The Case of the 1894 Indiana County Judicial Election: Judge John P. Blair v. Judge Harry White

It was in 1894 when the election for judge brought about Indiana County’s most bitter, vicious, and sordid election.  The contestants were Harry White and John P. Blair.  The election results gave White a narrow margin of 87 votes (White: 4036, Blair: 3949).  Blair contested the election.  Printed below based on newspaper article is the best rendition of how the case likely proceeded and the outcome given by the Court.

On December 5, 1894, D.B. Taylor, Esq. went to Harrisburg with a petition that was signed by nearly 150 voters, asking the Governor to appoint a court to investigate the 1894 election results between Judge White and Judge Blair.  The petition sought the Governor to appoint a court consisting of three Judges closest to Indiana to sit to hear and determine which candidate is entitled to the office.

The claim was that Judge White was declared the winner by reason of false returns, and those signing the petition did not believe White received more than 3,600 legal votes, but that Blair did receive 3,949 legal votes.  In the petition it was alleged that 118 votes were taken from disqualified voters whose names were not on the ballot check lists; 148 votes were taken from persons who were at least 22 and had not paid taxes within two years; 59 votes and upwards of people who gave, or promised to give, bribes; 109 votes of persons who received bribes; and two persons under 21 voted – the claim was that all these votes went to White. 

Attorney General Hensel approved the petition on December 6 and the petition was sent to Governor Pattison.

Judge White traveled to Harrisburg on December 7 for a hearing before the Governor in the afternoon.  Judge White was represented by Lyman D. Gilbert of Harrisburg.  At the hearing, the Governor directed Attorney Gilbert to submit briefs to the Attorney General that week.  The Governor also appointed Judge Barker, of Ebensburg; Judge Doty, of Greensburg; and Judge Reyburn, of Kittanning to serve on the panel.  It was reported that White’s attorney filed an objection against Judge Reyburn as he was the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, the plaintiff’s attorney, but Judge White denied the claim stating:

The people of this county know all about that election.  I was fairly elected in the face of an opposition such as a candidate never before saw in Indiana County.  The opposition say that can change my majority of 87 to 349 in favor of my opponent.  In answer to that I have positive proof of several hundred illegal votes cast for Judge Blair – illegal, because the voter had not paid his taxes.  I do not believe the people of the county are in sympathy with this talked-of contest.  Of course there may have been some illegal votes cast because of technicalities, but the people will not lay to my charge the failure of election officers to comply with formalities.

Judge Blair stated that he was not pushing for the contest and knew nothing of the plans or methods of those who were backing the contest.

Court was called into session on December 21, 1894 at 10 a.m.   The first order of business was to appoint a president of the panel, to which Judge Doty was selected.  After Prothonotary Peelor read the Governor’s commissions, Attorney Taylor (for the petitioners) and Attorney Banks (for Judge White) presented their opening statements.  The attorneys present on behalf of Judge White were: Cunningham, Banks, Scott, Watson, and Keener.

Judge White, with the court’s permission, presented a statement because of the absence of an attorney who had expected to be there.  He objected to the sitting of the Honorable Calvin Reyburn, President Judge of the 33rd District, because of the circumstances.  He said in his statement, “This request is made out of no disrespect for his Honor or from want of confidence in his judicial character and integrity, but because of the surroundings.”  As mentioned above, the objection was over Judge Reyburn being the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, attorney for Blair.

The Judges retired to conference and upon returning to the bench Judge Doty announced that it was Judge Reyburn’s personal desire to withdraw from the board, but because of the Governor’s commission and the evident intent of the law that the three Judges closest to the Courthouse of Indiana County preside over the matter; it was decided that Judge Reyburn would remain a member of the panel.  Mr. Banks objected vigorously to the decision, but he was overruled.

Mr. Banks then made an oral motion that the petition be quashed on the grounds that it was vague and indefinite, stating that the very vagueness of the petition looked like a scheme of the petitioners to get into the ballot boxes.

Mr. Taylor responded that many of the ballot boxes had already been opened and papers extracted, and that before too much time had passed, the people of the county would know who did it.  He quoted many authorities why it was not necessary to designate who case the illegal votes an in what districts the frauds were perpetrated.

Mr. Taylor requested that counsel for petitioners not be compelled to furnish the names of those who voted illegally, and gave the reason that it would interfere in the subpoenaing of their witnesses.  Judge Barker then asked for a little more definite explanation upon which Taylor stated, “Why, your honor…I can in a very few minutes bring you absolute proof that already attempts have been made to get people out of the county until after this contest is decided.”

Mr. Cunningham then took the floor speaking at length about the vagaries of the petition and the turmoil which could result if something more definite was not presented.  He told the court, “Unless this petition states who these illegal voters are and where they voted there is not a man in Indiana County who cannot be called upon to testify. Counsel for the petitioners have unlimited power in the matter unless your honors grant a ‘bill in particular,’ asking for more definite speculations.”

After a long discussion among the Judges, they came to a conclusion with Judge Doty announcing a unanimous opinion that the petition was vague, and it needed to state who the illegal voters were, and where they voted.  The Court granted the bill, and counsel for the petitioners would have until January 1, 1895 to file their answer.

Sheriff D.C. Mack was then appointed as commissioner to collect all the ballot boxes in the county and keep them in his custody until he was called upon to deliver them to the court.

The court then adjourned until January 15, when the Judges would again convene and hear the evidence in the case.

At 9:00 a.m. on January 15, 1895 the court panel convened with Judge Doty announcing, “Well, we are ready to proceed, Mr. Taylor.”

D.B. Taylor called William Fry and Lester Ruffner, and while the court was waiting for the witnesses to be brought in, Judge White came into the court room, shook hands with the Judges on the bench, and then seated himself at counsel table.

William Fry appeared and was sworn; stated he lived near Marion and voted in Rayne Township.

            Attorney Taylor: “State whether or not any person gave you money for your vote.”

            Attorney Banks: “Just a moment; that’s objected to.”

Attorney Banks argued that in the Bill of Particulars filed by Blair had made no specifications of any voters who had received bribes.  He further attacked the Bill saying it was not signed by any person.  He said the signatures should be there and that the paper should be sworn to.

Judge Barker replied that the object of the court when they ordered the filing of the Bill was to insure there was sufficient cause for the proceedings, and if there were no objections the contestants would be allowed to amend their specifications.

Mr. Cunningham wanted to know if the Bill was amended, if the other side would have the privilege to answer it.

Judge Barker announced that the court would allow the contestants to amend their Bill and Attorney Taylor who had his paper ready handed it to the Prothonotary.

Further examination of the witness was objected to and then there were long arguments from both sides.  The argument was made by White’s attorneys that witnesses could not be made to testify to having received or given bribes.  The Blair people contended that the law said that no testimony given in a case of the kind could be used against witnesses in any future proceeding which might be brought against him and that therefore they were safe as far as incrimination was concerned.

Attorneys Cunningham and Banks contended that after a voter has sworn to his eligibility to vote, the vote should be taken and counted and if he had perjured himself or taken a bribe, the remedy was to be found in another court.  The court recessed from 11:15 to 1:30 to consider the arguments.

The court reconvened, and Judge Doty announced that the objections were overruled, and the evidence would be admitted.

In answer to the Bill of Particulars, Judge White filed on the night of January 15, claiming that there were upwards of 1,023 illegal votes were cast for John P. Blair.  The allegations were as follows: Non-residents, 34; not registered, 199; taxes unpaid, 455; under age, 7; defective ballots, 4; marked by parties not asked to assist in marking, 4; marked contrary to orders, 6; marked by persons incompetent to assist, 4; voters not naturalized, 2; promised to give valuable consideration, 47; received or agreed to receive valuable consideration, 157.  He also averred that votes of several districts should be thrown out on account of irregularities.

The court then heard testimony of 1,372 witnesses, which took up 1,541 typewritten pages.  In summary, the testimony is summarized as consisting of allegations and denials of bribery with money and/or whiskey, violations of election laws, and sundry other improprieties and questionable electioneering tactics.

It was presented that John Guffey, a prominent Democratic politician of Pittsburgh, had written a letter charging that Bennet’s liquor house had furnished Judge White with 100 packages of whiskey during the election campaign.  The owners of the establishment denied the charges.

Judge White testified on his own behalf, as a large crowd had gathered to hear his side of the story:

The contestants have produced testimony showing that I gave money during the recent campaign to a number of persons, in all about $21 [approximately $635 in today’s money].  I will explain these transactions.  I met Samuel Cooper a political friend of mine, at Gettysburg [Hillsdale] and we had some conversation about election matters.  I asked him to see a number of people for me, and to procure a driver to take me over the township.  We walked back an alley to a buggy shed, and I gave him $2.  The secrecy of the transaction was brought about by my thinking that if my opponents saw me give him the money they would put a false construction on it.  The money was for legitimate campaign expenses, and Cooper’s testimony was correct.  I have no apology to make concerning that transaction.

Clark Wilson testified that I gave him money before the election, he told the truth.  I gave him 50 cents or $1, as I have often done before, and that simple act of charity has nothing to do with the election, as Wilson also testified on the stand.

Robert McBreth came to my office to see me.  He said he had been doing some work for me, and thought there were others in his vicinity that he could get to support me.  He wanted expense money and I gave him $2.  William B. Lytle swore that I gave him $2, that is also correct.  I was down in Conemaugh Township, and he drove with me one day to see a number of people.  In the evening he got supper for me and fed my horses.  He did not want to take the money, but I said I did not wan to take his hospitality for nothing.  On a subsequent visit I gave his sister $1 for a like purpose.  He did not want to accept it, but I would not listen to a refusal.

I met William Trimble, of East Wheatfield, at a local bank.  I persuaded him to accompany me on an electioneering tour over the township.  He took care of my horse, and gave me my dinner, and for these services I gave him $5.  Austin Condron also received $5.  He was very active in my behalf, and was my friend before he received a cent from me.  It was not necessary for me to pay him anything.

David Campbell, of Heshbon, is a Democrat, but was one of my supporters all through the campaign.  He came to my office and made an arrangement whereby he was to keep me posted through correspondence.  I gave him $2 for postage and incidentals.  As the election drew near I lost his support, probably through failure of mine to answer some of his letters.

David Mardis received a dollar, but that was before the primary.  He is a very poor man, and I believed he needed it.

These instances I believe cover the amount of $21, which I am charged with having given for votes.

I never told John Nealor I would pay his back taxes if he would support me.  Three witnesses who have testified in rebuttal of that evidence heard the conversation.  I gave Alex. McCoy a dollar at Ambrose.  He was supporting me, and thought he could get some friends into line.  The dollar was given him for expenses, and not to influence his vote.

A young man, whom I have since learned was Samuel Hunter, came into my office and talked about the election.  He swore that I sent him to John H. Rochester for whiskey.  My best recollection is that I did nothing of the kind.  I did not even know that Rochester had whiskey or wine at his house, and I certainly had no claim on him other than friendship.  I never authorized Rochester to use liquor in my behalf – none whatever.

James Trindle called on me during the week of the county fair.  He knew I was an old friend of his father, and I gave him a dollar to get some dinner and may have given him some liquor.  Everybody knows that I am not a teetotaler, and I have no desire to be a hypocrite about the matter.  We had absolutely no conversation about the election.  I talked to Calvin Miller, and may have given him expenses for hauling voters to the polls.  Lewis Burnheimer is mistaken in his testimony that I promised to put him on the jury.  I never said that; I wouldn’t say it.  The same is true of the father of Miss Mary Conrad.  The young lady quoted me as saying I would put her father on the jury if he would support me.  All that I said was, ‘Tell your father to come and see me when in town;” John Lutes’s testimony was that I promised to put him on the jury if he would give me a ‘hist.’ I never made such a promise, nor did I promise to renew Porter Campbell’s note.

Myers testified that I sent him to Cashier Watt for money.  Now, I never knew Walter Myers until after the election, and the conversation he swore to positively never occurred.  Nicewonger, Myers’s companion, often called on me to borrow money, but I always told him I had none to loan.  He came to my house for money but I told him he would have to arrange matters of that kind at the bank.  Cashier Watt had no authority to pay out money for me.  Myers was in my office for money after the election.

I gave no person any money, nor made any offers or promises to influence votes.  I thought I knew what my privileges were under the law and certainly lived up to all just requirements.  There were, of course legitimate campaign expenses which were paid through the county chairman and many of the persons who came to me for money were referred to Mr. McGregor.

After Judge White’s statement, there was cross examination, which caused some wrangling on the part of the attorneys, and the Judge asked the court to protect him from insult.

The case closed on May 4, 1895 when the Court announced that there were 571 illegal votes which were thrown out, some because of election law violations, others for bribery.  In total 306 ballots for Blair were disqualified along with 265 votes for White.  The Court also stated that Judge White’s electioneering activities and expenditures were within the law.  This left White the declared winner with 3771 votes to 3643 for Blair.  The judicial opinion consisted of 35 pages of opinion, 28 pages covering points of law and 99 pages of findings of fact, this comes to a total of 162 pages.  To put this in perspective a typical United States Supreme Court case typically comes to approximately 11 pages.

So do you believe Judge White was fully within the confines of the law, or was he walking a thin hairline between lawful and unlawful?

Political Parties of Indiana County

Indiana County has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, even voting against the state’s Democratic native son, James Buchanan, in the 1856 election. However, there has been a wide assortment of parties have challenged its dominance. These contenders have included groups such as the Greenbacks, Fair Play, and Militant Workers in addition to the loyal opposition Democratic Party.

The Contrary Countians

An Act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth crated Indiana County from parts of Westmoreland and Lycoming Counties in 1803. The Assembly directed the Governor to appoint a committee of three commissioners to supervise the infant county until a census could be taken and a new county government could be formed. It was further directed that Westmoreland County be granted temporary jurisdiction over the inhabitants until their new government would achieve separate representation at Lancaster, the capital of Pennsylvania.

Early in Indiana County’s history, their politics tended to oppose the trends of the times. From 1804 to 1816, when the Democratic party was solidly in power, Indiana County consistently voted for the Federalists in state and national elections.

In 1817, under the leadership of Joseph Heister, the Federalists in Pennsylvania almost succeeded in capturing the governorship, but in that year the voters of Indiana County had completely reversed their politics and gave the Democrat Findlay a 718 to 274 vote margin. In 1820, when Heister succeeded in his second bid for election, Indiana County was again in the Democratic camp, where it stayed all during the Federalist’s remaining years as a powerful party. For the ten years from 1817 to 1827, the Democratic party was dominant in Indiana County, but not without opposition.

The Wayward Whig

In 1821, John McCrea began a newspaper in Indiana called the Indiana and Jefferson Whig, and began to be the exponent of the Whig party. This is notable, because the influence of the Whig party was negligible in Pennsylvania politics until fourteen years later.

The Whigs stood for a tariff, a well-regulated currency, a single-term Presidency as a check on executive power, and the protection of domestic labor. The party was not very successful in its early years, and in 1826 McCrea joined the new Anti-Mason movement.

The First McCarthyites

James Moorehead, whose Indiana American newspaper later merged into the “Whig” was an early innovator, along with McCrea, of the Anti-Masonic party. The Anti-Masonic political movement began in western New York in 1826 and rapidly spread to Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Anti-Masonic politics first began in Lancaster County in 1828 with the publication of the Antimasonic Herald. However, it seems that James Moorehead’s American began speaking of the Anti-Masonic movement a year earlier, in 1827, and that the Anti-Masonic party was formed here in the same year. There were many power names listed among the Anti-Masons such as: John Quincy Adams, Horace Greeley, Francis Granger, and Thaddeus Stevens, with Stevens providing the voice of the party and the power behind the throne. Membership was chiefly derived from the Germans and the Quakers who were opposed to oath-taking rituals, the Scotch-Irish who disliked the masonic titles and rituals because it sounded too much like English aristocracy, the foreigners, the Democratic radicals, and the Whigs. Growth of the Anti-Masons in Indiana County was so rapid that by 1829 the Anti-Masonic candidate for governor, Joseph Ritner, though he was defeated statewide, was able to carry the county by an overwhelming majority (1,044 to 456) in the campaign of 1829.

In 1832, when all neighboring counties voted Democratic, Indiana County again threw its support to Ritner. In 1835 the county helped carry Ritner to the Governor’s mansion, and the Anti-Masonic party remained dominant in Indiana County until after Ritner’s defeat for re-election by David Rittenhouse Porter in 1838 when the party began to be taken over by the Whigs. But not every Indiana County Anti-Mason was destined to be made a Whig so rapidly.

Carry Me Over Jordan

In 1840, James Moorehead, the old Anti-Masonic leader, began to publish another newspaper called the Clarion of Freedom, which agitated against slavery and started the Indiana County movement of the Abolitionist party.

The Abolitionist movement began in Boston in 1831 with the founding of the Liberator, a newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. Two years later, Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia which became the most radical faction of the Abolitionist movement, and included such notables as John Brown, Lucretia Mott, and Wendell Phillips.

Indiana County was a late-comer to the Abolitionist movement, but played an active part in it. The leadership here tended to lean toward the radical side, and the movement remained quite strong in the county for a number of years, but began to diminish with the decline of the national movement following the Christiana riots of 1851. A slave owner and a United States marshal had arrived in Christiana, Lancaster County, and demanded the return of three fugitive slaves who were hidden on a nearby farm. Instead of turning over the slaves, a mob of whites and Negro freeman attacked the authorities, killed the slave owner, and chased off the marshal. By 1854 most of the Abolitionists had become Whigs. Although they had exercised a strong voice in the county’s politics, the Abolitionists were never in control, and Indiana County remained a Whig stronghold, voting consistently for Whig Presidential candidates from 1840 to the founding of the Republican party in 1856.

The First Ku Kluxers

The real power of the Whigs ended in 1854 with the coming of the Know-Nothings. The Know-Nothings were an anti-foreign, anti-Catholic, secret political group which began in New York and Pennsylvania and spread throughout the nation. Their tenure was brief, but their influence was great. The party appealed to the popular fear of the increasing number of immigrants into the country (in the thirty years prior to 1855 over five million foreigners, mostly Roman Catholic Irish and Germans, came to the United States).

The Know-Nothing party had only been in existence since 1852, and by 1854, had swallowed up the Whigs of Indiana County as well as the rest of the state. The election of the Whig and American candidate, Pollock, to the governorship in 1854 was only technically a Whig victory. In reality it was a victory for the Know-Nothings who formed the larger part of the Whig and American alliance.

Strange Bedfellows

A strange coalition that formed the Indiana County Whig party in 1856; comprising a union of the Anti-Masons, who violently opposed secret societies, and of the Know-Nothings who were themselves members of a secret society. It was a union of the Abolitionists who demanded the immediate emancipation of the slaves and the Whigs who declined and eventually died out in large part because they were reluctant to take a stand against slavery. In 1856 that union was destined to melt into the newly-formed Republican party.

The New Order

The part of the Republican party that took control in Indiana County was the same radical faction that had seized control of the national movement and nominated John C. Fremont for President of the United State. Its platform had committed the party to the abolition of slavery, and it found support among the Whigs, Free Soilers, and some Northern businessmen and industrial interests who sought to establish economic advantages over the South. In the Presidential elections of 1856, Pennsylvania again went Democratic, but Indiana Countians voted for the Republican Fremont by more than a 2 to 1 margin over fellow-Pennsylvanian, James Buchanan. It was to be fifty-four years before the newly-formed Republican party would taste defeat in Indiana County.

A Matter of Taste

The Prohibitionist Party was formed in Indiana County in 1869, which corresponded with the formation of a national Prohibition Party in Chicago during the same year. The goal was to make it illegal to manufacture and to consume alcoholic beverages. The party never achieved widespread membership in the County. The movement reached its peak in the County during the Presidential elections of 1920 when it polled 974 votes.

Let’s Play Monopoly

In 1874, the Greenback party was established in Indiana County when Frank Smith, publisher of the Indiana National newspaper began to press for monetary reforms. The national party was started during the depression of the 1870s and consisted primarily of Midwestern and Southern farmers who wanted an inflationary money system based on silver as well as gold.

The Greenbacks consolidated with the various labor movements in 1878 to for the Greenback-Labor party. The party asked the Federal government for the same things that the Greenback party had been asking for, but also asked for labor reforms, such as the reduction of working hours and the curtailment of Chinese immigrant labor. Although the party began to die out in 1879-80 with improved economic conditions following the depression, it accounted for eighteen per cent of Indiana County’s popular vote in 1882, and in 1886 it was still the County’s fourth largest vote-getter.

Try and Try Again

The People’s, or Populist, party that was formed in 1891 was a rejuvenation of the old Greenback-Labor party of the two previous decades. The party represented disgruntled farmers and unionists who blamed the government’s tight money policies for their poor living conditions. Their platform called for the free coinage of silver and the wide issuance of paper money. Because of the high transportation costs of farm goods, the platform called also for the nationalization of the railroads, telegraph lines, and other transportation and communication facilities as well as a graduated income tax and the direct election of United States Senators. Many of the things for which the Populists fought are part of our American life today. The party didn’t take hold very well in Indiana County and during its peak in 1894 it was able to produce only 609 votes out of more than 8,000 votes cast Countywide.

“. . . From the Cradle . . .”

Another party which has never been an influencing factor in Indiana County politics is the Socialist party. It was founded at Indianapolis in 1901, it was a merger of the Social Democratic and Socialist Labor parties. The goal of the party was to achieve socialism by means of the ballot. The party vigorously opposed the entry of the United States into World War I, and declared “its unalterable opposition” to the war. As a result of the party’s anti-war campaigns, its leader, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to ten years in prison for violation of the Espionage Act.

After the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution, the left wing of the party broke away to form the American Communist Party. As a national unit, the Socialist party reached its peak in 1920, but its life in Indiana County was much shorter, having begun to decline after the elections of 1912.

A Little Rain Must Fall

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election of 1919 was of special interest because it marked the first time in fifty-four years that the Republicans did not constitute the majority party in Indiana County. Although the Republicans won statewide, Indiana County went to the Keystone Independent candidate, William Berry, by an 18 vote margin.

The Keystone party was a marriage of Republican and Democratic party elements who rebelled against the boss-picked candidates of both sides. What is especially significant is that, although the Keystone party was organized statewide in 1910, no organized leadership existed in Indiana County until 1911 – the year after the elections in which the party was successful. Without effective leadership, the people – on their own – had turned the bosses out!

“Walk Softly”

When Theodore Roosevelt bucked the Republican organization in 1912, a ready following awaited him among the ranks of the Keystoners.  Most of the Keystoners found a home in one of the Roosevelt-led tickets in 1912, the foremost of which, in Indiana County, was the Washington party rather than the Bullmoose party.  The Washington party ticket gave Roosevelt a 2 to 1 edge over Taft, and a 3 to 1 edge over Wilson.  The combined votes of all the Roosevelt-led tickets gave him more votes than the Republicans and Democrats together.  Th Republicans, however, carried the state and county offices, and were not to lose the County in another Presidential election for another fifty-two years.

You Again!

In the midst of widespread labor unrest in 1919, many labor unions began to form political parties of their own and soon the labor leaders of several states cooperated to form the National Labor party.  It consisted almost wholly of union members, and as such, did not, at that time, have widespread voter appeal.

Recognizing the necessity of gaining allies, the party, in 1920, became the Farmer-Labor party, demanding for labor a larger voice in the management of industry and the elimination of discrimination against Negroes.  In the elections of 1920 the party’s candidate garnered only 131 votes in Indiana County, but by 1924, with “Fighting Bob” La Folette heading the ticket, the Labor party compiled 1,989 votes – only 78 less than the Democratic candidate, John Davis.  Combined with the votes of the Socialist and other tickets which La Folette headed, he was by far the second highest vote-getter in Indiana County.  In the following year the party was dissolved, and although repeated attempts were made to revive it, they met with little success.  In the elections of 1948 the party backed the Progressive candidate, giving Henry Wallace 207 votes, but from 1924 on, it ceased to be an influential factor in the politics of Pennsylvania or Indiana County.

…And Then There Were Others

Many other parties have collected votes in Indiana County, but their life spans were too short and their influence too little to warrant special research in this particular publication.  Their names and the dates of their appearance on the ballots are shown on the accompanying list.

1848 – Free Soil            
Free Democrats
1851 – Native Americans
1912 – Bull Moose            
Roosevelt Progressive            
Progressive
1856 – American1916 – Industrialist
1860 – Constitutional Union1918 – Fair Play
1882 – Independent Republican             Temperance1922 – Single Tax 1928 – Workers
1888 – Union Labor1930 – Liberal
1892 – Social Labor            
Free Silver
1932 – Communist
1934 – Industrial Labor
1896 – Jeffersonian1936 – Royal Oak
1904 – Independence1940 – Independent Government
1906 – Lincoln            
Union Labor
1942 – United Pension
1948 – Militant Workers
1910 – Workers Labor1950 – G.I.s Against Communism
INDIANA COUNTY VOTER REGISTRATIONS
(Autumn Figures) 1924 – 1968
YearRepublicanDemocraticProhibitionNon-PartisanOther
192424,7803,913321*1,535
192626,1813,580367*1,317
192827,7064,108**1,045
193229,6934,290**667
193426,5837,799*240579
193818,81713,233*128281
194021,40712,687*172242
194219,25710,872*143186
194418.6299.020*125167
194618,2148,536*121191
194818,9239,30719311911
195220,88011,940169166*
195420,04911,921159145*
195619,83615,573130178*
195819,41015,855118209*
196020,23916,720104233*
196219,85317,82084235*
196420,21215,58355254*
196820,62313,156353783
*Non-party and Prohibition party registration figures are unavailable for certain years. Since 1952, minor party registration figures have not been listed.

Silas M. Clark

One of the most distinguished citizens of Indiana was Silas Moorhead Clark. He was born January 18, 1834 in Plum Creek Township, Armstrong County. He was the son of James and Ann Moorhead Clark and came from a long line of notable ancestors on both his parent’s sides. On his maternal side was his great grandfather, the pioneer, Fergus Moorhead. Mr. Moorhead was one of the first persons to settle near Indiana in 1772. It was in 1777 that Fergus was captured by Indians and taken to Canada during the Revolution. Not long after, Mrs. Moorhead, while alone in the wilderness, gave birth to Fergus Moorhead, Jr., Silas Clark’s grandfather. His paternal great grandfather, Captain James Clark, was among the defenders of Hannastown when it was attacked in 1782 by Indians and Canadians and burned it to the ground.

The Man behind the House: Silas Clark
Silas M. Clark

Silas and his family moved to Indiana when Silas was about a year old. His father was in business for 37 years as a tannery operator and held the offices of school director and justice of the peace. Silas only received a basic education in the public schools; at the age of 14 he began attending the Indiana Academy, which was the first institution of learning equivalent to a high school. His classmates included: Matthew S. Quay, who later became Pennsylvania’s Republic “boss,” and Harry White, later serving as judge and Congressman. Not only was Clark studying at the Academy, he also worked on his father’s farm and carried the mail for a year between Indiana and Blairsville.

Once his education was complete at the Indiana Academy, Mr. Clark entered Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Washington County (now known as Washington & Jefferson College). In 1852 at the age of 18 he graduated fifth in a class of sixty people. Following graduation, he became a teacher at the Indiana Academy, for two terms, instructing 45 young men.

It was in 1854 that Mr. Clark began the study of law at the office of William M. Stewart, an Indiana attorney who later became Solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1856, Clark founded, along with Joseph M. Thompson and John F. Young, a Democratic newspaper, The Democratic Messenger. After a few months, Clark sold his interest in the paper, which later became the Indiana Messenger.

In September 1857, at age 23, Clark was admitted to the Indiana County Bar and the following year he became a junior partner of attorney Stewart. The firm of Stewart & Clark was said to have had the “largest and most lucrative practice in Indiana County.” The partners are believed to have never had a written agreement and never had a disagreement. Their association continued for sixteen years until 1873 when Stewart moved to Philadelphia; Clark continued the practice alone. His office was in the Edward Nixon house, North Sixth Street, which is now the Delaney automobile lot.

Clark’s next move was into the political world, being elected to Indiana Borough Council in 1859, and he was reelected in 1861 and 1865. In 1869, he was elected a school director for the borough and continued to hold this position for many years. It was said, “To his [Clark] judgement and energy are the public schools (of Indiana) are largely indebted for their prosperity.”

His law practice quickly attained a reputation as “a strong and logical reasoner and an eloquent advocate.” His personal inclination was to shun litigation wherever possible and settle cases peaceably out of court. It is claimed that Clark never sued anyone himself nor was he sued by anyone. Much can be said about Clark as a lawyer by the following quote, “Whether arguing questions of law before a court or questions of fact before a jury, the strong points of his case were so forcibly presented that the weak ones were likely to be lost altogether.”

In his personal life, Clark married Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead on April 26, 1859. She was not related to Silas’ mother’s line.

The Family behind the House
Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead Clark

Clark’s political career continued, on July 4, 1862 while in Harrisburg attending a State Democratic Convention, he was elected chairman of the Indiana County Democratic Committee. Now during this time, the Civil War was raging, and many people looked upon Democrats with suspicion as “Secessionists” and “Copperheads” allied with their rebellious brethren in the South. Clark made a proposal that both Republicans and Democrats of Indiana County, who had previously announced public meetings for the same day, cancel the meetings and campaign without political meetings; Clark pointed out that “the present is indeed no time for partisan strife.” The Republican candidate for Congress, was Clark’s law partner, William M. Stewart. But Clark received no reply to his proposal, so he suggested a joint meeting of both parties, but I.M. Watt, the Republican chairman, declined to consider either idea.

As Clark’s professional and political career prospered, he began the erection of his mansion in 1869. During construction, a newspaper item in October mentioned that he had been struck on the head by a failing brick and he was somewhat stunned for a few hours. The location of the home was on the site of the old academy, where Clark had attended as a boy, and had burned in 1864. The house was said to cost $12,000 and was completed in 1870. It was during this time that, without his knowledge, Clark was nominated by some friends at the State Democratic Convention for Justice for the State Supreme Court. He received forty or fifty votes, but the choice of the Convention was Cyrus L. Pershing.

This was just the beginning of Clark’s career in the judicial-political sphere. In 1871, he was unanimously chosen as the Democratic candidate for President Judge of the Tenth Judicial District – consisting of Armstrong, Indiana, and Westmoreland Counties – but Clark was defeated by James A. Logan of Greensburg. Logan was a solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and on Election Day trains were sent out along the PRR lines in the three-county area to haul voters to their polling places free of charge. Even though these tactics were employed, Logan only had a majority of some 400 votes. In the years that followed Clark declared “Judge Logan was a good, able and just judge.” By this time, Attorney Clark was considered one of the best attorneys in Indiana County.

Clark did not give up running for office, he was successfully elected on October 8, 1872 as a delegate from the 24th Senatorial District to the Convention which framed a new Pennsylvania Constitution. As a member of the Convention, he was named to a committee to make rules for governing the Convention; he also served on the Declaration of Rights Committee, Committed on Private Corporations, and the Revision and Adjustment Committee.

Again in 1874 Clark was nominated for the State Supreme Court, receiving 41 votes, but he was once again defeated with the nod going to W.J. Woodward.

Clark continued to be active in both business and politics. He was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis in 1876, in which Samuel J. Tilden for President. It was said “Silas M. Clark is not one of those men who avoid politics as a filthy pool in which honest men should not dabble. He holds it the right and duty of every good citizen to vote; he recognizes that good men should not shirk their share in party management.” In 1879, he was elected to serve as president of the First National Bank. He also served several terms as president of the Indiana County Agricultural Society.

In 1882, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, unanimously chose him as its nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Following the Election of November 7, 1882, the entire Democratic ticket has been elected. Clark was elected, and surprising had won Indiana County, breaking a rule since the days of Andrew Jackson that no Democrat could carry the county.

Once the Indiana County Court adjourned on December 23, 1882, the members of the Bar organized and passed resolutions “highly complimentary of the character and ability of Judge Silas M. Clark” who severed his long connection with the county attorney’s association. On December 28, General White entertained the members of the Bar and other guests at an evening party in honor of the Supreme Justice-elect. The following day, Clark left to take his seat on the bench of the high court, with a salary of $8,000 per year.

Clark was highly esteemed on the bench, “his opinions, always brief, were couched in the simplest and choicest language, and were as readily understood by laymen as by lawyers.” Clark was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Lafayette College in 1886. However, there was sorrow during his term as Justice, with the death of his wife, Clara, on January 17, 1887.

Following the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Morrison R. Waite in 1888, many Pennsylvania newspapers pointed to Justice Clark as being qualified for his replacement. However, this was not meant to be.

Clark House
Silas M. Clark House

Late in September 1891, while holding court in Pittsburgh, he suffered from a large carbuncle on the back of his neck, but he continued to sit on the Bench until early November when he was obliged to come home. His physicians could not do much and gave up all hope of his recovery. On November 20, he lapsed into a coma and died about 9:15 p.m. at the age of 57.

Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm on November 23; this was a remarkable demonstration of respect and affection, and it is likely that Judge Clark would not have wanted all this fuss. The Courthouse was draped in black; business establishments were closed until 4:00. John Sutton Hall was also draped in black and the bell tolled during the services. The church was overflowing, every available seat upstairs and down was occupied, there were many standing in every possible space, and there were more than a hundred waiting outside. At 11:20 a.m. a special train arrived in Indiana carrying Governor Pattison and five of Clark’s fellow judges, plus attorneys, county and state officials and other judges. At the conclusion of the service, the processional to the cemetery was delayed permitting Normal School faculty and students to file by for a last farewell. Afterwards, hundreds of others who had been patiently waiting outside walked silently past. Justice Silas M. Clark’s final resting place in Oakland Cemetery is marked by a simple stone bearing the words “S.M. Clark.” This was fitting for such a humble man as Silas.

In 1893, a boy’s dormitory was built on the Normal School campus, and it was named “Clark Hall,” in Silas’ honor. After it burned in 1905, another was erected and rededicated on January 12, 1907. After an “open house,” there was a ceremony held in the chapel of John Sutton Hall where a large portrait of Justice Clark, festooned with carnations, hung on the wall above the rostrum. Attorney J. Wood Clark, a son of Clark, presided.

Members of the Clark family continued to reside in the house until 1915 when J. Wood Clark moved to Pittsburgh. The house was rented to F.M. Fritchman, General Superintendent of the R&P Coal Company, until January 19, 1917, when the surviving Clark heirs sold the house to the County Commissioners for $20,000 less $1,000 which was donated by the heirs. The intention was for the house to be a veteran’s memorial and so it was known for years as “Memorial Hall.” It served various veterans’ groups, patriotic organizations, the Red Cross during World War I and II, as civil defense headquarters, and the Historical Society; it was also used as a polling place.

The Clark House continues to serve the community as a museum for the Historical Society. It serves as a “time capsule” a look into the past to see how the Clarks would have lived. Come visit us for one of the many events held at the Clark House or set up a tour of the Clark House to learn more about this fascinating and interesting house.

Governor from Indiana County: John S. Fisher

Governor John S. Fisher

After completing the Indiana County-Opoly game, we realized that people had questions about some of the people that were represented throughout the game.  One of those individuals was John Stuchell Fisher, who was the only governor, to date, from Indiana County.  Mr. Fisher was born on May 25,
1867 in South Mahoning Township, near Plumville.  In his early years, Fisher attended a one-room school house at Ox Hill, then attending Indiana High from which he graduated in 1884.  He continued his education at the Indiana Normal School, graduating in 1886 from which he began teaching at the Ox Hill School for about $1 a day.

It was in 1890, that he began to study law at the law office of Samuel Cunningham, passed the bar exam and was admitted to the Indiana County Bar in August of 1893, after which he entered a partnership with Cunningham, which continued for 35 years.  John Fisher married Hapsie Miller on October 11, 1893 and she died on January 17, 1922, never knowing that her husband would become governor.

Fisher was involved in both politics and business and by 1897 was chairman of the Indian County Republican Party, and in November 1900 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate and re-elected in 1904.  As a Senator he supported legislation that prohibited the employment of children under 14 in the coal mines along with an appropriation for the Indiana Normal School in the amount of $75,000.  His second term as Senator gained him national recognition because he chaired a special Senate committee investigating the excessive costs in furnishing the new state Capitol.  The committee learned that the subcontractors and suppliers billed the state for $9 million for furnishings that actually cost only $2 million.

Fisher began his run for governor in 1922, but there were eight Republican candidates for the office so Fisher decided to withdraw.  However, four years later Fisher was once again a candidate, and he won a narrow victory in the primary but won the fall election in a landslide.  After the spring primary, 35,000 people came to Indiana to welcome Fisher home; the Indiana Evening Gazette reported in the May 25, 1926 edition: “…there was joy unconfined and hundreds of pounds of fireworks, red fire and other noisemakers were used, while thousands of peanuts and hundreds of pounds of popcorn were consumed.”

His term as governor will best be remembered by a coal strike in the spring of 1927, beginning because the Pittsburgh Coal Co. broke a 1924 wage contract and also cut miners’ wages by 33%, followed by a reduction again by 20%.  At the beginning Fisher did not intervening and then on March 12 he called for a conference of all the parties involved but no one responded.  The strike ended in July 1928, but Governor Fisher suffered a huge setback in public opinion.  In 1929, he signed the Mansfield Bill which corrected some of the abuses by the coal and iron police.”  He will be remembered as “Fisher the Builder” because while in office, 4,000 miles of highways were paved and 1,000 miles resurfaced.  October 4, 1930, Fisher returned to Indiana to dedicate the Benjamin Franklin Highway (Route 422).  He pushed for construction of the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, and for new buildings or improvements at State teacher colleges, armory, and hospitals.  Also during his administration the state acquired the land for Cook Forest State Park.

One of the greatest accomplishments while in office was the reduction of debt.  When he became governor, Pennsylvania had a $98 million debt, by the time he left office the state had $29 million surplus.  In 1939, IUP dedicated and named Fisher Auditorium in Governor Fisher’s honor.  Governor John S. Fisher died on Jun 25, 1940 and was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery.

(Sources: Stephenson, Clarence. Indiana County man elected governor. The Indiana Gazette April 7, 1984; Wells, Randy. From Ox Hill to the governor’s mansion. The Indiana Gazette. May 16, 2000.)