- Historic Sites
The Census War
Nearly a hundred years ago two rival cities fought hard and dirty to win the battle of numbers
July/august 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 5
“Aaron[s], who is very lame, did not make any especial demur,” the St. Paul Daily Pioneer Press reported, “and Daggett read the names of the others wanted.” Suddenly their boss, Edward Stevens, appeared. “Then matters assumed a different phase,” the newspaper continued, “and the eighteen or twenty men in and about the rooms … commenced to mutter and talk about resistance.”
Daggett stepped outside to whistle for help from Mason. “As [Daggett] attempted to re-enter the room Ed Stevens pushed the door violently and tried to shut him out.” The door’s glass window shattered and cut Daggett’s head. Drawing his .42-caliber pistol, Daggett “leveled it at Stevens and the others in line with him, saying: I’ll put a hole through the first man who attempts to move through that door!’”
Naturally, the version of this encounter that circulated in Minneapolis was far different. “After violently breaking in a door,” says the report of the Business Men’s Union of Minneapolis, “[Daggett] found several enumerators at work checking over their lists with the names collected by the citizens’ committee. … Not withstanding their surprise, the men quietly prepared to accompany the officer, but that official produced a revolver and subsequently boasted of his valor in making the arrest.”
Four Minneapolis policemen, ignorant of the charges against the men, packed seven enumerators and six sacks of evidence into a wagon. They dropped off their entire load, including Daggett and Mason, at the rail station, where Daggett led his prisoners onto the nine-thirty train to St. Paul.
At five past ten the group stood before U.S. Commissioner McCafferty in a courtroom in St. Paul’s government building. Unable to post bond, the seven prisoners had resigned themselves to spending the night in jail when four Minneapolis lawyers rushed into the courtroom. They had heard of the arrests and had caught the next train. Foremost among them was William Henry Eustis, a dedicated Minneapolis booster who would bring the Republican National Convention to that city two years later.
An investigation found signs of conspiracy in Minneapolis, whereas St. Paul seemed to be guilty only of small-scale fraud and incompetence.
After a long legal wrangle in which McCafferty refused to transfer the case to the U.S. commissioner in Minneapolis, the attorneys paid a five-hundred-dollar bond for each of the enumerators. Then, St. Paul’s Daily Pioneer Press gleefully observed, “attorneys and enumerators started on a run to catch the last train to Minneapolis.”
When news of the arrests spread during the following day, relations between the two cities sank to their lowest point ever. All thirty-three Minneapolis members of the Twin City Commercial Club, a union of business leaders from both sides of the river, resigned. Judge Lars M. Rand, influential in swinging the town’s sizable Scandinavian vote, spoke in strong terms: “No St. Paul man nominated for any office hereafter will get my vote, whether he be a Democrat, Republican or Prohibitionist.” Thousands of Minneapolitans attended mass meetings in which angry speakers denounced the arrests, planned boycotts of St. Paul businesses, and agitated for the relocation of the state capital. The Daily Pioneer Press lost fifteen thousand dollars in canceled Minneapolis subscriptions and advertisements. Leaders of a mob that gathered at the corner of Third Street and Hennepin Avenue proposed a protest march—which never materialized—of ten thousand Minneapolitans into downtown St. Paul.
Eager for revenge, Minneapolis police set a trap. Deputy U.S. Marshal Daggett had posted a Pinkerton detective outside the Vanderburgh Building with instructions to follow Stevens; St. Paulites feared that the Information Bureau chief might try to dispose of incriminating papers. Stevens noticed his tail, told the Minneapolis police, and followed their instructions: He left the building at night, climbed into a hack carriage, and cantered into the darkness. The detective followed in another carriage. At the Tenth Avenue Bridge Stevens’s hack abruptly accelerated. The detective accordingly ordered his horses whipped to a gallop—and was promptly arrested for speeding by the police lieutenant who had been waiting at the other end of the bridge.
Another attempted reprisal was far less successful. At five o’clock on the morning following the arrest of the enumerators, eight Minneapolitans, including three policemen and two reporters, appeared in the government building in St. Paul to retrieve the six bags of papers that Daggett had seized. A lone St. Paul police officer guarded the evidence. Capt. Jake Hein of the Minneapolis police showed a warrant and demanded the papers. Eustis, also with the Minneapolis party, later told a journalist that the St. Paul officer “refused to deliver them, and, without the slightest provocation, seized Captain Hein ; as he would a highway robber, and, ; thrusting a pistol in his face, threw him from the room.”