Thursday, May 12, 2011
Anti-McLachlan Circular Draws Denunciations From Both Sides
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was a “whodunit.”
A campaign circular, in Spanish, appeared in October of 1900 urging support for William Graves, Democratic candidate for the congressional district that covered the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. It derided the Republican nominee, former Rep. James McLachlan, for a speech he purportedly made on the floor of the House in 1896 reflecting an anti-Catholic bias.
As discussed in the last two columns, his speech was distorted, attributing to him remarks that he did not make. In the closing days of the election, the ruse was exposed in newspapers.
But who concocted it? Was it the Graves camp, hoping to rouse Spanish-speaking voters to cast ballots for Graves, expecting the election to be over before the campaign piece was noticed by the Republicans? Or did it emanate from McLachlan’s quarters, so that it could be exposed as a fraud, bringing humiliation to the Democrats?
The Los Angeles Herald, a pro-Republican newspaper, broke the story on the morning of Nov. 2. Its editorial, published the following day, scolds:
“Such a contemptible trick as to take a man’s words and deliberately deck them out with invented trimmings, attributing to him words and sentiments of which there is not the least suggestion in the original, can only act as a boomerang. It is pitiable if the local leaders of Bryanism have been reduced to such sore straits that they countenance such knavish skullduggery.”
The story was picked up that day by the Evening Express, also a Republican organ. An editorial in the Express in that same issue declares:
Mr. Graves, democratic nominee for congress in this district, is unfortunate in his friends.
Some of them have been caught distributing a circular containing a garbled speech deliberately falsifying statements by Mr. McLachlan in a congressional address. The falsifications were designed to make him appear as uttering bitter criticisms of the Catholic church, and were interpolated in remarks that had no reference to the church. In fact they entirely perverted what he did say, making it something he not only did not say, but never even dreamed of saying.
These circulars have mailed broadcast and otherwise distributed to Spanish-Americans, throughout the Sixth district.
There is something so infamous in the affair that the democratic committee and managers, and Mr. Graves himself, cannot afford to remain silent about it, unless they would stand discredited before the decent people of the district.
The editorial adds:
“If Mr. Graves condones by silence such a dastardly piece of business he ought not to receive the vote of a single American citizen. The least he can do is to express his detestation of it.”
Graves did just that. The next evening’s edition of the Express carries his statement that he and his “friends” had no part in preparing the circular, and that it was “a dastardly document issued by the friends of James McLachlan.”
Also quoted in the Express is a letter from Dan Neuhart, chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee, and George W. Retzer, the group’s executive secretary, pointing out that Graves was fluent in Spanish, yet the circular, supposedly in Spanish, “has interspersed throughout continuously Latin, Belgian, French, Italian and other words and phrases, so that there is not one single continuous sentence of Spanish in the document.”
If true, that would surely cast suspicion on the Republicans. However, there was no substantiation. The letter asserts:
“It is sufficient to say that the translator of the circular immediately after his work had been completed was furnished with a new suit of clothes and a sum of money and sent to San Francisco.
“The democratic county central committee has in its possession positive evidence of the facts as stated above.”
I assume the “translator” refers to the man who translated the Spanish-language campaign piece into English. If so, did he do the translation for the Herald, or for the McLachlan camp which fed it to the Herald and the other newspapers? Or was the “translator” the person who translated McLachlan’s 1896 speech into Spanish for the circular?
If the Democrats had in their “possession positive evidence” of what it was saying (whatever it was saying), why did it not bare that evidence? The election was three days off.
The Express quotes a leader in the McLachlan campaign, John Wray, as retorting:
“The character of the circular itself, widely distributed as it has been, is absolute proof in itself that no one but an enemy of Mr. McLachlan could have produced it, as it is without exception the most harmful document I have ever seen in 25 years of political life, and cannot fail to lose Mr. McLachlan hundreds of votes before its evil influence can be counteracted.”
Yet, there was no evidence produced of widespread distribution and doubt is cast on such having occurred by Wray’s apparent slip of the tongue, quoted here last week, that “[w]e have known of the existence of this circular for some time, but could not obtain a copy of it until recently.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company