SEPTEMBER 2017

SEPTEMBER  2017
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO - STANDARD OIL. Still dominating strangling the nation, a century later.

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

HERE'S MUD IN YOUR EYE

I keep reading that the election of 1884 was one of the “dirtiest” in American history, which strikes me as saying that a sewer is dirtier than a septic tank. Still I have to admit that there was a lot of mud flung around by James Blaine and Grover Cleveland. And as usual, he who flung the most, won. Blaine got in the first shot.
The Democratic convention in Buffalo, New York ended on 11 July 1884, after having nominated hometown hero, “Honest” Grover “The Good” Cleveland. Just ten days later the “Buffalo Evening Telegraph” reported “A Terrible Tale”; that in 1874 Cleveland had an affair with a young widow from New Jersey named Maria Helpin. That September Mrs. Helpin had given birth to a son she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland (Folsom was the name of Cleveland’s law partner). According to the “Telegraph”, Maria ended up in an asylum and the poor innocent boy had ended up in an orphanage. The Republican faithful began the chant, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” 
It was a great story, and parts of it were true. But Cleveland (above) refused to panic and instructed his followers to “Just tell the truth”, which is easy to say at those rare times when the truth actually helps you. The truth was that Mrs. Helpin had affairs with several men (something that probably happened a lot more often than anyone in 1884 was willing to publicly admit), and there were several men who might have been the father of her child. Cleveland never admitted parentage. But he had supported the infant after Maria started drinking.  Later, when it became clear Maria was not going to get sober anytime soon, Cleveland had paid her $500 to give up Oscar, and the boy was adopted by a friend of Cleveland’s, and eventually ended up graduating from medical school. So, after all of those details came out, the initial Blaine attack had resulted in Cleveland sounding more honest than before. The second Blaine attack backfired even worse.
There were two “third parties” in 1884; the Greenback Party and the Prohibition Party. The Greenback Party seemed likely to hurt the Democrats most, so Blaine’s Republican supporters actually gave them money. “The Dry’s” had nominated for President John St. John (above), three time governor of Kansas. Blaine’s people were worried that St. John would siphon off Republican votes in upstate New York. They urged St. John to drop out of the race, and when he refused they spread the story that St. John had abandoned a battered wife and child in California. Again, the smear was true, sort of. After his parents had died (when St. John was 15) he had joined the ‘49ers, looking for his fortune in the gold fields. He didn’t find gold but at the age of 19 he had found a wife and fathered a child. And at his wife’s request he had “granted” her, to use the old phrase, a divorce, before returning, broke, back to to Illinois.
Like most smears this one hurt St. John the most among his most fervent supporters. Prohibitionists were always a priggish bunch of humorless unforgiving bores, and they abandoned St. John as if they had just discovered the sacramental wine was actual wine. But St. John had that other trait you often find in prohibitionists; he considered revenge a matter of principle. Knowing he now stood no chance of even winning Kansas, St. John concentrated his efforts in upstate New York, just the place the Republicans were the most worried about.
Meanwhile, James Blaine, the Republican candidate, had his own problems, with the “Mugwumps”. This was yet another group of holier than thou Victorian prigs, but these prigs were Republicans, and they had a hard time deciding whether or not to support Blaine because he was so…well, crooked. They took their name from a supposed Algonquin word for “big leader”, but it was "New York Sun" columnist Charles Dana who defined them as Republicans who had their “mugs” on one side of the fence and their “wumps” on the other. Republican commentators went so far as to imply that the Mugwumps were “effete”, or to use the 1884 vernacular, “Man millners”, or the 2017 vernacular, homosexuals.

 Meanwhile the Democrats were throwing everything they could think of at "James Blaine, the Continental Liar From the State of Maine", such as calling him "Slippery Jim". They dragged up the old charge of “Burn this letter after reading”. And the Indianapolis Sentinel even discovered that Blaine had married his wife only after her father had threatened him with a shotgun. Blaine sued for liable but the paper then produced the certificates showing the couple had been married in March, 1851 and their first child had been born less than three months later. Unheard of! A young couple had engaged in sex before they were married! Shocking!  Blaine came up with a story about two ceremonies, one private in 1850, and a public wedding a year later, but by the time he finished explaining it all, the audience had turned to the comic pages. 
But the final nail in Blaine’s coffin was supposedly driven in by the Reverend Samuel Burchard, who at a New York City Republican rally, with Blaine sitting at the dais, charged that the Democrats stood for “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”. The press had a field day, calling the phrase anti-southern and anti-Catholic, (which it was) and that by his silence Blaine had approved of it. But that last part was absurd. Blaine’s mother was a practicing Catholic. His sister was a nun. The Republicans had even been hoping to attract some Catholic votes away from the Democrats. But none of that mattered to the press, or to the Democrats who publicly organized Catholic Democratic lawyers in case they had to contest the official election results from New York. And they almost did.
In the end it is difficult to say precisely why Cleveland won and Blaine lost. The popular vote cast on Election Day, Tuesday, 4 November 1884, was four million eight hundred seventy-four thousand for Cleveland (48.5%) and four million eight hundred forty-eight thousand (48.2%) for Blaine. But as we all know the popular vote is meaningless. What counted was the Electoral College, and there Cleveland won two hundred nineteen votes to one hundred eighty-two for Blaine, giving Cleveland a 37 electoral vote victory. The difference was New York State’s 36 votes which Cleveland won by a mere 1,047 votes out of one million one hundred twenty-five thousand and forty-eight votes cast in the Empire state. I think what made those 1,047 votes so powerful were the twenty-four thousand nine hundred ninety-nine votes cast in up[state New York for Prohibitionist Party candidate John St, John. It may have been the last time a prohibitionist could proudly say, “Here’s mud in your eye” - to James Blaine, the Continental Liar from the State of Maine. 

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Friday, June 30, 2017

CONTINENTAL LIAR FROM THE STATE OF MAINE

I blame the Democrats for what happened to James Gillespie Blaine (above). At least in part. The donkies had jumped the ideology shark with their "Southern Strategy" in the run up to the Civil War, and were not present in Washington to perform their nominal job of cleaning up any rotting fruit that dropped from the Republican tree when James Blaine was first elected to congress in 1862. Nor was it James’s fault that his brother-in-law, Eben C. Stanwood, was so greedy. There is always a lot of money floating around Washington during a war, the kind of easy money even a brother-in-law could get his hands on. And James Blaine would have to have been a saint if he had not been tempted by the money to be made by manipulating the stock in the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. Of course James did not have to jump in quite so enthusiastically or so often.
The Little Rock Railroad was supposed to have been completed to Fort Smith before the civil war broke out, but it went bankrupt. And that was when Boston speculator Josiah Fisher convinced a group of investors (including the brother-in-law, Eben) to buy up the worthless stock for pennies on the dollar. It was Eben - and another crooked “investor” named Joshua Caldwell - who dangled fat sales commission checks in front of the Congressman James Blaine.  Now this was a barely started railroad, deep in the financially devastated post war rebel south. But from the second he heard about those commission checks,  James Blaine wanted in.  In fact, the Maine Congressman wrote to Josiah  Fisher on 10 September 1867, in a letter marked “Strictly Private”, “…my position will enable me to render you services of vital importance and value….I do not feel I shall be a dead head....Are you not willing to aid me (elsewhere) where you can do so with profit to yourself at the same time?”  Fisher did not reply to this crude solicitation, so evidently James paid him a visit in person. We know about the agreement they reached in private because Blaine was helpful enough to lay out the details in a second letter he wrote to Fisher, which he helpfully marked “Burn after Reading.”  Who wouldn't want to save  a letter marked that?
By September of 1869 James Blaine had sold over $130,000 in Little Rock railroad bonds (worth about $2 million today), mostly to other railroad barons, who, of course, did not need or want bonds they knew were worthless. But still, James was paid very handsome commissions for those sales. By then passengers could actually board the train in Little Rock. However the passengers were required to cover the last fifty miles to Fort Smith in a stagecoach, a 3 ½ hour living hell of dust, mud and potholes.  Not surprisingly, the railroad went bankrupt yet again, as the railroad barons knew it must. But despite the business having failed (again), Congressman Blaine was still demanding that he be “compensated” in addition to the commission checks he had already cashed. Fisher was ready to tell Blaine to drop dead,  until one of the other robber barons reminded Fisher, “…it is important that he should be conciliated…However unreasonable in his demand…he should in some manner be appeased.” So Speaker Blaine was “appeased” with loans he was not expected to repay. But Banker Fisher was not likely to forget he had been made to feel like one of the suckers of his own scam.
After serving three very profitable terms as Speaker of the House, James Blaine stepped down so he could concentrate on a run for the White House. Just think how much money he could make as President! As the campaign season of 1876 approached, he was a serious possibility. However, things had changed in Washington by then. The Democrats were back, and had captured control of the House of Representatives. That gave them the power of subpoena, and they used it to subpoena a certain Mr. James Mulligan, who was a Boston bookkeeper in the employ of Boston speculator Josiah Fisher. Remember him?
It seems that Mr. Mulligan had never burned an incriminating letter in his life. On 31 May, 1876, under the gentle guidance of Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democrat Proctor Knott  (I love that name!), Mr. Mulligan casually admitted that he had in his possession “certain letters written by Representative  Blaine to Mr. Fisher”.  Given the panicked high sign by Blaine, the senior Republican on the committee immediately moved to adjourn for the day.  That night  Blaine appeared at Mr. Mulligan’s door at the Riggs House hotel, and proceeded to chase Mulligan all over his room, begging and whining and reminding Mulligan what disgrace would mean to Blaine's poor children. Finally, because he was embarrassed and cornered, Mulligan allowed the Congressman to read the letters. But once he had his hands on them Blaine announced that since they were “his” letters, he was going to keep them, and he left with the letters safely in his own pocket.
On the floor of Congress over the next several days the Democrats demanded that Blaine hand the letters back over. Finally, on 5 June, James Blaine rose to respond in front of packed House galleries. He thundered, “I have defied the power of the House to compel me to produce these letters…but, sir,…I am not afraid to show the letters. Thank God Almighty, I am not afraid to show them.” As proof of his willingness to show the letters, he showed the letters. He waved them over his head. He did not allow anyone to read them, of course. “These are they…and with some sense of humiliation,…with a sense of outrage which I think any man in my position would feel, I invite the confidence of 44 million of my countrymen while I read those letters from this desk.” And so he did read from the letters, with commentary and asides in his own defense. The Republicans were persuaded, but the Democrats were not.
Having earlier read the letters himself, Chairman Knott (above) knew that Blaine had avoided reading certain incriminating sections of the letters, and he rose to challenge Blaine’s version. And that was when James Blaine pulled the rabbit out of his...I'll say hat. Suddenly changing the subject, he asked Knott if the committee had received a transatlantic cable from Joshua Caldwell (remember him?), supporting Blaine’s version of events. In fact Caldwell had sent such a cable. But Caldwell was a well known liar, and nobody in their right mind would believe anything he said not under oath - certainly Proctor Knott didn't. Still, that was not the question. Representative Blaine stomped right up to Proctor’s desk and accused him, nose to nose, of suppressing the Caldwell cable. Blushing, Proctor was forced to stammer that indeed they had received such a cable. The galleries erupted in thunderous applause for Blaine.
Chairman Proctor Knott himself described the challenge as “…one of the most extraordinary exhibitions of histrionic skill, one of the most consummate pieces of acting that ever occurred upon any stage on earth.” Blaine had so completely turned the tables on the Democrats that nobody except them seemed to notice that he had not, in fact, denied the basic allegations of bribery.
Still, the effort had extracted a toll on Congressman James Blaine. That Sunday he collapsed on the front steps of his church, and passed out. If he was stricken going into the church or coming out I have been unable to confirm.  Maybe God sucked all the air out of his lungs for a second, just to remind him of who was in charge. If so, Blaine failed to take the hint. Luckily, he was bedridden for several weeks, during which time the committee investigation faded until it simply evaporated. But James G. Blaine's dreams of the White House had to be put off for the time being. Of course, being one of the biggest egomaniacs of his age, he never said never. And come 1884 he would try for the White House yet again. Which is when those letters would resurface, again.
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

THE CORRUPT BARGIN

I don't think 1828 was even close to being the dirtiest political campaign in American history. It was filled with lies and insults and half truths and smears, and things which written or said in any other context would have produced a number of libel suits. But then politics has always produced despicable public behavior. The 1828 election was, however, significant for other reasons. It was the first presidential election when the majority of American voters actually had a voice in the outcome And it was the first time the Democrats boasted of having a jackass as the symbol of their party,  the first "million dollar" campaign, the first time an American political party cut a deal to sell its soul for victory, the first time the voters had a choice between investing in themselves or protecting the wealthy, and last but not least, it was one of,  if not the,  longest campaign in American history, starting four years earlier with the infamous “Corrupt Bargain” which was, in fact, just politics as it was supposed to be practiced.
See, in 1824 Henry Clay (above) of Kentucky,  wanted to be President. He was already Speaker of the House, and he had considerable political support along the frontier, which then constituted the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. But Henry knew that was not enough support, for two reasons.
In the first place the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams (above) of Massachusetts, also wanted to be President, and he had the support of the two previous Presidents, James Madison and James Monroe, both of whom had been Secretary of State like Adams, before becoming President themselves.  That is what you call a Presidential precedent. And secondly, Clay shared his regional power base with Senator, war hero and political superstar Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee. Still, Clay wanted to be President.
Senator Andrew Jackson (above) did win the most popular votes in 1824 - 151,000. Now, out of a population of about 10 million that should not have been enough to be President,  but from an electorate limited to the largest property owners in America (about 366,000 actual voters), it gave Jackson almost half of all votes cast. Almost. However the hero of New Orleans won only 99 electoral votes, thirty-two short of the number required. Adams was next, with 88 electoral votes. Clay had won only 37 electors, putting him behind even Judge William H. Crawford of Georgia, who had suffered a debilitating stroke during the campaign, but who still won 41 electoral votes. For the second time in the nation's history, the election would be decided in the House of Representatives. And did I mention that Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House?
Now, the Constitution allowed the House to consider only the three candidates receiving the most votes - in the electoral college. You might think that rule left fourth place Henry Clay out of luck, but politics is not about the rules – its about making the rules work for you. And it was obvious to everybody that a political deal was going to be required to settle this. That was the point of having an inconclusive election decided by the professional politicians. Clay saw to it that in January the Kentucky legislature ordered their 12 congressmen, originally required to vote for him for President, (above, sewing Jackson's mouth shut), but to instead vote for Adams for President. And once he became President in February of 1825, Adams named Henry Clay his Secretary of State - and thus presumably next in line to be President. That's not corrupt, children, that's politics.
On receiving the news of Adam's victory however, Jackson bellowed, “Was there ever a witness of such a bare faced corruption in any country before?!” The logical answer was, yes, of course, millions of times. And I repeat, it was not corrupt – it was just politics. But Jackson was thin skinned and convinced that any contest which he did not win must be corrupt - sort of like Donald Trump. Jackson had been christened “Old Hickory” by the militia who served under him in 1812 because of his harsh discipline (above)  and because once he made a decision he stubbornly refused to reconsider it, even after he learned it had been a mistake. And he was now convinced he had been cheated. He was confirmed in this opinion by Martin Van Buren, leader of the “Albany Regency” - the elite who ran New York State politics.
“Old Kinderhook” (he was from that upstate village) had tried to deliver his state to Crawford in 1824. But Van Buren (above) failed for various reasons – his overconfidence being the biggest one, but there was also Crawford's stroke, and a political “paltroon” named Stephen van Rensslaer who switched his vote to Adams at the last second. But now Van Buren could blame the infamous “corrupt bargain”, which luckily would also justify Van Buren now switching his allegiance to Jackson. 
He was joined by the editor of the Frankfort, Kentucky newspaper “The Argus of Western America”, Amos Kendall (above). This scarecrow with a brain had been a long time supporter of Henry Clay. But in April of 1825 a barbecue was held to honor the four Kentucky congressmen who defied party orders and insisted on voting for Jackson. They had not stopped Adams from taking the oath, but the soiree to celebrate their defiance was so well attended and enthusiastic, it convinced Kendall that Jackson was going to be the next President. The editorial slant of the Argus immediately switched sides to support Jackson.
That spring of 1826, Van Buren would make a tour through the Carolinas and Georgia to organize support for Jackson. Again, the response was so positive that even Judge Crawford, still recovering from his stroke, endorsed the hero of New Orleans for the election over three years away. At every stop, Van Buren created “Huzza Boys”, who would plant stands of Hickory trees, and hand out sticks of Hickory wood at pro-Jackson rallies. The trees did not grow well in New England's rocky soil, but its wood was popular for use as wheel spokes and ax handles, because it would break before it bent. As one biographer has noted, the public thought of Jackson as disciplined, brave, uneducated but clever, which closely matched the self image of most Americans living on the frontier.
But myth, public and personal,  was always part of Jackson's persona. In truth Jackson, although born in poverty,  had clawed his way to wealth. He was largely self educated, but was now the polished owner of a 1,000 acre plantation worked by 90 human slaves. He was a very rich man.  He built his political career attacking the Bank of the United States – forerunner to the Federal Reserve System – but he also owned stock in its Nashville branch. Still, the personality which drove him to attain his station in life, did not seem best suited for a successful career in politics. A longtime friend once warned the General's new personal secretary, “to make it a point not to mingle or associate with anyone who the General believed, was either personally or politically unfriendly to him, although he may have unfounded jealousies against individuals on that subject.”  In other words, never question Jackson's reason for hating anyone.. 
Still, despite the 13 duels he fought, Jackson engaged in none which did not benefit his reputation. The only man he is known to have actually killed in a duel, Charles Dickenson, had to call Jackson a coward, a poltroon and a worthless scoundrel in the pages of a New Orleans newspaper, before Jackson issued the challenge. In fairness, once the shooting started, Jackson's attitude was always, “I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain.” In fact Dickenson shot Jackson in the chest. Old Hickory would suffer from that bullet for the rest of his life, but at the time he ignored the wound, and a misfire, and methodically reloaded and then shot Dickenson dead.
And Jackson now had another unexpected ally, the political wild card John Caldwell Calhoun (above), who had plotted his own strange path to the White House. Once the rock jawed gambler realized his own state of South Carolina was not going to support his run for the top job, he became the only man in 1824 to have actively campaigned for the office of Vice President. It proved to be a smart move, for while the top job was mired in political machinations, Calhoun was easily elected. But his goal from the day he took the oath for that secondary office was to knock down Henry Clay, to make room for himself at the top. Calhoun called the “corrupt bargain” made by his one time friend Clay, “the most dangerous stab, which the liberty of this country has ever received.” It was an interesting observation, overlooking the Alien and Sedition Acts of a decade earlier, and signed by John Quincy’s father. But then most successful politicians have short memories.
To the supporters of John Quincy Adams this was all outrageous. Their man had not even taken the oath of office before his enemies were moving to ensure he would be, as other politicians  200 years later would insist, “a one term President”.   It was vulgar, unpatriotic, and beneath contempt. And politics as usual. You can almost share their frustration though, even when they began to refer to Jackson as “Andrew Jackass”, and an Adams newspaper published the cartoon (above)  "The Modern Balaan and his Ass", showing Jackson on a stubborn donkey and Van Buren dutifully following behind, saying, "I shall follow in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessor". 
But the reality was that it wasn't personal, except to Old Hickory of course. A number of powerful politicians simply saw greater advantage in working against John Quincy, than in working with him. And if the bargain to assemble a governing coalition for Adams was not corrupt, neither was the rebellion raised to overthrow him. The founding fathers were no strangers to the murky, disgusting side to politics. And having experienced the evils of royalty and elitism, they were willing to embrace even the dark side of public elections.

Lucky us.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I miss the old smoke filled rooms – sometimes. In the old days there were no passionate amateurs willing to bring on a political doomsday, just for the publicity. The process was dispassionate, calculated and handled by people who saw politics as a job, aided, of course, by political writers who supplied the passion in print. From such combinations, legends were born -  such as this one I shall now relate.
On April Fools Day, 1920, bland faced Ohio political manager Harry Daugherty (above) was hastily packing his bags in his room at the old Waldorf Astoria hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Into the room sauntered two reporters, seeking a quote. They taunted Daugherty on his boastful support for the turgid and mediocre Ohio Senator, Warren G. Harding. Nobody else thought Harding stood a chance of becoming President. Just who were these senators that Daugherty claimed would support Harding at the Republican Convention, come June? When Daugherty refused to take the bait, the reporters suggested he must be expecting the convention to deadlock, and the choice of candidates would become so “reduced to pulp by the inevitable vigil and travail” that a shadowy group of political managers would have to step in to save the party. Daugherty again said nothing. So the reporter went further, suggesting  that Daugherty must be expecting the managers to collapse about 2:00 A.M. in a smoke filled room. Weary of the dialog, and with a train to catch, as Daugherty grabbed his bags and walked out of the room, he finally responded. He said,  “Make it 2:11".
One of the reporters turned that one sided conversation into this quote, which he stuck into Daugherty’s mouth; “I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second or third ballot, but I think we can well afford to take chances that about eleven minutes after 2 o'clock on Friday morning at the convention, when fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary, are sitting around a table, some one of them will say, "Who will we nominate?" At that decisive time the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him, and can afford to abide by the result.”
And amazingly, that is almost exactly how it really happened. Except that the back room was a suite in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel (above)  at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balboa -  room numbers 408 through 410, with Room 404 set aside as the reception room.
The suite had been rented by Will Hays (above), the big-eared big-talking “mighty little ear of corn” from Indiana. He was the Republican National Chairman, and had hopes of being President himself in 1920, or maybe 24, or maybe 28. . And maybe the greatest compliment you can pay the professional politicians of that era is that at least they never dreamed of letting Will Hays become President.
The Republican Convention that June was officially taking place 9 blocks south of the Blackstone hotel, in the old Chicago Coliseum (above) on South Wabash Avenue. This cavern had been home to every Republican Convention since 1904. It is worth noting that the building had originally been constructed to house a prison, Richmond’s  "Libby Prison", bought lock, stock, and barrel by a Chicago candy millionaire and shipped north to form the centerpiece of a Civil War Museum. The museum went bust in 1899, and the Coliseum's owners “re-imagined” the space as a public meeting center.
It was into this den of iniquity that some 2,000 delegates and their alternates marched on Tuesday 8 June, 1920, sixty years after Republicans had first met in Chicago to nominate Senator William Seward for President, but chose instead Abraham Lincoln. That was an ominous bit of history to consider if you were General Leonard Wood or Illinois Governor Frank Lowden, as they were considered the front runners for the 1920 Republican nomination.
The dour faced Lowden (above) wanted to be president so badly that as Governor, when both houses of the Illinois state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, he had vetoed the bill -  proving again that politicians are even willing to kill people to win a few votes.
In contrast, Leonard Wood (above) claimed to have little political hunger. He was a  Medal of Honor winner who had graduated medical school and then risen to Army Chief of Staff. He said he wanted to be President out of a sense of duty.  The same lack of ambition could also be claimed by Will Hays, who had not entered any of the twenty Republican primaries held that year. But Hays still had hopes that Wood and Lowden would deadlock, and the convention would turn to the little Hoosier to beak the tie. There were in fact a number of candidates with the very same plan.
The convention finally got down to the balloting on Friday evening, 11 June, and immediately things started looking up for Hays. On the first ballot Wood led with 285 votes, Lowden showed 211, Senator Hiram Johnson, of California, a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, was third with 133 votes. Far behind was Governor William Spool of Pennsylvania with 84 votes, followed by New York’s Nicholas Butler with 69 votes and Ohio’s favorite son, Senator Warren G. Harding, who received just 65 votes on the convention floor, in part because he had lost in the Indiana primary, held right next door to Ohio. Six other candidates jointly held the remaining 132 delegates.
On the second ballot Wood gained just ten votes, while Governor Lowden’s total grew by 40. But still nobody was close to the 439 votes needed to nominate. General Wood reached his peak on the fourth ballot with 314 votes, and then his support started to slip. Governor Lowden beat him with 311 votes on the fifth ballot. Still, no one seemed to be gathering enough support to win it all. And the longer this went on, the less confidence actual voters would have in any eventual choice. So the professionals stepped in and the convention adjourned for the night. The negotiations shifted to the infamous fourth floor rooms at the Blackstone hotel.
Actually political junkies were meeting all over Chicago that night, but Hays’ rooms at the Blackstone got all the publicity because that was where Associated Press reporter Kirke Simpson was working. He was there to cover Harry Daugherty, because, as you have seen, Harry was always good for a quote, even if you had to spoon feed it to him.
Also present was George Harvey, who ran Harper publishing, and Republican Senators Wadsworth, Calder, Watson, McCormick and Lodge, Governor Smoot, political fixer Joe Grundy, and Lawyer Charles Hillers, counsel to the R.N.C., as well as his client, R.N.C. Chief, Will Hays. Their problem was that none of them could agree upon who the party should rally around, either.
It was, by general agreement, the original “Smoke Filled Room” of political legend, and the 130 pound Hays was the genial host. Even though he neither smoked nor drank himself, Hays kept the cigars lit and the booze flowing. The idea that Prohibition, which had started that January, should keep the hard working pols from wetting their whistles, was an obtuse argument in this convention of connivers and deal makers. Which is why Hays stood out so much.   “Neighbor”, he once said to Herbert Hoover, “I want to be helpful.”  It was his natural Hoosier instinct.
Harry Daugherty’s (left) natural instinct, on the other hand, was his drive for his man. He said of Harding (right), “I found him sunning himself, like a turtle on a log, and I pushed him into the water.“
Since the top three vote 'getters' were not willing to compromise with each other, the Senators at the Blackstone were now looking for “The best of the second raters.”, and Daugherty suggested that Harding was their man. Harding was willing to compromise with anybody over anything to get elected. There is no indication that anybody even mention Will Hays - not even Will Hays, who was in the room.. Or maybe he was out getting more ice.
They dispatched a small delegation upstairs to Hardings’ hotel room, where they roused the stunned Harding from his bed.  They asked him point blank if there were any embarrassing episodes in his past. Now, Harding might have said that giving a job interview while standing in his pajamas might qualify as an embarrassing episode, but he did not. He might have mentioned the child he fathered with one of his many mistresses. Or he might have mentioned his many mistresses. Instead Harding swallowed and said, “No, he had never done anything embarrassing”. He was lying of course, but that would not come out until Harding was long dead.
It wasn't as if the party managers issued orders and the party regulars fell in line. It would take five more ballots before the crowd at the Colosseum would give up out of exhaustion and hand the nomination to Harding. But as of 2:15 A.M., the decision has been made, just as the reporters in New York had written that Daugherty had predicted - if nobody seems to be winning, we will rally around Harding and make do.  What a way to pick a president! And it worked.
At 5 A.M. on Saturday 12 June, 1920, Kirke Simpston filed a story that included the following phrase, “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today.” And that is how the phrase "smoke filled room" entered the vernacular. The connotation became negative because after Warren G. Harding won in a landslide, he and his “Ohio Gang” - his buddies, including Harry Daugherty - moved to Washington D.C. and started selling everything  that wasn't nailed down.  Many of them ended up in jail, or disgraced, or at least spending a lot of the graft they had collected on lawyers.
Harding appointed Harry Daugherty (above) as his Attorney General. And after three heady years, Harry was forced to resign when his chief aide, Jess Smith, was caught taking kickbacks from bootleggers. Smith had been collecting the kickbacks for his boss, Harry Daugherty, but the professional politicians in Washington decided not to prosecute Harry.  And luckily Smith committed suicide, so Harry was allowed to just resign.  As Forest Gump might have put it, Presidents are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. Take the little ear of corn, Will Hays.
Will Hays served as Hardings’ Postmaster General. But after only one year he smelled the impending scandals, or maybe his disappointment and frustration at being ignored finally began to burn,  and he got out. In 1922 Hays took another job, running the Hays Production Code office, which set standards for on-screen morality in the Hollywood film industry. It was the Hays Commission which gave us forty years of married couples sleeping in twin beds, no acknowledgement of drug use (which had been going for several thousand years),  no adultery in marriage (ditto) without retribution, and endless stories with Sacerin sweet "Hollywood Endings". It was the Hays' Commission that turned Rhett Butler’s exit line from "Gone With the Wind"" into a major social crises, even though the line had already appeared in one of the most widely read books in America.  Mr. Hays had built his entire career selling smoke and mirrors, and he was not going to get out of that business just because he had gotten out of politics.
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