The Idaho senator who switched from Republican to Democrat knew how to make headlines — saying nasty things about the Indians and Mormons, and not wanting more Chinese immigrants. He also wanted to sell the Philippines to Japan, pushed for using gold and silver coins, and demanded that navy bean soup always be on the Senate menu.
Born in Palestine, Ill., he was a member of Scroll and Key, Yale’s second oldest secret society for elites, then moved to Idaho in 1880 to become a lawman and politician.
Fred T. Dubois was one of Idaho’s most colorful politicians — until he lost his Senate seat to Republican William Borah, the Lion of Idaho.
Appointed U.S. marshal in Idaho, it didn’t take him long to raise eyebrows — by relentlessly hunting down Mormons accused of breaking the law by practicing polygamy.
Years later he wrote, “I became absolutely obsessed with the Mormon problem. The government was determined to stamp out polygamy and I felt I was the agent of the government and the people of the United States, and that the duty devolved upon me to see that the laws of the land were obeyed by the Mormon people in respect to their practices.”
He revived the dormant Independent Anti-Mormon Party of Oneida County in 1884 — the same year the Idaho Legislature passed the Anti-Mormon Test Oath law that excluded Mormons from holding office in the territory. Six weeks later, the law was extended by banning Mormons from voting and serving on juries.
As marshal, he organized a raid on the mostly Mormon town of Paris, hunting for polygamist men, who if found guilty would be locked up for three to three and a half years.
In 1889, Idaho adopted a constitution that contained anti-Mormon provisions — hoping it would encourage Congress to grant statehood. The following year, Idaho joined the Union as a Republican, anti-Mormon state.
Fred Dubois continued battling the Mormons into the early 20th century, even though the Latter-day Saints Church issued the Woodruff Manifesto in 1890 officially advising members to end the practice of plural marriages.
LDS President Wilford Woodruff said, “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting marriages forbidden by the laws of the land.”
The church order was reinforced 14 years later with the Second Manifesto, threatening excommunication.
Dubois even tried to have the Senate expel Utah Sen. Reed Smoot on grounds that he was a Mormon, but the effort failed.
During his days as U.S. marshal, Dubois gained enough support to become territorial delegate to Congress, defeating Democrat John Hailey.
He vigorously campaigned for Idaho statehood during a time when northern Idahoans and eastern Washingtonians talked about merging to form a different state. They had more in common with each other than they did with the rest of their respective states, and for some 20 years there were rumbles about linking up — maybe even with western Montana.
Dubois however lobbied President Benjamin Harrison for statehood — reminding him that their grandfathers fought a common cause at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
The Idaho-Washington merger idea ended in 1890 when Idaho won statehood.
Dubois went to Washington, D.C., as Idaho’s first full-term United States senator. He served only one term however before being ousted by Henry Heitfeld of the Populist Party — a left-wing group supported by farmers that later became part of the Democratic Party.
Being politically correct was far from Fred Dubois’ mind. He knew who he liked and who he didn’t — like the Bannock and Nez Perce Indians.
In 1894, he “helped negotiate” a treaty with the Nez Perce, which when ratified, stated, “The said Nez Perce Indians hereby cede, sell, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their claim, right, title, and interest in and to all the unallotted lands within the limits of said reservation….etc.”
So much for natural rights thousands of years old.
The following year, the government tangled with the Bannocks. One of the issues was hunting rights — Indians could hunt any time, while whites were restricted to hunting season only.
“Senator Dubois of Idaho is not surprised at the trouble with the Bannocks,” reported the New York Times on July 30, 1895. “He says that the whites are entirely in the right. They contend that if they are not allowed to kill game out of season the same law should be enforced against the Indians.”
Further commenting on the exemption of hunting restrictions for the Indians, Dubois said, “The extermination [driven over the boundary] of the whole lazy, shiftless non-supporting tribe of Bannocks would not be any great loss.”
The Chinese immigrants were another favorite target for the unconventional senator from Idaho.
Chinese flocked to Idaho in the mid-1800s, attracted by the discovery of gold. By 1870, they were nearly 30 percent of Idaho’s population in 1870, working mostly in mining, laundry, gardening, restaurants and railroad construction.
Over the years, antipathy toward the Chinese grew as they were blamed for taking jobs away from higher-wage whites because they were willing to work for less money.
In 1882, the draconian Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. Later laws made it even tougher on Chinese. Anti-Chinese restrictions weren’t repealed until 1943 when the U.S. needed China’s help in fighting the Japanese in World War II.
Dubois supported the restrictions on the Chinese — as did much of America and Canada in those times.
In 1899, the U.S. took control of the Philippines after winning the Spanish-America War and the Philippine Insurrection — following 300 years of Spanish rule.
Fred Dubois opposed making the Philippines an American territory and pushed for its independence. Then in 1905 he visited the Philippines and concluded the Filipinos were not capable of governing themselves, and advocated selling the islands to Japan.
After losing re-election at the end of his first term in the Senate, Dubois retired to his farm in Blackfoot in southeastern Idaho to grow alfalfa.
Then he joined the Free Silver movement promoting “Bimetallism” to replace the gold standard and making both silver and gold legal tender — with a value ratio between them fixed by law.
Silver miners in Idaho and other parts of the West liked the bimetallism idea because it ensured the value of silver, and farmers believed it would help the economy and bring on a measure of inflation that would make it easier for them to pay off their mortgages.
One report said, “Bimetallism was the central issue of American politics in the 1890s, with an unusually high level of intensity as proponents of both sides saw themselves as the upholders of morality and their opponents as evil and dangerous.”
Democrats led by presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan linked up with “Silver Republicans” who split from the GOP and President William McKinley who wanted to stick with the gold standard.
Blasting the gold defenders, Bryan thundered, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
Bryan lost to McKinley, and the Gold Standard Act of 1900 ended the debate. Dubois refused to return to the GOP, and thus endeared himself to the Democrats.
In the 1901 elections, when legislators and not the people voted for senators, the Democratic-controlled Idaho Legislature elected Dubois to a second Senate term — defeating his former ally George L. Shoup, who before being senator was Idaho’s first governor.
Shortly after returning to the Senate, Dubois switched to the Democratic Party and became the only person to serve in Congress representing both major parties.
Fred Dubois died in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 14, 1930, at age 78, leaving his wife, Edna, and two daughters.
Despite his politically incorrect stands — by today’s standards — the controversial senator was a man of his times who vigorously championed Idaho’s wool, lead, sugar, timber and silver industries.
He was also an ardent conservationist — helping write the National Reclamation Act of 1902, and supported President Teddy Roosevelt’s plan of designating national forest lands.
His weathered gravestone in Blackfoot says, “He bequeathed that greatest of all legacies — an honorable and untarnished name.”
Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lincoln boys as playmates…
When Fred Dubois was eight years old, he and his brother Jesse Jr. lived close to Abraham Lincoln’s family in Springfield, Illinois and their playmates were Willie Lincoln, also nine and Tad Lincoln, age six. When the Dubois family had another son, they named him Lincoln.
Harsh anti-Chinese laws…
President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Law in 1882, stopping immigration of Chinese laborers. Over the years, more restrictions were added and anti-Chinese laws weren’t abolished until Dec. 17, 1943.
Mark Twain on the Philippines…
“I have read carefully the Treaty of Paris,” (ending the Spanish-American War) Mark Twain said, “and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.
“It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
1896 Presidential campaign…
When Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan battled for the White House in the presidential campaign of 1896, the main issue was whether or not the U.S. would remain on the gold standard — with gold coins in circulation and paper money backed up by gold held by the U.S. Treasury — or to switch to Bimetallism favored by the Democrats, using both gold and silver coins.
McKinley and the Republicans won and they stayed with just gold.
Bryan the Energizer Bunny…
In the presidential campaign of 1896, Democrat/Populist William Jennings Bryan gave more than 500 speeches to five million people in just 100 days — 36 in one day in St. Louis. When his voice became hoarse, he’d joke that he left his real voice at the last stop to continue rallying the people.
William McKinley campaigned from the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio, where organizers brought in train loads of voters to listen.
They also paid a large number of Republican surrogates to stump for him — including Teddy Roosevelt — labeling Bryan as a dangerous radical.