Early Political Methods
As early as 1848, Empire's evil star began to
flit her fitful beams upon the political organization of Monroe County. The
Democrats had attained the zenith of power, but the aggressive and rapidly
increasing Whig element had become so formidable a rival that to maintain the
ground held by one, and to advance the line of pickets of the other, political
acumen was taxed to its utmost. At that period the political fabric was not so
intricately interwoven as at present, and it was almost impossible for the
politician to get in his "fine work" without detection. Yet, to offset
this disadvantage, the manipulator of party interests was not so greatly hedged
in by the law as he is now; and however unscrupulous his methods, the statutes
offered little remedy for correcting the abuses of partisanship.
At the time we speak of (1848) a Congressional campaign was to be waged in the First Congressional District, of which Monroe County was then a part. Monroe County had a Democratic majority over the Whigs, but the eastern counties of the district had a large Whig following who exhibited a burning desire to defeat the Democrats, by methods doubtless equally questionable if necessary.
The Whigs brought into the field Daniel F. Miller for Congress, and the Democrats nominated Wm. Thompson, of Mt. Pleasant.
At this time many of the Mormons of Illinois, in making their hegira from Nauvoo, had located temporarily in different localities in southern Iowa, to rest and recuperate before proceeding onward across the plains to the Salt Lake valley, whither Joseph Smith, their saint and leader, had prophesied they should be gathered under the immediate supervision of the Lord.
As before stated, all the territory lying directly west of Monroe County, as far as the Missouri River, was attached to Monroe County for election and judicial purposes.
This unorganized territory comprised the tier of counties now consisting of Lucas, Clark, Union, Adams, Montgomery, and Mills. Several small settlements of Mormons
were made in one or more of these counties; one was at Garden
Grove, in Lucas County. The Mormons were the first to settle Lucas County, and,
indeed, many of the early settlers of Monroe were Mormons, but they had lost
their faith in their doctrine and made up their minds to embrace the belief of
their "Gentile" neighbors, and remain.
In this connection it will be of interest to state that some of the most conspicuous and highly esteemed families residing in Monroe County at the present day were apostates from the Mormon Church. That branch of the "Hair Nation" locating in Mantua and Urbana townships was largely composed of ex Mormon; but, as the extravagant doctrines of the "Latter Day Saints," as they chose to style themselves, and their sometimes predatory exploits among their "Gentile" neighbors, have attached considerable odium to the Mormons as a church organization, those who apostatized and are now living in Monroe County are a little reticent about speaking of their connection with the Mormon Church. In this digression it is but just to add that these apostates had joined the Mormon Church before the doctrine of polygamy had been ingrafted into their creed; consequently none of them either sanctioned or practiced polygamy, as they withdrew from the church as soon as Brigham Young began to inculcate polygamy in the doctrines of the sect.
The Mormons of Nauvoo had always been Democrats, and it was but reasonable to suppose that in their exit to the west they had brought along with them their political as well as their spiritual convictions. They had formed a settlement on the Missouri River in Pottawattamie County, at a place called Cainsville, which occupied the present site of Council Bluffs. There were a considerable number of Mormons at this settlement, and if their votes could be secured in the Congressional canvass of the First District, their strength would constitute a balance of power.
In furtherance of this scheme, the Board of County Commissioners, consisting of Andrew Elswick, Wm. McBride, and Geo. R. Holliday, and Dudley C. Barber as clerk, all Democrats, made the following order for the establishment of an election precinct in Pottawattamie County, "which lies directly west of Monroe County.":
"Ordered by said Board, That that portion of country called Pottawattamie County, which lies directly west of Monroe County, be organized into a township, and that
Cainsville be an election precinct in said township, and that
the election be held at the Council House in said village; and that Chas. Bird,
Henry Miller, and Wm. Huntington be appointed judges of said election; and that
the boundaries of said township extend east as far as the east of Nishnabotna."
This order was promulgted by the Board on July 3, 1848. Pottawattamie County, as everyone knows, does not "lie directly west of Monroe County," being one tier of counties north of the Monroe County tier. The geography of western Iowa was not very well known at that time, and for the purpose of ascertaining whether the Mormon settlement at Cainsville was included in the territory directly west of Monroe County, Judge Mason and Judge Weber, the latter a surveyor, were sent west on a surveying tour to ascertain the exact geographical location of the precinct of Cainsville.
Notwithstanding the fact that the location of Cainsville is at least twenty miles north of the northern line of Monroe County (Mills County lying between), these gentlemen returned with the information that the Cainsville precinct fell within the jurisdiction of Monroe County. It seems that they had also made a survey of the political sentiments of the Mormons, for they reported them as solidly Democratic.
This was encouraging news to the party, but when the matter leaked out, and the design of the scheme became fully apparent to the Whigs, the latter were thrown into great consternation. Emissaries were dispatched by both parties to the Mormon stronghold to negotiate for the Mormon vote. Their woes and persecutions were duly commiserated by the agents of the party. They were petted and fondled and pitied and cajoled like the laboring class are today, by political demagogues. But the unexpected was destined to occur at that day as well as at the present. The Mormons, at the election on the 7th day of August, 1848, voted solidly for the Whig candidate.
Whether this sudden and altogether unlooked for change in the political convictions of the "Latter Day Saints" of Cainsville was attributable to the use of money cannot be definitely stated. It is charged that the Democrats offered but one thousand dollars for their votes, while the Whigs raised the amount to twelve hundred, and thereby secured the vote. While this assertion may be true, it is equally probably that the Mormons had lost faith in the Democratic party, and wanted to experiment on a change of administra-
tion. Under the existing administration they had been driven
from place to place and had failed to secure the rights of religious liberty, as
they claimed was guaranteed them under the Constitution, and in their
exasperation they probably voted the Whig ticket through mere caprice, or
through a desire to experiment with the Whig doctrine.
J. C. Hall, a prominent Democrat of Burlington, on hearing of the disaster to his party at Cainsville, mounted his trusty horse and set out for Albia to take counsel with his party in Monroe County, and possible devise some means of preventing the canvass of the vote of Cainsville. He arrived in Albia in advance of the Cainsville poll book.
The Board convened to canvass the vote on the 14th day of August. The canvass was made at the log cabin of Dudley C. Barber, the clerk of the Board of Commissioners. Among those present was Dr. Flint, a brother in law of Barber, and an intensely zealous Democrat. Israel Kister, of Jefferson County, was also present. A heated discussion arose as to the validity of the Cainsville returns. Mr. Mark, who was afterwards postmaster at Albia, was also present, and championed the cause of the Whigs. After considerable wrangling, it was concluded to make another examination of the returns, when the Cainsville poll book could not be found. It had miraculously disappeared from the table, where it had quietly rested a few moments before. It finally became apparent that the book had been surreptitiously concealed or stolen. A row ensued, and pistols were drawn, but no blood was shed. It is not definitely known who stole the poll book, but it was strongly surmised that Kister spirited it away from the room and carried it off in his saddle bags. It is at least claimed, by a gentleman whose statements cannot be impeached, that Kister admitted the purloining of the book. Some say it was thrust through a crack in the "puncheon" floor and afterwards fished out.
The Democrats had a majority in the Congressional District, and Miller, the Whig candidate, contested his seat, on the grounds of fraud in the poll book incident. The case was sent back from Congress to be decided in the courts. The case was tried at Keokuk, and in the trial which ensued further light was shed on the stealing of the Cainsville poll book. It transpired that either Kister or Dr. Flint had secretly deposited the book in the saddle bags of Judge
Mason, the gentleman already referred to in this incident, and
that that gentleman was unaware that it was there until he had gone to his home
at Agency, and opened the saddle bags. In the trial of the case, Thompson, the
Democratic nominee, got Mason to defend his case. Miller called upon Mason to
show his authority to act for Thompson; whereupon Mason drew from his pocket
what he supposed was the authority, but it proved to be the missing poll book.
Miller then stated to the court that he had just come into possession of what he
had been looking for for a year the missing book.
The District Court decided that the returns from the Cainsville precinct gave a majority to Miller, the Whig candidate, and Miller was admitted to his seat in the thirty first Congress.
Thompson, in the meantime, had taken his seat at the opening of the session, but when the case went to Keokuk for trial, he returned from Washington to defend his claims.
The final adjustment of this Congressional dispute was not made until after the State election of 1850, in which Bernhard Henn, of Fairfield, was elected to Congress, and took his seat in 1851. Henn was a Democrat of the Buchanan school.
This Congressional contest was so bitter that it engendered a spirit of acrimony which did not subside until the Whig party was superseded by the Republican party, at the opening of the Civil War.