Cumberland Times-News

James Rada - Looking Back

July 31, 2011

LOOKING BACK 1880: Will the real Richard Lindsay please testify?

— Cumberland’s nickname as “The Queen City” might have become “The Kingmaker” if a plan to influence the 1880 presidential election had worked. The revelation of the “Morey Letter,” supposedly written by President James Garfield in his own hand, showed the president to be a hypocrite on an important campaign issue. The letter had thrown what had seemed to be an easy re-election into uncertainty only weeks before the election.

Despite an exhaustive search for H.L. Morey, the recipient of the letter, he hadn’t been found. Garfield had issued a statement saying the letter wasn’t his, but officials with the Democratic National Committee across the country were saying that they were familiar with the president’s signature and it was his.

Abram Hewitt, a U.S. congressman and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a speech, “Some people may (might) incline to pronounce it a forgery. I have seen it. I am familiar with General Garfield’s signature and I have compared it with his letters in my possession, and have no doubt it is genuine.”

An investigation uncovered that the letter may have been written by Kenward Philp, an editorial writer for The Truth, the newspaper that published the Morey Letter, “who had long been known as a most able and dangerous imitator of handwriting,” according to John Davenport in History of the Forged Morey Letter. Philp was charged Oct. 27 and brought to trial in the hopes of reaching a decision before the election.

The Democratic National Committee refused to concede that the letter was forgery and continued looking for proof of its authenticity. The night before the election, the committee officials sent an affidavit to the press made by Robert Lindsay, a 19-year resident of Allegany County. He had seen an ad in the Evening Times placed by William Price, head of the county’s Democratic Committee. He swore that he had first met Henry L. Morey in 1874 and then had met him twice earlier in 1880.

The affidavit was printed in papers around the country on the day of the election with no chance for the Republicans to respond until the evening papers, but by then a lot of votes had been cast. Garfield won, but not by the margin he had held before the scandal.

“Garfield won the electoral vote, 214 to 155, but the popular vote proved the closest in American history: Out of nine million ballots cast, Garfield surpassed Hancock by less than 2,000 votes (depending on which returns one accepts),” Andrew Gyory wrote in an article for the History News Network.

The letter “had beyond doubt cost the Republican candidates the electoral votes of California, Nevada and New Jersey. It was also quite clear to all careful observers of the political situation, that but for the evidence of the fraudulent character of the Morey letter, produced upon the examination of Kenward Philp, the forgery would have succeeded in electing the Democratic nominees,” Davenport wrote.

The trial continued the following day with testimony that showed how The Truth and the Democratic National Committee had worked together to present the letter in the most damaging way possible. However, cracks in the case also began showing as some witnesses couched their stories in softer terms than they had used during the run up to the election.

Lindsay took the stand Nov. 9. He said that he was a detective employed by “a secret organization of working men.”  He testified under oath that Henry L. Morey had been connected with Consolidated Coal Co.’s union. Morey and Lindsay had met for the last time between Feb. 4-10, 1880, when Morey had showed Lindsay the letter from Garfield.

Col. Henry J. Johnson and Capt. William E. Griffith, both of Cumberland, had been investigating the specifics of the case. When it came time for the cross-examination, they were ready. By the time they were through, they would show that Robert Lindsay, although he testified before them in court, did not exist.

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James Rada - Looking Back
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