Ken Newton FB image

Lordy, who has the energy to stay up so late? Apparently the people of Clinton County.

Normal folks would assume the early-to-bed-early-to-rise generation of 1872 might balk at a stem-winding speech, even if on the eve of an important election.

But a crowd of some size turned out in Plattsburg that early November evening to hear a Buchanan County judge, Silas Woodson, blow for about an hour and a half in making his closing argument for the Missouri governorship.

According to the St. Joseph Daily Gazette of that day, the Democratic-Liberal candidate gave a speech “able and convincing” and his “review of affairs in Missouri for the last seven years was most masterly.”

Plattsburg did not universally embrace political orators. A day or so earlier, Dr. Perry H. Talbott, a Maryville physician and nascent adherent of the Greenback Party, showed up in the town with the intention of speaking but, reported the Daily Gazette, “had no hearers and concluded to go home.”

Indicative of the leanings of the William Ridenbaugh publication, the article bore the headline, “How Radicals are Received in Clinton County.”

It would not be the worst rejection in Talbott’s life. Seven years later, he became a victim of patricide, gunned down in his own home, and two sons went to the gallows for his murder.

Woodson met with a better outcome. He outpolled Republican opponent John B. Henderson by just shy of 35,000 votes, becoming the third St. Joseph resident chosen as Missouri’s chief executive.

He followed to the office Robert M. Stewart (1857-1861) and Willard P. Hall (1864-1865). No Buchanan Countian since Woodson has since occupied the governor’s office.

For its immediacy, the election Tuesday seems to have the market cornered on daffiness, but the election of 1872 had its oddities.

The Republican Party had undergone a schism, and the top two contenders in the presidential race came from its ranks, incumbent Ulysses S. Grant, under the Republican banner, and Horace Greeley, on the ballot as a Liberal Republican.

A Missourian, Benjamin Gratz Brown, Woodson’s immediate predecessor as governor, got the nomination as Greeley’s running mate. He had been a founding member of the Missouri Republican Party, though a second-rate duelist, having accepted a challenge by a political opponent and promptly getting shot in the knee.

Greeley had gained some celebrity as a newspaper editor, though he claimed “a restless energy” that did not translate to campaign discipline. He garnered nearly 44% of the vote, yet Greeley would regard himself as “the worst-beaten man to ever run for high office.”

He committed himself to a mental asylum shortly after the election, and he died there before the convening of the Electoral College.

For this reason, Brown, still limping from the gunshot, ended up with eight of Missouri’s electoral votes without even being at the top of the presidential ticket.

Every four years, Americans see something a little bit different. As a nation, we roll with the quirks.

Silas Woodson had no campaign slogan that I could find. Folks didn’t worry about building a brand in those days.

Instead, a newspaper endorsement praised the man’s “genial social qualities, his ready and practical sympathy for the weak and oppressed, his promptness in all business relations.”

As we come to the end of a period of slung mud, of ads that allege rank corruption, forsaken duties and wayward values, it seems quaint to think of a time when geniality and sympathy proved a currency in seeking office, not to mention being on time.

Ken Newton can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.​