Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Page 11



Wilshire Offers to Pay McLachlan $100 an Hour to Debate Him




Quirky millionaire Henry Gaylord Wilshire barely drew an audience as a soapbox orator, pontificating in what is now Pershing Square on the virtues of socialism. Wilshire thirsted to show off his eloquotionary talents before a large audience, and also to squeeze all the attention he could from his 1900 bid for a seat in the House of Representatives. Wilshire was the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, a band of socialists.

On Oct. 12, he issued a challenge, in the form of an open letter, to the Republican contender, former Congressman James McLachlan, to debate him.

Wilshire didn’t bother to seek an oratorical joust with the Democratic candidate, William Graves, who was in a sickbed and, it appeared at that time, might drop out of the race.

In his challenge to McLachlan, published in the Los Angeles Record on Oct. 15, Wilshire comments that “with Mr. Graves practically out of the fight, …the race has narrowed itself down between you and me.”

There’s no mention of the Prohibitionist candidate.

The letter, in which Wilshire seeks to taunt McLachlan into debating him, accuses the GOP contender of being a pawn of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Graves, also, was linked with Southern Pacific, having been an attorney for it, the letter says, but speculates that McLachlan had the nod because he had a track record in Congress of advancing SP’s interests. The letter virtually accuses the Republican candidate of having had a hand in the nomination of the Democratic contender.

Wilshire puts forth this cheeky appeal:

“If you do not dare such a meeting and still persist in posing before the people as their representative instead of the representative of the Southern Pacific railroad, I then call upon you to show your sincerity and withdraw from this  election contest….”

The letter goes on to say:

“You certainly realize the fearful handicap you would be laboring under if you obtained your seat with the present disgraceful state of affairs, and it seems to me that there is but one honorable course open to you, and that is to withdraw if you care anything for your future political reputation. Later on you may again appeal with better grace in this constituency for a return to congress and if successful you can take your seat without that feeling of shame which would oppress you if now successful.”

Wilshire then declares that he “will not speak at this time of the contingency of your being unseated, even though elected on the face of the returns, when I make a contest before congress of the validity of this election,” inferably based on the supposed collusion with the Democrats. He thus speaks of, in a publicly released letter, a matter which he proclaims he won’t presently bring up.

McLachlan was somehow not persuaded to withdraw. The Los Angeles Evening Express’ edition of Oct. 17 reports:

“McLachlan, when seen yesterday, was loath to discuss Wilshire or his challenge.

“ ‘All I know about the matter is what I have seen in print,’ said the republican candidate, ‘and I shall ignore Wilshire entirely.’ ”

That article in the Express observes that Wilshire’s “opera bouffe [comic opera] campaign will, it is believed in certain quarters, give him more votes in Los Angeles County than will be cast for William Graves, the regular Democratic candidate.”

Wilshire persisted. The Oct. 23 edition of the Record contains a new “open letter” from Wilshire to McLachlin. It calls for a debate on trusts, saying:

“As you will probably not care to break your custom of not working for anybody for nothing, the public included, I will pay you for your time.”

The letter offers $100 an hour (about $2,680 now) for debating him—noting that “that rate of pay is much better than you will ever earn or have ever earned in your legal profession”—and “$500 as an honorarium” if the audience were to declare him the winner.

“Now here is the chance of your life, Mr. McLachlan, to take down nearly a thousand dollars for a few minutes’ talk,” the huckster declares.

No acceptance.

The 1900 Democratic nominee for president of the United States was William Jennings Bryan. The Oct. 29 edition of the San Francisco Call quotes a letter from Wilshire to Bryan as saying:

“In a few short days you will be again a defeated candidate and presumably have some time at your disposal to devote to your private interests. I understand that in your regular profession as a lawyer you will argue a case for me if the fee is satisfactory. I am willing to pay you one thousand dollars ($1000) retaining fee for two hours work and will also give another thousand ($1000) contingent on your success [in the debate]. You are to debate with me on ‘Trusts.’ ”

A New York Times article of July 20, 1901, advises: “Mr. Wilshire’s proposition was never accepted.”


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