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BeeLines

Martin C. Rice — founder of First Republican newspaper — the Westfield Republican

February 12, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

"Living alone in a little cabin on the Kansas prairie is an old man who helped to organize the Republican Party, who was a delegate to the Pittsburg convention where the party first took shape, [and] was the founder and editor of the first Republican newspaper in this country. He was the intimate friend of Horace Greeley, William H. Seward, and others of illustrious memory - He saw Lincoln nominated for President, and he saw him after he was dead."

So begins an un-bylined article in the June 6, 1900 Westfield Republican, sketching a few details of the life of one of Westfield's prominent pioneer citizens, who was then about 75. Martin Calvin Rice was born at Antwerp, Jefferson County, NY, on August 22, 1826, and died in Lawrence KS, February 20, 1926, just shy of his 100th birthday. When Rice was 8 years old, he moved with his family to Westfield NY where he was educated at Westfield Academy. He was noted as a woodsman from his early years, later studying law in a Westfield attorney's law offices, and was admitted to the Bar in Buffalo NY about 1853.

When interviewed for the 1900 article, the reporter found "the old gentleman" lying in is bed, looking out across the prairie Rice seemed to anticipate and pre-answer any questions the reporter might have planned to ask, initiating the chat with "You're welcome. I was resting from my walk. I just returned from town." Since there was nothing but prairie in sight in all directions from the cabin, the surprised reporter replied, "From Hamilton?" "Yes." "Why, that's six miles away. You didn't walk it did you?" "I walked there and back this morning, twelve miles. Iwalk it when the roads are rough. When they are smooth I ride my wheel." "You ride a bicycle?" "Why, yes. Irode it to Lawrence, 100 miles, last summer, and I expect to ride it there again this summer. If I had thought about it earlir I would to have ridden my wheel to Philadelphia to the convention." (*see final paragraph of this BeeLines)

Article Photos

Martin C. Rice

Rice then proceeded to describe his early years, through when he became a lawyer "I am a lawyer, you see," he said laughing. "I studied law and went through college at home and had a large law practice in Westfield NY before I started my newspaper. And now, since you are here, and are going to write some of the things I say, let me correct some misstatements that are going the rounds of the press. I see it stated that the Republican party was born in Michigan. It was born in New York, and this is how it came about

"In that winter [1854-55] Seward, Greeley, Clapp of the Buffalo Express, Raymond of the New York Times, and other leaders decided to hold a meeting in which the Whigs of New York would organize a new party. It was a sort of secret matter. Seward then had a land office in Westfield, and Patterson, who had been lieutenant governor, was his agent there. It was decided to hold the meeting in Mayville NY, and there it was held in January 1855. At that meeting the great Republican party was born. We had 1,000 people there, and good speakers. It was held in the courthouse and the overflow filled the yard. Governor Fenton, who was a 'Barn-Burner Democrat,' Patterson and others spoke. We passed resolutions at that meeting which were taken to the Republican national convention in 1856 and adopted almost word for word as the first national platform of the Republican party. So you see I am right when I tell you that the Republican party was born in New York, in the court house of Mayville."

"It was decided at this Mayville meeting that the new political movement begun there ought to have a newspaper. I was a lawyer then in Westfield and had decided views and had frequently expressed them in the press so I was selected to start this newspaper, and a week or two after the Mayville meeting I issued the first number of the Westfield Republican, the first Republican newspaper ever printed and I was the first Republican editor. I published that paper eighteen years and then sold it. It is running yet."

Rice went on to describe a convention in Pittsburg in winter 1856 which he attended, more about the newspaper as a "mouthpiece" of the newly forming party, and that he did not attend the 1856 national convention, but did attend, as a member of the press, the 2nd Republican national convention in 1860 when Lincoln became candidate.

He then related the following "You have doubtless read about the incident after Lincoln was elected and was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated - he kissed a little girl in Westfield who had written him advising him to wear a beard. That incident has been told of thousands of times, but I was the first one who wrote it down. When the train bearing Lincoln stopped in Westfield I was there in the crowd with my notebook. Lincoln made a speech from the rear of the car. He said that during his campaign he had received a ltter from a little girl in Westfield who said her papa was going to vote for him, and she asked him to wear a beard. Mr. Lincoln said he had followed the little girl's advice and had grown the beard. He asked if she was in the crowd before him. She was and he leaned over the car railing and reached down his long, bony arms and lifted her up and kissed her. The next time I saw Lincoln was when his funeral train passed through, and I saw his face through the glass in the coffin."

*After many more stories, as he put out his hand to say goodbye to the reporter, he had one more thing to say: "Well, those men of the old days, the founders of the great Republican party, are nearly all dead. I don't know why I am not dead too. In my young days we used to have reunions of the old men who fought in the Revolutionary war. I think it is a good plan to have a reunion in Philadelphia of the fifteen or sixteen survivors of those men who founded the Republican Party. I would like to have a sup of tea with them again before I die"

...Buzzings

It's February 2015, and it is great to be back home in Westfield NY after a year's hiatus trying to live in Silverton CO to be near my son. Silverton is over 9,000' and my aging body could not adapt to the "too little O2" at almost 2 miles high - they put me on OXYGEN! So I chose to again be a "flatlander" as the denizens of the Rockies like to refer to those of us who live at or near sea level. Also, it is great to have be re-appointed Westfield Town Historian by the Town Board, 1-7-15, and re-appointed Westfield Village Historian by the Village Board, 1-19-15. As you might suspect, I have already completed one research project, have another research project in process, and am assisting another historian writing a book.

 
 
 

 

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