Simultaneously with these activities in Cleveland I was conducting a State wide campaign – the inevitable and logical result of earlier canvasses in behalf of the central principle round which all our agitation revolved, viz., just taxation. The greatest privilege monopolists own is the privilege of making other people pay their taxes for them. It is not small job to hammer that truth into the consciousness of a people whose favorite maxim seems to be, “Let well enough alone,” and who apparently regard whatever is, as “well enough.”
Our attempt to make some impression on the county auditors’ tax boards, after showing up the low assessment of railroad property, has already been described. Occasionally we got an auditor to vote with us but we really made no headway. Then I started over the State, attacking county auditors and showing up their methods, and those of the railroads.
Of course, this kind of campaigning was making me as obnoxious to the machine Democrats of the State as I was to the service corporations in Cleveland. In 1901 there was little difference between the methods or the aims of the Republican and Democratic parties in Ohio. Friends of the Standard Ohio Company contributed to the campaign funds of both. In Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo, Privilege depended upon the local bosses of the two leading political parties to join forces whenever such alliance was necessary to its service. In lesser degree this coalition of Democrats with Republicans for the benefit of Big Business existed in smaller places too, but in these larger cities it was quite open and shameless. I was very plain to me that the first thing we had to do was to clean house. There was no hope in the Democratic party so long as it could be manipulated by political crooks. In 1902 we were able to write the State platform and it contained demands for home rule, just taxation and a two-cent-a-mile steam railroad far. Herbert S. Bigelow of Cincinnati, a student of sociological problems and an able advocate of the single tax was nominated for Secretary of State. This was before the introduction of biennial elections and before all the state officers were elected at one time. It was not a gubernatorial year. I traveled over the State in an automobile speaking from it, in halls or from the steps of public buildings in the day time and usually in a tent at night, having the tents sent from place to place by wagon train. Mr. Bigelow accompanied me and proved to be a good campaigner. Home rule and railroad questions were our principal issues.
At a tent meeting, in Crawford county I think it was, word came to me that eight Democrats in the State legislature (then sitting in Senator Hanna’s extra session, the one which enacted the municipal code), notwithstanding their platform pledges had voted for a curative law which had for its object the saving of a franchise granted to a street railroad in Cincinnati operated by the Widener-Elkins Syndicate under the Rogers law of 1896. Grants made under this fifty-year law were beginning to be questioned in the courts, so the legislature in an attempt to save the public service corporations passed this curative act. I at once announced that I should go into the counties of the eight Democratic legislators who had voted for this measure (I was speaking in the home county of one of them that night), and denounce them to their constituents as unworthy of trust, and that if any of them ever dared to run for office again I should defeat them if it was in my power to do so.
This pledge I made good. My bitterest fight was against W. H. Earhart of Richland county. When he became a candidate for renomination in the spring of 1903 I made a quick automobile tour of his county speaking in every town, village and hamlet and scattering literature broadcast. I was charged with violating my own principle of home rule. I answered, “I stand for home rule. If I advocated the election of a county official whose jurisdiction was confined to party lines I might be open to criticism, but I am here to give reasons why a legislative candidate should not be elected. The legislature is a State office in which the legislators pass laws for Cuyahoga county as well as Richland. The situation is not so secret or so sacred that it should not be open to the public to hear about it.”
My opening meeting was at Mansfield, the county seat, where I had been warned that I would be egged when I appeared on the Opera House stage. Though I inquired for the eggs as soon as I got up to speak none came at that meeting or any other. Earhart was beaten at the primaries.
In one of the other counties, the home of Representative Wells, another of the faithless eight, I was approached by the local managers in the fall campaign of 1903 and importuned not to mention Wells’s name on the plea that he was for the State ticket and nothing was to be gained by raking up old scores. As I was the candidate for governor, they no doubt felt sure their persuasions would prevail. But I kept my word and devoted part of my speech to Wells’s record.
So far as I know not one of these eight men, “black sheep” we called them, has ever dared to show his head in politics since and Wells alone of the whole number came to one of my meetings though I visited the home counties of all of them and invited them to come.
We didn’t elect our State ticket in 1902, but we made big gains in the counties where our campaign was waged hardest and we carried Cuyahoga county.
Our fight to elect honest and intelligent members of the State legislature may be said to have been continuous. In the summer of 1903, and before the State convention, I participated in the legislative campaigns of a number of counties. The election of a United States Senator was the important question to come before the next legislature and Mr. Hanna was a candidate for reelection.
The Democratic State Convention met at Columbus August 25 and 26. I was a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination, not because I thought it likely that the Democrats could elect a governor but because I believe I could make a more effective campaign as a candidate than as a free lance, and because I had been persuaded that my name might lend some strength to the legislative ticket. The boss-ridden element from Cincinnati didn’t want me and sent a contesting delegation so too a group in Cleveland – discharged city employes for the most part – were gathered into an eleventh hour rump convention managed by an attorney for the gas company, and elected delegates to Columbus. By noon of the second day, however, all open opposition had disappeared and I was nominated by acclamation, August 26.
Our platform declared for Home Rule and Just Taxation, the Initiative and Referendum, the City’s Right to Own and Operate Public Utilities if the people desired, Franchises to be submitted to Vote, Two-Cent-a-Mile Steam Railroad Fare, and against Government by Injunction, Waiver of Injury Claims by Employes, Acceptance of Passes by Public Officials, Fee System in County Offices. The platform was denounced as “communistic” by members of our own convention in a minority report.
Immediately following my nomination I called upon all who did not believe in the principles we were advocating not to vote for me. I invited all the crooks and thieves within the party to get out of it. If ever a campaign was fought on platform issues and not on the personality of any of the candidates that campaign was so far as our side was concerned. We carried our educational propaganda into nearly every county of the State, following the same line of campaigning that I had instituted the year before traveling by automobile and shipping the tents from town to town by rail. The great questions were, home rule, equitable taxation and the unholy alliance between the Republican party and the owners of Privilege in the State of Ohio.
It is quite unnecessary to state that the public service corporations contributed nothing to the Democratic campaign fund that year. From the Columbus convention I went to Noble county, the home of State Auditor Guilbert who had ordered our Cuyahoga county auditor, Mr. Wright, to cease probing the tax records of five public service corporations in Cleveland, and spoke August 27 to several thousand people at the county fair. I got home August 28 – that was the day we announced the election on the bond issue for the municipal lighting plant which we expected to hold September 8, and I announced also that the State Democratic campaign would be opened the day after our special election.
On August 29 I addressed a very large crowd at Silver Lake – a picnic resort a few miles from Akron, — the home of a manager of the State Republican campaign, Senator Charles S. Dick. Colonel Myron T. Herrick, the Republican nominee for governor, a Cleveland banker, mentioned in the early chapters of my story, had been invited to attend the meeting also but did not put in an appearance. The next day I filled two dates for Mr. Bryan at Oak Harbor and Toledo, respectively he being unable to make these places.
September 1, 2 and 3, we held meetings in Cleveland in the interests of the municipal lighting project, as has already been stated. On September 6 I served for the second time in my life as a police court judge, being called upon because practically all the qualified officers were away on their vacations. I tried forty-seven individual cases. The next day was Labor Day, and after reviewing the industrial parade with twenty-two thousand marchers in line, I left by automobile for Sandusky where I had an engagement for the next day. On the next, September 9, we opened the State campaign at Akron where Honorable John H. Clarke, the Democratic candidate for the United State Senate and I spoke to a crowd estimated by the newspapers at seven thousand. From that time until the night before election I spoke every day with the exception of Mondays (Monday being my day off so that I might always be in Cleveland for the meetings of the city council), and about four days in mid-October when my voice gave out and I was obliged to cut a few meetings. The campaign was a most aggressive one. It opened in the hottest of summer weather. Before it closed there were cold rains and a blizzard or two. We traveled through mud and wet, sometimes speaking while drenched to the skin. I spoke from four to seven times daily, and once seventeen times in one day, always winding up with a tent meeting at night and traveling by automobile except when the roads were so bad that we had to resort to horses and a surrey for short trips.
I addressed all kinds of meetings – family reunions, farmers’ picnics, small groups of people hastily gathered together at a country cross roads and to thousands and thousands in the tents, — the number at one meeting alone reaching eighteen thousand, and crowds of one thousand to five thousand being not uncommon.
I made that whole campaign without once mentioning in my speeches the name of my opponent, Colonel Herrick. Our fight was not against Herrick but against Mark Hanna. When the Republicans opened their campaign a little while after we had been going the interest grew more intense. At that meeting Senator Hanna picturesquely denounced me as a “carpetbagger followed by a train of all the howling vagrants of Ohio with a crazy quilt ticket and pretending to stand upon a Populistic, Socialistic and Anarchistic platform.” The campaign slogan of “Stand pat” was worked into many doggerel rhymes set to popular airs and at first no effort was made to meet the real issues. Personalities, campaign songs, red fire and brass bands were the weapons of the enemy.
Both in city and State campaigns I always discouraged brass bands, red fire and the usual artificial paraphernalia of political contests. We relied entirely on the merits of the questions we were presenting. The cost of tent and other meetings and of literature represented our outlay. The absence of funds for other expenditures offended the old-fashioned Democratic politicians. They believed campaigns couldn’t be won without money, and the other side certainly demonstrated that they could be won withmoney. But we were not fighting for the day, nor for that year only. We were really breaking ground for the clean campaigns of the future.
Mr. Clarke and I were eager to debate with Senator Hanna but neither he nor any of his associates would accept our challenges. As the campaign progressed the Republican speakers were compelled to discuss the issues to some extent and then it was that Senator Hanna set up the time-honored scarecrow of “Socialism.” Said he, “The moral features of this campaign are paramount. This is because the Socialist party strikes at the home. And here I want to cry out the warning that the Socialist party of the United States has for the first time a national leader. Yes, I charge that Tom L. Johnson is the national leader of the Socialist party. I beg of you to rise and kill the attempt to float the flag of Socialism over Ohio. We invited to this country people from foreign shores who are ambitious and industrious, but we do not invite from foreign shores men imbued with the desire to get something for nothing. Socialism is only a short step from anarchy and you should rise up and suppress it if for no other reason than that our late lamented president, the honored McKinley, was a victim of that damnable heresy . . . A vote for Johnson is a vote for chaos in this country . . . Socialists like thieves steal up behind to stab.”
These sentiments no doubt had their influence in the campaign, but I think they did not scare the common people as much as Peter Witt’s “picture talk,” scared the privileged crowd. They had the newspapers of the state with them and made the most of this advantage. We had just three newspapers of any consequence on our side. We had no money, we had alienated a lot of professed Democrats, we were fighting the most successful organizer and the biggest money-getter for political purposes then in public life in America. And yet, it was not Hanna, the man, that we were fighting, but Hanna the representative and defender of Privilege. In those days there could be but one result in such a contest. When the election returns came in we were beaten, if one counts defeats by votes which I didn’t , for when I was asked on election night when the next campaign would begin, I answered, “to-morrow.”
In large headlines the newspapers proclaimed the death of Democracy in Ohio and of the non-partisan movement in Toledo, Mayor Jones having supported us and his forces having suffered serious rout. But the non-partisan movement wasn’t killed, nor was the Democratic party, as future history was speedily to prove. The principles we advocated in that campaign were just as true at its close as they had been at the start, and some of them have since been splendidly vindicated. In spite of the big Republican majority we made gains in many Republican counties and later events prove that these gains had a very wholesome significance.
Looking back on that campaign now we can almost say that we weren’t beaten for since then Ohio has enacted into law many of the things we fought for.
The changes in the tax laws as they affect steam railroads, the abolition of the pass, the two-cent-a-mile steam railroad fare, as also the substitution of a local quadrennial board of appraisement for the old decennial appraisers have already been mentioned. In addition to these, municipalities now have the referendum on street railway franchises so a corrupt city council can no longer make a street railway grant worth the paper on which it is written for the voters have the power to veto it; some of the powers of mayors taken away by the Cincinnati code have been restored; the fee system in county offices had been abolished.
It is true that most of these measures have been enacted into law by Republican legislatures, but they have come largely as a result of our agitation. Some of the most important were introduced by Democrats from Cuyahoga county and lost; only to be introduced and carried later by Republicans; as for instance the measure for the taxation of public service corporations which Frederic C. Howe worked so hard to carry while he was a member of the senate.
The success of these activities is not here put forward as a boast of personal achievements in any sense. It is used simply as a practical illustration of the claim made in the opening paragraphs of this story that Truth once set in motion along any line is foredoomed to victory.
This cannot be reiterated too often.*