party remained the minority party in the State, it was seldom that the Republicans could poll more votes than the Democrats and Populists combined, and since, under the then leadership of the Democratic party in the State, that party and the Populist stood practically for the same things, it was not difficult to bring about fusion of the two parties against the Republicans. This gave the Fusionists control of the State Government for a number of years.

In the meantime a brilliant, eloquent and talented young man had come upon the stage of political activity. This man was William J. Bryan. His first entry into public life was his election to Congress as a Democrat from a Republican district. While a member of the House he made a speech on the tariff question which gave him national fame. As a speaker William Jennings Bryan has always been plausible and captivating. He can clothe his thoughts in such beautiful and eloquent language that he seldom fails to make a favorable impression upon those who hear him. It was this wonderful faculty that secured him his first nomination for the Presidency. His name was hardly thought of in connection with the nomination by that convention. In fact his right to a seat as a member of the convention was disputed and contested. But, after he had delivered his cross of gold and crown of thorns speech before that body, he carried the Convention by storm. His nomination was then a foregone conclusion.

It was under the leadership and chiefly through the influence of Mr. Bryan that the fusion between the Democrats and the Populists of his State was brought about. But for his advocacy of Free Silver and his affiliation with the Populists, he might have reached the goal of his ambition. The result of the election showed that while he commanded and received the support of not less than eighty per cent of his own party, the remaining twenty per cent proved to be strong enough to insure his defeat. In fact the business interests of the country were almost solid against him; and it is safe to say that no man can ever hope to become President of the United States who cannot at least divide the substantial and solid business interests. The business men were apprehensive that the election of Mr. Bryan would bring about financial and commercial disaster, hence they, almost regardless of previous party affiliations, practically united in an effort to defeat him.

The State of Nebraska, therefore, will always occupy a prominent place in the history of the country, because,—though young, small, and politically weak,—it has produced the most remarkable man of whom the Democratic party can boast. It has also produced a number of very able men on the Republican side, such men, for instance, as C.F. Manderson, and John M. Thurston,—who both served the State in the United States Senate, and made brilliant records. But Mr. Bryan had an advantage over these two when he stood before a popular audience in Nebraska, because they had been identified with the railroad interests, while he had not.

That Mr. Bryan is a strong man and has a wonderful hold upon his party is shown by the fact that he has been three times the party candidate for the Presidency. While it may be true that he can never be elected to the Presidency, it is no doubt equally true that while he lives no other Democrat can become President who is not acceptable to him and to his friends.

In one respect at least, Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Bryan were very much alike. As already stated, Mr. Bryan is a Democrat. The same was true of Mr. Cleveland; and yet they were as radically different as it is possible for two men to be. They were not only different in temperament and disposition, but also in their views and convictions upon public questions,—at least, so far as the public is informed,—with the possible exception of the tariff. There was another question that came to the front after the Spanish American war,—the question of "Imperialism,"—upon which they may have been in accord; but this is not positively known to be a fact. Indeed, the tariff is such a complicated subject that they may not have been in perfect accord even on that. Mr. Cleveland was elected President in 1892 upon a platform pledged to a tariff for revenue only. The Democrats had a majority in both Houses of Congress; but when that majority passed a tariff bill, it fell so far short of Mr. Cleveland's idea of a tariff for revenue only that he not only denounced it in strong language, but refused to sign it. Whether or not Mr. Bryan was with the President or with the Democratic majority in Congress in that fight is not known; but, judging from his previous public utterances upon the subject, it is to be presumed that he was in accord with the President.

It is claimed by the friends and admirers of both Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Bryan that each could be truly called a Jeffersonian Democrat; which means a strong advocate and defender of what is called States Rights, a doctrine on which is based one of the principal differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. Yet President Cleveland did not hesitate to use the military force of the government to suppress domestic violence within the boundaries of a State, and that too against the protest of the Governor of the State, for the alleged reason that such action was necessary to prevent the interruption of the carrying of the United States mail. Mr. Bryan's views upon the same subject appear to be sufficiently elastic to justify the National Government, in his opinion, in becoming the owner and operator of the principal railroads of the country. His views along those lines are so far in advance of those of his party that he was obliged, for reasons of political expediency and party exigency, to hold them in abeyance during the Presidential campaign of 1908. Jeffersonian democracy, therefore, seems now to be nothing more than a meaningless form of expression.

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