Mr. True on Politics

Read before the Sauk County Historical Society, April 5, 1918

Editor of the News

Since writing the accompanying I have hesitated about sending it to you, for either publication or use in a historical way,  as there is considerable of the personal in it, but I am asking you to not use it if you share my distrust. The names of Mr. Thomas and Mr. Morgan could be left out without any trouble if that is best.

Yours very truly,

Mr. John McTrue

Greendale, MD. 9-12-1917


This article is written less on account of the writer’s relations to the events than to illustrate the caucus and convention methods of Sauk County politics, of fifty years ago, although my personal interest in events narrated lead me to more particularly remember the same. I came to Baraboo from New Hampshire in 1866. I had been active in politics during the stirring times of the early sixties in New Hampshire, and naturally soon became interested in the politics of my adopted state. After a little I found myself taking part in Republican caucuses and attending the County Conventions as a delegate from the Town of Greenfield, where I lived on a farm dividing my energies between farming in season for such work and teaching school during the winter. The old caucus and convention system was then in vogue for reelection of candidates for state Congressional and County official positions. Delegates were chosen in caucuses held in several towns and villages to the County Convention, which in turn elected delegated to the State Congressional and Senatorial Conventions and nominated candidates for the County offices. Each voting precinct was entitled to delegates. The number of was apportioned upon the party vote at the last State election

   In 1874 knowing that a change was to be made in the office of County Register of Deeds, I decided to become a candidate for that position. The handling of party politics in the County was supposed to be primarily lodged with a few active men at the County Seat, and men in sympathy with them, scattered over the County. These men were accustomed to make up a ‘slate’ before each convention, selecting candidates for the several positions to be filled, and deciding matters of party policy.

I soon discovered that my candidacy was not acceptable to party leaders, they having decided upon a young man, cashier of the local bank (W. B. Thomas) as a candidate. Nevertheless, I determined to remain in the field.

The Grange was, just then flourishing in Sauk County. I was an active member of the Order, and could count on some strength from that source. I had also, as a member of the County Board, made the acquaintance of town chairmen throughout the County, many of whom would support my candidacy.

The Convention came on, and I ascertained that the delegation from Reedsburg was ‘irregular’, and would give me its support. The Convention was organized by the election of Esquire West of Reedsburg as Chairman and Col. A. L. Slye was candidate for County Treasurer, and there was no opposition to his nomination; but the Colonel had purchased a farm in Greenfield, and was therefore a resident of the same town as myself in a town of not much prestige, in a political way.

The order of nomination of County Officers had for a long time been – first Register of Deeds,                     

Second Treasurer, and so on through the list. My opponents now conceived the idea of changing the order of nomination to first Treasurer, second Register of Deeds, etc.

With Col. Slye nominated, the cry was to be raised that not more than one important office could be given to Greenfield, and I must be defeated. Attorney Leir Crouch of Baraboo made the motion for change of order, but on some technicality the chair resulted the motion out of order. Mr. Crouch appealed from the decision of the chair, and the test of strength in the Convention was then on. Knowing that some towns in the Western part of the County were represented by a single delegate, authorized to cast the full vote of the town, and that a ‘viva voce’ vote would not give a representative show of the wish of the Convention, an Aye and No vote was called for, and the Chair was sustained by a majority of about a dozen votes.

I had the support of but two delegates from the town and village of Baraboo.

On the first ballot for Register, my lead was so strong that the Baraboo candidate was dropped, and the opposition united upon a popular young man from Spring Green, John E. Morgan, with whom several years late, I had the pleasure of serving two terms in the State Assembly. On the second ballot, I was nominated by a majority of ten or twelve votes.

Even after my elections, I was not at once forgiven for my political irregularity.

Short or “Granger” forms of deeds and mortgages had been legalized by the legislature, by which the price of the records of deeds was reduced from seventy five to fifteen cents. There seems to be concerted action on the part of leading conveyances, to use short forms, and it looked as though the normal income of the office would be reduced from $1500.00 to $1800.00 to less than one half of that amount. To save myself, I had regular farm blanks printed and sent  to conveyances free, and the short form documents soon fell into disuse. That I was soon regarded was politically sound, was shown by my appointment to the chairmanship of the Republican County Committee, while yet Register of Deeds.

John McTrue

John M. True

Read by R.B. Griggs at the home of Mrs. Frank Avery at a meeting of the
Sauk County Historical Society, March 15, 1921

John M. True

John M. True

Mr. President and Friends of the Historical Society: 

I have been requested to present something on the life and work of John M. True, who lately passed away at the home of his son Ernest B. True at Galesburg, Illinois.

Mr. True was born in Moultonboro, New Hampshire, October 9, 1838; he was, therefore aged more than 82 years. He received an academic education and taught in the public schools of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In 1864 he married Miss Annie Beede and they came to Wisconsin 1866, locating on a farm near Baraboo. For some time he combined teaching school with his farm work and many of the older residents received their early training and influence from this New England-born teacher.

When trying to recall my first acquaintance with Mr. True I was surprised to find that nearly all the middle aged men of that time had preceded Mr. True to the great Beyond. I will name a few as they came to me: C.A Swineford, R.A. Cowan, John H. Hull, H.C. Strong, Jeff McDermett, Wm. Moore, Wm. Hoxie, P. Pratt, James Struthers, T.D. Lange, C.E. Ryan, Gera__ Bacon, M.J. Drown, Col Vittum, Mair Pointon, Nobby Gray, J.J. Gattiker, H.H. Potter, Drs Davis, Slye, Mills, McKenna, Drs. Auge, Kock and Cowles, D.K. Noyes, Frank Avery, Isaac Green, Louis Wild, Mathew Mould, T.M. Warren, C.C. Remington, John Barker, Col. Slye, Arthur Camp. Nobby Gray, R.H. Strong, R.M. Strong, Major Williams, Henry Rich, Nobe Kirk, Mels Wheeler, Tom Thompson, Terrell Tomas, Wm. Stanley, J.G. Train, Rob. Warner, W.S. and S.S. Grubb, James Halstead, Herman Albrecht, W.B. Pearl, Howard Huntington, and many others. Of the young men E.M. Hoag, A.F. Fisher, J.W. Davis, E.G. Marriott, Frank Herfort, Spencer Kimball, Alex Buckley, Mark Warren, Ward Munroe, Percy Crossman, Dr. English, and of all this list of exceptionally good capable strong men I think all will agree that while it is not easy to formulate an exact judgment on any one person or group of men I believe no Village has been blessed with a more substantial set of men than have been mentioned and among them all none out ranked John M. True as a citizen, neighbor and public servant and I am compelled to testify that the 45 years I knew him only confirmed my early impressions as to his character and his continued public service means recognized merit, his ability and honesty was generally recognized by those who knew him best.

Mr. True met the questions concerning his public duties in matters where differences of opinion prevailed with calmness and yet with firmness and this fidelity to every trust was the secret of his popularity.

Every upright-conscientious public servant (and to a limited degree every business man) is often placed in the position of a promontory on the ocean shore subject to the fierce storms of partisan politics—a political intrigue and the selfish demands of friends and foe and only a foundation of honest convictions and an iron will can withstand the stress. To the extent our friend was placed in such positions he exhibited his worth.

Mr. True was a Republican in politics but absolutely Democratic in his loyalty to what he believed was to the best interest of the people and our institutions. While differing from him politically I yield to no one in my appreciation of the Spirit of Charity he exhibited toward those with whom he differed.

Mr. True was an indefatigable worker and filled many positions with honor and distinction. As city assessor; as a member of the board of education of Baraboo for more than a quarter of a century, and chairman for 11 years, as President of the Library Board and President of the Sauk County Agricultural Society, as secretary of the Sauk County Stock Breeders’ Association, as Farmer’s Institute worker, as secretary of the State Agricultural Society, as Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, as member of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, a member of the state assembly and state senate, and many other minor offices, all of which he filled with honor to himself and to those who placed their business in his hands. 

Here read the joint resolution of the Wisconsin Legislature.

Since listening to Clarence Darrow the other evening and canvassing the character of John M. Tue, I have tried to imagine the character of his ancestors—I cannot endorse Mr. Darrow’s position entire and Plato’s declaration that “The child is a charioteer driving two steeds up the long ripe hill; one steed is white representing our best impulses. One steed a dark representing our worst passions. Who gave those steeds their colors? Plato replies: Our fathers and the child may not change one hair white or black.” Oliver Wendell Holmes would have us think that the child’s value to society is determined 100 years before its birth.

I thoroughly believe we inherit tendency to certain lines of conduct. Physical strength or weakness. Intellectual qualities and so forth but I cannot believe that we would be entirely blameless if we encouraged the development of the tendencies to crime, to disease and mental delinquency. I believe John M. True reflected the character of his ancestors—the fatherhood and motherhood and the environment and atmosphere in which he spent his younger years and I am sure the family that survive him are the possessors of a wonderful inheritance.

If we imitate the virtues of such men as John M. True we build into the social fabric a monument that testifies of the virtues of the living as well as the services of the dead and I cannot help but believe that his great interest in education and his long service as President of the School Board must have left is impress upon the thoughtful, ambitious young men and women of our city.

Someone has said, “Death is the Liberator of him whom freedom cannot release, The Physician of him whom medicine cannot cure, and the Comforter of him whom time cannot console.”

Bobbie Burns soloquzes on honesty thus: What tho’ on homely fare we dine, Wear hoddin gray and a that. Gie fools their silks and knaves their wine, A mans a man for a’ that. For a’ that and a’ that Their tinsel show and a that, The honest man tho’ e’er sae poor Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that.
That sense and worth o’er a’ the earth
May bear thee grer and a’ that,
For a’ that and a’ that
Its coming yet for a’ that.
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Tuesday in the Senate at Madison, a memorial to the late John M. True was adopted unanimously. Graceful tributes were given by Senators H.A. Humber, H.E. Roethe, R.J. Nye, and Chief Clerk O.G. Munson, the latter a senator many years ago concurrently with Mr. True.

Senator Roethe said that he was true to his name, his county, his district, his state, his country, his people, to all trusts and to the highest ideals.

Senator Nye, while a number of the Assembly had served with Senator True on the Joint Committee on Finance, and he had never known, he said, a man with a wider grasp of state affairs or of a more loveable disposition—that his death was a great loss to the state to “us who knew him”. 

Chief Clerk Munson spoke feelingly of a third of a century of acquaintance with Mr. True and characterized him as kindly and with no “contention in his heart”. 

The memorial in the form of a joint resolution was passed unanimously.


A joint resolution commemorative of the life, character and public services of Honorable John M. True.

“Whereas, John M. True, a member of the Wisconsin legislature some twenty years ago, died on February 17th, 1921, at the home of a son at Galesburg, Illinois it is fitting the senate, as well as the assembly, should leave a graphic and grateful testimonial to his memory. 

Mr. True distinctly was the finest type of citizen, scholarly, courteous, and considerate of the opinions and convictions of others, of wide information and experience in education, in agriculture and in statecraft. It would be difficult to find a worthier, more useful example of American manhood.

Mr. True, born in Moultonboro, New Hampshire, in 1838, was educated in the public schools of his native state and in the New Hampton Literary and Biblical Institute, coming to Wisconsin in 1866 and locating on a farm now contiguous to the city of Baraboo. He taught school both in New England and Wisconsin for nearly twenty years, and for a full quarter of a century was a member of the Board of Education at Baraboo, where also for eleven years he was chairman of the Sauk County Board of Supervisors, and for six years Register of Deeds. In 1897 and 1899 he was in the assembly, always preeminently interested in educational legislation. It was altogether natural that Governor W.D. Hoard should appoint him to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin. While serving in that capacity, he was chairman of the Agricultural Committee and a member of the Executive Committee. For twelve years he acted as secretary of the State Agricultural Society and was one of the earliest and ablest lecturers in the farm institutes of Wisconsin. He was elected Senator in 1910, and again was the recognized leader in all legislation relating to education. In the decade since, the eventide of life to him, he has passed his days comfortably, happily, serenely, mostly among his children, a rare group of five sons and two daughters, all of whom had been graduated from the University of Wisconsin and all now occupying positions of distinction – one a professor in the University of Pennsylvania, another a professor in the University of California, two members of the faculty of Berea College, Kentucky, one a high-class businessman. Rarely indeed has a parent been able to contemplate with more satisfaction the success of children; rarely has one been able to contribute more freely to the best citizenship of his country. Mr. True some years ago lost the wonderful mother of this exceptional family, and, beside her, in the beautiful cemetery at Baraboo, he was laid at rest on the afternoon of Saturday, February 19, in the presence of old home-town friends and a special senatorial committee from the Wisconsin legislature.”