Thursday, June 16, 2011
McLachlan Crosses Swords With Ex-Sen. Stephen M. White
By ROGER M. GRACE
One of the most popular and revered political figures in the history of this state is Stephen M. White. He was district attorney of Los Angeles, president pro tem of the state Senate, lieutenant governor, and a U.S. senator from here. White was known among the people as “Our Steve.”
In 1900, Republican James McLachlan (also a former DA) was a private practitioner seeking to recapture a congressional seat wrested from him four years earlier. His Democratic opponent in 1900 was a lesser known man than he, and one with a political handicap: he got off to a late start in campaigning because he was ill. McLachlan’s socialist adversary had high name recognition but his political notions were popularly disfavored. And the electorate (an all-male club at the time) was not about to join in a toast to the campaign of the Prohibitionist nominee.
Were it not for the feebleness of his opposition, McLachlan might not have had a chance of weathering a denunciation by the still influential White.
As U.S. senator, White, referred to yet today as the father of the free harbor at San Pedro, swung a $2.8 million federal appropriation for development of that facility rather than for enhancement of the pay-for-use harbor at Santa Monica…the latter being owned by Collis Huntington’s Southern Pacific railroad, which had the only tracks going there.
In his campaign, McLachlan was claiming to have been instrumental in securing funds for the free harbor.
The Oct. 4 issue of the Los Angeles Evening Express reports that “[t]o the greatest political gathering in the history of San Pedro,” McLachlan recounted his fidelity, as a congressman, to the cause of the San Pedro harbor, declaring: “I will never forget the sleepless nights and weary days that I passed in working for the interests of this locality.”
He reflected that he could “point with pride to the fact that every sentence, every word—yes, every syllable—that I uttered in committee, or upon the floor of congress, referring to that contest was in favor of San Pedro and against any other location.”
There had, however, been a point in 1896 when he evinced, in a telegram to the Chamber of Commerce, amenability to splitting a proposed $3 million appropriation between fixing up the inner harbor at San Pedro and constructing a deep sea harbor at Santa Monica, with the latter project drawing the lion’s share—roughly 90 percent—of the funds. That soured free harbor advocate Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, on McLachlan…manifesting itself in multiple editorial assaults on the ex-lawmaker earlier in 1900 in an ill-starred effort to stave off his nomination at the GOP convention.
It did not set well with White that McLachlan was taking bows over the “free harbor” victory.
The Oct. 16, 1900 issue of the Los Angeles Record reports that White had met that day with Democratic nominee William Graves and afterward told reporters that he “rejoiced” in the “restored condition” of the candidate’s health, and knew that if elected, Graves would “aid us in accomplishing” needed work at the harbor. The article quotes White as alleging that “[t]he election of the republican candidate would mean the retardation of the project.”
Then came White’s appearance at a meeting at Hazard’s Pavilion on Oct. 30—precisely one week before the general election. The next morning’s issue of the Times quotes him as telling the crowd:
“I know I have some Republican friends who are opposing Mr. Graves, and who were great and powerful advocates of the San Pedro Harbor, but they do not say much about Mr. McLachlan. He was a member of the Congress of the United States, and until I read what Mr. McLachlan said about me, I really thought I had something to do with the San Pedro Harbor. But this high authority has solemnly informed us that I am mistaken, and that, after all, he did it.”
White is also quoted as remarking:
“Mr. Graves is attacked because they say that he has been an attorney of the Southern Pacific Railroad. I once was the attorney of the Southern Pacific Railroad, but I do not believe that if Collis P. Huntington was alive today he would say that he got very much comfort out of me, or of my acts in Congress.”
Defining the role of an attorney as an advocate, White commented:
“I prosecuted hundreds of criminals in this county, and had the satisfaction of sending one hundred and two men to the penitentiary and hanging two, during the entire two years I was in office, and they deserved it. After I went out of office, when someone came along and wanted a constitutional trial and I saw fit to defend them, It was not inconsistent. I was acting merely the part of an attorney to see that my client got his right, a duty imposed upon me by the law of the land.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company