The filibuster 

How did a word that once meant “piracy” become a valuable tool in the American political system, then a weapon, and now a word that some hold in such low regard that they think it should be eliminated from our political process?  Let us offer a subjective examination.

We turn to William Safire, a reporter then speech-writer for President Nixon (Pat Buchanan gets a lot of credit for the most serious flame-throwing remarks of that administration) and later a columnist for the New York Times whose column “On Language” was always a favorite read for this correspondent.  A year before his death in 2009, the last version of Safire’s Political Dictionary was published by Oxford University Press.  It’s a wonderful resource for any who follow politics and want to understand its lingo.

Back in the 1500s, governments such as Britain and France contracted with private ship owners known as “privateers” to, in effect, wage war on ships flying enemy flags—at the time, Spanish ships.  More often than not, says Safire, these privateers became just plain pirates.  “Privateer” is rooted in a Dutch word, “vrijbuiter,” which translates to “freebooter,” a word equated to “pirate.”   In French, the word became “flibustier.”  In Spanish, it was “filibustero,”  words that were translated into English as “filibuster.”

In the mid-1800s, American filibustering expeditions took place in Central America, private military expeditions that sought to seize control of countries.  One of those taking part in one of most famous, or infamous, such expeditions was James Carson Jamison who was part of William Walker’s filibustering effort and wrote With Walker in Nicaragua. He later served the Confederacy in the Civil War and was the state’s Adjutant General (1885-1889) under Governor John S. Marmaduke, a former Confederate General.

It appears the word was first applied politically was during debate in the U. S. House on January 3, 1853.  Democrats favored organizing an expedition to take Cuba away from Spain.  Whigs were opposed.  One Democrat, Abraham Venable of North Carolina, crossed over to the Whig side, arguing that the United States should not engage in piracy to acquire Cuba.  A Venable opponent, Congressman Albert Brown said, “When I saw my friend standing on the other side of the House, filibustering, as I thought, against the United States…I did not know what to think.”  The word quickly became identified with efforts to block passage of legislation.  It remains so today.

Your observer has observed that tactic being applied numerous times consuming hours of his life that added nothing to his knowledge or entertainment.  Some had memorable moments but most were as interesting as three-day-old dry toast.

Filibusters work best when they are respected as tools that protect the minority and give it valuable weight in shaping public policy. They are their worst in times of agenda-driven super-majorities that see no reason to recognize the validity of minority positions.

Filibusters have been useful in forcing compromise, sometimes broadening the public policy under consideration, sometimes protecting the rights and privileges of those who feel a piece of legislation lessens their standing within society or in the economy, sometimes avoiding mistakes that otherwise would be enacted with the original proposal, sometimes forcing order into a proposal that endangers services beneficial to a broader public while granting a perceived unfair advantage to a particular segment of the people.

The filibuster works best in a partisan body in which the numbers force a recognition that the goals of one side cannot be attained without the cooperation of the other.  While a simple majority might be reached by one side alone, the limits imposed by the clock and the calendar lessen that possibility if the minority side consumes hours and days, particularly as the hours and days of a session dwindle.  The utility of a filibuster increases as time grows short—as it is now in the legislature—because the scenario not only involves the issue at hand but other issues that might never be reached because the time to reach them is being consumed by those holding the floor.

There are ways to end filibusters—a cloture vote in Washington, a previous question motion in Jefferson City that seeks to immediately end debate and immediately go to a vote. In previous years, when the partisan breakdown of the legislature was more balanced than it has been in recent years, the PQ—as it is called—was almost never used because both sides knew that it could be used against them if the majorities switched. Additionally, there was an acknowledgement that today’s enemy has to be tomorrow’s friend if you hope to get your bill passed.  But as the majority-minority margins increase, the need for reciprocity dwindles and in time becomes irrelevant.

As that happens, the minority has a tendency to become more strident, more irritating to the majority—which is more tempted to shut down the minority with a parliamentary motion. Who cares about friendships in such situations?  It also should be noted that the majority is less likely to shut off debate if the filibuster involves members of the majority party.

The minority, however, is not completely disarmed in such situations. A couple of years ago, the minority in the senate reacted when the previous question was called on a bill in the last week of the legislative session and nothing passed the rest of the way.

Many observers in Washington have pronounced the filibuster dead after the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.  Perhaps it is in a climate in which sixty votes, not just the majority, was required for action on some issues.  But back here in the states, it remains a tool—some say, a protection—in simple majority climates where there are no rules that otherwise limit debates but where unwritten rules about honoring the tradition and the reasons for filibusters usually prevail. Usually.

Has Washington killed the filibuster?  Or has it just turned organized participants there into privateers?

When the legislature rioted

Veteran observers and participants of the Missouri governmental process can cite times when disorder was the order of the day—or the hour.  We recall the night Rep. Elbert Walton climbed on top of his desk to shout for recognition from a Speaker who wasn’t going to give it to him while the rest of the House was in disarray, too. We remember when sessions ended at midnight, usually with one last appropriations bill to pay for the programs that had been enacted during the session racing the clock and clerks dashing back and force between the chambers as time ran out.   But this is the story of an event that in its time was so wild that it made national headlines and has never been rivaled since. It was the day the House and the Senate in joint session

Rioted.

We told the story a month ago about why you and I will have the chance to elect a U. S. Senator next year.  The legislature used to meet in joint session to do that.  We told the story of the fight to get rid of Thomas Hart Benton in 1851 in which Henry S. Geyer was elected on the fortieth ballot in a joint legislative session, cast during a ten-day stretch.  That was nothing compared to this.

It is 1905, forty years after the end of the Civil War.  For thirty of those years, former Confederate Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell has been one of our U. S. Senators.  Although many names are part of the official record of this event, only four are the key players in today’s story: Cockrell, a Democrat; Republican St. Louis businessman Thomas K. Niedringhaus, son of a former congressman and the choice of the Republican caucus; St. Louis Railroad contractor and Republican Richard C. Kerens, the choice of some dissident Republicans; and Former two-term Republican Congressman William Warner, who also had been the Kansas City Mayor, the loser of the 1892 Governor’s race to William J. Stone, and at the time of these events, the U. S. Attorney for Western Missouri. Warner had been a Union Army Major in the Civil War.

The legislature in 1905 was narrowly Republican and the Republicans split between Niedringhaus (right) and Kerens, who had been political antagonists in seeking control of St. Louis and state Republicans for a long time. The joint caucus nominating Niedringhaus had been a rowdy affair culminating in Representative Oliver Grace of St. Louis—who was standing on his chair–telling caucus chairman Alonzo Tubbs, a Representative from Gentry County, “You have my utter contempt as chairman,” to which Tubbs responded after a couple of minutes of yelling and shouting, “I am more than sorry to have the contempt of such a distinguished gentleman as now stands before me.” That spirit hung over the rest of the contest.

Senators would walk over to the House chamber (this 1899 photo, which hangs in a Capitol hallway today, captures how the chamber would have looked in 1905) each morning for a joint voting session. A simple majority of those voting was all it took to elect a U. S. Senator.  The first vote was taken on January 17. The winner needed 89 of the 176 votes cast.  Niedringhaus was two short.  Cockrell had 53.  Kerens had six.

Other votes were taken on the 19th, 20th, and 23rd.  They tried twice on the 24th and single times on January 25, 26, 27, 30, and 31, the tenth day of voting. The legislature in 1851 had made it decision on the tenth day. But the 1905 legislature was only on its twelfth ballot. Niedringhaus had 63 of the 69 votes needed (the number of legislators voting fluctuated from day to day—only 108 members voted on the 30th, for example), Cockrell had 68, one short, and Kerens had settled in at a dozen.  Warner’s name had not shown up in any of the votes.

Twenty votes were held, one each day, in February except for the fifteenth when there were to ballots, Cockrell getting 73 and 72 votes. Niedringhaus getting 65 and 64.  Kerens held his dozen.  Warner still was not a factor.

The deadlocked lawmakers reached the first of March facing adjournment at 3 p.m. on the eighteenth. As often happens, the clock became the gauge on the political pressure cooker.  Deadlocks begin to dissolve as the time pressure increased and hours before adjournment wound down.

Kerens picked up three to five votes in the early going, which meant only that Niedringhaus still wasn’t going to get the majority. Votes on March 2, 3, 6, and 7 were still deadlocked.  But on March 7, William Warner got two votes.  He kept them on the second ballot taken that day.  And on the next day when the legislature roared past the fortieth ballot that had determined the 1851 election, and on the ninth.  He picked up one more on the tenth but lost it on the eleventh, the day of the forty-fourth ballot.

The forty-fifth ballot on March 13 showed Cockrell with 72, six short.  Niedringhaus had 54 and Kerens sixteen.  Warner still had three.   That night, Republicans caucused to try to agree on a new candidate that would please the Niedringhaus men if he should step aside.  But after eleven caucus ballots, Warner and Sedalia businessman John H. Bothwell were deadlocked.  Tubbs, as chairman, suggested dropping both of them and moving to former Representative Seldon Spencer of St. Louis. The discussion was acrimonious but the caucus agreed to put Spencer forward the next morning.

Warner two of his votes on the first ballot on the fourteenth, then had no votes on the second ballot that day as Spencer surged to 61 votes, then 64.  But Kerens still controlled things with seventeen, then sixteen votes.

Warner had no support in both ballots taken on the fifteenth with Cockrell remaining six votes short each time and Spencer making no progress. Warner had only one or two votes on the three ballots taken on Thursday, the sixteenth as the Spencer boom ended and the Nedringhausen men reclaimed his position. Two Republicans, including the House Speaker David Hill of Butler County, announced they would vote for Cockrell, the Democrat, if the Republicans could not unite.Some Republicans started to think again of Warner as a compromise candidate.  But Nedringhaus and Kerens would have to release their pledged delegates.

March 17, the next to last day of the session, and desperation clearly was settling in.  Three ballots that Friday morning saw Cockrell still six votes short.  But Warner moved from three to eleven votes.  The joint session recessed until 7:30 p.m. and came back for the fifty-sixth ballot.  They voted five times that night.  On the third of those ballots, the fifty-eighth of the contest, Niedringhaus dropped back to twelve. Warner suddenly was at 62 with Cockrell still six votes short. Warner had 65 on the next ballot and on the final vote that night, he was at 68.

The last day was the most chaotic day in Missouri legislative history since the night Confederate-leaning Governor Sterling Price fled back to Jefferson City after peace talks had broken down in St. Louis, organized a late-night session of the legislature, and fled from the city, never to return hours before Union troops seized the town.

One account about the 1905 events says, “It seemed probable (at the start of the day) that the state would be without a second senator.”  Niedringhaus had asked his friends to support Warner. Kerens had been publicly silent. When the roll call came for the first ballot, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Republican to vote, went to Warner.  But Senator Ezra Frisby stayed with Kerens as did Senators Josiah Peck and Senator Hugh McIndoe as the Kerens men left Warner, for whom they had voted Thursday night.

The first ballot of the day showed Cockrell (right) with 83 and Warner with 64. Kerens was back in the contest with 21 and Niedringhaus had faded to five. The second ballot showed Warner picking up two, Kerens losing one. Niedringhaus was down to three.    Warner was up to 68 on the next ballot. Cockrell still had 83.  The sixty-fourth ballot, then the sixty-fifth.  An effort to dissolve the joint session, to give up, failed. A motion to recess for half an hour also failed.

The sixty-sixth ballot, the sixth of the day:  Cockrell 83.  Warner 66. Kerens 19.

Then all Hell broke loose.

We have pieced together accounts from The St. Louis Republic, The Kansas City Star, The Washington Post, The Sedalia Democrat, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, The St. Louis Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch,   and The Jefferson City Daily Democrat-Tribune to describe the unparalleled events (before or since) that happened next.

It was customary in the reporting in those days not to mention the first names of the participants (“Thomson of St. Louis” for example).  We’ll add the first names to the account as we put the elements together.  If the narrative seems jumbled at times, remember something important.  Members of the press were seated at tables at the front of the chamber, in front of the Speaker’s dais, as the 1899 picture shows.  They found themselves in the middle of a situation that exploded from a tense political standoff into a political riot. We can only imagine them scribbling frantically in their notebooks, perhaps at times ducking and dodging whatever and whomever came their way.  Please try to understand why this old reporter has several times thought, “God! What an experience it would have been to cover THIS!!”

The whole city and the members of the Legislature, especially, have been in a feverish condition of anxiety and nervousness since the close of last night’s session. Long before the time arrived for the members of the Senate to enter the hall of the House, the hall was crowded to suffocation and the Senators had difficulty in securing seats. In fact, some of them were obliged to stand during the proceedings.  Wives and daughters and lady friends of members were packed in between members’ seats. The space outside the railing was so jammed that it was difficult for the Senators to make their way to their place.  The little gallery up aloft was packed to its utmost capacity.    

Everybody knew that the Democrats had agreed on a policy of obstruction, and Republicans, suspicious of each other, were afraid of a trap, and yet afraid to act in haste.  The roll call to determine if there was a quorum present proceeded slower than it ever has before.  Roach of the Senate, a Democrat, killed time with industry, and the Democratic clerks seemed anxious to follow his example.  Women filled the aisles and kept talking until the chairman had to ask them to be quiet enough to let the members hear when their names were called.

When the sixtieth ballot was taken Friday night, all of the Kerens men were voting for Warner and the Niedringhaus men were divided between Niedringhaus and Captain Henry King of St. Louis. This morning Mr. Niedringhaus went to each of his friends and personally asked them to vote for Warner.  With some of them he had to talk for a long time.

When the first ballot was begun, the sixty-first taken, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Niedringhaus vote, cast his ballot for Major Warner.  Baumann is a St. Louis senator who has been a “last ditch” Niedringhaus man, and his vote meant that Niedringhaus was going to Warner. Senator Ezra H. Frisby, who casts the first vote for Kerens men, voted for Kerens, as did Senator Hugh McIndoe. (Editor’s note: The early votes indicated the Kerens supporters were not yet giving up the control they had exerted on the process since that first ballot in January.) 

 Representative L. C. Detweiler of Laclede County declared, “I think we have delayed it long enough. It is time to elect a Senator. I hardly know who to vote for, but I will vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative William Godfrey of St. Louis followed, proclaiming, “Fifty and five times have I voted for the caucus nominee.  Now I want to elect a senator and I am going to vote for a man who, like myself, wore the blue and fought for the honor of his country. I vote for Warner.”

 Representative Oliver J. Grace took the floor and after talking at some length in explanation of his position, he exclaimed, “We want a Senator of the highest type, one who stands high. I therefore cast my vote and will keep casting it until hell freezes over and even then I will stand on the ice and cast my vote for that grand old man, Richard C. Kerens.” The Democrats cheered. At the beginning of his speech, Grace said he had something in his system that he wanted to get out.  “I guess the gentleman got it out all right,” said Lieutenant-Governor John C. McKinley when Grace had concluded.

Representative F. M. Harrington said he also would get something out of his system: “I am not like my friend Grace; I don’t expect to find a place where water never freezes. I vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative Lawrence Lewis of Crawford County: “I have voted loyally for the nominee of my party up to this time. I believe that now we should center our forces on a man we all know will be an honor to the party and to the state. I vote for Warner.” Rep. William C. Marten of St. Louis said he was sacrificing a great deal when he voted for Warner.  He and Lewis had been among those who had refused to switch on Friday night. St. Louis Rep. Charles Schueddig, another Niedringhaus supporter on Friday night, switched to Warner saying, “I wish to show that I am not a last ditcher.” Another Niedringhaus backer, Rep. Albert R. Thomson, told the session, “I had made up my mind to go down to the ditch with the caucus nominee, but after his pleading with me for a solid hour to-day to elect a senator, and at his request, I vote for Major William Warner.” Rep. Eugene Dauer of St. Louis never left Niedringhaus and absolutely refused to do so.

Senator Edward H. Bauman was the first Republican Senator whose name was called to vote for Warner. He has been a staunch Niedringhaus supporter.  He was followed by Senators Charles w. Clarke, Josiah Peck and John D. Young. Senator George W. Riechman remained with Niedringhaus. Every mention of Warner’s name drew enthusiastic applause and the shift showed in the tally upon completion of the afternoon’s first round: Cockrell 83; Warner 64; Niedringhaus 21; Kerens 15; Bartholdt 1; Peck 1.  Total voting 175; Cockrell had needed 88, so the balloting would go on.

After the sixth ballot, only four Niedringhaus men stood out, the same number as on the previous three ballots.

It was about 1:40 o’clock when the sixth ballot was tabulated and the rumor soon spread that Col. Kerens would make a formal announcement of his withdrawal. When the silver-haired veteran appeared in the chamber the spectators rose and cheered wildly. He walked down the center aisle with Senator J. W. Peck of Atchison County. Behind them was Representative James H. Richardson, a Kerens supporter from Kansas City. 

The thing that made election possible to-day happened yesterday when Kerens consented for his forces to go to Warner in the night session.  Up to that time he had only consented to let Parker have his vote in a combine with some Parker men.  But Representatives James H. Richardson and Harry R. Walmsley and other Kansas City men who had begged Kerens to go to Warner were reinforced when Homer Mann (Editor’s note: Mann was not a member of the legislature but was described in one account as Kerens’ “closest lieutenant.”) told Kerens that his friends in Western Missouri demanded that Warner be given some votes. (Warner supporter) E. L. Morse of Excelsior Springs told Kerens the Third district demanded a chance for Warner. Then Kerens said, “Vote for Warner tonight.”  By voting for Warner they put Niedringhaus in a bad position. There could be no excuse for letting this legislature adjourn without electing Warner when he could have elected him.  Niedringhaus saw it himself, but many of his friends did not and he failed to grasp the opportunity last night, but this morning he handed the same proposition back to Kerens with interest. Kerens held his forces out (on the first ballot). While the second ballot was in progress, the tip was they would go to Warner on the fourth.  Then, they put it back to the fifth.  On the sixth the Kerens men shook their heads.   They could not see a solution and knew that to go home now was political ruin. While the sixth ballot was in progress, Dr. A. C. Pettijohn, a Linn County Representative, made his last appeal to Kerens. In that last conference with Kerens there had come a time when a timid man would have given him up.  He was not ready to throw his forces to Warner, Pettijohn said, “I have come for the last time to ask it,” and went away.  That left Homer Mann and Vincent Kerens with him. Mann said, “Elect Warner and the public will say you have done well.  Let him be defeated today and you send your friends in our part of the state to political destruction.  Make a speech, withdraw in favor of Warner, and let’s have a hot finish to this fight.”

Pettijohn…came back with tears in his eyes, an expression that chilled the hearts of Warner’s best friends, the bearer of bad news to his associates. For a few minutes faces turned white as the word was passed around. It looked like failure. Five minutes later Home Mann…came back from the Kerens camp with an expression on his face that told of a change in prospect.  The roll call was nearly finished when Mann whispered to a reporter for The Star, “The old Colonel is going to elect Warner and we’re going to have a hot finish.” It changed the whole appearance of the (Kerens) men.  Mann dashed out of the hall again.  A crowd blocked the door.  In the center was R. C. Kerens. 

In the dense crowd…could be seen the peculiar silver hair that would distinguish “Dick” Kerens anywhere his face had ever been seen.  Kerens has hair that is really nearer the color of bright new silver than gray.  He stood in the rear of the hall just inside the door while the clerks made the tally. 

The vote was announced: Warner, 67; Cockrell 83; Niedringhaus 5; Peck 1; Kerens 19.

Then he started down the aisle and as the members caught sight of him a mighty shout went up.  He was cheered to the echo when he walked to the desk of the presiding officer and stood close to Chairman McKinley, the president of the senate.  No one doubted his purpose.

Senator Frank McDavid, Democratic whip, anticipating the vote shift that would defeat Cockrell at last, moved that the joint session dissolve.  The Republicans tried to prevent Lieutenant Governor John C. McKinley from recognizing McDavid, but the presiding officer did so.  McDavid demanded a roll call.

Republicans tried to get McDavid to withdraw his motion.  Some of the misinformed Democrats made the same request, but McDavid insisted.  Roll call proceeded with difficulty, but the Kerens men had their cue and beat the motion.

Confusion was on every side, when Mr. Kerens arose.  His friends yelled. Kerens looked ashy pale.  “Just a moment, gentlemen of the Joint Session,” he began, “and gallantry requires me that the ladies are also present. I do not need to say to you that I am a Republican.  My record speaks for that.  We are here to perform a duty. This General assembly is Republican.  It is your duty to elect a United State Senator.  I say let it be a Republican (cheers).  If this majority of the Assembly wish to name Major Warner of Kansas City, I say, repeating what I said last night, God speed the action!  Elect him if you can do so.”

The action of Kerens, the man who instigated the bolt from Niedringhaus…was a distinct surprise to all—even his own followers being astonished and thrown into uncertainty. Kerens played fast and loose with his men and his men are very angry and indignant that he should have placed them in the predicament which he did without their knowledge or consent, while he had held them apart all the time heretofore, and made them suffer whatever of stigma and mud-throwing fell to the lot of the alleged bolters. 

The scene in the House when Kerens made his speech has never been rivalled in recent times.  Men, women, and children stood in their seats and yelled like mad persons. Hats were thrown in the air, papers sailed about the room, and it was a scene of wild celebration and joy. The Democrats who had been counting on “filippino” votes possibly to elect Cockrell were in confusion.  They raged about the floor and held conferences in every corner. Before the enthusiasm created by Kerens had had a chance to take effect and create a stampede, Senator Dickinson of Henry County, moved that a recess of thirty minutes be taken.  The chief clerk of the House tried to tell McKinley that no business had been transacted and that the motion was out of order.  McKinley ruled that the motion was in order, and upon Senator Clement Dickinson‘s demand ordered a roll call.  The motion was defeated

McDavid tried to gain recognition to make another motion. McKinley refused to recognize him, and McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair.

Then pandemonium broke loose. For more than half an hour, the House chamber, where the joint session was held, was in the possession of a mob of legislators who seemed to have lost all control of themselves. Members ran down the aisles yelling for order, while others were demanding recognition from the chair.  Such a scene of disorder has probably never before been witnessed in the Missouri legislative halls.

 It was nearly 2:30 and only a half hour to the time set for final adjournment.  A custom has grown of stopping the clock on the east wall of the House just prior to final adjournment, and some of the younger members thought that the clock was vital to holding the session.

A few Democrats stood under the clock to prevent its being moved, more as a joke than anything else. The Republicans immediately became excited. A man with kinky hair and dark face carried a ladder into the hall close to the clock. But it never reached the clock.  The guard pounced upon him and took the ladder away.  Republican members came to the rescue and there was a general tussle and some blows were struck before the ladder was carried back to the rear of the hall.  Rep. W. P. Houston of Cass grabbed it and threw it out of the window.

The same magnetic influence that draws a duck to water leads a Kansas City Democratic politician in the direction of trouble.  Joe Shannon and Representative Michael Casey were soon in the thick of the throng.  Seeing there was no hope of getting at the clock, which stood twelve feet above their heads, to turn it back, Representative Stewart threw a book at it and broke the glass front, but did not stop it.  Someone else threw an orange which brought a pile of shattered glass to the floor.  Republicans picked up file books and began throwing at the clock. The glass was broken, but the pendulum kept swinging.

Rep. James Stewart of Warren County picked up ink bottles out of the desks and started throwing them at the clock.  Ink was scattered over ladies’ dresses, desks, the floor and the wall around the clock.  People yelled and the ladies shrank toward the middle of the House. Then Rep. William Godfrey, an old man, member from St. Louis threw an ink well that smashed the pendulum and stopped the clock. The dial and hands were still intact. (Another account said Stewart finally hit the pendulum to stop the clock). That part of the House looked like a cyclone had struck it.  Two windows were smashed. Chairs and desks were broken.

Representative J. T. Wells of Dunklin (Dem.) seized a chair and walked across a dozen desks holding it high over his head. He failed to reach Godfrey, so he made a dive at Stewart, but before he could strike, he had been seized by other Democrats.  He was too late. The clock had been stopped.

Representative Michael Casey, of Jackson had found a pole used to raise and lower windows and climbed on a desk from which, while attention was attracted to another part of the house, he had deftly turned the hands of the clock so that they read one minutes after 3.  With that for an excuse, a score of Democrats started trouble with the clerks, again snatching away the half-finished roll call.  The chairman was pounding fiercely with his gavel and trying to make people sit down. It did no good.  For just a minute it looked as if a general fight would be precipitated, for Peck, Baumann and others of the heavyweight class of Republicans were fighting their way to the desks and there was a fight going on at each side of the presiding officer’s desk. It was a silly performance, worthy of the worst fight in the most disreputable ward of any large city.

Meanwhile, down in the center of the House, Chief Clerk Benjamin F. Russell was trying to call the roll.  Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach, when Senator McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair, refused to proceed until some semblance of order had been restored.  Pandemonium was on every side.

Russell finally grabbed a senate roll call and began shouting the names. It was almost impossible to hear Russell’s shouting and absolutely impossible to hear the responses, hardly any of which were made. Yet Russell proceeded with the mock roll.  Rep. Austin W. Biggs of St. Louis, Homer Mann, big Senator Baumann, and other Republicans surrounded him, fearing that the roll would be snatched by the Democrats. 

McKinley pounded the desk for order, with his gavel until he split the gavel block into four pieces. He kept shouting for decorum, and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to clear the lobby and the aisles.  He could not make any impression on the mob.  They tried force and persuasion but it was all to no purpose.  “The sergeant-at-arms will arrest every member of the assembly and take him to his seat!” shouted McKinley, but his order was ignored.  “Appoint ten sergeants-at-arms!” shouted Senator Baumann. “I will be one and I will arrest them.”

Of course, while this was going on in a crowded part of the room, there was plenty of others taking minor parts and some few members will go home with black eyes. Nor was the affair without interest to the rest of the big crowd that packed the hall. Everybody was standing up and a good many were on the desks.  Senator Nelson, having disposed of the man with the ladder, headed a small party that undertook to drag President McKinley from the chair. Republicans fought them back.

Dave Nelson in a short time became persuaded that Rep. Edward H. Bickley of St. Louis was shouting responses.  He yelled to Bickley to quit.  Bickley laughed and Nelson began running around the end of the long journal desk and up to the space behind Russell. Senator Frank Farris and Senator William R. Kinealy of St. Louis grabbed him.  He fought like a mad man, but with the assistance of others, he was quieted, while Bickley made his escape in the back of the hall. Senator Nelson of St. Louis caught Speaker Hill around the waist and attempted to drag him from the rostrum. Senator Kinealy stopped Nelson who returned to his seat.

The Nelson episode was only an incident in the rapid mock roll. The General assembly was by this time in a state of confusion…Leaders yelled “Don’t vote!  Don’t vote!”    It was disgusting to the calmer heads of the Assembly, and to none more than the President Pro Tem Emmet Fields of the Senate, who went up to the Speaker’s chair and mounted his desk.  Speaker Hill stood beside him, two big men, more than six feet tall and each weighing nearly 250 pounds.

They waved their arms up and down and tried to quiet the mob.  Russell had already finished his mock roll, putting down the Republicans as voting for Warner, and the Democrats for Cockrell.

McKinley was powerless to handle the situation and Senator Emmett B. Fields of Linn, president pro tem of the Senate, assumed the chair. He did this of his own volition and mounted the Speaker’s desk, standing on the gavel block. 

Then…Fields, Democrat, stood on the desk in front of McKinley and begged the Democrats to hear him. A big man with an imposing figure standing on the gavel block, a commanding face, Senator Fields raised his arms over the tumultuous throng.  Thus he stood for some seconds without stirring a word.  The crowd looked at him. Immediately the noise began to abate. And when it had almost ceased, Fields spoke: “I yield to none in my Democracy,” said Fields.  “Let me add that after a record of thirty years I hope that we will conduct ourselves as gentlemen of the General Assembly.  Let us proceed in order.  Let the roll be called and not a mock roll.  We can do this and complete this work as it should be done.” 

Rep. Kratt C. Spence of Stoddard stood on a desk and yelled for order until he was asked to sit down.  Then the roll was called by Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach and Chief Clerk Russell.

In the House, Bittinger and Grace refused to vote.  Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus.  The other Kerens men and all of the Republicans who had been for other candidates voted for Warner. Senators Kinealy, Kinney, and Nelson, Representatives John Hennessy and Michael F. Keenoy of St. Louis, all Democrats, voted for Niedringhaus.  This was a filibuster scheme to stem the tide. But it was of no avail.

The Niedringhaus Senators voted to a man for Warner.  (Democrat) Senators Thomas Kinney and Nelson of St. Louis tried to keep up the courage of the Niedringhaus men by voting for the Republican nominee.  “He has been my friend for fifteen years.” Said Kinney. “It is the first time I have ever voted for a Republican.” 

Senators Michael F. Keeney and John M. Hennessey, Jr., of the Fourth ward followed Kinney’s lead.  Rep. James C. Gillespy of Boone voted for William H. Wallace of Kansas City.  All of them changed their votes before the ballot was announced.  Of the Republicans, Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus and refused to change his vote.

Rep. Grace of St. Louis, an original Kerens man and bolter, who had declared on his first vote to-day that he would stay with Kerens “until hell froze over and then stand on the ice,” changed to Warner.  It made the vote Warner 91, Cockrell 83, Niedringhaus 1. Absent: Rep. Thomas L. Viles of Stone.

It was just 10 minutes to 3 o’clock when Major Warner was declared elected. Senator John F. Morton of Ray secured recognition and said, “I wish every Democrat in Missouri could have been here to-day and witnessed these scenes.  They have been a disgrace to the State and like results at another general election will produce the same sort of scenes.  I move that this joint Assembly do not dissolve.”

Before the motion was put, Grace of St. Louis moved three cheers for Kerens.  Rep. James H. Whitecotton of Monroe followed for Cockrell.  Hill for Warner and Thomson for Niedringhaus.  All were given a vim and the joint session stood dissolved.

Even the yelling during the rough house and the cheers that went when Maj. Warner’s selection was announced did not equal the noise made this time.  Members tore their bill files apart and fluttering bills filled the air like huge snowflakes. 

As the members filed out the sound of a cannon shot was heard.  It was Col. Fred Buehrle firing a salute from one of the cannons on the capitol lawn for the new senator from Missouri.

Warner issued a statement a short time later he said, “I shall go into office with but one pledge—and that to the people. Their interests shall never be subservient to the interests of the party.  In politics I am a stalwart Republican and an admirer of the personality of President Roosevelt, so far as it is announced.  It will be my aim to build up the party and to eliminate factions.  I have never kept books on politics and am too old to begin now….there will be no kitchen cabinet between me and the citizens.”

The next day, several visitors dropped in on Warner at his Kansas City home.  He laughed when some his guests told how the House clock was destroyed, especially when some of his Republican friends suggested they buy the broken clock and give it to him as a souvenir.

Newspaper headlines reflected the chaos of that day. “Wildest Disorder…Physical violence resorted to,” said the Post-Dispatch. Which headlined another story with “Scene of Turmoil and Disorder Unprecedented in the History of the State’s Legislature.” The St. Louis Star referred to a “Scene of Wildest Excitement.”  The Burlington Hawkeye in Iowa called it an “uproar.”  The Galveston Daily News, from Texas said “Disgraceful Rioting Scene” in its headline.  The St. Louis Republic told readers, “Major Warner Elected Senator as Republicans Riot on Floor.”

Senator Cockrell took the news of the final result calmly.  A few days later he went to work at the Interstate Commerce Commission under an appointment from President Theodore Roosevelt.  He became part of a commission in 1911 to negotiate the boundary between the state of Texas and the Territory of New Mexico.  President Wilson named him to the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications for the War Department, a position he was holding when he died at the age of 81 in 1915.

Senator Warner served only one term. He returned to his law practice in Kansas City, became a member of the Board of Managers for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and also served on the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications as a civilian. He was 76 when he died October 4, 1916.  He was succeeded by James A. Reed, the last U. S. Senator from Missouri elected by the legislature.

Richard C. Kerens, who had been a contractor for the Overland Mail before moving to St. Louis, where he was involved in railroad construction, became the American Ambassador to Austria-Hungary 1909-1913, a year before the event that began World War I.  He died exactly one month before Warner, September 4, 1916.

Thomas K. Niedringhaus continued to be a prominent businessman in St. Louis and a prominent figure in St. Louis Republican politics until his death October 26, 1924 at 64.

The Kansas City Star editorialized during the long struggle that Missouri had become a “powerful object lesson in favor of the popular election of United States Senators.”  The newspaper felt the campaign “has proved that men who are good lawmakers are utterly incapable as senatorial electors.”  The Star called on the state to enact its own popular election law because Congress was not likely to change the federal Constitution in the foreseeable future “to make impossible another fiasco like that which has this year brought discredit and humiliation to the state.”

On March 7, 1913, Missouri became the thirtieth state to ratify the federal amendment allowing citizens to elect their U.S. Senators.  William Joel Stone became the first popularly-elected Senator in 1914.  He died before his term was completed and Xenophon Pierce Wilfley was appointed to take his place. Wilfley lost a primary election to finish the Stone term to former Governor Joseph Folk who then lost to Judge Selden Spencer, who served until his death in 1925.

Today, Claire McCaskill serves in the “riot seat” seat once held by Senators Cockrell and Warner.  Roy Blunt traces his line in the Senate back to Stone, Wilfley, and Spencer.

The Missouri Capitol, where all of these events happened, was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1911.  A new capitol was built 1913-1917.

March 16, 1917 marked the centennial of the legislature meeting for one day in the still-uncompleted building, so members not coming back in two years could say they had served in the new capitol.  The first full legislative session in the new capitol began in January,1919.

In the entire history of the present capitol, nothing has matched that March day in 1905.

 

A “terrorist attack” at the Governor’s Mansion

One of the first questions asked after one of today’s violent episodes that leaves people dead and injured is “Was this a terrorist attack?”   We are not the first generation to ask that question by a long shot.  There always have been terrorists, real and imagined. And sometimes, as is often the case today, a terrorist or suspected terrorist is identified with a faith tradition.

Herewith, we offer a story of a “terrorist attack” at the home of Missouri’s governor, told on behalf of one Phillip Thomas Miller, whose friends called him “P.T.”  He was once the warden of the state penitentiary and is credited with creating a policy that would let convicts have their sentences reduced by one-fourth (in his time) if they behaved themselves in the prison.  He thought it would be good for the discipline inside the walls if inmates have a substantial reason to obey the rules.

But before P.T. Miller was the warden of the penitentiary, he was considered a terrorist.

Miller moved to Jefferson City when he was about sixteen years old.  He died sixty-two years later in the same house in which he had lived since he moved to the capital city.

Charles B. Oldham told of Miller and the “terrorist attack” in one of the 1914 series of articles on prominent early residents of Jefferson City.

A “swell ball” was held in the original Governor’s Mansion in the late 1830s, before the first capitol (it was known as ‘The Governor’s House” originally) burned down in 1837.   As Oldham told the story, referring to Miller:

He was then quite a youngster and clerk for his uncle in the latter’s store.  Mr. Miller and some boys with whom he associated were considered too young to invite to the ball, but his uncle, John Miller, and his aunt were there, as were all the men and women of any prominence in Jefferson City.  Mr. Miller and his companions could look on from a distance, and that was all.  They were chagrined and made.  It was proposed that some trick be played upon the merrymakers and soil their fun.  In looking about for means of carrying out their intentions, Mr. Miller suggested that he could open his uncle’s store and procure some gunpowder and make a big noise near the Mansion and frighten the ladies out of their wits.

One plan after another was devised and abandoned until finally Mr. Miller suggested that some ten or fifteen pounds of gunpowder should be tightly wrapped in twine with a fuse attachment.  This was done, and Mr. Miller and one other boy deposited the layout near one of the windows on the south side of the Mansion, ignited the fuse and scampered.  When the explosion occurred, every window in the south side of the Mansion was broken and it rained pieces of twine over many acres of ground.  The women screamed, fainted and did other things common to the feminine mind in such emergencies to show their fear.  The men, too, were frightened, for this incident occurred at a time when the Mormons were troublesome in this state and threatening.  The men immediately imagined that the Mormons were trying to blow up the Mansion.  The ball came to an end immediately, for the women demanded franticly that they be taken home forthwith.  Mr. Miller’s uncle was sheriff of the county at that time and he made a good thorough investigation of the grounds.  The thousands of pieces of twine string puzzled him for a time, but presently he made up his mind that the whole affair was a badly planned joke and that his nephew was at the bottom of it.

Mr. Miller and his companions were badly frightened when they realized what they had done, and although his uncle accused him that night of being in on the plot, yet he would not admit as much until he was assured that no one had been hurt, as was true. 

The old capitol burned shortly after that. Months later, armed conflict broke out in northwest Missouri between Mormons and non-believers. Governor Boggs issued the order telling the Mormons to get out of Missouri or face extermination.

The Governor’s Mansion became the temporary quarters during the Civil War of Colonel Henry Boernstein after Union troops ran Confederate-sympathizing Governor Claiborne F. Jackson out of town.  It was replaced by the present mansion in 1871.

And P. T. Miller?  He became an upright man in every respect and a good example to the rising generation. He was a good business man, a good official, and a good writer.  Everybody knew him who had any acquaintance to the city and everybody liked him for his many and good qualities and sterling worth.

The boy who set off a bomb at a time when there were fears of terrorism 180 years ago died an honored man in 1895.

(Photo from the Cole County Historical Society)

Dirt, burgers, and sheep-shearing: Notes from the road

We have snowbird friends who invite us to their cottage in Arizona for a week or so every February so we can become reacquainted with sun and warmth.  That’s normally a good thing although this year Arizona was in the 30s at night and barely cracked sixty during the day while Missourians were doing at least as well or better.

We find that road trips like these give us a chance to ruminate on various things we encounter along the way and ponder some differences and similarities beyond weather conditions at home.

Seen on the back of a gravel truck near Bowie, Arizona: “Keep back at least 200 feet. Not responsible for broken windshields.”  We were about thirty feet away before we could read it.

Most jarring message on another truck: “Catholics aren’t Christians.”   We sensed it would not be prudent to stop the driver and ask what that was about.

From columnist Argus Hamilton in the Albuquerque Journal: “Late Monday night, President Trump woke up in a cold sweat after a nightmare involving the most serious crisis of his presidency. He dreamed that Twitter had resigned.”

Something in Casa Grande, Arizona that we will not likely see in Jefferson City: Four gas stations in two blocks selling self-service regular for $1.95, $1.98 $2.14, and $2.44.   It made us recall the time we were in a Missouri gas station one night and the clerk at the cash register told the clerk at the next register to go out and change the sign because the station across the street had hiked its price by two cents a gallon and they wanted to keep up.

Looking for a hobby or maybe a second job?  Be in Claremore, Oklahoma April 13-15 for the sheep shearing school.  Among other things you will be taught how to catch a sheep, a fairly essential element to learning to shear one.

Checked my horoscope on February 22nd—well, it was actually “Horoscopes by Holiday”—in a newspaper and it sounded like a long version of a fortune cookie message.  But it probably works for everybody and every day: “When things get more colorful and dramatic and life is uncomfortable, be grateful for it.  Were you to be limited to a very confined and unvarying society, you would be quickly bored to tears.”

A thought at a lunch stop in Lordsburg, New Mexico:  Would we have been better off getting our food at the drive-in window and then going inside to eat it than going inside, ordering, and waiting while several window deliveries were handled before we got our order?

Lordsburg and Bowie, Arizona reminded us of what happens when the interstate replaces the highway through the town. When you see an antique store boarded up, you know things have gone bad since the stagecoaches of today bypassed towns like Lordsburg.   Incidentally, there’s nothing that we saw in Lordsburg noting that it was the destination of the Ringo Kid, Dallas, Buck the stagecoach driver, the alcoholic Doc Boon and others on the stagecoach (that started out in Tonto, Arizona Territory, by the way) in the famous “Stagecoach” movie.

Sometimes when you are travelling you see a sign that you must photograph.  This was just outside Deming, NM

Somewhere in our photo collection we have a picture of the scariest intersection in Missouri.  Roads EE and K.  The sign on I-70 east of Kansas City kind of looks like EEK.  Wonder if anybody ever thought of going out one night and spray-painting an exclamation point on it.

They call the New Mexico capitol “The Round House” because it’s round, like the kivas in the ancient pueblo communities.  A House committee has recommended a $6.1 billion dollar state budget AND a $285 million tax increase to pay for it.  Governor Susana Martinez calls the bill a “political ploy” and threatens to veto a budget bill that raises the money to pay for the things in it.  She apparently has not been reading Missouri newspapers about something called “withholding.”

There were a couple of times when we were reminded of Missouri while driving across country on Interstate 40.  There are two places between Albuquerque and Tucumcari that reminded us of I-70 across Missouri, America’s ugliest stretch of highway.

For a few hundred yards approaching a couple of places that sell all kinds of touristy stuff there are billboards shoulder to shoulder.  One big difference is there’s more distance between the big trucks.

It is hard to drive across Oklahoma and not be conscious of its red earth, so red that some lakes or ponds are red.  Cows don’t seem to mind but we’re not sure we’d want to spend a day swimming in that water and we sure wouldn’t want to see it coming out of our kitchen tap or our shower.  The observation allowed us to reflect that Oklahoma has a state symbol that Missouri has not adopted yet—although we fear that we might inspire somebody to do something silly by commenting. Oklahoma has an official state dirt.  It’s not called “dirt” (it’s Port Silt Loam, or in Latin, Cumulic haplustolls) but that’s what it is.   Missouri has manufactured more than two dozen official state symbols but so far we haven’t decided what our official dirt should be.

A television station in New Mexico was reporting on efforts to create there another state symbol that Missouri does not have. Again, we have some trepidation about bringing this up.  A proposal would designate the green chile hamburger as New Mexico’s official state hamburger.

We hope no school teacher in Sedalia decided to teach their young students about how government operates by having their state legislators introduce a bill designating the Goober Burger as Missouri’s version of the New Mexico official patty.

And that brings us to the story of the cone, the kid, and the reporter.

In 2008, a thirteen-year old Ballwin schoolgirl induced her legislators to introduce the bill designating Missouri’s Official Dessert—the ice cream cone.   When the bill passed and I wrote a story saying the legislature had designated a crumbly and tasteless piece of pastry as the state’s official dessert, the fearless Elise Kostial fired back.  I was wrong.  I was ignoring the ice cream component!!!   No, I wrote back, read your bill.  There is no mention of ice cream.  The bill just specifies the cone.   She and I traded messages a few times including once a year or so later after the bill had been signed and had gone into effect.  In the closing weeks of the legislative sessions, there are times when ice cream is served in the rotunda by some group wanting to curry last-days favor with lawmakers.  After one of those occasions, your ice-cream-–affectionate correspondent sent Elise an email telling her that I had enjoyed the state’s official dessert that day—and I had even put some ice cream in it.

Umbrage was taken.  And noted.  To this day, our differences remain unresolved and, I fear, mediation is out of the question.  In May, 2011, when we were doing a book signing in the rotunda of the Capitol art book, Elise happened to be in the building, too.  She came over and said hello.  But we continued to suffer, I fear, from good-natured but irreconcilable differences.  Perhaps if I had buckled and accepted her position, she would have bought a book.

Elise, by the way, was and is an extraordinary person.  She’s a grownup now, a college graduate from Stanford. She’s been active in a number of conservative political organizations and is, as she was in our ice cream fight days, a very sharp lady.

But our official state dessert is still a crumbly, tasteless pastry—-the bottom of which has a tendency to get soft and mushy and leak the ice cream that is put into the top of it if the consumer waits too long to consume the ice cream.  Always have at least one napkin when you are having one of our official state symbols with ice cream.

There has been voiced from time to time in the Missouri legislature that students and teachers who think the way to teach and learn how the legislature works is to get a new state symbol bill introduced should learn words such as “filibuster” and “defeat.” Failing those two things there is always a third word: “veto.”   And a fourth: “override attempt.”  And “failed override attempt.”  But the key word some legislators think should survive is “defeat.”   Enough is enough, and no, we don’t need a new state symbol that is a hamburger made with peanut butter.

God forbid that I should become so much a party man…

The hardest part of doing research in the newspaper library of the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia is staying on task. Every newspaper is full of distractions.  While scouring The Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser looking for something about the Missouri legislature in 1830, this newspaper archaeologist came across a couple of letters reprinted from the Jackson Gazette in Tennessee.  Reading letters such as these reminds us of the elegant style of expression and courtesy that was common in many letters of the time.  And more.

Getting a contract to print the federal laws was important in the early days of newspapering. It was a basic income when newspapers were small operations in small frontier towns. When the Gazette was notified by Secretary of State Martin Van Buren that its contract would be given to a rival paper, the editor asked his congressman to change Van Buren’s mind—even though the newspaper losing the contract had been a strong opponent of the Congressman. But like all things governmental, you can be against it until you need it.

The congressman told Van Buren his constituent learned “without knowing why or wherefore, the printing of the laws of the United States have been taken from him and bestowed upon another.”  He felt “authorized to enter my protest against the manner in which your authority has been exercised.” He was not going to compare the merits of the two editors involved. “No, sir,” he said, “I should blush to find myself drawing distinctions upon mere party grounds. If I were to do so, I should be compelled to approve your choice.”  The defrocked editor had not supported him while the new publisher had, but fairness was more important than partisanship:  “The editor upon whom you have conferred the trust has been uniformly my friend, and to him I acknowledge myself under many political obligations.  But to witness so uncertain a state of things is to weaken the confidence of the citizen in his government, or the consistency of those who administer it.

“For corruption and crime, or for either, an officer should be removed.  But, Sir, is the doctrine to be established that for either a former or an anticipated difference of opinion, a man is to be proscribed?  If so, the triumph of virtue is wholly doubtful and the range of favoritism may be made as wide as the universe.

“Sir, I had supposed that before you would make material changes in my district, you would, according to custom, condescend to consult me.  I surely have more opportunities of understanding the interests of the people of the Western District of Tennessee than yourself; I hope that I am sufficiently devoted to those interests not to misrepresent them.”

He complained the losing editor had been the first editor in the town and was a great friend of President Jackson, who the Congressman considered a “firm and undeviating friend.” He considered Van Buren’s actions a “great interference” in his district.

He wrote to the Jackson Gazette editor two days later, March 5, 1830, that he heard of the change “with great astonishment” and he had not written his critical letter to Van Buren to gain favor with the editor.  “It is because I wish justice done to every man and under all circumstances.”  But he doubted he would get a response.

The Congressman was a firm Jacksonian.  “I have fought under his command—and am proud to own that he has been my commander. I have loved him, and in the sincerity of my heart I say that I still love him; but to be compelled to love everyone who, for purposes of aggrandizement pretend to rally round the ‘Jackson Standard’ is what I can never submit to.”

He underlined that profession by saying, “I am a party man in the true sense of the word; but God forbid that I should ever become so much a party man as obsequiously to stoop to answer a Party purpose.”

He assured the editor he had nothing to do with Van Buren’s “unjustifiable business” of taking away the printing contract.  “I am indignant at seeing a set of men, whether in elevated or humble status, pursuing with such madness the very course of intolerance and proscription which they have so long and so loudly (and as they informed me so justly) condemned elsewhere.”

We don’t know if the Gazette ever got the government printing contract back, but later that year it changed names and eventually merged with another paper that winked out well before the end of the decade.

The Congressman’s career reflected his antipathy to being a “party man.” Despite his professed affection for Jackson in his letter, he had become an ANTI-Jacksonian Democrat by the time he was elected to his second term, during which he was dealing with the editor at home. He had lost his bid for a third term in the months before the correspondence but two years later was elected to his third and final term before being defeated in a bid for a fourth.

Exactly six years to the day Congressman David Crockett wrote of wishing for “justice done to every man and under all circumstances” and who proclaimed he would not accept demands to be a “party man,” nor would he support those who pursued intolerance after “so long and so loudly” opposing it, he watched from the fortified San Antonio de Valero mission as Santa Anna’s massive army moved into position for an attack.  The courageous former congressman died the next morning, 181 years ago today.

To set the record straight

For years, there have been incorrect stories told about the original name of Jefferson City, the capital city of Missouri.   Our research has confirmed the original name of Jefferson City was:

                               The City of Jefferson.

Not Howard’s Bluff.  Not Lohman’s Landing.  We’re not sure where those ideas originated but they are not true. 

When Missouri became a state, Congress passed a law giving the state four sections of land on which to locate the permanent seat of government, the temporary seat being in St. Charles where you can visit the building that was the first state capitol.   The legislature appointed commissioners to select a location that was on the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage River, as specified in state law.

The commissioners looked at three sites: Cote Sans Dessein, a French village located in then-Montgomery, now Callaway, County; Howard’s Bluff in Moniteau County; and an unnamed area that was available but was considered a poor possible site because the land was not good for farming.   Cote Sans Dessein, across the river from the Osage River mouth, was favored by the commissioners but rejected by the legislature because of questionable land ownership caused by significant land speculation. 

The second site, Howard’s Bluff, was about where the community of Marion is in western Cole County. It was Cole County’s first county seat before the western half of Cole County became Moniteau County. That area, however, already had settlers on it with legitimate land claims.  So it was out.   

That left the least acceptable site.  When the legislature ordered a town be laid out there, it said in the law that the town would be named the City of Jefferson. There were only two or three cabins in that area at the time.  

We came across a map in an 1823 Gazeteer of Illinois and Missouri that pretty clearly shows Howard’s Bluff was not the original name of the City of Jefferson.

 

As far as Lohman’s Landing is concerned—-the Lohman family wasn’t among the early settlers of Jefferson City and did not become a prominent name in the town until it bought what had been known as Jefferson Landing in the early 1850s. By then the City of Jefferson had been in existence for a quarter-century. 

By then Cote Sans Dessein had been washed away by the Missouri River.  By then, Moniteau County had been split away from Cole and the county seat had shifted to the City of Jefferson and Marion today is mostly an access point to the river.

Jefferson City wasn’t much of a city when the seat of government moved to it—only about thirty families.  It survived several political and legal attempts to move the seat of government or to claim the community for private ownership.  But it is still what it was designated to be in 1822—the City of Jefferson, the permanent seat of state government. 

Just had to get this off the chest after running across the Howard’s Bluff/Lohman’s Landing thing too many times in recent days. 

Big government comes to Missouri

The State Planning Board in 1937 did a study of office space requirements for state departments in Jefferson City.  Your specialist in the archaeology of forgotten information uncovered it at the State Archives during research on the next Capitol book and thought it offers context for the discussions about what government should be these eight decades later.

In this era when “big government” has become a charged phrase, this report does at least three things:

  1. It gives us a history of big government’s early development.
  2. It explains why the phrase became a necessity.
  3. It explains why shrinking “big government” is easier to say than it will be to do.

We offer this to you as a prelude to later discussions of Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence, a book that says big government is here to stay but today’s political approaches to it might be only  aggravating its shortcomings at a time when enlightened, practical steps should be taken to bring a 19th century system that worked for decades into a workable system in the 21st century. It can be interesting for those of us who are served by government programs but it might be even more useful for those who determine the directions those programs take.

The 1937 study concluded, “A new building is necessary for economy and efficiency in the operation of the State government.”   Here’s the history lesson from that report:

When the Capitol building was still under construction, the state government functions were increasing and the demand for office space likewise increased.  During the last fifty years or more, great changes have taken place in our social and economic structure.  Extensive alterations have occurred in transportation, communication, means of production, trade and commerce, and manners and customs.  New standards of civic and social responsibility have arisen and state government in Missouri, as elsewhere, has been affected and has had to keep pace with the influences of the changing world.  Today, the state occupies a different place in society than it did fifty or even twenty years ago.

Gradually, the emergency of railroads, the industrial system with its thriving cities, the automobile, corporate financing, public utilities and other products of the period confronted the state with problems of regulation and control which it had never before known.  An increase in the material wealth of the population produced a rising standard of living which, in turn, demanded a greater number and better quality of governmental services in the field of education, health, sanitation, and hospitalization of the insane and tubercular.  The awakening of a new social responsibility established institutions for the blind, the deaf, and the delinquent minors.  The automobile placed the state in the road-building business.  Problems arising from industry and urban life demanded that the state inspect mines and manufacturing plants and establish health and sanitary standards.  Decade by decade, as our society has grown in size and complexity, new services and functions have been demanded of our state.  In short, then, the state has developed into an agency for promotion of the well-being of its citizens.

The report noted the number of permanent administrative government employees in Jefferson City (excluding the legislature and the Supreme Court) had grown from fewer than 100 in 1900 to about 1,400 in 1936 because of that half-century of change in American, and Missouri, society and economy.

The first state agency to reflect that trend in an obvious way was the Highway Department. In 1907, the office of Highway Engineer was created within the State Board of Agriculture (not a department yet).  The position became that of State Highway Commissioner in 1913 and just four years after an entirely new department, the State Highway Department, was created—all in response to the rapid growth of the use of automobiles and the need for the roads for them.  In 1920, Missourians approved a $60 million dollar bond issue that started the Missouri Centennial Road Program, the state’s first major effort to create a coherent highway system.  The report reminds readers that in the space of less than fifteen years, the agency for developing the state road system had grown from one person in the office of another state agency into a “huge department” that finally had to move out of the Capitol and into its own building in 1928.

When the 1937 survey was done, twenty-two departments or parts of departments (not including highways) were housed in the capitol.  During legislative sessions they had to find temporary quarters in other buildings in Jefferson City.  Two agencies—the Public Service Commission and the now-Department of Agriculture’s laboratory, had moved full-time into the old post office/federal building that was across High Street from the present main post office.

By 1937, government had so outgrown the capitol that office space on the building’s first floor occupied 48% more space than the building’s designed capacity, the study commenting, “This has been accomplished by using as office space the cafeteria, vestibules, vault space, etc.  The second floor is seriously overcrowded.  In some rooms typists are working in such close quarter that they cannot freely operate their machines.  In one case, the fixtures in a toilet were removed and the space converted to offices.  The need for office space is so acute that it is planned to make use of other toilets for offices in the near future.

“While the legislature is not in session, certain departments expand their activities into legislative committee rooms and the Senators’ private offices.  Each time the legislature convenes, it is the same story. Departments occupying legislative quarters have to move, and each time the legislature adjourns the persons occupying rooms are besieged with requests to let this or that or other departments use the space.”  In those days, the legislature met every other year, not annually.

The Federal Works Progress Administration occupied “extensive space” on the legislative floors, including the Senate balcony.

About 2,600 square feet of space in the basement was improvised into offices that had no ventilation and no natural light.  Between sessions, ten departments or parts of departments rented space elsewhere in town.  During sessions, fifteen departments had to rent space.   More than 200 employees worked in a basement that became so polluted by exhaust gases of delivery trucks that many workers developed “sick headaches” that force them to take time away from work.

Missouri was not alone in dealing with the development of big government.  The Oklahoma State Planning Board had reported late in 1936 that Missouri was just one of 28 states considering new office buildings.

Big government had arrived—out of necessity.  It remains and it is a fact of life.  The result of that 1937 study was the Broadway Office Building.

In later entries we’ll review Kettl’s call for realistic thinking about the focus  of discussion about the direction of government.  In short, he argues without saying it: The goal is less about making government smaller than it is about making American government competent again.

Stay tuned.

Why we will elect a U. S. Senator next year

Every four years, voices are heard suggesting the Electoral College should go away and presidential elections should be decided only by the popular vote. We have come across this interesting article that struck us as a timely addition to the discussion:

“Was anything ever more absurd than the talk about the ‘direct election?’ The direct vote law passes and the happy citizen jumps up and down with joy…At last he can vote for the man of his choice. At last he can stand up a free citizen and select his own candidate…(But) when election day arrives he finds himself confronted with no rights other than to vote for one or two or more men who have named themselves, advertised themselves, exhibited themselves, trumpeted themselves, recommended themselves, impoverished themselves, and discredited themselves on the chance of securing the election.  In short, the direct vote is not half so near a direct vote as the vote which the citizen case in electing a proper delegate…Delegated authority is the best authority that can be exercised in this country.  The representation of the many by the few is absolutely the only form of possible government.  Uneducated, illiterate people are able to vote intelligently for the members of a school board whose duty it should be to select teachers.  Such voters would be wholly unfit to select teachers, but they may be very fit to select those who are fit to select teachers.  And so it is that voters are unfit to draw a tariff bill, or select lawyers, or select artists and men of science, or select soldiers but they are able to vote for men who can make such selections wisely.  The so-called direct vote…is a laughable contrivance as was ever made. It was designed for the purpose of making the…government a private snap for a few men.”

You have doubtless guessed this doesn’t quite match the discussion of voters electing members of the Electoral College who actually elect a president.  It was written about whether voters who were competent enough to elect members of the legislature who in turn would elect U. S. Senators were competent enough to do it themselves.  The Kansas City Journal ran it on March 5, 1911 at a time when a movement was well underway to give voters the opportunity to directly elect members of the United States Senate.

Direct election was “absurd” and a “laughable contrivance” then.  Congress proposed the Seventeenth Amendment a year later.  It went into effect in 1913 after ratification by the states.  The first elections nationally took place in 1914.  The first in Missouri was 1916 when former Governor William Joel Stone became our first popularly-elected U. S. Senator when he was chosen for his third term.

That’s right.  We, the people, have been electing our U. S. Senators for only 44% of our history.

Why not? Because our founding fathers didn’t trust the people at large to make such a decision.

Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution said, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof…”   The Constitutional Convention, trying to balance competing interests, decided this provision would make sure states had some control over the general government.  Author Brion McClanahan, who has looked at the intentions of the founders as they wrote the Constitution, says they intended the senate to be an “aristocratic” chamber “to restrain the potential excesses of the ‘mob’ in the House.”

Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an account in 1884 that explains that idea.  The authenticity of the story is questionable but it is often told to describe the intended differences between the House and the Senate in somewhat less antagonistic language than McClanahan uses.  Supposedly George Washington, who favored a two-chamber Congress, and Thomas Jefferson, who it is said favored a unicameral approach, were discussing the issue when Washington asked Jefferson, “Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?” When Jefferson replied, “To cool it,” Washington responded, “Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”  Critics say the conversation could not have happened because Jefferson was not at the convention but was in Paris as our Ambassador to France.  Some people who appreciate antiques have noted that the story fits better in the late 19th century than in Washington and Jefferson’s time because saucers in the 18th century were more like small bowls while the saucers in the late 19th century had become more like those we use today.

But the sentiment is the same although the story seems apocryphal.

Suggestions that the Senate membership, as the House membership, should be based on population were countered by those who felt the Senate should be a place where all states would be equal—with two members each or, as Virginia’s George Mason put it, “The state legislatures…ought to have some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the national government” and their election of the members of one of the chambers of the national government would provide that balance. James Madison felt the system meant any national law required passage by one body chosen by the people and a second body representing the states. The founders felt the Senate was the only federal part of what they called the general government.

But Madison had a cautionary statement that has resonance for some people today: “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as by the abuses of power…and that the former rather than the latter is apparently most to be apprehended by the United “States.”   He continued that the Senate could become “a dangerous preeminence in the government,” but before that could occur, the Senate would need to “corrupt itself; must next corrupt the state legislatures, must then corrupt the house of representatives, and must finally corrupt the people at large.”

A century later, the public concern about a couple of issues generated a movement to change the Constitution to allow direct election of U. S. Senators.  One of the issues was deadlocks within legislatures.  There had been times when legislatures could not agree, thus leaving some states only partially-represented in the Senate or not represented at all.

Missouri was an example.  In 1850, Thomas Hart Benton sought another term but refused to accept the legislature’s demand that he support slavery.  When the legislature met on December 30 to elect a senator, Senator Henry S. Geyer got 64 votes.  Benton got 55 and anti-Benton Democrat (the party was divided) Henry S. Geyer got 37.  Former Congressman and later Governor Sterling Price had a single vote. The deadlock remained after five days, then a week, then twelve days. Anti-Benton forces broke ranks on January 22 when Senator (later Governor) Robert Stewart took votes into the Geyer column on the fortieth ballot.  Benton still have 55 but Geyer now had 80 and became Missouri’s next U.S. Senator.

Corruption also was a concern with allegations that some elections were “bought and sold” in legislatures.

The first proposal for popular election was offered in 1826.  President Andrew Johnson strongly advocated it in 1868.  The Populist Party made it a platform issue in 1892. Oregon allowed it in 1908, then Nebraska. Ten states also were holding advisory elections to let their legislatures know popular sentiment. The U. S. House passed direct election resolutions several times only to see them die in the Senate.  Thirty-three states had created Senatorial primary elections by 1912 and twenty-seven states had called for an amendment to the Constitution.  Congress proposed an amendment that year. Missouri, on March 7, 1913, became the 30th state to ratify. Six states have never ratified the Seventeenth Amendment—Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia, but they have direct elections just like the rest of us.

So that’s why you and I and a few million others—not the legislature—will decide who will be our other U. S. Senator next year, the Founding Fathers notwithstanding.  History indicates that by then we will be so focused on that contest that the Electoral College issue will have slipped well into the background.

 

The stripes

We’ve been thinking more about our Missouri Bicentennial license plate, particularly about the wavy lines at the top and the bottom of the plate.  As the designers have noted, they represent the rivers that have been and remain important to our state.

The Mississippi River that became the eastern boundary of Missouri was for many years the western boundary of the United States, the line that separated the nation from Spanish territory.  Failure by the British to gain control of the river during the American Revolution (thanks in no small part to the 1780 Battle of St. Louis) was key to the nation’s survival and development.

The Mississippi and its tributaries—the Wisconsin, the Illinois, and the Ohio, for example—brought the first explorers and settlers to Missouri.  Father Jacques Marquette and his voyageur partner Louis Joliet followed the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers in 1673 to the Mississippi and followed the it until they encountered a “dreadful” river flowing into the Mississippi, “an accumulation of large and entire trees, branches and floating islands issuing from the mouth of the river Pekitanoui with such impetuosity that we could not without great danger risk passing through it.”  It was the Missouri, of course.

LaSalle and Tonty came down the Mississippi in 1682. It was LaSalle who envisioned a string of French settlements that would control trade with the Indians and exploit the land with mining.  He took control of the area and named it for his monarch, Louis the Great, Louis XIV.  In 1720, Phillippe Renault set up lead mines and brought the first slaves to Missouri to work them.  Etienne de Bourgmont (sometimes spelled “Bourgmond”) built the first fort in western part of the state when he put up Fort Orleans on the north bank of the Missouri a few years later in response to French concerns that Spain was coveting the territory and might mount an expedition from Santa Fe.

The Ohio brought George Morgan and his settlers to New Madrid to establish the first American settlement in this area—on the Mississippi.

Another Mississippi River tributary, which defines our northeast corner, caused thirty years of disputes about where the line should be separating us from Iowa.  The northeast corner was defined as a line that reached the rapids of the Des Moines River.  But nobody knew where those rapids were. Or are.   The dispute triggered by that search almost led to Missouri going to war with Iowa, the famous “Honey War.”   The U.S. Supreme Court finally decided the issue.

The St. Francis River, which flows from Iron County into the Mississippi about 425 miles south, was instrumental in shaping Missouri’s southern border.  When John Hardeman Walker wanted his farm in Missouri, not in Arkansas Territory. the St. Francis River became the eastern border of the Bootheel created to include Walker’s land.

Missouri’s original western border was the western side of Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Clinton, and Clay Counties until 1836 when the federal government convinced the Indians living in the area between there at the Missouri River to move west.  The Platte Purchase added six counties in an area abut the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined and extended our northwestern border to the Missouri River.  That’s how the Missouri became part of the border of—Missouri.

Most of the founding settlements of Missouri were on the rivers: Ste. Genevieve, where some accounts say people were living as early as 1722 although other accounts date the founding at 1735 and permanent settlement at 1752; St. Louis, 1764; St. Charles, 1769; Portage des Sioux, 1779, New Madrid, the first American settlement, 1789; Cape Girardeau, 1793.  When lead mining developed in eastern Missouri, one of the biggest challenges for the miners was hacking a road through the forests to get to the river to ship their lead out.

Up to the start of the Civil War, the ten most populous cities in Missouri were all along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.  St. Louis, located near the junction of the two greatest rivers, was the largest city in 1860 with 160,773 people. The population of the other nine combined equaled only one-fourth of the St. Louis number.

The importance of rivers is emphasized by the location of the state capital city.  The first state legislature determined the capital should be centrally located.  And how did those lawmakers define central location?  On the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage.  On a principle river not far from an important secondary river that linked central Missouri with the southwest, a capital city that was accessible by a network of rivers that in those days linked all areas of the state, including the northwest corner added a decade after government moved to the City of Jefferson.

The Missouri River gave us, in addition to St. Charles and Jefferson City, the now-vanished communities of Cote Sans Dessein and Franklin, as well as Hermann, and Boonville (which tried in 1831 to take the seat of government away from Jefferson City), Lexington, and eventually Westport and Kansas City, then St. Joseph—and Omaha, and Council Bluffs.

By 1820, some settlers had moved up the Osage and formed what became Warsaw and by 1831, Lewis Bledsoe was running a ferry operation on the river, near the present Truman Dam.

The great rivers brought us legends, mechanical and human—Mike Fink, the fur traders and trappers like Hugh Glass and Jim Bridger, Jed Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick and the men of Ashley’s Hundred; of the Natchez  and the Robert E. Lee and their epic race to St. Louis,  and great pilots such as Joseph LaBarge, who never lost a boat in fifty years, or Joseph Kinney, whose magnificent home called “Rivercene” is now a B&B across the Missouri from Boonville, or Grant Marsh and his steamer Far West, best remembered for setting a downstream record on the Missouri when he carried survivors of Custer’s fight on the Little Big Horn 710 miles down the treacherous river in 54 hours, and with them brought the first news to the outside world of Custer’s fate.  It’s the river of Stephen H. Long and his Western Engineer that started an epic trip west that led to the Great Plains being called “The Great American Desert” for decades.

And what would Samuel Clemens had been if the Mississippi River was not so much of his character?

And all along the courses of these great rivers, now greatly changed, there are remains of the boats that didn’t make it all the way up or down stream and took dreams and people with them, sometimes, to the bottom.   Sometimes the ribs of those boats are exposed when the dry times drop the river levels low enough.  A couple of times—with the Arabia  in Missouri and the Bertrand in Iowa—the remains are found incredibly preserved under layers of mud that used to be the river channel and amaze visitors who have never known when these rivers were the highways that developed our state and led to development of the entire western part of our nation beyond the Mississippi.

And there’s more to the heritage of our rivers—in the form of other avenues that sprang from them.  Former Missouri River ferryman William Becknell, in 1821, left Franklin for a cross-country trading expedition that opened the Santa Fe Trail that created Missouri’s first foreign trading partner and created that path that led to American acquisition a quarter-century later of the Southwest.

And from the village of Westport, the great wagon trains set out on the Oregon and California trails that extended the reach of those first river-borne Missourians to California and to the Northwest.

It was to the river town of St. Joseph, then the westernmost point on the nation’s rail network, there came one day in August, 1859 a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad who caught a steamboat at the city wharf and went further upstream to the river town of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  There he met young surveyor Grenville Dodge who was finding a cross-Iowa route for a railroad.  Dodge, just back from a Colorado trip, and Abraham Lincoln looked west and discussed the best route for a line to the Pacific Ocean.  Dodge became a Union Army officer, was wounded at Rolla, Missouri, and in the Battle of Pea Ridge that pretty much settled any hopes the Confederacy had of retaining an organized presence in Missouri. When Congress passed an act that led to the creation of a transcontinental railroad, then-President Lincoln summoned Dodge from the field to counsel him on where the line should begin.  Lincoln’s executive order in 1863 setting construction in motion established the legal headquarters of the Union Pacific in Council Bluffs and the operating headquarters across the Missouri River in Omaha.

Rivers brought the pioneers and the pioneering spirit to Missouri, and from the towns on the great rivers, new roads of dirt and steel opened the West.

It’s a small gesture to their significance that all of this is represented by some wavy lines on the Missouri Bicentennial license plate.  But it’s a significant gesture and maybe those wavy lines will encourage us to think more about those rivers that continue to shape us as Missourians and as Americans.

Special, but not a blue plate special

Your correspondent was concerned for several months that he might have to get a new car—because a proposed new license plate just wouldn’t look good.

You see, Missouri will be celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of becoming part of the Union four years from now and a special committee has been working on the design of a special Missouri Bicentennial license plate.   Some of you might have cast votes for the five original proposals:


They’re varying shades of blue. And they just wouldn’t look nearly as nice as the current white Bluebird plates look on my white car.  They’d disrupt the entire color scheme.  Indescribable angst was increasing.

A lot of people voted for the one they thought was the best of an admittedly bland lot. But in defense of the people who designed these candidates, there was only so much they could do given state laws that regulate the layout of license plates and the Highway Patrol’s preference for plates with high visibility.

State law requires the renewal stickers to be in the middle of the plate. That was done by the legislature several years ago when authorities saw an increasing number of sticker thefts, often by people using metal cutters to cut they off the corners of the license plates.  To foil the thieves, the law was changed so the stickers are in the middle.  That, of course, imposes some limits on how a new plate for general circulation can be designed.

The Patrol took these blue sample plates out on the road to test their visibility and decided the original idea of having light numbers on a dark plate wasn’t going to work.

Great news!

So the license plate commission went back to work.  And this is what most of us will have on the front and backs of our cars by January 1, 2019:

That’s so much better.

Missouri was due for a new license plate anyway.  The current design has been around since 2009 and license plates are considered to have about a ten-year life before they get bent up too much or their reflective nature gets too dull for troopers’ eyes, or other stuff happens to them.

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer of Odessa found himself being asked to sponsor the bicentennial plate bill a couple of years ago.  He had only a few days to draft the bill and get it moving in the House.  But he made it so that the plate will be available for the era that will include Missouri’s statehood bicentennial, the centennial of the dedication of the state capitol, AND the national sestercentennial, the 250th anniversary.

This plate will be the one that most of us use.  Its design will not affect those who like to have specialty plates on their vehicles—which caused us to look into how many specialty plates the state of Missouri issues.  Wanna guess (turn away from the rest of this column for a few seconds before reading on for the answer)?

This year marks for fortieth anniversary, as nearly as we can tell from a Department of Revenue list, of the first specialty license plate.  In 1977, the legislature allowed amateur radio operators and disabled veterans to have license plates with special designs.

Since then the legislature has added another two hundred and one. It almost seems as if everybody has a specialty license plate but hangnail survivors.  And that doesn’t count the separate plates for various kinds of trucks, cycles, antique vehicles, and Lord knows what else.

Imagine being a police officer trying to run a license check.  The first thing you have to do is figure out if it’s a Missouri plate.  Take a look at http://www.theus50.com/fastfacts/licenses-state.php to see how many state plates are similar.  Then imagine all of the car dealers who think they should turn your car into a mini-billboard by sticking their own license plate bracket on your car—which obscures some plate features that might make it easier to decide what state’s plate it is.   A little road dirt, too, and the poor law enforcement officer has to struggle.

Well, anyway—Missouri is getting a new license plate that calls us to remember we didn’t get to be the way we are yesterday.  It’s taken two centuries to make us what we are in the Union—and there were some years when a lot of misery was expended to determine that we’d continue in it.

The plate’s red, white, and blue motif suggests the colors of the stripes of our state flag.  The wavy lines at the top and the bottom remind us that the great rivers have shaped and defined our borders and our character and opened parts of the state for settlement.  They remain major influences today.  The state seal is in the middle, as it is in the middle of our state’s greatest symbol—the capitol.

The Missouri Bicentennial, which is being coordinated by the State Historical Society of Missouri, will afford us a chance to consider how we got to be what and who we are.  But we hope it also will afford us an opportunity to reflect on what we can be and should be in the years before a tercentennial plate is issued.

So it’s not just another piece of metal that should be on the front and back of our cars, whatever color they might be.  And the reflective nature of the plate isn’t something of value only to police officers; it’s something for all of us.