Farmington’s Margaret Gould Wescott, mother of famed Olympic champion Seth Wescott, points to a number of factors in her son’s spectacular athletic success. One of them is a strong family tradition of accomplishment. Counted among Wescott’s relations are Mark Twain and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for example.

But it’s another, closer family association, whose triumph is about to observe an anniversary milestone, that has more recently come to mind. That’s the career of Margaret’s own grandfather, Samuel Wadsworth Gould, who won election a hundred years ago this September l2th to a seat in Congress in what was one of the more decided upsets of this era in Maine political history.

As the Bangor Daily reported the next morning:

But insurgency was in the air…where Congressman Burleigh with an 18 years’ record at Washington found himself closely pressed by his old-time opponent , Samuel W. Gould of Skowhegan.

That the senior member of Maine’s congressional delegation [Burleigh was also a two term former governor] should be in danger of his political life after winning election after election by tremendous margins was perhaps one of the most startling of the day’s results.

“I’ve been chasing Burleigh for 30 years,” said Mr. Gould tonight, “and by George it looks as if I had about caught him.”

(Gould’s unrelenting persistence was a trait no doubt shared by his illustrious great grandson.)

The long-sought personal vindication by Seth Wescott’s great grandfather was also the first time in 58 years that anyone other than a Republican had won the Congressional seat lost by Burleigh (It’s the one encompassing the Augusta-Waterville Kennebec Valley region of the state.) Likewise, the win that year by Lewiston’s former mayor Dan McGillicuddy over incumbent John Swasey of Canton marked the first time since before the Civil War that Democrats captured the Androscoggin Valley berth in Congress.

That it was also a big year for Democrats in state government was signified by the election of Augusta Mayor Frederick Plaisted to the state’s highest office, his defeat of West Pownal’s Bert Fernald marking the first time in 28-years when a sitting Maine governor had been denied re-election.

Public displeasure with state legislators also expressed itself at the ballot box, the Democrats taking control of 21 of 31 senate seats where it had previously only held eight, and wresting from the GOP the Maine House by an 85 to 66 vote majority.

Among the establishment luminaries taking it on the chin that September just 100 years ago was 33-year-old Portland attorney Percival Baxter. The future governor and Katahdin benefactor finished dead last among the eight candidates seeking the four at-large state senate seats from Cumberland County. Next to Baxter,  in seventh place in Maine’s largest county, was Baxter’s legislative session roommate, John Warren of Westbrook, the long time mill agent for one of the state’s largest employers, the S.D. Warren paper company.

Other Republican incumbents going down to defeat were all three Kennebec County senators, who included Augusta insurance magnate George Macomber of the Macomber, Farr, Whitten insurance group.

Principal occasion for rebuke to the establishment that year was unrest over enforcement of prohibition.

At issue was a 1905 statute known as the Sturgis Law. Though Maine’s prohibition laws had been on the books since the 1850s, actual enforcement had — until the 1905 law — been left to the popularly elected county sheriffs and county attorneys, many of whom were able to hold on to office by looking the other way when it came to confiscating hard cider from people’s homes. The Sturgis Law gave the governor power to substitute state appointed liquor enforcement agents in place of the locally elected officials. That some $150,000 of the state’s $4,000,000 annual budget in 1909 had been devoted to compensating the “Sturgis deputies,” also rendered the law vulnerable to claims that it promoted excessive state spending.

Despite divisions among rank and file GOP legislators over continuing the law, Democrats were able to tag the entire GOP ticket with the actions of its leader, Governor Fernald, who continued to support it. The state’s biggest daily Democratic paper, Portland’s Eastern Argus, for example, gave a bold faced emphasis to the law when its front pages proclaimed, “A Republican Vote Is an Endorsement of High Prices, High Taxes And Sturgis Deputies.”

The Maine elections in this time were then conducted eight weeks ahead of those scheduled in the rest of the country. In 1910, it was a practice that allowed Maine to fulfill its “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” motto. When by November the rest of the country voted, it followed Maine’s lead and put Democrats in control of Congress, something that hadn’t happened in 18 years.

Seth Wescott’s great grandfather, then, thus joined his Democratic colleagues in organizing the new Congress, one that by 1912 would make America a 48-state nation by admitting New Mexico and Arizona as its newest states.

Samuel Wadsworth Gould served but a single term in Congress. His time there, however, was so inspiring that when he returned to Skowhegan and fathered his only child, he named it for the man who had been House Speaker during his term, Champ Clark of Missouri. It was this child, Champ Clark Gould, then, who would become the father to Margaret Gould Wescott, mother to the renowned Seth Wescott .

The mid-term elections of a 100 years  ago have a mixed omen for those of 2010. On the one hand, they represented a victory of Democrats over Republicans. On the other, they resulted in the ouster of the incumbent party in power. Which will it be this fall?

Time will tell.


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