Wednesday, May 03, 2006

John Mellen Thurston - Senator and....Poet!

SENATOR JOHN M. THURSTON Senator from Nebraska; born in Montpelier, Vt., August 21, 1847; moved with his parents to Madison, Wis., in 1854 and two years later to Beaver Dam, Wis.; attended the public schools and graduated from Wayland University, Beaver Dam, Wis.; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1869 and commenced practice in Omaha, Nebr.; member, city council 1872-1874; city attorney of Omaha 1874-1877; member, State house of representatives 1875-1877; appointed assistant attorney of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1877 and general solicitor in 1888; presidential elector on the Republican ticket in 1880; unsuccessful Republican candidate for United States Senator in 1893; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1895, to March 3, 1901; was not a candidate for reelection; chairman, Committee on Indian Affairs (Fifty-sixth Congress); appointed United States commissioner to the St. Louis Exposition in 1901; moved to Washington, D.C., and resumed the practice of law; returned to Omaha, Nebr., and practiced law until his death August 9, 1916; remains were cremated at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebr., and the ashes interred in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. []

Let's read what the Chicago Tribune so tactfully and sensitively published upon the Senator's death:
His death recalled the second great tragedy of his life, which ended his political career and caused one of the most remarkable collapses of personal popularity in the nation's history. That tragedy was encompassed in the appearance of a poem about a year after his wife's death, which he composed to another woman - Miss Lola Purman of Washington, whom subsequently he married, and who survives him.
Prior to the incident of the poem, which was a sentimental piece, addressed to "The White Rose," Senator Thurston had stood unbeatable in Nebraska politics. He had been twice chairman of the national Republican convention, the last time in 1896. Yet in 1900 he was barely able to retain a seat in the convention.
Few more thrilling moments have passed in the United States senate than that in which Senator Thurston, after a tour of Cuban reconcentrado camps, on which has wife had accompanied him and during which she had died, prefaced his address on the horrors he had seen by the solemn words: "I speak at the behest of lips now silent." The whole senate reacted to it, and the nation reacted to it.

As we learned in an earlier post, Lola had precipated this incident by presenting the Senator with the infamous white rose at the opera. The Tribune was kind enough to provide the poem:
Here is the poem which proved Thurston's nemesis:

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you lie on my breast tonight?
Will you nestle there with your perfume rare
And your petals pure white?"

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you thrill to my every sigh,
Though you life exhale in the morning pale
And you wither and fade and die?"

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you throb with my every breath?
Will you give me the bliss of a passionate kiss,
Albeit the end is death?"

The White Rose lifted her stately head
And answered me fair and true:
"I am happy and blest to lie on your breast,
For the woman who gave me to you."
[Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1916]
It is amazing that one hundred years ago, a widower's marriage to a younger (ok, more than 25 years younger) woman could end his political career. Maybe that poem only warranted censure.

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