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Selucius Garfield, Washington Territory's most colorful politician
— including an overview of early territorial elections and parties
Part 2: Garfield rises politically in quest of his own political office

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By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2013

      The desire of prosperity has become an ardent and restless passion in their minds, which grows by what it feeds. — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

The 1857 campaign for Delegate to U.S. Congress
      Selucius Garfield immediately fell in line with Isaac I. Stevens as the governor prepared to leave the state office in 1857 and campaign for the lone Delegate's seat to the Congress, a non-voting position, but one with considerable opportunity for power and connections, especially with the railroads and other key petitioning businesses. Stevens's hunch paid off regarding his controversial actions with the Indians: the outrage subsided, farmers backed him and Meeker was derided for being on the side of the Indians.
      Garfield surmised that if he played his cards right that he might clear a path from his federal position as receiver of public moneys, to a state office or to the delegate position in the future. The state was only four years old and like nature, Garfield abhorred a vacuum. He soon canvassed the territory for Stevens, soliciting help from Puget Sound to Idaho, which was still attached as the far-eastern part of the territory. His duties at the land office could effectively be managed by William R. Cunningham, Garfield's associate from Paris, Kentucky, who helped him stump for Buchanan the year before.
      In those early years of the territory through 1869 the delegate election took place in June or July of the odd year, following the party conventions in May, and the winner took office a few weeks afterwards. By the time that Garfield arrived in the territory, William W. Miller orchestrated Stevens's campaign, starting in the spring when he called on members of the volunteer-militia officers' corps to campaign for the governor in county conventions throughout the territory. Far from hurting Stevens, the Indian and Leschi controversies increased his popularity with many white farmers. What did Selucius contribute? His spell-binding oratory mainly, as witnessed by Elwood Evans, future Secretary of State and future enemy of Selucius. He explained how Garfield exploded on the scene; for the time being they were on the same team.

      Of admirable personal presence and address, with a rich, round and full voice of which he had singular control, with a peerless enunciation of well-selected language, ofttimes rising to exalted eloquence and high-wrought imagery, with a splendid physique, his style of oratory was effective and captivating. He had but few equals and not superior as a stump speaker, a platform orator or a jury advocate. His natural gifts were extraordinary, his acquirements varied; but he required spring by some motive to incite him to labor. He lacked application. His ambitions for office were boundless . . . with talents that fitted him for any office . . . at any level . . . he lacked the energy to establish his claim, and forgot what was due to himself. He was neither true to himself nor to his friends, nor to any political party, nor consistent in anything. No man was ever welcomed more cordially by a community than he. None ever made greater prestige in his political début. In politics, at the bar, in society, he might have been master of the situation had he assumed to claim and retain the personal homage his newly found home was so ready to accord. [5]
      The Republicans at their convention nominated Alexander Abernethy, a prosperous mill owner and farmer from Monticello. A New York native, he was lured to the wilderness of northern Oregon Territory in 1850 when his older brother George asked him to manage the saw mill at Oak Point, west of present Longview. George went on to become the first governor of Oregon Territory. Abernethy was no competition to Stevens's stable. In the June election Stevens won 986-549. Lafayette McMullen (sometimes spelled McMullin), a Virginia native, was appointed governor by President Buchanan.
      H.H. Bancroft recorded in 1890 that the first newspaper in future Washington Territory was the Columbian, which debuted in Olympia on Sept. 11, 1852, under partners J.W. Wiley and Thornton F. McElroy. Wiley retired a year later, then McElroy retired in 1853 and other owners spent brief times there. Wiley returned as publisher in December 1853, renamed it the Pioneer, "a straight-out, radical democratic [small "D"] journal," and then renamed it the Pioneer and Democrat" in February 1854. Although the newspaper would bounce around in future alliances, the Pioneer and Democrat was in the late '50s the organ of the Stevens-McMullen faction. [6] Wiley died in 1860.

Garfield "networks" in the Masonic Lodge
      Thomas M. Reed quickly guided his friend Selucius into the Masonic Lodge #5 (later became #1) in Olympia; the Washington Territory lodges already filled with some of the movers and shakers who would be political and business leaders for the generation. They included future-Delegate to Congress William Wallace, who was Master of the Steilacoom Lodge four times. Future governor Marshall Moore was apparently a member of the Goldendale Lodge. Elisha P. Ferry, who would serve as governor of the Territory twice and was the first State governor, was a member of the Harmony Lodge #19 in Olympia after arriving. Besides Garfield, three Territorial delegates were masons: Wallace, Orange Jacobs, James Anderson and possibly O.B. McFadden. Strangely, Seattle pioneer and Legislature stalwart Arthur A. Denny was blackballed upon his petition. Elwood Evans, secretary to Gov. Stevens and then secretary of state for the Territory from 1862-67, became a Mason in Olympia in 1863 and became the eighth Grand Master of the Washington Territorial Grand Lodge. Evans was originally a Whig before joining Denny and the Republicans, and when Garfield converted to be a Republican, Evans was initially very helpful.
      The first two sessions of the Territorial Legislature were conducted in the original Olympia Lodge Hall and four other members of original Lodge #5 became Grand Master: Thornton F. McElroy, 1st; James Biles, 2nd and 10th; Garfield, 3rd; and his friend Thomas M. Reed (known for his life here as "Honest Tom," deservedly) 5th, 6th and 9th. Outside those records of the Lodge there is no record of Reed campaigning for or against Garfield. They may have drifted apart after Garfield stopped attending lodge functions in 1865. Biles, from Grand Mound, was a valuable lodge brother, a very respected member of the James Longmire wagon train that crossed the Cascades in 1853 and well regarded for his tannery. Another key Lodge brother was Michael T. Simmons, the first Junior Warden of Lodge #5, who led a party across the Plains in 1845 to the Willamette Valley, but moved on to the future-Washington part of Oregon Territory, where he founded the town that became Tumwater. Edmund Sylvester, founder of Olympia, was also a member. A decade after joining the Lodge, Garfield would betray both Evans and McElroy, but in the meantime they were great contacts. He effectively chose to demit himself from the Lodge after 1865.

1859 campaign for Delegate to Congress
      Within months of arriving in the Territory, Garfield made quite a splash. Garfield took over what we might term now as his "day job" as Receiver at the Federal Land Office in Olympia soon after arriving in March 1857. The $2,500 salary was handsome yet not beneficent, but the opportunities of feathering his own nest with both investments and valuable favors were very promising. Such was fairly common with patronage appointments in the territories. He brought with him as clerk an associate from Paris, Kentucky, William R. Cunningham; they had met while Garfield was stumping for Buchanan. He served for a year until Gov. Fayette McMullen recommended him to Buchanan for Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Washington/Oregon. In 1858 he bought an interest in the schooner-rigged scow, H.C. Page, which had been launched by Whatcom founder Henry Roeder four years previously. It sank in 1860 after a successful run as a freighter on the Sound. He bought another schooner, The Flying Mist, around that time.
      Just at the dawn of the 1859 campaign, Selucius and Sarah lost a days-old daughter who was born in Olympia. He was about to perform a tricky maneuver. While he did not leave the Democratic Party, he withdrew his support for Stevens, in sharp contrast to 1857 when he had been the governor's stump speaker. This marked the beginning of intense criticism and sometimes condemnation of Garfield in both correspondence and newspapers. As Lang notes, "A Miller loyalist in Pierce county charged [Garfield] with being "as treacherous as the devil [who] will stoop to anything to accomplish his ends." Garfield would stay nominally a Democrat and run for delegate on that ticket in 1861, but he apparently saw the same writing on the wall that others did. Population had doubled in the Territory and the majority was settling around Puget Sound, which showed a large influx of Republicans. By that time Garfield had aligned himself nationally with the Democratic supporters of Stephen Douglas, of Illinois. Garfield thought Stevens would lose and that could endanger his plum Land Office position.
      Stevens had several strengths. For one thing his controversial actions with Indians, martial law and the arrest of Judge Lander seem to have had the majority approval of settlers. As Richards notes [7] when Leschi was executed Stevens regarded it as symbolic punishment of all Indians whom he considered murderers and it would serve as ample warning to any future troublemakers. Judge Lander's term expired in 1857 and it was not renewed. Stevens also opposed renewal of Judge Francis Chenoweth in 1858; the latter had backed Lander's decision in the martial law argument. Both were replaced by 1858 and one of the replacements was Edmund Fitzhugh, of Whatcom, who was elevated to the district judgeship even though he had been tried for murder and acquitted.
      His other major strength was his confidante, William W. Miller, who was becoming the dominant unelected power figure in the Democratic Party and who was Stevens's voice and eyes and ears leading up to the county conventions of 1859. Although Stevens's critics hammered him on forming an Olympia clique while governor, Lang argues that instead, Stevens never masterminded such a clique, never had political machine with tight organization, specific interests and goals, and that lack of a broad base eventually caught up with him. Although he was in the driver's seat, two potential problems were beginning to show: Stevens was too dependent on Miller's support and he was too individualistic, too volatile and not interested in the detail work of what we now call a grass-roots organization — he didn't use patronage well.
      The new Republican Party had replaced the Whigs in Washington in 1858. Former Whigs were joined by Free Soilers, the one-issue anti-slavery party, and those who opposed the Olympia Clique that they saw forming around Stevens during his term as governor and his first term as delegate. At their convention in May 1859, the Republicans nominated for delegate William H. Wallace, an Ohio native who came to Washington from Iowa in 1853 and then became a leading jury lawyer in the territory. He had run in the first delegate election in 1854 as a Whig. Once Stevens realized that Garfield was surreptitiously supporting Wallace he told Miller that if Garfield took to the stump to speak for Wallace, a team of Stevens supporters should meet him face to face at every stop along the circuit. By the election in July, Garfield had been neutralized, Stevens had unified his party apparatus and Wallace lost again as Stevens drew 1,684 votes to 1,091 for Wallace.

1860 and Stevens faces national strife
      Following the election Stevens punished his enemies and Garfield was tops on his list. His Democratic friends from Kentucky tried to block his dismissal from the Federal Land Office but just postponed it. Although he was not replaced in the Federal Land Office position by John S. Van Cleve until Aug. 16, 1860, Garfield saw the writing on the wall and by the time the replacement was announced on June 14, he had already begun speculating in land around the Sound. The year began with the birth in Olympia on January 31 of Henry, his third child to survive. Within months he invested in land near future Hoquiam and he invested along with Stevens in the Cherburg Land Co. in Port Angeles. Stevens foresaw Port Angeles harbor as an important American navy base, promoting it a "Cherbourg of the Pacific," after the fortified French seaport.
      The company received national investment after it caught the eye of Victor Smith, a protégé of Salmon Chase, of Ohio, a former Whig and Free Soiler and one of the fathers of the Republican Party in 1854. He was then governor of his state and soon would be Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury. Garfield may have been the conduit there. As Pam Brett explained, Garfield was a third cousin, once removed to Chase. They both descended from Benjamin Garfield Jr. and Lucy (Chase). Selucius's father's middle name was Chase. After Smith was appointed Collector of Customs by Lincoln he agitated to move the office to Port Angeles and caused great controversy. After being removed from his customs position, Smith became a U.S. Special Agent through his Chase connections and he died in a shipwreck on July 30, 1865, off Crescent City, California, while carrying the payroll and operating capital for forts all around Puget Sound.
      Meanwhile Stevens had his hands full as the national issues and sectional battles he had tried to avoid heated up before the 1860 presidential elections. Richards notes that Stevens believed that slavery was wrong but deprecated abolitionist attacks. After Oregon was admitted as a State of the Union on Feb. 14, 1859, Joseph Lane became the first U.S. Senator from Oregon and Stevens became a close associate in what Lane hoped would be a machine that would elevate him to national prominence. After he served as a general in the Mexican-American War, President James K. Polk appointed him governor of the Oregon Territory, which was formed on Aug. 14, 1848. Following a harrowing trip on the Oregon Trail during the brutal weather of the fall and winter of 1848-49, he took office on March 3, 1849 and served for a year before being elected as the first Territorial Delegate. A native of North Carolina, Lane came of age in Indiana but was pro-slavery and favored secession, views that would complicate Stevens's political life very soon.
      After avoiding divisive national issues, Stevens became embroiled in them in the Democratic Presidential Convention of 1860 that was held in April in Charleston, South Carolina. The party had begun splitting into factions two days following Buchanan's inauguration. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney handed down the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Taney wrote for the majority in declaring that African Americans could not be American citizens and thus lacked standing to sue in federal courts. In addition, the court ruled that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the territories acquired after the creation of the U.S.
      After the famous Douglas-Lincoln debates in the 1858 Senate campaign in Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas won the election and emerged as the compromise candidate for the Democrats as they faced the emergent and energized Republican Party. Douglas, had been rising in stature since 1850 when he reworked Whig Henry Clay's failed omnibus Compromise of 1850 into separate bills that passed with various majorities: the North got California admitted as a free state and slave auctions were banned in the District of Columbia; slave-owning Texas was aided financially (we now call it a bailout), and a severe Fugitive Slave Act was passed.
      Douglas had presidential aspirations starting in 1852, when the Democrats passed him over in favor of dark horse Franklin Pierce. He was passed over again in 1856 in favor of Buchanan. Although Lincoln lost the election for the U.S. Senate in 1858, he forced Douglas to defend a number of his theories for "solving" the slavery problem. They included his popular sovereignty doctrine that allowed states and territories to decide the slavery matter locally, with Bloody Kansas as a result. Douglas would not answer the Dred Scott question so he instead crafted the Freeport Doctrine that Territories could override the Supreme Court decision that quashed prohibition of slavery by enacting anti-slavery legislation on the local level.
      By the time of the Charlotte convention, delegates from Southern states had enough of compromises. In platform debates, they pushed for endorsement of the Dred Scott decision and called for Congress as a whole to enact a slave code for the Territories. That was a slap in the face for Douglas and his Freeport idea. Douglas advocates muscled through his platform planks and nine southern delegations walked. Lane's fortunes fizzled on the first ballot when he received only six votes to 145 for Douglas. Convention rules then called for a 2/3 majority for nomination and after 57 ballots, the votes seemed stuck in amber so the convention adjourned to meet in Baltimore on June 18. In the meantime the Constitutional Union Party met and chose John Bell as their candidates and the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln.
      The Baltimore convention did not seat the disputed Southern delegations and Douglas slates were seated instead. The 2/3 rule was set aside so that Douglas could be quickly nominated. Stevens emerged nationally when 105 rejected delegates and supporters bolted and met in a nearby hall, where they nominated the sitting Vice President, John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, with Joseph Lane as Vice President. Stevens became the chairman of the alternative Democrats and although there was a growing rift between Buchanan and Breckinridge, the president reluctantly endorsed him. Stevens and the bolters lacked money for the campaign and thus they became spoilers. In the election, Breckenridge failed to carry any state outside the south except for Maryland, Lane's political aspirations ended and Stevens's work set up problems for his reelection campaign in 1861.

1861 campaign for delegate
      Stevens wrote Miller in late 1860 before returning to the Territory from Washington City that he would run for a third term but he discovered an immense headwind blowing against him. Already bruised from the defeat to Lincoln and the Republicans, Stevens heard William W. Miller's list of grumbling complaints he was hearing from Washington Democrats: Stevens's support for Breckinridge and the pro-slavery aspect and that he neglected affairs for constituents while seeking fame. Edmund Fitzhugh, who had ridden herd at the conventions for him, complained that he waited too long to force Garfield out of his patronage position. Even worse, Simmons, the Indian Agent, had also been allowed to stay in place while jumping to the Republicans. Fitzhugh warned that they would conspire against Stevens in the election. Most of all, his advisers warned him, voters in the territory were already being convinced that they could not communicate with him, that he would only correspond with Miller.
      Garfield saw an opening. Richards records evidence that Stevens began drinking heavily while feeling despondent early in the year because even his best friends and few confidantes in the Territory were backing away from support. In addition, his adventure in the 1860 election had become an albatross around his neck. But by spring he was committed to return for the county conventions and compete.
      By the time of the May Democratic convention, Fort Sumter had already been shelled, on April 12-14, so the national issues of secession and civil war overwhelmed local and regional issues. Stevens began to see the writing on the wall when one of his strongest supporters, Major J.J. Van Bokkelen, of Port Townsend (see: chaired the Democratic Convention and made a crucial ruling that doomed Stevens's nomination for a third term. In the past, proxy votes were allowed for those in the far-eastern parts of the Territory who chose not to make the trek to Vancouver, Washington. Van Bokkelen did not allow the proxies. The word flashed through the convention on May 13 that he had bolted the Stevens camp, as Garfield and Simmons had already done, and Stevens decided to withdraw.
      Garfield did not depend on proxies, nor did he have significant support east of the Cascades, but he did not cruise to the nomination easily. As Richards notes, the remaining Stevens backers considered him a "treacherous, sweet-scented pup and an egregious ass" and they damned him with faint praise such as that he was an effective speaker with great personal charm and political shrewdness, but shifted with the political winds. As we will soon see in studying his style, the latter was certainly true. Although Garfield's political bread was originally buttered and jammed by Buchanan, by the time of the 1861 race he was a Douglas Democrat. As we reviewed regarding the martial law/arrest incidents, Judge Lander held no truck with Stevens but he was still a Buchanan man and he could not stand with Garfield. Selucius finally won the nomination for Delegate on the 25th ballot but the enmity led to Lander and his backers bolting the convention, holding one of their own and nominating Lander as an Independent candidate. That splitting of the votes effectively doomed Garfield's election.
      At the Republican convention that month, William H. Wallace was the favorite. An Ohio native, he had arrived in the Territory in 1853 after serving as Speaker of the Iowa House while still a young man. In the ensuing years, he lost an election for Iowa Delegate to Congress and another for U.S. Senator from the same state, and then he lost two elections for Delegate out here. But he had something substantial in his pocket: in the 1850s he had befriended Abraham Lincoln and they remained friends until the president's death. In fact, Lincoln appointed Wallace as governor of the Territory, effective April 9, 1861, but he was buoyed by the Republican county and state conventions and chose instead to run for Delegate in July.
      In the election, Garfield wound up winning large numbers of votes in some of the western counties around the Sound, but he drew only 1/4 of the votes east of the Cascades. He won two times the votes of Lander, but as they split the Democratic vote, Wallace won with a plurality of 43 percent. In his 2002 book, Washington Territory, Robert E. Ficken provides evidence that Lander was seen an honest Democrat running against the ethically challenged Garfield. [8]
      Following that election, Wallace decided one term was enough and in 1863 he was appointed by Lincoln to be the Governor of Idaho. Stevens, meanwhile, wanted back into war action, so he returned to Washington D.C. and lobbied for a significant commission in the Union Army. At first he was thwarted, both by those who opposed Stevens because of his Breckinridge Democrat leadership and then by Lt. Gen Winfield Scott, his commander in the Mexican War. Scott specifically lobbied Lincoln, citing Stevens's bouts of heavy drinking, but Scott was also still smarting by his portrayal in Stevens's book on that war, Campaigns of the Rio Grande and Mexico. Stevens persevered, however, and was commissioned as a colonel of the 79th Highlanders, a regiment badly cut up at Bull Run and near mutiny that summer. Stevens turned them around, as both William F. Prosser [9] described in 1903 and Richards documents a century later. After heroism by both Stevens and the unit in several battles, on Sept. 1, 1862, Gen. Pope assigned Stevens to intercept Confederate Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Conf, near Chantilly in Fairfax county, Virginia. During what became known as the Battle of Chantilly, Stevens led the Highlanders charge and was fatally shot. His son, Hazard Stevens, was also wounded in action that day.

1862-65, "the lost years" for Garfield
      That period during the civil war has been a very large gap in most profiles of Garfield. We have discovered where he was and what he was doing. Evidence came to light during the 1865 Delegate campaign that he had skedaddled from Port Townsend to Victoria, but much of the historical record of those years about him was just based on whispers. He did not immediately leave after he lost the election, however, as he maintained his law practice in Port Townsend at least through the summer of 1862. We found in the 1894 report of the Washington Bar Associations that he accompanied fellow jurists Oliphant, Marshall Fargo, and John J Mc Gilvra. McGilvra recalled:
      . . . [We] went from Walla Walla to Colville to hold the first term of Court e ferry man at the crossing of the Spokane River, about eighteen miles below the point where the city of Spokane is now located. The distance was 110 miles, time three days, and, of course, we camped out and cooked our own grub. Garfielde was a splendid cook as well as orator, and our good appetites were the best of sauce. At Colville we organized the Court by summoning a grand and petit jury and appointing the necessary officers. The grand jury indicted every one suspected of doing anything wrong, and litigants came in, employed either Garfielde or myself, as the case might be, waived service of process, joined issue and went to trial. . . . Garfielde and myself made about $750 each, in gold coin. [10]
      Digging deep we found several descriptions of that circuit trip by the jurists and Garfield made quite a splash, as noted by the Illustrated History of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan, Vol. 1,
      [Near Medical Lake] Mr. McGilvra says that the officers had with them some good commissary whiskey, and the judicial party were invited to partake of the same, which they unanimously. the teamster of the outfit, Shell Fargo, managed to imbibe rather more than his just proportion of the whiskey, and soon after parting with the soldiers he upset the wagon, depositing two of his passengers, Judge Oliphant and Selucius Garfielde on the ground. It is stoutly maintained by Fargo that Garfielde, who was smoking at the time, never lost hold of the pipe, nor missed a puff during the whole catastrophe. [11]
      And then he disappeared from Washington Territory records for nearly three years, from the fall of 1862 to the spring of 1865.
      On to part three.

Part 1
Garfield youth . . . legal, religious and political training in Kentucky . . . first marriage . . . a foray into California gold country . . . second marriage, return to Kentucky . . . move to the new Washington territory to head up Federal Lands office, and meeting Gov. Stevens
Part 2
Garfield aids Stevens in 1857 Delegate to Congress election . . . Networking with the Freemasons . . . 1859 Delegate reelection . . . Garfield's unsuccessful 1861 Delegate campaign . . . the Canada years . . .
Part 3
1865 Delegate campaign, Garfield aids Denny . . . Becomes Surveyor-General . . . Successful 1869 Delegate election . . . Successful 1870 reelection . . . Defeated 1872 election . . . Permanent return to Washington city and death in 1883
Garfield documents and stories shared in full


5. Garfield profile
      Elwood Evans, History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington Volume I, 1889. [Return]

6. Pioneer and Democrat newspaper
      Hubert Howe Bancroft, William Nemos, Henry Lebbeus Oak, Frances Fuller Victor, Alfred Bates, History of the Western States: Washington, Idaho, and Montana, Vol. 26, 1890. [Return]

7. Stevens and Indians
      Kent D. Richards, Isaac I. Stevens, Young Man in a Hurry, Pullman: WSU Press, 1993. [Return]

8. Lander vs. Garfield
      Robert E. Ficken, Washington Territory. Pullman, WA: WSU Press, 2002 [Return]

9. Stevens and military commission
      William Farrand Prosser, A History of the Puget Sound Country, 1903. [Return]

10. Circuit court session 1862
      Washington State Bar Association, Report of Proceedings, Volume 6, 1894. [Return]

11. Wagon crash
      Illustrated History of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan, Vol. 1, Western Historical Publishing Company, 1904 [Return]

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