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First Political Adventure

In 1892 the Democrats of the then ninth congressional district nominated me for Congress. This was not done on account of my special fitness for this office, but because available candidates were exceedingly scarce. My opponent on the Republican ticket was Dr. John Avery of Greenville.

I entered upon my campaign with enthusiasm, but not with the expectation of being elected. I was confident that I could at least get somewhat acquainted with the people and indirectly advertise my school. I spoke in all of the cities and in most of the villages of my district. At that time the automobile was not in existence, consequently my mode of travel was, when possible, by train, otherwise by means of horses.

I had been out speaking only a few weeks when I received a challenge from the Republican congressional committee for a joint debate with the silver-tongued orator of my own city, the Honorable L. G. Palmer. I immediately accepted the challenge, demanding that specific questions be outlined for debate. This joint discussion was held the evening before election in the city of Big Rapids. Special trains brought visitors to the city on this occasion. No one under fifteen years of age was admitted. What was then known as Hulling's Hall on North Michigan Avenue was packed to the doors.

Only a few minutes before the opening of the meeting Mr. Palmer asked that our mutual agreement as to specific questions be annulled. When I objected to the proposal, both committees sustained my objection. The rules required that each speaker be allowed forty minutes for leading discussion and twenty minutes each for closing, Mr. Palmer to speak first.

The audience was composed largely of Republicans. My opponent devoted his first address, not to the questions specified, but to a general analysis of my first campaign speech given by me at Kingsley. The Republican committee had employed an official stenographer to make a transcript of this address.

In my opening speech I confined myself to the specific questions advertised for debate. This of itself exposed the helplessness of my opponent. Mr. Palmer, unprepared to discuss the subject matter of my address, in humiliation used only a part of his twenty minutes. I used my twenty minutes in exposing my opponent's helplessness and to my surprise carried the audience with me to the finish.

I do not relate this political incident boastingly. I have given a mild account of the facts. Previous to this date for eight years, I had been the object of scurrilous attacks by the "Pioneer" the mouthpiece of the Republican political machine. From the date of this event, I commanded the respect of my Republican opponents.

Dr. John Avery was elected by a majority that was surprisingly small. I am confident that this political experience was worth to my school many times the cost of the campaign. Even Republicans will not refuse to patronize a school on political grounds.