Thursday, May 19, 2011
McLachlan Faces Opponent With Prominence, but Non-Electability
By ROGER M. GRACE
Democrat William Graves was not Republican James McLachlan’s only opponent in the 1900 run-off election for the House of Representatives. James Campbell of Pasadena was the Prohibitionists’ nominee…and that exhausts the discussion of Campbell.
The fourth man in the race had possibly the highest name identification of all, but his chances of getting elected were scant in light of his harebrained politics. You’ll certainly recognize his surname; Social Democratic Party candidate Henry Gaylord Wilshire is the man after whom Wilshire Boulevard is named.
Paradoxically, he was a man who made his money through capitalism yet preached socialism.
To put that spirited 1900 election in perspective, we zoom out from McLachlan and onto Wilshire.
Never mind the name of his party in 1900. The “Social Democratic Party” was a short-lived but national band of socialists, not a faction of Democrats who liked to socialize.
Two years later, when Wilshire was running for Congress from a district in New York, he wrote in a message to voters:
“Twelve years ago [that is, in 1890] I was nominated by the Socialists for Congress in California. Eleven years ago I made Socialist speeches in this very Tenth District of New York, when a Socialist candidate for Attorney-General of the State of New York. Since then I have been a candidate for office a number of times, and always as the regular Socialist nominee.”
Wilshire garnered much publicity during his 1900 campaign. He kept getting arrested for violating an 1893 City of Los Angeles “park ordinance” which purported to ban public discussions or debates in parks. He delivered orations from the bandstand at Central Park, which has been known since 1918 as Pershing Square.
I well remember from the 1960s the soapbox orators there. Messages they bellowed were senseless, but the fact of their presence was comforting: the First Amendment was thriving. In 1900, it wasn’t.
Here are some less-than-objective but entertaining reports from the Los Angeles Times during the month before the election:
Oct. 4: “ ‘Is Capitalism the Cause of Imperialism?’
“With this question, alas unanswered, the spellbinders of Central Park adjourned yesterday afternoon….
“There was a police raid in the height of the afternoon, when the oratory was at its middle. All the speakers were arrested, among them H. G. Wilshire, Socialist candidate for Congress.”
The article in the Republican daily remarks:
“But the question arises, was not the band stand designed and made for wind instruments? If so, who has a better right or clearer title to it than H. Gaylord Wilshire?”
Oct. 5: “Seven disgruntled band-stand orators were arraigned in the Police Court before Justice Morgan yesterday afternoon on charges of violating the park ordinance. The most important figure among the spellbinders was H. Gaylord Wilshire, promoter of billboards and Socialist candidate for Congress. The other six were lesser lights of crankdom….
“The officers say that these windjammers…do violence to the atmosphere of Central Park….The police also claim that the orators are unmitigated nuisances in a public recreation spot, where women and children were formerly wont to spend the pleasant days, while many now shun the place as they would a convention of anarchists.”
The article goes on to report that Wilshire “returned to the park yesterday afternoon and repeated the alleged offense for which he had just been arraigned: and was again arrested.
Oct. 6: “If this thing keeps on, H. Gaylord Wilshire, Socialist candidate for Congress, will have to hang some such sign on his front office door, as:
“ ‘In jail; back in half an hour.’
“Or it might be a better idea to hang a sign out at the Police Station:
“ ‘Gone home: back soon.’
“Mr. Wilshire was arraigned again yesterday in Judge Morgan’s court on a charge of violating the park ordinance.”
And, he was arrested yet again on Oct. 8. The Times notes in its Oct. 9 edition that “[h]eretofore, when it has been necessary to arrest Wilshire the police, remembering the fact that he has some claims to their consideration, because of his family, have taken him to the Police Station either afoot or in a street car,” but had “wearied of this,” and transported him in a paddywagon.
An article in the Oct. 10 edition of the Los Angeles Record (which was supporting the Democratic ticket) bears the REMINISCING (Column) “WON A VICTORY FOR FREE SPEECH.” The park ordinance was invalidated…but, as the article explains: “The case was decided without reference to the constitutional right of free speech, a technical objection to the prosecution having been presented that proved sufficient to turn the scales in favor of the defense.”
The ordinance was passed on April 3, 1893, but the newspaper publishing the ordinance recited that it was signed by the mayor on March 6 of that year. That typo rendered the law “null and void,” the Police Court judge proclaimed.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company