vote wet or dry

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eight

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Seven

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, July 1911

Thomas should not have stayed out of the fray so long. The election is too close. Too critical. 

As soon he heard Governor Colquitt was returning to San Antonio, he knew he was morally obligated to counter efforts to rally the wets in San Antonio. A city where there is no shortage of wets.

He sizes up the crowd at the Airdome. There must be more than 1,000 people shaded, ironically, from the late afternoon sun by the towering new Pearl Beer sign facing Alamo Plaza.

Bishop Mouson of the Methodist Episcopal Church South ignites the crowd with an introduction portraying the former governor as a saint and damming the sitting governor. “There is a certain citizen who will speak tomorrow night.” The bishop shakes his head slowly from side to side, “…an honorable gentleman…,” negating the phrase he utters. “Who, with his mouth, declares that he is a Methodist,” his voice now thunders, “but who with his deeds denies it.”

The newspapers will have a field day with that quote labeling Governor Colquitt a poor specimen of a Methodist. The crowd loves it. As the Bishop introduces Thomas, shouts rise up from the crowd. “We want you in the Governor’s chair!” “Governor Campbell for Senator!”

Thomas raises his hand to silence the crowd. “I’m not a candidate for office.” Some boos greet this pronouncement, taking the wind out of the sails of those assembled. He must motivate them to vote. 

He summons his most powerful voice. “Texas is suffering under a liquor despotism.” They roar back to life. 

“Austin is packed with the most notorious lobbyists for corporate interests who have ever hung around the capitol. Whenever that legislature is in session, you find a bunch of sleek-faced politicians unabashedly fattening themselves on the backs of the hardworking people of Texas.”

Applause interrupts him.

“Nowhere in our Constitution or our Bill of Rights does it say operating a saloon is an inherent right. Make the license fees high, they say, in an effort to make the evil more respectable. But legislating evil into respectability is a feat I will not condone.

“In support of the government, the Antis claim, the saloons put $330,000 into the State Treasury last year. They would like for you to believe that the government of Texas couldn’t exist without these funds. But, look closely at the balance sheet. The records of the Comptroller show the increased expense of the State traceable to the saloon business was $1,800,000. The wets are draining the Treasury dry.”

More applause and shouts of agreement erupt. Nothing is more exhilarating than preaching to the choir. 

“When voters approve these initiatives this month, jobs will not be lost. The money now diverted into the liquor traffic would—if invested in some legitimate, decent enterprise—this money would furnish employment for eight men where employment is furnished for one now.

“No good can come from a saloon, and there’s no reason for the State of Texas to continue in partnership with the saloon. Even some men in the saloon business agree with me. One told me I was right but that de didn’t know how to do anything else but run a saloon. Well, that’s why we have free schools in this state. It’s never too late to learn a legitimate trade.

“The saloons try to corrupt your labor unions. They insult you by calling the saloon the poor man’s club. They place you in the same category with criminals and tramps. I do not believe the laboring men of our state will vote for a thing that is the enemy of every virtue under the sun. You need to go tell them at the polls that their club is one in which you want no membership.” 

Library of Congress image

Thomas turns and points at the neon Pearl Beer sign that has been flashing behind him throughout his speech. “It was considerate of the San Antonio Brewing Association to install this new sign at this proprietor’s establishment this very afternoon. ‘Pearl. Who can beat it?’ I consider this a challenge I accept. And that you accept. Right here. Tonight. We will show them Saturday at the polls just exactly who can beat it.” 

On a roll, Thomas reaches into his pocket and pulls forth a circular and waves it in the air.

“The headline on this anti-prohibition circular asks: ‘When Did Campbell Ever Tell the Truth?’ It is just one of a large number of printed lies the Antis are handing out on the streets tonight. But, of course, it omits anything I actually said. 

“Now this, what I am telling you now, is what I do say. I have no respect for a man who rides into office astraddle a barrel of booze.”

Let them run that in the newspapers tomorrow.

Footnotes

The speechifying, with a few tweaks here and there, is drawn from newspaper accounts. The Author truly wishes she had a photograph of that Pearl Beer sign to share.

Continue to Chapter Nine

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