Arthur Pue Gorman (1839-1906)
MSA SC 3520-1675
Arthur Pue Gorman is described by historians as "one of the most astute politicians in an age of rough and tumble partisan politics."1 Gorman began his political career at the age of thirteen when he became a page in the U.S. House of Represenatives. There he came under the tutalage of Stephen A. Douglas, and accompanied him to Illinois for his famous debates with Abraham Lincoln.2 During the Civil War, Gorman became a postal clerk for the U.S. Senate and made occasional trips to the front lines in order to deliver mail. After the war, President Johnson appointed him a federal revenue collector for Maryland, but he lost this position when Ulysses S. Grant assumed the presidency.
In 1869 Gorman won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates where he befriended William Pinkney Whyte of Baltimore. After winning the governorship in 1871, Whyte appointed Gorman director of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. Three years later, Gorman became the company's president and turned a previously unprofitable business into one that made over a million dollars.3
In 1870 Gorman met Isaac Freeman Rasin, a self-made man who shared Gorman's love for politics and who had risen to a powerful position on the political scene in Baltimore City. The two decided to join forces to create an alliance that would soon become a formidable political machine in Maryland and would help ensure that the Democrats remained in control of state politics. Gorman used his position at the C & O Canal Company to reward political allies with jobs and to build a base of support for himself. In 1873 Gorman rose to speaker of the House of Delegates, and it soon became clear to Democrats that it paid to be a friend of the Gorman-Rasin machine, whom opponents began calling the "Old Guard."4 Gorman's controlling influence on Maryland politics would last until his death in 1906.5
In 1903-05, Gorman spearheaded an attempt by Democrats to disenfranchise black voters in Maryland, who tended to vote Republican. The Democratic platform of 1903 stated that, "The political destinies of Maryland should be shaped and controlled by the white people of the State... [because the black vote was] ignorant, corrupt, the blind instrument of unscrupulous and selfish leaders... [and] posed a perpetual menace to the prosperity and peace of Maryland."6 After Democrats won at the polls in the fall elections of 1903, Gorman approached John Prentiss Poe, dean of the University of Maryland Law School, about finding a legal way to restrict the black vote and then amending the Maryland constitution accordingly. The "Poe amendment" passed easily in the Democrat-controlled legislature in the spring of 1904, but Governor Warfield opposed it and did not want to sign the bill into law. The Negro Suffrage League, the Maryland League of Foreign-Born Citizens, and clergy such as Cardinal Gibbons opposed the Poe amendment. Lawyers questioned its constitutionality. The result was that the Poe amendment went down to decisive defeat at the polls in the fall of 1905.7
Senator Gorman died suddenly on June 4, 1906 in Washington, D.C. of a heart attack.8
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