Thursday, March 31, 2011
James McLachlan: Wilcox Tenant Attracts Controversy
By ROGER M. GRACE
Los Angeles city directories in 1897 and the following year list as an occupant of the Wilcox Building attorney James McLachlan. Born in Scotland in 1852, reared in New York where he practiced law for seven years, McLachlan came here, was elected Los Angeles County district attorney in 1890, lost a reelection bid two years later, and served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (losing races after his first and sixth terms).
He was one of the most controversial tenants the building has had.
McLachlan was a man who did not do or say outrageous things, but was able to rile. One of those he riled was Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles Times at first lionized him, then turned against him. He fell into disfavor when Otis inferred only half-hearted support by McLachlan, as a member of Congress, for the proposed free harbor at San Pedro—free, as opposed to Southern Pacific magnate Collis P. Huntington’s pay-for-use harbor in Santa Monica. Otis was chair of the Free Harbor League.
Here’s what the Times says in an analysis published on Oct 16, 1890, when McLachlan was running for DA:
“Mr. McLachlan has been practicing his chosen profession with signal success for upward of ten years. During the past three years he has done a very extensive business in the civil courts of this county, having been engaged in many of the most important cases that have been tried during that time, besides acting as the Deputy District Attorney at Pasadena.
“Few men have had a more thorough training for their profession than Mr. McLachlan, and he now brings to his aid a ripe experience that will insure his future success. He is distinctively a self-made man, honest, energetic, reliant, fearless—a man of strong convictions, with the ability and courage to enforce the same.
“In his hands the interests of the county and people will be safe, and the chances are he will, if elected, make one of the best District Attorneys this county has ever had.”
Backing him for reelection, a Times editorial of Nov. 6, 1892, asserts:
“The Republican candidate for District Attorney has been assailed by the organs and orators of both the Democratic and People’s parties more viciously than any man on the ticket; but the people of this county know that he is industrious and competent, and has made a first-class public official.”
When McLachlan in 1894 sought the GOP nomination for a House district which included Los Angeles County, the Times expressed doubtfulness as to his commitment to a free harbor, but an Oct. 21 editorial expresses a conviction that he was “in thorough accord with the people’s interests on the question” and “[o]n numerous other occasions he has spoken with equal frankness and courage, not only on the harbor question, but on the other important issues of the hour.”
Later editorials vilify McLachlan. One appearing on July 21, 1900—advising against his nomination at the Republican Convention—terms him a “weak wobbler.” He was nominated and won.
An editorial of Aug 4, 1908, again urging that McLachlan be denied renomination, roars:
“The incumbent, James McLachlan, is a candidate for the nomination to succeed himself. McLachlan is always a candidate for office. He came here years ago a candidate for political preferment. In our opinion he was unfit for such preferment from the beginning, and he has not become less unfit as the years have passed. He is still unfit. We opposed his nomination for office from the moment his unfitness became evident, from his lack of sound judgment, lack of firm grasp of principles, lack of courage to stand by his party colors when principles of the greatest moment were at stake, and lack of independence to resist malign, personal, corporate and political influence.”
The Times assails McLachlan as having been unfit for public office “from the beginning” without forthrightly confessing that it had endorsed him with gusto in two elections and somewhere between tepidly and warmly in another.
A Feb. 20, 1910, editorial again seeks to deter a renomination, arguing:
“For one more biennial term the imperial county of Los Angeles has a seat all its own in the House of Representatives. This seat is now occupied, but not filled, by poor, inefficient ‘Jim’ McLachlan, professional politician, perpetual office-chaser, handy man for corporation interests that may have votes to survive in convention or at election times, but useless in the extreme so far as the public interest goes. James McLachlan has been in Congress so long that old-timers have to refer to books on statistics to find out when he first got there.”
He first got there March 4, 1895 (elected in 1894), and left March 3, 1897, and had been serving again since March 4, 1901.
In 1910, he was renominated, but lost in the general election.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company