by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With today being the City of Los Angeles’ 241st birthday (at least, that’s what Thomas W. Temple II determined in his research of Spanish-era records for the sesquicentennial [150th] celebration in 1931), this seems like an appropriate post, featuring, from the Museum’s holdings, the 4 September 1873 edition of the Los Angeles Express.
Moreover, the paper’s main news of the day concerned the latest returns from the city and county election as Thomas’ grandfather, F.P.F. Temple, sought to defeat incumbent Thomas E. Rowan for county treasurer, the one race that drew the most attention and heat in the 1873 campaign.
As noted here in a previous post, Rowan was a teller at Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank, managed by Isaias W. Hellman, in whose store the treasurer worked prior to Hellman, in 1868, joining forces with Temple and William Workman to open the second bank in the Angel City, known as Hellman, Temple and Company.
When major differences emerged between Hellman and Temple on fundamental operations like obtaining proper security, or collateral, for loans issued by the bank, the former decided to buy out his partners and launch Farmers’ and Merchants’ with ex-governor John G. Downey, who’d opened the first bank in town, Hayward and Company earlier in 1868. Rowan then joined as teller and won election as treasurer at just age 28.
As for Temple, he’d actually held his first elective office at that age, capturing a special election in fall 1850, just several months after the county administrative system was set up (in advance by the way of California’s admission as the 31st state in the American union on 9 September), when he became the second Los Angeles city treasurer following the resignation of Francisco Figueroa (for whose family the well-known local thoroughfare is named.)
Temple served as treasurer for about a year-and-half before winning a seat on the first county Board of Supervisors, created in 1852 to administer the affairs of the county after the Court of Sessions tried to handle this business before that. After a single term, he then devoted his efforts to his growing ranching operations during the height of the Gold Rush that included a substantial set of business endeavors in Tuolumne County while also raising his growing family with wife Antonia Margarita Workman on their Rancho La Puente.
There were two more efforts towards elective office, including campaigns for supervisor in 1863 and 1871, but a great deal had changed since he held those early pair of posts. This mainly had to do with the sheer dominance of the Democratic Party in greater Los Angeles politics, especially the wing comprised largely of Americans from the South who came to be loyalists to the Confederate cause during the Civil War.
So, Temple’s campaign of 1863 occurred during the peak of that terrible conflict and, being a Northerner who was a Whig before that party imploded after the 1852 national elections and then a Republican when that party arose four years later, he stood little chance of winning any office so long as the “Chivalry” Democrats ruled the regional political roost. While the sectional differences were not as marked in 1871, Republicans had little chance, if any, of winning elections in Los Angeles County.
There was, however, change in the air as the local boom, which began in the late Sixties and continued through the mid Seventies, brought a significant growth in population from the ruins of the devastated postwar South, but also from the northern states. The Democrats were still strong, but there was a growing element of Republicans, even if, in 1873, they adopted the more generic moniker of the “People’s Reform Party” and the “Independent Ticket.”
Initially, it was not F.P.F., but his eldest son, Thomas, a teller at the family-owned Temple and Workman bank and a fixture on the Angel City’s social scene known as “Lord Chesterfield” for his stylish dress and polished manners, who announced his candidacy to try and unseat Rowan. On 12 June, however, the younger Temple took out an advertisement in the Star “to announce that I have withdrawn my name as a candidate,” while just below his father had his ad to say that “in respect to the urgent solicitations of numerous friends, I beg leave to announce myself as a candidate” for the position.
When it came time for the county conventions of the two parties, held in late July, F.P.F.’s candidacy caused opponents to gripe that, as president of one of the commercial banks in Los Angeles, his conflict of interest was such that it was a problem for him to run—even though Rowan was an employee, albeit not an officer, of the other institution. On 26 July, Temple took out a “Card to the People of Los Angeles County” to address this concern:
My object and intent in seeking the office, is not to secure the use of the public moneys for the baking institution with which I am connected. And, if the public, with their knowledge of me, extending through over thirty years of what I hope and have considered has been an honorable connection with the business interests of the county, now have confidence in the integrity of my word, I hereby pledge myself to obey, in every particular, the law of the land . . . I only have to ask of the public . . . that they may elect to prevent that the banking institution—with which I have so long had the honor of sharing the public patronage—shall not monopolize this evidence of the public trust.
As for his nomination by the Independent convention, it was stated in the Star that, concerning Temple, “it is generally conceded that he is truly the ‘People’s’ candidate.” It was added that, in his three decades in Los Angeles, “he has never oppressed a human being in the world . . . his charities are innumerable and always large. He has beautified this city in the erection of imposing edifices, which will remain monuments of his public spirit long after he has been gathered to his fathers.”
Moreover, it was averred that, even though Temple was a Republican and a Union supporter during the war, “he never allowed a poor man from the South to pass his door without comforting him,” while an unnamed Democrat purportedly told the paper that “many a time he [Temple] has given money, horses, cows, seed, and farming implements to the poor soldiers or refugees from the south.”
A few weeks later, the Star, noted that Temple “will receive the support of the people who want to know how the public funds will be kept” as, with his long residence in the county, ” has the respect and confidence of the people, and we have heard only two points urged against his election—he is a rich man and a banker.” It concluded that voters would determine whether that was “a single reason why he should not be supported by every man that wishes to see an honest and economical county government.”
On the 21st, the paper received a lengthy letter in support of Temple’s candidacy by William B. Lee, a Southerner from El Monte who was convicted of murder in 1854 and sat in the county jail when vigilantes, enraged by the legal hanging of Felipe Alvitre (from Temple’s community of Misión Vieja south of El Monte) and a stay of execution of David Brown, seized the latter and lynched him. Lee’s conviction was later overturned because of the conditions in the region during his trial and lived quietly with his family, including his wife, daughter of Micajah Johnson, former foreman of William Workman at Rancho La Puente and who, just prior to the Alvitre/Brown affair, was involved in a notorious El Monte feud with the King family, leading to Johnson’s death after he killed the King patriarch.
In his letter, Lee, whose property was sold by Workman to raise funds for his defense, wrote that “our children’s children will reverence the name of Temple” as “for the last twenty-four years [the key Gold Rush year of 1849] emigrants have been coming to this country by the southern route” and when they got to “the Monte,” the place basically was the domain of Workman and Temple. These men, he continued, were asked for help and Workman “did not object to them stopping there until they could do better, and most of them staid [sic].” Workman provided plows and Temple horses, while the former also was known “to send order after order to [the Los Angeles store of] Alexander & Mellus for clothing for these poor people’s children.
After observing that “Mr. Workman’s kindness to the widow and orphan has long since been recorded in heaven,” where those, Lee added, who opposed Temple had no hope of going, he went on that
A poor man cannot consistently vote against Mr. Temple; why, he gives to the poor annually what the profit of the office of County Treasurer would amount to. He is, indeed, the poor man’s friend; and when one meets him he is not knocked down by a gold-headed cane, kid gloves and stove-pipe hat, but extends, in his mild calm way, the naked hand. Mr. Temple employs quite a number of men to labor, and always provides them with comfortable houses, their children are allowed to attend school with his own and every thing that is needful is furnished gratis; and last, but not least, he was never known to hire a Chinaman.
This last point was clearly added because of the growing anti-Chinese movement that pervaded California and the West, fueled the Workingmen’s movement, and contributed largely to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Additionally, this remark was made less than two years after the horrific massacre of a Chinese teenage boy and seventeen men by a mob of whites and Latinos, though it should be noted that there is no known example of anti-Chinese sentiment expressed by Temple, who was the foreman of the jury in the 1872 trials of those charged with involvement in the Massacre. Not only that, but, in 1875, when the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, of which Temple was first president and then treasurer, hired workers for its only completed line to the new seaside town of Santa Monica, the company hired a large cadre of experienced Chinese railroad workers.
The day before the 2 September election, the Star discussed the county treasurer candidates and opined that “the opposition to and feeling against Mr. Hellman is intense,” though how much of this was because of a purported political “ring” associated with the banker and how much was because he was Jewish is not known. It continued that “Mr. Rowan, heedless of the advice of his friends, has persisted in his connection with the man who swore he had no money in the bank.” Consequently, the paper opined that the incumbent “can blame no one but himself” as “he must take the consequences.”
As for the challenger, the Star called him “a true friends to the poor man, and to the farmer” and his candidacy allegedly “has met with a electrical response from all portions of the county,” which recognized that Rowan, while liked personally, “is merely the figurehead of a gigantic political organization that is sucking from the body politic its very heart’s blood.” The paper concluded, “if we are not greatly mistaken the majority for Mr. Temple will be two to one,” even as it claimed that the supporters of the “Hellman candidate” were selling out the rest of the Democratic ticket out of sheer desperation.
This takes us to the 4 September edition of the Express, which frankly admitted in its “Local Dottings” column that “it is utterly useless to look for anything but political items to-day” in the paper, as “the returns have absorbed all interest.” Separately in that section, the paper recorded that “the varying figures of the contest between Rowan and Temple this morning, as the returns came in[,] formed the universal topic” among Angel City denizens.
As counts arrived, both sides eagerly hoped for substantial majorities, so that “the news from Compton and Florence [south of the city] seemed for a while to enliven the Templetonians,” but returns from what became a large part of Orange County and from Ballona [modern Playa del Rey, Westchester, Culver City and nearby areas] raised concerns. The paper felt that it would take a majority of at least 150 in Los Angeles for Temple to win.
In a separate “Review of the Field,” it was stated that “the great fight” with the election “has indisputably been made on the Treasurership” as “around this office the battle raged fiercely.” The latest in the returns led the Express to report “that unless a miracle happened, it was not possible for Temple to overhaul [overcome?] Rowan.” The incumbent had at least a 200-vote majority over his challenger “and this it was found impossible to overcome.”
The latest figures showed Rowan had a 120-vote lead out of just over 3,300 cast (so much for the Star‘s assertion of a “gigantic” Hellman political machine!) and, while Temple had an advantage in the city of 116 votes, the second ward had not yet been reported and it was presumed Rowan would win big there. Rowan also held solid majorities at Anaheim, Silver [in the northern areas where Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Lancaster and nearby areas are now and which were mining regions then], and most other locales, including, despite Lee’s best efforts, El Monte, which went 115-42 towards the incumbent.
Temple’s win outside Los Angeles were few and in generally sparsely populated areas, such as Compton (72-13), Florence (32-10), San Antonio (southeast of Los Angeles, 33-10), his home area of Old Mission (49-6) and Wilmington (72-68.) The totals in this reporting were 1,711 for Rowan and 1,591 for Temple, but, as prognosticated, when the final results were issued, the incumbent finished with 1,859 to Temple’s 1,726, a net gain of 13 and still a very close race.
The two men squared off again in 1875, with perhaps an even more intense campaign, but coming at a very notable time as, just a week or so before the election, a statewide financial panic hit and the two Los Angeles banks faced a run by depositors that led them, on election day, to suspend business for a month to stem the tide and tamp down the panic. A summary of that campaign and election has also been previously provided on this blog.