Montana Citizens Opposing Political Corruption
From Corporate Contributions
Early Montana politics were always rife with corruption; but in 1910, corporate power peaked with corporate control extending even to local governments, even to school boards. New
legislation in 1909 had allowed the Amalgamated to gain a monopoly over
all profitable industries in Montana.
Arrogant corporate lobbyists expected compliance, not free thinking, from the legislators who would select Montana's U.S. Senator. They were not worried about the populace. There were a few editors of weekly newspapers and union bosses who refused to get in line, but they were considered minor irritants. However, there was a Helena lawyer who had to be stopped.
Thomas J. Walsh had evaded the negative impact of corporate opposition to his political career and was a leader in the Democratic Party. He was a favorite of union members and respected by the average citizen. He'd won their admiration as a progressive in politics and an advocate in court against corporate excess. Walsh refused Amalgamated's annual retainer, which was quite rare among Montana lawyers.
The corporate bosses set about selecting legislative candidates in Republican-leaning counties who wanted to return Carter to the U.S. senate for another term. Then they carefully sorted through Democratic legislative candidates who, for whatever reason, didn't like Walsh. This was hard so they resorted to promoting many Republican candidates in Democratic-leaning counties.
The head political boss, Managing Director Morony, was employed by the Amalgamated to get results. For instance, the Democrats could always count on Deer Lodge county to elect their candidates, but this year seven lawmakers won from the Republican ticket. In this campaign, prominent Democrats employed by the company worked openly for Republican candidates.
A host of holdover Senators proved to be a problem for Morony. Senator W. F. Meyer, Republican from Carbon County, was a special irritant to the corporation. He could not support Sen. Carter, the corporate choice for Congress. When the Legislature refused Carter, anti-Morony members smelled corporate blood. They rose up to get the Senator they wanted.
When the legislature voted again, Walsh had a clear majority of votes. Now the Butte Democrats did as told and dead-locked the Legislature over a minor matter. No winner could be declared. The dead-lock held till late on the final day of the session. The intent was to have no Senator if Carter lost.
Walsh forces negotiated for anyone but Carter. The corporate managers finally accepted a compromise in Henry L. Myers, District Judge Ravalli County.
The corporate publicity agents put out the word that the Amalgamated had prevailed. Company agents arranged an elaborate banquet for Senator Myers to make it appear he was their man. But Myers was a long-time friend of Walsh.
"(C)orporation domination of
Montana politics in 1911 had reached that point in perfection
where an apparent defeat of corporate plans
could be claimed as a corporate victory and the public
be kept in doubt in respect to the truth ; regardless of a
long, honorable record and the positive assurances of the
most competent witness on earth that Mr. Myers was
and would continue to be a representative of the people
of the state and not of any special interests."
J. C. Murphy, The Comical History of Montana, Page 151, Scofield 1912
"The one great, all-embracing political problem before the American people is the preservation of our institutions from falling wholly into the hands of corporate and associated wealth, our cherished system of government from the ignominy of degenerating into a sordid plutocracy."
Thomas J. Walsh, Speech to Democratic Convention, Butte (1906)
Library of Congress Photo
Thomas J. Walsh, U.S. Senator from Montana, was born at Two Rivers, Wisconsin on June 12, 1859. He graduated with a degree in law from the University of Wisconsin 1884 and practiced law in Helena, Montana.
In 1910, he received the most votes to be elected U.S. Senator from Montana. He was not acceptable to the Amalgamated Copper Company and was not elected.
In 1912 when primary elections were established in Montana, Walsh was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. He served until his death, March 2, 1933.
He died suddenly on a train as he traveled to accept the appointment as Attorney General in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet.
He is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont.
American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; Bates, J. Leonard. Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana: Law and Public Affairs, From TR to FDR. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.