Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 28, 2011


Page 15



McLachlan’s Political Career Comes to an End




James McLachlan, after five consecutive terms in office, in 1910 sought renomination by the Republican Party to his congressional seat. But the progressives were taking hold of the party, and they had their own candidate.

The Los Angeles Herald’s edition of April 21 relates:

“It was stated at Republican headquarters yesterday that the candidacy of William D. Stephens of Los Angeles for the nomination to be representative in congress from the Seventh district, to succeed James McLachlan, is meeting with gratifying support. Many of the newspapers of Southern California—a few of which had not been expected to give Mr. Stephens their support—are declared already to have come out strongly in favor of him.”

That newspaper, the following day, quotes the view of the Pacific Outlook, a pro-reform newspaper, that politicians who were “on the program for a disappearing act” included “James McLachlan and about 150 stand pat reactionaries in house and senate.” The Herald quotes the weekly as commenting: “Peace to their ashes.”

The Los Angeles Times was opposed to the reformers—but could not bring itself to support McLachlan for whom publisher Harrison Gray Otis had a bitter dislike.

A May 27 editorial queries:

“Is a suitable man to come to the front as a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress in this district? There is ample time for one to enter the race and conduct a successful campaign.

“McLachlan, incumbent, is not on the job. He is inefficient, indolent, useless. Nearly every delegation that has gone to Washington in behalf of the interests of Southern California has come home with criticisms and reproaches for McLachlan….

“William D. Stephens is out of the question on account of the amazing ignorance of political and economic fundamentals that he has shown in his appeal to the people.”

The editorial scores Stephens for being in league with the “insurgents,” the “populistic agitators.” It de­clares:

“Mr. Stephens has abandoned the Republican ship. He cannot expect it to bear him to political honors of which he is unworthy, no matter what his personal qualities may be.”

This was the first year of the direct primary, In previous years, when candidates were nominated at political conventions, the Times had beseeched delegates to find someone to put up other than McLachlan—but failed. Under the new system, the Times was unable to inspire any additional candidate to enter the race by filing nominating papers.

The primary took place on Aug. 16. McLachlan lost, with 14,868 votes to 17,870 for his challenger for the nomination, Stephens.

An Aug. 18 editorial in the pro-Democratic Herald remarks:

“James McLachlan was always a small man in Washington and little known outside of the circle that bowed and scraped on the doormat of the speaker’s room, hat in hand. Whatever prominence he had he owed to his position as a courtier to the czar and his willingness to do anything without question.”

Republican presidential victories in 1900, 1904, and 1908, along with Republican gubernatorial wins in California in 1902 and 1904, contributed to McLachlan’s success in the general elections in those years. In 1910, the coattails that mattered were those of Hiram Johnson, and clinging to them was fellow progressive Stephens.

Johnson and Stephens both prevailed in the general election.

Stephens was reelected to Congress in 1912 on the Republican ticket, and in 1914 as a member of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party. That short-lived group, formed in 1912 and dissolved in 1916, had put up Roosevelt for president and Johnson for vice president in 1912.

In 1916, Johnson—who had not become vice president but was reelected to the governorship in 1914 as a Progressive—beckoned Stephens to Sacramento. Stephens was appointed by him to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor, assuming office on July 22, after resigning from his congressional seat.

Johnson went on that year to gain election to the U.S. Senate, running on the tickets of both his own Progressive Party and the GOP. With the next session of Congress not slated to start until December, 1917, uncertainty loomed as to when—or, at one point, if—Johnson would resign as governor to accept his new post. In the wake of a call by President Woodrow Wilson of a special session of Congress in April, Johnson did resign at noon on March 15, 1917, and Stephens on that date became governor. Stephens was elected in 1918, as a Republican, but denied his party’s nomination in the primary four years later.

A bit of trivia is that Stephens is the only person to have served as mayor of Los Angeles who became governor of California.

Mayor Arthur J. Harper was recalled in 1909; Stephens was appointed to the post on March 15, 1909 and served until March 26 when an elected successor took over.


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