Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Political Rallies Have Changed/Jones, Lewis Debated Issues

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 29 July 1962

It is difficult for the present day voters of the Tri-City region to visualize the conditions under which the pioneer politicians waged their political campaigns. There was no radio or television. The office seeker contacted the voters in person, by mail, through the local newspapers and by political rallies.

Rallies were generally held at the school house in the evenings. The office seeker, if he had a singing voice or talent on a guitar, banjo or violin, entertained the crowd while it gathered. When he felt that all the crowd had arrived he mounted the platform and announced that everyone would sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." He then introduced himself and gave a brief personal history stressing his abilities. He explained the improvements that he would make if elected to the office.

These meetings were open to the general public. Many times his opponents resorted, to heckling while he was speaking. Teen-age boys of the opposition would make noises on the outside to drown his remarks.

I remember a political meeting being held in Kennewick's old second school house. The office seeker possessed a rich Scandinavian acccent. When the boys became too loud he would say "poys, an empty vaggon makes the most noise." Everytime the boys would their noise he would say "there goes that empty vaggon again." He finally got the boys 'buffaloed" and the crowd gave him a hand.

I remember at another political meeting in which the speaker was "lambasting" the individual voter who was neither a Republican or a Democrat. These voters were not called independent voters in those early days. They were fence straddlers or mugwumps. A political speaker of those early days described a mug-wump as voter astride the political fence with his mug on one side and his wump on the other.

Radio and television have taken away much of the effectiveness of campaign meetings. They enter private homes with their programs which often tend to influence the thoughts of the voters on the different problems. The Lincoln and Douglas debate of 1856 influenced the pioneer-political-campaign technique for many years.

One of the greatest political debates in the Washington's pioneers' history was the James Hamilton Lewis and Wesley L. Jones political debate in the early 1890s. Jim Ham Lewis as he was called arose to fame by supporting the rights of the marine employes in their conflicts with their employers in the Puget Sound area. He was striking in his personal appearance. He wore a dandy beard that was almost pink in color. He had a very powerful voice and was a great orator. He was from the South and rabid Democrat. He challenged the Washington State Republican headquarters for an opponent to oppose him in a statewide debate on the political issues of the upcoming campaign.

The Republican United States senators and congressmen did not care to tangle with him in debate. Wesley L. Jones, a mild mannered young attorney of Yakima, who had never held a higher office than justice of peace, was appointed to oppose him. Jones at this time was a tall angular young man and somewhat resembled Abe Lincoln in physique and whose voice was quite similar to Lincoln's. He was known as "Yakima Jones" to keep him from being confused with "No God Jones" who was campaigning on an atheist platform. In the early stages of the Lewis-Jones debate Lewis scored heavily against his younger opponent, but Yakima Jones was cutting his forensic eye teeth. Soon the popular tide of the contest turned toward "Yakima Jones." At the conclusion of the debate, James Hamilton Lewis left for Chicago and became quite a politician there. "Yakima Jones" had become a very popular individual and was later elected to Congress; then to the United States Senate, a position he held for many years. He was very popular in Washington, D.C. He was liked and respected by both parties; in fact, one of his closest personal friends was Democratic Sen. Bankhead, father of Tallulah Bankhead. Sen. Wesley L. Jones was one of the most king and friendly men that I every knew.

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