Main Body

Chapter IX. Some Personal Incidents and Stray Observations

Chance was responsible for my tent meeting campaigning. Once in one of my early Congressional campaigns when I wanted to have a meeting in the eighteenth ward in Cleveland there was no hall to be had. A traveling showman has a small tent pitched on a vacant lot and someone suggested that it might be utilized. It had no chairs but there were a few boxes which could be used as seats. Very doubtful of the result we made the experiment. It cost me eighteen dollars, I remember. After that I rented tents from a tent man and finally bought one and then several.

The tent meeting has many advantages over the hall meeting. Both sides, I should say all sides, will go to tent meetings – while as rule only partisans go to halls. Women did not go to political meetings in halls in those days unless some especially distinguished person was advertised to speak, but they showed no reluctance about coming to tent meetings. In a tent there is a freedom from restraint that is seldom present in halls. The audience seems to feel that it had been invited there for the purpose of finding out the position of the various speakers. There is greater freedom in asking questions too, and this heckling is the most valuable form of political education. Tent meetings can be held in all parts of the city – in short the meetings are literally taken to the people. It was not long after I got into municipal politics in Cleveland before the custom of tent meetings was employed in behalf of ward councilmen as well as for candidates on the general ticket, and they too were heckled and made to put themselves on record. The custom of heckling is the most healthy influence in politics. It makes candidates respect pre-election pledges; forces them to meet not only the opposition candidates but their constituents.

But the greatest benefit of the tent meeting, the one which cannot be measured, is the educational influence on the people who compose the audience. It makes them take an interest as nothing else could do, and educates them on local question as no amount of reading, even of the fairest newspaper accounts, could do. I do not believe there is a city in the country where the electorate is so well informed upon local political questions, nor upon the rights of the people as opposed to the privileges of corporations, as it is in Cleveland. Detroit and Toledo probably come next. The tent meeting is largely responsible for this public enlightenment of the people of Cleveland.

The one disadvantage of the tent is that it is not weather-proof. And yet it was seldom indeed that a meeting had to be abandoned on account of rain. Great audiences came even on rainy nights and our speakers have frequently spoken from under dripping umbrellas to good-natured crowds, a few individuals among them protected by umbrellas but many sitting in the wet with strange indifference to physical discomfort.

At first my enemies called my tent a “circus menagerie” and no part of my political work had been so persistently cartooned; but when they employed tents somewhat later they called theirs “canvas auditoriums.” The adoption of the tent meeting by these same enemies or their successors may not have been intended either as an endorsement of the method or as a compliment to my personal taste, but I can’t help considering it a little of both.

In my 1894 canvass for Congress at the first meeting held in a new tent, an incident occurred which brought me into contact with one of the bravest and most resourceful fighters against special privilege that it has been my good fortune to know.

The meeting had proceeded only a few minutes when about a third of the audience set up a call for “Peter Witt,” and the name was cheered lustily two or three times.

I had never heard of Peter Witt, but ten minutes later in response to my customary invitation for questions an angry, earnest man, with flashing eyes and black locks hanging well down on one side of his forehead, rose in the center of the tent and shaking a long finger at me put a question in the most belligerent manner imaginable. I knew that the man the audience had been cheering for stood before me. I disregarded his question and asked with all the friendliness I could summon,

“Are you Mr. Witt?”

With scant civility he half-growled, half-grunted an affirmative answer, and I continued,

“Since you seem to have so many friends here, and in a spirit of fair play, I would be glad to share the platform with you. I do not like to see you at the disadvantage of having to speak from the audience.”

There were mingled shouts of “Come on, come on!” and “Speak where you are!” from the crowd, and the angry young man was literally forced to come forward.

"Chance was responsible for my tent meeting campaigning."
“Chance was responsible for my tent meeting campaigning.”


The time consumed and the difficulty encountered in stumbling over camp chairs through the crowd and up onto the platform worked a change in Mr. Witt’s manner. Fully half his steam had escaped and there wasn’t much of his venom left when I grasped his hand. So little of kindness had come his way that he was not prepared for the warm reception and cordial introduction to the audience which I gave him.

Peter Witt was an iron molder by trade and the things he had suffered because of the brutalities of our industrial system had made him hate the system and long to free his fellow workers from its baneful power. His regard for his struggles, his sacrifices and his passionate devotion to the common good had been – to use one of his own expressions – “the blacklist of the criminal rich and the distrust of the ignorant poor.”

Believing the Populist party offered more hope of relief than any other political organization he had allied himself with it, and I afterwards learned that the demonstration in my tent meeting was a preconcerted plan on the part of the Populists to capture that meeting. They didn’t capture the meeting, nor did we capture the Populist orator for not during that campaign did Witt let up in his fight against the Democratic ticket, nor would he admit any change of feeling towards me personally. But he has fought with me, not against me, in every campaign I have since been in, and one of the strongest friendships of my life commenced that night when I welcomed Peter Witt to my platform. His sphere of influence was widened since then, and also his circle of friends, for many men, at first repulsed by his seeming bitterness, coming later to understand his sterling qualities, his sturdy honesty his unswerving fidelity to principle, became his friends. Among them he may count some high priests of Privilege for these are human like the rest of us and being human they admire rugged honesty and genuine courage more than anything else in the world.

The year after I left Congress I got rid of my street railway properties in Cleveland and a brief history of the last days of my operations there is necessary to an intelligent understanding of the street railway war which occupied Cleveland’s attention during most of my nine years as mayor.

In the latter part of March, 893, the Everett road, the lines operated by the Andrews and Stanley interests and our company consolidated. In April of the same year Mr. Hanna took in the cable road. All the street railroads of the city were now in these two companies. The newspapers called the first the Big Consolidated, and the second the Little Consolidated which common parlance soon shortened to the Big Con and the Little Con; and when the Big Con and the Little Con consolidated ten years later, in 1903, the Concon was the result.

The Big Con controlled sixty per cent. of the business and the Little Con forty per cent. In the organization of the Big con I sided with the Andrews-Stanley crowd in electing Horace Andrews president of the company. The Everett interests would have liked to elect Henry Everett to that position. My brother Albert was a member of the board of directors of which I was chairman.

In the first days of the consolidation when we who had been fighting each other so long were in daily communication and occupying the same offices a good many amusing things happened. Mr. Everett and a man who had been associated with him were having a quiet little meeting every day, for instance, and seemingly getting a great deal of pleasure out of some figures they were examining. By and by I became curious to know what these daily meetings were about and when I asked Mr. Everett he showed me with great glee figures which proved that their property had appreciated in value much more than mine since the consolidation. The increased earnings were coming from their lines, not ours. He was quite jubilant about it.

“Aren’t all the companies sharing equally in the profits of consolidation?” I asked.

“Why, of course,” he answered.

“Then,” I said, “I don’t see how you have got it on us any. Your lines are making the profits for the others. I guess I’ll take your figures and show ’em to my people so they can see just how good a deal I made.”

That phase of the matter had actually never occurred to him. He didn’t get any enjoyment out of comparative figures after that.

There was always a good deal of antagonism between Mr. Everett and me, and as we held the balance of power either of us could make the other uncomfortable by voting with the Andrews-Stanley crowd, as I did when I helped elect Mr. Andrews president, instead of voting for Mr. Everett.

Once the Everett interests planned as a joke that at the annual meeting they would see that my election as a director was made by a smaller vote than that given for any other officer. The thought it would be great fun to let me in by the barest majority, thus making it appear that I was persona non grata on the board. Somehow the plan leaked out and I learned of it.

The day of the meeting came. I was on hand with my votes, about one-third of the whole number. When the votes were counted I had received more than anybody else.

When it dawned upon the other directors that I had cast all my votes for myself and none for anybody else, they made me pay for my fun by giving them a big dinner. I put up a dummy ticket too with Mr. Everett’s name at the head and distributed a few of my votes on this ticket. The newspapers the next day in reporting the meeting said that “the Everett ticket was badly beaten” and it would have taken more than a dinner to appease the indignation this caused.

One day Mr. Hanna came to me and said, “Well, Tom, now that you’ve all consolidated, you and I might as well take up some old matter of dispute between us and get them settles.”

“Certainly!” I answered, “that’s a good idea. By our consolidation agreement all disputes are to be referred to the president, so all you have to do is to see your friend Horace Andrews.”

Mark Hanna’s methods were to those of Horace Andrews as quicksilver is to winter molasses. He knew it and he knew that I knew it. He gave me one look and delivered himself vigorously of two words by way of reply. I understood his language. I am quite sure those differences he spoke of haven’t been adjusted to this day.

I sold all my Cleveland street railway interests in 1894 and 1895 and never afterwards had any pecuniary connection with street railroads in that city.


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