Article first published as Republican Party and Indiana’s Political Legacy on Technorati.
As the Republican Party prepares to select a candidate they feel can beat President Obama in 2012, they have several viable candidates in mind. One is Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Gov. Daniels was lauded for his speech at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) in Washington D.C. last month. Which was heavy on dire talk about the state of the economy. He won kudos from conservative stalwarts such as George Will. When asked if he was considering a run for the presidency in 2012 on Meet the Press, he responded with, “I’ve agreed to consider it.” The Republican party needs to commit.
Before we get all whipped up in frenzy about Gov. Mitch Daniels and his potential bid for 2012, let’s explore Indiana’s political legacy and the Republican Party, one I’m sure they would like to forget. Most people outside of Indiana are probably unaware of Indiana’s colorful political past. When one thinks of the Ku Klux Klan, you think of the deep south and the Republican Party. The Ku Klux Klan has been America’s most dangerous and long standing domestic terrorist group. During the period immediately following World War I, The Ku Klux Klan rose to prominence in Indiana Politics, the Republican Party and society. It was made up of native-born, white protestants of many income and social levels.
During the 1920’s, it was believed that Indiana had the most powerful Ku Klux Klan organization in the entire United States! Though it counted a high number of members state wide, it’s importance peaked in the 1924 election of Edward Jackson for governor.
Ironically, African-Americans weren’t their number one target, it was Catholics. Not to say blacks were not on their hit list; they most certainly were. The Klan was popular in Indiana because of the belief that the Klan stood for law and order and high morals.
After World War I, there were large number of immigrants arriving from eastern and southern Europe, many who were mostly Catholic. This helped catapult the Ku Klux Klan to prominence under the leadership of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, who lead the Klan to break away from the national organization in 1923. The organization reached it’s highest point of power during the years that followed, and by 1925 over half the members of the Indiana General Assembly, the Governor of Indiana, and many high ranking members of the government were all members of the Klan, the majority were in the Republican Party! That’s really hard to fathom in this day and time, it’s true nonetheless.
At the height of its power the Klan had over 250,000 members, which was over 30% of Indiana’s white male population. The highest concentration was around the middle of the state. Membership was discouraged in some parts of the state. One such place was New Albany, where city leaders denounced the Klan, obviously, there were not members of the Republican Party.
The Klan became so powerful in Indiana because of it’s influence in state politics that many politicians joined the Klan in order to gain their support. If a politician won the endorsement of the Klan, it almost guaranteed victory at the polls. D.C. Stephenson was so influential, that by 1925 he began to brag, saying, “I am the law in Indiana,” sounds like the Republican Party.
In 1922 Klansmen in the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill that created a Klan Day at the Indiana State Fair, complete with a nighttime cross buring;they forgot the minstrel show. Governor Warren T. McCray vetoed the bill beginning a conflict between him and the Klan. The same year, Secratery of State Edward Jackson (later to become Governor) , granted the Klan a state charter. McCray demanded the state charter be revoked. Subsequently, McCray was railroaded out of office by the Klan and Jackson.
The ensuing scandal that occurred in 1925 helped bring the Ku Klux Klan’s demise in Indiana. Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson was convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, a teacher who was the head of the states commission to combat illiteracy. The night of the inaugural ball of Governor Edward L. Jackson, she was abducted from her home and taken to an Indianapolis train station. On the train ride to Hammond, she was repeatedly raped by Stephenson. Once in Hammond, she was taken to a drug store where she secretly ate mercury tablets and bi-chloride. Using the illness brought on by the poisons as an excuse, she begged Stephenson to release her.
Stephenson took her back to Indianapolis, and after refusing to marry him, had her secretly returned to her home, and placed in her bed. She was found by her parents. She was near death, but lived long enough to tell her parents the story of what happened to her. She died a short time later. The cause of death was determined to be either poison and severe bites and cuts received during the rape. Those who saw her claimed it appeared as if Oberholtzer had been chewed on by cannibals.
Stephenson was subsequently tried and convicted of rape and second degree murder. He was sure he would win a pardon and not go to jail. Needless to say, all his political allies ran for cover to save their own hides. When he was denied a pardon by the Governor, he implicated dozens of high level politicians and government officials who had accepted bribes from the Klan in exchange for political influence. As a result, Indiana politics fell like the proverbial house of cards. This effectively ruined the Ku Klux Klan by exposing their hypocrisy of high morals and law and order.
Even though the Klan isn’t the power it once was; they, along with other hate groups are on the rise again. Ever since Pres. Obama has been elected, domestic terror and hate groups have risen ten-fold. Don’t delude yourself that It can’t happen again; it can.