While father stated many times that he "hated" business he possessed excellent business
acumen, especially when this talent was exercised in behalf of others. His dislike
for business routine was undoubtedly due to the fact that his fundamental philosophy
His chief interest was centered upon the building of men and women, not in the process to make them solely self-supporting, but to develop character, to instill in them an appreciation of the fundamental values of life. He had little sympathy with the motive to acquire an education for the purpose of getting something for nothing.
He knew definitely when he established the Ferris Institute that as long as he adhered to his plan to offer educational facilities to the underprivileged at a nominal cost that he would never accumulate a great amount of wealth. Constructed as he was, money meant comparatively little to him.
For many years he was President of the Big Rapids Savings Bank. He did not seek this responsibility, rather was it [sic] thrust upon him by members of his family. As a banker he was meticulous in the performance of his duties and insisted likewise that the directors and employees should overlook no opportunity to be of service to the bank and to the public. He could be and was at times a hard task-master when he was convinced the occasion demanded it. His rigid adherence to what he believed was good banking practice was in part due to his realization of the fact that he was acting as a trustee for others.
When it came to the administration of his own financial affairs, he was not as careful and cautious as he was when handling some matter for others, with the result that he was not infrequently imposed upon. The finances of the Institute, however, were always administered in a businesslike way. Here, nevertheless, he permitted himself a high degree of elasticity in dealing with the indebtedness or financial problems of his students.
Literally hundreds of old students could testify to the fact that when he learned of their financial straits and they were conscientious and worthy, he would step into the breach and loan them enough money to carry on, taking only their personal note, very seldom endorsed or accompanied by any security aside from their personal character. Seldom indeed did a man or woman disappoint him so far as repayment is concerned.
While he was known as a "school master" he had a thorough knowledge of good business practice, was conservative and cautious and possessed extraordinary ability to analyze character. As a result he was always able to meet any financial emergency which arose either in his own affairs or those of others. His close watch over the administration of the finances of the State while Governor testify to his Puritan conception of a Trusteeship.
Especially after he entered the political field he could, had he desired, commanded a large annual income from his appearance on the platform. The fees which he exacted were all out of proportion to those received by many men who could not even approach his ability as a platform speaker. Time and again I urged him to increase his fees and while he finally did to some extent, it was largely to protect himself against more calls upon his services than he felt he could fill. While a member of the Senate he made comparatively few platform appearances except in the interims between sessions. He felt that his duty to his State was paramount.
In his home town emergencies arose from time to time requiring financial support to be given to some local project as is the case all over the country. Father always contributed generously, sometimes even against his better judgment. These projects, especially those directed toward industrial expansion did not always turn out successfully, but resulted in loss to the citizens, again an occurrence not infrequent in other communities.
He entertained no prejudice against wealth or those who possessed it, provided it was earned. He was thoroughly opposed to anything that savored of greed, unfair advantage, monopolistic practices in business and private exploitation of natural resources. He was likewise opposed to the perpetuation of large accumulations of wealth and as a result was a believer in appreciable inheritance taxes.
Insomuch as he thoroughly believed that work was the salvation of mankind, he felt that not infrequently inheritance of appreciable wealth was a handicap. His experiences in dealing with the children of wealthy parents was probably a factor in determining his conclusions.
He believed absolutely in the doctrine of self-help, that every man and woman should stand on their own feet, overcome obstacles and fight their way through. I have often wondered what would be his reaction to present day conditions.
While he was always the champion of the "under dog", the under-privileged class, the common man who does manual labor, his sense of justice could not countenance violence and the destruction of property. He demonstrated that to the satisfaction and approval of the people of Michigan during the great copper strike. He believed that permanent industrial peace can come only through mutual negotiation and agreement and not through legislative action.
I use the word "medicine" in accordance with the broad definition appearing in Gould's Medical Dictionary, "The science of the treatment of disease; the healing art." Father had an insatiable desire for knowledge of the physical and mental makeup of human beings. His main objective in pursuing a medical course at the University of Michigan was to use the knowledge thus acquired in the educational field. While he did not graduate he went far enough to acquire a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals and throughout his life maintained an exceptional interest in medicine, surgery, psychology and in particular mental diseases.
His medical library was appreciable and up to date. He was a regular subscriber to the leading medical journals and read them. On account of his medical training supplemented by his subsequent study and research, he was able to quickly recognize mental ineptitude in his students due to physical disabilities which were interfering with mental progress. In such cases he would advise consultation with a reputable physician. Had he cared to he could have been an excellent physician particularly in the field of diagnosis.
His knowledge of medicine coupled with the ability to make decisions quickly saved the life of my mother shortly after the birth of my brother Phelps. There was a trained nurse in the home at the time, but mother not wishing to bother her, went to the medicine cabinet in semi-darkness and by mistake took an overdose of aconite, a deadly poison. I can remember her announcing calmly to my father what she had done and his consternation, but he avoided showing it to her. He called the nurse, gave her specific instructions and himself prepared an antidote and various emetics and administered them. While several physicians had been called immediately father's prompt action had eliminated most of the poison before they arrived to follow through with additional relief measures. He was always a tower of strength in an emergency.
His interest in physiology was intense, but even more was he interested in the study of the human mind, its abnormalities as well as its normal attributes. While Governor he devoted a great deal of his time to study and investigation of pardon and parole cases. His library is exceedingly replete with hundreds of volumes dealing with Criminology and Psychology. His knowledge and experience in this field enabled him to diagnose these cases with remarkable accuracy.
He visited the prisons and various State institutions with regularity. Seldom did he give the Wardens advance notice of his intentions, but would appear suddenly unannounced and thus was afforded the opportunity to observe prison and institutional routine as it really was insomuch as the absence of advance notice prevented the preparation of any special scenery for his benefit.
His study of pardon and parole cases revealed to him phases of legal procedure which caused him considerable wonder, if not concern. Once I remember he ran across a couple of cases involving conviction for the commitment of the same crime, but in one instance the sentence imposed was far more severe than in the other. Father said he guessed the reason was that the Judge in one case was disgruntled that particular day or was feeling sub-normal and as a result gave one prisoner the limit while in the other case the Judge was feeling good and dispensed justice with mercy. In dealing with these cases he was not influenced by sentiment, but by facts substantiated by credible evidence. He had a keen sense of justice as evidenced by the conditions precedent which he laid down before the release of prisoners on parole. I remember one case in particular which is typical. The prisoner had committed embezzlement. As a result, the business in which the prisoner himself was a partner was practically ruined, leaving the remaining partners stranded.
While in prison this offender developed a natural talent as an author and gradually his stories were in great demand and appeared in a number of the leading publications of the country. His talent was not a flash in the pan but remained consistently stable. Remuneration in appreciable sums began to roll in and the prisoner was rapidly building a very substantial income.
When he became eligible for parole and made application therefore, he ran up against definite conditions precedent in addition to the usual routine requirements. The Governor insisted first that the individual should abstain upon his release from appearing before audiences of any kind for the purpose of exploiting his experiences in prison. In other words any showmanship or undue publicity was barred.
He advised the prisoner to continue to develop his talent as a writer, but most important of all was the stipulation that at regular intervals he was to make payments to his former partners to apply on the sum he had embezzled from the firm. The fact that the applicant for parole had served an appreciable part of his sentence did not satisfy the "Good Gray Governor". If he approved the parole, he wished to be assured that the prisoner would make restitution so far as he was able to do so.
He pursued the same methods in dealing with his student body. He always became impatient when some student who had committed some offense would say "I'm sorry". This alone never placated him. He would insist that to content one's self by merely saying "I'm sorry" was of little avail unless accompanied by a definite effort to right the wrong.
The partial autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris ends with a brief recital of the essential facts concerning his election to the Senate in the Fall of 1922.
I do not know whether he prepared any record of his experiences or his reactions to the functioning of the Senate or not. If he did, no trace of it is in my possession. He did, however, often comment to me either orally or through correspondence on personnel, events and policies. Some of the extracts from his letters to me during the approximately five years of his incumbency of a Senatorial seat provide some interesting sidelights, interesting not because of the events he refers to, but because his comments reveal in part his character and philosophy.
His experiences as a member of the Senate of the United States were not particularly pleasing to him, except his contacts with a number of Senators whose abilities and characters he greatly admired.
An interesting coincidence with reference to the personnel of the Senate during his occupancy of a seat therein was the fact that the two Senators from Ohio, Willis and Fess were formerly like himself engaged in the field of education and all three men had been associated together and had been friends for a number of years before any of them entered the political arena.
Both Senators from the Buckeye State were Republicans. Senator Willis was Governor of Ohio at the same time my father was Governor of Michigan and the coincidence was further paralleled by the death of Senator Willis exactly one week after the death of my father. On page 218 of this volume will be found a cut showing Governor Willis and Governor Ferris at the ceremonies attendant upon the completion of the establishment of the definite boundary line between the States of Ohio and Michigan, which had been prior to their administrations in controversy.* Senator Fess was the last of the three Senatorial friends to pass on and bring to a close a friendship and association throughout the lives of all three which was unusual.
The Senior Senator from Michigan detested political jockeying, trading and vacuous oratory. He was exceedingly impatient with unnecessary delay and "red tape" and at such times described Senate procedure as "Government by conversation".
The following paragraphs from his letters reflect his opinion regarding certain phases of the Senate rules which were then and still are the subject of considerable controversy:
March 9, 1925 "When I first came here I was positive that the Rules of the Senate should be changed. I am just as positive now that they should be modified, but upon the whole, the Rules work out for sane results. The only great problem worthy of consideration is the problem of filibustering. No one man nor no half dozen men ought to be permitted to defeat important legislation by resorting to the "filibuster'."
February 17, 1927 "Men like Senator Reed of Missouri and members of the Insurgent Bloc protest against cloture. If I had my way about it, we would put on cloture oftener. They may howl as much as they please about filibustering bad bills to death. I do not know why the judgment of a small minority should prevail over that of the majority. It is more than probable that in time Dawes' views of the Rules of the Senate will prevail. Of course there isn't any immediate prospect of it."
March 5, 1927 "Congress did adjourn yesterday. I have never in all my life witnessed such a disgraceful scene. Dawes is entirely correct. The people elect members of the Congress to take care of their interests. This short session has been almost a total failure. Any man attending the short session just passed and ever after having any desire to become a member of the Senate is a damn fool. You can draw several inferences from this statement, but it is true. I have never seen human nature at a lower ebb than it has been in the Senate during the latter part of this week. I stayed up all night Tuesday and Wednesday night I remained up until midnight when a recess was taken. Absolutely nothing was accomplished in the filibuster."
No one who has not had the opportunity for close and continued observation of Senatorial routine can have any conception of the vast amount of work that confronts a conscientious member of the Senate while Congress is in session. The same observation applies likewise to members of the House.
Hours are all too few to take care of heavy correspondence, to see visitors who want everything under the sun from admittance to the House and Senate Galleries to a vote either for or against a measure in which they are interested. Every visitor, especially if he can be identified as a constituent must be taken care of in some way.
Carrying on the office routine of a Senator, especially those representing the larger and so-called more important States, is indescribably difficult with the amount of help allotted to these men. The performance of these duties together with those pertaining to committee assignments leaves all too little time for the consideration and study of the literally thousands of bills introduced in the House and Senate.
The constructive work of the Senate is done in committees and it was here that my father did his real work as a Senator from Michigan.
During the Senator's term of office two events transpired as the result of the Senatorial primaries in the States of Illinois and Pennsylvania which were to command the attention of the Senate and result in repercussions throughout the entire country.
It was alleged that in the primaries of 1926, in Illinois on April 13 and in Pennsylvania on May 18th, the amount of money spent in Illinois in behalf of Frank L. Smith amounted to $458,720.00 and in Pennsylvania in behalf of William S. Vare, $785,000.00.
As a result of the allegations as to the amount of money spent in the primaries for candidates for the Senate, Senator Reed of Missouri introduced a resolution setting up a special committee of five to investigate expenditures, rewards, promises, contributions, etc. made to influence the nomination of any person as the candidate of any political party or organization for membership in the Senate of the United States. This resolution passed on May 19, 1926 by a vote of 50 to 13.
At the general election held on November 2, 1926, Frank L. Smith of Illinois, candidate for the United States Senate on the Republican ticket carried 88 counties, his total vote being 842,273, giving him a plurality over George E. Brennan of 67,330. In Pennsylvania, William S. Vare, the Republican candidate for the Senate received 822,187 votes, giving him a plurality over William B. Wilson of 181,507 votes.
As a result of the general election the Senate was faced with the necessity of determining whether or not the Senators-elect, Smith and Vare should be seated in view of the findings of the Special Committee with regard to the charges brought involving both men.
In the case of Smith one of the chief allegations was, acceptance of certain campaign contributions, improper because of his membership on the Illinois Commerce Commission at the time. As to Vare, too much money spent to win the nomination and certain allegations involving fraud, etc.
The proceedings in the Senate with reference to these two cases if given in detail would take volumes. Just enough of a reference is made to them here to enable the reader to understand the comments of the Senator to me with reference to his reactions to these two cases.
"With reference to Smith and Vare, if you pursue one line of argument, that we give to the States what the States apparently want, then both men are entitled to seats.
"So far as I am concerned, I care very little about it. It makes little difference whether Frank Smith is seated or not. I fear I am growing pessimistic along all lines; in fact, I am dead sure of it. It seems to me that on every side I find hypocrisy taking the dominant place in human affairs, hypocrisy in education, hypocrisy in religion, hypocrisy in politics and I presume I might go further. But it may be that I am just seeing more than I saw formerly. Perhaps all that exists now in the form of hypocrisy has existed for decades. At best we see only a short distance."
"I did not make myself clear in relation to Smith and Vare. As men frequently say, I am between the devil and the deep sea. Down deep in my heart I believe that if Illinois wants the kind of man Smith is to sit in the Senate, Illinois should be granted that desire. The same thing applies to Pennsylvania in the case of William S. Vare. But when I think of my country in a national way, I feel that neither one of them should have places in the Senate. There is not a question in the minds of able men in Washington as to the power of the Senate to reject both men. Of course it would introduce a new feature into the qualifications of a man elected to the United States Senate. I grant that. From a legal standpoint I do not know what is the right stand for a man to take. As a rule, I take no very great pride in going along with my Party because my Party has no well developed program. There are times, however, when I feel I must vote with the majority of the Democrats in the Senate."
The Senate subsequently denied a seat to Smith by a vote of 61 to 23 and to Vare by a vote of 58 to 22.