November 10, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Emmett Wilson, Congressman-Elect to U.S. Congress, was likely feeling no pain on Wednesday, May 15, 1912. Here’s why:
From the Wednesday, May 15, 1912 edition of The Pensacola Journal, page 1. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov
When Dannitte Mays telegraphed Frank Mayes about his decision to withdraw from the second primary, Emmett had already left to jumpstart the second race. In fact, Emmett was in Apalachicola with Frank Mayes when he’d received the news. The size of the celebration indicates this was not a spontaneous party; it was well planned, complete with a band and other speakers — pretty much like how Dannitte Mays’ concession.
Emmett’s speech, “…one of the best ever heard in Pensacola…” was also likely scripted ahead of time. Diplomatic, too; Emmett notes Mays’ ‘fairness of spirit’ in ceding the second primary before it even got off the ground. Coercion was probably a more realistic adjective, as the second primary not out of Mays’ grasp.
But, the concession by Mays now a fait accompli, we now examine the celebration (orchestrated by Frank Mayes) and words of Emmett Wilson.
Emmett walked into the celebration with his colleague Scott Loftin, and the room burst into cheers and applause! This must have been overwhelming for Emmett; he was rarely the center of this sizable celebratory crowd (though he had been in the filled Escambia County Courthouse chamber before when filled to capacity for a case).
The main chamber probably held about 250-300 at capacity; according to the article, though, it was standing room only when Emmett and Loftin arrived. Imagine a steamy, humid May evening, the smells of booze on the breath of those already in party-mode for Emmett, and in flasks passed around the room from man to man. Loftin tried more than once to address the crowd, finally holding up his hands, smiling good naturedly. It was loud, raucous — and intoxicating! — so it was easy to get caught up in the moment, the thrill, the excitement!
“President Loftin” was Scott Loftin, Esq., attorney and president of the Emmett Wilson Club that had only existed for about a week prior to Dannitte Mays’ concession to Emmett.
Pensacola Mayor Frank Reilly welcomed everyone, and gave a congratulatory speech praising Emmett for waging a good campaign, and predicted he’d do well given the need for more progressive political leadership in Congress. It was a fairly general yet positive speech for Emmett, given Reilly really didn’t know Emmett personally. Loftin, however, had a lot of history with Emmett, both as a fellow lawyer and longtime friend, and so was able to give a more reassuring and detailed overview of Emmett’s personality and professionalism.
“…plainly showing the emotion he felt at being given a demonstration…” This is the first thing I’ve read in all the years of researching Emmett that described a personal emotion or reaction and in public. It’s touching, and reassuring, in that up to this point, everything written about Emmett was strictly professional, only in terms of his capacity as a lawyer or district attorney. The reporting of Emmett being emotionally affected by this event makes him seem more relatable, not so distant. And its at this event that Emmett gets personal with the public.
Emmett acknowledged that he was very much the underdog, a virtual unknown in politics only six months earlier. The ONLY way Emmett could have won was because of his friends, and in particular, Frank Mayes.
Friendship was important to him. He didn’t miss that point; he was aware of what he owed others for his successes; I believe he tried to live up to the expectations of his friends and others who supported him. At least, that was his plan at the time he gave this speech. I don’t believe he realized the scope of what was expected of him; a man with no real political experience to go to Washington, D.C. and be part of the new progressive movement. But, he was caught up in joy and the potential of the moment; so, who could blame him?
So far, it was a good speech; it was thoughtful, humble, not too specific on policy details, but more grateful for the fact he won, and he wasn’t going to forget how he got to office in the first place. It was a good move to state his open door policy to all constituents; after all, Emmett now worked for them, and he’d need them to be friends and/or partners in the political process.
Emmett concluded thanking Dannitte Mays for his telegram, as well as his supporters, and shook hundreds of hands as he left the dais. I wonder if he was even able to sleep that night, after all of the excitement, and the thrill of having achieved what only six months earlier seemed unachievable.
Hopefully, he was able to get some rest; even though he still had the general election to win in November, the reality would sink in over the next few days as those friends who carried Emmett to victory would start asking for favors.
The University of Maryland Global Campus