“The Grandest Display Ever Made In This City”: A Democratic Party Mass Meeting, Los Angeles, 22 October 1868

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Southern California was, during the Civil War, definitely a hotbed of Confederate sympathy. Many of its migrants over the proceeding two decades came from the Southern states and the Democratic Party completely ruled the political roost, to the extent that Republicans, like F.P.F. Temple, were virtually unable to win elective office in greater Los Angeles for many years.

Homestead founder William Workman was a Democrat, although there were factions within that party, such as when he made his only attempt at elected office, running unsuccessfully for county supervisor in 1859 as an alternate to the mainstream Democratic slate. Five years later, however, when local Democrats held a march and public meeting to support George McClellan in his 1864 presidential run against Abraham Lincoln, which the incumbent Republican won easily, Workman was one of the honorary vice-presidents of the gathering.

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The images here are all, excepting the last, from the Los Angeles Star, 24 October 1868.

In the 1868 campaign, Ulysses S. Grant, the general who commanded the Union Army to victory in the war, was unanimously nominated on the first ballot as the candidate of the Republican Party at its Chicago convention in late May. Incumbent president Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s vice-president on a bipartisan National Union ticket and then succeeded the martyred Lincoln to the presidency to disastrous effect, including his impeachment and near-conviction and removal from office, sought the Democratic Party nomination at its early July confab in New York.

Johnson, however, had tepid support and plenty of opposition, including Winfield Scott Hancock, another Union Army officer who spent three years in Los Angeles before the outbreak of the war. As balloting continued, however, a surprise nomination was made of former New York Governor Horatio Seymour, who served as the convention’s chair. Despite his forceful denial of wanting the nomination, even to the point that he left the auditorium to seek to defuse the idea, he became the unanimous choice of an exhausted delegation after twenty-two ballots.

The 1868 campaign was domination by the divisive issue of Reconstruction, with so-called “Radical Republicans” forcefully seeking to remake Southern politics by actively working to elect black politicians in former Confederate states being readmitted into the Union, while Democrats looked to undo these efforts and leave the matter of rebuilding up to the states, which would have ended any hope of black participation in politics.

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Seymour, as was traditional for presidential candidates, did not actively campaign, at least not nearly as much as his running mate, Francis P. Blair, a former Union general from Missouri, who, however, was very outspoken against Reconstruction, leading many Democrats to fear that he would hurt the ticket, as Grant adopted a campaign stance of working for peaceful means to “reconstruct” the South.

When it came to race, however, the Seymour/Blair ticket was blatant in its appeal to white males, with one campaign ribbon blaring, “This is a White Man’s Country / Let White Men Rule” and mocking Grant for being a supporter of blacks. On the other hand, Democrats also hit the general for his controversial order in 1862 forcing all Jews to leave the district, comprising Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, over which he was commanding. Grant tried to claim during the campaign that his order was not anti-Semitic, but was aimed at cleansing corruption among traders and merchants which “certain Jews had caused.”

So, when Los Angeles’ substantial cadre of Democrats assembled for their rally, it was not surprising to see signs displayed that included “Kick the Jews out of camp—Grant” and “I expel the Jews beyond my lines,” though there was probably no mention made, or at least not reported in the Democratic stalwart, the Los Angeles Star, in its 24 October edition, of the overt anti-Black sentiments of the Seymour/Blair ticket.

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The featured orator for the meeting was Samuel B. Axtell, who came to California during the Gold Rush and was a prominent figure in Amador County before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1866 and serving two terms. The Star then described in great detail what transpired at the rally, noting that “the meeting was preceded by a torch-light procession, of which it is not too much to say, that it was the grandest display ever made in this city.”

In charge of planning were marshals Tomás A. Sánchez and William Henry Workman, two of the leading young Democrats in the city and who had seven aides, including photographer Stephen Rendall, Francisco Sabichi and Stephen H. Mott. Sánchez, one of the most prominent Californios in the region and who fought in the resistance against the American invaders during the Mexican-American War, had just concluded an eight-year run as Los Angeles County Sheriff. It was common for elite Californios to ally themselves with Democrats in this period.

As for Workman, he was not quite thirty, but was starting to become an active member of the party and would go on to serve several terms on the city council, preside as mayor of Los Angeles during the great Boom of the Eighties at the end of that decade, was a parks commissioner in the 1890s, and served as city treasurer from 1901-1907. Much of his career, however, was when Democrats were supplanted as the dominant party by Republicans, though Workman was in the conservative faction of his party.


The Star continued that “there were from five to six hundred men in the procession, a large number of whom were on horseback, making the most imposing cortege which ever paraded in our streets. There were about three hundred torches and transparencies [banners] carried in the line of procession.” If accurate, that was a substantial attendance for a town that was in the early stages of its first sustained and substantial period of growth in a boom that lasted through the mid-Seventies.

As to those banners, there were other provocative sentiments, including:

“Seymour and the Constitution, or Grant and Radical Tyranny!!!”

“Exchange no Prisoners; Let them Starve—Grant” [referring to wartime policies on the subject]

“The Boys in Blue are loyal and true; will vote for Seymour and Blair too”

“Men who oppose a brave people, whom they have conquered, are cowards!”

For the Californio community, there were also a couple of banners in Spanish cited, such as:

“Viva la Democracia” [Long Live Democracy]

“Libertad, Union, y sostener la Constituticion—Viva la Democracia” [Liberty, Union and Support of the Constitution—Long Live Democracy]

With respect to the “boys in blue,” the paper stated that “a noticeable feature in the procession was, a large body, from seventy-five to one hundred . . . [who] carried a transparency bearing the motto, ‘We are the boys who went with Grant through the Wilderness, but we won’t go with him now.”

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As the parade progressed through town, “the streets along the line of procession were lighted by great bonfires; and Democrats generally honored the procession by illuminating their houses” though it was added that such displays were found throughout Los Angeles. Prominent Democrats who participated in decorations like this included John S. Griffiin, a doctor who came to Los Angeles in 1846 with the invading American Army; saddler S.C. Foy; Joseph Huber; and barber Alejandro Rendon.

Businesses which were festooned included the Bella Union Hotel, a Confederate hangout during the war; the Lanfranco Building, where Workman and his brother, Elijah, had their saddlery business; the United States Hotel; and the bank of Hellman, Temple and Company. With this latter, is it notable that managing cashier Isaias W. Hellman was a Jew, so perhaps his support for Seymour was at least partially predicated on Grant’s purported anti-Semitism. Moreover, as mentioned above, active partner F.P.F. Temple was a Republican, though he likely kept a low profile as did other “fellow travelers” from the local G.O.P. Silent partner William Workman, uncle of the mass meeting’s marshal, was, as noted above, a Democrat.

The Star professed that it prose “cannot do justice to the splendor of the illuminations, neither can we attempt to portray the effect of the long line of torches, the steadily marching body of men, and the well-equipped force of horsemen. We can only repeat, that, for numbers, completeness of outfit, and general effect, no procession ever had here could equal this one.” Once the parade through the main thoroughfares of the town was concluded, the assemblage gathered in front of the Bella Union on the east side of Main Street near Commercial Street, where a speaker’s stand was built.

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Joel H. Turner, who was elected Los Angeles’ mayor in December and who was chair of the city’s Democratic Club, opened the confab by congratulating his fellow Democrats “on the splendid appearance of the procession, and the vast numbers which had turned out.” After his brief remarks, Andrew A. Boyle, father-in-law of William H. Workman, called for Benjamin D. Wilson to be named chair of the meeting. Wilson, who came to Los Angeles in late 1841 with William Workman, John Rowland and others, was a prominent regional figure, having served as mayor of the city as well as a state senator—in fact, he would return to that office in 1869.

Wilson was so elected by general acclamation and “expressed the pleasure which he felt in thus co-operating with his fellow Democrats in the cause in which they were engaged.” Cameron E. Thom, another former state senator and district attorney, who would resume that latter office the next year, motioned that Huber and Henry Hamilton, the proprietor of the Star be designated secretaries, which explained why the latter had such detail to print in his paper. Notably, Hamilton was a vociferous Confederate supporter during the war, which earned him an arrest on suspicion of treason, for which he had to take a loyalty oath to secure his release. The Star was shuttered in 1864 and had just reopened earlier in 1868.

Lawyer Charles V. Howard, whose father Volney was a Democrat of long standing in California, as well as Texas and Mississippi before that and who seconded Boyle’s motion concerning Wilson, then spoke and proposed the approval of twenty-seven men to be “Vice-Presidents of the meeting,” which was quickly seconded and approved by acclamation.


Among these figures being so honored were several Californios, including Andrés Pico, another hero of the local resistance to the American invasion over two decades before and who, as an Assembly member in 1859, proposed the creation of the “State of Colorado” for Southern California; Sánchez; county supervisor Enrique Avila; Francisco Palomares, whose family owned much of Rancho San José in what is now the Pomona area; Mayor Cristobal Aguilar (he’d be the last Latino chief executive until Antonio Villaraigosa was elected in 2005); Francisco Machado; and Prudencio Yorba. Lawyer Ygnacio Sepúlveda, soon to become a District Court (later Superior Court) judge was also on the reception committee with Thom and attorney and newspaper owner Andrew Jackson King.

Among the other honorary vice-presidents were Griffin; County Court Judge William G. Dryden; Boyle; Prudent Beaudry, a future mayor; Henri Penelon; former county supervisors Edmund H. Boyd, Felix Signoret; and Rancho La Puente co-owners John Rowland and William Workman, both of whom held the same positions at the mass meeting of September 1864 when Democrats rallied for McClelland. Once the organization of the gathering was concluded, Thom, King and Sepúlveda welcomed Axtell to the stage.

As paraphrased by the Star, the representative “congratulated the people of the county upon their favorable location, upon their delightful climate, the fertility of the soil, and the resources of their favored section.” He mentioned “the projected improvements of the harbor [and] his efforts in Congress to forward their interests in this respect, also, the railway and land questions, and the exertions of the Democratic party in Congress to retain the public lands for the exclusive use and benefit of actual settlers.” The reference to the harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington concerned the first federal appropriations for a breakwater, constructed three years later, while the railway issue is not clear. Public lands held over from the pre-American period were being rapidly sold, though they did not always go to settlers, as F.P.F. Temple, for one, acquired such properties in modern Monterey Park and Alhambra, but lived elsewhere.

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The paper added that Axtell spent over two hours in “his very able discourse” in which he sought “to expose the evils of radical [Republican] rule, and to show wherein they have disregarded the Constitution and the laws,” presumably in reference to Reconstruction policies.” When he finished to loud cheering, he “was followed by Don Ignacio Sepulveda, who most effectively and eloquently addressed the people in the Spanish language. A “Señor Arce” garnered applause for his “great animation” in an address that “entertained and enlightened his audience,” while ex-Sheriff Sánchez “made one of his forcible appeals to his countrymen, which was well received by the audience.”

Despite the stumping for Seymour and for the Democratic Party more broadly, the election, held on 3 November, did not end well, as Grant and the Republicans won their third straight presidential contest. The popular tally was fairly close, as Grant garnered just over 3 million votes to Seymour’s 2.7 million, but, in the electoral college, the general took 214 votes to his competitor’s 80. Notably, Alabama, Texas and Virginia were the three remaining former Confederate states that were not yet readmitted to the Union, so they were excluded for participation in the contest.

The Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution, making all persons born and naturalized in the country citizens of the nation and guaranteeing “equal protection of the laws, was ratified in July 1868 and followed the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolishing slavery in late 1865. The third Reconstruction amendment, the Fifteenth, came in early 1870 and was to allow any male citizen the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Lewis G. Green Voter Registration 1879
A voter registration listing for Lewis G. Green, #2720, at Los Angeles, 20 February 1879.

The first black man in Los Angeles to seek his rights was Lewis G. Green, a barber and later a janitor for the Temple and Workman bank and who was represented by Robert M. Widney in his legal fight to secure his voting privilege. Ygnacio Sepulveda, the county judge, sided with county clerk Thomas D. Mott, brother of Stephen, in denying Green’s petition as Democrats resisted the “radical Republican” attempts to secure the franchise to blacks by claiming the state constitution applied. Congress then quickly passed an enforcement act to override state objections and Mott was forced to yield. On 21 June 1870, Green became the first black man and person of color to be entered on the voter registration rolls in greater Los Angeles.

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