Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Howe-Winslow Letters, Part 1: John and Uncle Henry Confer on John's Campaign for U.S. Senate – and Blame the Anti-Saloon League for His Loss

Just a day after posting about attorney/businessman/ politician John Junior Howe (1879-1939) and lamenting that I could find no photo of him, a miracle occurred. My husband was paging through some of his grandmother Sarah Eva Howe's scrapbooks, and there it was – this image of his 2nd great uncle John. I did a happy dance before I scanned it.

The handwriting above the photo says "vote for." Because of other items in the scrapbook, we think the writing was by John J.'s 1st cousin once removed, David H. Salyers II (my husband's father, 1915-1981). "D2" would have been 9 years old in 1924, when John was a candidate in the Kentucky Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. John would have been 45. Looks about right, don't you think? Although John ran for public office several times, I think this scrapbook entry pertains to his unsuccessful race for U.S. Senate.

Remember my comments in the previous post about having a packet of letters between John and his uncle Henry M. Winslow? In another twist of fate, I found a picture of Henry in the Carroll County section on the Northern Kentucky Views website. It identifies him as an lawyer and president of Carrollton National Bank. The image is not dated. reports his birth date as 3 Aug 1850 (Carrollton, Kentucky) and his death year as 1931 (Sarasota, Florida). I'd estimate Henry to be 40 to 45 years old in the photo. (There's gray in the beard but no facial wrinkles.) That dates the image to 1890-1895. I'm just speculating, of course. If you know more, please share with me.

Most of the letters in the packet include one or both of these topics:
  • John J. Howe's campaign as the "dry ticket" candidate in the 1924 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. (Remember that several of the Howe men were card-carrying, tee-totaling members of the Temperance movement.) Most of the letters on this topic were focused on campaign finance.
  • Henry's trials and tribulations related to owning the Carroll County, Kentucky, land from which a ferry made sojourns from Ghent to Vevay, Indiana, home base of the ferry's manager, Martha J. Graham.
In today's post, we focus on the campaign.
The Senate Primary Campaign of John J. Howe
John used caution as he made his decision to throw his hat in the U.S. Senate political ring. Here's an except from a letter he wrote to Uncle Henry on Nov. 9, 1923:
Now that the Democratic state ticket has been elected by such an overwhelming majority [William J. "Honest Bill" Fields, who like John J. Howe was a Methodist and a prohibitionist, was elected governor], I will soon begin to enter into the activities of my canvass much more vigorously and will shortly confer with some of my most dependable advisers preliminary to making my formal announcement.
On Dec. 3, 1923, Henry expresses a possible obstacle between John and victory in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate:
I am a little astonished and concerned to know what effect Gen. J. Tandy Ellis' candidacy will have upon your prospects, thinking probably that Senator Stanley's friends are pulling him out into the race in order to divide the dry vote with you.
(Augustus O. Stanley represented Kentucky in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate and was the state's governor 1915-1919. Fellow Kentuckian  J. Tandy Ellis had multiple connections with him. Stanley was Howe's victorious opponent in the Democratic Party primary for U.S. Senate in 1924, but he lost the general election to Republican Frederick M. Sackett)

Just three days later, Henry writes to his nephew:
I got it in the neck to the tune of about $6000 in the Roane Chancery Court last week. And I am proceeding to pay it up before I leave here tomorrow to meet you in Lexington on Saturday.  . . . In view of this large unexpected demand upon me which I am proceeding to raise the money and pay off rather than continue longer in the courts, kindly do not clip or send in any of the coupons or expect any interest payment before the first of January on behalf of your mother and Lille, as I will be away in Florida until about the first of next year and may not be able to leave my finances in such condition as to meet these demands before that time.
Whoa! Henry apparently was a defendant and lost in court to the tune of $6,000. If any of you in Roane County, Tennessee, don't have anything else to do and want to dig up the details of this case, please send me what you find!

In the packet of letters I purchased, the correspondence about the campaign jumps from December 1923 to July 1924. Now we see a lot of references to cash, loans, rejected loan applications, and the like. On July 2, the president of Louisville National Bank, Richard Bean, writes to John J. Howe at his campaign headquarters, Room 349 Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, with carbon copies to John at his bank in Carrollton and to HMW, likely Henry M. Winslow in Tennessee:
I return herein the note inclosed [sic] in yours of the 30th ult. for $1000.00 because we are not seeking outside loans now Mr. Howe, and, of course, the loan as you offer it is rather unusual anyway. Whenever individuals borrow over $1000.00 we generally have collateral. I hope you can furnish that on this paper without any inconvenience.
I interpret the language to mean that John proposed borrowing $1,000 from the Bank of Louisville but was turned down flat.

Then on July 7, Henry replies to a letter from John – a letter in which John wrote, "It will be necessary soon for me to have more and if you are not coming this way soon maybe you better arrange it if possible." Henry responds:
I was in Chattanooga this morning and sold some of my stuff at really about 10% less than I thot it was worth and nearly 10% less than I was substantially offered last January, and I got for it the enclosed cashier's check for $1820 which I have endorsed to you. Do you suppose that you will be able to pull thru with this? If not, give me the best estimate you can as to what any balance you think I ought to contribute, will likely be.
Henry asks for the total cost of what campaign advertising has cost in the country and city newspapers, as well as the cost of travel and hotel lodging. He reports that relatives in Lexington have commented that John has "about a million of his pictures put up over the cities and country on every post, tree, telephone pole, windows, etc." While Henry admits that the relatives might be exaggerating a bit, he suggests that this kind of publicity may be "over-done."

He adds his opinion that the "Democrats in New York at the Convention are acting a fool very considerably and their chances of success in November maybe considerably lessened by reason of the bickerings they have had among themselves and that Coolidge and LaFollette may each reap considerable benefit for the lack of gumption among the democrats." (Indeed, Republican candidate Coolidge defeated Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive candidate LaFollette.)

Four days later, he returns to the topic of posters, relaying reports from Lexington:
. . . some of your friends as well as your enemies are adversely criticising [sic] your extravagant use of posters in that section of the country. I suggest if you should not warn your county managers against repeating this kind of advertising to the extent of over-doing it. However good this "poster" kind of advertising may have been in the more or less remote past, when it was first started, I hardly think it is apt to amount to much after it has become a sort of "old song" to which little attention is paid.
On July 17, Henry expresses dissatisfaction with the system of campaign finance. (Does any of this ring a bell?) As I read it, I wondered if the Anti-Saloon League, a powerful, temperance-promoting social/political organization, was demanding money from the candidates it supported. Later in the letter, Henry expresses appreciation for the way a Republican running as a Progressive is funding his campaign. Again, we hear themes that may be familiar today, almost 93 years later.

The letters continue, back and forth. The men occasionally meet in Lexington, Carrollton, or Cincinnati to discuss campaign strategy and family business. In what appears to be his last letter to John during the campaign, Henry urges attention to "getting out the unpurchasable [sic], reliable and honest voters."

The primary election must have been soon after Henry wrote this letter, because a letter written by Henry's daughter Alice on Aug. 7 expresses sadness and surprise over John's loss.
It seemed to me that every body [sic] I knew was going to vote for John as there is so much feeling against Stanley. ... I was sorry too when John sent out word after the election that he would support Stanley in the fall. I think that was a mistake as well as wrong. John knows the type of man Stanley is and all he stands for, and to think that just because he is Democrat that he [John] would support him now in the Fall. It would be far better for us to have a good dry republican for a couple of years and get rid of Stanley than to keep him as a disgrace to the party and state.
The packet contains post-election letters, more of them from Henry to John that from John to Henry. We must extrapolate some meaning and make some guesses along the way. I get a sense from Henry's letter dated Aug. 9 that John wrote to him soon after the loss at the polls, thanking his uncle for his generous campaign support (Henry contributed $10,000 in an eight-month period) and maybe apologizing that he did not win. Henry responds:
I do not regret a thing in regard to the whole matter, except that the anti-saloon league did us up the way it did. I am of the opinion that its management is mostly rotten and merely, in recent years especially, becomes a mere graft on the candidates which it sees proper to to endorse for its supposed strength. 
Perhaps my old friend Young and some few are reasonably honest (being largely deceived of the Devil however) but they are for the most part nearly as rotten as the old parties have gotten to be, and in their vain imaginations only pretending to earn their salaries and perquisitses [sic].
If in your experience with them you think that I am much misjudging them I would be glad to know.
. . . Still yet your affectionate uncle,
The last few letters about the campaign and election tell us a lot about money. It's easy to assume that both John and Henry were prosperous. Both came from entrepreneurial, successful families. Both worked as attorneys. Both were bank officers and had financial interests in land and other assets. The letters from Henry seem to cast doubt on that assumption. In a letter dated Sept. 3, 1924, Henry itemizes his outstanding loans:
I am up to my limit in both the banks here and another bank in Tennessee, besides having $4100, which I renewed at the Louisville National Bank, with the understanding that I would pay it about the first of November. This, besides the $5000 which I have from the Carrollton National Bank, including $3000 note of Mr. Kennedy, discounted there by me. . . . I will see what other help I can render you, but if I add on another thousand, it will have to be by increasing my notes at Carrollton from $5000 to $6000 and putting up collateral. And taking out Mr. Kennedy's note discounted there.
Three days later, John writes back to his Uncle Henry, describing his own financial woes:

What? Did John accidentally buy a farm? Was he at the auction to inflate the bidding but got caught with the high bid? If he made a habit of that, it's no wonder he lacked cash!

More questions than answers at this point – and some of those answers may never be found. Still, I'm fascinated by the letters and what they tell us about John and Uncle Henry.

In a future post, we'll dig into the letters about the two men's interactions with the manager of the Ghent ferry.

1 comment:

ScotSue said...

A fascinating account of both family history and local history relevance. It occurred to me that a local paper might well be very interested in your articles which convey such a picture of the times.