“This Suffrage Agitation”: William W. Temple and His “An Address to the American People,” 1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

William Workman Temple (1851-1917), was the third child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, and he was the first of his siblings to be born at the family’s homestead at the Rancho La Merced, after that property was acquired by his namesake grandfather, William Workman, and turn divided between the Temples and Workman’s Rancho La Puente foreman, Juan Matías Sánchez.

William received his early education at the private school held at his grandparents’ home in a wing of the adobe that was later removed.  He then went to Santa Clara College, now the University of Santa Clara, followed by a two-year course at Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in the country.

Upon graduation and a brief period in Los Angeles, William then traveled to London to pursue post-graduate legal studies at the Inns of Court and he was engaged in this work when news came of the financial disaster that led to the failure of the Temple and Workman Bank.  Hurrying home to assist with the estates of his father and grandfather, William was thrown into a situation that would likely have been challenging for more experienced attorneys, much less a young, fledgling one not yet 25 years of age.


Over the next several years, William struggled to represent his family in complex legal proceedings while also seeing his grandfather commit suicide, his father suffer a series of debilitating strokes leading to an early death, and his mother’s hasty remarriage to a much younger man.  Disgusted by the situation, he left Los Angeles and enlisted with the Army at the San Francisco Presidio.  He served nearly four years in an artillery regiment and mustered out at as a sergeant Newport, Rhode Island in summer 1884.

William, however, did not return to Los Angeles and lived in New Mexico, Phoenix, Arizona and in Mexico over the following quarter century or so.  Unfortunately, little is known of his life during that long expanse of time, but he returned to Los Angeles by June 1910, when he published “An Address to the American People” a lengthy and comprehensive essay on a variety of issues.

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The opening lines might sound familiar to our ears, though perhaps this might be said of those in any era who believe their time is the most in peril!  In any case, here is William’s assessment of conditions in the country 110 years ago:

We seem to have reached a serious crisis in the political, social, financial and religious status of our country, which fills us with alarm, doubt, danger and trepidation, and which should call to the front and to the firing line all loyal Americans interested in the common welfare and defense of their country.  The persistent deep rumblings of discontent, want of confidence and restlessness are plainly discernible from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  They predict a most disastrous upheaval, and it stands us in hand to inquire into the causes to that lead to these conditions.  We are appalled at the barefacedness, greed, and power of the monopolists, whether they be the individual plutocrat, or the predatory trust.  They seek to stifle competition, to control and raise the price of the ordinary commodities and necessaries of life beyond the reach of the needy, to absorb our lands, mines, timber, water, our means of transportation by land and sea; they seek to possess all our industries, to control our State and Federal legislatures, our courts, our executive officers . . . day by day, month by month, and year by year do we see them reaching out for more dominion and privilege, till today we are virtually at their mercy . . . and bend the pregnant hinges of the knee to do honor and homage to these selfish worshipers of the almighty dollar who seek to control and own our country.

Now, there is a part removed where the ellipses are and that section is also important because it reflects sentiments held by many Americans at the time, but William also lambasted the powerful capitalists as “the means of introducing into our country in violation of law by trick, connivance and subterfuge the Asiatic coolie, the peon Mexican, and the riff-raff of all the nations of Europe that our poor laboring people may be degraded and enslaved, and that they might be thus enabled to declare a higher dividend.”

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With mass immigration of southern and eastern Europeans, Mexicans, and the Chinese and Japanese, a great many Americans expounded views to stem the tide, lest the character of the country (of course, the indigenous Indians weren’t asked about what happened to the character of their land!) be inexorably altered by the teeming masses of undesirables.

William continued by bashing all manner of “trusts” in various industries, but paid attention to California agriculture, including the citrus industry of greater Los Angeles and the raisin, prune, grape and cantaloupe growers of Fresno, the Santa Clara Valley, Lodi and the Coachella valley, and their struggles to pay onerous freight charges from railroads like the all-powerful Southern Pacific.

Railing against Congress and state legislatures for kowtowing to “the special privileges and interests” of corporations and becoming more like the very wealthy at the expense of the common good, William pointed to big-city corruption in New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and other cities (not that Los Angeles lacked for its own variations, including the recent resignation of disgraced Mayor Arthur C. Harper).

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He then asked “as sober, intelligent, resolved, long-suffering patriotic people who are determined to right these wrongs and to redeem our fair name, what are we going to do about it?  Will we rest merely in the silent contemplation of our own degradation?  Will we throw up our hands like cowards and say, What is the use?”  In California, at least, William argued that “this year will be [the goal] to destroy the political power, the grasping ambition, and corrupting influences of the Southern Pacific Railroad.”

Three major needs were propounded: having men of integrity, honesty and other virtues in office and as judges; “sound, practical and far-reaching measures” for public welfare; and educating people “in higher ideals of citizenship and self-government.”  Naively, however, William called for residents on the West Coast to “cast aside all party affiliations, differences, and personal ambitions” to support “our sole aim and motto, ‘good men in office, and good measures.”  The goal was to rid society of “this contaminating, increasing, undermining, bewildering plethora of dishonesty, corruption, crime, graft, selfishness, immorality and extravagance.”

Returning to labor and immigration, he opined that “no more vital and stupendous question affects the Pacific Coast and the United States today than this Oriental question.”  Wealthy employers belittled American labor so that “we may be relegated to slavery in a hopeless competition with the Jap, the Hindu, the Korean and the Chinaman.”  He specifically was worried that California would “become a mere Japanese colony.”  He did allow that “bonafide students, merchants, travelers properly authenticated are most welcome, but we draw a line on the coolie.”

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William pointed to “the wily Oriental” who finds America “is his Mecca, his gold mine” and cautioned that “these tricky, crafty people” would hardly sit and be counted in a census,” while their cheap labor satisfied the greed of the “railroad company, the rich fruit grower, or the large rancher.”  As for these latter, “this class of employers will not encourage a white man,” but he demanded that white laborers be brought in “from the congested East and Middle West, and away with your Mongolians.”  The bottom line was “to demand a severe exclusion act against Asiatic collies for racial, political, social and economic reasons.”

In laying our eight points for eliminating Asian immigration, William identified no assimilation “without injury to ourselves;” the distinctiveness of other races would cause “serious friction;” competition with those “having a lower standard of civilization, living and wages;” having laws against intermarriage; forbidding citizenship that would lead to Japanese control of the legislature, judiciary and governorship of California; allowing Japanese in would give incentive to the Chinese, despite the Exclusion Act of 1882; the misuse of Japanese women brought in “for questionable purposes,” i.e., prostitution; and general sovereignty issues so that “the Mikado” does not determine who comes to America.

William then abruptly turned to general remedies for the political problems of the day, offering twenty-one points.  Without going into all of them, here are some notable ones to mention briefly: direct election of the president, vice-president, and all senators; improved commercial relations with Canada, Mexico and South American countries; better qualifications for American citizenship by foreigners including a longer residence, better character references; and “a better knowledge of our laws, history, customs and language; a national university with 100 students from each state and territory and fewer from possessions and with a significant element of military instruction—and this to be in California, “a healthy state with sunshine most of the year?  Just the place to study human nature in all its best conditions;” divorce laws “eliminating all trivial causes;” and a revamping of relations with “the Orient.”

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When it came to public education, William decried having them “thrown promiscuously together” so that institutions would “degenerate into schools of idleness, irreligion, of flirtation and debauchery.”  Moreover, more male teachers were needed for discipline “and to impart more masculinity to our system of instruction.”  Keeping the sexes separate in the classroom and on the playground would be a step toward separate schools.  He was particularly concerned about girls being subject to “boys [who] are not what they should be” and would “become easy victims of all the evils that surround them.”

William called for “a grave misdemeanor” to be imposed on any male, not given permission by parents or guardians, to take young girls or women “to any questionable place of resort, entertainment, wine room or wine dinner, theatre, or any other place whatsoever.”

For the working classes, he asked for “employment on American ideals” and that they should be instructed “like men and not like quadrupeds.”  If they were taught “industry, temperance, and economy” with reasonable pay, hours, and housing “with some comforts,” they would have proper families and “become honest American citizens.”

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Speaking of temperance, he railed that “the abuse of liquor is the bane of our country” because it destroyed well-being and willpower as “the right arm of corrupt politics” while “it debauches our minds and bodies”  This “evil cursed even from the days of Lot” need to be controlled and regulated, along with “its kindred ally, the tenderloin,” though he stopped short of calling for an absolute prohibition of alcohol.

William observed that “”this is pre-eminently a Christian country founded and settled by Christians who came here to establish new homes,” again conveniently omitting the fact that indigenous people were here from time immemorial.  He made, however, no real distinction between different sects, stating that “all proclaimed Christ crucified as their Lord, Savior and Redeemer” and were “tolerant to all creeds,” though this also overlooked plenty of inter-religious strife among the various Christian denominations.

Yet, modern Americans “are reaching after false leaders, false gods, false ideals; we are becoming a race of ingrates, materialists, free-lovers and law-breakers” and unless this degradation was stemmed, “we are undone.”  Only through Christianity, he continued, could the nation be saved and he rhetorically posed the question: “Will we continue to be any longer materialistic, tailless, evolved monkeys as some would have us be, or shall we not rather follow the faith of old that makes us creatures created by God in his own image and likeness, possessing a body and an immortal soul, and that makes home and happiness our own here and hereafter?”

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Finally, he had a few notable words to say about women, fitting that today marks the centennial of the ratification of the 18th Amendment giving all American women the constitutional right to the vote.  His exposition is short, but fascinating:

We demand that our women should be given the fullest protection and consideration, and that if a woman does a man’s work she should receive a man’s pay.  Time will tell what may be the result of this suffrage agitation.  We bare our head and on bended knee worship the pure, modest, intelligent, refined whole souled woman who, true to her nature, is a sincere friend, devoted sister, a good mother, a true wife, an ornament to her sex, and the crowning glory and pride of her country.  On the other hand we decry the mannish, blatant, rakish and selfish woman who seeks to live in an atmosphere not her own.

So, there was something progressive in terms of equal pay, but a great deal old-fashioned and archaic about the worship of a feminine ideal (who had to be “true to her nature”) that knew her place (that is, “atmosphere”) and was not too much like men.  Obviously, William, who may well have recognized that women were very soon (in 1911) to secure the right to vote in California, wanted his idealized Woman cut from a restricted cloth of man’s making.  Then again, this was hardly a fringe view among men of the time.


William concluded his remarkable essay by promoting the candidacies of Los Angeles’ John D. Works for United States Senator, and Hiram Johnson for governor, both of whom won office in 1911, while he advocated for Theodore Roosevelt for president in 1912, though the former chief executive, splitting the Republican vote (Roosevelt ran under the banner of the Progressive Party) with incumbent William Howard Taft, lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  William lionized Roosevelt and argued that he was not running for a third term because he only served one full elected one (though TR served all but eight months of William McKinley’s second term before his 1901 assassination.)

A brief biographical sketch of William by printer J.C. Cavell of Modesto and dated 4 June 1910 noted that Temple was “a son of the late F.P.F. Temple, the pioneer banker of Los Angeles.”  It was added that William studied at Santa Clara for four years, read law at a San Francisco firm for two years and then went to Harvard for two more before he took the post-graduate course at the Inns of Court.  Cavell ended by observing that Temple “has given much attention to American politics, and particularly to the labor and Asiatic questions” and that his present post office address was at El Monte, likely because he was staying with his younger brother, Walter, who was nearly twenty years William’s junior.

This publication is one of a couple that William published at the time—the other being a very interesting meditation on the Mexican Revolution that will be highlighted here in a future post.  Shortly after his return to Los Angeles, he, for reasons unknown, became an inmate in county hospitals at San Bernardino and Los Angeles.  He wrote long, difficult to decipher letters to Walter in his waning years, including advice about how to manage his oil lease property at Montebello and died in the Los Angeles County Hospital in May 1917 at age 65.

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William Workman Temple (1851-1917) as a young man in the 1870s from a cabinet card in the Homestead’s collection.

William was clearly a man of forceful views, no small amount of intellect, and a colorful style of writing, while his opinions of Asians. “Mexican peons.” and “riff-raff” from Europe are striking to our modern ears.  He was deeply religious, a teetotaler, and a proud nationalist.  None of these qualities or views are, for the most part, particularly unusual or uncommon among men of the age and of his age.  What sets him apart, perhaps, is that he, through his mother and her mother, was part-Latino, though there is a class dimension to this (he was, after all, the son of a “pioneer banker” from Massachusetts) that provides, along with his surname, a sort of cover for his views of non-white people.



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