State hated war, but fought hard

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann for The Review

With political activity beginning to heat up across the country I thought it would be appropriate to look at political parties of past years.

In the year 1847 Sheboygan was just a struggling frontier village very deep in the dense forest of Wisconsin. But that did not mean that local and national politics did not reach our then tiny village.

It was in that year that the first printing press was brought to Sheboygan by a Mr. Gillette who founded Sheboygan’s first newspapers, the Sheboygan Mercury.

The Mercury strongly supported the Whig party which had been organized to oppose President Andrew Jackson whom they had nicknamed “King Andrew”.

The American Whig party patterned itself after the English Whig’s who opposed the monarchy. The Whig’s were strongly opposed to entering into any kind of foreign war and believed that all monies needed to run the government should be obtained by high tariffs on foreign goods and not taxes.

A few of the supporters of the Whig party were such famous persons as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

Nationwide the Whigs had many supporters across the country. With followers in both the north and the south when the question of slavery arose the two factions could find no area of agreement.

As the anti-slavery issue began to heat up the Whig party collapsed because they were unable to settle the issue of slavery. The remnants of the Whig party then met at Ripon, Wisconsin, in the now famous Little White Schoolhouse, and on March 20, 1854 today’s Republican Party was born.

Most people would think that the Whig party has long passed from the political scene but this is not so. A new Whig party has been organized and is called the American Whig party and probably will be running a candidate for President, Vice President as well as well congressional and senate seats as they have done in past elections

The 1916 Presidential campaign was beginning to heat up across the country, much as today’s campaign. Charles E. Hughes the Republican Candidate for President crisscrossed the country demanding that America stay out of the war.

As each day passed many Americans felt that President Wilson was beginning to consider entering the war on the side of Britain.

The Republican candidate Hughes, who was strongly anti-war, received nearly 100 percent backing in the city of Plymouth and the surrounding farms. The Plymouth Review predicted that Hughes would be elected and would keep America out of the war.

When the Presidential election of 1912 was held President Wilson carried Sheboygan County by 1276 votes. In the election of 1916 he lost Sheboygan County by 1694 votes, a clear indication of his waning support.

The Republican Party carried nearly every county in the state of Wisconsin during the 1916 Presidential election.

In the November 8, 1916 edition of the Plymouth Review they predicted that with the number of votes that had been counted, candidate Hughes was clearly to be the next President. The Review claimed that Wilson was the loser as Hughes was declared to have 272 electoral votes and only 256 were necessary to elect a President in those days.

As the strongly Republican newspaper had predicted candidate Charles Evans Hughes had swept the county and the state of Wisconsin. The people of Plymouth were ecstatic at the results, and the Review predicted that Hughes would also sweep the nation and become the next President.

But as the election returns from around the United States were tallied it became increasingly clear that the unimaginable had happened…Hughes had lost!

The people of Plymouth were devastated; their champion had been defeated and the despised Wilson would again be taking the oath of the President of the United States.

The Plymouth Review was filled with gloom and doom, predicting that severe economic times would be sweeping the country. As an example, they cited the fact that hunger amongst the poor was increasing, the price of flour had risen to the unbelievable price of

11 a barrel and wages were dropping for the common working man.

Furthermore the fact, as they predicted, was that now America was embroiled in a European war against the Germans. Plymouth as well as county residents well remembered a county wide poll that was taken in April of that very year to determine support for America going to war.

Of the 4,129 votes cast in the county, 4,112 voted against the USA entering the 17 voted yes. war against Germany and

In the City of Plymouth 1544 votes were cast with 1542 votes against the war and but 2 persons voting for the war.

The people of Plymouth and Sheboygan County were plainly against the county’s involvement in the war against Germany, much as were the majority of Wisconsin voters.

Because of Wisconsin’s strongly Germanic background and their lack of support for the war the question was raised in Congress-- if drafted would Wisconsin boys fight for America?

Many Congressional leaders predicted that when Wisconsin men met German’s in combat, who could possibly be relatives, they would throw down their weapons and desert to the German side.

Congress became so alarmed that they ordered Wisconsin’s 23rd Governor Emanuel L. Philipp, a Republican, to Washington to testify before a congressional hearing.

Governor Philipp eloquently defended the young men of Wisconsin, assuring the congressmen that perspective draftees may be of German heritage but they were first and foremost loyalAmerican citizens, even though some of them may have been born in Germany.

After a lengthy hearing the Governor was able to restore the congressional leader’s faith in future fighting men from Wisconsin. Of the thousands of young men from Wisconsin that served in France there was not one single case of any of them ever deserting to the Germans.

Without exception young men from Plymouth who saw combat in France performed to the highest standards of the military. A case in point was a young Plymouth soldier who won the Distinguished Service Cross by crawling out into “no man’s land” under heavy enemy fire and dragging back his severely wounded Captain, who later died.

George C. Gardener of Plymouth, later known as Dynamite Bill, was a true hero.

Wisconsin and Milwaukee in particular, were hotbeds of Socialist activity. The city of Milwaukee elected the first socialist mayor in the United States. Frank P. Zeidler, who served 3 terms as Milwaukee’s socialist mayor from 1948 to 1960 was well known in the Sheboygan area.

Zeidler made many trips to this city where he was a much sought after speaker at political gatherings.

It might be noted that Mayor Zeidler has been deemed as one of the most successful Mayors of any city in the country. When he left office Milwaukee had nearly doubled in size and was not one penny in debt.

Here in Sheboygan there was a very active socialist branch that was successful in getting several of their candidates elected to public office.

Fred Kneevers who was a city alderman was also very active in the socialist movement. Mr. Kneevers is probably better known as the proprietor of the former Kneevers Hotel.

It might surprise many people to know that even the Nazi party, now known as the National Socialist Movement, has an active branch here in Wisconsin.

Footnote: It might be noted that Mr.Gillette, who brought the first printing press to Sheboygan, had a son King Gillette who invented the safety razor.


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