Governor James P. Goodrich was born in Winchester, Indiana to a Randolph County lawyer. He taught for a couple of years in the Randolph County schools to save money to go to DePauw. Demonstrating the networking advantages of such places, he became friends with future U.S. Senator Albert Beveridge who was an influence in Goodrich’s eventual involvement in politics. He studied law in the office of his fellow Winchester native and DePauw classmate James Watson (who also became a U.S. Senator).
Becoming active in Republican politics, Goodrich became state party chair (1901-1910) and a national committeeman (1912-1916) at a difficult time for the Republicans. Senator Beveridge was trying to move the party toward the Progressives while Senator Charles W. Fairbanks was trying to steer it toward the conservatives. When Beveridge bolted the party with Teddy Roosevelt, the party spent some time in the political wilderness. Fortunately, Goodrich could comfort himself with piles of money. In addition to his law practice, Goodrich had made investments in farms, coal mines, grain elevators, and banks which apparently paid off nicely.
He announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for governor in the 1916 campaign. He became the nominee by winning the state’s first primary. (Previously the decision had been made at state conventions.) His Democratic opponent was John Adair. The Prohibitionists ran a candidate, and the Progressives ran former governor, Frank Hanly. (Hanly had declined an opportunity to run for the Prohibitionsts to accept the Progressive nomination. His Progressive run for governor was probably not as vigorous as it could have been because he was also the Progressive Party’s presidential nominee.) Due to his long experience in running the state party machinery, Goodrich had an advantage over Adair in terms of running a statewide campaign. This likely proved decisive, given how close the election was. Adair had been a Congressman in the eastern part of the state for ten years. Goodrich beat Adair by about 12,000 votes of about 687,000 cast. On the national ballot, two Hoosiers were nominated as vice-presidential candidates: Thomas Marshall for the Democrats and Charles W. Fairbanks for the Republicans.
The state issues were women’s suffrage, prohibition, tax reform, and whether to call a state constitutional convention (the amendment process was deemed too difficult because the Indiana Supreme Court had decided that it was not sufficient for an amendment to receive more yes votes than no votes; rather it required that a majority of total votes cast in the election be in favor of the amendment — this holding was overruled by a subsequent Supreme Court in the 1935 case of In re Todd).
With respect to tax reform, Goodrich felt that the burden of property taxes — which was the primary source of government funding — unfairly targeted farmers and rural areas.
[Goodrich] called attention to the fact, that, under the law as it then existed, there was discrimination against the farmer in that in listing his property for taxation he was required to make a complete inventory of his livestock, grain, hay, and other farm property, a method of listing not required of any other class of taxpayers.
He felt that the wealthy citizens of urban areas were not paying their fair share. When the 1851 Constitution was adopted, most Hoosiers were farmers or small town merchants and, so, a general property tax worked well. However, the industrialization that took place after the Civil War changed the equation and, in 1917, there was a great deal of intangible wealth that was escaping taxation. This occurred as the Progressive movement was making more demands on government which, in turn, required more funding.
Thomas Marshall’s attempt to create a new Constitution was struck down by the Indiana Supreme Court, but the decision gave Goodrich reason to believe that the legislature could call a Constitutional convention. Governor Goodrich advocated legislation for an excise tax and a constitutional convention to amend the system of taxation to more equitably distribute the tax burden onto large commercial interests. The legislature did not pass the excise tax but did pass the legislation for a convention. However, the opponents of the excise tax challenged the convention legislation in court. Marion Circuit Court upheld it at the trial level, but the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the legislature did not have the power to call a convention.
Next time: World War I