As 2012 was ending, many southern Minnesotans were reminded from media reports of the Dakota hangings of 150 years ago in downtown Mankato.
This wasn’t southern Minnesota’s greatest day ever—it was one of our worst. In part, the Dakota weren’t given legal counsel or translators.
The greatest day in southern Minnesota history belongs to an October date about 100 years ago, one the Mankato Daily Review said then would be “long remembered by the people of this community and vicinity.”
By early October 1911, nearly every southern Minnesotan had heard U.S. President William Howard Taft would be “invading insurgent territory,” i.e., visiting Mankato, Minnesota, as part of a cross-country tour. Waiting for him would be U.S. Senator Moses Clapp, an “insurgent” Republican, who, like many Minnesotans, was aligned with former Republican U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, Taft’s same-party nemesis. In many respects, Clapp versus Taft was like Ron Paul versus Mitt Romney—the new versus old guard.
Just six days before Taft was scheduled to arrive in Mankato, Clapp called Taft’s veto of an Arizona statehood bill the “blackest chapter in all tyranny outside of the absolute despotism of an unbridled king.” Strong words. Clapp was setting up nicely a confrontation with the Chief Executive—especially given the context of a Presidential assassination attempt that had occurred only a day before Clapp’s rant.
On “President Taft Day” on October 24, Mankato storefronts were adorned with colorful bunting and American flags and pictures of hefty Taft. American flags hung over Front Street. Citizens along the parade route decorated homes. The Presidential train and a hard rain arrived almost simultaneously just before 11:00 a.m. A band played as Mankatoans cheered and waved little American flags. As portly Taft waddled into a top-down Packard convertible to begin his parade of Mankato, he removed his silk hat, and “the rain drops pelt(ed) his bald spot,” wrote the Mankato Daily Free Press.
At the Normal School (now MSU), Taft, from inside the drenched Packard, gave a five-minute speech to cheering teachers in which he concluded, “If I could vote (in Minnesota), I would vote to raise the salary of these teachers assembled here, for they are deserving of it.”
A block later, he urged a group of school children to go home, take off their shoes and change out of their wet socks. The Presidential Packard rolled past the German Catholic School, the German Lutheran School, and Union School to cheering thousands. At the courthouse, Judge Lorin Cray, former president of Mankato Citizen’s Telephone Company (HickoryTech), introduced the President for a brief and extremely wet outdoor address.
Along Front Street, Taft heard the melodic strains of New Ulm’s Second Regiment band, Mankato’s Twentieth Century and Harmonia bands, and Mapleton’s band. At a packed opera house, Taft and Governor Eberhart were greeted with deafening applause.
Moments later, the President was impressing 160 highbrow guests at the Elk’s Club at Hickory and Second, where the chief executive feasted and entertained for two hours. The menu included celery, olives, consommé tulienne, paupiettes of pike, au vin blanc, filet of beef, pique with fresh mushrooms, cauliflower, grilled sweet potatoes, chocolate praline cake, and coffee. The President ate everything except the sweet potatoes. This all happened while Taft dined dangerously close to scowling Senator Clapp.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press published the following article on October 25, 1911: (As background, from 1900-04 Taft had been Governor-General of the Philippines, a U.S. territory.)
MANKATO: “El Partido Independista Explosivista” is likely to become the battle cry and shibboleth of the Republican supporters of the President in their contests with the progressives, if the rest of the country takes the expression with anything like the enthusiasm and glad hurrah that greeted its coinage by the President this afternoon in his address at the banquet at the Elk’s club.
The conditions and surroundings all conspired to make the President’s description of the divided political parties most happy and effective. At the head table sat Senator Nelson and Senator Clapp, just far enough from each other to insure physical peace, while Governor Eberhart, former Congressman Tawney, Congressmen Anderson, Davis, Hammond and Miller were all close enough together to make it important and more comfortable for them to give their undivided attention to the president.
After a brief reference to the hearty welcome he had received in Mankato, the President, announcing he was going to choose his own topic, sprang his description of party divisions as follows:
“I am glad to be here, and as I look up and down these rows, to see that we are all gathered in here, Democrats, Republicans and all, without regard to the party. It is a little difficult these days to define what a Republican is or what a Democrat is. There are as many colors and shades as there were in the Philippines when they organized the national assembly. They had first those who were slightly ‘conservative.’ There were none that were very ‘conservative,’ because that did not go there, but there were some that were slightly conservative that called themselves ‘El Partido Progressista Independista.’ They were progressives toward independence. That did not constitute the large body who were going to the people on a somewhat more energetic platform. So they called themselves ‘El Partido Independista Immediatista.’ They wanted independence at once. But there were some that really thought that those two parties were cold in their patriotism and their desire for an immediate change and immediate establishment of the republic they were looking to, so they organized a party, ‘El Partido Independista Urgentista.’ Then they organized another party which, in order to nail it to the mast and have it understood, they called ‘El Partido Independista Explosivista.’ Now, whether we have any parties of that sort in this country I am not going to say, but I only want to say that this is not the only country where they have great varieties.”
There was just an instant’s pause. The application was so obvious the first thought was the President had a personal intent in making it apply to some of the guests. But the President was standing, laughing heartily and beaming good-natured on all the guests impartially, just as the good storyteller does when he has a new one and knows he is making a hit with it. Instantly pandemonium broke out, and the guests rose and cheered until they were hoarse. Within a few minutes ‘El Partido Independista Explosivista’ was rolling off the tongues of every man in Mankato and those who could get it off glibly were busy rehearsing the delinquent.
Before the train left Mankato, the politicians had been busy classifying the factions according to the Philippine example. There were some differences of opinion as to the best state representatives of the first three parties named by the President, but there was not a dissenting voice on the proposition to place Senator Clapp at the head of the Minnesota ‘El Partido Independista Explosivista’ party.
The Mankato Daily Review said Taft’s words summed up well the nation’s divided political climate and could play a prominent role in American politics. Yet the President’s entire visit itself would be forgotten in time—even in Mankato. In 1948, during President Truman’s visit, The Mankato Free Press forgot Taft’s 1911 parade and speech and said President Coolidge’s midnight train ride through town had been the only other time a sitting President had visited.
President Taft departed the Great Western Depot and Mankato at 2:30 p.m. headed for Madison Lake. Wrote the Mankato Daily Review on October 24: “This is President’s Day in Mankato and the eyes and thoughts of the people throughout the land were centered upon the little city in the valley of the Minnesota which was for four hours today the host to President William H. Taft and the temporary abiding place of the chief executive of the greatest nation on earth during that period. When it is considered that the President’s trip has taken him over a very wide expanse of country and that thousands of towns and cities along the route he has covered have been vying with one another in an endeavor to secure the privilege of entertaining him, Mankato may well feel highly honored that for even so short a period she has had as a guest of honor the first citizen of our country.”
If desiring to read more about President Taft’s memorable visit and other seldom-mentioned area stories, you can find Unique Mankato Stories at the Blue Earth County Historical Society bookstore. All proceeds benefit BECHS. Given the annual tourism dollars reaped by Madelia from the Younger Brothers Capture, it would seem someone in Mankato could do likewise by reenacting President Taft’s parade and speech. After all, this was Mankato’s greatest day.
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