by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
What were New Hampshire residents thinking about 120 years ago? Like this year of 2016 the year 1896 was an election year. An editorial page observation of The Belknap Republican newspaper of that previous year awakened the curiosity part of my brain into a pursuit of answering that question. The media of 1896, being either a revealer or instigator of what was important to people, provided me with some of my answers.
The editor of the above named weekly Lakeport newspaper , L.M. Gould, wrote about an unnamed “gentleman” who had a plan to deal with what he perceived to be a do-nothing Congress, a plan that involved running the country’s government like a business. His plan began with doing away with the two houses of Congress, that of the Representatives and the Senate which were seen as “… passing whole winters in a complete deadlock sometimes, spending the people’s money without doing a stroke of real legislation.”
This was published in January of 1896, and I don’t know what the 54th Congress did that winter, but my research found that they did pass some legislation in the Spring of 1896, including the Oil Pipe Line Act which granted “ right of way over the public domain for pipe lines in the states of Colorado and Wyoming” – pipe lines for the transport of oil. Congress also passed the Married Women’s Rights Act which provided women in the District of Columbia the right to own property and conduct business independently of their husbands. Then there was The Cheese Act which defined cheese as a milk or cream product without other oil and fat additives and charged manufacturers of “filled cheese” $400 a year and the wholesale dealers of such $250 a year.
The man who wanted to get rid of Congress would replace it with a board of 25 men elected by the voters. “ Every citizen should have 25 votes, casting them for whom he pleased…The board of 25 would legislate, not for any one section or state, but for the whole Union, all the people.”
Immigration was a topic of interest in New Hampshire papers of 1896. A resolution was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by a Connecticut member proposing an inquiry into the matter of immigration as to whether it was time to stop immigration entirely. The Lakeport newspaper editorial page stated “The time has certainly come when we should investigate much more closely the character of the immigrants. With the return of prosperity foreigners will land upon our shores in larger numbers than ever.” The writer added “It will need all our powers of assimilation to make over the immigrants and their families that we have already with us. Let us keep future hordes out. Let us give the natives a chance.” In the year 1892 New Hampshire Senator Chandler had proposed a ban on immigration for a year with the purpose of keeping out undesirable people.
A record amount of money was spent on the Presidential election of 1896 which was won by Ohio governor William McKinley. His campaign was managed by businessman Mark Hanna who was very successful in raising money and obtaining votes. So successful were the Republican’s efforts that the Democrat leaders determined that they would use their opponent’s methods to defeat them in the next election. McKinley would win again in 1900 with Hanna as his campaign chairman. Hanna, however, was not fond of the man who became the vice-president, one Theodore Roosevelt. Hanna called Roosevelt a “madman”, but McKinley was assassinated and the “madman” became the President.
Another issue that New Hampshire citizens may have been thinking about in 1896 was the decision of the attorney general of the State of Minnesota that “…the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools is a violation of the constitution.”
New Hampshire’s members in Congress in 1896 (before the election) were Cyrus A. Sulloway and Henry M. Baker in the House of Representatives and William E. Chandler and Jacob H. Gallinger in the Senate. The Senate President in 1896 was Adlai Stevenson I of Illinois and the Speaker of the House was Thomas Reed of Maine, who proved to be a strong and persuasive leader.
So there you have it. Congress being criticized for doing little, concern about immigration policy, the issue of big money in political campaigns, separation of church and state, women’s rights, pipe lines, food additives, and a future United States President being described as a madman by an establishment leader in the same political party. So what else is new since 1896?