Thursday, May 5, 2011
Did McLachlan Stir Coverage of Anti-McLachlan Circular?
By ROGER M. GRACE
Mystery surrounds a 1900 Spanish-language campaign piece that falsely attributes to Republican congressional nominee James McLachlan the voicing of anti-Catholic sentiments while a lame duck member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1896.
On Feb. 24, 1896, he did speak in favor of an amendment to an appropriation bill which provided funding to schools for Indian children. The Catholic church was foremost in operating such schools; the amendment, which passed on a vote of 91-64, specified that the funds would go to secular schools, only.
As recited here last week, McLachlan explained that he simply believed that the doctrine of separation of church and state commanded the denial of funds to churches.
In his actual speech, McLachlan made no mention of the Catholic church, but in the mangled version in Spanish, made direct attacks on it.
The Los Angeles Herald revealed the ploy on Nov. 2, four days before the election. It ran in full the text of the circular, translated into English, as well as the text of McLachlan’s remarks as they appeared in the Congressional Record. A preface begins:
“As an illustration of the desperate straits in which the partisans of [Democratic Party nominee] William H. Graves find themselves the following translation of a confidential circular to the Spanish-American voters of the Sixth congressional district is herewith published. This circular has been mailed, under sealed envelope, to every Spanish-American voter in the Sixth congressional district. The copy from which this translation was made was mailed on October 30, on the Santa Barbara train, and was immediately forwarded to The Herald by a Spanish-American who repudiated the sentiments expressed and desired, that the intelligent voters of the Sixth district be advised that at least one Spanish-American voter was above being influenced in the exercise of his franchise by such a cowardly, unwarranted and underhanded attack on a man whose public record proves conclusively that a lie absolute cannot defeat him.”
It is possible that public disclosure of the content of a “confidential” communique to Spanish speaking voters is attributable to the action of a single, stout, unnamed recipient of the piece, here denominated “Señor X,” who forwarded it to the Herald.
It is also possible that Graves, himself—who was delivering speeches in Spanish and otherwise seeking to capitalize on his Mexican heritage from his mother’s side of the family—wrote the piece, or at least authorized and reviewed it.
It does seem suspicious that the Herald, a long-time Democratic Party organ that had just lined up with the GOP, would be able to state affirmatively that the mailer had gone “to every Spanish-American voter in the Sixth congressional district.” How would it have ascertained that? Surely all that was known by Señor X …if, in fact, Señor X existed…was that he personally received it.
It is plausible that a circular mailed on Oct. 30 at a railway post office car (something common then) could have been received in Los Angeles in enough time for the addressee to get it over to the Herald’s office by Nov. 1, and it is also conceivable that it was translated and linotyped speedily enough to be included in the next morning’s edition. But would the Herald have been apt to have a copy of the Congressional Record for Feb. 24, 1896, at hand?
The circular contends that McLachlan was a member of the anti-Catholic American Protective Association (APA). The Herald’s preface proclaims, flatly: “Mr. McLachlan never was, and is not, an A. P. A….” How would the newspaper have known that?
McLachlan might well have had a copy of his 1896 remarks handy and would have been able to disclaim membership in the APA. There are earmarks of the story having been planted by McLachlan to humiliate Graves.
The story was repeated that evening in the pro-Republican Express, as well as the Record, a Democratic newspaper that prided itself on being an open forum. The pro-Republican Los Angeles Times—whose publisher, Harrison Gray Otis, had a distinct dislike for McLachlan—carried not a word about the matter.
Bolstering the suspicion that the McLachlan camp, not Señor X, provided the information is this comment by a principal in the McLachlan campaign, in the Nov. 3 edition of the Express: “We have known of the existence of this circular for some time, but could not obtain a copy of it until recently.”
Once having obtained a copy, it must be assumed that an effort would immediately have ensued to counteract it…if not in the form of a direct reputation, by using partisan newspapers as tools. The difficulty in obtaining a copy suggests that the distribution was not so widespread as portrayed and the statement that the circular had existed for “some time” is a hint that there was not an eleventh-hour smear, as the Herald portrays.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company