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SIDE STREETS: Political rantings echo across the centuries

By: BILL VOGRIN
November 1, 2012
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photo - William Alexander Platt was editor of The Gazette under Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. Platt later started the Evening Mail, which became the Telegraph, after Palmer sold the Gazette in 1897. Photo by Courtesy theSpecial Collections, Tutt Library, Colorado College
William Alexander Platt was editor of The Gazette under Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. Platt later started the Evening Mail, which became the Telegraph, after Palmer sold the Gazette in 1897. Photo by Courtesy theSpecial Collections, Tutt Library, Colorado College 

On the eve of the national presidential election, consider these words of a Gazette editor:

“The Republican Party is the party of conservatism, of law and order, of capital and wealth; the Democratic Party is the party of discontent, of socialism, of anarchistic tendencies, of wild finance and crazy economics.”

The dire warning about the Democratic Party continued with this:

“Its strength is in the appeal it makes to the laboring classes to upset the ‘rich man’s government.’ It will come into power again, no doubt . . . the Republican Party may go too far in upholding the rights of capital, and may need correction. My hope is that the correction may come from within, and that if it does not, the correction may not involve the ruin, or even the very serious damage of our government fabric.”

You might be surprised to learn these are not the rantings of my friend and colleague Wayne Laugesen, editorial page editor.

No, these were the rantings of William Alexander Platt,editor of the Gazette under Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. Platt later started the Evening Mail, which became the Telegraph, after Palmer sold the Gazette in 1897.

I came upon Platt’s essay recently and was amused at how little has changed in the century since he wrote it.

His essay was included in a “Century Chest” – a lead-lined, steel plated time capsule packed with dozens of letters from national dignitaries and common residents alike of 1901 including Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, Palmer, and gold baron/philanthropist Winfield Scott Stratton.

The chest was opened Jan. 1, 2001, before a crowd at Colorado College’s Tutt Library. Its contents — hundreds of photos, two wax phonograph cylinders, a 1901 telephone books, fabric samples, artifacts and more than 100 letters — were then documented in a fascinating book “The Century Chest Letters of 1901: A Colorado Springs Legacy” by historian Judith Reid Finley. It was published by Colorado College.

It’s a great book but the Platt essay echoed loudly to me, given the gloom and doom predicted throughout the presidential election. I was similarly drawn to an essay by Louis R. Ehrich, a Colorado Springs investment broker and ardent Democrat.

In his comments, Ehrich denounced U.S. wars of aggression as “wicked.” Sounds familiar, right?

“Looking back . . . it seems to me that the following lessons can be drawn from our national experiences: It is dangerous to do wrong, even under the inspiration of a noble purpose,” Ehrich said.

Platt, not surprisingly, disagreed with Ehrich and said the Democratic Party “offers no practical remedy” to the problems facing the nation.

“The Republican views – the views of the great majority of Americans today – is an opportunist view,” Platt wrote. “Let us do what it seems we must do – what is laid upon us to do, and do it as best we can and trust to American capacity and American luck and most of us would say, with reverence, to the Almighty Ruler who has thrust this talk upon us to come out of it all right.”

Ehrich and Platt’s debate of the U.S. war with Spain easily could refer to the recent U.S. war with Iraq. Same for questions of U.S. occupation of Cuba and the Philippines a century ago.

And consider this declaration by Platt:

“I must express my belief that the greatest danger of the Republic lies not in jingoism or imperialism, but in the tyranny of the trade unions,” Platt wrote. “These have already reduced the American workingman to a certain kind of slavery. He may not work if the Union says no. He must strike if the Union says so, whether he is satisfied with his hours and wages or not.”

Platt warned the nation may endure a period of “tentative socialism . . . of anarchy” before the threat of unions is overcome.

Ehrich was more of an optimist, which may explain why he organized the Century Chest, which was sealed Aug. 4, 1901, as part of Colorado’s celebration of 25 years of statehood.

The event was attended by 600, according to newspaper accounts. In his keynote address, Ehrich envisioned the messages in the chest “binding the centuries together with wide links of affectionate regard, and bridging the ages with living words of buoyant hope, of glad prophecy and of steadfast love!”

For me, I’m convinced Springs residents in 2101 will similarly chuckle at the dire prophecies of today.

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