Timeline Tuesday: Electioneering in 1897

John M. Thurston was the featured speaker at the Republican state convention in 1897. From Alfred T. Andreas, History of the State of Nebraska (1882).


     Nebraska’s statewide political conventions in 1897 were complex and colorful. The traditional Republican and Democratic parties were each divided into gold and silver factions. In addition, members of the Prohibition Party and the People’s Independent Party held their own conventions. Delegates to the conventions were to select candidates for a Nebraska Supreme Court justice and two regents for the state university. All three offices, with 1898-1904 terms, were then filled by election on a partisan ballot in odd-numbered years. U.S. Senator John M. Thurston was a featured speaker at the Republican State Convention of 914 delegates, which convened in the Funke Opera House in Lincoln on August 26, 1897, in the unaccustomed role of minority party. Thurston prefaced his remarks to the convention with his announcement that he would not seek another term in the Senate.

Candidates nominated were Alfred M. Post of Columbus for Supreme Court judge, and Charles W. Kaley of Red Cloud and John N. Dryden of Kearney for regents. The Democrats, Independents, and Silver Republicans met on September 1, the Populists in Lincoln’s Lansing Theater, the Democrats in a public hall, and the Silver Republicans in the YMCA auditorium. It was the understanding in each of the conventions that as soon as any one man could secure the nomination of two conventions, the third would also nominate him. After deliberations lasting a full day and night, the Populists, Democrats and Silver Republicans agreed upon the nomination of John J. Sullivan of Columbus, a Democrat, as their candidate for supreme judge. Candidates for regent were E. von Forell (Populist) of Kearney and George F. Kenower (Silver Republican) of Wisner. These fusion candidates proved to be successful in November.

At least two other groups fielded candidates: The Nebraska Prohibition Party met in May 1897 in Lincoln in Bohanan’s Hall. The party’s nominees: D. M. Strong of North Bend for Supreme Court judge, and Mrs. Isabella Spurlock of York and D. L. Whitney of Beatrice for regents. (The Prohibition Party favored woman suffrage and nominated women for office before they were eligible to vote.) The National (Gold) Democrats, met September 22 in Omaha and nominated James W. Woolworth of Omaha for judge (replaced later by Warren Switzler of Omaha), and J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City and J. S. Crawford of West Point for regents. Election results in 1897 saw John J. Sullivan defeat his strongest rival, Alfred M. Post, Republican, for judge of the Supreme Court by a vote of 102,828 to 89,009. Charles W. Kaley and John N. Dryden, Republican candidates for regent, were defeated by E. von Forell and George F. Kenower, fusionists. A Democrat had been elected to the Nebraska Supreme Court and a Populist and a Silver Republican to the University of Nebraska board of regents.

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