We start this Archiver with an endorsement. Not of this podcast, although I would never say no to that, but with the first presidential endorsement by the New York Times on October 11th, 1860.
“Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, familiarly known as “Old Abe”, age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter, is to be our next president,” the Times began. “The thing seems pretty sure.”
Why height is important, the Times doesn’t say. But it wraps up this way: “Things will go on very much as they have hirtheto-except that we shall have honesty and manliness instead of meanness and corruption in the Executive Departments, and a decent regard for the opinions of mankind in the tone and talk of the government and on the subject of Slavery.”
Newspaper endorsements were crucial for political candidates, be it for president or city council. It’s less so now, but they’re still important. Even President Trump when he was a candidate met with the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Tribune.
Presidential candidates have historically made stops in New York, Washington, Los Angles and Chicago. But Kansas candidates from senate to the city council made the trek to court editors and publishers in Emporia, Iola, Parsons, Garden City, and Junction City. Towns all over Kansas where winning over these small town papers was crucial to election. And many of these editors became giants in Kansas politics.
So the most famous small town editor in Kansas was, of course, William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette. But White wasn’t the only small town editor in Kansas to play a political role. Archiver historian Virgil Dean says White connected early Kansas editors to more contemporary editors.
“If you look at Kansas history through journalism there is a really interesting connection between editors or publishers and the early scope of Kansas history. I can see three generations of prominent editors and White comes in the middle. In fact, six of the first 24 governors of Kansas were newspaper editors,” Virgil says.
John Martin was elected governor in 1884. He owned a Free State paper in Atchison first called Freedom's Champion. In 1918, Kansas elected Henry J. Allen governor. He owned papers in Salina, Ottawa and Wichita. There’s Clyde Reed who was governor and senator and owned the Parsons Sun and then there’s Clyde Reed, Junior who would take over the Sun from his father.
When you want to talk Parsons, journalism and politics in Kansas, you go to my KCUR colleague and friend for 25 years Jim McLean, who started his career at KLKC radio in Parsons. He knew Clyde Reed, Jr. who unsuccessfully ran for governor but did serve on the Kansas Board of Regents.
“I think he’s a good example of the small town editor who used to predominate in Kansas. Most communities of any size had an influential, well read, highly regarded newspaper and nearly all of those newspapers were associated with a strong willed and fairly big personality type editor,” Jim says.
“Editorials written by Clyde Reed, Jr., Emerson Lynn, the Seaton family, politicians paid a lot of attention to them. And Clyde Reed, Sr. was very influential statewide because he wrote very strong editorials, he followed current events very closely and those papers watched the events in Topeka in particular. Those editors had outsized influence not only in their community but statewide,” according to Jim.
While most Kansas publishers or editors ran newspapers that were small to medium sized, there was one who ran a huge media empire. Arthur Capper served in the U.S. Senate until January 1949.
Born in 1865 in Garnett, he was 84 and nearly deaf when he made this broadcast. Before the senate he was governor. By the way, he served in the senate with two other publishers we’ve talked about, Henry J. Allen and Clyde Reed.
So while this Archiver is titled Small but Powerful, Capper’s media holdings were anything but small. He owned the Topeka Daily Capital, published Capper’s weekly and later would own WIBW radio and TV in Topeka. In 1919, 1.7 million people subscribed to his various publications.
He knew Charles Curtis from Kansas who served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president, the Kingfish, Huey Long from Louisiana and Senator Robert La Follette, the Republican progressive and anti-war crusader from Wisconsin. Capper knew Carrie Nation and his father knew John Brown.
“In times of excitement and stress and strain a majority can be most terribly and completely and brutally wrong,” Capper said in his farewell address.
I suspect Capper is talking about the Sedition Act of 1918 or maybe the internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two…it may have been a warning about the Patriot Act.
What’s true is this certainly seems like something politicians and editorial writers should remember today.