Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 8/Davis

VIII. Political Giants of the Present Day—

Cushman K. Davis

Cushman K. DavisEdit

Senator From Minnesota—His Sterling Services in the State and National Councils

By Ex-Governor John S. Pillsbury, of Minnesota


Born at Henderson, Jefferson county, N. Y., in the year 1839, taken to Wisconsin Territory before he was a year old, and reared there on a farm; receiving his primary education in such schools as Waukesha county afforded in those early days, and his higher education at Carroll College, with a senior year and graduation at Michigan University; pursuing a course of law reading with Governor Randall, of Wisconsin, and gaining admission to the bar at the outbreak of the Civil War; enlisting in a Wisconsin regiment as lieutenant, and engaging with that in the Vicksburg and other campaigns until army fever compelled his resignation; repairing to Minnesota to regain his health, and settling there in the practice of his profession, in which he rapidly rose to a leading place; member of the Legislature, United States District Attorney, and at 35 Governor of the State; elected Senator of the United States in 1887, and re-elected in 1893—such is a skeleton record of the life and career of Senator Cushman Kellogg Davis, prominently named as among those thought worthy to receive the highest honor which can come to an American citizen, in his elevation to the Presidency of the United States.

In tracing the events of the life of Senator Davis more in detail, this fact stands out in prominent relief above all others: that his professional and political careers have been signalized by rare devotion to the welfare of the common people, from whose ranks he has arisen to conspicuous and merited fame. This devotion was early shown in the practice of his profession. The average young lawyer seeks the clientage of wealth, individual and corporate. The practice which came to him, which he sought, and in which he made his reputation, was as the attorney of the wronged and poor. He thus gained the sobriquet of the people's lawyer, a coveted title which has clung to him throughout the years of professional prosperity. He has merited it by persistently rejecting yearly retainers, and holding his services open to the demands of all, the poor as well as the rich.

Devotion to the PeopleEdit

The same spirit guided him in administering the affairs of the State as Governor. It became evident, even at that early day, that the interests of the masses of the people required that the controlling hand of the State should be put upon corporations, and especially upon railroads, whose charters were burdened with few disabilities and fewer restraints. During his administration the issue was raised whether the State or these corporations were the controlling power, and the decision in favor of the State was effectual and has proved permanent. The right and power of control by the State has not been questioned since, and the railroads as well as the people have been gainers by the adjustment then first formulated and accepted.

The political beliefs of Senator Davis are founded on the doctrines of the old Whig party, liberalized and humanized as these were by the moral influences which called the Republican party into being.

Liberality in Support of ImprovementsEdit

An inheritance from his Whig ancestry, which Senator Davis cherishes as an essential factor in national prosperity, is the system of internal improvements which utilizes the waterways and other facilities that nature has provided so lavishly for the development of vast regions of the country. Liberal in support of the legitimate improvements in all sections, the great lakes of the northwest especially have been to him a fascinating study, and the improvements of the connecting channels of these inland seas and their union with the greater ocean, by ship canal, have engrossed his attention in and out of the Senate. A speech delivered by him in advocacy of improvements at the rapids and along the river of Sault Ste. Marie, was a revelation, even to the people of the Northwest, of the commerce of the lakes and the resources of their tributary regions. It is due to Senator Davis not only that the great works at the Sault have been expedited by years toward completion, but that the costly and tardy system of applying appropriations for public works which obtained for fifty years, has been radically reformed in the reduction both as to the time and expense of construction.

Work for New StatesEdit

Senator Davis, though yet only at middle age, rejoices in a numerous political progeny, for the new States of the great Northwest may be said to be his foster-children. For years before he went to the Senate the Northwestern Territories had vainly been seeking admission to the Union, but their entrance had been barred to preserve the balance of power in that body.

His Political CourageEdit

The courage of Senator Davis, built upon habitual frankness and rectitude, may be termed his leading characteristic. This was exhibited during the labor convulsion of 1894. At a time when the boldest stood aghast with trembling fear over the havoc that, centered in the West, threatened to overspread the land, his clear monitory telegram recalled the authorities to their duty, and set in motion the paralyzed forces of law and order. His courageous act was called an inspiration. To those who know Senator Davis any other utterance would have seemed illogical and false. He could not have withheld his message; and in the urgency of the country's need, the wired lightning was his appropriate messenger. In that message, and in the speech which followed in the Senate, the true measure of the man can be intelligently taken. The speech, thrilling in its intensity, has not been surpassed in a generation. No truer or more comprehensive definition of liberty restrained by law was ever written or spoken than was thrown off by Senator Davis in the white heat of that impassioned declamation.

His Legislative CareerEdit

The limits imposed, upon this sketch forbid a detailed account of the legislative career of Senator Davis. Suffice it to say that his status in the Senate is of the first grade and well assured. His committee assignments indicate the estimate in which he is held, and these have been on the Judiciary, Foreign Relations, Military Affairs, Claims and others of lesser account, with chairmanships of Pensions and Territories. It is in these committee rooms that his hardest and most valuable work has been done. He seldom makes a speech in the Senate, and never unless the importance of the measure and his relationship with it render it a necessity. When he does, he speaks to a full Senate. His speeches are extemporaneous, aided by scant topical notes, deliberate and impressive as to manner, clear and concise as to statement, logical and strong as to argument, classic in form and illustration, and as occasion compels they rise on the wings of a pure diction to heights of sustained and thrilling eloquence.

His Rare QualitiesEdit

As to Senator Davis's personal qualities of habit and manner, that depends. That is, it depends where you see him and in what character. During the hours of professional and official work he is an intensely busy man; and if you will visit him then, it is well to come directly to the point. If you don't, he is apt to bring you there promptly, though not curtly, unless you are a bore. If you are, you may gain new and improving ideas in monosyllable pungency and force. But when he locks his office door, he shuts in there all the perplexing problems that gather for solution on the lawyer's and statesman's table and lets them fester and worry each other, if they will, until nine o'clock the next morning. In the interval he is as light-hearted as a schoolboy. A raconteur, he delights to tell or hear a story with a nub; a witticism with a point, even a pun, if it does not require encyclopedic elucidation. He loves his friends and his books, which the better he might not himself undertake to say; but with both he is genial and companionable.

In habit Senator Davis is domestic almost to seclusion; that is, with a friend or two to share his solitude and make it human. He is a scholar without pedantry, a lawyer uncramped with technicalities; a statesman, but not a politician; a patriot with no trace of jingoism and an American hemispherically broad. A man of affairs, he joins scope with rare inerrancy of vision. His judgment, enriched with the observation and experience gained in forty years' journey along the walks of learning, jurisprudence and statesmanship, from the Waukesha county farm to the United States Senate, joined to the sympathetic, manly and mastering qualities of character which have made that journey a logical progression, marks him a man fitted to fill any higher position to which he may aspire, and to which he may be called by the preference of his countrymen.