Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Page 11



Why Did Senator From Iowa Oppose Groff Nomination?




Why had U.S. Sen. John A. Gear, R-Iowa, sought to delay committee action on the 1900 nomination of Lewis A. Groff as postmaster for Los Angeles until he could be present to voice his objections?

A Jan. 18, 1900 report in the Los Angeles Record presents various theories that were floating about as to the reason. A plausible one that it mentions—and, in light of a review of the facts, the probable one—is “that the Clarksons, of the Iowa State Register, figure in the opposition because of some differences with the brigadier editor of the Los Angeles Times, who figures as the chief sponsor for Judge Groff.”

Harrison Gray Otis, a brigadier general during the Spanish American War, was editor and publisher of the Times, which editorialized strongly in favor of Groff.

The Clarksons were Richard P., by then sole-owner and editor of the newspaper, and his younger brother, James S., a former co-owner.

The younger Clarkson held the post of “first assistant postmaster” during the initial two years of President Benjamin Harrison’s term, which started in 1889, and then became Republican national chairman. Too, according to a 1978 article in a journal of the United States Capitol Historical Society, Clarkson was “chief administration patronage dispenser.”

A 1973 book, “The Democratic Party and California politics, 1880-1896,” says “Republicans in Los Angeles and San Diego, proud of their decisive role in Harrison’s [1888] California victory, were ignored in the appointment process,” with U.S. Sen. Leland Stanford, a Republican from Northern California, calling the shots. Otis, the book recites, “was particularly bitter,” and felt that the selection of “a Stanford crony as postmaster of Los Angeles damaged his prestige.”

Putting the pieces together, it emerges that James Clarkson would have had acute knowledge of Otis’s umbrage at the appointment of a postmaster of Los Angeles of whom he had not approved, and realized that a Senate rejection in 1900 of a person Otis had championed for appointment to that very post would hurt the publisher.

The Clarkson brothers—Richard Clarkson, in particular—had definite reason to want to hurt Otis, and Gear had reason to accommodate wishes of the editor of a newspaper in his state, a newspaper that had backed him, one that remarked on Jan. 26, 1896: “There is no better politician in the country and certainly no more loyal and aggressive friend than Senator Gear.”

Enmity toward Otis was triggered with a gratuitous but relatively playful slap at the Iowa newspaper in the editorial column of the Times on April 4, 1899, reading:

“Although it is April there was a snowstorm in Iowa yesterday. This will give our esteemed contemporary, the State Register of Des Moines, another opportunity to compare the climate of Iowa with that of California.”

Richard Clarkson’s rejoinder of June 9 notes that: “San Francisco had an earthquake Thursday night.” (This was to be one of several minor temblors preceding the Great Earthquake of 1906.) Clarkson’s editorial blurb culminates with this gibe:

“We trust that after this the Los Angeles Times will not have the nerve to mention our recent Iowa storms. There are no earthquake caves for refuge.”

Otis proceeded to take frequent swipes at Clarkson, portraying him as a dweller in caves or a cyclone cellar, occasionally bobbing to the surface. A June 15 editorial includes this:

“The damage done by earthquakes in California since the first white man came over the pike does not amount to as much as that caused by the least of the cyclones which have visited Iowa this summer....

“As the editor of the Iowa State Register sits in the dim recesses of his cave and waits the passing of the twister of the air which is scattering his friends and neighbors over the adjoining townships; counties and States, let him pray that his heart may be freed of jealousy of this favored State of the Golden West, and that nothing more serious than a California earthquake may ever take a whack at the town of Des Moines.”

A June 18 editorial cartoon portrays Clarkson in a cave, passing hand-written copy to an assistant who is by a ladder going to an underground press room. The caption is: “Here, Bill, hurry up and get this on the press. There’s a couple more cyclones coming, and if we don’t get the paper out before it strikes here, we won’t have any readers left.”

Otis’s slaps at Clarkson were frequent and petty. Most recently, on Jan. 5, 1900, the Times’s editorial page includes this ridicule:

“There has been an earthquake in Tiflis with a loss of 600 lives. It is in order for the Iowa State Register to make a few scathing remarks about Tiflis.”

On the heels of that, Gear sent his telegram, conceivably at the behest of a Clarkson.


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