Early Struggles of Albert J. Beveridge

JAMES B. MORROW IN WORKER’S MAGAZINE October 1 1906

Early Struggles of Albert J. Beveridge

JAMES B. MORROW IN WORKER’S MAGAZINE October 1 1906

Early Struggles of Albert J. Beveridge

BY JAMES B. MORROW IN WORKER’S MAGAZINE

The youthful senator from Indiana tells in his own words the story of the struggle he made as a youth to get a footing in the world. To many, it will be surprising that some of Beveridge’s experiences were possible. The rough life of the West, the effort to win an education, the disappointments are all very realistically described.

BUT for a cutthroat from Boston and a gambler in the southwest there would be no Albert Jeremiah Beveridge to interview. He would be dead. And but for a laugh he might not be worth an interview. He would be a captain in the army.

These stories and others are told in his own words. I found three typewriters thumping out letters for Indiana. It might have been the office of a bank or manufactory. The thick door burst open, a swirl of long gray coat, a tattoo of dynamic footsteps, and then a brisk and hospitable greeting.

“At the age of 12 I began to do for myself,” said Senator Beveridge. “I sold newspapers in the streets of Sullivan, Ind. Next I was a teamster on a new railroad. Scrapers were then turned by hand. I was small and the work almost killed me. In a short time I found employment as a hostler at a logging camp in a walnut forest. My wages were too wretched to remember. My food was horrible. I was 13 years old and life looked dreary to me. Besides, I grieved for my mother. I learned how to handle logs, to load and unload them, and really became an expert in that hard and hazardous labor. Logs piled together are as dangerous as dynamite—they are likely to crush you any minute. I can stack them up now on a bob-sled and drive a six-horse team through the woods where there is no road.

“Several years ago, while going from one Indiana town to another to

keep a stumping appointment, I saw some men loading logs at a little railroad station. They were in a perilous position. I jumped from my buggy and took command of the situation. ‘What in thunder do you know about logs ?’ one of the men asked. But I was right and so he moved his chains and pulled the way I wanted him. He proved to be the Democratic committeeman in that township. He has been a red-hot friend of mine ever since.

“I was in the woods a year. At 14 I was put in charge of a gang of loggers and always had control of them except on one occasion when they went to town and began drinking and fighting. It was a rough life. The profanity was hideous. We swore at the horses and at the men, at the logs, and at everything else. I quit smoking after I got away from the camp, but I couldn’t stop the vulgar and evil practice of swearing until six years ago. What little money I earned I saved. I had made up my mind to get an education and to be a lawyer. When alone, I made speeches to the walnut trees. Even earlier, when I plowed in the fields at home, I addressed myself to imaginary audiences in the fence corners.

“Returned to my father’s house I joined him in a little undertaking in wheat. We rented a field and put out our crop. There happened to be a drought that Summer and the sun burned me back to beggary. I lost my savings of a year and despondency parched my soul as the heat had

shriveled my wheat. My sixteenth birthday was near at hand, but I had not started to get an education and was without money or prospects. Rather early to be a bankrupt, wasn’t it ? But I was a mature man in some respects. About that time there was a West Point examination in Paris, two counties east of us. I was there, rehabilitated in hope and with sweet visions of the tented field and of glory won in the crash of arms. In the midst of the examination, while reading aloud from a book, something funny occurred and I laughed. The examiners marked me back several points for indecorous conduct. As it was, I only lost the appointment by a fifth of 1 per cent. A young fellow named Brown got the cadetship and I was his alternate. After my election to the senate, in 1899, I went to the Philippines and was introduced to Capt. Brown. He was a good officer and a fine man. I regret to say that he has since died. Thus a trifling incident changed my life. If I hadn’t laughed I suppose I would now be Capt., or, possibly, Major Beveridge, U.S.A.

“Mournfully I went home. The whole world was black. I wrote to several colleges. I was penniless, but I would write, anyway. Perhaps — but I didn’t . care to speculate further. A kindly reply came from De Pauw, at G-reencastle, in Indiana. But I was helpless without money. One day I met Edward Anderson, a lumber dealer, now a resident of Oklahoma, and he asked me why I looked so down in the mouth. ‘My wheat burned up,’ I replied, T failed to get to West Point. I am without money. I hoped for an education, and I am discouraged.’

“ ‘Where do you want to go ?’ he inquired.

“ ‘De Pauw University,’ I said.

“ ‘Get ready.’ Then he walked away ; not another word was said.

I got1 ready and went to him. ‘Here is $50,’ and he handed me the money. ‘And here is a promissory note I want you to sign.’ I became steward of a college club at De Pauw. That helped some. No boy in the world could have worked harder. I hardly slept after I decided that I had to win nearly all the prizes in sight or quit. At the end of my college course I had $230 in prizes, but I almost died in getting them.”

“What employment did you have during your vacations ?”

“The first year I went back to Sullivan and helped several farmers to harvest their crops. In one week I cut 210 acres of wheat with an oldfashioned self-binder. I have plowed every field near the town of Sullivan but the fair grounds. I was a book agent during my second vacation, selling ‘Error’s Chains,’ a religious compilation costing $6. I tramped the country far and wide. I slept at farm houses, where I made maps of the roads and a directory of all the men in each region, getting their politics, their religion, the names of their favorite children, and the general characteristics of their families.

“I was sound finanacially all through my second year at De Pauw. The publishers of ‘Error’s Chains’ wanted me to be state agent for Indiana during my third vacation, but I asked to be sent into Iowa. I took fifty students along, putting each under a bond of $500. I knew if I didn’t tie them up they would get discouraged and go home. The bonds,

I fancy, were worthless in law, but they looked terrible and answered my

purpose. My headquarters were at Des Moines. I wrote out suppositional dialogues for my agents in which I covered every possible objection any farmer or his wife might set up against our book. We spread ‘Error’s Chains’ all over Iowa. Senator Allison says you can find a copy of that useful work in nearly every family that has lived in the state for twenty years or more.”

“You were graduated in 1885 and then went to Kansas ?”

“My health broke from hard work and I was in( need of money. I thought I would try Kansas. I journeyed to the edge of civilization, lived in a sodhouse, associated with cowboys, chased antelopes, and saw shooting and other rough and ready frontier demonstrations. I found work in Dighton, fourth county seat east of Colorado, which consisted of four or five houses made of sod and a hotel of the same material. The hotel contained three rooms, the partitions being fiercely colored calico hung on strings. My employer was D. G. McClellan, a land agent. He did the heavy work, the selling and so on, and I made out the papers.

“One day I returned from a trip to another town and found a poor devil in custody and an organized plan to hang him. He had been sleeping on the ground after a protracted session at a saloon. Near him was the stage driver’s mule, anchored to the prairie by a piece of sod tied to the halter strap. He and the stage driver were not friends, and it looked to me like a put up job. At my suggestion the lynching was indefinitely postponed.

“The stage driver, a right bad man, stopped next day at the hotel for dinner. He .began to argue the mule case, and became personal in his attentions to me. I took a lawyer’s

view of the matter, endeavoring to show him that it simply was the word of one man against the word of another, and, therefore, no conviction reasonably could follow before a court. I was amateurish, I admit. I was neither a cowboy nor a real lawyer. The stage driver pulled his gun, but before he could work the trigger the women shrieked, and so he backed away, saying : ‘I’ll meet you outside. I don’t want to agitate the ladies.’ I stretched my dinner as far as I could, and then a murderer from Boston, whom I had nursed when he was ill, and a gambler accompanied me to the shack where I had my office. The stage driver trailed us, gun in hand. He was over me when I sank into a chair at my desk. I thought my last hour had come. I was unarmed. Besides, I couldn’t have shot quickly enough nor hit the mark if a gun had been in each hand. But I didn’t purpose to pass away without some kind of a protest, and so I threw a variety of logging camp language at the ruffian, ornamenting it with all the frills I had learned in the woods, and calling him the worst names in the unexpurgated vocabulary of iniquity.

‘‘He slowly raised his pistol. Then I saw him blink and step back. At first I thought I had talked him to a standstill, had bullied him out of heart, stomach, and countenance, but it was not so. I hadn’t seen him, but at my side sat the Boston assassin, with his revolver over his left fore arm, the muzzle of it tilted upward so that when the bullet left the barrel it would hit the stage driver under the chin and blow the top of his head off. That night the stage driver, under court orders from several persons as certain and speedy as himself, moved out of town on a run

and never came back to that district.”

“Why didn’t you remain in Kansas ?”

“I wanted to see my college sweetheart, the young woman whom I afterward married, and to read law at Indianapolis. I went to Gen. Benjamin Harrison for a place in his office and happily v/as turned away. Joseph ' E. McDonald took me in. For six months I literally lived on one meal a day. My pay was $20 a month, but I had to send some money home. By and by Senator McDonald made me his managing clerk at $1,800 a year. I began to try lawsuits right after I was admitted to the bar, even going into the United States court, where I was counsel in an important case against Gen. Harrison.

“Then I got married. The next day I was back to my work. With $75 in hand, I ■ opened a law' office of my own. The first year I made $2,500 ; the second, $3,500 ; the third, $4,500, and thereafter much more. When elected to the Senate I had a large and profitable practice for a young lawyer. It was not my intention to take public office. My purpose was to stick to my profession and make some money. I thought territorial expansion would come some day, and that I should then, perhaps, enter public life. It beat my guess by fifteen years. Accordingly, I pitched in and ran for the Senate.”

“What preparation should a youngman have who takes up politics for a career ?”

“Knowledge of his country’s history and a liking for public matters.”

“And a college education ?”

“Well, there are two sides to that question. The young fellow without G

a college education is not a hopeless case by any means. I don’t know what it is, but there is something in a college course which takes from the student a part of his native strength and originality.’ You see, the clothes are all alike. Some of the coats fit, some drag on the ground, and others are ridiculously short in the back.

“But if you could go back you would travel the old road, just the same ?”

“Sometimes I think I had to work too hard,” Senator Beveridge replied. Then he turned the corner and took up another topic.

“When did you make your first political speech ?”

“In a field, following a plow. I spoke for Garfield when I was 19 years old. When Blaine ran in 1884 I was sent to blacksmith shops and country schoolhouses, but I soon got into the cities. I was acquainted with a man on the committee, you know.”

“In January, 1900, you delivered a speech in the Senate which filled twelve newspaper columns. You spoke it almost word for word as written, not depending on notes. Is it your practice to memorize your speeches?”

“Yes, set speeches. After my election to the Senate in January, 1899, I decided to go to the Philippines and get information at first hand. I went on the firing line, saw everybody, wrote out interviews by the ream, and coming back prepared the speech you mention and committed it to memory. In 1900 I replied to Bryan at the opening of the Republican campaign in Chicago. Two nights after I made a general political speech in Minneapolis. Next day I spoke on trusts at Columbus, Neb.

“Forty-eight hours later I opened the campaign in Kansas City, taking the markets of the world for a subject. Then I addressed the young men of Indianapolis. Going to Louisville I spoke to the people of the south. Ten days before the first

speech was delivered all of them had been given to the Associated Press. I carried the six in my head for somq time, but I wouldn’t do it again, even if I could be President of the United States at the conclusion of the performance.”