Off the Record March 31, 1948

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One of the characters who was frequently around our office when I first came to Wooster was Ben Douglas. Ben was one of the most prolific writers I have ever met. His choice of language was more than wide, it was immense. Ben had originally been a lawyer and he was a brilliant writer. He was afflicted with a personal weakness which kept him from reaching the very heights but locally, he had many friends. These friends sometimes insisted that Mr. Douglas write articles for them for the paper. As I remember these articles, they were towards the last written, somewhat laboriously, but were none the less polished and in the finest language. Also, they usually got around to the paper just previous to press time with the somewhat pressing insistence that they be published that same day. Being a weak and struggling institution, it was probably the insistence which got them published, whereas today, when we have to meet deadlines and have the papers of certain places at certain times while we handle many times the amount of news we had in the early years, it would be impossible for us to cripple our distribution by piling long articles on the composing room facilities just before press time. Mr. Douglas was the author of a history of the Wayne County Bar Assn that has long been an authority on the members of an illustrious bar association as it stood up to 45 or 50 years ago. He also wrote a comprehensive history of Wayne County.

Judge Martin Luther Smyser, one of the men who backed my father and myself when we made our entry in Wayne County journalism, was the official head of the Republican party for many years. He not only held the leadership locally, but he was recognized as a Republican leader over the state. He was an enthusiastic friend of Joseph B Foraker, who had been twice elected governor and after being defeated in a third term effort, was elected to the United States Senate. There was some local opposition to Judge Smyser’s leadership on account of his close affiliation to Foraker, but the judge never allowed this opposition to get very far. He was elected to Congress in the Theodore Roosevelt landslide in 1904, but winked out in the election two years thereafter when the vote was more normal. F.C. Given, who had previously been postmaster of Wooster, became congressman Smyser’s secretary. Pete Given was a past master in the art of politics, especially politics in Wayne County and he handled the political angle of Judge Smyser two years in congress with much ability. But the slump in the Republican vote in 1906 was too great and Judge Smyser was not given the vote. This was a hot election and Judge Smyser gave it all he had. The first returns were favorable to his reelection. Our newspaper was gathering them from each county as rapidly as possible. In fact, for that time, we were really showing considerable newspaper ability. We had added some mechanical typesetting machinery and a fast press and were reaching out into province with our circulation. Pretty soon the returns from Holmes County, Ohio started to come in. Holmes County, Ohio did not have as many people as Wayne County but their Democratic majorities were absolutely uncontestable. They were of the “how many do you need variety.” We had posted a few returns on the front window when Pete Given telephoned down from upstairs. “I wish you’d wait until we give you the correct returns before you post them,” he said. We had some difficulty in explaining that now the election was over and all that was left for a newspaper to do was to get the results to the people.

Judge Smyser’s law partner during those halcyon days was Captain A.S. McClure. Capt. McClure was a quiet man and a deep and devout student of the law. He could dig into the books and Judge Smyser could present the case to the court in a masterly manner. Capt. McClure had a Civil War record and he had also been a member of Congress and was a distinguished citizen. His son, Walter McClure was married to a daughter of C.W. Kauke, who is I believe still living in California where he went in the early days of the century. Capt. McClure was always one of our very quiet but steadfast friends. He had been in the publishing business himself and understood some of the difficulties. The firm of McClure and Sandborn had formerly published the Republican. Mr. Sandborn was the late J.G. Sandborn, father of L.D. Sandborn and is remembered by hosts of older residents. Just why I should depart from the newspaper business and step over into law, is beyond me but I have always been an admirer of the Wayne County Bar Assn and while I have been puzzled by some of the cases that some of the lawyers presented in court, I have never doubted their ability. It did seem to me that politics played a more important part in law in those days than it does today.

Before I came to Wooster, the elder John McSweeney had been one of the very great lawyers of the generation. Judge Jeffries and Judge Martin Welker, two that preceded my residence here, had also eminence careers.

Among members of the bar in the early days of our century were men of great ability. L.R. Critchfield Sr., John McSweeney, H.B. Swartz, John C McClarran, A.D. Matz, John S Adair, W.E. Waygandt, Charles Weiser, W.H. Ross and Wayne Hart came along a little later and E.S. Wertz and Judge Mougey were still in school. Judge Charles C Jones became a partner of Judge McClarran and Judge L.R. Critchfield Jr. entered practice after the war with Spain during which he served as a local newspaper correspondent. Among those who were Republicans were McClure and Snyder, W.F. Kean, Ross W Funk, Frank Taggart, M.L. Spooner and J.E. Snyder. In later years, no one takes the trouble to ask a lawyer’s politics unless he runs for office and sometimes even then, he wonders.