Henry Bowen Anthony 1815-1884 - Part II

“the lash of the Journal" – Sidney Rider

The man known and respected as the “Father of the Senate,” Henry B. Anthony, was Rhode Island’s most powerful politician for many years.  His political career spanned the years 1849, when he was elected Governor of Rhode Island (1849-51) and to his last days as U. S. Senator (1859-1884). During that period he created a powerful political machine that enabled him to control Rhode Island.  He was able to reward his friends and punish his enemies, which contributed both to those who honored him as well as to those who feared his wrath.  This included some powerful personalities such as Charles Brayton and Nelson W.Aldrich as benefactors and Sen. William Sprague and President Andrew Johnson, those he helped oust from power.

Henry B. Anthony quickly found the newspaper could exert a great deal of influence over the politics of the state.  When Anthony first became editor of the Journal, the state was divided over the issue of extending the suffrage.  Those who wanted the right to vote included the recent immigrants and those who could not meet the property ownership requirement.  These residents united behind Thomas Dorr.  Eventually, this led to violence in the so-called Dorr Rebellion in 1842.

Henry B. Anthony took the side of "law and order" and used the Journal to discredit the Dorrites, who had hoped to change the Rhode Island Constitution that was based upon the Charter of 1663. While this charter was very liberal for its time, by the mid-nineteenth century it no longer met the political needs of the state.  Based upon seventeenth century standards, the charter confined voting to property owners and gave small towns almost as many votes as the large cities.  By keeping the franchise restricted to property holders, the large numbers of landless immigrants had no say in the government. Anthony and his "machine" made sure that they pleased the Yankee farmers in the small towns and therefore were able to control the legislature.

Henry B. Anthony became an equal partner in the Journal in 1848 and in that year was elected governor on the Whig ticket.  He was re-elected in 1850, but declined a third term in that office.  Sidney S. Rider, one of Rhode Island's most eminent, if acerbic, historians, noted in 1911 that, "He (Henry B. Anthony) had constructed a political machine, but his chief weapon was the 'lash' of the Journal...."   In 1858, Anthony was elected to the U. S. Senate as a Union Republican.  He was re-elected to the Senate five times and served for 25 years.  This was before the popular vote for Senator as it is today.  Then the state legislatures selected the office holders.  Henry B. Anthony's political machine controlled the small towns which controlled the legislature thereby assuring his election and that of those he favored.

Anthony and the Journal were accused on a number of occasions of being anti-Irish and anti-Catholic. They supported Dorr's opponents who were openly anti-Irish and anti-Catholic and who founded a number of nativist societies which produced a great deal of anti-Catholic propaganda.  Anthony, as editor of the Journal, allowed the printing of material from these societies which threatened that if the suffrage were extended, "civil and political institutions and public schools would come under the control of the Pope of Rome through the medium of thousands of naturalized foreign Catholics...."

The anti-Catholic or "Know Nothing" movement reached its peak in 1854, when an "Independent Party" appeared.  It claimed to advocate temperance, but it was blatantly anti-Irish.  The Providence Journal supported Governor William Hoppin, who flamed the idle rumor of a Catholic conspiracy which was attempting to control the state.  Hoppin supplied arms and uniforms for a group of native born, white Protestants, calling themselves "The Guards of Liberty."  William McLoughlin, in his Rhode Island: A History, states that "The Providence Journal gave editorial support to increasing nativist sentiment and facetiously suggested, in December 1854, that restaurants and boardinghouses stop serving 'Irish stew' and in place of that 'odious dish substitute one which must recommend itself to every real Yankee, viz. Johnny cake and molasses."

Even pro-Anthony writers such as Garrett D. Byrnes and Charles H. Spilman have a difficult time in trying to explain Anthony's stand in the Senate regarding immigrants.  At one point, when Rhode Island was being criticized for restricting suffrage, Anthony replied that "a republican government might be representative without being democratic."  In referring to the immigrants, Anthony described them as those who "came among us uninvited and upon whose departure there is no restraint.”

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