Menzo Beardsley: A Big Fish in Chemung County

Menzo C. Beardsley was born in 1859. He grew up on a farm in Schuyler County, New York. He was the son of James E. and Letitia P Beardsley. He was educated at a district school and Cook Academy. In his youth he became a lifelong teetotaler and an active member of the Methodist church. He married Florence M Patterson and had two daughters (Elizabeth and Leda). In 1891, he was Secretary of the Methodist Sunday School in Havana, Schuyler County.
     At some point in the 1890’s/1900 Beardsley moved to White Plains, Westchester County, New York. In 1900, he began working as an insurance agent at Security Mutual Life Insurance Co., for its New York City branch. He was active member of the Prohibition Party and while in living in Westchester County began running as a Prohibition Party candidate for office. In 1902, he ran as a candidate for congress in New York’s 19th district. He received 291 (0.79%) votes, and came in 5th place. 
     In 1903, Security Mutual Life Insurance Co transferred Beardsley to its Binghamton regional office, with Beardsley being assigned to handle the company’s business in the city of Elmira, in Chemung County. Beardsley and his family (which included his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law) moved to Elmira, and he came to be a prominent member of the community. He was actively involved with the city’s Hedding Methodist Episcopal Church (which was friendly to the cause prohibition and acted as an important social center for the Chemung County Prohibition Party in the early 20h century), and by 1911 was the church’s treasurer. He served as a juror in various cases.
     At some point in the 1890’s/1900 Beardsley moved to White Plains, Westchester County, New York. In 1900, he began working as an insurance agent at Security Mutual Life Insurance Co., for its New York City branch. He was active member of the Prohibition Party and while in living in Westchester County began running as a Prohibition Party candidate for office. In 1902, he ran as a candidate for congress in New York’s 19th district. He received 291 (0.79%) votes, and came in 5th place.  And in 1906, he testified in court as part of an effort to try to shut down Sunday entertainments at Eldridge Park for public disturbance and violating local Sabbath ordinances.
       It was in Elmira and Chemung County that Beardsley would undertake most of his Prohibition Party activism. He became an active member of the Chemung county Prohibition Party, and by 1905 was a member of the county committee. As a member of the county committee, Beardsley was one the signers of an agreement in which the county Democratic, Republican, and Prohibition Parties agreed not to spend money on Election Day (in attempts to attract attention and influence voters) in the 1905 election. Though it was already the policy and practice of the Chemung County Prohibition Party not to spend money on Election Day. In the 1905 election, Beardsley also ran as the party’s candidate for county clerk.
     Beardsley quickly gained prominence within the Chemung County Prohibition Party. In 1906, he acted as a delegate in the 1906 state party convention and as a proxy for Francis Baldwin. In 1908, Beardsley became county chairman. He enjoyed strong support from the county committee, especially from another Elmira based Prohibitionist, Neal Dow Cranmer.
     In 1910, Beardsley ran for congress in New York’s 33rd district. He received 1,388 (3.52%) votes and came in 3rd place.
     In 1911, Beardsley ran for state assembly. He ran his campaign of supporting prohibition, support for allowing the city of Elmira to hold a vote to establish local prohibition, opposition to gambling, opposition to sex trafficking, opposition to corruption, and opposition to Tammany Hall and other political machines. He received 475 (3.73%) votes, and came in 3rd place.
     In the 1910’s, Beardsley spoke at various temperance and community meetings in Chemung and neighboring counties, to promote prohibition. He was often accompanied by Neil Dow Cranmer, who delivered speeches and engaged in field work for the party.
     On August 13th, 1912, Beardsley and the rest of the County executive committee held a rally for the Party’s Presidential ticket (Eugene Chafin and Aaron Watkins), in which Aaron Watkins spoke at the Elmira City Hall.
     As county chairman, Beardsley helped to navigate the party through the county’s complex politics. Then as now, New York State allowed for fusion voting (for two or more parties to nominate the same person as their candidate for an office). Beardsley and Chemung County Prohibition Party strategically used fusion to advance it ends: using fusion where another party put forward a satisfactory prohibition supporting candidate or where another party was willing to endorse a Prohibition Party candidate, and running their own candidates on their own where they saw fit.
     In 1913, an organization Elmira called the Civic League, worked to encourage parties to form fusion tickets, as part of an effort to reduce partisan divisiveness in the city. The Chemung County Prohibition Party participated in multiparty meetings hosted by the Civic League. In various cases over the next several years, they formed fusion tickets with other parties (such as the Republican Party and Progressive Party).
     In 1914, the Republican and Progressive Parties nominated R.H. Walker for state assembly. Since Walker refused to commit to supporting prohibition in the state legislature, the Prohibition Party had Beardsley run for state assembly. He continued with the same sort of message of supporting prohibition and social reform. One advertisement for his campaign summed up his stance as “Stands for temperance and moral legislation and against immoral bills”. And his message attracted even more voters in 1914. He received 1,292 (11.35%) of the vote, and came in 3rd place. Though Walker still won the election, the Prohibition Party’s strong performance sent a message to the other parties in Chemung County that the Prohibitionists were a force to be reckoned with.
     In 1915, other parties were more willing to work with the Prohibition Party. Beardsley worked to strike a fusion deal with the Chemung Republican Party, in which, the both parties agreed to nominate A. Roselyn Holk for county sheriff and Dr. C. N. Hammond for county coroner.  .Beardsley was committed to having Neil Dow Cranmer party’s nominee for state assembly in 1915, regardless of who the parties nominated. He was able to convince the Progressive and Republican Parties to nominate Cranmer as well. Though Cranmer ended up showing up on ballot as a Republican candidate, so that he could also be the Prohibition Party candidate for New York Secretary of State.
     In 1915, Beardsley briefly ran for supervisor of Elmira’s 9th ward. But he dropped out before election day. He was also involved in the party’s campaign efforts to get the town of Big Flats to vote for local prohibition. The effort succeeded.
     In 1916, the Prohibition Party held its state convention for the first time in 20 years. Beardsley and the county party worked to host the event. In the same year Beardsley also worked to produce a petition by citizens of Elmira and Chemung County, calling on the state to allow the city of Elmira to able to have a local dry law vote. He served as an elector in New York for Prohibition Party candidate J. Frank Hanley. And in late October, Beardsley and his traveled to Binghamton to attend a Prohibition mass meeting, in which Hanley spoke. During this visit, they were guests of with Brome County Prohibition Party chairman H.C. Hoag.
     The same year also saw an interesting turn of events regarding Beardsley’s position as county chairman. Shortly before the county party meeting, he stated that he was not seeking reappointment as county chairman, and that he believed that there were elements in the county party who would like to see someone new take the position. Though at the county party meeting on December 14th, the county committee vote unanimously to reappoint him, and he agreed to take on another term.
     April 28, 1917, Beardsley sent a telegram to President Wilson urging national prohibition as a wartime measure for World War 1.
     By 1917, the momentum for the prohibition movement was strong and in Chemung County many candidates in the major parties were eager to work with and seek the support of the Prohibition Party. In its 1917 convention, the Chemung County Republican Party publicly endorsed support for national prohibition, and formed fusions tickets with the Prohibition Party for a number of offices, including county clerk, recorder, Elmira 8th ward supervisor, 8th ward alderman, and two constable positions. The Prohibition Party also ran its own separate candidates for various offices, including a slate of county committee candidates. Prohibition- Republican Fusion candidates won the elections for state assembly (John Richford) member and county clerk (Hovey Copley).
     In 1918, Beardsley and other Prohibition Party county chairmen in his state senate district held a meeting to decide who to nominate for state senate. Beardsley supported nominating the Republican candidate Seymore Lowman, on the basis that Lowman was a strong supporter of Prohibition, was friendly to the Prohibition Party, and if elected could help secure the passage of the 18th Amendment in New York State. Lowman got the Prohibition Party nomination, was elected to the state senate, and supported the passage of the 18th amendment.
     In 1919, candidates for both major parties in Chemung County sought the nominations of the Prohibition Party. Both Republican candidate Raymond Nichols and Democratic candidate Edger Denton sought the Prohibition Part nomination for district attorney. Initially Beardsley had favored Nichols. But after members of the party found out about Nichols’ past history of working for a law firm that was anti-prohibition came out, opposition to him grew within the party, Beardsley and other leading members backed off from supporting Nichols, and eventually Nichols dropped out of the running for the Prohibition nomination. Denton won the Prohibition nomination for district attorney, but lost to Nichols in the general election. 
      Both Republican candidate Wilfred I. Booth and Democratic candidate George W. Peck sought the Prohibition nomination for mayor of Elmira. Booth won the Prohibition nomination, but Peck won the general election. Incumbent Republican and Prohibition assemblyman John Richford was reelected to another term. Republican and Prohibition candidates Dr. R.H.V. Dann was elected county coroner., Roe M. Dennis was elected County Treasurer, and A. Roseile Hoke was elected supervisor of the poor. Democratic, Republican, and Prohibition candidates David. N. Heller was elected Elmira City Judge, and James Tierney and George H. Carpenter were elected city constables.
     In August 1919, the Security Mutual Life Insurance Company transfers Beardsley to work in its office in Jamaica, Queens, New York. Beardsley accepts the transfer. He, his wife, and mother-in-law Sarah Patterson, move in with his daughter Elizabeth Howe, son-in law George (a draughtsman for the American Bridge Company), and three grandchildren. Since he moved, he had to leave his position as Chemung County chairman of the Prohibition Party. Neil Dow Cranmer was selected as the next county chairman.
     Beardsley made one last run for office in 1920, when he ran for state assembly in Queens’s 4th assembly district. He received 208 (0.88%) votes and came in 4th place. Beardsley continued to live on into old age. He died on august 23rd, 1946, at the age of 86 or 87, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira. In his life, h worked to advance the cause of Prohibition, he became a significant figure in Elmira and Chemung County politics, helped build up the Prohibition Party’s grassroots power, and help to make the Chemung County Prohibition a force to be reckoned with by the major parties in the county.

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Jon Makeley writing in the New York Prohibitionist v.1, no.12

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