THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF '56, AND POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS AFTER THE WAR. THE COMETS OF '58 AND '61
The presidential campaign of '56 was a hotly contested affair. It was the entrance of the republican party in national affairs, with a complete ticket. Party feeling ran high and there were many spirited discussions as to the merits of the opposing candidates for the presidency and what they stood for. Buchanan was the democratic candidate and Fremont, "the Pathfinder," was the republican. Once good friends they passed one another "upon the other side." Each tried to convince the non-committal that the election of their candidate was the only salvation of the country. The republicans, of course, were anti-slavery, while the democrats, tho not really in favor of the enslavement of the black man, were of the opinion that the negro was better off in his then present situation in the south; in other words, the democrats were the "stand-patters"—the "letwell- enough-alone" people of that day. Amusing were some of the arguments advanced. Republicans insisted that "all men were created free and equal," and that among these men was the negro. The democrats would retort: "You may think so; I don't. Do you want your daughter or sister to marry a nigger, eh ?" Republicans named the Democrats "Whiskeyites" and bad citizens in general, while democrats called their opponents "nigger lovers" and "low-down trash" not fit to encumber the earth, by gad, sir. But the truth is, they were all good citizens, doing what they thought was for the best interests of their country. Defiant republicans imported a negro to town. It was the first negro that I had ever remembered of having seen, altho my grandfather, with whom I lived for a time at Zanesville, Ohio, had two negro servants in his family, having bought them from a slave block at Baltimore and given them their liberty; but I was too young at that time to remember anything about this event. The importation to the town of this "colored gentleman" created considerable excitement. In the evening there was to be a big republican demonstration, "a d—d black republican blow-out," the democrats sneeringly named it. In the afternoon there was a great parade, consisting of a lumber wagon, with horses, of course. In the wagon sat the negro, a driver, and H. A. Miles, pounding a big bass drum, and, of course, the flag of our common country was flown. While the "procession" was moving along in dignified manner, a number of democrats were lying in wait for it at the corner, where afterward a brick building was erected in which Israel Bros. conducted a clothing store. As the procession reached that corner, ancient eggs were hurled at it, besmirching the occupants of the wagon. There being no let-up to the egg-throwing, Miles leaped from the wagon and fled to a place of safety—nor did the band "play on."
But the campaign of '60 was more than a hummer. There were fist fights galore, and much good-natured bantering as well. Among the prominent republicans of that time, I remember, were Louis Case, later a county official many times and a member of the legislature, Tarbox Smeed, editor of the Waverly Republican, W. P. and Henry Harmon, 'Squire Ellsworth, Judge Avery and his brother George, G. W. Ruddick, who was judge for many years, Theodore Hullman, the merchant, Theodore Hazlett, S. H. Curtis, H. K. Swett, Caleb Morse; and upon the democratic side were Wm. O. and J. J. Smith, brothers, 'Squire Mathews, G. C. Wright, lawyer, W. P. Harris, Joseph Ellis, the then sheriff, J. C. Hazlett, Lorenz Selbig, Peter and Charles Fosselman, William Mooney, John Dunn, and whenever there was to be a democratic doings, Parker Lucas, father of Colonel Lucas, Joshua Stufflebeam, Mason Eveland, and the Bements had seats way up in front. Lincoln was elected, and then came the war, and also harder times than ever. I remember the going of the boys and their return—some of them.
After the war there were greater and hotter political gatherings than ever. Kirkwood, the great war governor, Harry O'Connor and other republican orators were brought to town to save the "country." But the finest political oration I had ever heard was by the Hon. John A. Kasson, and I have never since heard anything to equal it, altho I have listened to the platform talks of Bryan, Dolliver, Cousins, Fred Douglas, the colored orator, Doolittle and some others. Democrats had for their speakers such men as Mills and Wilson, of Dubuque, Leffingwell, of Lyons, Doolittle, of Wisconsin. Doolittle had been elected senator from Wisconsin, as a republican, but he finally "swung around the circle" with President Johnson and became a democrat. While on his way to visit a son residing at Charles City he was prevailed *upon to stop over and "address the people of Waverly and vicinity on the political issues of the day." There was an immense crowd and a procession more than a mile in length—a big one for that day and time. It was an out-door meeting and he spoke from a platform fronting the Bremer House. While he was speaking two negroes were near the platform, making sneering remarks and indulging in negro eccentricities in order to divert, if they could, attention from the orator. As I was "devil" in the Democratic News office at that time (also up to all kinds of deviltry besides, I am told), I had a seat on the platform, provided for me by George Lindley, who said that he wanted me "to hear a great speech by one of the greatest statesmen of the country." The negroes kept up their horse-play until Senator Doolittle, pointing a finger at them, said, not in an angry but a pleasant manner, "I am the man who drafted the amendment to the constitution that set you free." Those negroes slunk away like whipped pups, and the senator went on with his speech without further interruption, other than "loud applause" at intervals. Party feeling was high and bitter at that time. It pervaded social and business life. I was for a number of years with a democratic newspaper in the town, but no county officer ever gave that office a cent's worth of job printing, altho democrats were supposed to help foot the county printing bills. When Iowa had a democratic legislature, it enacted a law whereby the two newspapers in the county having the largest circulation should be given the "Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors" and be paid for the publication thereof at the rate of 33 1-3 cents a square. It has always been a mystery to me why a republican legislature failed to repeal that law, and if this had been reversed would the democrats have repealed it ? But people of today have become more tolerant, more considerate of things political. They all recognize and believe in good government and are intensely patriotic, the only difference being in the methods pursued to bring about needed reforms in the economic life of the nation. Happy is the man who can sink his political dogmas and work shoulder to shoulder 'with his friend and neighbor for the freedom of the peoples of the world.
As a small boy, I remember well the comets of 1858 and 1861. But I have a more vivid recollection of the latter than of the former. Many of the superstitious shook their heads and said it presaged war. Others declared that there was no doubt of it, because locusts had been caught with the letter "W" plainly stamped upon their backs, and some declared it meant the ending of the world. The comet of '61 was a glorious and magnificent affair. As I remember, it was a gorgeous, narrow, straight ray, and, as it swept the heavens it was a wondrous, magnificent sight. At night it dimmed the light of the moon. The length of the tail was said to have been about 15,000,000 miles. I did not measure it, but that is what astronomers said. This event is recited simply to recall it to some who may have forgotten it. And how strange it is when we hark back to those times, to find that there was so much superstition running amuck. Every little phenomenon occurring in the firmament presaged an evil omen. It was either a war, a pestilence, a poor crop year, or, upon such a day the world would disappear and mankind would be annihilated. But now we know that this fine old world of ours is a pretty substantial structure, and if it does not bump into some other planet its life is estimated by learned men at 70,000,000 years—that is to say, when the sun dies it will be all up with the world. Cold logic and scientific investigation generally explain away all superstitious notions. But whether the world, today or tomorrow wanders around in space—a black ball, as all other planets will that had received their light from the once live sun—when the orb of day arises and there is dew on the grass, we take off our hats to the glories of the morning.
A colored brother was asked what he thought of the doctrine of evolution. He said that he was not concerned about it at all. He didn't care a whoop whence he came, but was considerably worried as to where he was "gwine." And I'm thinking that is about where we all head in.
In the pioneer days the people were generally poor, insofar as this world's goods are concerned. If one owned a piano, a buggy or a carriage, he was considered to be very well-to-do. If he had a ten-thousand-dollar rating, he was wealthy. Such a one was "Speculator Smith," who was looked upon with great awe by us boys. Whenever he would be passing, someone would remark, "There goes a man worth $10,000—my, I wish I had it."
Notwithstanding the hardships and privations of these early-day people, they were a happy and contented lot, apparently. They had their corn-husking bees, dances, debating societies, and other societies and good-natured political discussions (which, I am sorry to say, at times led to knock-outs), and, like all country towns, had a brass band, "The Waverly Brass Band" being inscribed on the head of the big drum. During the war this band, under the leadership of Peter Fosselman, would get together upon the rotunda of the court house, and render all the .patriotic airs of the day. Upon a clear evening the music could be heard for miles and miles. Its sweet strains linger with me to this day, and I am wondering if Peter Fosselman is the only survivor of that band.
Times were hard. Hard money was scarce, and wild-cat currency was rotten. It was a hardship to meet taxes, as they had to be paid in gold and silver, and treasurers' sales were very large. But it is different today. The poor boys of then—a large number of them—are great, stalwart men, and many of them are wealthy, have filled places of public trust with honor and ability. Bankers, lawyers, ministers, newspaper men, merchants, doctors, mechanics, prosperous farmers are on the list. If any of them shall read this by chance, here's good luck to them!
The Waverly Democratic News was owned and edited by George Lindley, a man of tremendous mental power. He was an old-fashioned Connecticut democrat, had been a judge in that state, and during the Mexican war he held a lieutenant colonel's commission, coming from the then president. At the world's fair in St. Louis in 1860, he was the escort of the Prince of Wales about the grounds. This prince afterward became king of England, one of the strongest and best-loved men who ever sat upon the British throne. Colonel Lindley was awarded a medal for having written the best essay on the subject, "A General System of Manufacturers in and around St. Louis," if I remember the title correctly. At about, that time he wrote "Bread Corn of the World," which had a wide circulation and was favorably received by some of the greatest economists of the country. When he attacked a subject he exhausted it. In editorial debate he held his own with the best writers of the state. His body lies in Harlington cemetery at Waverly. His wit has been keen and cut like a razor. There was some trouble existing between the colonel and a druggist, whose name I do not now recall. The druggist posed as a deep-dyed-in-the-wool temperance man. This the colonel denied, and once in a while harpooned the pill man, who wrote and published in the Waverly Republican an article, the sum and substance of which was, "The All-Seeing Eye is Upon You, George Lindley." Living in the town at that time was a man of the name of Jim Eye. Lindley's reply to ,the druggist was that the all-seeing eye the druggist had reference to was Jim Eye, whom he saw leaving at the back door of the said druggist, accompanied by a bottle of whiskey. That closed the controversy.
I wonder if good old Joe Babbage still lives, moves and has his being ? If he does, here's "top of the mornin' " to him! In his day Joe was a mighty hunter. As a marksman I think he was a better shot than Uncle Sam Geddes, altho if Sam were living he would put in a vigorous demurrer to this statement. Well, if Joe is in the flesh, he will forgive a "busy fisherman" (such as I am in season) if I tell a story about him as it was told me, by that prince of story tellers, Dr. Oscar Burbank. One day Dr. Pomeroy was out in the wild and woolly Wapsie country hunting prairie chickens. The grass in that part of the country grows something less than a mile high, or thereabouts. Pomeroy lost his bearings and was wandering around in a circle, as all lost men do, when he ran across our friend Joe, who also was bent on the destruction of chickens. Joe had a revolutionary musket, ten or fifteen feet in length and it was a question as to which was the safer end of it. When it was discharged, the battle of Waterloo wasn't in it a little bit. When the doctor discovered Joe and inquired the time of day and as to his hunting luck, he also asked Joe about how far it was to town. Now, Joe at that time had an impediment of speech. "Th-th-at w-w-ay, a-a-and it's ab-b-bout, ab-b-bout—oh, d—n it, y-y-you k-k-kin g-g-git thar 'f-f-fore I k-k-kin t-t-tell y-y-you." And none will laugh more heartily over this story than will Joe, if he is still in the flesh.
Last updated 4/14/15
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