"You're a liar!" (apologies to T. R.) ripped out a big redfaced fellow sitting mid-room in the I. 0. 0. F. hall at Alpena, during the redhot political campaign of 1896. The speaker in a dramatic pose, with clinched fists and with his voice pitched in stentorian tones, had just reached a terrific climax, as he sought to show that the salaries of the daily wage-earner had steadily increased in this country since the Civil War, except during Grover Cleveland's two democratic administrations.

This insult hurled into his teeth caused the campaigner's face to flush. Seizing a book of statistics with which to prove his assertion, the speaker rushed down the aisle to the brazen-faced scapegoat, held the book firmly against the fellow's nose, and said in a manner that was in keeping with the excitement, "Did you say I was a liar?" The fellow's head kept going farther back. Every red corpuscle in his blood spontaneously crowded themselves into the veins of his face. "Did you say I was a liar?" thundered the speaker at him again.

And the speaker-ah! yes, the speaker! Who was he? None other than the fiery, fearless, eloquent young attorney-general of South Dakota - himself a candidate for congress - the Honorable Coe I. Crawford.

Crawford is by far the most spirited, logical and convincing campaign orator that the state has ever produced. The campaign of 1896 was the hottest political contest this country has seen since the Civil War. During its progress Senator Crawford delivered 105 telling speeches-speeches that were filled with pith and unanswerable arguments; and although he lost the fight for himself, he helped to stem the tide of popocracy and democracy combined and saved to the republican party of the state a part of the state ticket.

The scene at Alpena was mild beside the one that was enacted at Mound City in Campbell County. At this meeting, J. H. Kipp, who afterwards became insurance commissioner under Governor Lee, and a bunch of rowdies, stationed themselves in one corner of the room in which the meeting was being held, and determined to break it up. Every time Mr. Crawford would make a point they would groan and then hurl ugly remarks at him. The speaker's patience became exhausted. Being a master of invective, by birth, and a sovereign at sarcasm, by training, he suddenly stopped his address to pay his respects to Kipp and his friends. If ever fiery darts of burning invective, spat from the end of a human tongue, pierced the social armor of men, it was those that were sent seething into the skins of Kipp and his rowdies that night by Crawford. After giving them a tongue lashing that would have caused the soul of a cannibal to shrivel in its casement, the speaker went on-uninterrupted.

Again at Bowdle, during the same campaign, when Mr. Crawford had gotten his audience to a fever pitch of excitement, some licentious cur gulped out, "You got $20,000 for selling out to Taylor." (Taylor was the defaulting state treasurer whom Mr. Crawford, as attorney-general, was compelled to prosecute.) Quicker than a flash and in a tone of voice that showed he was not too young to begin nor "too old to come back," the speaker shot at his accuser this penetrating rejoinder, "I don't know who your are, but 1 know one thing and that is that you are a brazen liar." There was a slight shuffling of feet-a silence-a few coughs, when finally some one said "sic 'um" -then silence, as accuser and accused, liar and lyee (no charge for this new word), stood glaring into each other's eyes. The accuser settled down deeper and deeper into his seat until his crown played tag with his coat collar;-the speaker went on.

Once more-this time at Hartford. Owing to a railroad accident, Mr. Crawford was obliged to drive to Hartford from Salem. The night was blinding dark; the driver got lost and they did not reach Hartford until ten o'clock. Meanwhile an old farmer had been "filling in" until the regular speaker could arrive. As Mr. Crawford entered the hall and was recognized, pent-up feelings gave vent to out-spoken threats, men jumped onto chairs and called each other liars; some shook ten, twenty and even hundred dollar bills in other men's faces and told them to "put up or shut up." A fist fight was going on outside, and oaths rent the air.

Mr. Crawford spoke till after midnight; then the crowd refused to depart. Both sides prepared huge bonfires which they re-kindled until their fiery tongues intermingled in the morning skies with the reddened streaks of dawn. Such are only a few of the stirring scenes through which he who constitutes our subject has passed.


Senator Crawford has a style of oratory peculiar to himself. It comes natural to him. It is differffent from all other men in the state His climaxes are not built up on previous meditation. He gathers his inspiration from his surroundings, ignites it with a fuse of soul, and immediately there is an outburst of high keyed rhetoric that causes one to feel his chair lifting him from the floor. Your hair stands pompadour; your scalp puckers as though it had been rubbed with alum; the muscles of your face twitch; your heart thuds; you lean forward; you hold your breath; -you have been touched by the magic tongue of the orator. Then as his oratory subsides, you relax, settle back, feel as though you were being lowered into an abyss, catch your breath, feel your heart-throbs become normal, and sit meditating over the argument being adduced; when suddenly the speaker's eyes flash again, his voice raises, his fists clinch, he comes nearer, you tremble under the spell, and then as if touched by an electric battery you leap upon your seat and cheer! What's wrong? Nothing! You have merely felt the power of human words, the accents of a soul-stirring voice, the effects of natural, inspirational impassioned, spontaneous eloquence. Such is the oratory of Crawford. His silvery tongue, pivoted on a diamond swivel, glistens with sparkling verbiage and brings upon you an incantation that is overpowering, aweinspiring, magical, grand.

Again Crawford speaks in epigrams. When he uncorks a new can of thern they spurt forth with a hissing, squelching effect like a punctured tube of patent fire extinguisher. His "imps of hell", "toads in a cellar", "machine whelps," and dozens of other epigrams hurled at his personal enemies during the bitter campaigns of 1906 and 1908, are now matters of state pride in a chosen son's vocabulary.

Mr. Crawford was one of the ten law students, selected by the faculty out of a class of 130, for commencement honors at the Iowa University Law School. He acquitted himself with oratorical honors, even at that early day in his career.


Senator Crawford earned the money to put himself through law school, by teaching school. After graduation, he again taught for a brief period, to get money with which to start up in his practice.

Nearly every lawyer has to go through this starvation period. Young Crawford was no exception. He became the junior member of a law firm at Independence, Iowa, and at the end of a year he found himself $300 in debt. He got together $25 (enough to pay his carfare to Pierre, S. D.) and started west, to "live or die, sink or swim, survive or perish." Reaching East Pierre, he rented a shack and stuck out his shingle.

His first cases were defending frontier ruffians in justice's court. He soon built up a practice that was phenominal. It was these early efforts at oratory in justice's court that in later years caused his subsequent law partner, the learned Charles E. De Land, to write of him:

"Boundless energy, fearless advocacy of his client's cause, stern and drastic invective against those who sought to trample upon his own rights at the bar-these were the qualities, the memories of which mark my first information of him who is the subject of this sketch, the then young man who, in his maiden efforts in justice's court, after settling in Pierre in 1884, had by sheer force of manhood, expressed in matchless eloquence, arousing inquiry and astounded listeners passing by, and who eagerly inquired 'Who is he?' to be told 'He is Coe I Crawford.' "

This promising young attorney soon lost his entire law library in a fire; removed to Pierre, stuck out his sign, started in all over again, and in a short time became one of the recognized criminal lawyers of the state. In 1897 he removed to Huron to become attorney for the Northwestern Railway company, where he soon distinguished himself at the Beadle county bar.


His defense of young Hubbard, in the famous Hubbard-Cakebread murder case which occurred on the Miller ranch four miles north-east of Alpena, was perhaps the ablest effort of his life. In the first trial Hubbard was fonud guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to the penitentiary. Crawford was dauntless in his efforts and at the end of fourteen months he secured a second trial for him, It was his argument before the jury in behalf of his client at this second trial to which we specifically refer. Business was largely suspended in all of the surrounding towns. Hundreds made their way to Huron to hear Crawford's closing argument. Those who could be squeezed into the court room will never forget the magic spell of his oratory. Not a dry eye in the jury box; not a dry eye in the entire court room; women sobbing in the audience; strong men burying their faces in handkerchiefs; even the court became visibly effected; as hour after hour, building up climax after climax, while he held his audience in tragic suspense, the gifted oratory mounted from the hill-top to mountain-top in gilded flights of almost supernatural oratory until at last he suddenly broke the chains of bondage and set his prisoner free!


No man will pretend to deny but that Senator Crawford has few equals and no superiors in state politics His rise from that dismal law shack at old East Pierre to the United States senatorship fully attested his capabilities along this line. He is not only a good campaigner, but he is an adept at campaign execution. He is a born leader. You simply can't down him.

The next year after settling at Pierre he was elected states attorney for Hughes county. At the same time he formed a law partnership with Mr. De Land, which lasted for twelve years. After serving only two year as sstates attorney, Mr. Crawford was elected to the Territorial Senate in 1888. Two years later he was elected state senator from Hughes county. Two years after this he was elected attorney-general for the state, filling this position for two terms, during a very trying time. This took him up to the eventful campaign of 1896 when he was a candidate for congress, and in which, during the tide of populism, he lost by only a few votes.

In 1904, he made a fight for the Governorship and lost. In 1906, he renewed his fight and won. Crawford's ability to forsee the culmination of public sentiment and the probable turn of political events, is his greatest asset. After serving only one term as governor, he declined to become a candidate for renomination, but plunged head-long into the senatorial fight, winning the nomination in the June primaries of 1908, and his election at the hands of the state legislature in 1909. It will thus be seen that his political record has been a phenominal one.


Crawford's political rise was finally due to the reforms for which he stood. During his administration as governor there were enacted into state law some of our mos wholesome reforms. There will of course always be honest differences of opinion concerning some of these laws.

He came forward upon the theater of political operations just at the psychological moment. LaFollette had just led off in Wisconsin; Cummings was leading off in Iowa; the spirit of insurgency, born in the northwest, had taken root and had begun to spread. Dolliver, Beveridge, Lenroot, Bristow, Hubbard, Cooper and others caught the echo and responded. It has plainly become the West against the East, and the former is going to win, even at the expense and peril of turning the country democratic.


Senator Crawford came from good, old, Presbyterian, Scotch-Irish stock. His father was a wagon maker and an honest, upright, conscientious, Christian gentleman. In 1851, he removed from Ohio to Allamakee county, Iowa, and settled on a farm. Here Coe I. came into being January 14, 1858. His boyhood was spent on the farm. During the winter he did chores and attended district school for a few months each year. At fifteen years of age he entered a semi-graded school at Rossville. During his two years at this school he stayed with Dr. Simeon H. Drake, who gave him private lessons in Latin, Geometry and English Literature.

He drifted to Ohio, taught school, traveled two years for a publishing house and then entered the law school at Iowa City, where he graduated with honor with the class of '82, and since that time he has repeatedly honored his Alma Mater.

Mr. Crawford was married in 1884 to Miss May Robinson of Iowa City. Two children blessed this union. Mrs. Crawford died in 1894. Complying with the mandates of the scriptures, he married her sister in 1896. Three children were born to this second union.


When the Revolutionary army was spending its trying winter at Valley Forge, Isaac Potts, at whose home George Washington was making his headquarters, overheard the general in prayer on his knees one day along the river bank. He reduced the prayer to writing. It is still preserved in both history and literature. In it may be found these words. "Let all our victories be seasoned with humanity."

In the naval battle at Santiago, Cuba, during our recent war, one of our gun-boats hove near to a shell-riven, dismantled Spanish gun-boat that was on fire and was sinking. When the American crew beheld the terrific effect of their gunnery on the enemy, they began to cheer. Raising his hand, the commander said to his men, "Don't cheer boys, the poor devils are dying."

The humanity displayed by these military heroes was also displayed by Mr, Crawford in his great political battle for the senatorship. During the campaign, his integrity as a citizen, his manhood and his personal record, were attacked in a most vicious manner. Volley after volley of political viputeration was hurled against the armor plate of his character, yet he came out of the fight without sustaining any permanent injury. He was sittng in the governor's office when the united republican ballot of the legislature, in joint-session, was cast for him as United States senator. His presence was immediately demanded and a speech was loudly called for. In a moment he appeared, escorted by a special committee, and took the platform. Raising his hand, to allay the cheering, he calmly said. "Out of the heat of the campaign, I bring no malice toward any man." After completing a neat speech in the senate chamber he returned to the governor's office, where he was met by Governor Vessey who said to him: "This is the first time I have ever felt right about the senatorship since you were denied the appointment eight years ago. The fight has been a bitter personal one, and I congratulate you on your victory "

Senator Crawford replied: "Governor, I could never have stood it if it hadn't been for such loyal friends as yourself, who have stood with me bravely through it all."

Interviewed a few hours later about his speech of forgiveness delivered before the legislature he said: "No man has any right to harbor malice in his soul. He has a right, of course, to defend himself in a dignified way, when attacked, but he has no right to harbor malice toward any man when it is over."

Two days later he was summoned to the Governor's office to accept his commission from the state as United States senator from South Dakota. Taking Governor Vessey by the right hand, and placing his left hand on the Governor's shoulder, Senator Crawford said: "I know of no man in South Dakota whose name I would rather have on this commission than yours,-not simply because of the political strife through which we have passed together, but because of your personal friendship."

Thus, "out of the heat of the conflict," Mr. Crawford came forth a forgiving, high-minded, Christian gentleman, ready and willing to practice the daily prayer left for us by the Nazarine, two thousand years ago, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."


Men have already begun to criticise the senator pro and con for his record at Washington. We feel that judgment should be suspended for the present. His term is six years. He has served only eighteen months. Why jump at conclusions? The "National Magazine" for this month has this to say about him:

"A new senator, who in debate displays all the self-poise and ease of a veteran, is Hon. Coe I. Crawford of South Dakota. Always forceful and effective, although he keys his voice a trifle higher than most speakers, he is never asked to repeat a sentence because it has not been heard. In his recent speech in the Senate he announced that he should ask attention for. only a short time, but he was kept on the orator's witness stand for over an hour. A senatorial debate reminds one of a gridiron dinner, because of the quizzing that goes on across the floor, when the 'broilers' are all red hot and each senator is ready for carving with his sharpest knife."


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved