August 25, 2016

Supporting Your Presidential Candidate: Free Speech or Contempt of Court

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

Before we start, this article is about an Idaho event.  However, it's important to remember that Montana newspapers reacted to events across the nation, and internationally.  These stories influenced Montanans and therefore can be considered part of Montana history. See Further Reading at the end of the article for many Montana newspaper articles.

The Daily Missoulian
January 4, 1913 p2

Researchers will tell you that while they’re researching one topic they’ll often find little snippets that lead to their next project.  Last year while working on the blog post about A.J. King I ran across the article below in the Daily Missoulian.  Penny contributions for free speech?  What was that about? 

It all started with the 1912 Presidential Election and a contentious Republican primary. In the aftermath of a highly contested Republican primary which pitted sitting President Howard Taft against former President Theodore Roosevelt, the national convention in Chicago nominated Taft as the party’s presidential candidate.  Roosevelt quickly became a third party candidate representing the Progressive Party popularly known for this election as the Bull Moose Party.  This change in party affiliation late in the primary season caused Progressive leaders at the state level to scramble to understand the relevant election laws. A few states saw legal actions to support or reject the nomination of one candidate or the other.  In one of these cases, the Idaho Supreme Court declared the nomination of the progressive electors invalid, thus ensuring that any voter wishing to vote for Roosevelt would be forced to write in the names of electors.

Evening Capital News
October 29, 1912 p12
The Evening Capital News in Boise reacted strongly to the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision.  For weeks afterwards, every issue contained at least some reference to the decision.  As seen above, they made it a point to repeatedly emphasize to their readers that in spite of the Supreme Court’s decision, they should still vote for Roosevelt electors. 

Evening Capital News
January 2, 1913 p1
This focus by the newspaper drew the attention of the Idaho Supreme Court who charged the publisher R.S. Sheridan and editor C.O. Broxon with contempt of court.  They were brought before the Idaho Supreme Court who found them guilty.  Both were sentenced to 10 days in the Ada County Jail and a $500 fine. 

(As a side story, the court also charged a third man, A.R. Cruzen.  While the truth is somewhat difficult to pin down, it seems that in an attempt to be a political player, he had claimed to be associated with the paper and to have some control over editorial decisions.  During the trial all three denied that this was the case.  The court disagreed.  He was convicted and in addition to the 10 days in jail and $500 fine he was also required to pay the court costs.)

Evening Capital News
January 3, 1913 p4

The contempt of court charge cited 31 articles that had appeared in the newspaper.  As seen in the above notice, after the conviction the Evening Capital News implied that the main cause was their publication of Roosevelt’s speech. While the speech did account for 6 of the articles cited, there were also a number of editorials and articles that construed political and self-serving motives for the justices’ decision.  Perhaps the best example of these is the article printed November 18, 1912 titled Only Part of Story.  One of the three subtitles reads “Claim Is Made That Action of Court Paved the Way for Election of Haines and Stewart and Later the Naming of Ailshie as United States Senator.”  This article paints a political conspiracy in which the justices rejected the Roosevelt electors in order to aid the Republican party so that there would be a Republican governor and state legislature which would then be grateful and vote Supreme Court Justice Ailshie to the US Senate.  They went on about the district judge who  would get Ailshie’s spot on the Supreme Court and then the Attorney General would move to the District Court.  Interestingly, Justice Ailshie actually dissented significantly with the court’s contempt decision, both on whether some of the articles, including the Roosevelt speech, could be considered contempt and the severity of the sentence.

Both during and after, newspapers nationally reacted to the case.  In Montana, the Daily Missoulian covered it extensively.  When Dow Dunning, an Idaho state senator, started the penny campaign to cover the fines, the Missoulian and many others across the nation supported the cause.  In addition, the case led to discussion about free speech, contempt of court and the recall of judges, and in the end the Evening Capital News used the case as proof their integrity and independence.

Evening Capital News
January 8, 1913 p6

Further Reading (in other words Additional Articles I really wanted to include) - the dates are links to the page:

Reactions to Contempt Case and Sentencing
“Newspaper Men In Jail. Three Sent to Prison for Contempt of Idaho Court.” Bamberg Herald. Bamberg, South Carolina. January 9, 1913 p6.
“Pertinent News of State With Our Own Comment – The Supreme Court Decision in the Capital News Contempt Case.” Caldwell Tribune. Caldwell, Idaho. January 10, 1913 p1.
“Roosevelt Denounces Decision of Idaho Court Characterizes the Wester Tribunal as an “Instrument of Reaction”. The Daily Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. December 11, 1912 p1.
“Contempt Decision of the Idaho Supreme Court.” Evening Standard. Utah. January 3, 1913.
“Fined for Printing News.” River Press. Fort Benton, Montana. January 8, 1913 p2.
“Idaho Judges Appear to Be Inviting Extension of the Recall Principle.” San Francisco Call.  San Francisco, California. December 14, 1912 p4.

Penny Campaign
“One Million People Asked to Contribute A Cent Each.” Daily Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. January 4, 1913 p1.
“Boise Men Pay Their Fines.” The Daily Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. February 2, 1913 p1.
“Pennies Come In.” The Daily Missoulian. Missoula, Motana. January 6, 1913 p5.
Kendrick Gazette. Kendrick, Idaho. February 7, 1913 p3.

While In Jail
“Liberated Scribes Get Ovation – Friends Send Flowers to Office of Boise Newspaper Men On Release.” The Daily Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. January 12, 1913 p7.
“Progressive Leaders on Visit to the County Jail.” Evening Capital News. Boise, Idaho. January 13, 1913 p2.
“Prisoners Enjoying Music At The Jail.” Evening Capital News. Boise, Idaho. January 9, 1913 p6.