Election of 1896 Was One to Remember
Wed, 2013-10-30 14:27
Murphy Foster, Mike Foster
Contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.
By Jim Bradshaw
Even by Louisiana standards, the gubernatorial election of 1896 was a doozy. The incumbent was Democrat Murphy Foster, a rich planter from St. Mary Parish. His opponent was John Pharr, a richer planter from St. Mary Parish who represented the Fusion Party — a combination of Populists and Republicans.
Foster won, but didn’t even try to deny that there might have been some shenanigans at the polls. That would have been hard to do in the face of results such as those from West Feliciana Parish, where “official” returns gave Foster 9,499 votes to just 1 vote for Pharr.
Instead of denial, staunch Democratic newspapers suggested that it was necessary to fix the election because Foster represented plantation owners and other people with property, and their opinion should always be considered above that of the “corrupt masses” represented by Pharr.
The “corrupt masses” disagreed. Taylor Cade, who according to a newspaper report, “lives in Texas and draws his salary as sheriff of Iberia Parish,” chartered a steamboat and, the newspaper said, “loaded it down with provisions and munitions of war and came to Baton Rouge with the expressed intention of seating Pharr.”
Along the way, “Cade would tie up at every telegraph station … long enough to send a truculent dispatch [to the Baton Rouge newspapers] announcing the progress of his boat and the determination of his passengers to see that ‘Fosterism’ should be ended.”
The Baton Rouge Advocate, which supported Foster, said that Cade’s “absurd and bombastic pronouncements created no end of amusement among … Democrats,” who were gathering in the capital to call the bluff of “Admiral Cade and his holy terrors.”
If the Advocate’s pro-Democratic reporting can be relied upon, when Cade’s boat finally reached Baton Rouge “and [he] looked over the situation, they were as meek as Mary’s little lamb, and not finding the capital congenial … they cut their visit very short.”
Foster was ultimately seated peacefully for a second term, and in 1898 promoted adoption of a new Louisiana Constitution, “to disenfranchise blacks, Republicans, and white Populists” (all of whom had voted overwhelmingly for Pharr). Because of provisions in that constitution, Foster was the last Democratic gubernatorial nominee to face a serious challenge from a Republican until 1963 when Charlton Lyons ran a strong campaign against John McKeithen.
In 1900, when Foster could not run because of term limits, Cade found some backing for his own shot at the governor’s mansion.
He was described in one newspaper report, as “not a speaker, but … a man of much courage.” In the end, Donald Caffery Jr. of St. Mary Parish became the Fusion candidate, but he didn’t have the political strength to “bring an end to Fosterism.”
Democrat William Heard carried the general election with 60,206 votes out of 76,870 cast. Heard had been a colleague of Foster’s in the Louisiana Senate and had been state auditor during Foster’s tenure.
On the day after the election, the New Orleans Picayune reported, “The rooster [symbol of the Louisiana Democratic Party] began crowing in the hills of north Louisiana yesterday, and down to the gulf his melodious music, the song of an overwhelming victory, re-echoed through the state.”
In those days, U.S. Senators were named by the state legislature, and Foster got that appointment. He served in the U.S. Senate until 1913, when he lost the Democratic nomination. He was then appointed by President Woodrow Wilson as the customs collector in New Orleans.
Foster died in 1921 on the Dixie Plantation near Franklin, some nine years before his grandson and namesake was born. That Murphy Foster served as governor from 1996 to 2004. Grandpa might well have been dismayed that this Gov. Foster was elected as a Republican.