Thursday, December 19, 2013

House snoop yields a small treasure trove of history

    I was snooping through an abandoned house recently and found a book in the basement entitled Great Issues and National Leaders: The Voters Guide for the Campaign of 1908.

    The rather thick book does a pretty good job of describing the various candidates for president. In addition to Republican William Howard Taft and Democrat William Jennings Bryan, the book profiles a number of what we would today call "fringe" candidates, such as socialist Eugene Debs.
    A good portion of the book isn't so much about the current election but the recounting of recent political history. The book also spends a good bit of time explaining how our government works. I found refreshing the passages which explained that the federal government had granted no authority to the states, as it had none to grant; rather, the book explains, the states ceded certain enumerated powers -- and no more -- to the federal government.
    Much of the book is simply the reprinting of speeches and party platforms. For example, under the subhead "Republican Principles Enunciated" is the Republican convention keynote address by Julius C├Žsar Burrows, of Minnisota.
    I could go on, but the point is that history reads very differently when it's written as current events rather than it does from a 100-year-old history book. I certainly discovered some things I didn't know. The book describes Mississippi representative John S. Williams as a "leading" Democratic statesman (see photo below), but I confess I had never heard of him. Williams was minority leader of the House from 1903 to 1908. Have any other Mississippians held this post, or that of majority leader? Why haven't I heard of this guy? I find it interesting that in an era without television or radio much of the electorate was far more informed 1908 than it is today with our modern communication systems.
    The book spent many a year in a damp basement, and it smells absolutely dreadful. But I will brave the smell and continue to browse the book over the next few weeks. And if my high school history teacher, Bobby Mitchell, wants to borrow this little treasure, of course he is welcome.

1 comment:

Pugnacious said...


My most memorable experience at attic snooping was that of going through the steamer trunk of my great-great-grandfather who came to America from Ireland aboard the steamship, The Conqueror.

Anyway,there was a Mississippian that achieved national recognition in the executive administration of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson appointed Thomas Watt Gregory to Attorney General in 1915. Gregory served through the WWI years until 1919 and became Wilson's advisor at the 1919 Paris Peace Conferenc after not being reappointed to the AG post.

Gregory was born in Crawfordsville(Crawford), Mississippi in 1861, and soon after his birth, his father, a Captain in the Confederate Army(probably the Prairie Guards) was killed in battle and is buried at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus.

There is dark side to his tenure at AG in the treatment of antiwar pacifists during WWI.

Thomas Watt Gregory