ROBERT S. VESSEY
Rising to an impassioned outburst of eloquence, while delivering an address at Ethan, during
the recent political campaign, Senator Coe I. Crawford said: "My Fellow Citizens When you look
into the face of Governor Vessey, you look into the face of a man! -a man who has written his
own splendid character on the hearts and in the lives of the people of our entire state!"
(Prolonged applause.) The word "man" has in it only three letters; yet, after all, how few of
our own sex (let's be honest) really incorporate into their lives all of the constituent elements
embodied in this little word.
Senator Gamble, upon being asked recently what gave the governor such a hold on the people
of our state, said, "His face." That's it! Any man with Bob Vessey's face can win in politics.
He isn't like one of our former public men who was prominent in national life and who, upon
being accused of being "two-faced," declared "It isn't true'. If it were, I wouldn't be wearing
the face I now have."
Have you never noticed the dimple in that stern chin, and the protruding lower lip -each of
which are indication of determination? And the deep-set, kindly eyes with their wealth of
shadowy eyebrows, denoting his pleasing temperament? What an open countenance! What a manhood
revealed from within! Fortunate, indeed! His face is his political asset, and not a liability.
ROBERT S. VESSEY
Another campaign has come and gone in our state's proud history. Robert S. Vessey has been
triumphantly re-elected governor at the hands of the republican party. His past record has been
accepted as a criterion for the future. The people, by their ballots, have said, "We are content."
His unsullied manhood will now become more conspicuous than ever before. The eyes of the state
are riveted upon him. The smoke of the last campaign is clearing away, and above the clouds of
strife, like the sphinx on the Egyptian desert, there stands out in bold relief against the
historic sky the resplendent character of the man.
Governor Vessey is a Badgerite by birth. It seems that about sixty per cent of the fellows
who have won distinction in the public life of South Dakota, came from Wisconsin. No wonder
when that state began to "insurge" in politics that we should "follow suit" or "trump" as the
case may be. (We dont' play cards either--we borrowed these expressions.)
Our governor-grand, good man that he is-was denied the advantage of an education. He got his
training in the universe instead of a university. But, after all, this counts in life;
Vessey has proven it.
In 1882, he was united in marriage to Miss Florence Albert, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Picture
if you will an ox team hitched to a covered wagon, wending its way across the prairies in the
spring of 1883, toward Wessington Springs, driven by a soberminded young groom, with his bride
by his side. Watch them reach their destination; see the young couple climb out, kneel down and
thank God for the scanty blessings of life; and you will have before you the image and
circumstances of the man who was destined to become the governor of the state that had just
adopted him, Robert S. Vessey.
For a few years he played the "good shepherd" and raised sheep. Then he organized at
Wessington Springs a mercantile business which he recently sold; and later he went into the
banking business also. At present he is the head of a large trust company organized at Pierre,
and he is a trustee of the Wessington Springs Seminary, and of Dakota Wesleyan, at Mitchell.
In 1905 and in 1907, he was state senator from Jerauld county. During this period he was
steeped in reform. The old political methods employed in the state did not appeal to him. He
was open and above board in all of his contentions. He introduced the measure compelling
campaign committees to keep an account of their expenses and to make public report; also the
measure compelling railroads to build connecting tracks at intersecting points; and he
secured the adoption of better state banking laws.
Always on the side of the people his determined and manly stand on public questions invited
the attention and commanded the respect of the state. When Governor Crawford decided not to
stand for re-election as governor but to make the race for the United States senate, Vessey's
geographical position, the fact that he was in accord with Crawford's program and that he had
organized the first Crawford club in the state, made him the logical candidate for governor.
He went into the primaries, won a decisive victory at the hands of the republican party; was
elected by 17,000 majority in the fall of 1908; was renominated by a tremendous lead over his
two republican opponents in 1901, and on November 8, skinned his democratic opponent by over
23,000 votes. Going some, eh?
AS A PUBLIC SPEAKER
Vessey went into the political campaign of 1908, wholly unprepared by experience on the
platform to make the fight that was facing him Every time he tried to speak his tongue clove
to the roof of his mouth, and you could scarcely have pried it loose with a crow-bar. His
friends took him over west of the river in Lyman county where the population was not nearly so
thick as it is today, and gave him the opportunity of practicing on some small audiences.
The first night was awful. The fellow was frightened half to death. The next night was no
better --possibly worse. Here, the nifty, versatile, experienced Crawford took him under his
Demostenesian wings and gave him a bit of Platonian advice. Said he, ''Now to-day, think up some
good story; and when you get up to speak tonight, tell it first of all."
Vessey thought, the story was born; he told it; it took like a Dakota prairie fire: his
audience responded, he had found the key to the situation, and he has been talking ever since.
Would you believe it?-this bashful, untrained business man has made more public addresses during
his two years in office than any other governor whom we have ever had. This may sound startling,
but it's true. He has addressed old settlers' picnics, stock growers' associations,
conservation congresses, educational gatherings, political meetings, Sunday school conventions-in
fact a multitude of associations and organizations, both within and without the state.
But whatever may be said pro and con for his work as a speaker, no one will deny but that he
is an ideal writer. His first message to the legislature was absolutely faultless in its
English, and it rang true with humanity and did him and the state great credit.
Read two paragraphs taken from his last Thanksgiving proclamation:
"The absence of the opening buds of spring, the faded blossoms of departed summer, the
gray-veiled skies of autumn, the chill of lengthening nights and the tang of frosty mornings,
-all serve to remind us of the approaching end of the present year and bring again to our minds
our beautiful custom of National Thanksgiving.
The sunshine of prosperity has smiled upon our land, and peace and plenty have been among
our people and blessed our homes. Civic conditions in our state have been improved, and the
plane of morality among our citizens has been lifted, for which let us he especially grateful."
When Mr. Vessey goes out of the governor's chair in 1912, he will be but fifty-four years of
There still lies before him fifteen years of active usefulness. What his intentions are we
do not know; what his political ambitions may be we are not prepared to say. He has twice
successfully withstood not only the democratic campaign fire, but cross-fire of his own powerful
party as well.
One thing is certain--the little mound that marks his final bivouac will be revered by the
people he has served, and on his tombstone will be engraved the loftiest epitaph in our
language, HERE LIES A MAN.