On December 5th 1868, a home gas stove explosion nearly killed and “terribly burned” longtime Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C) president, Leander M. Hubby. For more than a decade Hubby had led this regional powerhouse as it solidified its financial grip on the Bee Line component railroads. Along the way, he earned an almost patriarchal reputation among officers and men of the road’s operating corps.
In May 1868 Hubby had assumed the presidency of the successor railroad that, for the first time, combined the Bee Line components roads into a single legal entity: the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway(CCC&I). Unfortunately, his near-death experience effectively sidelined Hubby until he officially resigned his role in September 1870.
Into this leadership vacuum stepped a new duo of recently ensconced Bee Line board members. Oscar Townsend’s board appointment in September 1868 closely followed Hinman B. Hurlbut’s similar election at the formation of the CCC&I that May. Then, following Hubby’s unfortunate accident and subsequent resignation in 1870, the Townsend/Hurlbut duo formally assumed their heretofore-tacit responsibilities as president and vice president. They could not have written a more perfect script.
Hurlbut had joined the Bellefontaine Railway’s board and finance committee at its formation in 1864. His Cleveland-centric banking business included numerous Cleveland Clique clients. Soon he was part of the group. Hurlbut had purchased the charter of Cleveland’s Bank of Commerce in the 1850s and reorganized it as the Second National Bank.
Oscar Townsend began his career with the CC&C as a laborer in 1848. Between 1856 and 1862 he advanced through the ranks of its Cleveland freight office. Townsend shifted to Hurlbut’s Second National Bank in 1862, learning his banking skills at Hurlbut’s knee.
The CC&C’s longstanding general ticket agent S. F. Pierson reported, in an exposé on the demise of the railroad, that Hurlbut had tapped the bank of its financial strength by the time he left it in 1865. While one flattering biographer characterized Hurlbut’s exit as due to “the arduous labors and close application necessitated by these and other financial tasks he had undertaken,” Pierson had a different take.
From Pierson’s perspective, Hurlbut “retired, consequent upon the destruction of more than its [the Second National Bank’s] entire surplus, and some of the securities and private deposits of the Bank. These…had been abstracted, and the money lost in speculation. The cashier had ended his own life in a painfully tragic manner, and Mr. Hurlbut was permitted to retire.”
It was about this time that Oscar Townsend also left the bank and segued to a superintendent’s role overseeing the Western Department of the Empire Transportation Company. Such businesses were immensely profitable and important extensions of the railroads they served in the post-Civil War era. Responsible for developing relationships with key shippers, businesses such as the Empire Line “fast freight” often decided which railroads would transport the huge amounts of freight under their control.
At the same time, nearly all railroad presidents quizzed by an 1867 Ohio Special Legislative Committee confessed they had been offered fast freight line stock “on favorable terms, or as a gratuity.” Enticed railroad directors began to work in concert with the “fast freights” to direct high-value freight traffic over their favored “fast freight”. This left only bulkier and less profitable local freight for the railroads themselves.
Inasmuch as the CCC&I started life in 1868 as a “financiers” railroad, Townsend and Hurlbut fit right in. By the time of Hubby’s retirement in 1870, they took control.
In the Bee Line’s new form, an old and wily politician to handle the Hoosier “good old boy” network was no longer needed. The long railroad career of David Kilgore came to an end in February 1870. And with his departure went the last vestige of the Hoosier Partisans.
Only one significant transregional railroad would be constructed during the Civil War. The amalgam of railroads that became known as The Atlantic and Great Western Railway Company (A&GW) would stand by itself. With huge capital infusions from London and Continental investors, the road opened for business in August 1865 along its entire 388 mile route from Salamanca in Upstate New York to Dayton Ohio.
Nefarious London rail broker-cum-financier James McHenry had cajoled voracious English and European investors to fund the improbable A&GW project. Exploiting his role as proxy for these complacent capitalists, McHenry seized control of the road Ohioan Marvin Kent had brought to life in the 1850s. And by the early 1870s, he also commandeered the board of the Eastern trunk line intersecting with the A&GW at Salamanca: The Erie Railway. Now, he needed an outlet to St. Louis to complete his domination of railroads extending from New York City to the West.
James McHenry’s financial flimflam with A&GW’s European investors always left free cash with which to subsidize his own schemes. He had used some of those funds to insert Peter H. Watson as president of the Erie Railway in 1872. Watson became McHenry’s conduit to Hinman B. Hurlbut and the Bee Line. McHenry would sprinkle a substantial amount of cash on Hurlbut, and their subterfuge to assume control of the CCC&I.
Within weeks of Watson’s elevation to Erie’s presidency, he penned a letter to McHenry:
I opened negotiations with the parties controlling this road [CCC&I], and my success was greater and more rapid than I could have hoped. The result is embraced in the conditional agreement made by you with Mr. Hurlbut.
Hurlbut convinced members of the Cleveland Clique to sell their shares before word of an impending takeover became public. He then conveyed the acquired shares, and others from the Bee Line treasury, to McHenry. As S. F. Pierson noted:
…several members [of the CCC&I board] were …retired from active pursuits, and not disposed to take much trouble in the matter; and of the balance, one portion used the Vice-President [Hurlbut] to further some scheme of their own, and the other hoped he might want to use them.
When the A&GW’s plans for the CCC&I became public in early 1873, members of the Cleveland business establishment and other New York investors were completely flummoxed. After all, the A&GW showed assets of less than $40 million while reporting liabilities of more than $120 million. By comparison, the CCC&I was of robust but declining financial health. S. F. Pierson was stunned, noting, “Vice President [Hurlbut] has unbolted our doors from within.”
John H. Devereux, soon to become a key player in the final destiny of the Bee Line, painted a more colorful picture. He characterized the possibility as “an attempt to chain a living man to a dead corpse.” Before long, as orchestrated by James McHenry, Devereux would become President of both the Bee Line and the A&GW, and vice president at the Erie – all at the same time!!
McHenry had arranged for Devereux’s CCC&I presidential appointment as soon as the A&GW assumed financial and board control of it in April 1873. Devereux’s installation quelled some of the Bee Line stockholders’ angst, given his upstanding reputation as a railroad executive. But when Ohio’s legislature blocked McHenry’s plan to lease the CCC&I to the anemic A&GW, the Bee Line shareholders’ attitude shifted.
Still seeking to run the A&GW and CCC&I as a single entity in spite of his failed leasing scheme, McHenry orchestrated Devereux’s appointment as general manager at the A&GW. By January 1874 he was bumped up a notch to president – while still heading the rival Bee Line!
The Bee Line shareholders had had enough. In an effort to oust McHenry’s A&GW and Erie board proxies, they orchestrated a massive CCC&I shareholder turnout for the March 1874 annual meeting. The opposition candidate slate included several former Cleveland Clique members, New York investors, and one Hoosier: David Kilgore.
And in an interesting twist, deposed CCC&I president Oscar Townsend headed the opposition – until Hinman Hurlbut brought to light Townsend’s involvement in a freight payola ring. The revelation tipped the balance. The opposition suffered a narrow defeat. There would be no Hoosier Partisan revival.
Longer term, James McHenry’s self-induced financial problems would only mount. His tenuous grip on the A&GW and CCC&I slipped away at the hands of Peter Watson’s 1874 Erie Railway successor: Hugh H. Jewett. Jewett would extricate the Erie from McHenry’s grasp, and push him to near-bankruptcy.
In making this decision Devereux, in his role as president of the NYPA&O, effectively parted ways with a livid Hugh Jewett and the Erie. A week later Devereux resigned. Soon, the Erie would subsume the NYPA&O.
The die was now cast for the future of the Bee Line as well. Its destiny would lie with Vanderbilt’s New York Central.
It had been a long journey since 1848, when Oliver H. Smith challenged the citizens of east central Indiana to avoid being bypassed by the technological marvel of the age. They would heed his warning by their investment in the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad – the Bee Line’s Indiana segment.
Smith’s prescient vision proved to be uncannily accurate. It was if he had penned Indiana’s state motto: “the Crossroads of America.” But for the Bee Line, it might never have come to pass.
Henry S. Lane was the consummate politician for the turbulent times that spurred him into action. He regularly put party before personal ambition and was modest enough to affect change from behind the scenes with little glory. He was, perhaps more than any of the other political players involved, the prescient architect responsible for creating the Indiana Republican Party in the 1850s. But he is often overlooked and overshadowed by more dramatic characters. He did not make bold and controversial decisions like Oliver P. Morton. He did not bravely stand in opposition to slavery like George Washington Julian. Instead, he was a discerning compromiser and a shrewd political operative, essential qualities in a period marked by division and the gathering clouds of Civil War. Perhaps no man except Lane could have united the disparate factions squabbling over an array of issues to create a stalwart party able to challenge the Southern-sympathizing Indiana Democrats.
From such a grand description, one might picture Lane as a stately figure in the vein of peers such as Thomas A. Hendricks or Schuyler Colfax. However, Lane’s outward appearance did not reflect his astute political brain. He was tall, skinny, and pale. He was missing his front teeth and, in donning a blue denim suit, he did nothing to craft the appearance of a statesman. On top of everything, he chewed tobacco, a custom associated with the antebellum South.
This seemingly unimpressive figure, however, delivered some of the finest speeches ever orated by a Hoosier politician. For example, the Fort Wayne Standard described his 1854 keynote address at the People’s Party Convention as “soul-stirring and eloquent” and lamented their inability to describe his language sufficiently. His political savvy and oratory skills played no small part during one of the most exciting and tempestuous periods of Indiana political history.
Henry Smith Lane was born February 24, 1811 in Kentucky. By 1834, he settled in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, where he would maintain his permanent residence for the rest of his life. He quickly rose to prominence in Crawfordsville. He gained admission to the Indiana bar soon after arriving in the community. In 1837, at the age of twenty-six, he won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party.
On August 3, 1840, as the result of a special election, Lane won an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, he caucused with fellow Whigs such as former President John Quincy Adams, future president Millard Fillmore, fellow Hoosiers Richard W. Thompson, and ex-governor David Wallace. Lane won re-election to a full term on May 3, 1841 and served until August 6, 1843. Historian Walter Rice Sharp described Lane’s time in the U.S. House: “He delivered few speeches and introduced no measures of his own. But upon occasion he would launch forth with an impromptu outburst of feeling which indicated a depth of conviction.” Apparently, Lane’s limited but impassioned participation was enough to earn the respect of his idol and Whig Party leader Henry Clay.
When Clay won the Whig Party’s presidential nomination in 1844, Lane took to the campaign trail. Although he recently considered dropping out of politics due to a personal tragedy, Lane consented to be named as a candidate for state elector on the Whig ticket. He traveled across Indiana, and delivered public speeches in support of Clay for president. For example, the Evansville Journalreported on a June meeting to ratify Clay’s nomination at Tippecanoe Battle Ground: “Hon. Henry S. Lane of Montgomery, being loudly called for, took the stand and addressed the immense multitude in exposition of the principles and aims of the Whig party.” After Lane enthusiastically praised Clay and the party, the Indiana Whigs heartily ratified the nomination. He increased his efforts on behalf of Clay in the fall and one can follow his speaking trail through the newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles. From August through October the (Brookville) Indiana American reported on Lane’s appearances at “Whig Mass Meetings” in Rockville, Lafayette, Logansport, Goshen, Fort Wayne, LaPorte, and Terre Haute.
The Democratic Party, however, was re-gaining dominance in Hoosier politics. The Whigs lost major ground in the 1844 state elections. In the presidential election, Hoosiers reflected the national choice of Democrat James K. Polk over Clay. Among other issues, the Whig Party failed to sense a changing economic climate. The country was in an expansionist mindset and the Democrats catered to this hunger for land and the imagined opportunities associated with it. Polk advocated for the addition of Texas and Oregon into the Union, satisfying the public’s desire for expansion, but also rocking the delicate balance of Slave and Free states that would soon lead to the Civil War. Lane had thought little about slavery thus far, and it would have been hard to imagine at this point in time, that he would one day unite the anti-slavery factions in Indiana.
Clay’s defeat reinforced Lane’s earlier desire to withdraw from politics. In 1845, he re-married (after being widowed) and focused his efforts on building a large white house in Crawfordsville which he named Lane Place. It was built to last – it still stands – and to serve as a quiet retreat from the national stage. His country, however, soon needed him. According to Lane biographer Michael Hall, Lane objected to Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico in 1846 on partisan political grounds. Yet as a patriot, he felt called to serve. He organized a group of volunteers who assembled outside Lane Place in June of 1846 and left home for war.
Over a month later, Major Lane and the First Infantry Regiment of Indiana Volunteers arrived at the Texas-Mexico border. The camp they found there was “hell upon earth,” according to Lane. The regiment waited in vain for months to be ordered into battle. Meanwhile, Lane and the other officers watched as their troops contracted and succumbed to malaria, dysentery, yellow fever, and other diseases. Lane wrote in his journal, “We shall bury a great many of our best men before we leave this miserable camp.” Despite repeated requests for an active assignment, Lane (now a lieutenant colonel) and his men returned to Indiana after ten months of inaction, disillusioned by their experiences. According to Hall, this event also embittered Lane to both the Whig and Democratic parties and “the bureaucratic bungling that caused the inefficiency he witnessed and had contributed to the war’s cause.” By 1847, Henry S. Lane anticipated the need for a new political party, but the climate would not be ripe for another seven years.
Zachary Taylor was the last Whig to win the presidency when he defeated Democrat Lewis Cass in the 1848 election. The new president was also a slaveholder. Hall claims that Lane “constantly criticized” Taylor, and thus further distanced himself from the Whig Party. However, a search through Indiana newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles shows that Lane, putting party before personal sentiment, offered half-hearted support for Taylor. For example, the Indiana State Sentinel reported in February 1848, that Lane spoke to an audience of “Taylorites” in Crawfordsville. Lane described Taylor as “an American of capacity, of honesty, and merit” and reported that he offered his support for the obscure reason that “as the people are all going for him, I wish to keep out of the crowd.” However, Lane seemed more enthusiastic about his party that fall. The (Brookville) Indiana American reported on a gathering of many leading Midwestern Whigs and a large audience “who had left their shops, farms, and daily occupations to spend a day of two in honor of Zachary Taylor – the people’s candidate for the Presidency.” The paper described Lane, one of the main speakers at the event: “[T]hat gallant Whig champion and eloquent orator of our own State, Henry S. Lane, of Montgomery [County], was called for, and mounting a table at the door, he poured forth a flood of political truths which elicited shouts of applause! The old Whig fire seemed to be rekindled anew upon every altar, and not until a late hour, was he permitted to leave the stand.”
Political defeat, however, soon doused Lane’s fire. His 1848 loss to Joseph E. McDonald for the U.S. House of Representatives made clear that, much like the Whig Party itself, his political and moral stances were in flux. He was a Whig “in name only,” according Hall, but newspapers such as the Indiana State Sentinelrecognized him as “the most prominent member of that body.” More importantly, he had yet to take a clear position on slavery. While the Montgomery (County) Journal called him a “champion of human rights and freedom” who would check the expansion of slavery, the Sentinel noted that he had made no anti-slavery promises on the campaign trail. The paper reported that they hoped he would “define his position . . . and . . . openly declare whether he will support Taylor’s bidding or not.” Lane lost the election, and by this point in history, Indiana was solidly Democratic.
Lane’s response to the Compromise of 1850 epitomized his ambivalent stance on slavery. Like most Whigs, Lane supported this set of bills that temporarily eased tensions between pro and anti-slavery interests at the expense of actually solving the problem of slavery. Like Clay, Lane was morally opposed to the institution of slavery but politically only opposed the extension of slavery into new U.S. states and territories. (This is a marked contrast to George Washington Julian, for example, a staunch abolitionist who fought to rid the nation of slavery completely.) Also like Clay, Lane did not imagine the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which put limits on slavery’s expansion in the U.S. Territories, would ever be repealed. All Whigs, however, did not see the issues the same way as Lane and Clay. The Compromise of 1850 highlighted the sectional divisions in the Whig Party, while at the same time creating an uneasy peace. Henry Clay’s death in 1852 served as a harbinger of the Whig Party’s fate. A few short years thereafter, the party membership fractured over a piece of legislation that destroyed the tentative sectional truce.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise. The bill was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas (who would later run for president against Abraham Lincoln) and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Pierce. While initially a huge setback for the anti-slavery movement, opposition to this law and to the Democratic administration worked to mobilize disparate political groups against a common cause. This was the perfect climate to organize the new party that Lane and others had envisioned years earlier.
Among those Americans who were united against the extension of slavery into new territories their opinions on slavery itself varied widely. Many anti-slavery adherents opposed the western spread of slavery, but had little interest in the fate of enslaved peoples in the South. Whites who worked in agriculture and industry opposed slavery’s expansion because they did not want to compete with slave labor in the North or in new territories. For the anti-slavery politicians and electorate who favored emancipation, there were debates on how to accomplish this. Some groups favored emancipation only over an extended period of time. Even within this “gradual emancipation” position there were debates as to whether or not slaveholders should be compensated or not as a result of their loss of “property.” Even if an anti-slavery faction favored emancipation they often advocated that the freed African Americans should be removed from America and colonized in Africa. Only a small percentage of anti-slavery supporters abhorred the institution as an affront to God and labored for its immediate abolition and citizenship rights for African Americans. Despite these sometimes vastly different positions, the desire to stop slavery’s spread was a unifying aim, and in July 1854, former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, Free Soilers, and others organized to form a new national party: the Republican Party.
In Indiana, Lane and other prominent ex-Whigs called for a state convention to be held July 13, 1854 for the purpose of organizing a new party. Historian Walter Sharp wrote that “Lane, with his wealth of persuasive eloquence and his unblemished character, was clearly the prime mover of this inner council.” That day, ten thousand people reportedly rallied at Indianapolis to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act. These included Hoosiers favoring political issues that ranged from alcohol-adverse temperance advocates to anti-Catholic, xenophobic Know-Nothings to defecting Democrats to staunch abolitionists. It was clear to Lane that the new party must include all of these diverse political voices, and unite them against slavery’s expansion. Thus, Indiana’s arm of what would in ensuing years become the Republican Party, had to be more moderate in order to be more inclusive. Lane and other leaders chose to call it the People’s Party. They reasoned that by avoiding the name “Republican” they could avoid the association with the eastern abolition movement that many Hoosiers saw as too radical.
Democratic newspapers had their own, more colorful names, for the new party. The Indiana State Sentinel referred to the July meeting as the “Isms Convention” and the “Great Mongrel Convention,” criticizing the sheer number of different ideologies that the party was attempting to reconcile. Another Democratic paper, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Transcript, called it “a Free Soil Convention in disguise.” The Sentinel also hyperbolized, calling the People’s Party the “Abolition Free Soil Party” in an attempt to scare off the conservative Know-Nothings and defecting Democrats.
Despite the efforts of detractors, the convention was a success. This was due in large part to Lane’s unifying speech where he outlined the platform of the new party. He appeased the prohibitionists by calling for a liquor ban and the Know-Nothings by calling for a “lengthy citizenship” process, all without offending the German immigrant members in their midst. Mostly, however, he set the party in opposition to the detested Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery into the territories. Lane biographer Hall explained that his speech, “Molded the various confederations of political doctrine into one shaky, but significant movement.” The (Huntington) IndianaHerald praised Lane’s speech and delighted over his criticism of Democratic U.S. Senator John Pettit who recently spoke in Indianapolis in support of the reviled Kansas-Nebraska Act and famously stated during the Senate debate on the act that Jefferson’s statement included in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” was “a self-evident lie.” The paper reported:
[Lane’s] address was of the most soul-stirring and eloquent character. We cannot pretend to give his language, and if we could, no one, unless they heard him, could form an idea of his style oratory. His defense of the glorious Declaration of Independence from the foul aspirations of Petit [sic], was the finest specimen of terrible denunciations that we have listened to for many years. Had that individual been present, as brazenfaced as he is, he must have wilted down under the Atlas load of scorn piled upon him by the eloquent Lane.
Of course, the Democratic Indiana State Sentinel had a different view of Lane’s speech. The paper complained that Lane’s stance was simply to oppose anything the Democrats advocated. The Sentinel also made fun of Lane’s folksy, rustic manner of speaking:
If a set of Democratic resolutions were to embody the Ten Commandments, Henry S. Lane would be “agin ’em”. . . If he knows which side the Democrats are on, he is always on the other side, and his only guide has ever been opposition to Democracy.
In a way, the Sentinel was right. Lane knew that perhaps the only thing this heterogeneous group of Hoosiers had in common, was opposition to the Democratic Party and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The official platform set forth by the People’s Party was simple. First, they opposed the extension of slavery. Second, they advocated for laws to “suppress the traffic in ardent spirits as a beverage.” And third, they opposed everything laid out by the Indiana Democratic Party during their recent convention. One example of the platform’s moderation was seen when the abolitionist George Washington Julian introduced a minority report calling for a stronger stance against slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law. The convention quickly tabled Julian’s request. Nonetheless, the Indiana People’s Party rode their non-traditional platform to success in the 1854 elections statewide; they took nine out of eleven congressional races and gained a majority in the lower house of the Indiana General Assembly.
Lane exerted great influential in steering the new party toward a moderate stance on slavery. He recognized that most of Indiana’s electorate saw the abolition movement as too radical. At this delicate time, he was careful to speak only against the extension of slavery, and did not advocate for its abolition. In 1855, he wrote to Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax, “We must resist the encroachment of Slavery, if we would preserve the rights of Freedom.” Despite his moderation, Democratic papers charged Lane with being an abolitionist. While Lane was certainly not an abolitionist, his views on slavery were shifting towards opposing the institution itself, not just its extension.
During the 1856 election year Lane remained a key figure in the Indiana party and began making waves nationally as well. In 1856, Lane chaired the People’s Party Convention in Indianapolis and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that nominated John C. Frémont for president (and had the crafty campaign slogan: “Free labor, free soil, free men, Frémont”). In his 1856, Lane addressed the Republican National Convention, and reiterated that the party opposed only extension of slavery, not its abolition, but added that he believed the Declaration of Independence to be “an anti-slavery document.” He described the Republican Party as representing “every shade of Anti-slavery sentiment in the United States” and that the party hoped to see a time when God would “look upon no slave North or South.” He continued:
Freedom is national. Freedom is the general rule. Slavery is the exception. It exists by sufferance. Where it does exist under the sanction of the law, we make no war upon it. Does that constitute us Abolitionists, simply because we are opposed to the extension of slavery? If that makes an Abolitionist, write ‘Abolitionist’ all over me.
The Crawfordsville Journal reprinted Lane’s speech. The only editorial comment the Journal provided was this: “We give it to our readers without note of comment, as it was reported for that paper. We consider it, however, a master stroke of Western eloquence. Let everybody read it.”
Back home in Indiana, Lane again demonstrated his political savvy and ability to put party before personal ambitions in an attempt to strengthen it for the 1856 election. Lane was the preferred pick for gubernatorial nominee among some party leaders for his skill, experience, and unifying effect. However, Lane knew Oliver P. Morton would be the candidate with a better chance of winning. Morton had been a Democrat until just before the People’s Party’s organization and had no record of anti-slavery rhetoric. A former Democrat was likely to draw the support moderate and disillusioned Democrats as well as former Know-Nothings, who were not thrilled with the participation of Lane and others in the Republican National Convention (as they still considered the national party too radical). Despite this creative maneuver, Morton lost the election. Democrats won the state and the national election making James Buchanan, supporter of strict fugitive slave laws and the rights of states to decide the slavery issue, the leader of a divided nation.
Over the next four years, the People’s Party aligned itself with the national platform and adopted the name “Republican.” As the Indiana party looked toward the 1860 election year, Lane looked toward Washington and a Senate seat. He also applied what he knew about offering the voters moderate candidates who could appeal to various factions. He used this knowledge when he threw the Indiana delegation’s support behind Abraham Lincoln’s nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention. Check back for a second post on Lane and his role in Lincoln’s 1860 presidential nomination and scheme to win both the governorship and a Senate seat for his party.
For more information see:
Michael Hall, The Road to Washington: Henry S. Lane, The Rise of an Indiana Politician, 1842-1860 (Crawfordsville: Montgomery County Historical Society, 1990).
Walter Rice Sharp, “Henry S. Lane and the Formation of the Republican Party in Indiana,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 7:2 (September 1920): 93-112.
See Part VI to learn how the Hoosier Partisans moved for autonomy as the Cleveland Clique tightened its grip on the Bee Line railroad.
In the summer of 1859, the Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland’s (IP&C’s) Madison locomotive exploded near Kilgore Station in Yorktown, Indiana – killing the engineer and fireman. A month later, near the same location, an intoxicated man fell from the station’s platform and was killed by a passing train.
These tragic events occurred just weeks after the Hoosier Partisans’ scheme to achieve their independence, by leveraging on the IP&C’s strategic position as a funnel to the West, had failed. The accidents seemed eerily suggestive of the Hoosier Partisans’ plight in the face of the Cleveland Clique’s mustered financial power.
By the IP&C’s May 1860 board meeting the Partisans were resigned to their fate: “we know of no other means by which we can extricate ourselves from our monetary difficulties and save the road . . . We deem it best to extend and continue said [joint operating] contract with said Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad (B&I).”
Indiana board members had again faced the reality that the railroad business, on many levels, could be a perilous endeavor. The push and pull of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique would ultimately result in the legal consolidation of the Bee Line Railroad components roads.
Clearly sensing the IP&C would be reluctantly compelled to extend its joint operating agreement with the B&I, John Brady, the receiver for the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad (CP&I), demanded that the IP&C honor its 1852 through-line agreement with them. He recited the agreement’s language regarding freight and passenger traffic between Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, which mandated “sending any/all east/west traffic which can be done” over this connection.
Incredibly, Brady was able to pull off what the Hoosier Partisans had been unable to accomplish in their effort to effect a divorce from the Cleveland Clique – at least until 1863 when the CP&I was once again reorganized.
Ironically, the advent of the Civil War in 1861 would bring prosperity to the anemic component roads of the Bee Line – now operating jointly as the Bellefontaine Line. The combination of enhanced demand for grain to feed the troops and bolster poor harvests on the European continent spelled profits for the railroads.
During this time, frustrations had mounted among East Coast merchants and the railroad trunk lines that served them. West of the Appalachians they were dealing with a fractured network of independent short lines and their inefficient freight handling between lines. Add to this the further stress of moving troops and supplies quickly, and something had to be done.
The demands of war pushed operational efficiency forward – driven by the trunk lines. The resulting more integrated rail networks also led to enhanced profitability, and opened the door for the Eastern trunk lines to expand their footprint west.
The Bee Line roads finally got their financial houses in order. By June 1863 the IP&C declared its first dividend in years—3 percent. Taking advantage of newfound prosperity, it declared another 3 percent dividend in December and voted to increase capital stock by $300,000.
Ostensibly this was done to pay for new equipment, new terminals, and road improvements. In reality it provided a convenient opportunity for the Cleveland Clique to increase their stock position and thereby dominate upcoming shareholder votes. To that end they determined, once and for all, to quell the IP&C board’s irritating Hoosier independence.
Courtesy of the Clique’s voting block, John Brough returned as IP&C president at the February 1863 annual meeting – following Hoosier figurehead Thomas A. Morris’ 3½-year tenure. In a last-ditch effort to stem the Clique’s board dominance, Alfred Kilgore—Yorktown’s first station agent, son of director David Kilgore, and an Indiana state legislator— introduced a House bill in January 1863. Had it passed, all Indiana railroad corporations would have been required to elect three-quarters of their board from stockholders resident in the state. It died in committee.
Beyond Brough’s return to the IP&C’s presidency, he emerged as the front-runner in Ohio’s governor’s race in the summer of 1863. Orchestrated by the Cleveland Clique, Brough’s candidacy leveraged on his earlier but noteworthy Ohio political career and effective pro-Union speechmaking style. The War Democrats and Republican Union parties joined forces to secure his nomination. He was overwhelmingly
elected in October 1863.
Stillman Witt, Cleveland Clique heavyweight and by then the second-largest individual holder of Bee Line roads stock, had encouraged and supported his close friend’s candidacy. On Brough’s election as governor Witt volunteered to fulfill his duties as president of the Bee Line roads. He insisted Brough draw his IP&C presidential salary while serving as governor.
During 1864 Witt steered the Bee Line roads toward a brisk legal consolidation. At the IP&C’s June board meeting a committee was appointed “to agree upon mutual and just terms for consolidating the capital stock of this company with that of the B&I.” Reprising its once central role in the history of both the IP&C and B&I, Union and its Branham House was chosen as the site for the decisive shareholder consolidation vote.
Finally, after years of Hoosier Partisan and Cleveland Clique push and pull, the two lines were legally consolidated on November 24, 1864 – emerging as the Bellefontaine Railway Company. For the first time since its inception in 1848, the railroad extending from Indianapolis to Union failed to exist as a stand-alone Hoosier-based—if not completely controlled—entity.
Brough was elected the new entity’s first president at its inaugural meeting in Union on December 22nd. It would be a short tenure, however, as Brough died in office on August 29, 1865 while also serving as Ohio’s last wartime governor.
After Brough’s death, Witt officially assumed the role he had been occupying as Brough’s proxy. His style was businesslike and close to the vest. Board minutes reflected meetings run with a limited agenda, focused on few topics, and with little discussion noted.
Witt saw to it that the Cleveland Clique began to recoup investments made in the road’s predecessor lines. Hardly a board meeting would go by over the next three years in which a dividend was not declared. And there were up to three board meetings a year.
The Cleveland Clique was not done tightening its grip on the Bee Line. In addition to Brough’s election as president in December 1864, a landslide of Cleveland Clique members took eight of eleven seats on the Bellefontaine Railway’s board. Included among this number was an individual destined to alter the Bee Line’s future trajectory: Hinman B. Hurlbut.
By the spring of 1868 the Cleveland Clique decided to finally consolidate all three of the original Bee Line component roads – then comprised of the Bellefontaine Railway and the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C). The need for additional monies to restructure debt and fund an expanding footprint was justification enough to tap the CC&C’s solid financial underpinnings.
In reality the freed and raised cash by the consolidation would be spent on both business expansion and personal enrichment. To a greater extent than marketed to the public the new road was being recast, like many others in the post-Civil War era, as a “financiers’” railroad.
On May 13, 1868, the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway (CCC&I) sprung to life under the leadership of former CC&C president Leander M. Hubby. Hubby had established a long, profitable, and almost patriarchal reputation among his management team over the course of more than a decade at the helm of the CC&C. He and the newly recast Bee Line faced two immediate and significant obstacles to their future viability.
One challenge was to finally complete and/or control a rail line between Indianapolis and St. Louis. By 1867, the Cleveland Clique had assembled what it thought was a consortium of six similarly-interested rail lines to sign an expensive long-term lease of a road between Terre Haute and St. Louis. It proved to be otherwise.
The poorly engineered, indirect, and financially tenuous St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute Railroad (StLA&TH) was its only option. And by the time the lease was signed the original consortium had essentially dwindled to two: the Bee Line and another Clique-affiliated railroad.
More to the point, as the consortium disintegrated, the road between Indianapolis and Terre Haute – by then called the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad (TH&I) – backed out. Instead, it would align with Pennsylvania Railroad interests to complete John Brough’s dream of a direct line to St. Louis, under the colloquial Vandalia Line moniker. As a result, consortium participation with competitors made no sense.
However, the TH&I’s realignment with Pennsylvania Railroad interests meant the Bee Line was left without a link between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. And the TH&I would not entertain an arrangement to let the Bee Line utilize its tracks.
By the fall of 1867 the Clique’s Bee Line board made the financially difficult decision to build its own parallel line between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. The Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad(I&StL), headed by Thomas A. Morris, would be built in less than three years. And soon, it would fold and operate the StLA&TH under its banner. But it had been a costly decision.
Hubby’s other immediate Bee Line challenge was more sinister in its design. And, at least initially, Hubby would be unaware of its existence. But, in fact, it would threaten the Bee Line’s very survival and that of its Cleveland Clique benefactor.
Check back for Part VIII, the final blog in the Bee Line series, to learn more about how the national aspirations of other railroads, and their financial chicanery, recast the Bee Line Railroad’s ultimate destiny.
Calvin Fletcher, reluctantly elected president in John Brough’s stead, had met with a litany of key personnel and other midwestern railroad presidents to gain a broader perspective. He had also dealt with a variety of operational, cash flow and accounting issues left unaddressed by Brough.
As a result, by April the line’s Superintendent had resigned. At the same time, Fletcher engaged an individual to look into unaccounted for and delayed freight. He pushed for cost reductions at the engine shop at Union, and restructured the road’s finances. John Brough, reflecting on his own performance, acknowledged: “It appeared there were large discrepancies between the books of the Superintendent and those of the Secretary…As President I should have discovered these discrepancies and applied the remedy.”
On top of Brough’s lapses while heading the IP&C, he had been removed as President of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad (M&A) by late May 1855 in favor of Chauncey Rose – founder and former president of the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad. The M&A, the Cleveland Clique’s bet to reach St. Louis, was in its death throes. It had taken a public relations beating at the hands of Illinois river town and Chicago politicians, who questioned the road’s legal legitimacy – and John Brough’s managerial track record. Investors abandoned the M&A, leaving Brough without portfolio.
Calvin Fletcher, frustrated by what he discovered as president of the IP&C, informed the Hoosier Partisans: “I feel that my official duties in the RR are oppressive & that I must leave them…There is a degree of corruption in relation to it that I cannot arrest—or rather the effects of which already passed that I cannot overcome.”
As the July 1855 annual meeting approached, the Partisans pushed Fletcher to continue on as president. They soon faced reality: he would not remain. As late as the day before the meeting Fletcher could not figure who would become his successor. It soon became clear, however, the Cleveland Clique had been making plans as well. Incredibly, John Brough would be resurrected not only to retake his prior role at the IP&C, but also be anointed as president of the Bee Line’s Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad(B&I) at the same time!
Brough’s operational and financial shortcomings would have been obvious to the Cleveland Clique by then. On the other hand he was loyal, politically savvy, and possessed an Ohio pedigree. Given the newly redefined and more limited scope of the president’s role, and with strong Clique operational and financial expertise now present on both boards, Brough was serviceable.
Effectively, the Cleveland Clique would now control both the B&I and IP&C. While not yet legally consolidated, the two roads would be run as one while John Brough and the Clique considered the calculus to officially bind them together.
Sparked by Brough’s Clique-masterminded elevation to the dual Bee Line presidential roles, the IP&C’s Hoosier Partisans squirmed under the terms of the joint operating agreement foist upon them by the Cleveland Clique the year before. Both the perpetual nature of the contract and mandate to consolidate with the B&I “at the earliest possible moment” were not sitting well. Discovering the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C) had never technically executed the contract, the Hoosier Partisans made a move to modify its language.
By the IP&C’s March 1856 annual meeting, revised terms of the joint operating agreement had been hammered out. A newly reconstituted and more representative overall executive/finance committee was arranged. At the same time, the contract term was reset to five years, instead of being perpetual. Any party to the contract could now terminate it with three months’ notice. However, this clause could only be exercised after the agreement had been in place for three years.
Fortunately for the Hoosier Partisans, the IP&C’s three-year joint operating obligation ended as the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad (CP&I) finally reached Union in the spring of 1859. Now the IP&C could anticipate a substantial revenue boost as freight and passengers traveled to/from Columbus across CP&I track to Union. From Columbus, Pittsburgh could now be reached – and the Pennsylvania Railroad headed to Philadelphia – via affiliated lines.
Union and the IP&C were proving to be a pivotal funnel for other traffic as well. Freight and passengers headed to/from New York across the CC&C and aligned roads to the fledgling New York Central Railroad at Buffalo would find their way to Union. Similarly, via the CP&I link between Union and Columbus OH, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) could now be accessed at Wheeling WV. And, courtesy of a new through-line arrangement connecting the B&O’s eastern terminus at Baltimore with New York City, a second alternative for reaching this center of commerce from Union became a reality.
The IP&C would be the clear beneficiary of these new connections to the east – if only it could effect a separation, if not a divorce, from the B&I as well as the CC&C. Then, standing individually, the IP&C could strike lucrative through-line agreements with each of the eastern trunk lines and their local affiliates. By way of these arrangements, the Hoosier Partisans could once again regain control over their own destiny.
At the March 1859 IP&C board meeting, Partisan David Kilgore proposed a three-person board committee be appointed to “pursue a line of fair and impartial conduct between our two connections at Union.” The concept was for the IP&C to direct traffic under its control and destined for New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore to these connecting roads “in proportion to the trade and travel received from the several points named above.”
The stars were aligning from an operational standpoint as well; a March 28 letter from the receiver of the CP&I announced they “will be prepared in a very few days to transport passengers and freight” between Union and Columbus OH.
A crucial series of IP&C-arranged meetings with presidents and general managers of several of the eastern trunk lines and their Ohio-affiliated roads took place in Columbus, Ohio that May. The importance of Union and the IP&C’s Indianapolis connection west toward St. Louis were obviously not lost on the roster of kingpins who decided to attend the Columbus confab.
As might be expected, there were two distinct perspectives on the IP&C’s postulated autonomy. Those regional lines aligned with the Pennsylvania Railroad or B&O via CP&I connections at Columbus OH endorsed the IP&C’s move toward independence. Not surprisingly, those roads associated with the New York Central via Bee Line alignments at Cleveland, or with the Pennsylvania Railroad via the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad[O&P] (passing near the B&I’s eastern terminus at Galion OH) took the opposite position. Among this group was the CC&C’s then president, Leander M. Hubby.
Shortly after the meeting, as Hubby contemplated the implications of the IP&C’s stratagem – with its alternative access to New York City via the B&O – he balked. “This company would not quietly submit to receiving a divided business from the IP&C.” Hubby went on, and to the heart of the matter, “this company contributed largely in money and credit to the completion and opening of the Bellefontaine Line…I think it my duty to say…this Company…will at once form other connections which are being offered them.”
Bee Line financier Richard H. Winslow of Winslow, Lanier & Co. tag-teamed with Hubby, mounting an attack on the IP&C’s soft financial underbelly. “In view of your embarrassments growing out of the large debt falling due the 1st of January next, we should think it a hazardous experiment and one that may lead to very bad consequences.”
In many respects the Hoosier Partisans’ dream of an independent IP&C had been dashed years before when it accepted the financial help of “foreign” interests—be they in New York, Cleveland, or Europe.
Hollow recognition was paid to the Partisans in the wake of the Union episode. At the annual IP&C board elections in July 1859, Thomas A. Morris was elected president. In turn, John Brough stepped down from the IP&C presidency but continued to hold dual roles as president of the B&I and chairman of the overall Bellefontaine Line executive committee. The title of general superintendent was also added to his dossier. Brough and the Cleveland Clique would control eight seats on the IP&C board to the Hoosier Partisans’ seven.
At the May 1860 board meeting, extension of the revised Bee Line joint operating contract was considered. Swallowing its pride and with a financial gun to its head, the IP&C board reluctantly moved to accept it. If anything, the Union episode crystallized the Cleveland Clique’s determination to drive the B&I and IP&C to a formal and final consolidation under their direct control.
And while the IP&C’s contract extension with the B&I had taken more than a year to be resolved, the Union episode hastened the day when the IP&C would no longer exist as a separate entity. And with it, the Hoosier Partisans’ dream of maintaining control of their own destiny faded to a smoldering ember.
Check back for Part VII to learn more about the push and pull of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique, leading to the legal consolidation of the Bee Line component railroads.
After a period of hitchhiking their way towards the West Coast, camping, and living on cold food, the twenty two-year-old burgeoning poet Kenneth Rexroth and his new artist wife Andrée, arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1927. Rexroth biographer, Linda Hamalian, referred to them as “forerunners of the flower children who flocked to Northern California during the fifties and sixties.” In San Francisco they found exactly what they had been hoping for: a rich cultural environment without the pretense they sensed in the East Coast artistic community.
They quickly met other artists and writers and found jobs painting furniture. They moved into an apartment on the Montgomery Block, often called the Monkey Block, that had long housed artists and writers, including the Hoosier author Ambrose Bierce. Rexroth wrote that they had little money, but “limited needs” and were able to live “the kind of life that I’ve lived almost always since, a sort of semi-monastic life devoted to writing and painting.”
The young couple also spent time enjoying the lush and varied natural environment surrounding San Francisco which Rexroth wrote “kept me in California all these years.” They swam and hiked and noted the unique flora and fauna. This love for nature deeply influenced Rexroth’s writing and he worried about destruction of the natural world by developers. In later years, he described himself as a sort of early environmentalist writer:
My poetry and philosophy of life became what it’s now fashionable to call ecological. I came to think of myself as a microcosm in a macrocosm, related to chipmunks and bears and pine trees and stars and nebulae and rocks and fossils, as part of an infinitely interrelated complex of being. This I have retained.
By the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Rexroth was employed by the Work’s Progress Administration (WPA) contributing to the “American Guide” series of handbooks for each state. Rexroth and several other local poets and writers created the California guide and were able to inject information on natural conservation and into the otherwise standard guidebook.
While he had contributed scattered “cubist poetry” to what Hamalain described as “ephemeral publications” upon his arrival in San Fransisco, by the 1930s he was regularly writing and publishing work in journals and small volumes of poetry. Much of this poetry combined natural imagery with his radical leftist political beliefs and strong anti-war sentiment. For example, his poem “At Lake Desolation,” published in the magazine The New Republic in 1935, contrasted the stillness of nature with the horrors of war. The poem begins:
The sun is about to come up and the regiments lie
scattered in the furrow their large eyes
wet in the pale light and their throats cut
He explored similar themes in his poetry throughout the 1930s and became a staunch pacifist. In 1937, the New Republic journal published Rexroth’s poem “Requiem for the Dead in Spain,” lamenting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. He began the work by describing his walk through the beautiful Sierra Mountains under the stars, the tone changes as he suddenly feels sick thinking about the war. He laments:
I see the unwritten books, the unrecorded experiments,
The unpainted pictures, the interrupted lives,
Lowered into the graves with the red flags over them.
I see the quick gray brains broken and clotted with blood,
Lowered each in its own darkness, useless in the earth.
Alone on a hilltop in San Francisco suddenly
I am caught in a nightmare, the dead flesh
Mounting over half the world presses against me.
That same year, the influential independent publisher James Laughlin included Rexroth’s work in his second annual New Directions in Poetry and Prose, a publication the Academy of American Poets referred to as “pivotal.” In 1940, Macmillan published Rexroth’s first major collection, In What Hour. The work was considered wholly original and cemented his place at the forefront of the San Francisco literary movement. A reviewer for the Oakland Tribune wrote: “Rexroth is wholly and essentially a poet in the new manner. Usually a poet’s first work, and this is Rexroth’s first book, enables the acute reader to name his literary progenitors. But Rexroth’s poetical parents, if he has any, are not known.” The critic continued, “Despite this break with tradition, or it may be, as the apostles of the modern poetry claim, because of this independence, Rexroth’s book is important and tremendously interesting.” Hamalain wrote that the poems that make up In What Hour “demonstrate his remarkable ability to render plausible the possibility of spiritual presence and a sense of unity in the natural world” despite the threats of the modern age.
While his writing career was taking off, his marriage was dissolving. Rexroth moved out and began a relationship with Marie Kass, a “whipsmart” nurse, who would become his second wife in 1941. While he was happy with Marie, he was devastated when Andrée died October 17, 1940 from a seizure. He wrote of Andrée in a poem published in The Phoenix and the Tortoise:
I know that spring again is splendid
As ever, the hidden thrush
As sweetly tongued, the sun as vital —
But these are the forest trails we walked together,
These paths, ten years together.
We thought the years would last forever,
They are all gone now, the days
We thought would not come for us are here.
This idea, that love and nature could serve as spiritual refuge in troubled times, became even more significant with the outbreak of World War II and the entry of the United States into the conflict in 1941. Rexroth maintained his pacifist stance and applied for conscientious objector status February 19, 1943. Throughout the war, Rexroth worked with pacifist organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, and the local branch of the National Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He wrote that at one point he received a notice from his draft board that his status had been changed from 4-E, conscientious objector to 1-A, available for armed service. He wrote, “I immediately appealed. The process dragged on for over a year while the FBI investigated the claim as by law they were required to do . . . There was no question that I was a bona-fide Conscientious Objector.”
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, some Americans began questioning the loyalty of Japanese Americans, a large number of whom lived on the West Coast. In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which relocated Japanese Americans, including native born citizens, inland, away from the coast (which had been identified as the Pacific military zone) and confined them to internment camps. Thousands were forced to leave their homes and businesses. However, some Americans, including Rexroth, opposed internment as racist and unconstitutional.
Rexroth wrote in his autobiography that even before the U.S. declared war on Japan, that he worried Japanese Americans would face persecution. He wrote a letter and sent it to various pacifist groups and religious groups, stating that when war was declared, “the persecution of Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry, because they are marked by their color and features, will be worse than that of the German-Americans of the First World War.” He wrote in his autobiography, “I managed to persuade them to set up a committee with the absurd title of the American Committee to Protect the Rights of Americans of Oriental Ancestry.” When Rexroth and other members of the Friends Service Committee got word from a “contact in the White House” about the order for internment, they “immediately got on the phones,” and urged each person they called to call five more people. They also called university and political contacts and civil liberties organizations. While perhaps an aggrandizement, Rexroth credited this work with mobilizing opinion in the Bay Area against internment.
Rexroth took more direct action as well. Again according to his autobiography, Rexroth explained a scheme that saved several Japanese-Americans, including a personal friend, from internment. He contacted the Midwest Art Academy in Chicago, which he called a “phony correspondence school” that advertised scholarships “in cheap pulp magazines” for classes on “photo retouching, art, dress design, and knitting.” He convinced the school to sign registration papers for Japanese American students for a fee. He then contacted the “colonel in charge” of evacuation in San Francisco who agreed to provide educational passes for such students despite the school’s organization being “kind of a racket.” He located funding through Jewish residents of San Francisco and worked with Quakers to “set up a student relocation program.” In this way, Rexroth wrote, “we started shoveling people our of the West Coast on educational passes.” The poet Robert Duncan wrote that both Kenneth and Marie were also “working in the camps . . . taking messages back and forth.”
Rexroth’s practice of Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga also influenced his pacifist views and actions. He incorporated this worldview, along with a belief of the transcendental power of love, into his writing. In 1944, New Directions Press published Rexroth’s The Phoenix and the Tortoise, a rumination on history and humanity’s major failings: war and its threat to the natural landscape. In this lengthy poem, there is still hope for humanity in nature and through love. While the tortoise represented the earthly and the mortal, the phoenix represented the transcendent, sublime, and immortal power of love. Likewise, the ocean symbolized nature’s power to transform and serve as sanctuary in a world threatened by war. Literary critic John Palattella explained, “Nature’s indifference to human death is not a threat but a source of consolation, since the ocean’s one unchanging characteristic is that it changes everything.”
While Rexroth and a small number of avante-garde writers flourished in the San Francisco area for several years, the end of the war in 1945 saw an influx of new artists and writers. Many of these new voices were drawn to the area because they had read Rexroth’s works and heard about the creative coterie he had organized: a group of rebellious writers who were exploring anti-establishment and far left politics in their literature along with other cultural critiques. Rexroth believed it was the war itself that created this cultural climate. He wrote in SanFrancisco Magazine:
Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound change of social relationships . . . so San Francisco during the War woke up from a long provincial sleep and became culturally a world capital.
Rexroth also maintained what Beat scholar John Tytell called “a sort of western salon, a weekly literary gathering,” where Rexroth introduced poets to each other and hosted readings. Out of this meeting of minds came “an entirely new cultural synthesis,” which produced new movements in theater, art, and poetry. One newspaper described this literary gathering in 1948 as “the San Francisco bay area poetry forum,” but the broader movement became known as the San Francisco Renaissance. Rexroth considered the combination of political discussion, poetry, and jazz to be the foundation of the movement. Over the following decade, this San Francisco Renaissance ushered in the rise of the Beat Generation. Rexroth’s role as bandleader of the San Francisco movement was responsible for his gaining the title “Father of the Beat Poets,” though he would later reject the title and the movement.
According to the Academy of American Poets, “Beat poetry evolved during the 1940s in both New York City and on the West Coast, although San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s.” The Beat Generation rejected mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry. Beat scholars point to the salon-type meetings organized by Rexroth as essential to bringing the Beats together. In the gatherings, the Beats would explore and embrace influential themes in Rexroth’s prolific writings like anarchism, pacifism, mysticism, and environmentalism. Beat scholar Ann Charters also credits Rexroth’s writings on Asian philosophy as influencing the Beat writers’ interest in “Buddha consciousness.”
Rexroth also helped establish jazz as an essential element of Beat poetry. During this period, Rexroth gained fame for combining his poetry with the music of local jazz groups. In San Francisco, he often performed at the Cellar, which became known for jazz and poetry performances and at the Blackhawk club with jazz bands like the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Two such performances were released on vinyl in 1957 and 1959.
Rexroth toured the country, performing regularly in New York City. According to the Academy of American Poets:
Rexroth was among the first twentieth-century poets to explore the prospects of poetry and jazz in tandem. He championed jazz and its musicians, publishing appreciations of players like Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman, defending jazz in print against critics who deemed the music less than serious, and most importantly, he played in a jazz band himself, helping to define a role for the poet in the jazz world and a role for jazz in the poetry world.
In the liner notes for his 1959 recording Poetry and Jazz at the Blackhawk, Rexroth wrote that jazz poetry “takes the poet out of the bookish, academic world” and returns the poetry to the realm of public entertainment. Rexroth believed that combining music and spoken word connected the audience and poet directly (as opposed to the mediation of the written word) and restored poetry to oral tradition.
Mainly, however, it was his rejection of mainstream culture that aligned Rexroth with the Beat movement early on. For example, in 1951, in a syndicated review of Rexroth’s poem “The Dragon and the Unicorn” one critic noted that these rebellious writers were reacting to the post-war period with disgust. He stated that though in their writing style, they break with tradition, but their rebellion makes them part of a long tradition of creativity.
On October 7, 1955, at a poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, Rexroth introduced Allen Ginsberg who read his revolutionary poem “Howl.” Scholars often point to this as the culminating event of the San Francisco Renaissance and solidification of the Beat movement. Charters described the movement as “awakening a new awareness in the audience (at the Six Gallery) of the large group of talented young poets in the city, and giving the poets themselves a new sense of belonging to a community.”
Rexroth championed many of the new writers in a 1957 article for The Nation, including high praise for Ginsberg. He described the scene at the height of the movement:
Poetry readings to large and enthusiastic audiences are at least weekly occurrences – in small galleries, city museums, community centers, church social halls, pads and joints, apartments and studios, and at the very active Poetry Center at San Francisco State College, which also imports leading poets . . . Poetry out here, more than anywhere else, has a direct, patent, measurable, social effect, immediately grasped by both poet and audience.
Rexroth argued that the Beat movement started as a radical literary movement, but quickly turned into a “hipster lifestyle,” that is, the pursuit of fashionable trends and not larger truths. He soon distanced himself from the movement because he felt the East Coast Beats, and especially Jack Kerouac, were opportunists seeking fame and mainstream acceptance. Rexroth was quoted by a reporter in 1958 as saying, “This beat thing, which is a publicity gimmick in the hands of Madison Avenue, will die away.”
Regardless, Rexroth had directly influenced the Beat movement probably more so than any other poet. In 1958, one reporter astutely wrote that Rexroth “seems to fix the entrance requirements.” Charters explained that Rexroth was one of a handful of writers who had “sown the seeds” for the flowering of the Beat movement. She refered to Rexroth as a “mentor” for the younger Beats and “the dominant force in the cultural life of San Francisco for more than half a century.”
Although the Beat movement melted into the counterculture movements of the sixties and rock and roll became the dominant outlet for rebellious youth, Rexroth remained a central figure in American literature. He continued to write poetry and extensive cultural and literary criticism. In addition to his original contributions, his translations of foreign poetry and his writings on literature such as his “Classics Revisited” column in the Saturday Review increased his importance to the literary world.
Writing for the Chicago Review, Rexroth scholar Ken Knabb looked back on the over 800 columns that Rexroth wrote for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and San Francisco Magazine during the 1960s and 1970s. Knabb wrote in admiration of the diversity of topics that Rexroth covered: reviews of jazz and classical concerts, operas, films, Chinese theater, performances of Shakespeare; discussions of art, literature, fishing, architecture, drugs, wine, Civil Rights, war, and politics; observations from his world travels; arguments for the women’s liberation and ecological movements; and criticisms of the past cultural movements through which he lived and participated. Knabb concluded that “as an ensemble . . . they add up to a social document and critical commentary of remarkable range.”
While Rexroth had begun translating poetry from other languages in the 1950s, he dedicated more and more of his time to the task later in life. He paid special attention to translating the work of women poets starting in the 1970s in works such as The Orchid Boat: Women Poets of China (1972) andThe Burning Heart: The Women Poets of Japan (1977). By this point, his own work incorporated imagery and meter learned through decades of translating Chinese and Japanese poetry.
In his review of Rexroth’s collection The Morning Star (1979), critic Emiko Sakurai praised these poems especially as “extraordinary poems, rich and sensuous, always immediate, febrile and powerful” and called Rexroth “a poet of the first rank.” However, Sakurai had a hunch about Rexroth. He noted that “The Love Poems of Marichiko” were “ostensibly” written by a young Japanese woman. Indeed, they were actually written by Rexroth from this imagined perspective. Critics noted the transformative power his work as a translator had on his own original work and his ability to write convincingly from the a feminine perspective of his invented character.
Upon Rexroth’s death in 1982, the New York Times described this “poet, author, critic and translator of Chinese, Japanese and classic Greek poetry” as greatly influential on later generations of writers. The Times obituary noted that he received acclaim from both radical literary and political circles as well as “honors and awards from more orthodox literary corners,” such as Guggenheim fellowships and a prestigious grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964.
Although he came to despise being called “Father of the Beats,” Rexroth created a cultural movement that influenced the voice and worldview of some of America’s best poets. Frankly, there would be no Ginsberg or Kerouac without Rexroth. However, it is his own unique voice that will forever hold his place in this country’s literary canon. Perhaps the best summary of his significance comes from poet and publisher James Laughlin, who described his friend Kenneth Rexroth aptly as “an American cultural monument.”
Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).
Ann Charters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
It was also a visible sign of president Henry B Payne’s effectiveness crafting and implementing the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad’s [CC&C’s] growth strategy. Now his attention turned to commanding the Bee Line component railroads and a line to St. Louis, both physically and legally. But, the Cleveland Clique’s grasp for control of the Bee Line Railroad would be elusive at best.
Just prior to Brough’s promotion, the I&B’s Clique-influenced board had resolved to convert its 4’ 8½” ‘standard gauge’ track (lateral dimension between rails) to the 4’ 10” ‘Ohio gauge.’ By law, the Ohio legislature had mandated that all railroads chartered there must be constructed to this dimension. As a result both Ohio legs of the Bee Line, the Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] and CC&C, had been built to this dictated standard. The Indiana-chartered I&B’s non-conforming gauge, however, prevented uninterrupted service between Cleveland and Indianapolis.
The I&B moved carefully to implement its gauge-change resolution. This was because, in early 1852, former president Oliver H. Smith had come to terms on a through-line agreement with a rail line being built between Columbus OH and Union IN – the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad[CP&I]. When completed, this important link would provide a connection to lines extending toward Pittsburgh, and on to Philadelphia over one of the growing trunk line giants: the Pennsylvania Railroad.
As part of through-line negotiations to coordinate schedules and share facilities, the CP&I had acceded to Smith’s demand that it petition Ohio’s legislature to build to the I&B’s ‘standard’ gauge. It soon received a legislative exemption and began building. However, the CP&I met financial headwinds almost immediately – most notably from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which failed to meet its guarantee commitment when the company defaulted on construction bonds. Unfortunately, following bankruptcy reorganization, the CP&I would not complete construction to Union until 1859.
From the I&B’s perspective, the CP&I’s financial problems and construction delays seemed insurmountable. In contrast, the temptation to avail itself of lucrative east-west business across the combination of Ohio gauge B&I and CC&C lines proved irresistible. Under cover of a finely crafted resolution to skirt its through-line agreement with the CP&I, the I&B board resolved to lay track using the Ohio gauge as “other circumstances and relations for the welfare of the Road may require.” Under this guise, by the summer of 1853, it had re-laid track between Union and Muncie to the “Ohio gauge”.
Given this developing situation, the CP&I felt compelled to act. It successfully sought a preliminary injunction to block further track/gauge conversion. The Bee Line was effectively stymied in its effort to achieve a uniform gauge run from Cleveland to Indianapolis. Although the I&B argued the 1852 through-line agreement was silent on the CP&I’s track conversion accord, Smith’s apparent sidebar pact proved compelling to the court. I&B president John Brough, backed by a new board replete with Clique members, was directed to move decisively to resolve the problem in late summer 1853. It proved to be a particularly costly settlement.
Together, all component roads of the Bee Line agreed to guarantee the CP&I’s performance on $400,000 of bonds issued to complete the road to Union. Beyond eventually finding themselves on the hook for this issue, the Bee Line roads would provide another, and then another tranche of funding by the time the CP&I limped into Union in 1859. At least the I&B could now finish its Ohio gauge track conversion between Muncie and Indianapolis. And, under terms of the settlement, the CP&I also re-laid its track to the Ohio gauge.
Winding up the CP&I lawsuit had been a prerequisite to inking a Cleveland Clique-initiated through-line agreement among all Bee Line component roads. The day after securing the CP&I settlement, the Bee Line’s through-line agreement was signed. There were two telling provisions that spoke to the different vantage point of the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans.
On the one hand, the agreement allowed the B&I and I&B to make “fair and eligible connections and business arrangements . . . to secure . . . their legitimate share of the business between the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.” While this clause provided a degree of freedom for the Hoosier Partisans and their Ohio counterpart to step away from their CC&C overseer, the other clause was engineered to reign in these independently minded stepchildren: “The B&I and I&B shall be consolidated at the earliest practicable moment.”
As to the latter clause, it would be easier for the Cleveland Clique to do its bidding if the Hoosier Partisans’ influence was diluted in a newly constituted board. At the same time, combining the two lines could prevent the Partisans from cutting their own agreement with the CP&I to carry traffic back and forth to Columbus and toward Pittsburgh via Union – totally avoiding carriage over the B&I and CC&C. And there was also a second option to reach Pittsburgh, via the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) – passing near the B&I’s eastern terminus at Galion OH. Still, at the time, the Clique’s consolidation mandate only served to draw the two smaller lines more closely together in their common struggle for independent decision-making. As unfolded for the Cleveland Clique, however, its consolidation directive would not be accomplished easily or quickly.
Squirming under the Clique’s dictate, and recognizing its strategic position as the funnel for rail traffic to and from Indianapolis to either Cleveland (and New York) or Pittsburgh (and Philadelphia), the I&B board served up its own subtle message. Essentially touting its option to bypass Cleveland through separate links to Pittsburgh, Hoosier Partisan David Kilgore proposed a name change “from and after the first day of February 1855. . . . The said Corporation shall be known by the name and style of the ‘Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland Railroad Company’ [IP&C].” It was overwhelmingly adopted.
The name change really symbolized much more. The locally controlled and focused I&B railroad era was gone. The newly rechristened road would now test its wings as a regional player—hoping, like a teenager seeking freedom from parental control, to stand apart from the clearly parental CC&C.
Separately, in 1854, John Brough was ramping up his Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A] – destined to link Terre Haute and St. Louis. After an arduous legal effort to validate its claim to an Illinois charter, the M&A had prevailed against Chicago and Mississippi River town political interests earlier in the year. However, it would soon be faced with another trumped-up legal challenge and a concerted public relations effort to undermine its viability and management capabilities. Such obstacles were having a detrimental effect on Wall Street investors.
In March 1854 a legal opinion by Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois law office asserted the illegality of the M&A’s corporate existence. Then, a New York newspaper article questioned Brough’s managerial track record at the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. The investor community was beginning to shy away from the M&A.
Nonetheless, with short-term funding secured, Brough pressed on with the M&A’s building phase. He issued a marketing circular and let contracts for the whole line by May, announcing the line would be completed by the summer of 1856. Brough would spend an increasing amount of time on this effort as 1854 wound down.
By the beginning of 1855 it was becoming clear Brough had the M&A on his mind. At the very least, the M&A’s pivotal role in the Cleveland Clique’s Midwest control strategy virtually mandated Brough’s full-time attention. Rumblings of his imminent departure reached IP&C board members by early February. He resigned as IP&C president on February 15, noting “experience has demonstrated to me that in this event my entire time and attention will be required on that [M&A] line.”
Former I&B director (1852-53) Calvin Fletcher, among Indianapolis’ most prominent civic and business leaders, was elected president in Brough’s stead. Reluctantly thrust into the role, Fletcher noted, upon hearing of his election: “I learned to my regret I was appointed President of the Bellefontaine R.R. Co.”
Fletcher’s reticence to assume the post was understandable, based on his close familiarity with the affairs of the I&B. “I fear their affairs are desperate . . . It needed my character & acquaintance to unravel the mischief of the finances. . . . The president Brouff [Brough] has no influence on the road. All employees eschew his authority & claim that the Superintendent is the man to look to & not the President. The road & its business is [sic] in great confusion.”
Even though Brough was dealing with M&A matters full time beginning in mid-February 1855, the concerted efforts of powerful Chicago and Mississippi River town political interests had swept away investor confidence. James F. D. Lanier, the M&A’s financier through the Wall Street firm that bore his name – Winslow, Lanier & Co. – decided to take desperate action.
On May 20th the M&A board, controlled by Lanier, demoted Brough to Vice President in favor of Chauncey Rose. Rose, founder of the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad linking Indianapolis with Terre Haute, assumed the presidential mantle. In spite of his impeccable reputation as a railroad executive, Rose’s presence failed to sway the investor community.
John Brough would not live to see the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad completed to St. Louis. And, more to the point, how would the Cleveland Clique view Brough as their pawn in its broader Midwest railroad control strategy?
Check back for Part VI to learn more about the Hoosier Partisans move for autonomy as the Cleveland Clique tightened its grip on the Bee Line Railroad.
At times described as cantankerous, paranoid, and bitter, Kenneth Rexroth, the trail-blazing Hoosier poet, cajoled and harangued some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to promote their work. Rexroth’s own radical poetry both preceded and inspired the Beats, though at times he refused to be associated with the movement that he thought had lost its meaning by the late 1950s, and especially that “hipster” Jack Kerouac.
As important as Rexroth’s poetry is to American literature, his life story is perhaps even more fascinating. And while much has been written about his years in San Francisco laying the groundwork for a literary renaissance in that city that grew into the larger Beat movement, little has been written about his time in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – a period when the budding poet rubbed elbows with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the artistic and literary elite of the Midwest and the world.
Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. Young Rexroth’s first residence was a house at 828 Park Avenue in South Bend which still stands and will soon be the site of an Indiana State Historical Marker commemorating his life and career. In Kenneth Rexroth:An Autobiographical Novel, he described the house as “substantial and comfortable,” near to the Oliver Hotel and Mr. Eliel’s drug store. According to a 1905 article in the Elkhart Daily Review, Rexroth’s father was working as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman.
In 1908, the Rexroth family moved to a home on East Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, Indiana, a relocation that made the local newspaper.
Rexroth wrote a description of the Elkhart home as well:
This was a quiet residential street above the river where all the best homes in the town were in those days, where the patent-medicine people, the musical-instrument people, the buggy-works people, the corset people, and all the other leading citizens of the town lived in their wooden, sometimes Palladian or Romanesque mansions, and we had our own little Palladian house.
While Rexroth was born into a comfortable life, his family’s circumstances soon deteriorated. His parents, Charles Marion and Delia Rexroth, had difficulties with alcohol, chronic illness, and each other. Rexroth wrote that his mother was drinking champagne when she went into labor and bluntly called his father a “drunk” and a “constant gambler.” When he was five, circa 1910, they left the lovely house on East Beardsley due to his father’s diminishing finances. The family moved more often then, mostly renting, but Rexroth remembers living in a “run-down Victorian house” on Second Street that he believed they owned. Despite setbacks, he remembered his childhood in Elkhart fondly. His mother taught him to read early and immersed him in classical literature. He spent time at the library, learned French, explored the neighborhood, and fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door,” when they were just six or seven. His parents were able to afford a family tour of Europe, which made quite an impression on young Rexroth.
However, his mother continued to succumb to a chronic illness that multiple doctors were unable to diagnose, and his father intensified his drinking and gambling. Sometime around 1914, when Rexroth was nine, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek, Michigan, and then to Chicago the following year, where they lived with relatives. Rexroth’s father’s alcoholism put him near death on at least one occasion and he left the family, likely for some sort of sanitarium. Rexroth moved with his mother into a small apartment and they rarely saw his father. After a painful period fighting what was likely tuberculosis, Delia Rexroth died in 1916. Eleven-year-old Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek and find trouble.
Rexroth had little supervision in Toledo. He began running around town with a gang of boys who would rob cash registers and, despite his young age, he ran various money-making hustles that involved running errands for “brothels, cardrooms, and burlesque shows.” He also witnessed the Willys-Overland labor strike that turned riotous. Rexroth wrote that this was a significant moment in his youth and he “started off in the labor movement.” In 1919, at this uncertain juncture in Rexroth’s early adolescence, his father also died.
Rexroth’s aunt, Minnie Monaham, retrieved the thirteen-year-old trouble maker and brought him back to Chicago to live with the rest of the Monahams. The 1920 U.S. Census shows that the nine person household was located on Indiana Avenue, but they soon moved to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Rexroth enrolled in the nearby Englewood High School. School administrators quickly expelled him for his poor attitude and attendance. It was outside of the Chicago public school system, however, that Rexroth pursued a more profound education.
Perhaps in the same manner he was able to gain access to the burlesque theaters of Toledo, Rexroth found access to the clubs of the poets and writers gathered in this Midwest city during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. Among these were important local poets such as Carl Sandburg and Harriet Monroe, writers and intellectuals such as Hoosier-born Theodore Dreiser, and political thinkers such as famous Hoosier socialist, Eugene Debs, as well as the “big names” of the international art and literature worlds. This intellectual elite met at formal and informal clubs and locations around the city.
Rexroth also explored the radical political movements of the period at venues such as the Washington Park Bug Club, also known as Bughouse Square, which met in a “a shallow grassy amphitheater beside a lagoon off in the middle of the park,” according to Rexroth. Bughouse Square was, for a time, “the most celebrated outdoor free-speech center in the nation and a popular Chicago tourist attraction,” according to the Chicago Historical Society. Here, people with a host of different ideas would get on their soapboxes (sometimes literally) and orate to the crowds that would gather. Rexroth wrote that “here, every night until midnight could be heard passionate exponents of every variety of human lunacy” such as:
“Anarchist-Single-Taxers, British-Israelites [or Anglo-Israelite], sell-anointed archbishops of the American Catholic Church, Druids, Anthroposophists, mad geologists who had proven the world was flat or that the surface of the earth was the inside of a hollow sphere, and people who were in communication with the inhabitants of Mars, Atlantis, and Tibet, severally and sometimes simultaneously. Besides, struggling for a hearing was the whole body of orthodox heterodoxy — Socialists, communists (still with a small “c”), IWWs [International Workers of the World], De Leonites, Anarchists, Single Taxers (separately, not in contradictory combination), Catholic Guild Socialists, Schopenhauerians, Nietzscheans — of whom there were quite a few — Stirnerites, and what later were to be called Fascists.”
Another inspiring haunt for Rexroth was the Dill Pickle Club, not far from Bughouse Square, where artists and writers along with socialists and anarchists gathered for social and artistic experimentation. Rexroth wrote that there were independent theater productions Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Sunday night, there were lectures on various topics. On Saturday nights “the chairs were cleared away and the Chicago jazzmen of the early Twenties played for a dance which lasted all night.” Rexroth remembered the actors and sets as being awful but somehow they produced plays that were “the very best.” Lectures were given by “every important scholar who came through the town, and all those who were attached to the universities.”
Most significantly, however, Rexroth gained entrée to the salon at the home of Jake Loeb, where he encountered the leaders of the local literary movement, international visitors such as D. H. Lawrence, and access to books of artists and writers who would greatly influence him, such as Gertrude Stein. In his autobiography, Rexroth referred to Loeb’s home as “a more important Middle Western cultural institution in 1923 than the University of Chicago, the Art Institute, the Symphony, and the Chicago Tribune put together.” He wrote that he met “everybody who was anybody in the Chicago of the Twenties and everybody who was anybody who was passing through town.” He continued:
“Besides the famous transients, many of whom stayed in the place, the house was full every night of the cream of Chicago’s intellectuals in the brief postwar period of Chicago’s second renaissance. It seems rather pointless even to list them — any of them — because they were all there. . . It is not that I met famous people — it is that I learned by listening to impassioned discussion among mature people, all of whom were out in the world putting their ideas into effect.”
Rexroth was also starting to put his ideas into effect. Although he had shown little academic or literary promise thus far, Rexroth became “a prolific painter and poet by age seventeen,” according to the Poetry Foundation. By this point he was running from one cultural hot-spot to another, performing the poetry to which he was being exposed. He wrote in his autobiography that if he hustled he could make over fifty dollars in a weekend. He continued, “Thus began my career as a boy soapboxer, bringing poetry to the masses.”
He began working a number of odd jobs, and in his free time, experimenting with oil paints and piano. One such job was at the Green Mask on Grand Avenue and State Street. Rexroth referred to the Green Mask as a “tearoom,” but it was probably more accurately a cabaret, and it was located in the basement of a brothel. Rexroth wrote, “The place was a hangout for bona-fide artists, writers, musicians, and people from show business.” He continued, “In the Mask there gradually formed a small, permanent family of oddities who were there every night and never paid for their coffee.” Here Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and musicians, both black and white, local and national. These included the “seclusive and asocial” poet Edgar Lee Masters, local African American poet Fenton Johnson, nationally-acclaimed black poet and playwright Langston Hughes, the local jazz drummer Dave Tough (who Rexroth called Dick Rough in his autobiography), and an assortment of dancers, singers, and drag queens. This group held weekly poetry readings and lectures and jazz performances. Rexroth and others began combining jazz and poetry, a technique he would become known for by the time he headed out west and one that would greatly influence the Beat Generation. He wrote that here, at the Green Mask, “happened the first reading of poetry to jazz that I know of.” About this early Chicago jazz scene, he wrote:
“I’m afraid that I can’t provide any inside information about the formative years of jazz, for the simple reason that none of us knew that this was what was happening. We didn’t know we were making history and we didn’t think we were important. . . Jazz was pretty hot and made a lot of noise. People talked loud to be heard above it, got thirsty and drank too much and made trouble, so we tried to keep the jazz small and cool . . . I remember many nights going over to the piano and saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, cool it or you’ll get us all busted!'”
As he predicted, the Green Mask did get busted. In 1923, the Chicago Tribunereported that thirty-five “Bohemians” were arrested in a raid at the Green Mask. The Tribune article stated: “The police entered the place after standing outside for some time listening to what they say was the reading of indecent poetry by George Lexington.” The owner was booked as “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was also arrested because he was considered part owner for investing some small amount of money into the place. He was sentenced to a year in jail.
He described the conditions on his arrival to the Chicago House of Corrections, or the “Bandhouse” as it was called:
This was quite a place. It had been built back in the Seventies or Eighties, with long, narrow windows like the archers’ slots in medieval castles, and a warped and muddy stone floor where the water oozed up in winter between the paving blocks. This was the only running water in the place. Each cell was given a one-gallon pail of water once a day and provided with a battered old bucket for a privy. It was a cage-type cell house. The cells were all in the center about thirty feet away from the walls, so the only view was through the heavy iron grilles and door which looked out on brick walls and filthy windows through which it was impossible to see anything. The inner cells looked out on the tier opposite. The whole thing was built of iron, and any movement in it resounded as though it had happened inside a bell; any cough or groan or cry was magnified as if by an immense megaphone. In each cell there were four iron-slatted bunks that folded up against the wall. There were no mattresses, and each fish [inmate] was provided, along with his slops, with a filthy khaki Army blanket full of holes.
Rexroth spent the winter in these circumstances and explained that he “got a little closer to the underworld.” When he got out of the Bandhouse, he spent most of his time pursuing various young women, two of whom lived in the same building, and writing them poetry. He became more involved in local theater productions and continued pursuing radical social theories and chasing down works of avant-garde literature. He began reading more spiritual works and even spent a few months in a monastery. He also began a period of traveling and recording his observations of nature in his poetry – something else he would become known as a master of in later life.
In late December 1926, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends, just briefly outside their door. When his friends asked him what he thought about her, Rexroth replied, “I intend to marry her.” They began working on paintings together, both of them working on the same canvas, “like one person,” according to Rexroth. They married a few weeks later in January 1927 and left for a new life on the West Coast that spring. In San Francisco, instead of experiencing a cultural Renaissance, Rexroth would create one.
Check back next week for more about this Hoosier rebel in part two of this story: Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation
For more information:
Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966).
Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).
At the same time, the closer-to-home Bellefontaine and Indiana[B&I] – linking the I&B at Union with the Clique’s marquee railway, the CC&C, at Galion OH – had already found itself under the financial sway of the Cleveland band. Incredibly, the strategy to command a string of railroads tying St. Louis to the Eastern truck lines then breaching Ohio’s eastern boundary had been orchestrated by the CC&C’s Henry Payne in little more than two years.
In the almost giddy atmosphere that prevailed following John Brough’s coronation, an impromptu trip was arranged. Why not visit Terre Haute, and the Illinois state line for that matter, and then travel in a single day from Terre Haute to Cleveland? It would underscore what the Clique had accomplished, provide an on-the-ground view of the new western terminus of the coordinated lines, and draw them closer to the independently minded stockholder/management team at the controls of the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad [TH&R] – the only gap in the Clique’s string of pearls between Cleveland and St. Louis.
Members of the Cleveland Clique along with president James H. Godman of the B&I, newly minted I&B president John Brough as well as board member Calvin Fletcher and secretary Douglass Maguire boarded a special train destined for Terre Haute on July 1st. It had been less than twenty-four hours since the Clique’s I&B annual meeting coup. None of the original I&B Hoosier board members went along for the ride.
In one respect the trip was a success. They drank brandy and wine with Samuel Crawford, president of the TH&R, supped together and made it to a symbolic bridge spanning the Wabash—peering across wide stretches of western Indiana farmland toward Illinois. Truman P. Handy and William Case, board members of the Cleveland Clique’s cornerstone CC&C railroad, continued on to the Illinois line by horse and returned to Terre Haute by 3 a.m. Now they could boast of having made it from the Illinois line to Cleveland in a single day.
A private train left Terre Haute before dawn on July 2nd. It ran at a blistering thirty miles per hour until hitting a cow near Belleville—knocking the engine and car off the track. It was a near-death experience, as Calvin Fletcher recounted. Still, they were in Indianapolis by 6:30 a.m.
Fletcher did not record whether they accomplished the lofty goal of making it to Cleveland that day, as he remained in Indianapolis. All the same, except for the lack of participation by original I&B board members, it had been a notable start to John Brough’s presidency – and provided a glimpse of the Clique’s mechanism for expansion. The Hoosier Partisan’s absence would prove to be a telling sign of issues looming ahead.
Two weeks later Calvin Fletcher was among a sizable number of Indiana business and political nobility who, along with their spouses, received an invitation from the Cleveland Clique. The request was to join them for an all-paid junket to Niagara Falls. “I had an invitation with our citizens, those of Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Terre Haute, Dayton, Cleveland, Bellefontaine &c…a number have an invitation here.”
Hoosier Partisans Alfred Harrison, Daniel Yandes and David Kilgore as well as ubiquitous Indiana railroad construction engineer and soon to be I&B board member Thomas A. Morris were among the throng. They all boarded a special train awaiting them in Indianapolis on the morning of July 20th. In his diary, Calvin Fletcher would capture both the spectacle of the excursion and the travails of travel during this era.
The conductor to Union was none other than Fletcher’s recently hired son Stoughton Jr., who helped the party around a derailed freight train along the way. They arrived at Union about 10:30 a.m. Connection delays added to a tardiness that precluded the Hoosier contingent from stopping at Marion, Ohio, for a B&I board–arranged dinner. Instead, they raced on to Galion to connect with CC&C cars coming from Columbus. The crowd reached Cleveland at 7:30 p.m., only to find the boat hired to take the assembled masses to Buffalo had broken down.
Because the politicians of Erie, Pennsylvania had made smooth rail travel between Cleveland and Buffalo nearly impossible during the early 1850s, going by this route was not a viable option. To force passengers and freight to overnight in Erie, city fathers had mandated different track ‘gauges’ (the lateral distance between iron rails) for railways entering/leaving the city from the east and west. The Erie “war of the gauges”, in combination with intentionally and poorly synchronized railroad schedules, wreaked havoc on passengers and shippers alike. Erie thrived on this senselessness until 1855, during which time near-riots by local merchants and warehouse workers nearly scuttled a move to finally synchronize schedules and re-lay rails to a uniform gauge.
It was midnight before more than 750 passengers stranded in Cleveland boarded a replacement vessel to Buffalo – arriving the next day at noon. There, a train of nearly fifteen cars met the ship and whisked its guests the final miles to Niagara Falls. They took in the falls and were awestruck by the engineering feat of the recently completed railway suspension bridge traversing the Niagara River. The revelers were then ferried behind the tumultuous sheets of water before dinner and a moonlit trip to Goat Island. The excursion lasted less than twenty-four hours. On the return boat trip to Cleveland the assembled guests lunched, ironically, at Erie, Pennsylvania.
That evening Cleveland’s mayor hosted what Fletcher referred to as a “soirée” of dinner, music, and speeches. He called it “a most splendid affair that I ever witnessed.” As might have been expected, newspaper editors and writers had been invited gratis. They clearly earned their passage by publishing effusive articles in the regional and national press.
The editor of the Indianapolis-based Locomotive gushed: “We have never taken an excursion with which we were so well pleased. Every arrangement was made in princely style for the accommodation of the invited guests; and everything free as air, from our railroad bills down to our omnibus bills, including hotels and everything necessary.” It had proved to be the most incredible public relations feat of its day.
Finally, on the return leg from Cleveland to Indianapolis, the B&I board hosted the earlier-deferred dinner party at Marion, Ohio. Toasts were exchanged, a “three cheers” shouted, and the Hoosiers were off to Union the next morning. There they waited an hour for connecting passengers coming from Cincinnati. Exhausted, the entourage supped at Muncie and finally arrived back in Indianapolis by 11 p.m.
Still, for the people of the era, it had been both an awe-inspiring event and a technological marvel. To the parochial Hoosier Partisans, it brought home the sobering reality that the Cleveland Clique outgunned them financially and politically. The sheer number of interconnected board, business, banking, and government relationships represented at the Cleveland festivities was astounding. And they had gathered with a single purpose: to focus their wide-ranging powers on dominating the Midwest rail corridor between Cleveland and St. Louis.
The I&B, basking in the afterglow of this landmark event, which drew investor attention to its pivotal role as a funnel for traffic from Ohio to Indianapolis, saw its stock and bond prices jump. Nonetheless, Calvin Fletcher decided to sell all but $5,000 of his stock in August. He found a ready market: “I distributed among my friends who seemed to want it & one demanded, as a matter of right as I had offered to others, that he should have a portion. The stock soon fell & it was fortunate I let it go.”
Fletcher’s unemotional view was sprinkled with a candid and ominous reality, however: “Brough the president has failed to establish his right to go through to St. Louis straight. This I think will effect [sic] the road materially.” And he was right.
Whatever the reason for the I&B’s price bounce, it did not reflect the financial or business reality with which John Brough and the Cleveland Clique were faced. Brough’s usefulness to the Cleveland Clique appeared, for the moment, to be in question.
Check back for Part V to learn more about how the Cleveland Clique turned their attention to binding the various component parts of the Bee Line together both physically and legally – to the irritation of the Hoosier Partisans.
On May 11, 1848, as the Midwest railroad era dawned, Connersville-based former Indiana Congressman and Senator Oliver H. Smithtook to the podium in Indianapolis: “The time has now come when central Indiana has to decide whether the immense travel, emigration, and business of the west should pass round or go through central Indiana…and not force them round by either Cincinnati on the east, or Chicago on the north.”
Smith, who had also sponsored a bill to extend the National Road through Indiana during his Congressional term in 1828, foresaw the potential economic synergies in linking Midwest railroads from the heartland with East Coast markets. Now, its citizens would need to make the financial investment to make it happen. And the mechanism to ignite this explosive rush was not a rutted path or canal, but a new form of transportation in the Midwest: a railroad. It would be among Indiana’s first.
By July, Smith had tallied the necessary stock purchase commitments or “subscriptions” to incorporate the railroad destined to link Indianapolis to Cleveland on one end, and to St. Louis on the other. In legal terms, it was called The Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad[I&B], extending 83 miles northeast from Indianapolis to an undefined location in the wilderness along the Ohio state line.
Soon, it connected with two others Ohio railroads to reach Cleveland – one with a confusingly similar name: The Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad [B&I]. The other was already the regional powerhouse that soon financed, controlled and finally swallowed the other two: The Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad[CC&C]. But to the traveling public the complete or partial string of railroads linking these economic centers became known as the Bee Line – like a bumblebee’s nearly straight-line path between these two cities.
The pedigree of Smith’s first board of directors read like a Who’s Who of eastern Indiana politicians and business leaders. Because the bulk of initial stock subscriptions came from county boards through which the line would pass, representatives from Marion, Hancock, Madison, Delaware and Randolph counties populated the first board. Many were closely affiliated with Oliver Smith in terms of shared political and legal careers – such as Jeremiah Smith of Randolph County and David Kilgore of Delaware County.
The two Smiths had met in the mid 1820s when both served as state and county prosecuting attorneys. Oliver appointed Jeremiah to chair the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s committee to locate its eastern terminus somewhere along the Ohio state line. Once determined, the Smiths moved quickly to capitalize on their insider information. They purchased the land and platted what shortly became known as Union – today’s Union City. Jeremiah in particular would profit handsomely, as Union became a key Midwest railroad junction town by the mid 1850s.
And because early railroad companies did not allow locomotives or rail cars to travel beyond their geographic/corporate boundaries, Union bustled with activity. Oliver Smith rationalized that the avoidance of potential accidents and repairs to cars sent out of state “would more than counter balance any inconvenience growing out of transfers at the State Line, from one line to another.” One can only guess the passengers’ reaction to this rationale, as they were often forced to stay overnight at Union’s Branham House hotel awaiting an onward train.
David Kilgore, on the other hand, had been active with Oliver Smith in Indiana Whig politics. They often served as lawyers on the same case, and grew close as Smith purchased the land and platted Kilgore’s Yorktown hometown in 1837. Kilgore owned a parcel adjacent to Yorktown as well as a sizeable farm on the Indianapolis Road between Yorktown and Daleville. Conveniently, the Bee Line would slice through both parcels of Kilgore’s land – not to mention curving through Smith’s Yorktown.
As prominent editor Henry V. Poor of the nationally renowned American Railroad Journalspouted about the route of the Bee Line: “the road undoubtedly should have been constructed on a direct line between Indianapolis and Union…why did he not take this line for the Bellefontaine road? Because he owned some property at Yorktown or Muncietown and curved the road to promote his private interests.” Railroading was about more than just railroading.
The opportunities for personal gain abounded in building the railroad as well. Nearly all of the directors gained lucrative contracts to supply ties for long stretches of the route, for building depots, and representing the Bee Line in right-of-way disputes. Then, as funding grew thin, Indianapolis entrepreneur Daniel Yandes and banker Alfred Harrison teamed up to finance and complete construction of the route from Chesterfield to Union – essentially taking stock and board control of Smith’s railroad even before the first train reached Union in 1853.
Oliver Smith’s eagerness to cut lucrative side business deals connected to the Bee Line ultimately proved to be his undoing. In 1853, Indianapolis led the country by constructing the nation’s first “Union Station“. Remarkably, until then, different railroads terminating in the same metropolitan center did not share a common station or depot. They would often be miles apart from each other. While good for local transportation companies, warehouses and hotels, it made little long-term business sense. Although the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s depot in the northeast corner of Indianapolis was the outlier among all others, Smith refused to place a machine or repair shop facility closer to Union Station.
Calvin Fletcher, the highly-regarded Indianapolis civic leader and banker through whose land the Bee Line passed – and who assumed a board position in mid 1852 – took note of Smith’s rationale for resistance. Recounting the board issue in his diary, Fletcher observed: “The subject of removal of the Depo [sic] now built on the North East part of the town would be adjitated [sic]. This I knew would be extremely offensive to Mr. O.H. Smith…as he was, as I supposed, connected with Billy Young in the property in its vicinity.”
Smith was still laboring under the misimpression that his authority was all but absolute. He had clearly dismissed the board power shift that occurred the year before when Daniel Yandes and Alfred Harrison struck a stock payout deal to complete building the road to Union. The emerging Hoosier Partisans power group which grew to include Calvin Fletcher – whose board election they orchestrated – and David Kilgore, however, relegated Smith to the sidelines. By the Spring of 1853 they accepted his resignation from the board of the railroad he had toiled to bring to life.
As was typical of early Midwest railroad boards, the Bee Line far underestimated the amount of capital required to bring such a massive undertaking to life. For early Midwest businessmen, financing and operating such large corporate organizations were matters of first impression. And with hard cash virtually non-existent, individuals could commit to purchase stock by pledging labor, materials or land. Such arrangements often left the railroad cash poor and unable to meet its obligations. County governments, with pushback from both its citizens and Indiana’s governor, had reached their limit as well.
Fortunately for the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine and Indiana’s first railroad, the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] (completed in 1847), their pressing mutual financial problems would be the solution for each. The M&I had a supply of unused rails, underutilized equipment, and a solid credit position – courtesy of its earlier birth as a state-run and funded railroad. But it was slowly diminishing in importance as its route to Indiana’s Ohio River port city of Madisoncould not rival the well establish and larger commercial cities just up and down river – Cincinnati and Louisville. And the situation became more acute when Indiana’s legislature allowed any group of individuals able to raise $50,000 to build a railroad to anywhere in the state without a special charter. Those headed toward Cincinnati and Louisville were at the top of the list.
On the other hand, the I&B possessed an enviable route pointed toward Cleveland and ultimately the East Coast. However, it needed the credit to which the M&I had access – not to mention rails to finish its construction, and equipment and operating personnel to actually run the line. It appeared to be a ‘win-win’ for both. M&I’s President, John Brough, saw this opportunity and capitalized on the situation.
By the time the Bee Line’s first segment, the I&B, opened between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, Brough’s M&I would be supplying rolling stock and operating personnel as well as financial backing. It would not come without a cost. The balance of his life and career would be closely tied to the Bee Line. However, this new relationship also signaled the beginning of a love-hate affair between Brough and the Hoosier Partisans.
Check back for Part II to learn more about John Brough’s career and relationship with the Bee Line, and the financier behind the growth of Midwest railroads: Indiana’s James F. D. Lanier.
Quick, Abraham Lincoln buffs! Can you name all the dates Lincoln delivered a public address in Indiana after moving to Illinois in 1830?
Did you guess February 11 and 12, 1861? Identifying those days were probably fairly easy since that was when Lincoln journeyed through Indiana en route to Washington for his first inauguration. According to historical records, he delivered whistle-stop speeches at State Line City, Lafayette, Thorntown, Lebanon, and Zionsville. His train stopped at Indianapolis that evening where Governor Oliver P. Morton and 20,000 Lincoln supporters welcomed him. He addressed the citizens of Indiana from the train platform before he disembarked to his hotel room at the Bates House. Lincoln adherents called upon the president-elect later that evening, and he delivered an ad hoc speech from a balcony of the hotel. He resumed his journey east the next morning, which also happened to be his fifty-second birthday. Lincoln continued to greet and deliver short speeches to well-wishers in Shelbyville, Greensburg, Morris, and Lawrenceburg as his train steamed on to Cincinnati, Ohio.
If you are an advanced Lincoln enthusiast, you may be able to identify another Lincoln visit to Indiana that occurred in 1844 while he campaigned for Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay. During that fall visit, he spoke at the Spencer County Courthouse in Rockport.
According to oral lore and tradition, he made several other speeches around Spencer County (and allegedly spoke in Knox, Daviess, Warrick, and Vanderburgh counties). However, the Rockport address is the only southern Indiana speech corroborated with a contemporary source. While in Spencer County, Lincoln visited his boyhood home and the graves of his mother and sister. This would be Lincoln’s first and only return to his childhood home since he left Indiana in 1830.
Aside from those two visits in 1844 and 1861, most Lincoln fans would be hard-pressed to identify the other time that Lincoln visited Indiana for political purposes. It happened on September 19, 1859 in Indianapolis, where he delivered a speech so obscure that it was largely forgotten for 70 years before a Lincoln researcher and an Indiana State Library employee uncovered it in an issue of a short-lived Indianapolis newspaper, the Daily Evening Atlas.
First, some historical context is helpful to illuminate Lincoln’s Indianapolis speech. In January 1859, Lincoln lost his U.S. Senate campaign to Stephen A. Douglas. Financial necessity forced him to pay more attention to his legal career in the aftermath of this political defeat. Practicing law, however, had lost some of its luster after the political-high of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. As the foremost Republican in Illinois, Lincoln felt an obligation to lead the fractious Illinois Republican political alliance and craft a vision for party success in 1860. Lincoln was particularly concerned about Douglas’s attempts to position himself as a centrist presidential candidate who could siphon off some of the fledgling Republican Party’s conservative-to-moderate-leaning internal factions.
In early September 1859, Lincoln declined an invitation to speak in Illinois citing the necessity of devoting himself to private business. However, two things occurred in September that changed Lincoln’s mind. Harper’s Magazine published his arch-rival’s article that extolled the political virtues of popular sovereignty. Ohio Democrats also invited Douglas to campaign for state candidates. These two events compelled Lincoln to confront the Little Giant, albeit indirectly.
There was no formal head-to-head continuation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in September 1859, but Lincoln shadowed his nemesis throughout the Buckeye State, and delivered speeches in Columbus and Cincinnati following Douglas’s wake. On September 16 and 17, Lincoln spoke at the Ohio capitol, Dayton, and briefly at Hamilton. The overall texts of these speeches were similar to one another, and presented sharper arguments than Lincoln first introduced during the formal debates in 1858.
Of all the oratory Lincoln delivered during this circuit, his Cincinnati speech on the evening of September 17, 1859 stood out from the rest, as he crafted his address to speak directly to the many southern Ohioans and Kentuckians in the audience. It was probably the best attended speech during his tour through the state. The speech also reached a much larger audience when newspapers throughout the North widely reprinted and commented on the Cincinnati address. The text so thoroughly saturated the 19th-century news network that few journalists covered the Indianapolis speech that he gave two days later.
On the morning of September 19, 1859, Abraham Lincoln, his wife, and one of their sons departed Cincinnati for Indianapolis. They arrived at the Union Depot in the Hoosier capital at four o’clock. A party of political friends, led by Atlas editor John D. Defrees, welcomed the Lincolns as they disembarked. The hosts escorted their visitors across the street to the American Hotel (located near present-day 18 W. Louisiana St.) where they would spend the night.
At seven o’clock that evening, an audience packed the Masonic Hall (then located on the southeast corner of Washington Street and Tennessee, which is now Capitol Avenue) to hear the Illinoisan speak. Among those in attendance were political dignitaries from both sides of the aisle, including Indiana’s Democratic Governor Ashbel P. Willard, Lincoln’s future cabinet member Caleb Blood Smith, future Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton, and Congressman Albert G. Porter (also a future governor). Although not mentioned in newspaper coverage as being in attendance, the Atlas reported that Henry S. Lane registered at a hotel that day. Most likely he attended too. If Lane was in the audience, then his presence would be of interest since he became an instrumental lobbyist for Lincoln’s presidential nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention, and later as a U.S. Senator during the Civil War he voted for many of President Lincoln’s legislative proposals.
One wonders how Lincoln appeared and sounded to his Midwestern audiences during the late summer of 1859. The descriptions of Lincoln in the Indianapolis newspapers are somewhat limited. However, the audience’s impression of the orator were perhaps not unlike the Democratically leaning Cincinnati Enquirer‘s colorful introduction of the then not-so-well-known Lincoln to their readers:
“Hon. Mr. Lincoln is a tall, dark-visaged, angular, awkward,
positive-looking sort of individual, with character written on his face and energy expressed in his every movement. He has the appearance of what is called…a Western man – one who, without education or early advantages, has risen by his own exertions from an [sic] humble origin….He makes no pretension to oratory
or the graces of diction, but goes directly to his point…regardless of elegance or even system….With orthoepy [correct pronunciation of words] he evidently has little acquaintance, pronouncing words in a manner that puzzles the ear sometimes to determine whether he is speaking his own or a foreign tongue.”
After Lincoln’s old congressional colleague Caleb Smith introduced the lecturer to the Indianapolis crowd, Lincoln opened his address with some reminiscences of growing up in Indiana. The Atlas, the best extant source for this speech, reported his words in the third person:
“Away back in the fall of 1816, when he was in his eighth year, his father brought him over from the neighboring State of Kentucky, and settled in the State of Indiana, and he grew up to his present enormous height on our own good soil of Indiana. [Laughter.] The scenes he passed through to-day are wonderfully different from the first scenes he witnessed in the State of Indiana, where he was raised, in Spencer county, on the Ohio river. There was an unbroken wilderness there then, and an axe was put in his hand; and with the trees and logs and grubs he fought until he reached his twentieth year.”
“[H]e had chopped wood, raised log cabins, hunted bears, drank out of the same bottle as was the fashion of those days, with the woodsmen of Indiana for years. He gave a graphic account of a bear hunt in the early days of this wooden country, when the barking of dogs, the yelling of men, and the cracking of the rifle when Bruin was treed, would send the blood bounding through the veins of the pioneer. Those were the days when friendships were true, and he did not think any other state of society would ever exist where men would be drawn so close together in feeling and affection.”
It is an interesting addition considering Lincoln had authored a poem about a bear hunt, and evidently the incident left quite an impression on him.
Lincoln stopped with his reminiscences, and admitted that he expected that his audience came to hear him say something about politics. At this point, he transitioned into a critique of Stephen Douglas’s advocacy of popular sovereignty. Lincoln opened his political remarks by recalling his famous words: “this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free; that a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He pointed out that Douglas had critiqued this thesis, and counter argued, “Why cannot this government endure forever, part free, part slave, as the original framers of the constitution made it?” Lincoln set out to answer Douglas’s question over the next two hours.
Lincoln reasoned that the U.S. Constitution was silent about slavery’s continued existence in America, and he disputed Douglas’s contention that the country was to endure “part free, part slave.” Lincoln’s main support for this argument was legislation near and dear to the history of Indiana: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited the introduction of slavery into the Northwest Territory. Lincoln correctly pointed out that the Second Continental Congress passed the ordinance at the same time as legislators were crafting the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, Lincoln maintained,
“There was nothing said in the Constitution relative to the spread of slavery in the Territories, but the same generation of men said something about it in this ordinance of ’87, through the influence of which you of Indiana, and your neighbors in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, are prosperous, free men….Our fathers who made the government, made the ordinance of 1787.”
Lincoln proved to be an astute student of Indiana history, and related to his audience that a few Indiana Territory residents had once petitioned Congress to amend the ordinance to allow for the introduction of slavery. Lincoln likened this to the residents trying to exercise popular sovereignty. Yet in this case, Congress denied the petition. Lincoln reasoned, “[H]ad it not been for the ordinance of ’87, Indiana would have been a slave State.” He thereby refuted Douglas’s key political doctrine, by citing an example where the federal government had prohibited the spread of slavery, and ignored the supplications of some citizens seeking to exercise popular will. “Popular sovereignty,” Lincoln argued, “has not made a single free State in a run of seventy or eighty years [of the nation’s existence].”
In addition to focusing on popular sovereignty, Lincoln’s speech also focused on economics by contrasting slave labor and free labor. Lincoln summed up Douglas’s popular sovereignty in this way: “If one man choose[s] to make a slave of another man, neither that other man [n]or anybody else has a right to object.”
For Lincoln, that was a dangerous proposition. As a counter to this prospect, he praised the merits of free labor. Citing Indiana’s labor force, Lincoln said, “[O]f all that is produced, seven-eighths of it is produced by the hands of men who work upon their own ground; and no more than one-eighth is produced by hired men. The condition of the hired man was not worse than that of the slave.” Lincoln recalled his own work in Indiana as a hired man, and assessing his own experience at that time he did not consider himself worse off than a slave. He concluded:
“Men who were industrious and sober, and honest in the pursuit for their own interests, should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, and if they chose, when they had accumulated capital, to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them, it was right.”
At this time and before this audience, Lincoln spoke out against slavery not on moral grounds, but on economic grounds. Near the end of his two hour address, he said, “The mass of white men were injured by the effect of slave labor in the neighborhood of their own labor.” In other words, free labor’s value was depressed because of the existence of slave labor in the United States.
After Lincoln concluded, Oliver Morton took the stage to say a few words, but on account of the lateness of the hour, he kept his remarks brief. The next day the Lincolns continued their westward journey home to Springfield. The Indianapolis press, both Republican and Democratic organs, gave accounts of the previous night’s events, but other papers largely ignored the future president’s remarks.
In the grand scheme of things, one could conclude that Lincoln’s visit to Indianapolis in 1859 was rather insignificant. Chalk it up as one of those “George Washington slept here” historical moments. However, there is another interpretation of his visit, which adds historical significance to it. Historian Gary Ecelbarger in a Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association article argued against the common narrative that Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech delivered in New York City in February 1860 was the speech that made Lincoln president. Ecelbarger persuasively argues that before Lincoln could get an east-coast endorsement for his candidacy, he first needed to mobilize political support among Midwesterners. Obviously, Lincoln was a well-known figure in Illinois politics, but his first deliberate and substantial politicking outside of his home-state’s borders started with his September 1859 trip to Ohio and Indiana.
These speeches were the first of about 30 addresses Lincoln delivered in eight states and the Kansas Territory in the nine months leading up to his nomination for president in May 1860. As Ecelbarger interpreted it, “[This] is evidence that Lincoln sought to increase his exposure outside of Illinois for a run for the presidency.” In this light, Lincoln’s visit to Indianapolis takes on greater significance, as he introduced himself to the Hoosier demographic that would aid his political ascent. Many of the Republican attendees who heard him that night in Indianapolis would become influential brokers in helping him secure the presidential nomination, electoral influencers that would enable him to carry the Hoosier state in the general election, and strong backers of his executive and military policies as president during the Civil War.
To read the full text of Lincoln’s Indianapolis speech, click here. View summaries of some of Lincoln’s most poignant assertions in his Indianapolis speech via the Atlas: