The Election of 1902

Do you ever want to tune out politics—or specific candidates? Nowdays, the existence of mass communications makes it hard. But things were different in an earlier age.

Ed Wittmayer, a retiree who works in the Museum’s archives and library, recently came across a collection of political advertisements in our holdings, each the size of a calling card, that date from the early years of the twentieth century. Politicians being politicians, candidates from that era almost certainly knocked on doors, kissed babies, debated, shook hands, and gave speeches—just as they do today. They also looked for ways to leave lasting impressions.

Enter the political campaign card, three of which from the off-year election of 1902 can be seen in this entry. What better way to etch into each voter’s mind a candidate’s appearance, political party, and the office to which he aspired, given the technology of the time? I can imagine politician after politician dropping to his knees on election day with prayers that voters who accepted his card would carry it with them into the voting booth.

Two of those candidates in 1902 were William C. Neumiller and J. W. Kerrick. I know little about Kerrick other than that he was the incumbent, had held the post of treasurer for twelve years, and ran as the Democratic candidate. Neumiller left more footprints. In 1902, he was thirty-four years old. His father had emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1850, and the family had already gained a favorable name for itself in San Joaquin County. Neumiller seems to have been a Teddy Roosevelt Progressive, and he ran for treasurer as the official Republican candidate.

The full details of the election are lost in time. However, we do know that Kerrick courted the County’s sizable German-speaking population—in their own language (see last of three cards). As with today’s candidates, he understood ethnic politics. But Neumiller crushed him anyway, 4,123 to 2,738 votes countywide. In Lodi, a stronghold for ethnic Germans, the vote was 300 to 143 in favor of Neumiller.

I strongly suspect that Kerrick’s German-language campaign card was the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. Given his background, Neumiller probably had a strong base of support within San Joaquin County’s German-speaking community. On the other hand, perhaps 1902 was simply destined to be a Republican year, partly because Teddy Roosevelt, a popular young war hero, lived in the White House.

Whatever the reason, Kerrick’s defeat points to the limitations of publicity. Winning an election takes more than giving every voter a campaign card or flooding the airwaves. Personalities, positions, the political climate, and a thousand other factors can easily erase whatever advantage overpowering publicity might seem to offer. Californians learned this lesson last November.

Despite Kerrick’s defeat, I can’t help being fascinated watching his century-old political mind in action. Nor can I fail to note the similarity with politicians today eager to reach every last voter. Issues, candidates, and technology may come and go, but the nature of American politics and the essence of the political personality never seem to change.

1 comment to The Election of 1902

  • titanstyle17

    James Wallace Kerrick, Jr. or ‘Wallace’ as he was known had a large ranch near Collegeville and operated the freighting stop known as the ’8 Mile House’ or ‘Kerrick’s Tavern’ on the Sonora Road. The area was also known as the voting precinct ‘Kerricks’ because of this. He was State Assemblyman for the area on the Democratic ticket in 1882. He served several terms locally as County Treasurer and Tax Collector. He and his family were pioneers in crossing the Sonora Pass in 1853 from Missouri and his property holdings in San Joaquin County date from the mid-1850s. He retired to his newer home in the Wood Colony district near Salida in 1911 after an extended illness due to appendicitis. His father, J.W. Kerrick, Sr. established what became the well-known Crimea House in Tuolumne County.

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