Friday, January 8, 2021

Election Tragedies

 I have found it difficult to compose this week's blog post and I apologize for the late posting.  It has been a tragic time for our nation, but as many of the blog posts over the past decade have shown, there is often much to be learned by looking to the past.

Stairs inside the refurbished Kansas Capital, Photo:  Lyn Fenwick

In 1893 the populist candidate for governor, Lorenzo D. Lewelling, was sworn into office in the state capital of Topeka.  The People's Party gained the majority in the Kansas Senate as well.  It was in the Kansas House, however, where the outcome of the elections was in turmoil.

In my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement," the description of events is told in Chapter 10, including the important role played by Representative William Campbell, Isaac Werner's friend and neighbor.

As other blogs have expressed, many Kansas homesteaders were Union veterans of the Civil War, and politically they voted Republican in respect for their old leader, Abraham Lincoln.  Consequently, Kansas politics was and remains primarily Republican.  The Democrats were occasionally successful in elections, but Republicans were accustomed to winning.  There was no dispute that the People's Party controlled the Governor's office and the Senate; however, in the House the results were challenged..

Undisputed, the Democrats held 2 seats, and the People's Party held 58 seats.  Disputed, however, were 18 certifications of the 65 seats the Republicans claimed.  Evidence of fraud had been collected to challenge those 18 certifications, and if fraud were found, the majority would shift to the Populists.  A Committee of Fifteen, with five Republicans, five Democrats, and five People's Party members, was assembled to consider the evidence.  Although five of their own members were included on the committee, the Republican leadership refused to acknowledge the authority of the Committee.

Both parties sent messages to the Governor and the Senate that they were ready to do the State's business, and the People's Party members were recognized.  The Republicans refused to accept that recognition.  Both parties elected Speakers and conducted business as if they were authorized.

After 31 days of this legislative standoff, matters erupted.  The governor's appeals to the Republicans were ignored, the militia commander sent to clear the hall refused the command of his superior, the Republicans used a sledgehammer to crash through the locked door of the chambers, unauthorized people were issued weapons by the Republicans, a new militia commander established a position outside the short, it was a dangerous situation.  The People's Party members finally agreed to allow the State Supreme Court to hear the matter, knowing the Court had a Republican majority which would probably result in a judgement for the Republicans.  It did.

The militia commander was court marshaled, according to military justice, and he was found guilty of refusing to carryout a direct order from his superior.  Two years later, when the Republicans were back in power, the verdict was set aside on political grounds, since it was undisputed that the order he refused had been lawful.  

United States Capital, west side

The greatness of our nation rests upon our magnificent constitution and our laws, state and national.  Not only must those we elect act in good faith under those laws, so must we as citizens.  Loyalty to party is part of the mechanism of government, but it must never be greater than respect for the laws that have knitted together our nation of diverse citizens.  In these times, we must hope that those to whom we have entrusted the protection of our nation act with wisdom and respect for the office they hold. 

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

The more things change...