Super Bowl Sunday 2019 started like most of our Sundays. Felice got her breakfast in bed, the kids all got pancakes, and breakfast was complete. I sat down at the computer with a nice cup of coffee hoping to kick the mini-migraine that was resisting drugs and enjoy a few hours of genealogy.
As I sat down that morning, for some reason a Twitter post we’d made 7 months earlier about Felice’s mother “Susan” popped in my mind. Susan matched her 1st Cousin “Charles” with 2122 cM…enough that he was almost a full sibling. It was a head-scratcher. We’d tweeted out our confusion, and a follower explained to us that it might mean he was a “3/4 siblings”. 3/4 siblings are where the same person parents children by two siblings, for example, when one man has children with two women who are sisters. But the tweet came during a busy time and it fell out of our minds…until this morning when it hit like a lightning bolt.
Susan’s paternity was THE big “brick wall” of our family history research. The man listed on her birth certificate, Roger Homes, was likely not her father. Family history held that Susan’s mom Dealia had at least 1 of her 2 other children with Roger, but Roger was on Susan’s birth certificate because Dealia’s father him on there. He didn’t want his Grand daughter’s Father left blank. Family interviews had given us a couple of leads on Susan’s father, but finding “Big Ed” from a neighboring town in Mississippi seemed like a significant long shot. DNA was always our best hope to solve this mystery.
Going into that Super Sunday we had recently finished our series about the tools we used to go from a handful of Ancestry DNA matches to connecting them in a tree. In the “Casting a Wide Net” series (Link) we took a group of over 5000 matches to Susan that were shared between themselves and built them into a mirror tree. Ultimately we mapped out 17 of those DNA kits to each other and identified the MRCA for them and Susa.
In of our research, we’d noted Susan’s maternal cousin Charles also matched the 17. This led us to focus on her mom’s side of the tree to find the link, but the evidence hadn’t lined up with that theory. We ended the series without being able to establish the direct link between the MCRA and Susan.
As the computer fired up that morning, the tweet, the MCRA, and the unknown father all slammed together at once: What if the maternal cousin wasn’t only a cousin? What if Charles’ father was also Susan’s, and what if the 17 matches were on their father’s line!
We’d never built out Charles’ father’s line because he was an Uncle who didn’t feed much information into our line. We’d added his parents, so knew their names and not much else. We’d interviewed Felice’s Aunt “Ann” and she explained about how she’d married Luther White at 13 years old and almost immediately kicked him out. Despite that, he would still go on to father each of her 10 children while Luther’s parents supported her and her children, including giving them a place to live.
I was shaking a little as I opened up Ancestry and started to build out the Father’s line. This theory perfectly clicked together, but if we were right we were about to be swimming in deep waters. It was always our hope to breakdown the brick wall of Susan’s paternity and to help her fill out the picture of her life. We envisioned a happy moment where we put to bed a lifelong secret and expanded our family tree. Now, this was taking a very sudden turn and we were likely unearthing a painful family secret.
All of this before my first cup of coffee on a Sunday…and little did we know at the time how deep this would go.
The Impeachment Trial of the President of the United States this week felt so historic at times that it seemed unprecedented. It felt that the country was facing a challenge to its democratic traditions unlike anything we’ve ever faced. However, our family history reminded us that the country has faced this political tyranny before, when one man wielded control over the White House and both houses of Congress due to Republicans not having the will to stand up to an American despot. It also reminded us that we can celebrate an ancestor who defeated that threat with a courage and sacrifice that seemed completely absent from today’s Republican Party.
Michael’s 2xGreat Grandfather Elmer Addison Morse was born and raised in the farming community of Franksville, WI but he was elected to Congress in 1906 as a Representative from Antigo, WI. E.A. (as he was known) was aligned with the Progressive wing of the Republican Party and was one of the founding members of the National Progressive Republican League along with Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette in 1911.
During Morse’s time in Congress, the main block to many Progressive reforms was the Republican Speaker of the House Joseph Gurney Cannon. “Uncle Joe” Cannon was a conservative Republican and led the “Old Guard/Stand Pat” wing of the Republican Party.
Gurney served as Speaker starting in 1903 and he amassed an unprecedented amount of power. He was not only Speaker, but he was also the chair of the House Rules Committee which determined how bills could be debated, amended, and voted upon. Bills couldn’t reach the floor unless Cannon approved of them, and he alone could determine what form they would take if they reached the floor for a vote. Additionally, he solely appointed all committee members, of both parties, which ensured that the blossoming group of Progressive Republicans were kept off of important committees and could leverage very little influence.
[E.A. Morse] was a part of a small group of Republicans that stood up for what was right and for what was best for the democratic institutions of this country. They did so at the risk of their political careers, and each House Progressive paid for their courage by losing their seats soon after their insurgency.
While Cannon was a key foe to Teddy Roosevelt, the election of William Howard Taft in 1908 led to Uncle Joe taking complete control of the Republican Party and thus dictating the actions of the Senate as well as the President.
In the 1908 Presidential election, the majority of Republicans (and all of the Progressives) ran on a platform of lowering tariffs. Protectionist tariffs had been passed years earlier, but since they were designed more to protect business interests than consumer interests, prices on key consumer items had skyrocketed. Cannon understood his power, and sensing that Taft was not as formidable as Roosevelt, he decided to break Taft of any Progressive leanings while crippling the Progressives. Against the wishes of almost the entire party, Cannon ensured that the 1909 Payne-Aldrich Tariff was signed into law.
The tariff bill was a thinly veiled punishment to those that challenged Cannon, and a threat to those that supported him, in a bid to ensure they continued that support.
Instead of the promised reduction of tariffs, Payne-Aldrich raised them on many of the 2000+ items listed. The few reductions were largely given out at political favors. The Republicans ultimately felt that failing to pass any tariff bill would be seen as a fiasco for the party, and they chose party above the relief they promised their constituents. Cannon recognized that and used it to bend the party to his will, and even many of the reformers (likely even our E.A.) fell in line and supported the bill.
Taft spun the bill that had been forced upon him by Cannon as “the best tariff bill that the Republican Party ever passed.” Taft also admitted that he put the interests of the party over the interests of the country: “I believe…the interests of the party required me to sacrifice the accomplishment of certain things in the revision of the tariff which I had hoped for, in order to maintain party solidarity.” Cannon had become the single man in charge of the American political system, and he effectively controlled both the Executive and Congressional branches of government. From this time on he was widely referred to as “The Tyrant from Illinois”.
In 1910, the Progressives found the courage to stand up to Cannon and politically neuter him in spectacular fashion. On March 17, 1910, the House was in session but lightly attended. There was a quorum, but many Republicans were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and had either left for the week, or a long weekend, and were likely not in shape to return to the Capital. It was during an otherwise routine management of House business that a Progressive insurgent struck out at Cannon’s power.
George Norris, a Republican from Nebraska, had been laying it the weeds waiting for this moment. For two years he’d carried the text of a resolution in his pocket to amend the House rules to remove Cannon from the chair of the Rules committee and to strip him of his ability to appoint committee members and leaders. There had been a seemingly innocent debate the day before on if bills could be introduced directly to the House floor if they dealt directly with a Constitutional question. Cannon and Stand Patters ruled that it was permissible, even if the bill was not pre-printed and that the House as a whole would have to vote directly on those bills. Cannon couldn’t control those bills from being debated and voted upon.
St. Patrick’s Day morning, Norris, sensing his opening, copied the text of his resolution on the back of an envelope and rose to introduce a “resolution privileged by the Constitution.” Cannon, not knowing the danger of what was unfolding, allowed Norris to proceed. Very quickly it became apparent that Cannon had accidentally allowed a direct challenge to his power and he didn’t have the votes to stop it. One of Cannon’s allies made a Point of Order that Norris’ resolution wasn’t privileged, and that set off 26 hours of political gamesmanship. Ultimately Cannon couldn’t muster the votes and allowed the Point of Order to be voted on by the House. 42 Progressive Republicans joined 149 Democrats to ensure that Norris’ motion passed, breaking the greatest concentration of power in American political history. Cannon’s hubris and display of punitive power in the tariff bill hadn’t broken the Progressives, it laid the groundwork for them to rise up and seize control back from Cannon.
The Progressives voted for Country over party, but it cost them dearly. In the 1910 election Democrats took over the House, while many of the Progressives survived re-election. However, the 1912 election was a disaster for the Republicans and the death of the Progressives in the party.
The Progressives planned to seize control over the Republican Party during the 1912 Presidential election, but they didn’t anticipate Teddy Roosevelt’s return to American politics and his usurping of the Progressive Party, re-naming it The Bull Moose Party. Additionally, a dethroned Cannon had enough power to ensure that each of the Progressives that voted to remove him faced well-funded challengers in their House elections. He also pulled strings to make sure that promised Post Offices that were key to legislators in Progressive districts were delayed until after the election.
In E.A. Morse’s case, in addition to facing a Democratic “wave” election in 1912, the Old Guard Republican governor of Wisconsin helped ensure that this district was merged with another and that he faced a challenge from a popular Republican Secretary of State. In the end, Morse was handily defeated and returned to private life, in no small part due to his challenge to Uncle Joe Cannon.
It’s easy to ascribe only the noblest of intentions to our ancestors, and obviously Elmer A. Morse is a heroic legend in our family. And while we’re well aware of many troubling aspects of his life, in this case he was a part of a small group of Republicans that stood up for what was right and for what was best for the democratic institutions of this country. They did so at the risk of their political careers, and each House Progressive paid for their courage by losing their seats soon after their insurgency.
This week, 110 years later, the Republican Party couldn’t muster 3 people courageous enough to put a tyrant in check. The risk of losing their seats was greater than their sense of duty to what was right and best for the country.
We’ve seen this before, where one man stood above the Constitution and the country, but that time he was brought to back in-check. Knowing that, however, just makes this week’s failure more disappointing.
In early 2018 we made a series of posts on how to use the multiple “Shared Matches” in AncestryDNA to narrow down the DNA line that connects you to them. The challenge was that often they have no trees, or small trees that don’t come anywhere close to matching your (much more complete!) tree.
This strategy was a way to use mirror trees to match them to themselves, which should indicate a Most Recent Common Ancestor for them, and in all likelihood to be your MCRA as well. For this series we broke down a large set of matches (5000+) to Felice’s mother, to try and establish her first DNA link outside of the immediate family.
There were all of the challenges we all face with African American genealogy (fewer family histories to draw off of, smaller trees, difficulty with 3x/4xGGP’s due to the “1870 Wall”, etc.), and in this series we found the MCRA…but we failed to find the link between them and our family. However, about a year later we broke through that wall, and we’ll be following up on that shortly. In the meantime, here’s the complete series in one page: