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By William H. Sears, LL.M. 1892

Some interesting memories of the presidential campaign of 1892 as it was reflected in the University were given by William H. Sears, LL. M.'92, of Pentwater, Michigan, at the annual dinner of the Los Angeles alumni, August 7. Mr. Sears was at one time commander-in-chief of theNational Guard of Kansas. Mr. Sears expressed his pleasure at facing an audience of California people, who, at the same time were graduates of the University of Michigan. He said:

This is the first time in my life that I have ever had such an opportunity and I am deeply sensible of the honor.

I received the degree of Master of Laws from the University ofMichigan in the year 1892, the most eventful year in the history of our great University and as we seem to be reminiscing, let me tell you why.

On Washington's birthday of that year, Grover Cleveland, who had but recently completed his first term as President, in response to an invitation from the classes of the Law Department, delivered an address in University chapel. This great auditorium was packed. It looked as though all southern Michigan had come to Ann Arbor.

The demonstration for Cleveland was so great that the Republican leaders felt that they must do something to check, or counteract theCleveland sentiment in Michigan; so William McKinley, then Governor of Ohio, was brought to Ann Arbor to stem the tide that seemed to besetting in for Cleveland; and, for the first time in the history of theUniversity of Michigan, the great chapel was opened for a political meeting and the man that everybody knew would be the next nominee of theRepublican party made one of his characteristic speeches on the tariff.

At the very beginning of this address McKinley made a drive atCleveland, who had only a few days before been the guest of theUniversity, and then the most popular private citizen in America.Instantly the entire student body, almost, began to hiss in disapproval.You all are familiar with this famous University hiss. We used it to show resentment or disapproval, or to secure quiet. Once we hissed to secure order when Edwin Booth appeared suddenly before the footlights in a play he was presenting in an Ann Arbor theatre. He did not understand it, and immediately left the stage and refused to comeback. McKinley was greatly shocked by this sudden demonstration and turned pale before it. When quiet was restored the future president diplomatically changed the subject and did not again mention the name ofCleveland during the remainder of his speech. But the partisan Republican friends of McKinley deeply resented this seeming insult to their favorite leader and bided their time, determined to even up the score.

At the first meeting of the University Democratic Club after the McKinley meeting, I moved that we secure a speaker to answer McKinley;and President Curtis of Monroe, Michigan, now a lawyer in Detroit, appointed me a committee of one to secure the speaker, for it is needless to say that my motion was unanimously adopted. I personally knew WilliamJennings Bryan. He had just delivered his great speech of the eleventh ofMarch, in Congress on the tariff and the country was ringing with praises of the "Boy Orator of the Platte;" so I wrote him inviting him to address the students at Ann Arbor in answer to McKinley. Mr. Bryan promptly accepted the invitation in an autograph letter.

It fell to President Curtis and myself to make an effort to secure theUniversity chapel for our meeting. We were determined to have the same privileges accorded the Democrats as had been granted to the Republicans.So we called on President Angell and stated our case. Prexy smiled very broadly and said: "Well boys, it looks as though the campaign of 1892is to be fought out on the Campus of the University of Michigan." But without apparent reluctance he granted our request.

About this time we learned that the partisan friends of McKinley were planning to disturb our meeting in retaliation for the hisses given during McKinley's speech. I wrote Bryan about this and he replied: "Don't worry; I'll take care of the boys." And he did. The night of the Bryan meeting the old chapel was packed. The first mention of McKinley's name by Bryan was the signal for a demonstration. The great hall rang with catcalls, groans and hisses. But calm and serene, with that matchless smile on his face, Bryan waited until the demonstration had died away; and then he read from the Congressional Record something McKinley had said in the House. The Republican disturbers promptly cheered. Then Bryan read another quotation from McKinley, a direct contradiction to the first quotation. Again the disturbers thoughtlessly cheered, when Bryan raised his hand and said: "Hold on there boys, I want to know which McKinley you are cheering."

This was the most remarkable and epoch-making series of meetings,marking the year of 1892, as I have stated, as the most eventful in the entire history of the University; for the first of the three great men to speak at this series of meetings was Grover Cleveland, Ex-President of the UnitedStates; the other two, McKinley and Bryan, four years later, faced each other as rival candidates in one of the most hotly contested and momentous political campaigns ever waged for the prize of the presidency in this Republic.

Some years later in a conversation with Mrs. Bryan she told me thatMr. Bryan always referred to this great Ann Arbor meeting as one of the most important starting points in his career.

In anticipation of securing a speaker to answer McKinley, Mr. Curtis and I arranged with James Francis Burke, then a student of the Law Department, and my roommate and formerly a court reporter at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take McKinley's speech in short-hand. I sent Bryan a copy of this speech so he could fully answer it. You must know that Burke only recently closed a ten years' service in Congress from Pittsburgh; and it wasBurke at the first Taft convention who led the fight to place delegate representation in national Republican conventions on the basis of the number ofRepublican votes cast instead of negro population. Burke came within eighteen votes of winning this fight, and if he had won there would have been no split in the Republican party at the 1912 convention, and there would be a Republican President in the White House now.

The Michigan Alumnus

February 1916,  page 284

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