Copyright Ross F. Lockridge, Jr., 1947, 1948 / All rights reserved

Selected Writings From Raintree County

Concerning American Politics (1872 / 1892)

Ross Lockridge, Jr.,
Raintree County,  1948

--America is a dream that I was dreaming, an innocent dream among the moneychangers. --p 769

--As Election Day neared and it looked as though Garwood was in real danger of being defeated, resort was made by his party to the war issue, still the strongest plank in the Republican platform. Garwood, who had changed parties at the end of the War and had volunteered just in time to get a colonelcy and avoid combat, waved the bloody shirt from every platform in the district. --p. 780


     Passage from "A Great Day" (Day Section): John Shawnessy, Garwood Jones and "Perfessor" Jerusalem Webster Stiles have a political disputation, July 4, 1892.

     Passages from flashback 1865-1876, when John W. Shawnessy and Garwood B. Jones were rival candidates for the office of Representative to the Congress of the United States, 1872.


[Selected Passage from "A Great Day" (July 4, 1892), pp 765-8]

     The Senator's train was late, and as the crowd slowly dispersed, the Senator walked over to the bench by the station door and sat down fanning his face with his hat. Mr. Shawnessy and the Perfessor flanked him. Inside the Station the telegraph key clickclicked its uncertain but incessant rhythm.
     --Phew! the Senator said. Wish my train would come. What time does Cash come in?
     --Around five, Mr. Shawnessy said. On the Eastbound from Indianapolis.
     --Maybe I'll get to see him after all, the Senator said. Jesus, John, don't tell me you mean to stay in this hick town all your life! How do you do it?
     --How do you do it, Garwood? Mr. Shawnessy said. How do you go on playing the part of the Great Commoner?
     --Up there on the rostrum, the Senator said, it's the noble part of me that speaks. You fellows appeal to my baseness. To tell you the truth, I really appreciate Raintree County when I'm a thousand miles away from it. But if I had to live here for a month, I'd go nuts. It's so--so goddam wholesome and peaceful. By the way, what is your candid opinion of the program today? Did it go over?
     --You're safe, the Perfessor said. There's one born every minute, and each one has a vote.
     --What made you think you needed to pull this big charade, Garwood? Mr. Shawnessy said.
     --I have to take cognizance of this new Populist movement, the Senator said. To be perfectly frank, I'm afraid of it. After winning every political contest I've been entered in for thirty years, I don't intend to get stampeded out of office by this gang of amateur politicians and professional horse-thieves who call themselves the People's Party.
     --Of which, Mr. Shawnessy said, I'm a member. The People's Party is made up of the folks who are tired of a government of cynical understandings between politicians and businessmen. As for you, Garwood, you never belonged to the People's Party-I mean the eternal and usually unorganized People's Party. You always belonged to just one party, the Party of Yourself, the Party of Garwood B. Jones, and you never had but one platform-the advancement of Garwood B. Jones to the Highest Office Within the Gift of the American People.
     --Not so loud, John, the Senator said, oozing laughter. People will overhear you.
     He leaned back in his chair, mellow and imperturb.
     --Yes, he said, I've always sought the advancement of Garwood B. Jones. He's a magnificent guy, and I like him. But I've always furthered this wonderful bastard's interests in strict observance of the American Way-by giving people what they wanted.
     --By appearing to give them what they wanted, Mr. Shawnessy said. The people want a chance to own their own land, to have economic security, to see government perform its function of protecting the interests of the many instead of the interests of the few. You'll promise the same things that the People's Party are promising, to keep your party and yourself in power, and once elected, you'll go on doing what you've done before because it's the easiest way and because it's always been successful. You'll continue to obey the voice of the Big Interests, while wooing the vote of the Little Interests.
     --My dear fellow, the Senator said, using his big voice like a bludgeon, you do me a great injustice. You speak of the so-called Big Interests as if they were gangs of criminals. Who built this vast country? The Big Interests--that's who. These men are also feathering their own nests--but they've discovered that the best way to feather your own nest is to advance the interest of people generally. The honest capitalist like the honest politician is the servant of the people. He's a man of superior imagination and daring whose ability to do his country good has earned him the just reward of continued power and wealth, by which he can continue to do good. The people know that their best interests lie in the direction of a constitutional government which encourages the Free Exercise of Individual Rights and the Protection of Home Industries.
     --I suppose you perceive, John, the Perfessor said, that we haven't after all emerged very far from the Great Swamp. What is life in the fairest republic the world has ever seen? What did the martyrs of the Great War die for? Liberty? Justice? Union? Emancipation? The Flag? Hell, no. They died so that a lot of slick bastards could exploit the immense natural and human resources of this nation and become fabulously rich while the vast majority of the people grind their guts out to get a living. They died so that several million poor serfs from the stinking slums and ghettos of Europe could come five thousand miles to wedge themselves into the stinking ghettos and slums of America. Only in America is Survival of the Fittest, the principle of brute struggle for life, erected into a principle of government. In America anyone who can crawl to the top of the pile through daring, guile, and sheer ruthlessness can stay up there until somebody pulls him down.
     --Professor, the Senator said, you read too much. Go out sometime, jerk off your specs, and take a look at this nation. This nation is big enough for everyone in it.
     The Senator was standing now, gesturing forcibly and bringing within the range of his voice a number of citizens who still lingered in the Station and who now began to close in toward the center of sound.
     --This nation is big enough and rich enough for everyone to pursue and realize a worthwhile goal. What is wrong with the principle of self-interest anyway? Rational self-interest, controlled by law, is the basis of a free society. Look at the men who have risen to the top of the pile--the presidents, the statesmen, the financiers. Where did they come from? Out of log cabins and back alleys. Everyone has the same chance, under the aegis of the Constitution. What is America, gentlemen? I will tell you. America is the only nation in the world where mineboys become millionaires, and paperboys become presidents. It is the place where---- Pardon me, folks, I'm not making a speech. We are just engaging in that grand old American custom of political disputation. After all, it's an Election Year.
     --You've got to hand it to Garwood, the Perfessor sighed. He shovels that stuff with a golden pitchfork. p. 765-8

* *

[The Day Section transitions into the Flashback of 1865--1876]


     --Ah, gentlemen, the Senator said. What things we have seen and done in fifty years! What is America? Well, I'll tell you, gentlemen--- Thunder! there comes my train.
     A rhythmical pulse was beating on the rails.
     What is America? What is America? What is America?
     America is the memory of millions of young men who came home and never came home and never could come home. America is the land where no one who goes away for a year can come back home again. America is the land where the telegraph keys are clicking all the time and the trains are changing in the stations. America is the image of human change where the change is changed by experts.
     Come back, come back to Raintree County. O, wanderer far from home, come back after the Patriotic Program, when the leaves of it are scattered on the grass, and seek again for beauty, love, and wisdom.
     America is a dream that I was dreaming, an innocent dream among the moneychangers. For I got lost in stations where the trains were changing. I got lost in cities of a gilded age. O, wanderer far from home, come back, come back and live a memory of your illusioned, strong young manhood, a memory of

1865---                               HOW                               ---1876

for the tired hero who came back to Raintree County one day in the spring of 1865 like Lazarus from the dead. p. 769-10

* *

     For seven years, then, following the War, he taught school children and worked at the monumental edifice of his poem, slowly erecting it through endless visions and revisions. But it was a gigantic task that he had set himself. It was all to be done from the ground up--a new language to fashion, a new wisdom--perhaps a new religion--to be discovered. Seventy times seven years might not be enough for such an undertaking, and at the end of seven John Shawnessy was still far short of his goal. So in the year 1872, when he was thirty-three years old, he did a remarkable thing.
     He left his life of teaching and meditation and ran for political office. This decision was perhaps an odd one for the still unlaureled Homer of the age, but it wasn't entirely inconsistent with his aims. And the resulting scenes were, to be sure, all conducted in the purest John Shawnessy tradition.
     For he had decided that the new religion toward which he was groping was not for the pulpit. The pulpit had already failed in America. Orthodox religion, an exotic on American shores, had run out of miracles long ago. The true religion of Americans, he decided--although no American would have admitted it--was politics. American politics had its rituals, sacred objects, saints, dogmas, devotions, feasts, fanaticisms, mummeries, and its Bible of sacred writings. Abraham Lincoln, the most sanctified figure of the century, had been a politician. Perhaps Lincoln was a John the Baptist to a still greater prophet who would lead Americans, a chosen people, to a new vision of heaven and earth. And the messianic task would be accomplished through the very institutions that made America unique among the peoples of history.
     This religion of the new republic of John Shawnessy's vision was not, of course, a logical formulation. It was something to phrase in parables. The Old Testament of it was in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other American scriptures. The New Testament of it had yet to be written--and lived.
     Where orthodox Christianity had been the negation of human life, this new religion would be the affirmation of it. It affirmed that heaven and hell and hereafter are now, living and present. It affirmed that every second of life is a miracle greater than Lazarus trembling in the tomb. It affirmed that every human life is sacred because it is the whole of life and that in the continuity of being, no life is lost. It affirmed that the world of human ideals, morality, loyalties, and dedications was in a true sense the work of God, fashioning order out of blind becoming, but that this God was not separate from the universe of his creation or from its creatures. He existed in each human awareness. Only in this mancreated world was there truth and beauty, wisdom and goodness, and these things were both temporal and eternal simply because only in the mancreated world did time and eternity have any meaning whatsoever.
     Thus was a man the artificer of his fate, building out of nothing what had not been there before. Therefore was a man free to some extent both in his means and ends.
     To believe in this creed required, of course, an act of faith, but no greater act of faith than the creation of a republic of Raintree Counties in the first place, the daily living with others in peace and happiness, the simple affirmation that words had meanings. All human life was founded on faith anyway, and to live more fully required more faith.
     This creed was also political. In fact it envisaged a state made up of wisely affirmative individuals, each one having the supreme, amiable vanity that taught him the inviolability of his own soul and that of others. This distinctively American state would be a republic of endless rediscovery, in which souls were rescued from the underside of Raintree County and educated in self-reliance. By an act of total responsibility for themselves and others, men voted themselves citizens of this republic, which was greater than the boundaries of America.
     How could such a condition be brought about? The long way was by education. The short way was by an emotional surge, a religious crusade. It was the short way that John Shawnessy was trying when he entered politics in 1872, convinced that the American Messiah, if he came at all, would have to come as a candidate for office and that religious miracles in the pressridden Nineteenth Century would have to be miracles of social betterment and education.
     This scheme of John Shawnessy's was either very daring or very innocent--probably both at once. In the America of the railroad and the sweatshop, he foresaw an Eden of social and economic equality. In the era of Jay Gould, President Grant, the Whiskey Ring, and Tammany Hall, he foretold a Periclean Epoch of honesty and forbearance. In the middle of the Gilded, he sought to build the ramparts of a Golden Age.
     So it was that in 1872, John W. Shawnessy and Garwood B. Jones were rival candidates for the office of Representative to the Congress of the United States from the Congressional District in Indiana of which Raintree County was a part.
     The campaign was probably the most colorful ever conducted in Raintree County. John Shawnessy ran on an Independent ticket, aided in his campaign by the fact that a great many former Republicans were fed up with the corruptions of Grantism and the failures of Radical Reconstruction. Garwood Jones ran on the straightline Republican ticket. He had the backing of the Clarion, which he now owned and edited himself, while John Shawnessy had the backing of the Free Enquirer, which had become a non-partisan paper during Andrew Johnson's administration. There was also a Democratic paper in the County and a Democratic Candidate, but the campaign turned out to be a horse-race between Garwood B. Jones and John W. Shawnessy.
     John Shawnessy conducted his campaign by riding around the country after school and talking to crowds everywhere. His speeches were short and simple and often humorous. At the same time, he wrote many trenchant articles in the Enquirer. Perhaps his greatest weakness was the fact that he was a political upstart, an anomaly, an independent. In general, Raintree County was skeptical of anyone who didn't belong to one of the time-honored parties. Thus Garwood B. Jones, who had done a complete turntail from one party to another, had the advantage of John W. Shawnessy, who belonged to no party at all.
     The Independent Candidate didn't promise the usual things to the usual groups. He avoided the now familiar issues of protection and free trade, internal improvements, western lands, cheap money, control of the railroads, reconstruction, and the elimination of waste and corruption in the Federal machinery. He said frankly that he was campaigning simply for a better America, and he set about in his speeches and writings to tell the people of Raintree County what kind of America he thought it would be. Much of his platform was sheerly visionary; and even his most practical planks were regarded as revolutionary. He came out strongly for woman suffrage, protection of the laborer in his economic rights, relaxation of restrictions on divorce, legislative curbs on the big capitalists. He soon built up a following, especially among school children and women (none of whom had a vote) and among the independent voters of the County, of whom there were few.
     At first Garwood didn't take his old rival's campaign seriously, anticipating more trouble from the Democratic candidate, but people in general liked John Shawnessy, and little by little his name and fame, already not unknown to Raintree County, spread to the outlying districts. After a while Garwood, who hadn't lost an election since his entry into politics in 1860, became worried and turned the whole force of his attack loose on the Independent Candidate. It was a formidable assault.
     Garwood's campaign style was slambang and resourceful. He was adept at mining every vote-rich stratum of American society. His manner was sacred or profane as occasion required. He was known as a damn-good-guy and a fellow-who-gets-things-done.
     Garwood was a talented artist of the campaign smear. Although he himself avoided signed or public attacks on the character of his opponent (to whom he always referred in the best tradition of American sportsmanship, as 'my dear young friend, John Shawnessy'), he permitted various libels to be circulated by his henchmen. Gradually he created a picture of the Independent Candidate as an improvident dreamer, an upstart experimenter, a vapid visionary, an overbrilliant and hence impractical scholar.
     In addition, someone succeeded in circulating the impression that John Shawnessy was guilty of the two greatest sins in the black book of Raintree County--Atheism and Adultery.
     An atheist was anyone who didn't believe in the stern old God of Raintree County and in the literal truth of the Bible, word for word. On this charge, the Independent Candidate convicted himself over and over out of his own mouth, and it was nothing short of a marvel that he had any supporters left at all. What took the sting out was the fact that he always created an impression of impregnable innocence and goodness, while Garwood's strongest supporters never concealed the fact (in fact they gloried in it) that their candidate could beat the Devil himself at his own game, while always remaining within the letter of the law. pp. 775-89

* *

     As Election Day neared and it looked as though Garwood was in real danger of being defeated, resort was made by his party to the war issue, still the strongest plank in the Republican platform. Garwood, who had changed parties at the end of the War and had volunteered just in time to get a colonelcy and avoid combat, waved the bloody shirt from every platform in the district. Somehow or other he won a more or less official backing from the G.A.R. and managed to be seen often surrounded by men in uniform, who referred to him respectfully as Colonel Jones.
     As for the Independent Candidate, who had fought from Chattanooga to the Sea, he was, oddly enough, handicapped by the fact that he had once been reported dead in battle and had been picturesquely lamented and interred in all the papers of the County. His unexpected return at the end of the War had created a minor sensation, but it left a faint impression that John Shawnessy had somehow cheated Fate and had got a great deal more credit than he was entitled to. Without a single open statement, Garwood labored hard to create the impression that the Independent Candidate's war record, which had turned out to be erroneous in at least one very important particular, would not bear close investigation in other respects.
     There was even a squib in the Democratic paper (where Garwood cleverly planted his most poisonous barbs) to the effect that a certain handsome and romantic candidate for the office of representative had acquired the scar on his left shoulder, not, as was reported, in combat with Sherman's Army, but from a drunken brawl in a Louisville hotel.
     Of course, some of Garwood's measures were in sheer self-defense, as both the rival parties threw a merciless light on the Colonel's belated and unperilous entry into the fray. The Democratic paper, taking advantage of the mysterious middle initial, that had only recently turned up in Garwood's name, always referred to him as Colonel Garwood Battleshy Jones, while the Enquirer carried a delightful anecdote, which, though unsigned, bore the touch of Will Westward, recounting the most dangerous combat experience of Garwood's military service. One day, it appeared, the Colonel had led a regiment of trainees, armed with broomsticks and tin cans, against a haystack. According to the story, Colonel Jones and his men were repulsed, outwitted, routed, and driven in panic from the field by an irate housewife who had a tabby and a litter of kittens in the stack. Garwood himself was credited with great coolness under fire, exceptional gallantry, and valor beyond the call of duty.
     When all was said and done, Garwood's most powerful weapon was his persistent ridicule of the mystical pretensions in the Independent Candidate's platform. He built his campaign strategy on the proposition that Americans in the year 1872 were thoroughgoing materialists at heart and had no faith in poets and prophets. Here was a typical Dan Populus article from the Clarion . . . .  pp. 780-2

* *

     The climax of the campaign came on the day before the Election when the two rivals agreed to have a debate in the Court House Square of Freehaven. Around two o'clock in the afternoon, the Square was filled with citizens under the majestic shadow of the New Court House, which had just been finished to replace the old one burnt down toward the end of the War.
     As the two candidates and a moderator sat on the platform, both parties conducted a spirited demonstration. A snake-dance, mainly composed of young women and school children, wound around the Court House carrying placards reading:


     The crude picture on the transparencies looked like Jesus Christ with Moosehead mustaches. The Shawnessy supporters were led by a small band that played feebly but together. The snake dancers sang the Shawnessy campaign song:

--Our Johnny is in the race to win.
     Hurrah! Hurrah!
  Let's all get busy and vote him in.
     Hurrah! Hurrah!
  The boys will cheer, the men will shout,
  The ladies they will all turn out,

  And we'll all feel gay
  When Johnny has won the race.

There was a second verse, but it had hardly got started when it was trampled down under the cadenced boots of a louder song. And another band marched out of a sidestreet into the Square followed by solid ranks of marching men, most of whom had been recruited from Middletown, in the neighboring county. They chanted as they came,

--Tramp, tramp, tramp, we'll vote for Garwood!
  Look out, scoundrels, here we come!
    Down with Shawnessy and shame!
    Send him back to where he came!
  Vote for Garwood! He's the boy to make things hum!

In massed ranks, heavyfooted, led by a phalanx of young businessmen, the cohorts of Garwood B. Jones strode three times around the Square. Now and then, John Shawnessy could hear the voices of school children bravely singing his own campaign song. But the dominant sound was

--Step right up and vote for Garwood.
 Join the forwardlooking throng.
   When the final count is made,
   He'll put Johnny in the shade.
 Vote for Garwood, one and all, you can't go wrong.

     Garwood stood up. He waved his great arms. A throaty shout from massed hundreds responded. Deepchested, thickbellied, he stalked back and forth on the platform.
     When the moderator made the introduction, Garwood got up and delivered a stemwinder. John Shawnessy, who hadn't heard Garwood talk for several years, was amazed at the man's power and eloquence. For a moment he himself was halfpersuaded that Garwood was in the right and ought to be elected. Garwood smote applause from the crowd like a director whose gestures sculpture the music of the instruments. The whipsnap of his climaxes was a command to a trained beast. Applause piled up against closed gates. Garwood's voice now seemed to invite, now quickly suppressed, now tugged at the gates, now checked unexpectedly, now suddenly smashed the dam and let the flood come through. His supporters clapped, yelled, shrieked, howled. They taunted the Shawnessy supporters.
     --Take that, goddern ye! That's Garwood fer ye! Listen to that man talk!
     Their banners carried the simple legend:


     But in a few minutes John Shawnessy realized that it was all pure virtuosity. Garwood was the same old Garwood. His political creed was transparent as ever. He promised the farmers better treatment from the railroads. He promised the railroads more money from the farmers. He promised the businessmen and creditor classes a currency that wouldn't fold up and go into any old pocketbook but would find its way clinking into strongboxes with reinforced corners. He promised the debtor and farming classes a currency so plentiful everybody could pay off his debts and buy fat acres. He promised the radical reconstructionists that he wanted to see a firm hand maintained in the South so that the fruits of the War would not be lost. He promised the Southern sympathizers that the Negro would be kept in his place and that the Union would somehow be the old Union of before the War.
     Garwood's political creed was even simpler than all that. It was simply and solely to get himself elected to office.
     Garwood B. Jones was a born politician. He knew how to make the votes flow. In the hands of Garwood B. Jones, the ballot ceased to be the expression of a free people. It was the charmed tribute of the dumb to the eloquent.
     When Garwood at last sat down, he left the Square churned up with fury. Faces leaped through the air and confronted other faces. Men cursed. Middle-aged women fanned themselves and panted as if they had just had physical contact with a Casanova. Cowbells clanked. And above it all, Garwood's band, which was much bigger than the Independent Candidate's and had a great deal more brass and blow in it, played the militant air of Garwood's campaign song.
     At this inauspicious moment, the moderator introduced the Independent Candidate. pp. 783-5

* *

     Neither speech was quoted in the papers next day. The words which John Shawnessy had carefully prepared were cast like little seeds on the silence and enigma of hundreds of attentive faces young and old. He never knew where the words fell, and where, if anywhere, they took root. He spoke in a calm, serious voice, and there was no applause for anything that he said, except at the end. The Independent Candidate preserved no copy of the address after he made it, deciding that as a political speech it was a failure.
     It may have been a great utterance, to set beside the Gettysburg Address and the Sermon on the Mount. Or, again, it may have been a rather stilted and, in the light of the times, pointless performance. Its immediate effect could be easily calculated in the voting statistics of the following day. As for its ultimate effect, perhaps some seed of all its words lodged in the memory of an admiring child and was carried devious ways to a more receptive day. John Shawnessy never knew about that.
     But in later years, a good many people who had been very young in 1872, some only children, remembered the speech. And as time passed, an impression grew that it had been a marvellous speech, full of wisdom and high sentence. People often said that they wished they had a copy of it.
     --That was a humdinger of a speech, they said, the best I ever heard, now that I think back.
     But they couldn't quote a single sentence from it. The lost speech was like the secret of the County's mysterious naming; and it took its place among the riddles and legends of Raintree County, as 'That Speech John Shawnessy Made in the Court House Square in Seventy-Two.'
     As for the Election itself, the next day after the great debate Garwood's machine got busy and went to town. Garwood himself admitted that his campaign fund bought five thousand cigars and one hundred barrels of beer for distribution on Election Day. The biggest town in the Congressional District, Middletown, which was beginning to boast an industrial middle class, went solidly Republican. Garwood's machine voted blocks of five all day long--paid votes marked under the vigilant inspection of Garwood's heelers and dutifully held aloft in squads of five until they reached the box. Apparently, the voting American of 1872 preferred a cigar stuck in his face to a halo crammed down on his cranium. He went to the polls puffing on Garwood's cigar and pleasantly exhilarated by Garwood's beer and voted overwhelmingly for Garwood--two or three times when possible.
     There was some small consolation for the Independent Candidate. Although he was soundly defeated in the total vote, by some miracle he carried Raintree County proper by one ballot, which he afterwards laughingly remarked must have been his own.
     But the verdict of the polls was decisive, and John Shawnessy never returned to the political arena. He had been rejected by his people and called a false prophet. He had come down into the Court House Square from the wilderness where he had searched his soul somewhat longer than the scriptural forty days. But as Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles remarked to him in a letter written during that time, Jesus Christ himself couldn't have achieved the notoriety of a crucifixion in post-War America. So pocketing his disappointment and pondering his latest epic gesture, John Shawnessy went back to teaching the school children in Shawmucky Township the rudiments of what is known as education. pp. 786-7

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