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The Election Case of John J. Ingalls of Kansas (1880)

John Ingalls

Electoral misconduct: charges of bribery and corruption

Memorial received: Mar. 19, 1879
Referred to committee: Mar. 19, 1879
Committee report: Feb. 17, 1880
Senate vote: Feb. 17, 1880

Result: Retained Seat

Although Kansas entered the Union in 1862, the internal organization of the state was not completed until 1888. Hotly disputed contests over the establishment of county seats and the marking of county borders kept political excitement high and affected all the business of the state legislature, including the selection of United States senators. After helping the Republicans win the 1878 legislative election, incumbent Senator John J. Ingalls (Republican) returned to Washington to await the outcome of the January 1879 senatorial election.

Statement of the Case
When Ingalls won a narrow victory, his opponents charged election fraud. On March 19, 1879, the day after Ingalls took his oath for a second term, the Senate received a memorial from one faction of the Kansas legislature protesting irregularities in the January election. The Senate referred the matter to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. Late in March, the committee received a report from the Kansas legislature on an investigation it conducted into the election. Armed with that material, the committee asked for and received authorization to carry out its own investigation. Ingalls then withdrew as a member of that committee, and the remaining members began the time-consuming task of summoning witnesses.

Response of the Senate
A brief Senate debate on the Ingalls case took place in January 1880, after several witnesses had been arrested and brought to the Senate chamber for failing to respond to the committee's summons. All three frontier residents were quickly relieved of charges of contempt when they explained their failure to appear earlier as due either to family emergencies or the fact that great distances and poor communications had delayed delivery of the summons.

Finally, on February 17, 1880, the committee reported on the testimony gathered, both in Washington and at a subcommittee hearing in Topeka. Witnesses had described bribes and blackmail arranged at the Topeka Tefft House, a favorite meeting spot for Kansas politicians. The tales of clandestine rendezvous among drunken legislators who schemed for Ingalls' election echoed the misconduct charges leveled in 1872 against then-Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy, which had led the legislature to choose Ingalls in that election. The committee majority stated that, while "bribery and other corrupt means were employed" in 1879 by those favoring Ingalls, no witness could conclusively tie Ingalls to the irregularities, and there was no proof that the questionable deals had altered the election results. A minority report agreed but added that Ingalls should be exonerated more forcefully, since the whole matter smacked of a plot to defeat the senator by falsely incriminating him. The Senate approved the majority report by voice vote that same day.

In 1882 the Senate adopted a resolution reimbursing Ingalls for the expenses of his defense. Perhaps reflecting the prevailing view of Kansas elections, John Ingalls a decade later made the widely quoted statement in an 1890 newspaper interview: "The purification of politics is an iridescent dream. Government is force. Politics is a battle for supremacy. . . . The Decalogue and the Golden Rule have no place in a political campaign. The object is success." Renowned for his acid tongue, John Ingalls continued to serve in the Senate until 1891, the last four years as president pro tempore. He died in 1900.

Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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