Camera Rolls: 314:47-51
Sound Rolls: 314:25-26
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Leone Baxter , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on May 22, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Give me a moment to settle down here, then it's all yours.
OK well, we'll begin at the beginning, and if you can tell me how you first got involved with the Sinclair campaign?
Well I, got involved in about 1933 when I decided at the age of about eighteen, I was nearly eighteen, not to go to university but to get a job instead, and maybe work for a couple of years. It was the middle of the Depression. It was a good thing to do. I thought I'd work for a couple of years and then go back to school. I was lucky enough to find the very interesting work with the Redding Chamber of Commerce right in California. It was a period when they were concerned about the Central Valley Water Project, all of California was. It had been voted affirmatively in the Congress, and was coming up on the ballot in California. And the concern of people at Redding, at the Redding Chamber of Commerce, of course, was that it might be built, this great, great project, might be built in Tehama County instead of Shasta County, where Redding is situated. They had the responsibility of preparing for a visit of a congressman from Washington, just getting ready for them, and the problem was to convince them that Shasta was the proper locale for such a great project. We really had a real flurry of preparing for the several meetings that would bring the convention. The congressman came, went through our places, they went down to Tehama County, to study what they had, and we luckily won. We were very very, very delighted. What took me into this type of work that was utterly fascinating to me, it truly was, and the committee turned out to be my board of directors of the little town of Redding [sic]. And they heard that there was a young man in Sacramento who was making history. He was apparently a splendid writer, and he was writing a great deal of material for the newspapers on public affairs, and his name was Clem Whitaker. And my committee decided to interview him to see if he could take over our problem from that point. They had him come up, and they were so fascinated with him that they gave him the job handling the campaign statewide. And we decided, we spent several days concerned with the problems that would confront us, because we were both very young, he was in his early twenties, and we decided that we would handle the campaign together. So we went to Sacramento and opened our office, opened the office of, we called Campaigns Incorporated [sic], and that was our first brush with a public issue on the ballot. I must say to finish this story properly that we won, and under very interesting circumstances. We had, compared with campaigns today this is almost laughable, but we had $40,000 to spend, statewide, for a statewide ballot issue, $40,000. I haven't seen the budgets for many many years, since 1933, but I am interested in getting hold of it and seeing just what did we spend that for? [laughs]
So then how did, so you were very successful in that and then you got asked to handle the Merriam for Governor campaign, is that correct?
Yes, we were. Yeah.
And why didn't you take that campaign?
We didn't take it because we didn't think he was a good governor.
I'm sorry, can you start that again? Instead of saying "we didn't take it," say—
Oh, we were asked to manage the Merriam campaign for re-election, and we felt that he had not really been a good governor, and we had a, we were very idealistic, stars in our eyes, we thought that we could afford to take the campaigns that we believed in and not consider other types of campaigns. We weren't against Merriam particularly. He was a nice old man, but he was not a good governor. So when we were asked to get into the Sinclair campaign, the campaign against Sinclair, who was running against Merriam, we demurred a bit on that too because, for a very different reason, because Clem's brothers, who were all missionaries and ministers, and teachers, were very fond of Sinclair, he was a good friend of theirs, and, they made it very hard on Clem, to say, "Yes, we'll get into that campaign." But
we made a very careful study,
** we thought it was very careful, we spent a lot of time on it, to determine just what kind of man Sinclair was,
** and we heard all the rumors that he was a communist and many things of that kind. So we got together everything we could lay our hands on that he had written, and he was a great writer, he was really a fine writer, and a very effective writer, so we read. We thought maybe this would tell us something about him, and what kind of governor he'd be. He had written books which we brought into our library on all the meat packing industry, very critical ones, very critical indeed, caustic, and he had written books on the banking industry, same situation, on Wall Street, and we concluded that he was right in most of those instances. We didn't particularly like his iconoclastic way of expressing himself, which seemed to have a good deal of bitterness, hatred in it, but we concluded that he was right but he wrote some other books on the church, on religion, on marriage, the institution of marriage, and other things that have very great importance to most ordinary people, in which we thought he was very, very wrong. Some material was coming out at that time from the, from the Committee Against Sinclair in Southern California, and we thought it didn't express our views at all. It was very critical of Mr. Sinclair, but we felt it was not, generally was not fair, meaning he appeared to be everything that we didn't think he was. For instance, it was claimed that he was a communist, and our study of the things he had written indicated to us that he was not a communist, that he was a socialist, and a zealot, and a man who would rather pound the table and express his own views then hear or listen to anybody else's. And he also had some views on things that we felt important, that I've just mentioned, that were not suitable for a Governor of California or any other state we've held. So we got the idea that, of a way to let him indict himself. Would you like to hear about that?
Yes. Can we stop for a second?
Where are we at on the film?
We've got a hundred feet left.
OK, yeah it's—
OK, so I would like you now to tell us the story about going through Sinclair's books and looking at the quotes.
Oh, yes. We noted in reading his, Sinclair's books, that there was a good deal of material in it, that he had some views
on things that most people think are the backbone of Americanism, our churches, our schools,
I'm sorry, can we start again because it's noisy? OK let's go, let's just see the...
OK, well let's start back again with looking through Upton Sinclair's writings.
We were discussing our approach to managing the campaign against Sinclair. [coughs] Oh, I'm sorry [coughs] I'm sorry.
Don't worry. OK, continue.
We were discussing Sinclair's books and how his writings affected the attitudes of voters in California. We thought that his books, his own observations on the church, education, on family life, on the institution of marriage, and the institution of—[coughs]. I'm sorry.
Would you like to start again?
The roll is out.
OK, we have to change film anyway.
OK, we'll go back to the, let's just start the story again.
Shall we just continue that?
Well, we were talking about the effect of Sinclair's writings on the public, particularly his writings in respect to the church, the institution of marriage, religion in general,
and we thought that some of his observations
** and beliefs were so bothersome to normal house holders, normal voters, that we might use those in some fashion in the campaign. We had an editorial cartoonist who worked with us on a number of things. His name was Bill Lenoir, and he was not an ordinary cartoonist. He didn't write funny, ridiculous things. We gave him the direct quotes from Sinclair's books, and he executed some very beautifully done artwork. One that I remember particularly, was a picture of a bride coming out of a church. And on her beautiful white dress we had superimposed a big black blot, and in that we had in reverse, in black and white, we had quoted precisely what Sinclair had said about the institution of marriage. Of course we recognized that these writings of his, this type of writing, was done, of course, these were done to sell, and they did sell, apparently they were read everywhere, because people do like to read that type of thing. But they were not suitable for, they did not fit the role of a governor properly at all, and they were very very widely disseminated. Several of the national news magazines used them to indicate what was being done in California. He said, after that campaign, that the blot of Sinclairism, cartoons, did him more damage than anything else that happened in his campaign because they were direct, built around direct quotes of his, we made every effort not to take them out of context.
And why were they so effective? How did—
Why were those cartoons so effective? Why did people react to them in that way? Do you know?
But people felt that they were challenging, he was challenging or making fun of their basic beliefs?
I believe they did, that in part, and also because so very few people would have agreed with his judgments of marriage and religion. I had a feeling also, however, that when he wrote the book on anti-religion for instance, he was thinking largely of the type of radio ministers we were just developing in California at that time, such as Aimee Semple McPherson. Now he was just as much a zealot in his positions as she was, but people were beginning not to like that type of appeal.
Now how were these cartoons distributed? Did you send them out to the newspapers?
They were sent to newspapers, both dailies and weeklies.
And you distributed them widely throughout the state?
Oh yes, yes.
Can you tell me that?
Well, the distribution of the, we matted the cartoons, and sent them to every daily and every weekly in the state. We at that time had, one of the things we did in our campaigns was to use a feature service we had, we had California Feature Service, which was a free distribution operation, free distribution because many newspapers, particularly small dailies, and weeklies, simply could not afford during the Depression to hire special writers for things of that kind, nor to subscribe to the distributions of many of the feature services in the East. So we gave them a feature service, which consisted of four or five editorials and four columns, one on politics, one column of quotes, one on women, it was very very popular, and the nicest thing I remember ever hearing anybody ever say about that, that is, a publisher said, was when publishers would say, "If I just had time, I'd have written that myself." [laughs] It was a service to newspapers and much of our material went out through that service.
OK, what did you find offensive about Sinclair? I mean, you were very concerned that if he did get elected governor, you were concerned of what that may mean. Can you tell me a little bit about what your concerns were?
our main concern was that he was not the caliber of person to handle important state governmental problems. He didn't really know very much about, if he knew anything, about how state government works. He had a program that wouldn't have worked, an agrarian program,
** returning California to an agrarian situation, which was most out of date. It wouldn't have worked among most Californians. It wouldn't have solved the problem.
Can you actually tell me that again by referring to that concept of "production for use," when you had talked about it at lunch you were saying that Sinclair's concept of 'production for—'
His plan for California actually was not a plan at all, it was his position opposing the situation, which was very bad, not only in California but in all the states at that time. And he was very much opposed to it of course, as everybody was. He wanted to see it cleaned up, but his plan, his so-called plan, was not a plan to correct the situation. For instance, he had a plan to give everybody a plot of land, and give the machinery to work that plot of land, thinking, or supposing, that they would produce goods, or materials, or food stuffs, which would be the basis of a barter system. Now we were way past,
we were not ready to go back to a barter system,
** that was ended some generations ago of course, but his plan simply wouldn't work. Now he really didn't know what it would take to get any element of his plan through the legislature, for instance. He did not know. He didn't know what the legislature at that time was, how it was run. It was actually run by Artie Samish, which is a terrible think to have to admit, and if he had thought about it or said something about it, he could only have said, because he was a good man "We must end this," which eventually it was ended. But in the meantime he didn't recognize the practicalities of that kind that were, in order that he would have had to deal with as governor.
OK, but it's one thing, I mean, for somebody maybe that's inexperienced, or doesn't really know government, but did you feel that his plans could be dangerous to California, that they could drive away business, that it had larger implications than just not knowing how to run?
We thought beyond that, that Sinclair himself, and we warned Clem's brothers who were so fond of him, that he was in danger himself from, from others, who were not as altruistic as he, but who really wanted to be taken care of, and properly, because people needed jobs, they need all kinds of services, which he would not have been able to supply. We thought he was, perhaps, physically in danger.
The battery, we're out.
So let's begin, you were saying that you were young and starry eyed.
[laughs] Oh, we certainly were. We thought indeed that—we were so young and so starry eyed, and we had seen so much of politics handled in a different way in those days, that we thought that we had a great idea for "cleaning up politics." Those were our words, and we used them constantly, and we thought the way to do it was largely to make it imperative, legally imperative, for candidates, or for sponsors of ballot issues, to report every penny they took in, where they got it, every penny they expended, who got it, and if made public, we thought this would, as we say, clean up politics. We thought that's where the problem lay, because mostly campaigns at that time, ballot issues and candidates both, were handled by, what shall I say, a superannuated newspaper man, who had covered the territory, who really knew how to open doors, who knew what happened in city hall, and in Sacramento, and in the Congress, and who could be quite helpful to a candidate for instance. But mainly a campaign headquarters abounded in currency, that means everything was paid in cash, nobody paid any attention to reporting. We had our good friend, John F. Forbes, which was still one of the largest and most responsible auditing offices, we had John himself would make our reports [sic] for all of our campaigns, did throughout our career.
Do you have any idea how much money was raised in the campaign against Sinclair?
No I don't, I don't, I wish I did.
I haven't any idea, but if you run across it I'd like to know.
I don't even, I should remember what our fee was.
There were small fees in those days.
I think yours was probably small. I think there's a lot of money raised in Southern California.
Yeah, oh I'm sure that's true, and particularly with the moving picture industry involved. I'm sure that Louis B. Mayer himself put a lot of money into it. And with Hearst, of course, on the same side, there must have been a lot of money. I don't recall. Isn't that a shame not to have that information?
By the way, were you aware of the newsreels that were put out against Sinclair?
Newsreels? I don't remember any at all.
That doesn't mean anything that I can't—I was going to say in finishing the observation about what campaigns, what campaigns cost. When we finished the Central Valley Water Project campaign, our office was in Sacramento, and Clem and I both loaded up with all of our information, all of our cancelled checks for the whole campaign, our books in respect to it, our reports of where the money came from. Of course, we only had $40,000 to concern ourselves with, all of the information, all of the financial information of that campaign...
...plus the reports from the John F. Forbes company. We both loaded up, we really had our arms full, and we went across the street to the Capital, to Frank Jordan's office. He was the Secretary of State and a good friend. He thought we were very funny. We put all that stuff down on Frank's desk, and, I didn't call him Frank then, I certainly called him Mr. Jordan, and so did Clem, we were kids, and he took one look at it and he said, "I haven't got any place to file all that stuff, kids." So we took it all back to our office and sat down and wrote some of the first legislation requiring that the Secretary of State had a place to file all of that stuff, and that it was incumbent on candidates and promoters of legislation to make a report. Well, it hasn't worked, and you know why it hasn't worked, because the people who make it work, legislators, who write the legislation, have to report themselves, and this is a very difficult thing to do.
Can we go back on, back on the Sinclair campaign? I do want to just follow up on what we talked about before, about why you got involved in the campaign against him? And what you described, that you thought he wouldn't be a good governor because he didn't know how to, wasn't a politician.
But did you feel that his policies could have any dangerous affects on the state of California, on business coming in?
I don't think we thought that through, in that fashion. His own views, am I...
Yeah, we're rolling.
We are rolling.
I don't think we thought it through in that fashion. That was not our concern, about—his personal beliefs were, I must say, just as important to us as anything, any future he might have, good or bad, as governor. We simply didn't think that he, from his writings and from his speeches, we didn't think that he had the capability of being a sound governor.
OK, great. Did you feel that the Republican party was in a dilemma at that point, because...
I'm sorry, what did you say?
Did you feel that the Republican party had a dilemma at that point because of the fact that many people didn't like Merriam as a candidate?
It certainly did have a problem. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen a campaign, in all the years, as stressful, as unsure, as mixed-up, as this campaign. I think we personally were more supportive of Sinclair than many of his Democratic friends. The Democrats organized a campaign against him, as you are aware, of course. It was a very very mixed-up situation, and yes, the Republicans were just as mixed-up as the Democrats.
OK, can you tell me how the campaign was managed differently than a normal electoral campaign? I think I read that you said that you used different kinds of techniques, instead of just going to the precinct and going door to door. What were the kind of techniques you used in the campaign against Sinclair?
Let's see, what can I say about that?
Let's stop for a second. I may have asked you something that we weren't...
Leone Baxter take six.
...tell me that you felt that the Southern...
...were doing things that you didn't approve of, you know, in the campaign against Sinclair, and do you think that they went too far?
Oh yes, yes that was, our concern was mainly, as far as the Southern California Committee was concerned, our anxiety about it was mainly, in their vitriolic attack, it wasn't carefully thought out use of true information, of facts. It was, there, what can I say, they really went off of tangents on him being a communist, that was one of the main concerns, and anybody could have found out that he wasn't a communist. They should have known that, and if they knew it, they were wrong, of course, to accuse him of being a communist. I think that an interesting thing happened in that respect, speaking of a difference in opinion, between what they were doing in Southern California and what was being done up here. Freda Kirchwey, who was the publisher of _The Nation_ magazine, sent out a reporter, she sent out Carey McWilliams, a very fine writer. We didn't agree on much of anything, except that he believed thoroughly in what he was doing, we believed thoroughly in what we were doing. He became a very good friend, but at that time, his instructions from Freda Kirchwey were to flay Whitaker and Baxter, f-l-a-y [laughs], which, the word interested me when he told us. And I think that she sent him out to do that because she thought that we were managing the campaign and determining the use of the information that he was a communist. It wasn't true, and Carey learned that it wasn't true. But, rather than, he spent about, oh, I've forgotten how long now, better part of a week or two, in our office, and we gave him access to almost everything we had, and his final conclusion, to Mrs. Kirchwey, was that he continued to disagree with all of our objectives and our philosophy, but that our means of achieving those objectives he couldn't find a fault with. So that was very important to us that she, to get the word back to her that accusing the candidate of being a communist was not in our lexicon.
So the real vicious campaign against Sinclair that we often hear of, that was really the one that was being waged in Southern California?
Oh yes, it was not being waged in the North.
OK, didn't you tell me before that you had a lot of integrity, and that you didn't want to wage that kind of campaign?
You told me that you didn't want to get involved in that kind of dirty politics, is that right?
We certainly didn't, and we were not.
Yeah, can you tell me that, in you own words?
I don't want to seem too...
That's fine, let's not do that then.
OK, let's stop for a second.
...the primary in the election to, to defeat him?
I don't recall exactly how long we had to carry on our campaign, but I do recall that everybody was enormously shocked that Sinclair had done so well, that people were so much in his camp. What that was due to we didn't have much time to think about, whether it was largely because Sinclair himself and his people were doing such and his volunteers were doing such a terrific job, or because, well, there are many other reasons. That's very bad, I can't say that. I know what I could say, but...
OK, we'll lean off that. OK, but...
Did you feel the dilemma to be working against Sinclair because it also meant you were working against Downey?
I can't understand what you're saying.
Did you feel that there was a problem at all, working against Sinclair because you ended up also working against Downey, who was a friend of yours?
That might've been, we might've expected that, because Downey was very devoted to Sinclair, and of course we were not, we were trying to defeat him.
So, was Downey an asset to, did you feel that Downey was an asset to the Sinclair campaign?
He certainly was, he was one of the greatest assets they had, because he was widely trusted.
OK, can you start again, instead of saying "he" by saying "Downey"?
You were asking if Sheridan Downey, Senator Sheridan Downey, later senator, was friendly and supportive, and how important that was to Sinclair. Downey was totally supportive, and worked very hard for Sinclair. I think that Downey was one of the few that understood the real problems that Sinclair had in his campaign, because he was a very practical man, in addition to being a very wise philosopher. I think it hurt him, hurt his heart as much as it hurt his mind, when Sinclair didn't make it. But I do believe that he understood the problems Sinclair had in his campaign, and why he had them, and why he would have even worse problems if he were elected. He was in a very, very difficult position. He was a gentleman though throughout, and I think I mentioned it to him. The morning after the election, his office was in the same building with ours, and Sheridan Downey knocked at the door, and came striding in with his hand out, he said, "The vanquished greets the victor," and I thought that that was an exhibition of gentlemanliness, which you don't see a great deal of these days, a very lovely thing.
During your campaign, did you ever feel at any point that Sinclair would really win, once you started with your—
Never, never. We worked like sin, as though we might lose tomorrow, but no, we never had a feeling he could possibly could win.
OK, can you tell me that again by saying "Sinclair" instead of "he"?
Oh, you were asking if we ever had a feeling that Sinclair might lose [sic], and I must say no, we never, never had the faintest feeling that he could not be defeated. We feel that he was, we felt at the time, that he had done too many things and said too many things, damaging to himself, to his acceptance by the ordinary voters.
OK, good. I want you to, well, who did you vote for, in that campaign?
I certainly didn't vote for either one of those men.
Did you vote for Haight?
No, I didn't like Mr. Haight. I'm afraid I must not, I can't say. It sounds as though I didn't vote. I can't imagine not voting. I wonder what we did, maybe our files over at U.C. would indicate.
Did you feel—
[laughs] That's a very good question, that's the best question you've asked because I don't know what the answer is and I must find out.
OK, good. You said it was a time of unrest in California, were people afraid of what would happen? Was it a feeling overall of social upheaval and unrest?
Yes, it was a time of great unrest, great concern, because there were no jobs. There was no way for a family to maintain itself. Many of the protecting devices we have now, we, of course, as you know, we didn't have that, and nobody knew what to do. And of course the political campaign, in a situation like that, particularly, with the great accusations hurled by either side against men who may be your leaders the day after election day didn't contribute anything helpful to that situation.
So people were looking for a voice to kind of save them, and offer them some help?
Nothing could been more acceptable to people than to have somebody lead them out of that valley of concern, and worry, and anxiety. They wanted to look to Sinclair. They were willing almost to look anywhere to find a leader that could save them. It was a very difficult position for the state to be in.
OK, good. I'd like you, if you can, to tell me, can we stop for a second? I wanna go...
You know, tell me about Sinclair's literature and hiring a cartoonist, and the effectiveness of that tactic.
Well, spurred by the feeling that some of the accusations that were being made about Sinclair, about his being a communist, for instance, we decided that we would have to find out about his positions on public affairs, and we would have to find out for sure, whether he was a communist is the main thing we were looking for. So we got hold of all of his writings, his books, his pamphlets, everything we could lay our hands on, and studied them with great care, feeling that that might be the way to identify the truth. We read his pamphlets on the meat packing industry, on Wall Street, the financiers, his comments on the church, on Christianity, on the institution of marriage, and many others, and we came to the conclusion that, not only was he not a communist, he was a socialist, without any question, but that he had some ideas, in respect to the lives of normal Americans, that were perhaps more usable in our type of campaign, than if we had discovered that he was a communist. So we decided to see if we could utilize, in his own words, his positions that would be important to voters.
** a cartoonist, an editorial cartoonist,
** in Sacramento, who's name was Bill Lenoir,
** who didn't do funny cartoons, but he did editorial cartoons and did them very beautifully because his art was really fine. Bill took quotations from Sinclair's writings and did some artwork, which we felt we could distribute to newspapers, and rather broadly, to illustrate what Sinclair's actual positions were on the various things. We thought that his own words, his own observations, would be as indicative of his positions, and how people should feel about his candidacy, as anything that could be said. Bill made one cartoon that I remember
** very, very well
** because it was reproduced, not only in California newspapers, but in the news magazines, the national magazines. This was a picture of a beautiful, young bride in a white dress coming out of a church. A lovely, lovely picture, except that she had on the front of her dress, a big, black blot, which we called the "Blot of Sinclairism." On this blot we superimposed precisely what Sinclair had said about the institution of marriage,
** not taken out of context, quoted precisely in quotes.
Do you think that your work was instrumental in helping to defeat Sinclair?
I know it was. He thought so, so I guess that's good enough for me.
And you thought that you had done, really, the kind of job that—
We thought it a fair job, we thought it fair, and reasonable, more so than anybody else's idea of whether he would make a good governor or not.[coughs]
You said your goal was, what was your goal in your campaign? To defeat him as governor or to defeat him as a person?
Oh dear, I'd never want to defeat anybody [coughs] as a person [coughs]. I'm through.
But you were distinguishing before about what you were doing in the Southern California [sic], that you were only interested in defeating him as a candidate.
Do you want to get that last line on film?
OK, that's the problem with cookies.
Yeah, every campaign is a challenge, and fun. I don't think we've ever had a campaign that wasn't fun.
And what's the thrill in a campaign?
Winning, winning, making your point. And when you're talking about assisting [coughs] a million people, or ten million people, to make a decision, that's the thrill of it really. It doesn't make any difference to me if I'm speaking to a group of 200 people in a room, it doesn't make any difference to me if they vote the way I'm going to vote or not, 200 people, but a million people, that's what's thrilling. [coughs]
OK, I'm going to ask you again the one question that we ran out of film on, you know, and that was what, you said, the goal was to make sure that Sinclair didn't become governor and the implications of that in terms of Merriam. I asked you, what was your goal in this campaign?
Our goal was to see that Mr. Sinclair did not become governor of California. Unfortunately, if he did not become governor, that meant that we would have Merriam for another session, and that we felt unfortunate, but less unfortunate than if we were to elect Sinclair.
OK, one more time.
Was that all right?
Yeah, one more time. Let's do it one more time.
I'm worn, I'm worn, I'm worn, I'm out.
OK, no more times. OK, we're out.
Was something the matter with that?