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Editor Runs For Governor; Seeks To Laugh Klan Out Of Kansas

June 2024
2min read

One of the two most reprinted of White’s editorials is an eloquent statement of the case for unlimited free speech on public questions (the other is his poignantly beautiful tribute to his daughter, Mary White, killed by tragic accident in 1921). Awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1922, it was addressed “To an Anxious Friend,” this friend being, it was widely assumed, Kansas Governor Allen. For Allen had issued an executive order that posters distributed by striking workers during the national railroad strike of 1921 must be removed from store windows because they were in violation of a just-passed state antipicketing law. “We Are for the Striking Railroad Men 100 Per Cent,” the posters said. White promptly put one in the Gazette window (typically, however, he crossed out the “100,” substituting “49,” though convinced of the validity of the strikers’ grievances) and editorially challenged Allen to order his arrest. Allen did so (the case was never tried), and White thereby gained highly effective national publicity for the cause of free speech at a time when it was everywhere threatened by a postwar tide of reaction. In that year and following ones he also inveighed in his strongest language against the rise toward power of the Ku Klux Klan, “an organization of cowards … [and] traitors to American institutions” which nevertheless elected a mayor of Emporia in 1924 and bade fair to capture control of the state’s Republican organization. “The gag rule first came into the Republican party last May [of 1924],” said a White editorial. “A flock of dragons, Kleagles, Cyclops, and Furies came up to Wichita from Oklahoma and called a meeting with some Kansas Terrors, Genii and Whangdoodles. … A few weeks later, the Cyclops, Kleagles, Wizards, and Willopuses-wallopuses began parading in Kansas cow pastures, passing the word down to the shirttail rangers that they were to go into the Kansas primaries and nominate [Republican] Ben Paulen.”

It was with the avowed purpose of laughing the Klan out of existence in his state that White ran his independent campaign, and there is no doubt that his campaign speeches and writings, provoking loud and national laughter, contributed to the KKK’s subsequent swift fading from the Kansas scene. Paulen won the election, but despite and not because of the Klan, it appeared—for White, who didn’t announce until September 20, had no organization, and spent only $474.60, gained almost as many votes as the Democratic candidate; and the two together outpolled Paulen by ten thousand votes.

U.S. entry into the League of Nations was a central theme of Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis’ campaign in 1924. It was the single clear issue dividing the Democrat Davis from the Republican Calvin Coolidge. And White continued to favor League entrance. He also deplored the total subservience of Coolidge to big business and expressed profound admiration for Wisconsin’s Bob La Follette who, as the voice of farmer-labor discontent with big-business government, ran for President that year on a third-party platform asserting that the “great issue before the American people today is the control of government and industry by private monopoly.” But all this did not keep White from strongly supporting the Coolidge candidacy, or from publishing, a year later, a book, Calvin Coolidge, the Man Who Is President , showing Silent CaI in the most favorable possible light. “He [Coolidge] represents exactly the mood of the people,” wrote White. “[He] is an honest, courageous, cautious, kindly conservative.…”

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