Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, June 1914
“Fannie, that was absolutely delicious,” gushes Minnie Ball. “The strawberries were enormous and sweet, but your crumbly shortcake is the best I have ever tasted. Please share your recipe with me.”
“Yes, please do.” Tom Ball, pats his stomach as he leans back in his chair.
Flattered, Fannie smiles. “Of course, but there really is no secret, aside from a quarter-pound of butter and fresh cream. There’s no recipe written down. I make it the same way my mother did, and I suppose her mother before her.”
“I don’t understand it,” Thomas interjects. “A good man like you, Tom, forced to run against that rube from Bell County who truckles to the liquor interests. And I find it disheartening that someone with obvious conflicts of interest—that keg-roller Otto Wahrmund—slips back into his seat in the House of Representatives unopposed.”
Fannie shoots Thomas a stern glance as she interrupts his political rant. “You both so would have enjoyed hearing our Maydelle sing ‘Love Has Wings’ at her high school graduation last week.”
Tom Ball shakes his head at Thomas. “There was no point in anybody trying to run in San Antonio. The brewers apply their unlimited slush fund freely to hire low creatures to smear any good man’s reputation. What slanders they slather upon me!”
Their wives continue their attempts to steer them toward their idea of appropriate after-dinner conversation. “And how is your newlywed Sammie?” asks Minnie.
“So happy and content.” Fannie beams. “She helped organize the Art Club’s final gathering of the season last week. A picnic supper laid out elegantly in the woods.”
Thomas ignores her. “To claim that because you are a member of the Houston Country Club, you receive dividends from liquor sold there is absurd!”
“Minnie,” sighs Fannie. “We have lost them to politics for the rest of the evening. Please retire with me into the parlor for more pleasant conversation.”
Thomas stands until the ladies have left the table, “You know, Fannie will talk politics all night long with me if there is no company in the house.”
“Minnie as well,” says Tom.
“Why on earth do they treat it as though it’s a salacious topic when brought up around guests?”
Tom offers an exaggerated sigh. “The gentler sex pretends to be averse to politics. It’s inbred. Their mothers taught them public political discourse is not proper for ladies.”
“Yet Fannie came back bubbling with enthusiasm after her ten days in Chicago as a delegate at the Women’s Federation. She’s chomping at the bit to attain the right to vote. I was so proud of her for attending. Instead of sharing that experience over supper, she chatters about Sammie’s Art Club.”
Tom shrugs his shoulders in answer, then takes Minnie’s seat to move closer to Thomas. “The liquor men are pouring money into their efforts to prevent women from getting to vote. And no lie is too vicious for them to spread in their attempts to destroy my reputation. They claim I have an uncontrollable appetite for drink and frequently have to be carried home in the unfortunate condition resulting therefrom. There was a man going up and down the streets of Fort Worth last week telling everyone he encountered that I drain a quart of liquor a day to get through the day’s business.”
“You are the son of a Methodist preacher, Tom. I’d be willing to swear on a stack of bibles that I have not witnessed you take a sip of even a beer in more than a decade.”
“I was elected to Congress four times,” says Tom, “and have been active in progressive Democratic politics for thirty years. Never, during all these years, did those who opposed me attempt to destroy my good name. Not until this gubernatorial race.”
“You can deliver that message to the crowd in the tabernacle tomorrow night. This is the same old ongoing fight we’ve had in Texas for years. The fight against organized vice and greed. A vote for Jim Ferguson is a vote to endorse corrupt Colquittism. And a vote to endorse Colquittism is a rebuke to President Wilson.”
“How can a man argue against that ridiculous land plank of his?” asks Tom.
“Some of his lame-brain ideas are too absurd to merit discussion. If a man tells me the sun isn’t shining when I see it above me plain as day, what’s the use of arguing with him? The Ferguson land plank is impossible to dignify with debate. He wants to fix the price of farm products. To regulate the rental of farms. Fixing the value of property is nothing but a socialistic scheme. Jim Ferguson is so ignorant he probably thinks the Hogg Stock and Bond Law is named for his pigs.”
Tom shakes his head. “His entire platform resembles a poor joke. I only trust the people of Texas realize the seriousness of this contest.”
“My health was hindering me recently, but, Tom, I am ready now to stump for you anywhere, anytime. So long as this arm of mine has power to strike, I shall keep up the fight. I owe the people of Texas everything I have. I have no plans to surrender now.”
“Dallas next week?” asks Tom.
“Count on me. And Galveston after that. Tom Ball, the time has come. Play ball. Hardball. No soft pitches. We must strike out Jim Ferguson for our team. Texas.”
The Balls were guests of the Campbells in Palestine in June, but the Author is only guessing strawberry shortcake was on the menu. The men’s conversation at the dinner table is based on speeches they delivered throughout the state that month. The Author accepts no blame for their application of the term “Colquittism” or the corniness of the baseball reference. Tom Ball’s campaign slogan in the gubernatorial race was indeed “Play Ball.”