A rare 1880's stereo-optic view of the Delaware Co. Courthouse in Media.
Note: From 1850 to c.1890 there were two Republican Parties in Delaware Co. The "old" of Chester City and the new Republicans from Media. In 1850 the county seat moved from Chester to Media and that's when the division began. It all came to a head in Media in March of 1890. A long but great read. Jack Robinson's book, " Midshipmen to Congress" tells all and was a great seller locally.
Hon. John B. Robinson’s book, “From Midshipman to Congress,” has revived a flood of reminiscences political, in both State and county, among the old politicians still living, who then took an active interest in political affairs. It was, of course, impossible, within the compass of one small volume, to relate more than a very few of the innumerable instances, humorous and otherwise, that might be detailed in the history of Delaware County politics. One of the most interesting, perhaps, is the story of the famous Spring Convention of the Delaware County Republicans, held at Media in March, 1890, and which seems to have escaped Mr. Robinson’s memory.
A proper understanding of the dispute which produced the riotous scenes at this convention, necessitates a brief resume of the two great political campaigns of 1888 and 1889, which immediately precede it.
The year 1883 saw the high-water mark of the old Cooper regime. Cooper and his adherents, flushed with their repeated successes, were parading the political rialto, with chips upon, their shoulders, inviting all hands to the conflict. The most popular of Cooper’s lieutenants was the late Captain Jesse M. Baker, who had just finished two terms in the District Attorney ship and was looking for fresh pickings political. The ablest, brainiest and most astute politician of the then organization was unquestionably Captain Isaac Johnson, then Baker’s law partner and now President Judge. The legislative bird was to be plucked that year and the powers decided to send Baker after it, to do the plucking. He was not, however, to get it without a struggle. John B. Robinson had recently moved to Media from Pittsburgh. He also had political ambitions and these seemed to center upon the legislative halls at Harrisburg. Jack was then serving his first term in the House, and naturally wanted to be returned. He was a fluent speaker, with a pleasing personality; a keen journalist, and, in those days of the county lyceums, he had been a faithful and regular attendant upon their sessions and in this way, had made many friends and secured many admirers in the county. Jack immediately challenged the organization to battle, but being without the necessary sinews of war the result was inevitable. He went down to defeat. Political campaigning in those days was far different to what it is now. Campaigning by automobile was unknown. Candidates usually procured a good horse and buggy, or falling in the possession of the necessary wherewithal to secure such motive power walked. Jack was poor and his credit being none too good, he most frequently walked.
GIVEN A FAT POST – Following the national campaign of 1888, as a reward for his services as State Chairman and to remove him from Quay’s path in State politics. Cooper was given the fat post of Collector of Customs at Philadelphia and Baker’s victory over Robinson, therefore, made him the logical heir-apparent to the Senatorial throne. But the clouds that portended the coming political storm were fast gathering and all the sign of the times pointed toward a sound thrashing for the then so-called “Ring.”
Up to and including 1888, possibly the strongest fortress in the possession of the ring had been the Borough of Upland. Under the leadership of Andy Dalton and Josh Smith, it could always be depended upon for a favorable delegation at the annual county conventions. Baker had carried the borough’s three precincts over Robinson in 1888 by substantial majorities and evidently thought he could do it again. He could, if the lines had been held intact, but it’s the old story, the old Scotch adage: “The best laid plans of mice and men gag aft aglee” again demonstrated its applicability. Baker, whose alliance with Congressman Smedley Darlington gave him the post office patronage, had promised the Upland post office to Lewis J. Smith, Josh’s elder brother and late Adjutant of Wilde Post of this city. In the meantime, John Greaves became an applicant for the place and received the activity support of Samuel A. Crozer. Baker thus found himself figuratively between the devil and the deep sea. All his sympathies and desires were unquestionably with Smith and his friends to whom he owned much, and ordinary political wisdom should have dictated that open loyalty to the crowd that never failed him was the only wise course to pursue. Cooper, however, to whom Baker owed much for earlier opportunities, was under deep obligations to Mr. Crozer and was, therefore, ardently for Mr. Crozer’s man, Greaves. Baker failed his friends at the crucial moment and Greaves was given the job. The result was inevitable.
Smith was a very popular candidate and the machinery was in control of Dalton and Smith’s brother, Josh and they, smarting under the deception practiced upon them declared open war on Baker and openly announced their intention to square the account at the first opportunity. It came, even sooner than they anticipated. While they were “Nursing their wrath to keep it warm,” the local political world was electrified by the news that a rich relative in Pittsburgh had died and left Jack Robinson’s mother $750,000. There broke then a storm the like of which the county had never seen in all its political history. This was in the early winter of 1888 and 1889, and the gang, secure in the prestige of its last great victory and scorning the mutterings of the coming storm, confidently trotted out Baker’s candidacy for the Senate.
A MEMORABLE BATTLE – In Robinson’s behalf there was much to be overcome. His disastrous defeat in 1888 was in incubus upon his ambitions and his ability to induce his mother to loosen her hold upon the recently acquired plethoric purse strings, was doubted by many. These details, however, were satisfactorily arranged and the fight started. Cooper, Johnson, and Baker, Clayton and McClure, had the advantage of fighting behind entrenchments. They controlled the entire political machinery of the county, while their foes attacked in solid formation in the open. But this, too was an element of weakness to the gang. All the bitter animosities of years; all the disappointments; false promises, etc., were played upon industriously by the Robinsons crowd. Their mistakes of the various year were rectified; the ammunition was distributed where it would do the most good, and when the sun finally set upon that eventful Election Day, it found Baker and his ticket hopelessly distanced at the polls. Most important, possibly of all, the count showed a clean sweep in favor of the Robinsonian candidates for places on the County Committee, the then powerful machinery of the organization.
The fight in Upland had probably been the bitterest of any section. Dalton who was a yarn twister, and Smith who was a four-loom weaver in the Crozer mills had been assiduously for years building up a Baker machine. They now cast their lot with Robinson. Their task was a hard one. The labor of years had to be undone; explanations made; new alignments perfected and fresh trenches dug. Night and day these two worthies labored with the result that Robinson and his line-up carried every precinct in the borough by handsome majorities. Smith was returned to the County Committee, and upon the re-organization of that body was elected Chairman and placed at the head of the Robinson forces. Then began an internal strife that lasted for several years. The Cooper forces sulked in their tents until Election Day and then came out and cut Fighting Jack’s vote to the tune of 1500 votes.
Under the old system, two conventions were held annually. The delegates elected to the Fall Convention, held over and met each spring, at Media, to name delegates to the State Convention. It had been the almost uniform practice for the Chairman of the County Committee to call the Spring Convention to order and then surrender the gavel to the man who had been chairman of the preceding Fall Convention. A strict observance of this rule, or custom would, therefore, have conferred this honor upon V. Gilpin Robinson, who had presided over the destinies of the Fall Convention. Gil had been a loyal adherent of his brother-in-law, Baker; and Cooper, being extremely anxious to control the delegation to the State Convention, the fight was carried into that field and a bitter struggle was precipitated for the State Delegates. In this fight, it was a foregone conclusion that Jack would win. He had elected two-thirds of the delegates to the preceding convention, and it was only to be expected that now, with his hand upon the throttle, the district henchmen would desert the old standard like rats deserting a scuttled schooner. In this situation it was determined to carry the war into Africa, break down all the old barriers and customs and give the cooper people a determined to repudiate Gil’s claims to the Chairmanship of the Convention and Elect Chairman Smith to the place. They undoubtedly had the necessary votes to do it and the inclination and the nerve were not lacking. Cooper’s political prestige and position really depended upon the outcome of this convention. If he lost control of the State delegation, he could no longer hope to retain his place with the State leaders as the man to deliver the Quay and Cameron the Delaware County secret council that the election of Smith as Chairman of the Convention must be prevented at all hazards, even to the use of strong arm methods. This was done and the scenes and incidents of that March afternoon in the old Court room at Media beggar’s description.
GATHERING OF THE CLANS – About noon on that day, the rival clans began to gather at the County Seat. The rival headquarters were on opposite sides of the State Street, leading to the Court House. Each delegate upon his arrival was immediately buttonholed and given the proper tip to regulate his course of action. As a matter of fact, Smith’s candidacy was not determined upon until less than an hour before the assembling of the convention. The conference that determined the course of the Robinsonites was attended by Jack himself; H. C. Snowden, Sr., Bill Mathues, Jim Barker, Andy Dalton, Jos. H. Huddell, Thos. B. Taylor, John A. Wallace, w. L. Schaffer, former mayor, Samuel E. Turner and Josiah Smith. A close count of noses revealed a handsome working majority among the delegates for Fighting Jack. The convention had been called for 1:30 o’clock and, promptly on the hour. County Chairman Smith mounted the judge’s dais, seized the gavel and called the meeting to order. The roll call was quickly completed and the chair called the meeting to order. The roll call was quickly completed and the chair called for nominations for permanent chairman of the convention. This was the signal for trouble. Up to that moment, Cooper and his friends had really doubted the plan of the enemy to eliminate them from any part in the convention. Both Gil and Josh Smith were quickly placed in nomination and as Chairman Smith’s Stentorian voice called for the yeas and nays, Robinson mounted the platform and took his place by the side of his opponent, whom Cooper had facetiously styled, “The tall Sycamore of Chester Creek.” Gil’s advent on the stand was the signal for a wild outburst of mingled cheers, curses, cat calls and ribald blasphemy, and before any one realized what was up, pandemonium had broken loose, and all order was thrown to the winds. Effort after effort was made to restore order, but to no purpose. In those turbulent days, every faction had its strong arm squad upon which it depended to enforce its shady decrees. Cooper’s squad had the decided advantage. They were not lacking in vast stores of munitions of war, and under the able tutelage of “Jobey” Wheaton, Big John Riley and a gang of big muscled iron workers from South Chester, then known locally as “Hogtown” they proceeded to the task of preventing a peaceful organization of the convention. Cooper and his friends knew that if ever a vote was taken they were hopelessly beaten, and the long hours of the afternoon passed away in hopeless efforts of the Robinsonites to secure a vote and of their opponents to prevent it. Personal encounters upon the floor were frequent and a number of times it looked as if the affair would terminate in a bloody riot. The two rival candidates stood side by side on the platform. Black eyes and bleeding noses were visible in every part of the room and the climax in the disorder seemed to be reached when “Jobey” Wheaton, head of Cooper’s strong arm squad, was flung headlong down the winding stairs leading to the old court room. In the meantime, the judge’s dais was crowded with excited and frightened men, trying to escape from the wild tumult on the floor. At the height of the melee, Gil Robinson, white faced and anxious, looked up into the face of Josh Smith – his tall and cool competitor, and asked: “Well, how do you like it?” “Fine!” said Smith; “Worth coming 40 miles to see. Donnybrook isn’t in it!”
THE HUMOROUS SIDE – In spite of its tragic possibilities, the scene was not without its humorous incidents. The late Thad Shinkel, bald-headed and aggressive, and inoculated with the virus of copious draughts of “Dutch Courage,” occupied a post within the enclosure reserved for the Bar, to the left of the chairman. Over to the right, Squire Bill Wallace of South Chester, a cripple and veteran of many political battles in a field then dominated by such political field marshals as “Sneezer” Williams, Jim McNulty, Hubert J. Riley, and their ilk who, in their day, ruled the roost, baldheaded and defiant, and waving aloft his heavy knobbed crane, vociferously demanded a vote and “justice” for his side. In the midst of the melee, and while he was excitedly endeavoring to obtain the attention of the chair, someone threw a large soft quid of tobacco at Wallace. It struck the doughty Squire high up on his cheek bone, and the juice trickled down his cheek and dropped from his chin to his shirt front. The rage of the Squire at this unlooked-for assault knew no bounds. He looked across the room in the direction from whence the quid had come. The most prominent figure within his range of vision was Shinkel, who happened to be looking his way. Voicing a tirade of billingsgate and waving his cane at Shinkel, and cursing like a Caribbean buccaneer, the Squire threatened all sorts of dire things upon the constable. Shinkel, oblivious of the real reason for the Squire’s abuse, and not in the least averse to a scrap, returned the Squire’s compliments with interest. The two baldheaded gladiators were quieted with difficulty and the Donnybrook fair went on.
It was almost five o’clock in the afternoon when Smith, who had been urging upon Fighting Jack, the supreme importance of reaping the real fruits of their victory by the election of their State delegates, at last obtained Robinson’s consent to his withdrawal from the contest for chairman. This was done and Gil was elected chairman.
COOPER REIGN OVER – The wisdom of smith’s judgment was almost instantly apparent for a vote being then taken, Fighting Jack’s delegation was elected by a vote of 2 to 11 and Cooper’s reign as the leader of Delaware County politics was over.
The aftermath of this historical scrap permeated the contests of the next few years. Recognition of Robinson’s leadership was grudgingly given, and the bitterness of defeat was not assuaged by Robinson’s triumphs in the several hot campaigns which followed.
AW call of the roll of that convention would be interesting in itself. Many of the active participants have long since answered the great summons, and many have dropped from the active ranks. Many of the principal actors in this scene are fast passing away.
Capt. Albert Magnin of Darby, upon his crutches: “Handsome Bob” Newhart of Lansdowne; Gilbert A. Hazlett of Sharon Hill; the suave, adroit and diplomatic Billy McClure of this city; bluff and big hearted Bill Mathues of Media; Capt. Jesse M. Baker and the kindly Capt. Joseph B. Huddell will be seen as more. Many others, too, have long since folded their tents and stolen silently away to the Great Beyond. Not a great many of those taking part in that memorable struggle remain in the fighting ranks. Bill Schaffer is still a force to be reckoned with. Capt. Johnson, as President Judge, has risen higher and higher until he occupies a foremost place in the minds and hearts of the people. H. C. Snowden, until a few months since, ably seconded the efforts of the county treasurer to conserve the public’s financial interests and munched his fodder at the public crib; Jim Barker still pulls his wax ends and still holds the premier place as the only man who can make a red hot political speech with a mouthful of shoe pegs; Andy Dalton still struts the boards as one of the cocks of the walk, and Josh Smith, with an enviable record as district attorney and a host of loyal friends, still sticks to his law hooks and keeps his weather eye toward a possible vacancy in the judiciary. Crowned with deserved honors and badged with the scars of many historical conflicts, these men can look back now over those strenuous days, and in the pleasure of reminiscent fancy, live over again the strife and turmoil of other days.
“Fighting Jack” is an old man now, whose eyesight age has cruelly dimmed, but who is bravely marching toward the shadows, crowned with a wealth of well-deserved honors. After all, what doth it profit us?
For Immediate Release
600 Swarthmore Ave.
Folsom, Pa 19033
Keith Lockhart at Schoolhouse Center
On November 7, at 1:15 p.m., Schoolhouse Center at 600 Swarthmore Ave. in Folsom is inviting the community to hear Ridley’s own Keith Lockhart. Keith is a local historian who is doing a pictorial presentation on “Ridley Township - Then and Now’. Reservations are essential!
For registration and information please call 610 237-8100.