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JIM. Local history: The day that Wolford spoke

Adair County's great Civil War hero, Col. Frank Lane Wolford, was a great lawyer and statesman, known for his persuasive oratory in courtrooms and in Congress. Fellow jurist H.C. Baker of Columbia wrote of him: 'No man ever engaged in a political debate with Wolford when he was in his prime, who did not come out of it second best...He knew how to capture an audience and use it to worry and harass the opposition, and it was seldom that a man who met him in discussion once ever desired to get under his fire again.' Jim weaves a story, The day Wolford spoke, of one of Col. Wolford's greatest triumphs in the United States House of Representatives
By Jim

The day that Wolford spoke

In the forepart of 1863, young Union brigadier general Fitz John Porter was court-martialed on the rather thin and somewhat nebulous grounds of disobedience and misconduct.

Fast forward almost exactly 21 years to the U.S. House of Representatives where debate had raged white-hot for four days over the Fitz John Porter bill, the purpose of said legislation being to expunge the court-martial and to restore Porter's commission and good name.

On the fifth day, Wolford spoke.

Adair native Frank Lane Wolford, late Colonel of the First Kentucky Cavalry, Union, was midway through the first of his two terms in the U.S. House. Of Wolford, his fellow jurist H.C. Baker later wrote,

No man ever engaged in a political debate with Wolford when he was in his prime, who did not come out of it second best...He knew how to capture an audience and use it to worry and harass the opposition, and it was seldom that a man who met him in discussion once ever desired to get under his fire again.

Never was that more evident than that February 1st,1884, the day that Wolford spoke. The following day, the Courier-Journal devoted nearly three full columns of fine print to the proceedings, noting in the first line that "The friends of the John Porter Bill reserved the best speeches for the last" and farther commented that

...the great crowds of spectators who forced themselves into the galleries...felt well repaid for their trouble and exertions. The discussion of a great public measure affecting the interests of millions of people...seldom draws to the Capitol so great an assemblage of people with feelings so warmly enlisted as has been brought there day after day by this bill for the benefit of a single American citizen...,

Then the man from Adair took the podium:

Col. Wolford, of Kentucky, was the first speaker, and right nobly did he sustain his part. He spoke as a soldier and as a gentleman who demanded justice to a brave and honorable man. He was interrupted several times by Mr. Horr, of Michigan, and knocked the latter off his pins as often. Mr. Horr finally took a back seat, utterly routed. Mr. Steele, Indiana, also received several well-merited slaps and crank White got a severe blow between the eyes. He sat down like he was shot.

Another Representative, Mr. Milliken, questioned if Wolford were asking for votes for the bill "as an act for the conciliation of his friends," and stated that if that were the case, he (Milliken) would vote for the bill. "Mr. Wolford replied that he asked it on the highest grounds ever presented. He demanded it as an act of a long-injured man."

In response to a part of Mr. Horr's speech, in which Horr had questioned the motives of ex-Confederates in the House who supported the bill, Col. Wolford responded in his usual vigorous style. Wrote the Courier of his reply:

[Wolford] hoped no man who had served in the Confederate army had got so mad over a fight that, after twenty years, he could not do an act of justice to a man who fought against him. he hoped no man would get up and say: "I can't vote on this bill; I am interested; I am still mad." He understood that his Confederate friends were here, loving the flag and loving the country.

The paper then directly quoted Wolford driving home the point regarding the "interest" of the former Confederates:

"They were saying today and forever that they had left behind them the bitter feelings engendered by the war, and everything that divided the country. Were men forever to stand and quarrel over old issues? Let Congress go forward and say it is ready to do justice to an injured man."

The Courier-Journal noted that the bill lost some votes because of the over-long (five day) debate but still passed the House the day that Wolford spoke by better than a two-to-one margin (184 to 78). It would be another two years and half years, however, before President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill to restore Porter's commission and good name.


This story was posted on 2011-07-24 06:39:03
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