United Christian Party (United States)

"Christian Patriots" redirects here. For the contemporary American nationalist movement, see Christian Patriot movement.
Rev. William Rudolph Benkert was the originator and longtime National Chairman of the United Christian Party.

The United Christian Party (UCP) was a political party first established in the American state of Iowa in August 1897. Although superficially professing an orientation towards theocracy and a conservative social program in its earliest years, the UCP advocated progressive political reform, promoting direct democracy through implementation of initiative and referendum. By 1904 the organization advocated government ownership of key natural resources and public utilities and an opposition to monopolistic forms of economic ownership in accord with the golden rule.

The UCP was the brainchild of Rev. William Rudolph Benkert of Davenport, Iowa, who dominated the organization as its National Chairman throughout its entire existence. After running tickets for President and Vice President of the United States under its own name in the elections of 1900, 1904, and 1908, the UCP was briefly absorbed into a new organization called the American Party in 1909 before resuming its former name.

In 1912 another very short-lived name change was made, this time to Christian Patriots. This change was again quickly reversed and the party's ticket appeared on the November 1912 ballot under its old moniker. The party continued in existence but went on hiatus, failing to run a Presidential ticket in the elections of 1916, 1920, or 1924. While intimations were made that a Presidential ticket would be fielded in 1928, it seems that this plan came to naught and the party expired.

Organizational historyEdit

Early historyEdit

The United Christian Party was the brainchild of Rev. William Rudolph Benkert, a minister at the Church of God in Davenport, Iowa moved to action by what he perceived to be the nation's declining moral values and called for a return to the Christian moral tradition.[1]

In August 1897 an organizational conference was held in Davenport to establish a political organization through which Benkert might advance his political agenda.[2] A subsequent conference helping to solidify the organization was held in the neighboring town of Washington, Iowa, and planning began almost immediately for a national convention to be held in a major Midwestern city.[2]

In the spring of 1898 Benkert came out with a draft national platform which acknowledged "Almighty God and the rightful sovereign of all men and women, and the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among the nations of the earth."[2] Having made this tip of the hat to theocracy, Benkert's program declared the United Christian Party to be a "party of reform" in favor of "whatever tends to make men and women intelligent and virtuous."[2] Such reforms were envisioned to be enabled by the establishment of direct legislation through implementation of the system of initiative and referendum and proportional representation.[2] Benkert's draft platform declared:

We believe that it will be impossible to secure direct legislation without a union of all Christians and all reformers and reform parties, and knowing that there is no higher standard of reform than Christ and no more worthy name to be honored in uniting us than his name, and knowing he is a true friend of those who labor and a friend of the poor and oppressed and that God hears us when we ask for reform in His name, therefore we ask all his followers, regardness of nationality, creed or color, sex or previous politics to join hands with us in His name at the ballot box in making this a government by and for the people through direct legislation of the people ...[2]

1899 Iowa State ConventionEdit

 
The Inn at Black Hawk's Watch Tower in Rock Island, Illinois, was the frequent location of conventions of the United Christian Party.

On July 4, 1899, delegates gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for what was touted as the first annual Iowa State Convention of the United Christian Party.[3] The gathering received an official communication from the National Reform Party which requested that the convention name a 10-member delegation to attend a joint convention held at some future time to be determined in the following year to name a ticket for a national campaign in the November 1900 election.[3]

Individuals were selected to comprise a State Central Committee to govern the affairs of the United Christian Party in Iowa, one from each of five congressional districts, with no committee members immediately named for the three other congressional districts in the state.[3] Nominees were selected to represent the party in the 1899 Iowa elections, topped by C. C. Heacock of Brighton for Governor and Rev. John Fitz Randolph Leonard of Ainsworth for Lieutenant-Governor, in addition to nominees for other state offices.[3] A short platform, borrowing heavily from William R. Benkert's previous draft document, was approved.[3]

The choice of Heacock for Governor was regarded by peculiar by at least one Des Moines political analyst. Heacock, the publisher of the Brighton Enterprise, was at the time serving a six-month jail sentence following conviction for criminal libel.[4] Moreover, "it is not claimed that he is a Christian or even a church member," the editor of the Des Moines Iowa Daily Capital scolded.[4]

The UCP subsequent regarded the July 4, 1899 date of the convocation of this convention as its moment of foundation, despite the group's previous organizational history.[5] The slate of the United Christian Party of Iowa appeared on the November 1899 state ballot by virtue of a nominating petition campaign which garnered 961 signatures — enough to meet statutory requirements.[6]

1900 National ConventionEdit

 
Rev. Daniel Braxton Turney, 1908 and 1912 candidate of the United Christian Party for President of the United States.

The UCP held a national convention from May 1 to 2, 1900 in Rock Island, Illinois. About 25 delegates were in attendance.[7]

After unanimously approving a resolution to organize a national "Christian political union or party for the application of the Christ principle in state and nation."[7] A second motion to name the organization United Christian Party so as "to conform to the development of the movement in Iowa" was approved by a vote of 20 to 5, with the names Christian Political Union and Christian Union Party drawing minority support.[7]

The convention approved a platform of a socially conservative bent, declaring:

We deprecate certain immoral laws which have grown out of the failure of our nation to recognize [the principle that no law should contravene the Divine law], notably such as require the desecration of the Christian Sabbath, authorize unscriptural marriage and divorce, and license the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage.[8]

The party further called for a ban on the sale of "cigarettes or tobacco in any form" to minors and for daily reading of the Bible in public schools.[8]

Beyond this conservative agenda, the party declared in its 1900 platform in favor of certain items commonly associated with progressivism, including proportional representation and the system of initiative and referendum, an end to mob violence, and termination of war in favor of mediation of all international disputes.[8] The UCP also expressed support for public ownership of utilities as well as for direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States.[8]

Rev. Silas C. Swallow of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was unanimously nominated by the conventionfor President of the United States.[7] Swallow later declined the nomination, however, and party stalwart J.F.R. Leonard was ultimately tapped as the party's Presidential nominee in his stead.[8] John G. Woolley of Illinois was unanimously chosen as the new party's nominee for Vice President, but he, too, later declined the nomination, to be replaced by Rev. C. M. Sheldon, who also later declined.[7] David H. Martin of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania finally assented, becoming the second name listed on the party's November ticket.[8]

The Leonard-Martin ticket collected a grand total of 1,059 votes out of approximately 14 million cast in the November 1900 general election.[9]

1904 National ConventionEdit

The United Christian Party began touting the notion that "Christ's golden rule should be applied to all government by and for the people" in its convention call for its May 1904 National Convention,[5] and made use of similar slogans in subsequent campaigns.

William Benkert remained as the organization's National Chairman and D.H. Martin of Pittsburgh as Secretary.[10] The UCP's 1904 platform included planks in favor of direct legislation; opposing war and mob violence; favoring government ownership of oil wells, coal mines, and public utilities; opposing government profiting from the liquor trade via taxation of alcoholic beverages; and opposing "all trusts and combines contrary to the welfare of the common people."[11]

1908 National ConventionEdit

In 1908 the United Christian Party nominated Rev. Daniel Braxton Turney of Illinois for President and Lorenzo Coffin of Iowa for Vice President.[12] William R. Benkert remained in place as National Chairman of the organization.[12]

The ticket polled about 12,000 in the November 1908 election.[13]

1909 National ConventionEdit

 
Katherine M. Benkert, wife of UCP National Chairman William Benkert, was Secretary of the party in 1909.

National Chairman William Rudolph Benkert issued a call for a "national convention" to be held May 1, 1909 at the Watch Tower in Rock Island, Illinois.[14] This gathering was to be held "to confer with one another concerning the will and kingdom of God in earth, in behalf of humanity, as the assembly led by His Spirit, and governed by His command of love, may we see and act upon."[14]

The convention seems to have increased the organization's association with the personality of its founder, granting to William R. Benkert the right to personally appoint the members of the party's governing 7-member National Executive Committee.[15] The party reconfirmed its dedication to move forward, naming four national organizers to establish state organizations in preparation for the 1912 Presidential campaign, still three years away.[15]

For a time it seemed that the plan for organizational advance was not to take place under the United Christian Party moniker, however, as shortly after the 1909 convention was closed it was announced that the UCP had been absorbed by a new organization called the American Party.[16] This name change proved short-lived, however, and the old organizational name was resumed.

1911 National ConventionEdit

The United Christian Party returned on May 1, 1911, to the perennial location for its conventions, the inn at Black hawk's Watch Tower in Rock Island, Illinois.[17] The convention predictably reconfirmed party founder William Benkert as National Chairman.[17] In a less predictable move, the convention anticipated modern American electoral politics by nominating young minister Daniel Braxton Turney to head the UCP ticket for a second time in the campaign for President at the November 1912 election — still more than 18 months away.[17] Samuel C. Carter of Howard Lake, Minnesota was selected as Turney's 1912 Vice Presidential running mate.[17]

In addition to its perennial calls for obedience to God and the golden rule, the platform adopted at the 1911 National Convention included calls for "a rightful ground and income tax" and an end to "unsettling of business by unjust tariff legislation."[17] "We disapprove of a standing army and the expense of further preparation for war," the platform noted.[17] The convention again yielded plenipotentiary authority to its longtime National Chairman, granting to Benkert the power to unilaterally select State Chairmen in each state.[17]

1912 National ConventionEdit

William Benkert's call for a May 1, 1912 National Convention of the UCP was issued in February of that year and indicated that the group sought to "end war and capital punishment, and to settle tariff, liquor, trust, and high cost of living questions by direct vote of the people and by the Golden Rule."[18]

The Presidential ticket of Daniel B. Turney and Samuel G Carter named by the 1911 convention was unanimously reaffirmed by the gathering.[19] The United Christian Party name was to be once again terminated, however, with a new name of "Christian Patriots" selected for the UCP.[19] This change appears once again to have been rapidly abandoned in favor of the established party name.[20]

In a post-convention statement to the press, Presidential nominee Daniel Braxton Turney indicated that some 250 delegates, representing 7 states, had been in attendance at the 1912 Rock Island gathering.[21] He declared, with evident hyperbole, that the party was "at least 5,000 percent stronger" than it had been during the 1908 campaign.[21]

The UCP ticket appeared on the ballot in about 20 states in 1912.[20]

Final yearsEdit

The United Christian Party remained in existence at least through 1916, holding its annual May Day gatherings in Davenport, Iowa.[22] By decision of the small gatherings, the last of which was held in the home of National Chairman William R. Benkert, no ticket was put in the field for the 1916 campaign.[23] The hiatus proved to be an extended one, with no ticket being put forward in the campaigns of 1920 or 1924.

In 1927 the tenacious National Chairman William R. Benkert announced plans for a conference to name a candidate for the 1928 campaign, with Judge W.S. Kenyon of Iowa Benkert's personal choice for the nomination.[24]

ConventionsEdit

Convention[25] Location Date Notes and references
Organizational Conference Davenport, Iowa August 7, 1897
Organizational Conference Washington, Iowa 1898
1st Iowa State Convention Des Moines, Iowa July 4–5, 1899 Held at Goldstone Hotel. Nominated candidates for Governor of Iowa and other state offices. Subsequently regarded as foundation convention of the organization.
1900 National Convention Rock Island, Illinois May 1–2, 1900 Nominated candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States.
1902 National Conference Rock Island, Illinois May 1, 1902 Discussion held about possible convocation of a St. Louis international conference in 1903.
1903 National Conference Rock Island, Illinois May 1, 1903 Discussion held about possible convocation of an "international religious and economic convention" to be held in St. Louis in 1904.
1904 National Convention St. Louis, Missouri May 1–2, 1904 Nominated candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States.
1908 National Convention Rock Island, Illinois 1908 Nominated candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States.
1909 National Conference Rock Island, Illinois May 1, 1909 Put 4 National Organizers into the field for party-building in preparation for 1912 campaign.
1910 National Conference
1911 National Convention Rock Island, Illinois May 1, 1911 Nominated candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States.
1912 National Convention Rock Island, Illinois May 1, 1912 Reaffirmed nominations made for President and Vice-President of the United States.
1915 National Conference Davenport, Iowa May 1, 1915
1916 National Conference Davenport, Iowa May 1, 1916 Held at home of National Chairman W.R. Benkert.

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ Darcy Richardson, Others: Third Parties During the Populist Period: Volume II. New York: iUniverse, 2007; pg. 303.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "United Christian Party: A Proposal to Hold a National Convention in the Near Future," Davenport Daily Leader, vol. 8 (April 24, 1898), pg. 4.
  3. ^ a b c d e "End of the Convention: State Meeting of United Christian Party Adjourns, First Annual Session," Daily Iowa Capital [Des Moines], vol. 16, no. 162, Third Edition (July 5, 1899), pg. 3.
  4. ^ a b "Editorial," Daily Iowa Capital [Des Moines], vol. 16, no. 165 (July 8, 2015), pg. 4.
  5. ^ a b "Meet in St. Louis May 1: Christian Party Will Name Candidate for President," The Pioneer [Bemidji, MN], vol. 1, no. 207 (Dec. 22, 1903), pg. 3.
  6. ^ "Ticket is Filed: Secretary Dobson Accepts United Christian Party Filings," Iowa Daily Capital [Des Moines] vol. 16, no. 238 (Oct. 2, 1899), pg. 2.
  7. ^ a b c d e "National Nominating Conventions in 1900: United Christian Party," in George E. Plumbe, The Daily News Almanac and Political Register for 1901. Chicago: Chicago Daily News Co., 1901; pp. 92-93.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "National Party Platforms: The United Christian," in Thomas B. Cochran with Herman P. Miller, Smull's Legislative Hand Book and Manual of the State of Pennsylvania, 1901. Harrisburg, PA: William Stanley Ray, State Printer of Pennsylviania, 1901; pg. 565.
  9. ^ "Few Presidents Had More Than One Christian Name," York Daily [York, PA].Nov. 15, 1912, pg. 4.
  10. ^ "United Christian Party National Committee," The World Almanac and Encyclopedia, 1905. New York: Press Publishing Co., 1904; pg. 100.
  11. ^ "Platform of the United Christian Party, Adopted at St. Louis, Mo., May 2, 1904," The World Almanac and Encyclopedia, 1905. New York: Press Publishing Co., 1904; pg. 109.
  12. ^ a b "National Nominating Conventions in 1908," in James Langland (ed.), Daily News Almanac for 1909. Chicago: Chicago Daily News Co., 1908; pg. 193.
  13. ^ "Vice Presidential Nominee of United Christian Party," Indianapolis Star, vol. 9, no. 342 (May 12, 1912), pg. 23.
  14. ^ a b "National Convention Called," Adams County Free Press [Corning, IA], vol. 26, no. 14 (April 10, 1909), pg. 2.
  15. ^ a b "New Honor for Mr. Turney: Decatur Man on National Executive Committee for Christian Party," Decatur Herald, vol. 28, no. 226 (May 5, 1909), pg. 10.
  16. ^ "It Was 10 Cents Instead of $10: Daniel Braxton Turney Modestly Corrects Error in Good Samaritan Story," Decatur Herald vol. 28, no. 209 (July 17, 1909), pg. 11.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g "United Christian Party Convention," in George Edward Plumbe and James Langland (eds.), Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year-Book for 1912. Chicago: Chicago Daily News Co., 1911; pg. 263.
  18. ^ "Odd Bits of Daily News," Brooklyn Eagle, vol. 72A, no. 53, 4 O'clock Edition (Feb. 23, 1912), pg. 26.
  19. ^ a b "Daniel B. is the Unanimous Choice: Decatur Man Chosen to Lead Christian Patriots," Daily Review [Decatur, IL], vol. 34, no. 122 (May 1, 1912), pg. 1.
  20. ^ a b "Turney Not on Ticket in His Home State; United Christian Party Candidate Gets Dates Mixed," Decatur Herald, vol. 32, no. 6 (Oct. 10, 1912), pg. 6.
  21. ^ a b "Strenuous Time at Party Convention: Candidate Turney Worn Out by Strain," Daily Review [Decatur, IL], vol. 34, no. 128 (May 7, 1912), pg. 6.
  22. ^ "United Christian Party to Meet: D.B. Turney Not Yet Certain of Presidency," Decatur Review, vol. 38, no. 99 (April 6, 1915), pg. 4.
  23. ^ "United Christians Not in Field: Party Decides Not to Have Presidential Candidate This Year," Daily Review [Decatur, IL], vol. 38, no. 125 (May 4, 1916), pg. 9.
  24. ^ "Kenyon is United Christian Choice, Reports Benkert," Davenport Democrat and Leader, vol. 72, no. 162 (April 17, 1927), pg. 15.
  25. ^ The United Christian Party used the terms "Convention" and "Conference" interchangeably. For purposes of this table, a gathering which nominated or reaffirmed a slate of candidates is called a "Convention," a gathering which discussed other issues is called a "Conference." It seems likely that the group met annually for its entire duration.

Party publicationsEdit

  • The Voters' Looking-Glass: And Declaration of the Principles of the United Christian Party. Grove City, PA: Lawrence Printing House, 1901.
  • "United Christian Party Platform - 1900," in George E. Plumbe (ed.), The Daily News Almanac and Political Register for 1901. Chicago: Chicago Daily News Co., 1901; pp. 106–107.