MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Our congressman who never was years ago
Marion Historical Museum photo
John Wesley Moore in a 1907 photo.
If you think politics is rough and tumble nowadays, take a trip back to Marion County’s early days, when community rivalries, political alliances, and personal attacks were everyday occurrences.
Modern “fake news” comes nowhere near measuring up to the mountains of mud slung at local politicians like John Wesley Moore (1846-1919).
Before moving to Kansas in 1881, Moore had been a Civil War veteran, a schoolteacher, and a prominent state legislator in Iowa. Moving here, he settled on a farm at the headwaters of the Cottonwood River near Durham, worked as a farmer and a stockman in what he described as “God’s out-of-doors,” and, in 1887, ran for county treasurer against four other Republicans.
Referred to as a “political inheritance from Iowa” who supposedly was supported by “a few local wire pullers,” Moore was accused of being a “disguised Democrat or Republican bolter.”
Many of the attacks came from an opponent with the odd-sounding name of Manly Hill.
“If Manly Hill were as manly as J.W. Moore,” Record editor E.W. Hoch wrote in Moore’s defense at the time, “he would be more careful in his utterances.”
One of the five candidates — published reports never stated which one — was accused of approaching yet another potential candidate and offering him a $1,200-a-year job (the equivalent of $33,000 now) if he would withdraw before the party’s nominating convention.
Candidates from Peabody and Florence insisted that Marion voters automatically disapproved of them and accepted Moore, a Durham Park resident, only because no one from Marion ran and Moore wasn’t from the southeastern portion of the county.
Despite a vicious campaign, Moore won and went on to serve two terms — the maximum allowed under state law at the time.
He then sought the Republican nomination for Congress, touching off a huge battle that included so many condemnations of him that the entire front page of the Marion Times of May 5, 1882, consisted of nothing but allegations against him.
A year earlier, Moore had accused three prominent Republicans of conspiring to steal a quarter-section of land from “a poor widow.” They, in turn, accused him of a series of felonies, including allowing county banks to avoid paying interest on government deposits.
Among his chief accusers was former county attorney J.S. Dean, who claimed Moore avoided prison only by mounting a petition drive to urge a district judge to decline to impanel a grand jury to investigate Moore’s practices.
Despite the thousands of words of condemnation of Moore, encompassing the entire front page of the Times, Moore won the county’s delegates to the district nominating convention but lost there to first-time candidate Charles Curtis, a Shawnee County attorney and member of the Kaw Nation who went on to become the nation’s first and only Native American vice president under President Herbert Hoover.
Ironically, a bit more than a decade later, the Times, which by then had changed its name to the Marion Headlight, hired Moore as its editor. He continued in that role until the Headlight merged with the Record in 1909.
Before that, however, he became embroiled in political controversy once again.
Curtis had moved on to the U.S. Senate, where he eventually became majority leader, and had been replaced by Council Grove school superintendent James Monroe Miller.
Miller easily won re-nomination from the Republican Party in 1906. But the Democratic Party made a surprising choice to oppose him — Moore, who remained a Republican.
“I am a Republican. I have always been a Republican. And I accepted the nomination of the Democratic convention,” Moore wrote in the Headlight.
The divisive issue that prompted the unusual party move was high protective tariffs, which many blamed for a high rate of inflation that cut into average workers’ buying power.
President Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, often out of step with more pro-business elements of his party, had pushed tariff reductions with several countries. Miller opposed those moves and boldly announced that “people who want tariff revision must get in the Democratic Party.”
Moore didn’t change parties, but he did accept the Democratic nomination — and that seemed fine to a person who should have been his natural rival, Record editor E.W. Hoch, who in the same year successfully ran for re-election as Kansas governor.
Moore didn’t win, but Hoch wrote in Moore’s 1919 obituary that the county lost out by not voting him to Congress in either of his attempts at office.
“His Americanism was of the uncompromising, Roosevelt type,” Hoch wrote. “Had he gone to Congress, as this county tried to persuade the district it should permit him to do, he would have been a leader in that body.”
Moore maintained homes both in Marion and at his farm. In Marion, he also served as Sunday school superintendent for — unsurprising, given his name — the Methodist Episcopal Church, now Valley United Methodist, where Hoch also was a prominent member.
Last modified April 13, 2020