Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Old time Delco Polictics, when Thomas Clayton ruled


An aerial view of the west end of Media looking east from 1947.


Note The article below is about late 19th century politics and who was who. The article was about a cancelled dinner to honor Judge Thomas J. Clayton 




                It is to be very much regretted that the condition of Judge Clayton’s health rendered it necessary that the dinner, set for Thursday evening of last week, and the presentation of the handsome testimonial be postponed.  The assemblage would have been a genial one and the many friends of the Judge looked forwarded to it as an opportunity to meet and greet their guest at his best to recall old times, and amid the interchange of sociality to mark an epoch in the Judge’s political career, it is singular, but true that nearly all the prom spirits, who took part in the first and earlier campaigns of Judge Clayton, for the bench have passed over to that borne from whence no traveler returns.  The Judge, up until this winter, has preserved his general health and vigorous vitality better than any of his associates and intimates he had when he made his maiden and successful campaign for the bench.
                Perhaps Captain Joseph H. Huddell, the secretary of the Testimonial Committee, is the sole survivor yet, in the harness of political work, who was among those we took a prominent part in Clayton’s initial canvas of 1874.  Captain Huddell had not then long believed in Delaware County, and was connected with a very extensive coat firm in Philadelphia.  Business reverses had not impaired his capital and he was able and he did take a hand in helping along the Judge’s success, through certain well-appointed social entertainments, for the giving of which he was eminently qualified.  Among the conspicuous and aggressive figures in Judge Clayton’s first battle for the bench was the late Colonel C Gray, who had tact for political campaigning and action, although he never himself, as a candidate, met with that success one would have supposed from the spirit with which he took up a political battle.  Like many others, however, Colonel Gray was a better manager and manipulator for others than he was for himself and his judgment and fore-though were equality valuable in an exciting and interesting campaign.  He was quite close to Clayton in the 1874 fight and was one of the inner confidential cabinet of advisors who helped to plan and wage the canvas of the Judge of course, under the supervision of the candidate himself, who had a born taste and disposition for the political arena.  It has position for the political arena.  It has more than once been remarked, by those capable of giving opinion that was valuable, that had Clayton seen fit to push his way in lines less professional and more political, for the State Senate, Congress, or even the United States Senate, and extended his vista and grasp of politics, as he could easily have done, beyond the county lines, there is no telling to what eminence or distinction he could have attained.
                We recall the towering, elephantine but jovial and genial proportions and personnel of the late Geoffrey P. Denis, as one of Clayton’s earliest and staunchest political friends.  Denis was, in his younger days, a delightful companion and stocked to overflowing with cordiality and hale-fellowship, well met. No politico-social gathering was complete without the giant manufacturer, who dispensed a generous hospitality at his pretty country seat on the uplands above Crum Lynne Station where he resided. Although doing business in Chester until the fell destroyer, fire, swept away his home one night. Geoff Denis also met with business setbacks due to the general depreciation in the advent of Cleveland in 1885, and the exploitation of free-trade business.  In his later days, Denis, although always maintaining his appreciation of Clayton, was wont to be a little crusty and severe in some of his criticisms.  This was probably the outburst of a disappointment for political success himself, for, like many others, Dents had the ambition to hold political place and never failed in the conventions of fifteen and twenty years ago to come to Media at the head of the Ridley delegation.  More than once he presided over the county convention, and was also a delegate, once, at least, to Harrisburg.
                Colonel David F. Houston was another of the young and stalwart in frame, friends and supporters of Judge Clayton, who has gone over to the “ great still country”   He belonged like Clayton himself, to a family of brothers all of whom won distinction in manufacturing lines and wonderfully skillful capacity for executive management of large affairs, and belonged truly to the class of captains of industry who have made this locally and the country famous and prosperous by reason of the development of its big plants.  Col. Houston was a politician by natural affinity, and in the old times, when South Chester was booming with its mills and other industrial establishments, the lights of its vast furnaces shed a glare over the Delaware by night, he took an active hand in all the local political scraps in the borough, and would come to the county convention generally at the head of the large delegation from that place, now holding the name well in hand more than office dictated nominations to his suiting for Court House and county places on the ticket.  Before coming to Delaware County, Colonel Houston had had the distinction of being pitted in a hopeless Democratic district in Philadelphia, the old Third against Sam Huddell for Congress, and whilst defeated  made a good fight.  He was a hearty, bluff American character, thoroughly competent to fill any place requiring quick perception, good judgment, and horse sense, and had he lived – he died very suddenly in 1888, if we recall the date aright, after a visit to a political convention at Harrisburg – would undoubtedly have reached eminence in public places and affairs.
                Amos Gartside of Chester was still another of the early and staunch supporters of Judge Clayton, who has joined the great majority.  Mr. Gartside served for a number of years on the Board of Harbor Masters for Chester and Philadelphia and was one of the most active and hustling of those manufacturers in Chester who linked his name with its pristine growth as a manufacturing center.  Gartside, Houston and Dents were like three brothers in their cordial intimacy and rare indeed was the political occasion, in the old time, where the trio did not appear to press their views and their candidates upon the attention of the leaders and directors of our politics.  There are others – some gone forever, like those named.  Some left the county for other reasons and, if space permitted it would be a pleasure to have recalled more of their personalities and the incidents in which they figured.  Like all noted men, Judge Clayton had the rare faculty of power of enlisting strong and virile men in his political battles, binding them to him with hooks of strong friendship.
                It would be undiscerning and negligent if a recital of the list of those who have never faltered in their devotion to the political fortunes of the Judge to pass over the name of William J. McClure, the Chester merchant, so long prominent in the community west of the bridge, or what was the old South Ward in the city of Chester.  Late or early he never tired or lost interest in this promotion of that skillful detailed work which counts so forcibly in an exciting or close political battle.  Like the famous James McManes, who so lately died in Philadelphia and who for a generation was the central controlling power in directing nominations and making appointments in Philadelphia.  McClure comes of sturdy Scotch-Irish ancestry – ancestry that mixed its politics with that grand, but gloomy old faith, born of Calvinism, the Presbyterian doctrine.  No higher criticism could soften the sternness of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to them nor had they any mild substitute for the good, old-fashioned orthodox hell for unbelievers or heretics like Briggs, and equally so with those who fought against or traduced their political tenets or candidates.
                McClure was and is one of the best friends or most determined foes that any prospective candidate for honors in the Republican Party could have.  Quiet, unostentatious and prudent in his tactics and business dealings, no man who met him causally could understand how such an apparently reserved and modest personage could exert the powerful influence he always did.  But men work in different and widely varying ways, and some are working whilst others sleep, and beneath McClure’s unimposing exterior there was a tireless capacity for detail and a sleepless attention to the points which count for success in a battle royal of politics.  Of scrupulous integrity in business matters, generous and charitable in many ways unknown and unheard of by the general public, thoughtful and oblivious of self in relieving the deserving or helping those who had merit, as well as ambition to get along, in a course of many years, whilst building up a widely extended and valuable business establishment, he at the same time was binding friends to him and any cause he chose to impose, by grateful obligations, so that today it is not mere declamation to say no man in the city of Chester, perhaps none in the county or Congressional district can summons to his help “those friends or those who would work more aggressively than McClure.  Much of the heavy work of the campaigns of Clayton in 1884 and 1894 was conducted and supervised by McClure, but so little did he court noisy approbations and personal notice that the mass of the voters didn’t know this fact.  No one today is closer to the confidence and heart of Judge Clayton and he has been the chief figure in suggesting and carrying to success the anniversary testimonial which, unfortunately owing to the physical condition of the principal, had to be tendered privately.
                When the dinner does take place – and sick as the Judge is, we all know his strong vitality will pull him through – and Clayton rejoices with his many friends around the mahogany, groaning with the good things the Lord provides for the faithful and true, and then washed down with that which makes the heart of man glad and sends a thrill through its cockies, the scholarly and learned Judge, in the words of Longfellow may well say:
                “Stand still my steed”!  This is the place.
                     Let me review the scene,
                And summons from the shadow past
                     The things that once have been.”

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