Thursday, June 30, 2011
McLachlan Returns Fire on Ex-Solon Stephen White
By ROGER M. GRACE
Ex-Congressman James McLachlan, battling in 1900 to regain his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives which he had lost at the polls four years earlier, was stung by verbal pellets shot at him by the great bearded orator and beloved political figure Stephen M. White, a former U.S. senator from California. As recounted in the last column, White lambasted him at an Oct. 30 mass meeting at Hazard’s Pavilion.
To respond by returning fire would be risky. Disparaging a man who was the public’s hero—and in retirement and ill health—would strike political consultants today as unwise.
White, a Democrat, had broad support even among Republicans—and, in particular, from Los Angeles Times publisher Harris Gray Otis. He and White had fought in tandem a few years back to promote, successfully, federal monetary support for a harbor at San Pedro—a “free” harbor—over one at Santa Monica, where the land, and the railroad tracks leading to it, were owned by Collis P. Huntington’s Southern Pacific Railroad.
The Times had repeatedly accused McLachlan of being wishy washy in support of the San Pedro Harbor and, in his Oct. 30, 1900 speech, White minimized McLachlan’s role in securing a victory for the free harbor.
There had been scorching editorials in the Times denouncing McLachlan prior to the 1900 GOP convention at which McLachlan was nominated; once McLachlan got the nod, the fires were nearly extinguished—yet, an offensive against White could conceivably have prompted the publisher to stoke the cooling embers and bring on raging heat.
With the potential political peril no doubt in mind, McLachlan spoke out.
The Nov. 1 issue of the Los Angeles Herald contains his rebuttal. It includes this:
“Heretofore, the only individual or paper that has ever intimated that I was not true to my promise with reference to San Pedro harbor was Gen. Otis and the Los Angeles Times. The Times has made many insinuations that I was not loyal to San Pedro harbor but has never specified any act or word of mine substantiating, or even giving color to such insinuations. It was not until last evening that any one else, to, my knowledge, had ever attempted to reflect on my course, and [former Democratic State Central Committee member] Mr. [John W.] Mitchell and Senator White were obliged to content themselves with the same indefinite insinuations and innuendoes that General Otis and the Los Angeles Times has had a monopoly of in the past.”
In a day when newspapers were aligned with political parties, Otis was in hot water with the GOP hierarchy for his pre-convention assaults on McLachlan. (That state of affairs might well have emboldened McLachlan in publicly bashing Otis.) In covering White’s speech, the Times saw a need to mention: “When Mr. McLachlan makes his rejoinder, if one Is forthcoming, it will be reported with equal accuracy and fullness by The Times.” In making that representation, it was not anticipated that the rejoinder would be published in the competing morning newspaper. With accuracy but not “fullness,” the Times reprinted McLachlan’s statement three days later, omitting the paragraph above.
White had alleged in his talk that Huntington—who died Aug. 13 of that year—had once turned to him during the fight over the site of the harbor and inquired, with respect to McLachlan, “White, have you got him or have I?” The ex-solon recited: “I told him I thought the influence of the community would get him on my side.”
Public sentiment was against Southern Pacific; the Democratic candidate, William Graves, had been an attorney for SP; if anyone could have breathed life into Graves’ candidacy it would have been White, viewed as the railway’s nemesis.
Here’s McLachlan’s comeback:
“[B]efore a jury or a court I would be justified in contending that that statement made by Mr. White bears upon its face the evidence of improbability and untruth. I am amazed that a man occupying the exalted position that Senator White has occupied should descend to the utterance of a statement like that, when the possibilities of refuting the same have been removed by death. Nor do I believe that Senator White would have made that statement last night if he had been his old self.”
The Nov. 4 issue of the Times quotes McLachlan as declaring at a dinner the night before:
“As to Senator White, that idol of the people, let us cover over his failings with the mantle of charity and remember him as he used to be.”
McLachlan, deftly, defused the effect of White’s remarks without engaging in an attempt to mar the public’s image of White as a revered statesman at the time he was in office.
The following year, McLachlan—who won the congressional seat—was among a bevy of dignitaries who were honorary pallbearers at White’s funeral.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company