radio, before television, before cable networks, before the Internet and before
blogging, a politician had only two choices when it came to spreading his message
to voters – public appearances or newspapers. |
The term “news media” still
lay decades in the future back in the 1890s when Wick Blanton and Tom Morris ran
against each other for the honor of being county attorney of Wilson County.
The two men stood on either side of the ticket, Blanton being a populist and Morris
being a Democrat and prohibitionist. They may have belonged to different political
parties, but that did not interfere with their warm friendship.
they were such good friends they even campaigned together, traveling in a buggy
between the various towns in Wilson County. At each voting precinct in the county,
they gave a stump speech and debated their positions.
were sunny and bibulous,” a mutual acquaintance later wrote. “Both tongues were
loose at both ends – and full of fire and wit in the middle.”
their political differences on the availability of alcohol, they always had as
their traveling companion a jug of good whiskey. They partook of it before an
oration and afterward to slack their thirst as they bumped along the two-rut roads
that connected places like Fairview, Floresville, Kosusko, Lavernia, Seal’s Chapel,
Sunnyside, Sutherland Springs, and Union Valley.
Before a crowd of potential
voters, their friend continued, “Always they were fair and courteous to each other,
except as they derided each other for having no more brains than to support the
political parties they respectively espoused.”
Beyond working gatherings
of voters, they hit up individuals, seeking assurance of their vote. During one
such conversation, a poll tax payer who had been on the fence finally agreed to
cast his vote for Morris.
“I’m mighty glad to see you coming across to
the Democratic side again,” Morris told the man. “It’s the party of our fathers,
and the greatest one on earth.”
Then the man burst Morris’ political balloon.
He decision to vote for him had not been based on his campaign, he said. What
had made the difference was a story making the rounds that Blanton had been arrested
in San Antonio for being drunk.
“Look here,” Morris said. “I’d like to
have you vote for me…. But I don’t want your voted on a damned lie.”
knew for a fact that his opponent had not been drunk in San Antonio because he
and Blanton had been drunk enough in Wilson County. He couldn’t have his friend
lose a vote over something he was just as guilty of as Blanton.
his case as meticulously as he would have to in a court of law, Morris succeeded
in convincing the man of the truth: Blanton had been in Wilson County on the night
in question, making a campaign appearance with Morris in Fairview. A Wilson County
lawyer had indeed been arrested in San Antonio, but it had been a third party,
“I’m glad you told me that,” the voter said. “Wick’s all
right, then. And he gets my vote.”
Morris shook hands with the man and
left, well aware that by being truthful, he had cost himself one vote. The first
person he told the story to was Blanton – over a drink.
Blanton won the
election and went on to a long and successful career, dying in Gonzales in 1937.
“Every man mentioned in this story is dead,” the teller of the tale wrote
a few years after Blanton’s death. “The principles of fair dealing in politics
which they stood for largely died with them.”
© Mike Cox
December 20, 2004 Column
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