Kansas Historical Quarterly - At What Age Did Men Become Reformers?
By James C. Malin
Autumn 1963 (Vol. 29, No. 3), pages 250 to 266
ONE OF THE suggestions that inspired this study was a remark of E. W. Hoch, owner and editor of the Marion County Record of Marion, upon visiting the Alliance legislature of 1891: "The first thing that impressed us was the large number of gray heads. We guess the average age of the members [of the House] is at least ten years more than that of the last House. . . ." *
Unfortunately for verification of Hoch's guess, no tabulation of the ages of the members of the lower house of 1889 is available. The question raised by his observation is larger, however, than the particular house upon which he was commenting, and substantial data are readily available to establish some perspective. Selections have been made for study of several legislatures, both house and senate, and of all of the Kansas delegation to congress 1888-1900 inclusive. The selection of legislatures has been governed primarily by availability of data, but where alternatives are available, campaigns have been used when the canvass involved national issues and/or in which a state political upheaval occurred. For better or worse, therefore, the ones used are 1867, 1869, 1875, 1877, 1889 (in complete), 1891, 1893 (incomplete), 1895, 1897, 1899, and 1901.
II. THE LEGISLATURES
The election of 1866, at which the legislature of 1867 was chosen, occurred under peculiar circumstances. Discharges from the military services had been substantially completed. To some degree, therefore, most men had had some opportunity to make adjustment to a civilian position in society. Unusually disturbing politically, however, was the crisis in relations between Pres. Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republican contingent in congress, the explosive element in particular being a choice between the presidential policy of an easy peace with a rapid restoration of civil government in the South; and the Radical Republican hard peace, with the meting out of punishments to the ex-rebels.
In Kansas, the suicide of James H. Lane, and the end of his
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virtual political dictatorship, left his followers leaderless in the midst of the conflict. In addition, an unusual number of newcomers were voting in Kansas to whom the old leaders and local issues meant little or nothing. The consequences of these complicating factors permitted no simple, clear cut issue in the campaign around which to concentrate votes, especially in the local Kansas area. Under these circumstances, any attempt to interpret the election would appear little less than foolhardy. All that is attempted here is to describe factually some of the results as evidenced in the composition of the legislature which was elected in 1866 and convened in January, 1867. The legislature of 1869 was elected along with Gen. U. S. Grant as president, and the national issues dominated. These first two legislatures selected were Republican.
In the analyses beginning with the legislature of 1875, the party designations were used and the age distributions tabulated on that basis. For all, the extremes or ranges of ages were indicated as well as the median age rather than the average age. Exceptions do occur, but they are labeled. When the numbers were very small, peculiarities occurred, as in the case of two Democrats in 1875, aged 34 and 50 years respectively. In cases where several kinds of reformers were present, because of the small numbers and the slight differences on issues, all groups were treated under the head of reformers.
The legislatures of 1871 and 1873 would be of particular interest because of the so-called purification of politics movement in Kansas, which eliminated Sidney Clarke in 1870, and Samuel C. Pomeroy in 1873. Also, nationwise, the Liberal Republican movement occurred in 1872, which caused major confusion in Kansas politics because many sincere reformers were caught in the dilemma of how the better to accomplish reform; within the party or by the creation of a third party. The third party failed in Kansas, and nationally, but some substantial purification resulted nevertheless. Reform was continued both within the Republican party and by bolting in 1874 and 1876, but still consequences were not decisive. The major issue about procedure, to reform from within the party or by third parties, was still undecided, as well as the larger question about how much and how rapidly any substantial reform was possible. Men were men, yet!
The revolt against Gov. John P. St. John and the third term, reinforced by the first reaction against prohibition, had elected Gov. George W. Click, but had not substantially disturbed the Repub-
252 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
lican party hold on state government. To be sure the Democrats were given some encouragement, which was reflected in the legislature, and the Republican party was put on notice. This warning was reinforced by the victory of the Democrats in making Grover Cleveland president in 1884. In 1886 the Democrats again showed some strength in the election of the legislature and some independent reform candidates were in evidence.
By 1888 another round of reform began in earnest, running its course partywise by 1900. Among other things, during this later period, the young men became active in agitating for a larger share in politics. This was supplemented by a tradition that the younger people were innovators and the older people were conservators of the past. In other words, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. As facts of history, what validity was there to such generalizations? The present study of age distribution within Kansas legislatures is limited in scope, and purposely, because it is only a phase of a more comprehensive study, being made by the present author, of change< and the succession of generations.
A word must be said about the incompleteness and limitations of the data available. In some cases where age records for legislatures were compiled at the time, the data on a few individuals were not forthcoming, either from neglect or refusal to reveal age. For three legislatures critical to this study no contemporary handbooks have been found which recorded ages for the lower house; the legislatures of 1887, 1889, and 1893. The legislature of 1887 was filled in largely from newspaper sketches. In the case of the senate in some instances, except in individual cases where changes in personnel occurred, the ages can be calculated from the other session of the senators' four-year terms. Many legislators and delegates from the unrepresented counties were in the public eye too brief a time for such biographical data to appear in the public records, unless in the manuscript census enumerations in Kansas and elsewhere. For obvious reasons that onerous search has not been undertaken.
Note should be made of a few problems of procedure which may explain some apparent conflicts in age data; age calculations as of November or the following January when the legislature convened; calculations of the nearest birth anniversary; or raw data resulting from simple subtractions of year dates regardless of month of birth, of election, or of swearing in. Probably most calculations reflect some different answers on these points. While the deficiencies in data result in errors in some cases of one year plus or minus, they
MALIN: ON REFORMERS 253
do not invalidate the general picture of the legislative body as a whole, but they do serve as a warning not to split hairs too dogmatically in making interpretations of minor age differences.
The accompanying tabulations tend to explain themselves. The Republican party, although split into factions, held a virtual monopoly on the two legislatures, 1867 and 1869. The accent was conspicuously on men in their 30's or less, and little distinction was evident between the house and the senate. The legislature of 1875 reflected a substantial change in the situation, with Democrats and reformers conspicuously older, not younger, than regular Republicans. Two years later in the first biennial legislature, 1877-1878, this age difference had largely vanished but was still present, except for the house Democrats.
The legislature, in the special session of 1886, passed a law requiring that in public employment, other things being equal, ex-Union soldiers be given a preference. Although not applicable to elective office, there is no reason to believe that Union military service disqualified a man for nomination and election to the legislature later that year. The lower house of the legislature of 1887 included 57 Union veterans, and age data were compiled which applied to 54 of them. 2 Three delegates from unrepresented western counties were included in a separate list; ages 43, 57, and 61. The age range of the ex-soldier members was 38 to 75, and the median fell between the 45 and 46 year old groups. This soldier median was five years higher than that of the Republican house of representatives of 1877. Of the nonsoldier 68, age data were available for 56, with an age range of 25 to 66, and a median of 38. This was some two years below the 1877 Republican median.
A special analysis of the nonsoldier element is imperative to any meaningful interpretation of ages. The low median age as well as the low end of the range indicated that young wen were involved. The critical question was, how young must a man have had to be to be substantially ineligible for military service in the Civil War? A man born in 1848 or later would have been in 1886, 38 or under, and in 1865, 17 or less. There were 32 of these. The youngest ex-soldier in the house was 38. A man born between 1845 and 1847 inclusive would have been in 1886, 39 to 41, and in 1865, 18 to 20. There were seven of these non-soldiers. Adding these groups, 39 men were 20 years of age or less as of 1865, or 41 or less in 1886. Among the ex-soldier members the younger group, born in 1848,
254 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
numbered two, and the older group seven, or nine together. These were the age groups that were becoming restive among the non-soldier element as a lost generation in the matter of political preferment, and were an important factor in the growing demand for a broader base of participation in political affairs, in both party and public offices. This was one of several kinds of reform that was in the air during the late 1880's. To this young non-soldier group, increasing in numbers among voters year by year, the veterans' preferment act of 1886 was anathema.
One further group in the legislature of 1887 remains to be considered, the 21 older men who had been of full military age, 1861-1865, yet had not served as Union soldiers. Obviously an occasional ex-Confederate soldier was present, but there were several possible reasons why Northern men had not performed Union military service. Two supposedly "good reasons" were health and family obligations. The remarkable aspect of this 21 is the smallness of the number, and this quantifying analysis emphasizes, as no other kind of description can, how completely the "old soldier" concept was integrated into the fabric of the society of the time and place.
Viewed in the conventional sense as political parties, the Republican, Democratic, and independent age distributions were commonplace. The medians for both regular parties were age 43. The three independents 31, 41, and 46 were not out of line with the regulars. By coincidence the house of representatives as a whole, age data being available for 110, had the same median of 43.
The age data for the house of representatives for 1889 are not available. A direct testing of Hoch's impression that it would average 10 years younger than that of 1891, therefore, was not feasible. In the senate elected in 1888 the one Democrat, Edward Carroll of Leavenworth, banker, did not reveal his age, and there were no members labeled reformers. The range of age, 28 to 54, was wide, only the highest bracket, 61 and over, was not represented. The quite young had a substantial representation, but the largest group was that of 41-45 inclusive, and the median age was 43.
Some indirect and impressionistic evidence about the lower house of 1889 emphasized that it was made up almost altogether of new men. Marsh Murdock was gratified that so few of the "Fool Legislature" of 1887 were returned to either house, a half dozen or so. Cranks and third party men were left at home, and he thought "the conservative and level-headed elements" of the state were represented. The new men were not necessarily inexperienced, how-
MALIN: ON REFORMERS 255
ever, and he pointed to "a big squad of young fellows. . . ." The Lawrence Daily Journal commented that the farmer and labor movements had given warning to Republicans, resulting in the election to the legislature of men representing farmers and not connected with the "monied organizations." When these comments were written the performance of the lawmakers was still prospective. 3
In the legislature of 1891 the senate of 1889 was in office, only two years older. In the lower house, the Alliance, People's party, or reformer revolution had occurred from the election of 1890. This reform house of 1891 requires a fairly full analysis. The age range of 23 Republicans was wide, 31 to 66, with emphasis on the 51 to 60 year group, the median being 50. The 5 Democrats were too widely scattered and too few to provide a pattern, the age range being 29 to 49. The age range of the 81 Alliance men was 32 to 67, and the median fell between the 46 and 47 year groups. Similar to the regular Republicans, the age distribution was heavy on the upper end, the largest single group being that of 41-45. The 19 delegates from the "unrepresented" far western counties were important; nine each Republican and Alliance, plus one Democrat. The regulars were decisively younger men than the Alliance contingent; 29 to 56, compared with 33 to 60 in age range, and 35 and 44 for median ages. The Republicans were mostly town professional and business men, while the Alliance men were predominantly of the farmers' not citizens' (town) Alliance kind.
In the session of 1893 the Populist-Republican legislative war occurred, with victory of a sort to the latter. One of the casualties of the confusion was the failure of news agencies to collect data for biographical sketches of either the contending parties or the victors. By the time the seating of the members was settled, apparently there was no point to such a laborious effort. Just at the time when a careful analysis of the structure of this legislative body would be most useful to the historian, the age data and other pertinent information was not made a matter of record. In the senate the 23 Populists ranged from 31 to 58 years of age, and the Republicans from 32 to 63. The Populist median was 46, and the Republican median was 49, or three years older.
In the "redeem Kansas" campaign of 1894, the Republicans captured the lower house, the median age of 89 members of that party being 45 years. For the Populist and Fusion membership of
256 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
28, on whom data were available, the median was four years younger. In the election of 1896 Kansas went Populist or Fusion, both at the national and state levels, that element for the first time controlling both houses of the legislature. In the lower house of 1899, of the 67 Fusionists for whom age data were available, the median age was 46, and for the 45 Republicans, the median was 44. Notable in both, however, was an appreciable number of quite young men. In the new senate, there were 27 Populists, two Democrats, and 10 Republicans of recorded ages. Among Republicans none were in the 41-45 year group where the median would fall, five being younger and five being older than that bracket. The Populist or Fusion group in this senate was definitely older, the median falling among the 47 year olds.
In the Spanish-American War election of 1898, the Populist holdover senate obscured somewhat the extent of the Republican victory, which more than reversed the Populist majority of 1896 in the house of representatives. For age distribution analysis of the house, 88 Republicans and 32 Fusionists were available. The age range was 21 to 73 for the Republicans and 29 to 64 for the Fusionists, and the Republican median fell between the 44 and 45 year groups and the Fusion median on the 44 year group. But in view of the fact that the Republicans outnumbered the Fusionists more than three to one, attention is called to the unusual aspects of age distribution at the extremes. In the "elder statesmen" group, the Republicans outnumbered the Fusionists between four and five to one, and the 50-year-olds were four to one. In the boy population, 30 and under, the Republicans numbered seven to one Fusionist, and the second youngest age group, 31 to 35, more than four to one. The relatively greater Fusionist strength was with the middle-aged groups.
In the holdover senate of 1899, a few changes in personnel had occurred. The age ranges and medians were nearly the same, but again great divergences were conspicuous in the internal distribution. Above 40, the Fusionists numbered near three to one instead of near two to one. The numbers in both parties were the same for the groups 40 and younger, and the two straight Democrats were 37 and 40 respectively. The young men were holding their own among Fusionists.
The election of 1900 re-established full Republican party control in Kansas, although, in the house of representatives the party yielded ground slightly. The age ranges of the house of representa-
MALIN: ON REFORMERS 257
fives of 1899 and 1901 were similar, but the Fusionist median of 1901 was 46 compared with the Republican 45. The big differences were again in the internal distributions which were not reflected in the range and median figures. Among 86 Republicans there were a substantial number of quite young men; 16 who were 35 years or less in age, but the Populists had only three. The figures reflect clearly the fact that the very young were not entering into reformer service under the Populist or Fusion label. Young men were not gaining experience to replace their elders and carry on that particular third party tradition of reform.
III. THE KANSAS DELEGATION IN CONGRESS
Admittedly the age relationships of Republicans and reformers were a bit peculiar, one generalization was clear: third party reformers were not necessarily young men. Among the members of the Kansas congressional delegation no serious complications stood in the way of a single, simple generalization. Reformers were substantially older than regular Republicans. Straight Democrats also were younger, on the whole, than reformers, including Fusion Democrats. The accompanying table reveals the main facts without the necessity of much explanation or interpretation.
The average ages were used here, the obvious reason being that the median was virtually meaningless with the small number of seats involved. The arrangement in two columns tended to visualize the contrasts, and the third element in analysis of house ages, emphasizes the age of the displaced person at the time of his elimination, the first and second columns being average age at the time of election. In some respects that contrast of age is more significant of voters' choices where the displacement was subject to the ballot than to the comparison of ages at the time both were elected which was a two-year time difference. Thus, in 1890 five Alliance men of 55 years average age displaced the same number of Republicans of an average age, in 1890, of 50 years. In 1892 the Republicans added a seat, Charles Curtis, 32, at the expense of Populist Otis, 54. The two Republicans re-elected were of course two years older than in 1890. Among the Populists they secured the new eighth seat with a 55-year-old. One Populist, Clover, 55, was displaced by another Populist, Hudson, 48.
In 1894, the redeemer campaign, the Republicans captured four seats, the new Republican average age being 44, replacing the four Populists of 55 years average age. The one lone surviving Populist
258 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
had attained the age of 63. In the McKinley-Bryan gold and silver campaign of 1896 Kansas went Populist or Fusion, the Republicans retaining only two seats in congress with men averaging 46 years Curtis and Broderick. The all-new Populist delegation of six men averaged 49 years of age, one of these being a 65-year-old Populist replaced by a 49-year-old. The five displaced Republicans, age average in 1896 being almost 46, gave way to five Populists of almost 50 years average.
The election of 1898, under the influence of the Spanish-American War enthusiasm, replaced all but one of the Populists, E. R. Ridgley, 54, the six new Republican incumbents averaging 50.5 years of age. Obviously this was not a young man's revolution any more than the Populist victory of two years earlier. In 1900 the whole Kansas delegation was Republican 49 years old.
In varying from mere quantification to interpretation of data, a time perspective is essential. In that context the extension of life expectancy was becoming conspicuous in the late 19th century United States. Without going into a discussion of the matter, that fact as fact is recognized here as tending to emphasize the role of the older men, regardless of other elements of causation. Many factors, of course, entered into the distribution of reformers and into the demise of the Populist party, but one aspect was related to age. To say that the Populist party died of old age would tell only a part of the story. A somewhat more accurate statement would be that the Populist program and leadership did not inspire young men to risk their future on the so-called People's party. Also, the decline and death of the People's party did not necessarily mean the decline of reform. The urge to reform was spending itself in numerous ways. At this particular time, the later part of the decade of the 1890's, not only was reform undergoing a significant shift in geographical distribution (a subject which is not at issue here), but more reformers, where they were in evidence, were< choosing to take their chances within the regular parties.
IV. WHISKERS, REFORMERS, AND AGE
The wearing of whiskers or other conspicuous facial adornments, especially when neglected, tended to give an impression of greater age than would have been the case with groomed, clean-shaven men. Hoch's impression of the house of representatives of 1891 as being ten years older than that of 1889 has not been verified or disproven explicitly by the records, but the group photographs do afford indirect evidence and suggest the explanation just offered.
MAUN: ON REFORMERS 259
In other words, not the number of beards, nor the age of the wearers, but the condition of the clothing, the beards, and the mustaches appeared to justify the impression of greater age. Also, the subjective element of political prejudice probably played a part. The Topeka Lance, January 17, 1891, commented on the whiskers:
It is very evident that Mr. Whiskers is a member of the house . . . occupying at least three-fourths of the chairs, and displaying an assortment of colors and cuts that must be very delightful to the winds that play through them. Another peculiarity of this body is that it contains so very few young men, nearly all the members being well advanced in years, whereas at former sessions the younger members have shared the honors with the older ones. . . .
To these the reporter added a third peculiarity, "very few of the 125 members are bald headed," and he suggested that outdoor work may have accounted for this condition.
Again on August 22, 1891, the Lance writer returned to the theme of whiskers for facetious comment: "They talk of dehorning the cattle and detasseling corn, and pretty soon they will commence speaking of dewhiskering the alliance." Wisely, at this point, he desisted from further pursuing the trimming process.
Fortunately for the historical record the photographers were persistent in recording the appearance of Kansas state legislatures, and from such materials the historian can quantify his description and verify the impressionistic verbal accounts of the pencilpushers. The accompanying tabulations report on three classes of faces: beards, mustaches, and clean shaven. For the critical years of Alliance-Populist-Fusion membership, the data are given by party designations as well as totals. Not much commentary is necessary. Every imaginable kind of beard was represented, and some of the mustaches were very nearly as abundant, shaggy, and unkempt as any of the beards. Others of both types were carefully clipped and waxed. Most of the members, those who had hair on their heads, parted it on the left side, a few parted on the right side, and even a very few, braving the epithet of dudes, parted it in the middle. A very few had hair cut short, brushing it back without parting.
Comparing the whole number of regular members and delegates of 1889 and 1891, the figures were almost identical for the distribution among beards, mustaches, and shaven faces. The plurality lay with the beards. The senate personnel was substantially the same for both sessions, but the mustaches had the plurality. The analysis of votes for James J. Ingalls and William Alfred Peffer for senator showed the beards of the house overwhelmingly for Peffer, the
260 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Ingalls followers being nearly evenly divided between beards and mustaches, but in the senate the mustaches were in the majority for Ingalls. Clean-shaven men were scarce in both houses both sessions. Evidently the basis for the ridicule of "Mr. Whiskers" in the legislature of 1891 as an Alliance man was not statistical, but subjective and colored by political feeling. Had enough of these same men voted for Ingalls to have elected him, one wonders what the writers would have had to say about "Mr. Whiskers."
In the lower house of the legislature of 1893, the beards and mustaches were equally divided with a marked gain in the number of shaven men. On the Populist side of the house the beards had it overwhelmingly, and in the Populist senate only slightly.
In the Populist house of 1897, the mustaches predominated over beards nearly two to one among that party, being almost evenly divided among Republicans. In the Populist controlled senate the mustaches were in the plurality among the party members while they were overwhelmingly in the majority among Republicans. In the Republican controlled lower house of 1899, mustaches led beards among Republicans by two and one half to one, but among Fusionists nearly five to one. In both houses of 1901 the cleanshaven men were for the first time more numerous than bearded men. This trend of the decade 1893-1901 had moved for the most part in a nonpartisan fashion from beards to mustaches to cleanshaven faces.
This discussion may be closed appropriately by the Kansas City (Mo.) Star, May 16, 1900, report on the Republican state convention:
. . . Only the absence of sandburrs deprives it of the aspect of an old fashioned Farmers' Alliance meeting. Whiskers float and toss over the vast sea of upturned faces as bunting on Fourth of July and the patriots who possess them are very proud, too. It probably is the finest aggregation of beards ever collected under one roof. They are of all styles and patterns, of all colors and hues red, black, tawny, gray, white and yellow, iron and brown and some barber dyed.
In the strictly descriptive sense this account of a political gathering of 1900 was strikingly similar to those of 1891 quoted earlier. The difference was equally notable, the subjective coloring ridicule in 1891, but good natured banter in 1900. Furthermore the writer did not refer to these men of 1900 as old, merely because they wore beards.
In one respect, however, the decline of the fashion of wearing beards and the rise in the fashion of clean-shaven faces was reflected
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partywise in a strictly descriptive sense. In the age tabulations dealing with the legislatures, note was made of the absence of young men among the reformers and of their increasing presence among the Republicans. These young men, under 36, regardless of party or reformer rating, were usually either clean-shaven, or cultivated a well-trimmed mustache. And then in 1898 a sharp impetus was given to the clean-shaven fashion by the Spanish-American War. The 20th Kansas Volunteer infantry set the pace in Kansas, except its colonel, Frederick Funston, who featured a closely clipped beard. Thus, the mere presence or absence of beards was not necessarily related to the theme of reform as that much abused word was wont to be used, the tradition to the contrary notwithstanding.
262 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
V. LEGISLATURES OF KANSAS: AGE DISTRIBUTION
|Demo. (10)||0||3||3||2||2||0||0||31-59||ca. 40|
|Demo. (15)||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||34,50||ave. 42|
|Indep. (3)||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||30, 41, 46||ave.39|
|Ex-Union Soldiers (54)||0||0||6||20||19||6||3||38-75||45-46|
|Non " (56)||8||13||15||8||4||7||1||25-66||38|
|Repub. (118)||Age Data Missing|
|Demo. (1)||0||0||00||0||0||0||0||Data missing|
MALIN: ON REFORMERS 263
V. LEGISLATURES OF KANSAS: AGE DISTRIBUTION-Concluded
|Demo. (2)||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||30, 51|
|Demo. (2)||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||30, 51|
|Fusion (6)||1||0||2||1||2||0||0||25-50||ave. 40|
264 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
V. KANSAS MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: AVERAGE AGE
for Otis 54
2 reelected 54
ton for L.
MALIN: ON REFORMERS 265
VII. BEARD DATA
|(Members and Delegates)||71||64||6|
|H.R. votes for:|
|H.R. Totals (145)||76||64||4|
|Sen. votes for:|
The data for the analyses of the legislatures are derived from Wilder, Annals of Kansas (1886); The Topeka Daily Commonwealth, November, December, 1886, January, 1887; Admire's Political and Legislative Handbook, 1891; and handbooks and bluebooks of the Kansas legislatures for the later legislatures. The record of beards, etc., is derived from photographic panels of the several legislatures (KHi) and from the later bluebooks.
DR. JAMES C. MALIN, associate editor of The Kansas Historical Quarterly and author of several books relating to Kansas and the West, is professor of history, emeritus, at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
1. Reprinted in the Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, February 5, 1891.
2. Sketches of Ex-Soldiers of the Kansas House of Representatives, Legislature of 1887 (compliments of George W. Crane, Topeka,, 1887).
3. Wichita Eagle, November 16, 24, 1888; Lawrence Daily Journal, January 10, 1889.