Thursday, December 29, 2016

Glen H. Taylor: Civil Rights Cowboy

Glen Hearst Taylor earned a reputation as one of the most peace-loving people to serve in the Senate, but he could still exhibit sudden flashes of temper when provoked. So when he felt a man had insulted him on Election Day in 1946, Taylor responded by punching the offender in the face.

The election marked a downturn for the Democratic Party after many years of dominance in the nation's capital. Riding the wave of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's popularity, the party had gained control of both the House of Representatives and Senate in 1932 and maintained a majority in Congress ever since. With the end of World War II, and Harry Truman proving to be a less popular President that the late FDR, the Republicans won back both chambers in 1946.

The Democratic Party's state headquarters in Idaho were located near the Boise Hotel, where the GOP was celebrating a sweep of the congressional races. An incumbent Democratic congressman, Compton I. White, narrowly lost to Republican challenger Abe Goff. John C. Sanborn easily held the state's other House seat after Representative Henry C. Dworshak opted to run for the Senate instead. Dworshak defeated Democratic candidate George E. Donart in the Senate race, leaving Taylor as the only Democrat to represent Idaho in Congress.

Although not up for re-election, Taylor had vigorously advocated for Donant during the lead-up to the election. Somehow, Taylor crossed paths with Ray McKaig, a Republican leader and legislative committeeman for the Idaho Grange, in the lobby of the Boise Hotel. Both combatants gave wildly differing accounts of what happened next. Taylor said McKaig called him an obscene name in the presence of his wife. McKaig protested that he was only "twitting" Taylor, although he would also claim that he "never said a word."

Taylor admitted that he "instinctively" threw a punch at McKaig after being insulted, but pulled it before he could do any harm. McKaig then struck Taylor in the face, bloodying his nose. Taylor didn't pull his next punch, hitting McKaig hard enough to lay the GOP leader out on the hotel floor, breaking his jaw and causing his dentures to cut his lips.

In giving his version of the brawl, Taylor said McKaig had provoked him. "McKaig called me a foul name," he said. "I can take the Democratic defeat, but I couldn't take that." He also accused McKaig of breaking his nose after he pulled his first punch, after which he was "dancing excitedly in front of me, waving his arms and shouting, 'Come on!'"

 McKaig hospitalized with a broken jaw (Source)

McKaig, speaking to reporters with a plaster cast on his jaw about a week after the incident, said Taylor had blindsided him with the punch and kicked him while he was down. He accused the senator of making up the story about the broken nose after he "found out it was not popular to kick me in the face."

Taylor would never be criminally charged for assaulting McKaig, but the GOP leader would continue to hold a grudge for many years after. When Taylor lost the Democratic nomination for Senate in 1950, McKaig reportedly cabled him with the message, "You may have broken my jaw, but I just broke your back!"

When Taylor was arrested two years after the incident in Boise, he was thousands of miles away from Idaho and had been chosen as a vice presidential candidate for the year's election. He had also deliberately provoked the arrest to challenge racist policies in the South.

A theatrical youth

One of 13 children of an Oregon minister, Taylor was born in Portland on April 12, 1904. His father, John, preached in mining camps across the West. He usually incorporated the children into his services, having them do musical or theatrical performances to make the religious element more appealing. The family settled on a 160-acre homestead near Kooskia, Idaho, when Taylor was still a child.

The permanent home helped Taylor get a more formal education, but he only attended the public schools until he was 12. At that point, he left to seek employment and help supplement his father's meager income. For a time, he helped herd sheep to their summer pasture. A year later, he joined his brother E.K. Taylor to run two small movie theaters he owned in Kooskia as well as the nearby town of Stites. After his father fell ill during the influenza epidemic, Taylor took a job as a sheet metal worker's apprentice to again help support his family.

The theatrical elements of their youth had inspired at least some of Taylor's siblings to get into the performing arts, and at the age of 17 he joined his oldest brother, Ferris, to be part of his traveling vaudeville act. He again traveled the western United States, this time as part of the Taylor Players. Not long after, he briefly married and had a daughter. However, the relationship quickly fell apart due to Taylor's transitory nature. In 1945, while Taylor was a senator, his first wife charged him with desertion and tried to win back payments for the support of her and their child. The matter proved embarrassing to Taylor, but he turned the matter over to his attorneys and was absolved in court.

Vaudeville was a slowly dying form of entertainment, as movies became more popular among the population. When a fire destroyed the Taylor Players' tent and wardrobe, they had no opportunity to recover. The company disbanded, with each member going their own way. Taylor worked odd jobs before finding permanent employment with the Slade Musical Comedy Company. During a performance in Montana, he fell in love with an usher named Dora Pike; the two were married in 1928.

The couple formed their own vaudeville company, dubbing it The Glendora Players as a portmanteau of their names. They used a similar trick when naming their first child, a son born in 1935, simply spelling the name of the boy's mother backwards to make Arod.

The company struggled under the dual challenges of the declining popularity of vaudeville and the financial hardships of the Great Depression. Income was variable, since admission to see The Glendora Players was whatever audiences were able and willing to pay. In some cases, they accepted donations of vegetables and live chickens.

The Glendora Players, with Glen, Arod, and Dora in the front row (Source)

Taylor may have continued this hardscrabble life had it not been for a chance encounter with politics. While going to a theater in Driggs, Idaho, to see the manager about booking the venue for a performance, he discovered that Governor C. Ben Ross was giving a speech. Taylor observed that he shared several qualities with "Cowboy Ben," then running for a Senate seat as a Democrat. Ross was a good speaker, had excellent comedic timing, and easily made friends with people he met. Taylor figured it wouldn't be too hard to put his performing skills to use to try to earn a place in Washington.

Once he became more committed to the idea of running for office, Taylor began to study politics and economics. He was particularly interested in how the Great Depression had happened and how to prevent a similar economic crash in the future. He took most of his inspiration from The People's Corporation, written by razor magnate King Camp Gillette with assistance from prominent Socialist Upton Sinclair, as well as Stuart Chase's A New Deal, which helped inspire FDR's economic relief programs.

Taylor tried to organize farmer-laborer parties in Nevada and Montana in 1935, but without success. He also contemplated whether the Socialist or Communist parties were a good fit for his economic views, but finally decided that FDR and the Democrats were the best way to move the country forward. Since Taylor had little chance of qualifying for public office as a nomadic showman, he settled with his family in Pocatello, Idaho.

"Wholly uneducated and wholly unfitted"

When Taylor launched his first national campaign in 1938, he employed an unorthodox campaign strategy. He had learned to play the guitar and banjo, and incorporated country-Western tunes into his performances. He now used this image to appeal to the voters of Idaho, crooning ditties on his campaign stops and in radio appearances. He also presented the full cowboy image, wearing a ten-gallon hat and riding a horse. Taylor ran for the House of Representatives in an open Democratic primary, but was a relatively unknown figure and finished fourth.

In 1940, Taylor got an early opportunity to run in the year's election. Senator William E. Borah, a Republican who had represented Idaho in Washington for more than three decades, suddenly died in his sleep on January 19 at the age of 74. The Republican governor, Clarence A. Bottolfsen, appointed former GOP senator John W. Thomas to fill the vacancy pending a general election.

Governor Bottolfsen in his office (Source)

Using the same tactics he had employed in the 1938 race, Taylor won an unexpected upset in the Democratic primary. The party had underestimated his populist appeal, considering him to be little more than a joke. But when the ballots were counted, Taylor had bested George Donart and judge James R. Bothwell to be the party's candidate for the Senate. Angered by Taylor's victory, the Democratic Party offered little in the way of support or financing for the November campaign.

Opponents also found Taylor to be an easy target. He held very liberal views, expressing criticisms of the profit system and arguing that companies should be trying to ensure a comfortable life for their workers rather than earning excessive profits that would only benefit those at the top. The Republicans promptly accused him of harboring Socialist or Communist views. Others suggested that the cowboy candidate was an unsuitable choice to fill the vacancy left by so distinguished a figure as William E. Borah. The Idaho Pioneer described Taylor as a "sweet singer, wholly uneducated and wholly unfitted."

Taylor's appeal in the primary didn't extend to Idaho's populace as a whole. Thomas won by about 14,000 votes, winning over about 53 percent of the electorate.

After the loss at the polls, Taylor decided to pursue work in military preparedness. The nation had been moving to gird itself for defense as war raged in Europe and the Pacific, and there was a naval ordnance plant in Pocatello. But when Taylor submitted an application there, the personnel director quickly rejected him after finding out he was the far-left Senate candidate. Taylor subsequently traveled to California to begin working at a munitions factory.

In 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, Taylor again ran for Senate in Idaho. This time he traveled between campaign stops on horseback, saying this alternative to the automobile helped save rubber and gas for the war effort. He defeated four other candidates for the Democratic nomination and worked to make amends with the party. He attended regular campaigns with other candidates, leaving his horse and cowboy outfit at home.

But Taylor still faced accusations that he was a Socialist, Communist, or buffoon. He again lost to Thomas, who was elected to a full term in his own right after completing the remaining years of Borah's term. However, Taylor succeeded in narrowing the gap between the two to less than 5,000 votes.

Taylor once again traveled to California, this time finding employment as a steel worker at a shipyard. He installed kitchens on destroyers while quietly preparing for his next Senate run. Realizing that his populist arguments worked well for the Democratic primary but fell short among the full electorate, Taylor received some economic tutelage from Idaho secretary of state George Curtis. When the 1944 race rolled around, Taylor resumed his familiar criticisms of Wall Street and the banking industry, but reframed them to appeal to a larger audience.

This was also the first race where Taylor benefited from a full head of artificial hair. He had started going bald in his 20s, with this physical trait making him look considerably older than he was. This became apparent during the 1942 campaign when a service station clerk mistook his wife for his daughter. Working to give himself a more youthful appearance, Taylor made himself a custom toupee out of a pie plate, felt, and human hair.

In the Democratic primary, Taylor went up against incumbent Senator D. Worth Clark as well as two Boise lawyers. He narrowly earned the party's nomination for the third Senate race in a row, getting only about one-third of the vote but eking out victory by a mere 216 ballots. The Democratic Party would prove more supportive this time around; the state chairman who had opposed Taylor resigned and was replaced by an official who immediately assured Taylor that the Democrats would back their candidate.

In the lead-up to the general election, Taylor offered a more detailed platform than his previous bids for office. He called for full employment legislation after the war, protections for small business owners against monopolies and trusts, more farm and business cooperatives, and efforts to preserve the postwar peace. The Democrats were the party that worked for the protection and well-being of the people, he argued, while the Republicans strove for the protection and well-being of private property. He strongly endorsed FDR, hoping to ride into office on the popular President's appeal.

There were continuing accusations that Taylor was a Communist and ill-prepared to serve as a senator. The Republicans were further able to accuse him of being an opportunist, saying he was a de facto California resident who only came back to Idaho when he wanted to run for office. Taylor, responding to the labeling of his ideas as Communist, fired back that the Republicans used the label to try to discredit every single proposed liberal measure. He called it a "straight steal from Hitler, who cried 'Bolshevist' at everybody who opposed him."

Taylor's third attempt at the Senate proved successful. On Election Day, he earned 107,096 votes. It was a narrow majority, but it was enough to defeat Bottolfsen, the Republican candidate, who had received 102,373 votes.

An advocate for peace

Although Taylor had largely abandoned his image as an entertainer as he became a more skilled politician, he quickly revived the singing cowboy character after arriving in Washington, D.C. There was an acute housing shortage because of the war, and the newly elected senator was having trouble finding a home for his family. In January 1945, he invited the press to see him play a song on the steps of the Capitol Building.

Taylor sings on the steps of the Capitol as his family looks on (Source)

To the tune of "Home on the Range," Taylor sang, "Oh give me a home, near the Capitol dome, with a yard where little children can play / Just one room or two, any old thing will do / Oh we can't find a pla-a-a-ce to stay!" The stunt no doubt embarrassed some Democratic leaders, but it proved effective. A real estate agent contacted Taylor and set him up with a suitable residence.

On October 23, Taylor introduced his first resolution before the Senate. He hoped that the United States and other nations could work toward the creation of a world republic designed to prevent bloody conflicts such as the one that had formally ended just one month earlier. He called for the abolition of military training and conscription, a prohibition on the manufacture of atomic weapons, and an eventual end to the production of armaments. Taylor was disappointed that this ambitious plan received little attention, complaining that the press had dedicated plenty of coverage to his musical appeal for housing and written next to nothing on his suggestions for world peace.

Taylor's liberal views often put him at odds with Truman, since he thought the President's postwar stances were creating too many tensions with the Soviet Union. He opposed both the Truman Doctrine, which provided aid to Greece and Turkey to shore up the countries against Communist influence, and the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, which was designed to rebuild the Western European countries devastated by World War II. Taylor said he wasn't opposed to supporting nations in need, but thought American aid should be administered through the United Nations.

Perhaps cognizant of how his unusual behavior had gained attention when he first came to Washington, Taylor launched a cross-country tour in the autumn of 1947 to try to raise awareness of his concerns with U.S. foreign policy. He intended to visit several states, riding two horses named Nugget and Chuck for much of the way and traveling with his brother by automobile for the rest, with the horses coming along in a trailer. Taylor expected that the "Paul Revere" ride would be able to make stops in every state before culminating in the nation's capital.

During the stops, Taylor resumed his practice of weaving guitar playing and songs into his public appearances. He said he did not think that the United States was deliberately trying to provoke the Soviet Union with its actions overseas, but that certain policies might appear threatening. It would be far better, he opined, for the United Nations to oversee foreign aid than to go about it unilaterally.

"In other words, how would we feel if the Russians suddenly began dredging the harbors of Mexico, building hard surface roads to the borders of California and Texas, and otherwise making military preparations for an unannounced purpose?" he asked at one stop. "I think we should be plenty upset. That is exactly what the United States has been doing in Turkey and, to some extent, in Greece."

Taylor stops in Arizona during his horseback ride for peace (Source)

Taylor had to cut the trip short in November, just one month after starting it, when Truman called Congress back into session. He decided to end the tour with one last spectacle, riding Nugget up the Capitol steps before joining the other senators.

For the rest of his term, Taylor would be one of the most outspoken voices for peace and international understanding. He was the only Democrat opposed to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in 1949 he unsuccessfully proposed an end to peacetime conscription.
Following rumors that an alien spacecraft had crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, Taylor was asked for his opinion on UFOs. He replied that he hoped they were real, considering that any alien race that had mastered interplanetary travel might also be able to inspire better global cooperation.

"They could end our petty arguments on Earth," he said. "Even if it is only a psychological phenomenon, it is a sign of what the world is coming to. If we don't ease the tensions, the whole world will be full of psychological cases and eventually turn into a global nuthouse."

Statements like these made Taylor a very polarizing figure. Some people thought the senator was guided by the simple idea that people could live together in harmony. On at least one occasion, he was compared to the aloof but admirable character played by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Both Taylor and the film character were rookie senators from the West who were guided by their faith in American institutions and the idea that most people were good at heart.

Others considered Taylor to be little more than an unrealistic idealist. In 1950, Time mockingly described him as a "banjo-twanging playboy of the Senate and an easy mark for far-left propaganda."

A voice for labor and civil rights

In addition to his crusade for world peace, Taylor became a strong supporter of organized labor and civil rights activists. Both stances were a result of his ideology more than an effort to pander for votes; unions weren't particularly prevalent in Idaho, and there were fewer than 500 black residents in the state when Taylor represented it.

He kept up his commitment to full employment for American workers, along with rent controls to make housing more affordable. He opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which placed some restrictions on the powers of labor unions. When Truman refused to approve the bill, Taylor was one of four senators who contributed to an unsuccessful filibuster to try to keep Congress from overriding the veto.

Late in 1946, Taylor periodically gained the floor to speak as Southern senators filibustered an effort to give permanent status to the Fair Employment Practices Committee, which had worked to enforce FDR's executive order to bar discrimination in defense and government hiring during World War II. Taylor said he was willing to support all-night sessions and any other measures necessary to break the filibuster and force a vote.

"This is not democracy, this is rule by a small minority," he declared. "I hope that those who really believe in democracy will stand by their guns and not yield to this legislative blackmail."

Taylor's support of civil rights made him an enemy of the Southern delegation in general, but Senator Theodore Bilbo in particular. The Democratic senator from Mississippi was perhaps the most openly racist and hateful person in the entire Senate, at one point even praising the Nazi regime's appreciation of "the importance of race values" while proposing the deportation of all black Americans to Liberia. 

Theodore Bilbo during his 1946 campaign for Senate (Source)

On one occasion, Bilbo opposed the nomination of Aubrey Williams to be administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration and noted how Williams had been endorsed by a black Republican newspaper in Philadelphia. Taylor interrupted Bilbo, demanding to know what effect the endorsement could possibly have on Williams' qualifications. "I certainly object to having brought up on the floor of the Senate the question of whether a man is red, black, or white," he stated. Bilbo was dismissive, asking, "What do they know about Negroes in Idaho?"

A more dramatic confrontation between Taylor and Bilbo occurred early in 1947. Bilbo won re-election in the 1946 general election, but his victory was tainted by violence and voter intimidation at the polls. Before the Special Committee to Investigate Senatorial Campaign Expenditures, Bilbo openly admitted that he had called on "every red-blooded American who believes in the superiority and integrity of the white race to get out and see that no nigger votes" in the Mississippi race. Despite the clear incitements to voter suppression, the committee opined that Bilbo was entitled to his seat since most of his hateful language had been aimed at "outside agitators" who were allegedly trying to stir up trouble in the election.

The excuse didn't sit well with the more liberal members of the Senate, especially since Bilbo was also under investigation for illegally accepting gifts from war contractors. At a conference of Republican senators, Homer Ferguson of Michigan was chosen to issue a resolution asking the Senate to deny Bilbo his seat. But as the roll call was made at the beginning of the session, Taylor managed to jump in first to issue his own call for barring the Mississippi senator from the chamber.

Taylor charged that Bilbo had violated the civil rights of black residents in his state, incited violence against them, violated the Constitution, and allowed himself to be influenced by gifts from war contractors. He asked that his colleague be denied his seat until after an investigation had been completed. He focused most of his attention on the voting rights issue, quoting examples of some of Bilbo's most racist language. He admitted that race relations were a complex issue, but stressed that it was important to strive for progress rather than division. Bilbo, he accused, had been "stirring up racial hatred, inciting white to hate black and causing black to hate white."

"What a hypocritical and blasphemous gesture we would witness today if Mr. Bilbo were to stand in our midst and place his hand on the Holy Bible and swear fealty to democratic institutions, to free elections, to the rights of citizens," Taylor declared.

Taylor pushed the speech to its conclusion, even as Bilbo sauntered over and sat down at his elbow, glowering up at the man who sought to unseat him. Some other senators from the South, enraged at Taylor's resolution, vowed to filibuster any attempt to assemble the newly elected Senate unless Bilbo was allowed to take office. Alben Barkley, the Senate's Democratic leader, defused the issue by announcing that Bilbo needed to return to Mississippi for emergency surgery and would not insist on being seated until he returned.

Bilbo laughed off the resolution, mockingly declaring that "a cowboy named Taylor stole the whole Republican show." Later, he commented, "Taylor ain't got no sense. He's just a nut. He goes around playing a fiddle with a hillbilly band."

Although the Republicans were irked that Taylor had stolen their thunder, they grudgingly complimented Taylor's speech. Harold Ickes, who had served as Secretary of the Interior under FDR and gone on to become a syndicated columnist, hailed Taylor's address as "one that will reverberate throughout the country for a long time." The Southern Negro Youth Congress distributed copies of his speech, which helped accelerate the migration of black support from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The Senate would never take a vote on Taylor's resolution. Bilbo solved the thorny issue of whether or not he should be seated by dying, in August 1947, of complications from multiple surgeries for mouth cancer.

Vice presidential candidate and arrest in Birmingham

As the 1948 presidential election approached, the Democrats were facing a challenge from a liberal splinter group as well as the Republicans. Henry A. Wallace, who had served as vice president for much of FDR's time in office, formed the Progressive Party in 1947 to make a bid for the White House. The party sought to improve the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union, enhance cooperation with the United Nations, and pursue arms reduction. It also advocated for an accelerated improvement of civil rights at home, including measures to outlaw lynching and poll taxes.

Naturally, Taylor was a perfect fit for the party. When Wallace asked him to be the vice presidential candidate on the Progressive ticket, he readily accepted.

The Progressives would be dogged by accusations that the party was influenced by Communism, in part because the Communist Party opted to endorse Wallace instead of fielding its own candidate. Taylor, long familiar with such rhetoric, said the decision to join the Progressive ticket had not been made lightly. "I knew I would probably kill my chances of being re-elected in 1950 if I threw in with Henry," he said. "I'm not a lawyer. I've been in show business all my life, living hand to mouth, often in debt. I can't leave the Senate and practice law, like most of these fellows do. It was a tough decision." He explained that he had backed the more liberal party because he believed the "question of peace or war is more important than any other consideration."

Wallace and Taylor were under no illusions that their platform would be warmly greeted in the South, where several states would list segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond on their ballots as the Democratic candidate instead of Truman. The duo organized campaign appearances in the region before integrated audiences, and were often greeted by segregationists who hurled insults and rubbish at the candidates.

On May 1, 1948, Taylor arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, at the invitation of the Southern Negro Youth Congress. The organization had asked Taylor to deliver the keynote address at their annual convention. Although he initially refused due to a city ordinance requiring public gatherings to be segregated, the SNYC convinced Taylor to attend anyway and make a statement about why he could not address the integrated group. The convention was the target of several forms of harassment, including bomb threats and hotels canceling the reservations of white delegates. Although several places declined to host the group for fear of violence, the Alliance Gospel Tabernacle church finally provided a venue for the gathering.

The local police had no intention of letting the meeting proceed quietly. Eugene "Bull" Connor, the city's commissioner of public safety, threatened that the Birmingham police would arrest anyone who committed even the smallest of provocations, such as black attendees trying to talk to white ones. Connor would later become infamous for refusing to protect civil rights advocates from racist attacks and for siccing police dogs and high pressure fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators. Upon arriving in Birmingham, Taylor referred to Connor as "a spokesman for a small and fast dying clique."

Taylor meets with the SNYC in 1947 (Source)

Upon arriving at the Alliance Gospel Tabernacle church, Taylor found that it was the scene of blatant intimidation. Looking to avoid a confrontation with Connor, the SNYC had erected temporary partitions and labeled separate entrances to ensure that the church was in compliance with the segregation ordinance. Nevertheless, the meeting site was surrounded by police officers as well as some demonstrating Klansmen.

Instead of going to the door reserved for white attendees, Taylor decided to enter through the "colored" entrance. He was confronted at the door by a police officer who told him to use the other entrance. "I'm not particular about these things," Taylor replied. He tried to force his way past the officer, at which point the cop sent him sprawling to the ground before shoving him up against a wire fence, leaving him with several scratches.

Some accounts accused Taylor of angrily sparring with the Birmingham police during the confrontation. They said the vice presidential candidate announced that he couldn't be arrested due to his status as a senator, swung his fists at officers, and called them "vile names." Along with several other visitors to the SNYC conference, Taylor was arrested and taken to jail.

The arrest provoked outrage across the United States, as many observers saw it as a heavy-handed response to a minor violation of an unjust law. Wallace declared that no one could claim to be a liberal while supporting the Jim Crow laws. "Glen was not violating any law," he said. "He was upholding the basic law of the land, the Constitution of the United States." Taylor later offered his own rationale, saying defiance of an unconstitutional measure was no vice. "If they passed a law saying you had to spit in the face of any Negro you passed on the sidewalk, I would disobey it," he said.

Taylor received less sympathy in the South. Connor stood by the actions of the police, saying the segregation ordinance applied to "First Ladies of the United States, U.S. senators, and the Constitution of the United States." Alabama newspapers denounced the vice presidential candidate's action as nothing more than a political stunt. The Huntsville Times said the action was "solely to use as political propaganda in the Wallace campaign," while the Shreveport Journal suggested that "Mr. Taylor's reason for his offensive gesture was to attract Negro support of the Wallace ticket." The Alabama Journal commented that it was sad to see a U.S. senator "deliberately defy laws, abuse policemen, play with dynamite."

Senator John J. Sparkman, an Alabama Democrat who was considered one of the less conservative members of the Southern delegation, also criticized Taylor. Unlike most of the Southern "Dixiecrats," Sparkman had refused to desert Truman in favor of Thurmond's segregationist third party bid, despite his opposition to the President's civil rights measures. After the incident in Birmingham, Sparkman praised Connor and accused Taylor of deliberately provoking his arrest "in order to get the publicity out of it."

Three days after his arrest, Taylor was brought before a police court on a charge of disorderly conduct. He was quickly convicted, fined $50, and given a fully suspended sentence of 180 days in jail. Taylor immediately appealed the verdict, hoping that in doing so he would be able to challenge the practice of segregation. In August 1948, he wrote to Arthur Shores, a black attorney who frequently represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to ask for a copy of the ordinance. Shores subsequently agreed to work as Taylor's attorney for the rest of the proceedings, and had a new trial scheduled for March 1949.

Despite high expectations for the Progressives, the party had a disappointing performance on Election Day. Although more than one million people cast their votes for Wallace and Taylor, this total represented just 2.37 percent of the popular vote and was roughly equal to the number of votes earned by Thurmond. And while the Progressives had failed to capture a single electoral vote, Thurmond had carried four Southern states. Truman defeated Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey in a surprise upset to earn a second term.

Taylor returned to Alabama the spring after the election to face a jury trial. The court had added the charges of interfering with a police officer and assault and battery to the existing count of disorderly conduct. He could have been charged with violation of the segregation ordinance, but the court declined to press this issue for fear that Taylor would appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, Shores and Taylor challenged the legitimacy of the segregation ordinance, saying it was a blatant violation of the First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly. The judge disagreed, stating, "If the defendant committed the acts charged at the entrance to an old ladies quilting party, is he more or less guilty?" Taylor had little chance of triumphing before an Alabaman all-white jury, which quickly found him guilty and upheld the original sentence.

Taylor again appealed the verdict, but the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the result in January 1950. He then tried to get a hearing before the Supreme Court, but in June the justices declined to take on the case. Connor added insult to injury after this decision by demanding that Taylor come to Alabama to face his sentence. Taylor replied that he had "no intention of turning myself over to that chain gang."

Connor made a formal request to C.A. Robins, the Republican governor of Idaho, to have Taylor extradited. Robins refused, saying it was a petty demand since Taylor had already paid the fine and had not been required to serve any jail time. The denial quietly ended the battle between the Idaho senator and Birmingham law enforcement.

Farewell to the Senate

After the 1948 race, the Progressive Party quickly disintegrated. Taylor left in 1949, and Wallace would depart a year later after breaking with the party by supporting the American involvement in the Korean War. Taylor returned to the Democrats and defended his temporary defection, saying, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me."

Nevertheless, Taylor faced a stiffer challenge in seeking the Senate nomination from a party he had briefly abandoned. He was also the target of a media attack campaign by Idaho Power, a utility company Taylor had previous criticized. Since 1947, Taylor had accused the company of opposing the Hells Canyon High Dam for the sole purpose of keeping its rates and profits high. During the 1950 election season, Idaho Power publicly accused Taylor of "vicious misrepresentations in every sense of the word, designed to mislead the people of this area." The company accused Taylor of trying to give control of Idaho's water to the federal government, and Taylor admitted that he preferred public rather than private control of water.

In the year's Democratic primary, Taylor lost to D. Worth Clark, the former senator whom he had defeated for the 1944 nomination. Clark would lose the general election to Republican candidate Herman E. Welker.

In 1954, Taylor returned for another bid at the Senate. Although he won the Democratic nomination, he lost to Republican incumbent Henry Dworshak, earning only about one-third of the vote in the general election.

Returning for the 1956 race, Taylor declared, "All I want is to be known as the senator who did the most for Idaho." He found himself in a neck-and-neck race with Frank Church, a Boise attorney who won the Democratic nomination by a mere 200 ballots out of more than 55,000 cast. Taylor charged that the primary had been affected by election irregularities, namely ballot counting procedures in the Mountain Home precinct. But the Idaho attorney general said he had no authority to order a recount, and the Senate subcommittee on elections declined his request for an investigation; the Idaho legislature subsequently passed legislation on recount procedures in their next session.

Taylor decided to run as a write-in candidate in the 1956 election, but earned less than 12,000 votes. Church defeated Welker in the general election, marking the start of a 24-year career in the Senate. Two years later, Taylor was still irritated with the primary results. He wrote to Church asking if the senator would be willing to take a lie detector test on whether he believed the 1956 election had been conducted honestly. If Church agreed, Taylor promised he would not run for governor of Idaho in the 1958 race or for Senate in 1962. Church's press secretary commented that the proposal was "not deserving of a reply."

Wigging out

After he left the Senate in 1950, Taylor became the president of the Coryell Construction Company. However, he was forced to resign two years later because the federal government considered him to be a security risk and said they would not award contracts to the company. Taylor began working menial construction jobs in order to maintain an income.

Eventually, Taylor moved to the San Francisco area and capitalized on his firsthand experience with toupees. In 1961, he founded a wig manufacturing company called Taylor Topper Inc. The company is still in existence today, although it is now known as Taylormade.

Taylor died of Alzheimer's disease in Millbrae, California, on April 28, 1984. He was 80 years old.


The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Taylor Croons Plea for Home" in the Spokesman-Review on Jan. 4 1945, "Senator Packs Election Punch" in the Pittsburgh Press on Nov. 6 1946, "Taylor Cracks Jaw of Political Rival" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 6 1946, "Sen. Taylor Tells of Battle of Boise Hotel" in the Deseret News on Nov. 8 1946, "Jaw in Plaster, McKaig Says Taylor 'Kicked Me in the Face'" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 14 1946, "Washington Calling" in the Daytona Beach Morning Herald on Jan. 7 1947, "Taylor Begins Cross-Nation 'Peace' Ride" in the Toledo Blade on Oct. 27 1947, "Horse-Born Solon Decides Nag's No Good" in the Tuscaloosa News on Oct. 30 1947, "Segregation Law Tested at Trial" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Mar. 31 1949, "Sen. Taylor Glad of Fine, Sentence" in the Free Lance-Star on Apr. 1 1949, "Why the Senator Rides a Horse Across the Nation" in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 9 1949, "Gem State Solon Hopefuls Sound Last-Ditch Appeals" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Aug. 11 1956, "Church Still Leads Taylor with Canvases Completed" in the Lewiston Morning Tribune on Aug. 22 1956, "Glen Taylor May Head New Splinter Party" in the Sarasota Journal on Oct. 8 1956, "Idaho Balloting Nearly Ties Record" in the Lewiston Morning Tribune on Nov. 8 1956, "Church Rejects Plan by Ex-Senator Taylor" in the Spokesman-Review on Mar. 7 1958, "Political Maverick Glen Taylor Dies" in the Spokane Chronicle on May 4 1984, "Glen H. Taylor of Idaho Dies; Wallace Running Mate in '48" in the New York Times on May 5 1984, "An Idaho Maverick" in the Coeur d'Alene Press on Feb. 22 2015, Prophet Without Honor: Glen H. Taylor and the Fight for American Liberalism by F. Ross Peterson, Public Power, Private Dams: The Hells Canyon High Dam Controversy by Karl Boyd Brooks, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny, Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South 1932-1968 by Kari Frederickson, The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter, The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill: The Untold Story of Arthur Shores and His Family's Fight for Civil Rights by Helen Shores Lee and Barbara S. Shores with Denise George, 1950, Crossroads of American Religious Life by Robert S. Ellwood, Taylor v. City of Birmingham

Friday, November 25, 2016

William S. Taylor: A Killing in Kentucky


Although he was accused of involvement in a heinous crime in his home state of Kentucky, William Sylvester Taylor was still welcomed to the 1900 Republican National Convention as a delegate-at-large. The meeting would see President William McKinley remain on the ballot for an attempt at a second term, with Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York named as candidate for Vice President. Taylor joined the other delegates in the near-unanimous decision on this ticket; Roosevelt was the only one of the 926 delegates to not support his name for Vice President, considering it more fitting to abstain.

Taylor, who had been ousted as governor of Kentucky after serving for just a few weeks, had since moved to Indiana. He only agreed to attend the Republican National Convention after he was assured that the officials in Pennsylvania would make no attempt to extradite him to his home state. After the convention, there were rumors that he was traveling toward Niagara Falls, a popular place to cross the border into Canada. These reports proved to be unfounded.

Nevertheless, Taylor continued to be nervous about his surroundings. His immediate successor to the governor's office had been gunned down in front of the state capitol in Frankfort, in an incident which remains the only gubernatorial assassination in United States history. A court contended that Taylor had actively plotted to remove his rival after a bitterly contested race.

Early political career

Taylor was born on October 10, 1853, in Butler County, Kentucky. He grew up on a farm and didn't start his formal education until age 15. Despite this late start, he proved a fast learner and a gifted orator. He became a teacher in 1874, and remained in this profession until 1882. He also continued to work in farming, and later became a lawyer.

During his time as an educator, Taylor entered his first political contest. He ran for county clerk in 1878, but was unsuccessful. Four years later, he tried again and was victorious.

Taylor soon proved a popular Republican candidate in Butler County. He was elected to two terms as county judge, serving from 1886 to 1894, and was named as a delegate to the 1888 Republican National Convention. Between 1896 and 1899, he was Kentucky's attorney general.

The state was a fairly violent place to live during this time. While Kentucky had nominally remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, sentiments within the state were more divided. The northern part of the state was more developed and industrialized, while the southern portion relied more on agrarian pursuits. During the war, northern Kentuckians had strongly supported the Union while residents living closer to the Tennessee border were more sympathetic to the Confederacy.

Since Kentucky was a slave state, it was subject to Reconstruction after the war. The ongoing tensions in the state contributed to a number of violent episodes, including duels, feuds, and murders. This atmosphere all but guaranteed that a close election result in the 1899 gubernatorial election would not be resolved without bloodshed.

Governor's race

The Republicans chose Taylor as their candidate without much fanfare. He would face off against William Goebel, whose ascension to the Democratic nominee had been much more chaotic.

William Goebel (Source)

Goebel was an attorney and state senator who had also become something of a political boss by the time of the election. He helped organize political efforts across the state, and worked to get his supporters in control of city and county governments. He supported civil rights for black residents and women, and often took on the big railroad companies in his legal work. In the state senate, he supported stronger regulations on the railroads; he often used profanity or insults to shore up his arguments.

Four years before the gubernatorial race, Goebel's crusade for fair transportation regulations had attracted the ire of businessman John Lawrence Sanford. The two men had been at odds over the removal of tolls from some Kentucky turnpikes, an action which cost Sanford money. On April 11, 1895, Goebel was walking with friends in downtown Covington when he spotted Sanford and confronted him. Witnesses said that Sanford ambushed Goebel, pulling a pistol and firing at close range.

The bullet passed through Goebel's coat, but didn't leave a scratch on him. He quickly reacted to the assault by pulling his own pistol and shooting Sanford in the head; the businessman died instantly. Goebel was later acquitted of murder, due to witness testimony that Sanford had previously threatened to kill Goebel and that the state senator had fired in self-defense.

In 1899, Goebel mounted an aggressive effort to win the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. At the state convention, he was one of four candidates vying for the job. He made a secret agreement with fellow candidate William J. Stone, a former Confederate soldier who lost a leg in the Civil War, to assure his favored choice for a temporary chairman over that of Parker Watkins Hardin, an ex-Confederate general backed by the railroads. From there, he was able to get control of the convention's committees and shape its platform.

When the convention's delegates failed to produce a gubernatorial candidate after 25 votes, Goebel proposed that the person receiving the fewest votes on the next ballot should drop out. He then betrayed Stone, having some of his own men throw their support behind Hardin to help put Stone at the bottom of the tally. He believed that Stone's delegates would be more likely to support him over Hardin after Stone was out of the picture. This tactic proved successful, and Goebel was ultimately picked as the Democratic nominee for governor.

A small contingent of Democrats, disgusted with the manipulative dealings at the convention, refused to support Goebel. They formed a group called the Honest Election League and named John Young Brown, who had served as governor between 1891 and 1895, as their nominee.

During his campaign, Goebel accused Taylor of having a cozy relationship with Kentucky's railroad interests. At his rallies, he frequently asked whether the attendees wanted the corporations to be "the master or the servant of the people." William Jennings Bryan, who had been the Democratic nominee in the 1896 presidential election, campaigned on Goebel's behalf.

Aside from his populist appeal, Goebel had another advantage going into the election. While in the state senate, he had overseen the passage of a controversial new election law. This act established a three-member board of commissioners, appointed by the state legislature, to determine the victor in contested elections. Since the Democrats were in power in the legislature, the commission established in 1899 would likely favor the Democratic candidate.

A contested result

When the votes were tallied after the general election on November 7, Taylor had eked out a razor-thin majority. The Republican candidate had earned 193,714 votes, while Goebel had mustered 191,331. The Democratic candidate's underhanded tactics had proved his undoing; the Honest Election League had convinced 12,040 voters to cast a ballot for Brown instead of Goebel.

At first, Goebel was content to accept the loss. However, his supporters convinced him that the election had been marred by corruption. He challenged the result and asked for the matter to be heard before the election commission. But in a move that surprised Kentucky's voters, the Democratic commissioners voted two to one that Taylor had won the election fairly. On December 12, the Republican candidate was sworn into office.

Their finding still had to be approved by the state legislature, but the Democrats in this body continued to suspect that Taylor had only won the election through fraud. The legislature opted to launch their own investigation into the issue, drawing a group of 11 legislators at random to look into the contest. In what was likely a premeditated maneuver, the selection picked 10 Democrats and only one Republican. Taylor and his allies feared that the committee was almost certain to invalidate the election results.

A political cartoon shows Goebel trying to dislodge Taylor from the "Governor's Chair" with the Kentucky legislature (Source)

On January 2, 1900, the Democratic legislature formally contested the election results. They charged that a wide range of corruption had taken place on Election Day, including voter intimidation, military interference, a conspiracy by the L&N Railroad and the Republican Party to bribe voters, and the acceptance of fraudulent returns and "thin" ballots (those where the paper was thin enough that it was possible to determine who a voter chose by looking at the back of the ballot).

To put pressure on the legislature, Taylor called for supporters from the strongly Republican regions of eastern Kentucky to come to Frankfort. A large number of these Appalachian "mountain men" answered his call, surging into the capital and bringing firearms in a show of force. Tensions and resentment over the election continued to worsen.

The death of Goebel

The stalemate continued until the end of the month, when a shocking turn of events threw the state into even greater turmoil. While walking with his comrades toward the state capitol on January 30, a shot rang out. The bullet pierced Goebel's chest, breaking through a rib and puncturing a lung. His friends rushed him to the Capital Hotel, where the Democrats had set up a base of operations. A doctor worked to stabilize the wound, but knew that it was almost certain to be fatal.

An illustration portraying the scene moments after Goebel was shot (Source)

In the wake of the attack on Goebel, Taylor called the militia to Frankfort to keep order. He also ordered the state legislature to disperse, calling on them to reconvene a week later. Suggesting that it would be "sheer madness" for the legislature to assemble in the capital in the current environment, he asked them to meet in the town of London - an eastern Kentucky community and Republican stronghold.

Taylor also issued a statement a day after the shooting, blaming the "unprecedented and unlawful" acts of the legislature for the incident. However, he also decried the attack on his opponent as unacceptable. "The dreadful tragedy which occurred yesterday shocked and startled all, and can be no more sincerely deplored by any one than myself," he said.

Given that their nominee for governor was slowly dying of a gunshot wound, the Democrats weren't in the mood to reconcile with Taylor. Instead, they looked at his actions as a blatant attempt to seize power by force. They charged that the call for armed men to occupy the capital and the subsequent shooting of Goebel demonstrated that Taylor was willing to rule through "force, fraud, and corruption." In defiance of Taylor's orders, the Democratic members of the legislature tried to assemble on their own. After the militia refused to let them meet at the capital, courthouse, and opera house, they finally came together at the Capital Hotel.

On January 31, the Democratic legislators declared that they had deemed enough of the ballots for Taylor to be invalid. As a result, they concluded that Goebel had won the highest number of "legal votes." A total of 76 members of the state house of representatives and senate signed a declaration naming Goebel as governor and John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham as lieutenant governor; the document also denounced Taylor for "filling the capital of the State with reckless armed men, who have assassinated an honored member of this general assembly, and in calling out the militia without cause, excluding the general assembly from the legislative halls and in preventing it from meeting to transact the business of the commonwealth."

Goebel was sworn in shortly before 9 p.m. In his only act as governor, he signed an order for the legislature to reconvene and the militia to disperse. The leader of the militia, sympathetic to the Republicans, refused to obey the order. Beckham responded by replacing the state's adjutant general with someone more in line with the Democrats, allowing him to call out a separate militia to reinforce Goebel's claim to the governor's office.

Now it was the Republicans' turn to cry foul, accusing the Democrats of trying to steal the election from the duly elected candidate. Some even suggested that Goebel was already dead, and that the legislators had given the oath of office to a corpse.

Militia members, with a Gatling gun, in front of the Kentucky state capitol (Source)

For a time, the state of Kentucky was essentially split between two state governments. Taylor held the Executive Building, refusing to concede the election. Goebel and Beckham held their own claims to the gubernatorial office. The Republican and Democratic legislators were meeting separately, within blocks of each other. Two separate militias faced each other. Observers in other parts of the United States wondered if the situation might devolve into a civil war within the state.

Three days after he was named governor of Kentucky, Goebel died. Beckham was promptly sworn in to take his place. The dispute continued, with Taylor asserting that he had been elected fairly and that Beckham was "claiming and pretending to be the governor of Kentucky."

On February 6, three days after Goebel's death, Democratic and Republican leaders met to try to resolve the question over who held the rightful claim to the governor's office. The stated purpose of the summit was to "end the unfortunate condition of political affairs now existent in Kentucky." At first, it seemed like the Democrats had triumphed; the parties agreed that Taylor and his lieutenant governor, John Marshall, would step down.

But on February 10, Taylor announced that he would not sign the agreement. The matter would have to be decided in the courts.

Life as a fugitive

The Louisville Circuit Court ruled that Goebel had been the victor in the 1899 election. The decision was sustained after the Republicans appealed it to the Court of Appeals. Taylor managed to have the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices decided on May 21 that the federal government had no jurisdiction in the dispute. As such, the lower court rulings would stand and Beckham would become governor.

Soon after this decision, Taylor left Kentucky for good. By this time, several people had been charged in the assassination of Goebel. Taylor feared that he would be accused of complicity in the murder.

The indictments had been handed down in April. Several witnesses had claimed that the fatal bullet was fired from annex of Kentucky secretary of state in the Executive Building. The grand jury named several of the "mountain men" as the principal conspirators in the murder: James and Berry Howard, Henry Youtsey, Harland Whitaker, and Dick Combs.

A number of other men were charged as accessories before the fact. This group included Caleb Powers, Taylor's secretary of state; Charles Finley, a former secretary of state; Captain John T. Powers, Caleb's brother; William H. Culton, a clerk in the state auditor's building; and F. Wharton Golden. The grand jury named Taylor as an indirect accessory to the crime, along with Green Golden and State House police captain John Davis, but did not indict them.

Democratic investigators charged that the decision to kill Goebel had been agreed upon by 25 men meeting in the Executive Building. The people named as principals or accessories, they alleged, had been the leaders of the plot.

Caleb Powers, who went to trial four times for Goebel's murder (Source)

Many of the men charged in the assassination had no intention of submitting to arrest. Caleb Powers and Davis reportedly disguised themselves as militiamen and boarded a train to Lexington, but their escape attempt was discovered and they were captured when they arrived in the city. Whitaker was arrested soon after Goebel was shot after he ran out of the governor's office, and was found to have several revolvers on him; he was later killed in a mine explosion in Idaho.

Taylor and Finley had fled north to Indianapolis. Here, they found themselves protected by a series of sympathetic Republican governors. James A. Mount, whose term began in January 1897, refused to let Kentucky officials take either man back across the state line. At one point, Finley was arrested and a Kentucky state police officer tried to take custody of him. He had to be released after Mount refused to approve the extradition.

Taylor also appealed to William McKinley for a pardon. The President said he sympathized with the ousted governor, but could not grant the request.

Kentucky returned to relative peace after Beckham was confirmed as governor, and he would stay in office until 1907. During that time, the courts would seek justice for Goebel's murderer. Caleb Powers was convicted, along with Howard. Youtsey confessed to being involved in the assassination and was sentenced to life in prison. However, the verdicts in Powers' and Howard's cases were later overturned.

Powers would be tried for Goebel's murder a total of four times. He was convicted three times, twice being sentenced to life in prison and once to death; in each case, the result of the trial was overturned.   Taylor refused to leave Indiana to testify on his former cabinet official's behalf, despite reassurances that he would have immunity from arrest, on the belief that it would be unwise to return to Kentucky.

In November 1907, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Samuel W. Hager had said he would not pardon Powers or commute his sentence if he was elected. Powers, preparing for his fourth trial, criticized Hager for making the decision before his case had even been resolved. He also asserted that the charges would have been thrown out long before if pro-Goebel Democrats hadn't comprised the juries, tried unsuccessfully to get his case transferred to federal court, and claimed he knew who had murdered Goebel and that it wasn't Howard.

Powers' fourth trial ended in a hung jury. Governor Augustus E. Willson, who became the first Republican to hold the office since Taylor after his election in 1907, pardoned Powers in 1908. Powers later wrote a book defending himself against lingering rumors that he had gotten away with murder.

After Mount left office in Indiana in 1901, his successor continued to shelter Taylor and Finley. Governor Winfield T. Durbin became a close friend of Taylor's, and later said he rejected an attempted $93,000 bribe to turn the former governor over to Kentucky authorities. Charles A. Bookwalter, the mayor of Indianapolis, claimed that the man who had been hired to prosecute the cases against Taylor and his co-defendants, Thomas A. Campbell, offered to give him $25,000 if he allowed Taylor to be kidnapped. Bookwalter said he refused, instead ordering the police to guard Taylor's home for 60 days. Campbell again approached him, offering a higher sum to remove the guard, and the mayor again refused.

There were worries that vigilantes would try to shanghai the ex-governor across state lines to face criminal charges. In November 1904, Durbin said he was not sure if incoming Governor J. Frank Hanly would continue to refuse requisitions to send Taylor back to Kentucky. Hanly, a Republican, had only said that he would consider the case on its merits before deciding what to do. In the end, he never gave Taylor up to the Kentucky authorities.

Later years

While living in Indiana, Taylor resumed his work as an attorney. He later became the vice president and general counsel of Empire Life Insurance.

Willson had been governor of Kentucky for about 16 months before he decided to end Taylor's exile. On April 23, 1909, he pardoned the former governor as well as Finley, John Powers, Whitaker, Davis, and defendant Zach Steele. The governor, who had previously pardoned Caleb Powers and James Howard, said he had looked into Goebel's assassination and come to the conclusion that Youtsey had acted alone. The only evidence that had come up against Taylor was testimony that he had written to Howard inviting him to come to Frankfort to kill Goebel. Since Howard had not been accused of shooting Goebel, Willson considered this accusation irrelevant.

The governor believed that the decision of Taylor and others to flee the state was not a sign of their guilt, but rather their fear that they would not be able to get a fair trial. Willson also moved to dismiss the charges against the other defendants, leaving Youtsey as the only one to be convicted in Goebel's death.

"From the fair, impartial study of the reports of all of the trials and from my knowledge of the condition of these times, I believe that Governor William S. Taylor had no guilty knowledge of the murder of William Goebel and that he would never have been indicted but for political excitement and passion," Willson said.

The identity of Goebel's assassin remains a mystery. Youtsey was the only one to serve a significant prison sentence for the crime, although he did not claim to be the gunman. He remained behind bars until December 1918, when he was paroled.

Three months after he was pardoned, Taylor made his first visit to Kentucky since Goebel's assassination. However, he said he did not intend to come back to live in the state permanently. He had experienced too much sorrow in the wake of the 1899 election, he said, including the death of his wife and daughter of "broken hearts."

Taylor returned to his career in Indianapolis and spent the rest of his days in this city. He died of heart disease on August 2, 1928, at the age of 74.


National Governors Association, Kentucky Historical Society, "The Four Days Governor" by Ellen Terrell on the Library of Congress website, "Kentucky Has Two Governors" in the Deseret News on Feb. 1 1900, "The Rival Governors" in the Daily Star on Feb. 16 1900, "Ten Kentucky Indictments" in the Boston Evening Transcript on Apr. 18 1900, "Taylor in Bad Health" in the Toledo Blade on Jun. 28 1900, "Governor Taylor in Danger of the Law" in the Nevada Daily Mail on Nov. 18 1904, "Taylor Will Not Testify" in the Boston Evening Transcript on Aug. 2 1907, "Caleb Powers' Strange Case" in the Evening News on Nov. 26 1907, "Pardons in the Goebel Case" in the Boston Evening Transcript on Apr. 24 1909, "Ex-Governor Taylor Returns to Kentucky" in The Daily Star on Aug. 30 1909, "Death Recalls Ancient Feuds of Governors" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 4 1928, "The Late Governor Goebel" in Humanities in August 2013, Kentucky's Governors edited by Lowell H. Harrison, The Encyclopedia  of Northern Kentucky edited by Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool, A New History of Kentucky by Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter, That Kentucky Campaign by R.E. Hughes, F.W. Schaefer, and E.L. Williams, The Independent Vol. 52Powers v. CommonwealthOfficial Proceedings of the Twelfth Republican National Convention

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Henry S. Foote: Two-Time Traitor

The bitter political rivalry between Henry Stuart Foote and Jefferson Davis was never more apparent than on Christmas Day in 1847. The senators from Mississippi were lodging in the same boardinghouse in Washington, D.C., and a discussion about popular sovereignty grew heated. Although the exchange between the senators is unrecorded, Davis eventually struck Foote after he used language that Davis found offensive.

Others in the room separated the two men, but tempers flared again after Foote pronounced that Davis had "struck first." Davis denounced Foote as a liar and threatened to beat him to death if he repeated the claim. Foote instead punched Davis, who returned the blow. Davis suggested that the two of them go to a locked room where he kept his pistols, a less than subtle challenge to a duel. The bystanders in the boardinghouse finally succeeded in calming the men, suggesting that it was all a case of "Christmas frolic" and that it should be kept private.

However, the issue resurfaced a couple of years later. Davis heard that Foote had been boasting that he had struck Davis with impunity. Davis wrote to Foote to ask the rumor was true, and Foote denied it in a lengthy reply. Davis was not wholly satisfied, but his friends convinced him that it was good enough. They also pointed out that a duel between the two would be seen as unfair; Davis had military experience in both the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War, while Foote was a poor enough shot that he had been wounded in three of the four duels he had participated in.

While the rivalry between Foote and Davis never again rose to violence, they remained bitter rivals even as Davis became president of the Confederacy and Foote reluctantly joined the Confederate Congress. Foote would always have a reputation as a hot-tempered politician who was quick to fight, but also proved to be one of the strongest voices against secession. Yet he would also have the dubious honor of being accused of disloyalty in both the North and the South.

Early life

Foote was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, on February 28, 1804. He graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1819. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1823, and moved to Alabama two years later to begin a practice in Tuscumbia. He also began editing a weekly newspaper.

In his youth, Foote became known for his propensity to fight duels. He was a participant in four contests of honor between 1828 and 1837, challenging an opponent twice and getting challenged on the remaining two occasions. He was shot in the shoulder in the first incident, after which he moved to Mississippi and began practicing law in Jackson, Natchez, Raymond, and Vicksburg. A dispute with fellow lawyer Sergeant S. Prentiss occurred between 1832 and 1833, after Foote threw an inkstand at Prentiss; this action led to a duel where he was again wounded in the shoulder. The rivalry was later rekindled, with Foote receiving "an exceedingly dangerous wound" in the right leg. In his last duel, Foote managed to shoot a rival in the hip during an exchange of five shots.

Not surprisingly, Foote was known for having a short fuse and his quick temper didn't endear him to many people. One Alabama newspaper would compare him to "a high pressure steamboat on fire." He was also well-known for his short stature and bald head. One tongue-in-cheek account described Foote as a "great humbug, perfect gentleman, entire horse, and part alligator."

Foote briefly left Mississippi in 1839 to journey to the Republic of Texas, which had won independence from Mexico three years earlier. Although the republic's leaders wanted it to be annexed to the United States, concerns over incorporating a new slave state into the nation had kept Texas an independent nation. It would remain so until 1845. Foote would write a book on his experience, Texas and the Texans, and publish it in 1841.


In 1839, Foote won his first political race when he was elected to the Mississippi house of representatives. He was later elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, beginning his term on March 4, 1847. He became chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, an assignment he held throughout his Senate career.

Foote found few friends among his fellow senators, who dreaded his long-winded speeches. If they became particularly impatient with his rhetoric, some senators would start to hiss or groan to try to get him to finish up. "I know my rights," he shot back at one point, "and will maintain them too, in spite of all the groans that may come from any quarter."

The tensions of the antebellum era, coupled with Foote's pugnacious streak and unpopularity, all but guaranteed that his Senate career would come with a few bruises. In addition to the fight with Davis, he got into a brawl with Simon Cameron of Pennslyvania on the last night of the 1848 session. The men came to blows after Foote cut Cameron off as he was speaking, saying Cameron had no right to speak in the Senate since his term had ended. In March 1850, he fought with Senator Solon Borland of Arkansas on a street corner after describing Borland as a "servile follower" of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina senator and former vice president who was strongly in favor of states' rights and the preservation of slavery.

One senator refused to stoop to violence even in the face of threats from Foote. John P. Hale, a senator from New Hampshire, became known for openly opposing slavery. Though opposed to secession, Foote was a slaveholder and despised abolitionists. At one point, he earned the nickname "Hangman Foote" when he threatened on the floor of the Senate that he would personally help with the lynching of Hale if he ever dared to travel to Mississippi. Hale calmly replied that Foote would receive a kind and warm welcome if he ever wanted to visit New Hampshire.

Compromise of 1850

Even though he was quick to fight with others, Foote did not want to see the nation descend into war. Among the politicians in the South, he was one of the few to take a staunch position against the idea of secession. Along with Senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Stephen Douglass of Illinois, he became a principal architect of the Compromise of 1850.

This landmark agreement came about following the Mexican War, when the United States acquired the entire northern half of the Mexican Empire. The issue of whether slavery would be permitted in this territory became more pressing when the gold rush of 1849 led to a rapid increase in the population of California, making it eligible to become a state. With the California delegates unequivocally opposed to slavery, there was a strong possibility that the balance between free and slave states in Congress would be upset - potentially prompting the southern states to secede.

Several ideas were proposed in Congress to remedy the California question, along with other issues facing the nation. Foote himself offered a bill in January 1850 to provide territorial governments for California, New Mexico, "Deseret" in Utah, and a new state carved out of western Texas called Jacinto. Henry Clay, a longstanding Kentucky senator who had earned the nickname "The Great Compromiser" for his role in negotiating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and Tariff Compromise of 1833, offered eight resolutions related to the former Mexican territory.

Henry Clay delivers a speech on his compromise proposals (Source)

President Zachary Taylor wanted the issue of California's admission as a state to be referred to the Senate Committee on Territories. Foote suggested that it go before a special 13-man committee, along with the other proposals suggested by Clay, so they could be brought before Congress in a single bill. Clay, who had intended to have his proposals considered separately, gave Foote's suggestion what would be a lasting nickname: an "omnibus bill," after the horse-drawn conveyance that was becoming popular for urban transportation. Clay worried that his proposals would be shot down if they were bundled together, declaring that Foote's proposal put into an omnibus "all sorts of things and every kind of passenger, and myself among them."

Foote, in turn, charged that Clay was "throwing into the hands of his adversaries all the trump cards in the deck." In other words, he considered that Clay's proposals benefited the North while offering little in return to the South. "My allegiance is to this Union and to my state," Clay rebutted, "but if gentlemen suppose they can exact from me an acknowledgement of allegiance to any ideal or future contemplated confederacy of the South, I here declare that I owe no allegiance to it; nor will I, for one, come under any such allegiance if I can avoid it."

The issues on the table were so weighty that many senators wondered whether the Union could be preserved. Senators like Foote felt that California's admission into the Union would provoke the South into secession, but that it would be possible to preserve the nation if the northern states made a number of concessions in exchange for California statehood. However, many of his constituents in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South were actively calling for secession. Then on March 4, Senator John C. Calhoun expressed his thoughts on the issues facing the nation.

Calhoun was a much respected member of the Senate. During his long political career, he had served four terms in the House of Representatives, acted as Secretary of War in President James Monroe's Cabinet, and been elected Vice President to President John Quincy Adams. He had served in the Senate since 1832, with a brief hiatus to join President John Tyler's cabinet as Secretary of State.

By the time the 1850 measures appeared before the Senate, Calhoun was 67 years old suffering from severe illness. He was so weak that he could not deliver his own address (it was read by Senator James M. Mason of Virginia) but there was no mistaking that his words were a rallying cry for southern sectionalism. Calhoun declared that the equilibrium between the North and South had broken down, with the northern states having "exclusive power of controlling the government, which leaves the [South] without any adequate means of protecting itself against its encroachment and oppression."

Calhoun suggested that the North had excluded the South from newly acquired territories and placed an undue tax burden on the region, appropriating most of the proceeds to northern manufacturing interests. This industry, he argued, made the North a more popular destination for immigrants and consequently increased these states' power in national elections. He said relations between the North and South had been further strained by abolitionists' fervent denunciations of slavery. If the state of affairs continued, he suggested, the South would have no choice but to secede.

The Senate should not be discussing any sort of compromise, Calhoun concluded. Rather, the North needed to concede equal right to the territories acquired in the Mexican War, work to return fugitive slaves to their owners, "cease the agitation of the slave question," and establish a constitutional amendment to restore the South to equal power in the government.

"At all events, the responsibility for saving the Union rests on the North, and not the South," Calhoun declared. "The South cannot save it by any act of hers, and the North may save it without any sacrifice whatever, unless to do justice and to perform her duties under the Constitution should be regarded by her as a sacrifice."

Foote was appalled by the address, believing the course demanded by Calhoun would make secession "almost inevitable." Not only was Calhoun obstructing a compromise, he charged, but he was "heard to denounce the very name of compromise." He also wondered why Calhoun had not consulted with other southern senators before making his speech. "To speak plainly, I almost felt that a noose was put around my neck, while asleep, and without having antecedingly obtained my consent," he complained.

Calhoun showed little regard for Foote's concerns. About 10 days after his address, he said, "Well sir, I never did consult any man upon any speech I ever made. I make speeches for myself."

The fiery speech was one of the last ones Calhoun would make. He died on March 31.

Feud with Benton

By the time of Calhoun's death, Foote had been openly disdainful of Senator Thomas Hart Benton for several months. A Democrat from Missouri, Benton and Foote agreed on many issues. However, Foote despised what he saw as Benton's pompous attitude. "On meeting him face to face my first unfavorable impressions of him were greatly strengthened,and the excessive vanity and egotism constantly displayed by him, both in conversational scenes and in the Senate, inspired me with feelings of disgust and aversion which I have seldom experienced," he wrote in his autobiography.

In December 1849, Foote had essentially accused Benton of stealing his proposal for territorial governments in the new lands taken in the Mexican War. He said the Missouri senator had used language "of the coarsest scurrility and envenomed abuse," and insinuated that Benton had inspired slaves to flee Missouri for freedom in Illinois. Benton, a slaveholder himself, had once been prone to violent outbursts but had cooled down considerably after killing a man in a duel in 1817. He responded to Foote's harangue by simply walking out of the chamber.

It was only the start of a prolonged bullying campaign against Benton. In one particularly fierce rant, Foote accused him of colluding with Senator William Henry Seward, a New York abolitionist who would become President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, to undermine the power of the southern states. He also said Benton had conspired with England to sabotage the peace with Mexico and supported California statehood because his son-in-law John C. Fremont would likely become one of the state's senators. Foote even criticized the "imposing nasality" of Benton's Missouri accent. On February 20, 1850, he accused Benton of being motivated by "an intense self-love" and said the senator wouldn't hesitate to sabotage the Union for personal gain.

The relationship between the two men was further frayed by Benton's opposition to the omnibus compromise bill, which he dubbed a "monster." When Benton joined the debate on March 28, Foote ridiculed him as "the Caesar, the Napoleon of the Senate." Benton protested that such personal attacks were in violation of the Senate's rules of decorum, but Foote wouldn't let up. He accused Benton of "parading himself as the peculiar friend and champion of California." Referencing the elopement of Benton's daughter Jessie with Fremont, he suggested that the Missouri senator wanted to "drag California into the Union before her wedding garment has been cast about her person." Foote said that if Benton was truly aggrieved by his insults, he could demand satisfaction through a duel.

"I pronounce it cowardly to give insults where they cannot be chastised. Can I take a cudgel to him here?" Benton responded. "Is a senator to be blackguarded here in the discharge of his duty, and the culprit go unpunished?" Vice President Millard Fillmore, presiding over the Senate session, ignored Foote's attacks and ruled that Benton's remarks were out of order.

Curiously, Fillmore regretted the lack of civility in the Senate during a funeral held in the chamber for Calhoun just six days later. He said the Vice President was once the only person who could declare a senator out of order for their behavior, but that Calhoun had modified the rules while he was Vice President to allow senators to better police their own behavior. However, Fillmore said he didn't think the Senate had been doing enough to foster a friendly environment. "A slight attack, or even an insinuation, of a personal character, often provokes a more severe retort, which brings out a more disorderly reply, each senator feeling a justification in the previous aggression," he said.

The remark foresaw the inevitable clash between Benton and Foote. This incident was likely spurred by remarks over the recently departed Calhoun; indeed, Benton had declared that the former Vice President "died with treason in his heart and on his lips," firing up secessionists across the South before passing away. On April 17, the two men got into a heated argument in the Senate, with Foote bringing up the insinuation that Benton had been taking bribes.

After months of insults, Benton had finally reached a breaking point. He angrily rose from his seat and stormed toward Foote, who immediately retreated into the aisle and drew a pistol. Bedlam erupted in the chamber as other senators tried to prevent any violence. Though Benton's words vary from source to source, their meaning remains constant: he was unarmed, Foote intended to kill him, and he was welcome to commit such a cowardly murder. According to one source, Benton threw open his shirt front and declared, "Let him fire! Stand out of the way! I have no pistols. Let the assassin fire!"

Thomas Hart Benton dares Henry S. Foote to shoot him. (Source)

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Foote surrendered the weapon to Senator Daniel Dickinson of New York, who locked it in his desk. Benton continued to shout at Foote, accusing him of making an assassination attempt. Foote denied the charge, saying he had started carrying the pistol for self-defense after being threatened by another senator in a cloakroom a few days earlier.

Preceding the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston Brooks by six years, the incident was a potent illustration of just how fraught the tensions between the North and South were. Some senators demanded that Foote be expelled, and a resolution was quickly introduced to investigate the incident. When no one wanted to serve on it, Fillmore had to name seven members.

In July, the committee concluded that the confrontation between Foote and Benton was like nothing that had ever occurred before in the Senate. Although the senators agreed that Foote had "indulged in personalities toward Mr. Benton of the most offensive character, such as were calculated to rouse the fiercest resentment in the human bosom," they also concluded that Foote had been acting in self-defense when he drew a pistol. The committee recommended no further action, hoping the incident would provide "a sufficient rebuke and warning not unheeded in the future."

Governor of Mississippi

Initially opposed to the omnibus strategy, Clay had announced on April 8 that he would support it. "You may vote against it if you please in toto, because of the bad there is in it, or you may vote for it because you approve of the greater amount of good there is in it," he said.

Foote continued to support the compromise, denouncing an alternate measure offered by Davis as nothing but "a sort of southern Wilmot Proviso." Davis's proposal called for the federal protection of slavery in the territories, but Foote argued that this measure would actually help undermine slavery. Since those in favor of slavery had traditionally argued that the practice was constitutionally protected everywhere except the free states, he said, it was an accepted notion that Congress had no authority to legislate on slavery issues. He said that if Davis's measure was adopted, it could quickly lead to abolition and "utterly exterminate our favorite domestic institution, and plunge the whole South in hopeless and remediless ruin."

The omnibus bill called for the admission of California into the Union as a free state and the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C., in exchange for a stronger fugitive slave law and the possible expansion of slavery into the West through popular sovereignty. When this legislation was voted down, Foote tried unsuccessfully to have California divided into two states, one slave and one free. This proposal was voted down with 33 opposed and 23 in favor.

Despite these failures, the Compromise of 1850 still made it through Congress. Stephen Douglas of Illinois resumed the effort to pass the measures as five separate bills, which covered all of the issues in the omnibus and had Texas surrender its claims on New Mexico territory. Foote frequently visited the House of Representatives after the measures passed the Senate, offering assistance to members there.

Foote was the only man among all of Mississippi's representatives and senators to support the Compromise of 1850. After the close of the congressional session in September, the state legislature commended Davis and the four congressmen for their opposition to the measures. It also censured Foote for his support.

Despite this rebuke, there was a fair amount of support in Mississippi for the preservation of the Union. In 1851, Foote was selected as the gubernatorial candidate for the newly formed Union Party to counter pro-secession Democratic candidate John Quitman. The bitter campaign was chiefly focused on whether or not Mississippi should quit the Union; at one campaign stop in Sledgeville, Foote and Quitman came to blows and had to be separated. Quitman delayed his schedule to stop in towns two days after Foote, and Foote subsequently began accusing Quitman of being afraid to meet him face to face.

John Quitman, who dropped out of the gubernatorial race against Foote (Source)

Quitman soon dropped out of the race, and the Democrats chose Davis to take his place. In the general election, Foote squeaked out a narrow victory, earning 999 more votes than Davis out of 57,717 cast. He resigned from the Senate on January 8, 1852, to begin his term as governor.

Secession was still the main issue of the day, and Foote found little support in the Democratic legislature. These members named a Whig to fill Foote's seat in the Senate and a former Union Democrat to fill the vacancy left by Davis, then postponed the election for a senator who was to start serving in 1854. Foote also tried to get the legislature to formally support the Compromise of 1850, but its members stubbornly refused to do so.

In 1853, Mississippi voters chose secessionist candidate John J. McRae for governor. Frustrated by the mood in his state, Foote resigned five days before the expiration of his term; state senate president John J. Pettus held the office for these last days. One year later, Foote moved to California.

Snubbed in California

Although he renounced any political ambition in his new home, Foote soon became strongly involved with the Know Nothing party. At the 1855 state elections, this nativist movement gained a 3-1 majority in the state assembly and a one-vote advantage in the state senate.

In a June 1855 speech, Foote decried the continuing sectional tensions in the United States as the "most hazardous crisis that had ever risen in our national affairs demanded the serious consideration of the patriot, and every lover of his country." He worried that "fanatics" in both the North and South threatened to tear the country asunder. The best solution, he believed, was to have Whigs and Democrats opposed to Democratic President Franklin Pierce unite in a party dedicated to the good of the entire nation.

Although he claimed that he was no longer interested in being a politician, Foote was one of the top people considered for the Know Nothings' Senate nomination. However, he was soon dealt a black eye when he engaged in an unnecessary quarrel with the Sacremento Union, a Whig newspaper that had backed the Know Nothings in 1855. When the paper denounced the party's Senate candidates as "gaming politicians" and "migratory partisan quacks," Foote took offense and said the publication shouldn't be speaking in generalities. The Union accepted the challenge, publishing an article outlining the reasons why Foote shouldn't be considered for office. These included his inability to work well with others, "impolitic acts" such as the confrontation with Benton, and his brief time in California.

The last reason was particularly galling to state senator Wilson G. Flint, a Know Nothing who hated slaveholders and considered Foote a carpetbagger. While the state assembly voted 57-19 on January 11, 1856, to meet four days later to elect a U.S. senator, Flint joined a 17-15 vote to postpone the joint meeting to January 22. When this day arrived, he threw his support behind a motion to postpone the election of a senator indefinitely. These actions negated the Know Nothings' one-vote majority, and the Senate seat remained vacant until the next year.

Foote remained loyal to the Know Nothings, who supported Filmore for President in the 1856 election. When both the nation and California supported Democratic nominee James Buchanan, the Know Nothing party in California disintegrated. Foote subsequently rejoined the Democrats, but took no active role in the 1857 election.

In July, Foote announced that he would be traveling to Washington, D.C. in September to attend a session of the Supreme Court. Although the implication was that he would only be there for a brief period, he never came back to California. Instead, he returned to Mississippi and settled near Vicksburg. Critics charged that this action confirmed their suspicions that Foote had only been interested in fulfilling his political ambitions in California.

Nevertheless, most of Foote's children remained in the state and several became prominent in the West. Henry S. Foote Jr. became a California superior court judge, while another son, W.W. Foote, was a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 1892. His son-in-law William M. Stewart settled in Nevada, where he was named by the Republicans as one of the first senators from this state.

William M. Stewart, Foote's son-in-law, riding a mule in Nevada (Source)

The "open assailant"

Foote remained in Mississippi only briefly, opting to move when it became clear that the state was going to secede. He settled near Nashville, Tennessee, and was a delegate to the Southern convention in Knoxville. He supported Northern Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas in the contentious 1860 election, agreeing with the Illinois senator's proposal to preserve the Union through popular sovereignty.

Even though he had opposed secession throughout his career, Foote supported the Confederacy after Tennessee left the Union in June 1861. The state was one of four to secede after the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in April, kicking off the Civil War. By this point, Foote said, to oppose secession in the South was to be labeled a "coward and submissionist" and possibly exposed to intimidation and violence. Moreover, his family supported the cause, with his sons serving in the Confederate military.

Foote returned to politics, getting elected as a Tennessee representative to the First and Second Confederate Congresses and starting his service in 1862. In his first term, he chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as a special committee to investigate illegal arrests and losses on the battlefield. In his second term, he chaired another special committee on illegal impressment.

The relationship between Foote and Davis, now President of the Confederacy, had not improved. Foote became known for his harsh criticism of Davis's administration and his handling of the war. He constantly demanded information on military movements and battles, advocated an offensive rather than defensive war against the Union, and ordered some 30 inquiries into suspected ineptitude and corruption. Foote was particularly suspicious of quartermasters, whom he suspected of reaping private profits through the supply of the Confederate military.

In addition to his disdain for Davis, Foote held little regard for the members of his administration. He managed to oust Judah Benjamin as Secretary of War after introducing a vote of no confidence against him in 1862. While this action followed the loss of Roanoke Island in North Carolina as well as losses in the western states of the Confederacy, it was also influenced at least in part by anti-Semitism. At one point, Foote ranted that Jews had "deluged" the Confederacy and taken over important trades; he said that if this alleged shadowy influence continued, they would "probably find nearly all the property of the Confederacy in the hands of Jewish shylocks." He later declared that he would not support the creation of a Confederate Supreme Court as long as Benjamin "shall continue to pollute the ears of majesty Davis with his insidious counsels."

Benjamin wasn't Foote's only target. He claimed that his critiques of Confederate Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger and Secretary of War James Seddon, along with his call for them to be removed from office, had influenced the men's resignations. He called Commissary General Lucius B. Northrop "a curse to the country" after learning that Northern prisoners of war were not getting enough food. At one point, Foote introduced an amendment to limit Davis's presidential powers but it failed with 45 against and 14 in favor.

Foote's opposition to Davis became so protracted that the Confederate president described him as his "only open assailant in Congress." Foote was against secret sessions of the Confederate Congress, conscription efforts and, the suspension of habeas corpus (unless the enemy was within sight of Richmond). He opposed the continuation of the war after Lincoln offered peace terms in 1863 and 1864, and tried unsuccessfully to introduce his own measures to stop the conflict.

Not surprisingly, Foote was as unpopular in the Confederate Congress as he had been in the U.S. Senate. One newspaper commented that he was a "verbose talker, a loose and inaccurate thinker" who "talks about every thing; and to little purpose." In one incident, Representative Edmund S. Dargan of Alabama attacked him with a Bowie knife during a debate after Foote called him a "damned rascal." When others stopped Dargan and took the knife away, Foote, perhaps recalling Benton's words, proclaimed, "I defy the steel of the assassin!"

Foote also got into a scuffle with Northrop and Representative Thomas B. Hanly of Missouri after laughing at Hanly's testimony during a committee hearing. John Mitchell, an Irish patriot and exile who had joined the staff of the Richmond Examiner, was so incensed by Foote's disrespect that he sent William G. Swan of Tennessee to deliver a duel challenge. When Foote responded that he would not accept the challenge because Swan was no gentleman, Swan responded by striking him with an umbrella, leaving a gash on Foote's head.


On Christmas Eve, 1864, Foote wrote to the Speaker of the House to say that he intended to resign at the end of the year. Shortly thereafter, he departed for the United States with his wife Rachel. He was reportedly heading for Washington, D.C., on an unauthorized trip to present a peace plan to Lincoln. Foote never completed the journey; he was arrested on January 10, 1865, although Rachel was allowed to proceed since her passport was in order.

Some of Foote's fellow representatives, perhaps tired of Foote's antics in the Confederate Congress, urged Davis to allow him to leave the South. Instead, a special committee was set up and decided by one vote to return Foote to Richmond. He spoke in his own defense on January 19, arguing that the arrest had violated his rights.

The Committee on Elections took up the issue, and recommended that Foote be thrown out of the Confederate Congress. Its report stated that he had tried to go to the U.S. capital without permission, intended to resign but withdrew his letter after his failed mission, and was "guilty of conduct incompatible with his duty and station as a member of the Congress of the Confederate States." The committee's minority report suggested that he had an honest motive, but that his actions were still "highly reprehensible" and deserving of censure.

The vote taken on January 24 was 51-25 in favor of Foote's expulsion. While this was more than two-thirds of the congressmen present, there were 33 members who were absent. Since the Confederate Constitution held that a congressman could only be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership, the motion failed. Instead, the Confederate Congress voted 64-6 to adopt the minority report and censure Foote.

Just one week later, Foote was arrested again. This time, he had made it to the United States and sheltered with his son-in-law William M. Stewart, the senator from Nevada. U.S. authorities gave Foote the option of returning to the South or going abroad. He chose the latter, leaving for England in February 1865. While there, he issued a manifesto calling on the Tennessee delegation to secede from the Confederacy and rejoin the Union.

Foote's actions earned him the nickname "Vallandingham of the South," a reference to the deportation of Clement Vallandigham, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, to the Confederacy after his vocal opposition to the Civil War. On February 27, the Confederate Congress again took up the question of whether to expel Foote. Declaring that his actions had indicated a disavowal of the Confederacy and a renunciation of his duties as a congressmen, the vote was 73-0 in favor.

After just six weeks in London, Foote returned to the United States. He was again taken into custody and held in New York City. On May 1, Foote wrote to President Andrew Johnson and asked that he be allowed to go to the Pacific coast, to be with his family and "spend the evening of his days in quietude and repose." Johnson was unsympathetic; he ordered Foote to leave the United States within 48 hours or be charged with treason.

Foote went abroad once more, this time to Montreal. But on May 15, he said he was willing to come back to the United States and face whatever jury trial Johnson deemed fit. He reminded Johnson of how they have served together in Congress and noted his longstanding opposition to secession before the Civil War. "It has been my fate to be grossly misjudged and misrepresented by men of extreme views, both in the North and in the South," he complained.

On June 30, Foote asked for a presidential pardon. Johnson was not amenable to this request, but on August 26 he allowed Foote to return to the U.S. Rather than face criminal charges, he would simply have to take an oath and give his parole of honor. Foote arrived in New York City in December.

Later years

After settling in Nashville, Foote moved to Washington, D.C. and began practicing law. He also started writing for a newspaper and completed more books, including Bar of the South and the Southwest and an autobiography entitled Casket of Reminiscences.

While praising President Ulysses S. Grant's inaugural address in 1869, Foote supported his opponent Horace Greeley (the candidate of the Democrats and Liberal Republicans) in 1872. Foote transitioned to the Republicans in 1876, supporting candidate Rutherford B. Hayes.

Foote was subject to political restrictions under the Fourteenth Amendment, which barred those who had served in the U.S. government and then joined the Confederacy from seeking office. However, his privileges were restored in 1869. After Hayes became President, he appointed Foote as superintendent of the U.S. Mint at New Orleans. Foote held this post from 1878 until his death on May 20, 1880.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, National Governors Association, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, "Clay's Last Compromise" on, "Bitter Feelings in the Senate Chamber" on, "Henry S. Foote's Duels" in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 31 1873, The Overland Monthly, Foote Family and Genealogy by Abram W. Foote, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress, Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of "Long Grabs" a.k.a. Murdoch John McSween 26th and 35th North Carolina Infantry edited by E.B. Munson, At the Edge of Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union by Robert V. Remini, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union by Fergus M. Bordewich, Jefferson Davis, American by William J. Cooper Jr., On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How It Changed the Course of American History by John C. Waugh, The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards, The American Senate: An Insider's History by Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker, Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War by David J. Eicher, Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary edited by Charles F. Ritter and Jon L. Wakelyn, Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction by James Alex Baggett, The Confederate States of America 1861-1865: A History of the South by E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate Congress by Wildred Buck Yearns, Encyclopedia of Mississippi by Nancy Capace, The Journal of Southern History Vol. 9, Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America Vol. VII, The Papers of Andrew Johnson, The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Letters of Warren Akin: Confederate Congressman, Arkansas: A Narrative History by Jeannie M. Wayne, Casket of Reminiscences by Henry S. Foote