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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter IX - A Party Split
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


All the prophecies and predictions of the political seers and philosophers of New Jersey, many of them of course feeling their own partisan pulse, were annihilated and set adrift by the happenings in New Jersey on the first Tuesday in November, 1910. Woodrow Wilson, college professor, man of mystery, political recluse, the nominee of the most standpat Democratic convention of many years, had been chosen the leader of the people of the state by the unprecedented majority of 39,000, and was wearing the laurels of victory. The old bosses and leaders chuckled and smiled; they were soon to have a Roman holiday under the aegis of the Wilson Administration.

There were many surprises in the Wilson victory. The Democrats awoke on the day after the election to find that they had not only won the governorship of the state, but their joy was unbounded to find that they had captured the Lower House of the Legislature that would have the election, under the preferential primary system just adopted, of a United States senator. Therein lay the fly in the ointment. Never in their wildest dreams or vain imaginings did the leaders of the Democratic party believe that there was the slightest chance even under the most favourable circumstances of carrying a majority of the vote of the state for the Democratic choice, James E. Martine, of Plainfield.

The suggestion that it was possible to elect a Democrat to the United States Senate was considered a form of political heresy. The nomination for the Senate had been thrown about the state until torn and tattered almost beyond repair; it was finally taken up and salvaged by that sturdy old Democrat of Union County, Jim Martine. Even I had received the offer of the senatorial toga, but the one who brought the nomination to me was rudely cast out of my office. The question was: What would be the attitude of the new Democratic leader, Woodrow Wilson, toward the preferential choice, Martine? Would the vote at the election be considered as having the full virtue and vigour of a solemn referendum or was it to be considered as Senator Smith would have it, a sort of practical joke perpetrated upon the electors? Soon the opinion of the people of the state began to express itself in no uncertain way, demanding the carrying out of the "solemn covenant" of the election, only to be answered by the challenge of Senator Smith and his friends to enter the field against Martine, the choice at the election.

This business pitchforked the Governor-elect prematurely into the rough- and-tumble of "politics as she is," not always a dainty game. As I review in retrospect this famous chapter of state history, which, because of the subsequent supreme distinction of one of the parties to the contest, became a chapter in national history, I realize the almost pathetic situation of Mr. Wilson. He had called himself an amateur in politics, and such he was in the practical details and involutions of the great American game, though in his campaign he had shown himself a master of political debate. In the ordinary course of events he would have been allowed two months between his election and inauguration to begin an orderly adjustment to the new life, to make a gradual transition from the comely proprieties of an academic chair to the catch-as-catch-can methods of the political wrestling mat, to get acquainted with the men and problems of the new career. But the Smith-Martine affair gave birth prematurely to an immediate occasion for a fight.

As president of Princeton, Doctor Wilson had proved that he was not averse to a fight when a fight was necessary and when it was distinctly his affair, but he may well have paused to consider whether the Smith-Martine business was his affair. One of his favourite stories in later years was of the Irishman who entered a saloon and seeing two men in a tangle of fists and writhing legs and bloody heads on the floor at the rear of the saloon, turned to the barkeeper and asked: "Is this a private fight, or can anybody git into it?" A more politic man than Woodrow Wilson and one less sensitive to moral duty, might well have argued that this contest was the business of the Legislature, not of the Governor. Many a governor- elect would have avoided the issue on this unquestionably sound legal principle, and friends in Princeton were in fact advising Mr. Wilson to precisely this course, the course of neutrality. It would not be strange if neutrality, aloofness, had presented a rather attractive picture at times to Mr. Wilson's mind. Why should he gratuitously take a partisan position between the factions which would inevitably win for him the enmity of a strong element within the party? Which would also win for him the unpleasant reputation of ingratitude? For though he had at the first overtures from Senator Smith and his friends made it as clear as language can make anything that he could accept the nomination only with the explicit understanding that acceptance should establish no obligations of political favours to anybody, it would be impossible to make it appear that opposition to Smith's darling desire to become senator was not an ungracious return to the man who had led the forces which had nominated Wilson at Trenton.

On the other hand, there was his distinct pledge to the people during his campaign, that if they elected him governor he would make himself the leader of the party, would broadly and not with pettifogging legalism interpret his constitutional relationship to the Legislature, would undertake to assist in legislative action, and not wait supinely for the Legislature to do something, and then sign or veto the thing done. Moreover, he had insisted on the principle of the preferential primary as one means by which the people should participate in their own government and convey an expression of their will and purpose to the law-making body. The people had voted for Martine. The fact that Senator Smith had scorned to have his name placed on the ballot, the fact that human imagination could picture a stronger senator from New Jersey than genial "Jim" Martine did not affect the argument. A great majority had voted for Martine and for nobody else. Was the use of the preferential primary for the first time in the selection of a United States senator to be ignored, and all the arguments that Candidate Wilson and others had made in behalf of the system to be taken "in a Pickwickian sense," as not meaning anything?

There was a real dilemma doubtless much more acutely realized by the Governor-elect than by the hot-heads, including myself, who were clamorous for an immediate proclamation of support of Martine, on progressive principles, and for an ultimatum of war-to-the-knife against Smith and the old crowd.

It seemed as if Mr. Wilson were hesitating and holding off, reluctant to accept the gage of battle thrown down by the challenge of the Smith wing. The leading Democratic and Independent journals of the state were most insistent that immediate proof be given by Governor-elect Wilson of his leadership and control over the party and that a test should be made as to which influence, reactionary or progressive, was to control the destinies of our party in the state. Those of us who had followed the candidate throughout the campaign and who had been heartened by his progressive attitude were sorely disappointed at his failure immediately to act. It was painfully evident to us that behind the scenes at Princeton the new governor's friends, particularly Colonel Harvey, were urging upon him cautious and well-considered action and what mayhap might be called "a policy of watchful waiting," picturing to him the insurmountable difficulties that would lie in his path in case he exercised his leadership in the matter of Martine's selection to the United States Senate. They suggested that the vote for Martine had no binding force; that it was a mere perfunctory expression of preference in the matter of the United States senatorship which the Legislature was free to ignore. The only man, therefore, who could make the vote effective was the Governor-elect himself. What he would do in these circumstances was for days after the election a matter of perplexing doubt to his many friends. Disappointment and chagrin at the candidate's silence brooded over the ranks of the progressives of the state. In my law office in Jersey City I tried to convince those who came to confer with me regarding the matter that they must be patient; that, ultimately, everything would be all right and that Doctor Wilson would soon assert his leadership over the party and take his proper place at the head of those who worked to make the preferential vote an effective instrumentality. Frankly, though I did not give expression to my doubts, I was profoundly and deeply disappointed at the apparently hesitant, uncertain attitude of the Governor-elect. Feeling certain that popular opinion would be with him in case he decided to lead in this struggle, I was convinced that the delay in announcing his attitude toward the Smith-Nugent "defi" was dampening the ardour and enthusiasm of many of his friends.

The progressive Democrats of the state waited with patience the word of command and counsel from the Princeton professor to initiate the fight that would settle for all time in the state of New Jersey the question whether the referendum on the question of the election of United States senators should be treated as "a scrap of paper," or whether it was to be upheld and vindicated by the action of the Legislature. No direct word came to me of the Governor-elect's attitude on this vital question. Rumours of his position toward Senator Smith's candidacy filtered "through the lines" from Princeton; various stories and intimations that seemed to indicate that the Governor-elect would allow Martine's selection to go by default; that he would not interfere in any way to carry out the mandate of the election.

Things were in this unsatisfactory condition when to my surprise I received a call in my modest Jersey City law offices from the Governor- elect. Knowing him as I know him, I can see that in his deliberate fashion he was taking testimony from both sides and slowly arriving at his own decision. Having heard from the cautious who counselled neutrality, he was now seeking the arguments of the impetuous who demanded action and wanted it "hot off the bat." But at that time, not knowing him as I now know him, he seemed, in this interview, to be vacillating between two opinions, for he did what I have often known him to do subsequently: stated with lucidity the arguments of the other side, and with the air of one quite open-minded, without opinions of his own, seemed to seek my arguments in rebuttal. I was sorely disappointed by what then seemed to me his negative attitude, so unlike the militant debater whom I had come to admire in the campaign which had recently been brought to a brilliant and victorious close. In my youthful impetuosity I felt that we had been deceived in our man, a bold talker but timid in action. I simply did not then know the man and the mixed elements in him. Later, in close association, I was to see this phase of him not infrequently, the canny Scot, listening without comment and apparently with mind to let to conflicting arguments while his own mind was slowly moving to its own position, where it would stand fixed and immovable as Gibraltar.

Almost as if it were an academic question, with which he had no personal concern, he propounded the alternatives: Should he lead the fight against Senator Smith, or should he stand aloof and permit the Legislature to act without any suggestion from him? He summarized the arguments of his friends at Princeton who were advising him to steer clear of this fight and not permit himself to be drawn into it by young, impetuous people like myself. He said that certain overtures and suggestions of compromises had been made to him by Senator Smith's friends, to the effect that if he would not play a leading part in the fight and allow the Legislature to act without interference from him, Senator Smith and his friends in the state would agree not to oppose his legislative programme at the coming session. It was further suggested that Senator Smith had the necessary votes to elect himself and that it would be futile to attempt to elect Jim Martine; and that his intervention in this family quarrel would result in a bitter and humiliating defeat for him at the very outset of his administration. When the Governor-elect had concluded this preliminary statement, I was depressed and disappointed. I did not think there should be a moment's hesitation on his part in at once accepting the challenge so defiantly addressed to him by the Democratic bosses of the state.

Frankly, I laid the whole case before him in words to this effect: "My dear Doctor Wilson, there is no way I can better serve you than by frankly dealing with the question. Your friends away off in Princeton probably do not know how for years our party and its destinies have been in the hands of these very men, enemies of liberalism in New Jersey, who by your silence or indifference as to the United States senatorship are to be given a new lease on life. The issue involved in this fight is fundamental and goes far beyond the senatorship. The action you take will have a far- reaching effect upon our party's fortunes and no one can calculate the effect it will undoubtedly have on your own political future. In urging you not to take part in this fight your friends are acting unwisely. You cannot afford not to fight and not to have an immediate test of your leadership in this matter. The question of Mr. Martine's fitness, as your friends urge, is not an issue seriously to be considered. 47,454 votes in the state have decided that matter and you cannot reverse their verdict. Your friends have placed too much emphasis on Martine's alleged unfitness and too little on the duty you owe the party and the state as leader."

I called to his attention the fact that men like myself had been heartened and encouraged by his speeches in the campaign; how we felt that at last we had found in him a leader, bold and fearless, and that now, when the first real test of leadership came, it appeared that we were to be disappointed and that by his silence and inaction he would permit Senator Smith to win and allow Martine, the popular choice, to be defeated, thus setting aside the verdict of the election. He listened intently but without comment to all I had to say. Proceeding with my argument, I said: "The people of New Jersey accepted your word and, to employ your own phrase, 'took a sportsman's chance on you' and they must not be disappointed. Your failure to make this fight will mean that you have not only surrendered your leadership as governor in this matter, but by the same act you will have abdicated your leadership in favour of the Old Guard all along the line. They have set a trap for you, and I know you will not permit yourself to be caught in it." In conclusion I said: "They say they will support your reform programme. What assurance have you that, having defeated you in this your first big fight, they will not turn on you and defeat your whole legislative programme? As governor, you have the power to lead us to a great victory in this vital matter. Exercise it now, and opinion throughout the state will strongly and enthusiastically support you. You have but to announce your willingness to lead and the people of the state will rally to your standard. The fight, in any event, will be made and we wish you to lead it. This is really the first step to the Presidency. That is what is really involved. Not only the people of New Jersey but the people of America are interested in this fight. They are clamouring for leadership, and I am sure you are the man to lead, and that you will not fail."

When the Governor-elect rose to leave my office, he turned to me and asked, still in a non-committal manner, whether in my opinion we could win the fight in case he should decide to enter upon it. I at once assured him that while the various political machines of the state would oppose him at every turn, their so-called organizations were made of cardboard and that they would immediately disintegrate and fall the moment he assumed leadership and announced that the fight was on.

In his own time and by his own processes Mr. Wilson arrived at his decision. It was the first of my many experiences of his deliberative processes in making up his mind and of the fire and granite in him after he had made his decision. He informed me that he would support Martine and use all his force, official and personal, to have the Legislature accept the preferential primary as the people's mandate.

With prudence and caution, with a political sense that challenged the admiration of every practical politician in the state, the Princetonian began to set the stage for the preliminary test. There was nothing dramatic about these preliminaries. Quickly assuming the offensive, he went about the task of mobilizing his political forces in the most patient, practical way. No statement to the people of his purposes to accept the challenge of the Democratic bosses was made by him. Certain things in the way of accommodation were necessary to be done before this definite step was taken. It was decided that until the Governor-elect had conferred with the Democratic bosses in an effort to persuade them that the course they had adopted was wrong, it would be best not to make an immediate issue by the Governor-elect's announcement. We thought that by tactfully handling Smith and Davis we would be able by this method of conciliation to convince their friends, at least those in the party organization, that we were not ruthlessly bent upon leading a revolt, but that we were attempting peacefully a settlement that would prevent a split in our party ranks.

We were convinced that in the great body of organization Democrats there were many fine men who resented this attempt of the bosses to force Jim Smith again on the party and that there were many who silently wished us success, although they were not free to come to our side in open espousal. Thus we began patiently to build our back-fire in the ranks of the Democratic organization itself, to unhorse the Essex boss.

The first thing to carry out the programme was a visit paid to the sick room of the Democratic boss of the Hudson wing, Bob Davis, who lay dangerously ill in his modest home on Grove Street, Jersey City. The visit itself of the Governor-elect to the home of the stricken boss had a marked psychological effect in conciliating and winning over to our side the active party workers in the Davis machine. To many of the privates in the ranks the boss was a veritable hero and they witnessed with pleasure the personal visit of the new Governor-elect to the boss at his home and looked upon it as a genuine act of obeisance and deference to their stricken leader. They thought this a generous and a big thing to do, and so it naturally turned their sympathies to the Governor-elect. It gave further proof to them that the man elected Governor was not "high-browish" or inclined to fight unless he had previously laid all his cards on the table. We also realized that to have ignored the boss would have been to give strength and comfort to the enemy, and so we deliberately set out to cultivate his friends in a spirit of honourable and frank dealing. The visit to the boss was a part of this plan. The meeting between these two men--one, the Governor-elect and until recently the president of Princeton; the other, a Democratic boss, old and battle-scarred--in the little sick room of the humble home, was a most interesting affair and at times a most touching and pathetic one. Both men were frank in dealing with each other. There was no formality or coldness in the meeting. The Governor-elect quickly placed the whole situation before the boss, showing how the Democratic party had for many years advocated the very system--the election of United States senators by the people--that the Democratic bosses of the state were now attacking and repudiating. Briefly, he sketched the disastrous effects upon our party and its prestige in the state and the nation if a Democratic legislature should be the first, after advocating it, to cast it aside in order to satisfy the selfish ambition and vanity of one of the Old Guard. In a sincere manly fashion, so characteristic of him, Boss Davis then proceeded to state his case. Briefly, it was this: He had given his solemn promise and had entered into a gentleman's agreement with Smith to deliver to him the twelve legislative votes from Hudson. He would not violate his agreement. Laughingly, he said to the Governor-elect: "If the Pope of Rome, of whose Church I am a member, should come to this room to urge me to change my attitude, I would refuse to do so. I have given my promise and you would not have me break it, would you, Doctor?" With real feeling and a show of appreciation of the boss's frankness and loyalty to his friends, the Governor-elect quickly replied: "Of course, I would not have you break your promise, but you must not feel aggrieved if I shall find it necessary to fight you and Smith in the open for the Hudson votes." "Go on, Doctor," said the sick man, "I am a game sport and I am sure that with you there will be no hitting below the belt." And thus the first conference between the Governor-elect and the political boss ended.

Mr. Wilson's next visit was to Senator Smith himself at the Senator's home in Newark, a meeting entirely friendly in character and frank in expressions of the unalterable determination of the two men, of Senator Smith not to withdraw from the race, of Doctor Wilson to oppose his candidacy and place the issue before the people of the state. Senator Smith with engaging candour gave Mr. Wilson his strong personal reasons for wishing to return to the United States Senate: he said that he had left the Senate under a cloud due to the investigations of the Sugar Trust and that for the sake of his children he wanted to reinstate himself in the Senate. Mr. Wilson expressed his sympathy for this motive, more appealing than mere personal ambition, but declared that he could not permit his sympathy as an individual to interfere with his duty as he conceived it, as an official pledged by all his public utterances to support progressive principles, among which was the preferential primary system, and committed to a course of active leadership in matters which concerned the state at large, in which category the selection of a United States senator certainly fell. He made a personal appeal to the Senator for the sake of the party to forego his desire and by a noble act of renunciation to win the regard of all the citizens of the state, saying: "Why, Senator, you have it in your power to become instantly, the biggest man in the state." But the Senator was firm. And so, though the visit was conducted with the dignity and courtesy characteristic of both men, it ended with their frank acknowledgment to each other that from now on there existed between them a state of war.

Returning to Princeton from Newark, the formal announcement of the Governor's entrance into the fight was made and the contest for the senatorship and the leadership of the Democratic party was on. The announcement was as follows:
WOODROW WILSON'S CHALLENGE TO THE BOSSES
Friday Evening, Dec. 9,1910.

The question who should be chosen by the incoming legislature of the state to occupy the seat in the Senate of the United States which will presently be made vacant by the expiration of the term of Mr. Kean is of such vital importance to the people of the state, both as a question of political good faith and as a question of genuine representation in the Senate, that I feel constrained to express my own opinion with regard to it in terms which cannot be misunderstood. I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to speak; but it is.

I realize the delicacy of taking any part in the discussion of the matter. As Governor of New Jersey I shall have no part in the choice of a Senator. Legally speaking, it is not my duty even to give advice with regard to the choice. But there are other duties besides legal duties. The recent campaign has put me in an unusual position. I offered, if elected, to be the political spokesman and adviser of the people. I even asked those who did not care to make their choice of governor upon that understanding not to vote for me. I believe that the choice was made upon that undertaking; and I cannot escape the responsibility involved. I have no desire to escape it. It is my duty to say, with a full sense of the peculiar responsibility of my position, what I deem it to be the obligation of the Legislature to do in this gravely important matter.

I know that the people of New Jersey do not desire Mr. James Smith, Jr., to be sent again to the Senate. If he should be, he will not go as their representative. The only means I have of knowing whom they do desire to represent them is the vote at the recent primaries, where 48,000 Democratic voters, a majority of the whole number who voted at the primaries, declared their preference for Mr. Martine, of Union County. For me that vote is conclusive. I think it should be for every member of the Legislature.

Absolute good faith in dealing with the people, an unhesitating fidelity to every principle avowed, is the highest law of political morality under a constitutional government. The Democratic party has been given a majority in the Legislature; the Democratic voters of the state have expressed their preference under a law advocated and supported by the opinion of their party, declared alike in platforms and in enacted law. It is clearly the duty of every Democratic legislator who would keep faith with the law of the state with the avowed principles of his party to vote for Mr. Martine. It is my duty to advocate his election--to urge it by every honourable means at my command.
Immediately the work of organizing our forces for the fight was set in motion. I had been designated by the Governor-elect to handle the fight in Hudson County, the Davis stronghold. Meetings were arranged for at what were considered the strategic points in the fight: Jersey City and Newark. The announcement of the Governor-elect's acceptance of the challenge had given a thrill to the whole state and immediately the reaction against the Old Guard's attempt to discredit the primary choice was evident. The bitterness in the ranks of the contesting factions began to express itself in charges and counter-charges that were made. Speeches for and against the candidates were addressed to the ears of the unwary voter. The state was soon up in arms. There was no doubt of the attitude of the people. This was made plain in so many ways that our task was to impress this opinion upon the members of the Legislature, whose vote, in the last analysis, would be the determining factor in this contest. While we were laying down a barrage in the way of organization work and making preparations for our meetings throughout the state, the Governor-elect was conferring nightly with members of the Legislature at the University Club in New York. From day to day could be observed the rising tide in favour of our cause, and slowly its effect upon the members of the Legislature was made manifest. The first meeting in the senatorial contest was held in Jersey City. As chairman of the committee, I had arranged the details for this first speech of the Governor-elect. I had adopted a plan in making the arrangements that I felt would remove from the minds of the organization workers, to whom we desired to appeal, the idea that this was a revolt or secessionist movement in the ranks of the Democratic party. The committee in charge of the meeting had selected the finest, cleanest men in our party's ranks to preside over and take part in the meeting.

There was never such an outpouring of people. Men and women from outside the state, and, particularly, men and women from New York and Connecticut, had come all the way to New Jersey to witness this first skirmish in the political upheaval that was soon to take place. The metropolitan dailies had sent their best men to write up the story and to give a "size-up" of the new Governor-elect in fighting action. They were not disappointed. He was in rare form. His speech was filled with epigrams that carried the fight home to those upon whom we were trying to make an impression. When he warned his friends not to be afraid of the machine which the bosses controlled he said, with biting irony: "We do not fear their fortresses [meaning the political machines] that frown and look down upon us from their shining heights." Smiling deprecatingly and waving his hand, he continued: "They are but made of paste-board and when you approach them they fall at your very touch."

Ridiculing and belittling the power of the bosses, he called them "warts upon the body politic." "It is not," said the new chief of Democracy, "a capital process to cut off a wart. You don't have to go to the hospital and take an anaesthetic. The thing can be done while you wait, and it is being done. The clinic is open, and every man can witness the operation."

The meeting was a triumph and strikingly demonstrated the power of brain and fine leadership over brawn and selfish politics.

The final appeal to the voters on the United States senatorship was made in the heart of the enemy's country, the stronghold of the Smith-Nugent faction at Newark, New Jersey. The same enthusiastic, whole-souled response that characterized the Jersey City meeting was repeated. The same defiant challenge to the Old Guard was uttered by the new Governor. Sarcasm, bitter irony, delightful humour, and good-natured flings at the Old Guard were found in this his final appeal. In a tone of voice that carried the deep emotion he felt, he said, as his final word:
Do you know what is true of the special interests at this moment! They have got all their baggage packed and they are ready to strike camp over night, provided they think it is profitable for them to come over to the Democratic party. They are waiting to come over bag and baggage and take possession of the Democratic party. Will they be welcome? Do you want them? I pray God we may never wake up some fine morning and find them encamped on our side.
The response was thrilling. The two meetings just held, one in Jersey City and the other in Newark, convinced those of us in charge of the Martine campaign that we had made the right impression in the state and, having deeply aroused the voters, all we had to do was to harvest the crop, the seed of which had been planted in the soil of public opinion by the speeches the new Governor had made. It was plain that the machine crowd was stunned and reeling from the frequent and telling blows that had been so vigorously delivered by him. Suggestions of compromise came from the enemy's ranks, but no armistice would be granted, except upon the basis of an absolute and unconditional surrender. Offers and suggested proposals from the Old Guard to the Governor-elect were thrust aside as valueless and not worthy his consideration. There was nothing to do but play for a "knock-out." Soon the full pressure of the opinion of the state began to be felt. Members of the Legislature from the various counties began to feel its influence upon them. Our ranks began to be strengthened by additions from the other side. The Governor's speeches and his nightly conferences were having their full effect. The bosses, now in panic, were each day borne down by the news brought to them of the innumerable defections in their quickly dwindling forces. However, the bosses showed a bold front and declared that their man had the votes. But their confidence waned as election day approached. Realizing the fact that we were dealing with the best-trained minds in the Democratic party, we gave no news to the outside world of the strength in number of our own ranks, knowing full well that if we did so imprudent a thing, the active men in the ranks of the enemy would pull every wire of influence and use every method of threats and coercion to wean the votes away from us. We "stood pat" and watched with interest every move made by the other side. In his final statement before the joint meeting of the Legislature Smith boldly announced his election to the Senate on the strength of the number of legislative votes pledged to him, but those of us who were in the midst of this political melee knew that he was licked and that he was only whistling to keep up his courage.

In the meantime, the Governor-elect had tendered to me the post of secretary to the Governor, and I accepted this office which brought me into more intimate association with him and his plans.

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