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History

October 7, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: A look at Vigo County politics 120 years ago

TERRE HAUTE — 1892, like 2012, was a presidential election year and Vigo County was deeply involved.

Incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, an Indiana Republican, was a close friend of William Riley McKeen, whose country estate at Edgewood Farm, now Edgewood Grove, was Harrison’s “Camp David.”

Moreover, the president’s only son, Russell B. Harrison, moved to Terre Haute in 1892 to transform the Terre Haute Street Railway into the Terre Haute Electric Railway Co., residing with his wife Mary and daughter Marthena at the Terre Haute House until acquiring 333 S. Fifth St. Son William Henry Harrison was born there on Aug. 10, 1896.

The year began on an ominous note. On Jan. 1, 1892, Terre Haute Mayor James Allen died. Allen was a lawyer and former Superior Court judge.

The city council met on Jan. 5 and elected Henry Griswold, one of its members, to fill the vacancy until the mayoral election in May. Carpenter George Watson was chosen to succeed Griswold on the council.

In January, at separate conventions, James M. Hoskins was elected chairman of the Eighth District Democratic Committee and Nicholas Filbeck was chosen chairman of the District Republican Committee.

Both men were esteemed businessmen with impressive military records. Raised on a farm in Lost Creek Township, Hoskins was a veteran of the Mexican War and co-owned a successful Brazil dry goods store with his brother-in-law.

Filbeck was a member of the 32nd Indiana Infantry, August Willich’s celebrated “First German Regiment,” during the Civil War. He also was a hotel proprietor and a two-term postmaster. Permanently crippled by wounds received during the battle of Stones River, the dynamic Filbeck displayed a perpetual reminder of his valor.

President Harrison spoke Jan. 21 to the district convention in Terre Haute.

Republicans convened in Brazil on March 3 to elect delegates to attend the party’s convention at Minneapolis in June, choosing Gen. Lew Wallace and Riley McKeen. They urged Frank P. Sargent, Eugene Debs’ successor as Grand Master of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, to be their candidate for Congress but he refused.

Elijah Voorhees Brookshire of Montgomery County was the incumbent Democratic congressman. On April 9, Democrats held a mass meeting at the Naylor Opera House, featuring addresses by Debs, Col. William E. McLean, who became the  nominee for state senator, and former Indiana secretary of state John G. Shanklin.

At the Democrat’s city convention on April 12, delegates chose justice-of-the-peace Joseph M. Wildy as its mayoral candidate. Two days later, the Republicans nominated realtor Fred A. Ross.

Ross won the May 3 election by 105 votes. Each party captured seven of 14 council seats at stake. Peter M.Foley was appointed city attorney; Asa B. Fitch was named city engineer;  John Kennedy was designated fire chief; and James Coordes was chosen street commissioner.

Grover Cleveland, president of the U.S. from 1885 to 1889, was the Democratic candidate chosen at the Chicago convention. U.S. Sen. Daniel W. Voorhees and Judge Cyrus McNutt of Terre Haute, among others, addressed the national conclave.

Harrison seemingly suffered a setback when popular secretary of state James G. Blaine resigned but  was selected by Republicans on the first ballot in Minneapolis.

Before the Republican County Committee met July 23 to select candidates, discord surfaced between Dr. Albert J. Thompson, the committee chairman, and Filbeck. The precise complaints were not publicized though it was suggested that Filbeck was unhappy with Thompson’s use of campaign funds.

Thompson exacerbated the divide by naming Charles H. Washington, an African-American, as the party’s candidate for state legislature. According to the Terre Haute Gazette, Filbeck, David C. Greiner and a number of other white Republicans were livid.

One reason for their anger was “a thoughtless resolution” introduced at the convention by Dr. John H. Washington, editor of The Afro-American Journal, a local newspaper, urging the repeal of laws affecting the civil rights of black citizens.   On July 29, a letter to the Vigo County committee and signed by C.H. Washington was published, thanking the committee for the honor of being the first of his race from Vigo County to be nominated for the state legislature but requesting his name be withdrawn since campaigning would force him to quit his post office job.

Three days earlier Washington accepted the nomination and attended a reception and parade in his honor sponsored by the local Republican Harrison and Reid Club.

The Colored Republican Club insisted that Washington’s place on the ballot be filled by “another acceptable African-American.” On Aug. 2, club members met at the courthouse to protest the way Washington was treated. Barber Simon Daniels, Dr.  Washington, attorney Fred Smith, and educator Alfred E. Meyzeek addressed the group.

Attorney Smith prepared a resolution acknowledging that a convention resolution introduced by Dr. Washington’s was unnecessary since the legislature had passed “An Act to Protect Citizens in the Enjoyment of their Civil Rights” in 1885.

The Republicans’ “comedy of errors” included the nomination of Charles H. Bentley as Vigo County Treasurer. After the convention, it was discovered that the wrong Bentley had been nominated. He agreed to withdraw his name. Meanwhile, Dr. Thompson and Frank E. Benjamin, committeeman from the Fourth Ward, resigned.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson spoke here on Sept. 10.

On Oct. 25, two weeks before the election, Caroline Harrison, wife of the president, died following an extended illness in Washington, D.C. at age 60. Thomas H. Carter, Republican National Committee chairman, issued a memo requesting the suspension of all parades and political demonstrations out of respect for the deceased.

Having already enlisted Ohio Gov. William McKinley and 1,700 marchers for an Oct. 26 parade, Filbeck ignored the appeal. Democrats responded Oct. 31 with 5,000 participants including Indiana Gov. Isaac Gray and former Kentucky congressman James McKenzie.

In the Nov. 8 general election, the Democrats won Vigo County by a landslide and, capturing Indiana’s 15 electoral votes, Cleveland defeated Harrison for president.

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