Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

CLARK GRIER


Firing Up the Bull Moose


"Politics," Sir Winston Churchill once said, "is almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous.  In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times."  That evaluation was never more true than in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century when one Dublin man was assaulted with factional shots, only to persevere through one of most political divisive periods in American history, not only between the Democrats and Republicans, but between the divisions of the Republican party as well.  And, right in the middle of one of the greatest chasms inside the Republican Party, this man led a revolt at the Republican Convention of 1912 resulting in creation of a new party known as the Progressive Party, or the "Bull Moose Party," which was led by former president Theodore Roosevelt, rated by many as one of the greatest presidents in American history.

Clark Grier was born on August 11, 1860 in Griswoldville, Georgia, a railroad village established by his grandfather, Samuel Griswold.  A son of E.C. and Eliza Griswold, Grier moved to Dublin in the late 1890s as the manager of the local office of the Southern Bell Telephone Company.    Grier was active in business circles as a member of the Dublin Board of Trade and a promoter of the Dublin Chautauqua Association.  A director of the City National Bank, Grier earned most of his income as the owner of the Dublin Real Estate Company.  

It was the custom on those days for the President of the United States to appoint the postmaster of every post office in the country every two years.  Competition was frequently  fierce and egregiously brutal.  In December of 1899, President William McKinley appointed Grier to the coveted job.  In those days when the Republican party dominated the White House for sixteen years,   the only Republicans to hold public office in the South were those who were appointed by their party's president.

Just two years later, Grier's reappointment for a second term was challenged by E.R.  Belcher, a black Republican leader from Brunswick, who wanted to replace Grier with Allens Simmons, a choice which would have given Dublin its first black postmaster.    Grier and Belcher were also competing for the chairmanship of the Georgia Republican Party,  which at the turn of the 20th Century was primarily composed of black members in a solidly Democratic state.     Belcher accused Grier of being a racist in that he cared nothing of the black citizens of the state, a position which was disavowed by the majority of local black Republicans.

In 1903, Grier's highly esteemed position came within the sights of Herman Hesse, a German immigrant and local plumber.  Hesse, supported by a large portion of the black members led by John Dasher, failed in his bid to oust Grier from office.  

Grier was reappointed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 for his third two-year term.  He served until 1908 when he announced his intentions to once again seek the chairmanship of the Republican Party.  Roosevelt kept the office in the family when he appointed Grier's wife Clara.  Her assistant was Herschel V. Johnson, grandson of former Georgia Governor and 1860 vice-presidential candidate of the same name.  

A year later, Grier suffered a personal and financial setback when he was forced to  declare that he was bankrupt.

The 1912 Republican Convention in Chicago promised to be a electrified one. And, it was just that.  Roosevelt, still a favorite of the common people,  realized that though he had the lead in committed delegates over President William Howard Taft, the choice of the professional politicians,  going into the convention, he didn't have enough to win the nomination to face Woodrow Wilson in December.

"When the delegates were elected, there was nothing to do but accept it and inevitable  defeat in November," Grier, who had previously supported President Taft,  told reporters prior to the opening of the convention.  "With the announcement of Col. Roosevelt's entry into the race, the party was given new life," Grier added when he announced, "I am going to vote for Col. Roosevelt because Taft is threatening to remove my wife as postmistress of Dublin."   

Postmaster J.H. Boone of Hazlehurst jumped on the band wagon, which was about to begin steam rolling throughout the convention hall.  Three of Georgia's black delegates joined Grier and Boone.  At one point, the remaining twenty-three black delegates announced they were reversing their positions as well, each thinking that delegation as a whole was going to vote for Roosevelt.  

A near riot between the white and black delegates ensued.  When Boone lost his temper and called his colleagues "infernal scoundrels," they approached him and demanded an apology.  When Boone refused, some of the angrier members picked up weapons and threatened him with immediate bodily harm.  The Mississippians joined in the pro Roosevelt movement.  When the convention chairman finally restored order - a moment of quiet ensued.  That is, until Grier rose and spoke. "Mr. Chairman, I make the point," he exclaimed in a loud laugh, "that the steamroller has exceeded the speed limit." Bedlam followed and lasted until a chorus of Nearer My God To Thee quieted the ruckus to a dull roar. 

Roosevelt, seeing that his efforts to obtain the nomination were futile, led a walkout of his supporting delegates to form a new party.  Just as Clark Grier had predicted, the split in the Republican Party led to the election of Woodrow Wilson, a fellow Georgian, as President in 1912. 

Clark Grier moved to Augusta in exile during the Wilson administration.  In the summer of 1920, Grier returned to the national scene as a delegate. Once again, he was in Chicago and thoughts of his glory days returned to his now aging body.    Grier still had his political enemies and many of them were Republicans.  In 1922, the Federal District Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia indicted Grier for violating prohibition laws.  It was alleged that Grier took possession of 86 gallons of whiskey and kept the same in violation of his duties as a prohibition officer for the Gulf States Department.  Grier had been indicted twice before and was acquitted both times.  It seems that the charges leveled at him came not from his actual guilt but from his disloyalty to the party, a finding confirmed by the majority of the members of the state party.  His final indictment came in Savannah in 1924.  Once again, Grier was defamed in the newspapers and exonerated in a court of law.  Nevertheless, Grier once again returned to the national convention as a delegate committed to Calvin Coolidge.  

In the last years of his life, Grier and his family moved their official residence to Macon.  Clark Grier continued to serve in the Hoover administration in Washington, D.C., where he died on July 21, 1930 after suffering a stroke.

Maybe, just maybe, now a century later, it is past the time when we should resurrect Clark Grier and send him to both upcoming national conventions and fire up the ol' Bull Moose!

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