Pity the candidate of a rural district in 1904 — it took three (four?) days for candidate Bell to canvas the larger towns in Sonoma County alone, and this district stretches all the way to Oregon (and at the time, it also apparently included more counties in the upper Central Valley). Party leaders and political celebrities were more involved in stumping for local candidates than today; no one thought it odd that vice presidential candidate Fairbanks was speechifying for an hour down in Stockton to reelect a Congressman.

Republican McKinlay had no less than the governor of the state campaigning for him: George Pardee, who, in fifteen too-short months after that election, would be the only major elected official to be roundly praised for his actions following the Great Earthquake of 1906. Most of the upset from the Press Democrat was aimed at the governor for having the effrontery to take sides in an election.

Democrat Bell’s champion was Thomas J. Geary, called “Sonoma county’s Democratic boss” by Lemmon’s newspaper. Geary was no inconsequential backwoods Baby Tweed; he earned a prominent place in this county’s hall of shame for pushing through the infamous Geary Act of 1892 when he was a member of the House. This law not only extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for another decade, but also made it more discriminatory. Chinese residents were now denied bail if arrested and prevented from testifying in court. It also forced all Chinese residents to carry a special ID issued by the federal government; caught without papers, unfortunates had to produce “at least one credible white witness” to swear that they were in the United States prior to 1892, else they’d be deported or spend a year at hard labor.

Geary campaigned hard for Bell, even traveling outside the county to the nether corners of the district. He may have viewed the contest as a surrogate battle against Governor Pardee; two years earlier, Geary was a serious contender to be the Democratic nominee for governor, stepping aside for another man, who lost to Pardee.

Endorsements also had greater weight in that era, particularly since Bell and McKinlay had roughly equivalent credentials, and it seems that neither was particularly well known in the district. Twice the Press Democrat offered editorials praising Bell for his connections to the late Morris Estee, an early California politician who had died the year earlier. Bell’s support from Geary and then posthumously from Estee, however, suggests much about the sort of person he really was.

Morris M. Estee
is worth a quick digression here. Although he was affiliated with the Republican party, he could be a case study as a typical Jim Crow legislator from the Deep South. He staked out deeply racist positions that affirmed non-whites had lesser rights, but at the same time didn’t suffer such outrageous discrimination that it would draw the ire of Washington D.C. Some lowlights from his career:

As the 1863 California legislature was trying to overturn the 1850 law that “no black, mullato person, or Indian should be permitted to give evidence in any court of the state in an action in which a white person was a party,” Estee offered a compromise that testimony could be accepted — but only as long as it was corroborated by a white
* Estee wrote about the Chinese in 1876: “They have not any large intelligence; they have not any literature that amounts to anything; they have a little knowledge of the sciences, and some knowledge of the arts; they have no notion of music or poetry, or very few of the exalted ideas which distinguish between barbarian and civilized men, except honesty”
* At the 1878-79 California Constitutional Convention, Estee, who insisted that he was as “anxious to get rid of the Chinese as any man in the State of California” argued they had a right to live in houses and should be allowed to catch fish. To “deprive them of the means of procuring the necessaries of life” would be wrong, and “would turn all civilized people against us everywhere,” he warned, particularly “public sentiment in the East [Coast of the U.S.]”

An excerpt from one of the Press Democrat’s two Estee-Bell editorials is below (the other assured readers that Estee knew Bell “personally and intimately”). As Bell became the Napa County DA in 1895, the party described would have taken place some time before he was 22. Following that item is an astonishingly direct editorial attack on Geary from the Republican.

…It was at the residence of the late Morris M. Estee near Napa that the writer first had the pleasure of meeting Theodore Bell. He was then a young man with his life work all before him. Mr. Bell was one of a number of young people who spent an evening at the hospitable Estee home. After the guests had departed, or it may have been the next morning, the writer asked who Mr. Bell was. “Theodore Bell?” replied the venerable jurist. “He is a young man who lives here in Napa. He is teaching school and studying law. He is a very fine young man. You will hear from him some day. If given the opportunity he should and I believe will become one of the country’s big men.” …

– Press Democrat, November 5, 1904

And now there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because the newspaper having the “longest leased line” [an expensive private telegraph connection] declines to admit to its columns the name of Sonoma county’s Democratic boss. Of course the management of the paper is real mean to pursue this policy, but it is not the only mean thing in the world. That paper undertook to give our local Democratic boss prominence a few years ago. It showed him many favors. Through its influence he was pushed forward as the head of the last anti-Chinese movement and the Democratic nomination for the governorship seemed about to be conferred upon him. But he was discovered to be treacherous, even too treacherous to be considered by the Democratic party as a candidate for that or anyother [sic] place, and then he turned against the man and the paper that had tried to build him up after his political fall. Hence the present trouble. Let the good work go on.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 11, 1904

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