Curtis Dahlgren
Common Sense can be a Paine: The life of Gov. W.D. Hoard
By Curtis Dahlgren
January 22, 2019

"Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of, education." – Victor Hugo

"Wisdom is the power to see behind a tree." – old Indian chief

"Common sense is the widest understanding possible of the relationship of common things and our relationship to them . . . Your ancestry should be an inspiration, not an alibi." – William Dempster Hoard (1836-1918)

SO SAID A FARMER. This is June Dairy month and this is a book review of Hoard's biography for the benefit of anyone who has never heard of this great man."W.D." – as he's usually known around these parts (headquarters of his still-existing publishing enterprises) had no formal education beyond eighth grade, and was an unapologetic farmer by trade (as were several of our Presidents). "The Life of William Dempster Hoard" is the name of the book, and what a life:

Promoted as a prospective gubernatorial candidate by the Milwaukee Sentinel.Elected governor of Wisconsin in 1888. Only served one term because of his promotion of English-as-first-language in all schools in Wisconsin. Founded a local weekly newspaper, now a daily. Founded the Hoard's Dairyman magazine, also still in circulation. Almost single-handedly sold modern husbandry methods, including the introduction of alfalfa to the northern states. Appointed to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents (1907). Turned down the job of Secretary of Agriculture. Was the most frequently-heard and well-received speaker on farming at forums and conventions across this country and Canada. Unanimously chosen as Wisconsin's Most Distinguished Citizen in 1915. Lived to see English-first be accepted as "common sense." First man to have a monument erected to his memory for service to agriculture, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin.

"Hoard's opponents [in the 1880s and 90s], seeking to kill his popularity with ridicule, coined the expression, 'The Cow Candidate,' giving it much publicity. But this term of supposed derision acted as a boomerang, for all over the state the young men of the party took it up and there was never a meeting at which Hoard was present but that there was a full chorus of cow bells." – George Rankin, biographer

In that by-gone era, offices sought the person, not the person the office. The Sentinel editor chose to "nominate" Hoard for governor without consulting him, or the Party. As Rankin put it: "Rublee had grown weary of the high-handed methods of the old Republican 'ring,' and he was scanning the political horizon to see if he could not discover a likely gubernatorial candidate, one, preferably, who had never been associated with the political life of the state.

" . . After Hoard made his decision to become a candidate for Governor, he and his friends got together and worked out a plan of campaign along lines that had never been employed before and which, in the final reckoning, completely out-generalled the 'old-line' Republicans who opposed him. . . Hoard had always been a thorn in the flesh of the 'Old Guard.' They accepted him because they had to accept him, but they were not in sympathy with him or his purposes. . . The only aristocracy he recognized was the aristocracy of intellect. He had no patience with those who constantly boast of their ancestry; he said they reminded him of the potato plant, the best part of which is under the ground' . . "

Hoard was very jealous of the relation of farming to education and the rating the occupation was given compared to the "genteel" professions. And he provides the perfect example of the self-educated person versus the "graduate" of today's K-12 schools and beyond. A comment by Rankin:

"Men have often speculated as to what Hoard would have been had he had the advantages of a college education . . Dean H.L. Russell of the Wisconsin College of Agriculture once [said]: 'Might it not have spoiled him in many ways? Might it not have destroyed that imaginative quality and philosophic insight which is so often a native talent and which so frequently is dulled and rendered commonplace by the rut into which the mind may sink when it is made to follow an outlined curriculum?' . . .

"Hoard claimed that the present educational system is built from the top downward instead of from the bottom up. . The little 'red schoolhouse' or the 'people's college,' as he called it, must receive first and every consideration from those in charge of our educational work . . . He discounted the thin veneer of scholastic training that is sometimes mistaken for culture. He held that many college graduates are merely drugged with small doses of intellectual laudanum and that, until such time as its influence wears off, they are unable to adjust themselves to the ordinary duties and responsibilities of life . . [and] though self-instructed, he was in no wise superficial, merely bespattered with erudition, but one of the most scholarly men of his time."

And one of the most effective and "radical" Americans in all of our two-plus centuries. The Madison Democrat said: "Yes! Let there be a monument to W.D. Hoard, and let it be erected in honor of the most distinctively American character since Abraham Lincoln . . . It took [World War I] to bring clearly before the people of Wisconsin and the nation that a common language is necessary and imperative to our country's welfare . . Those who opposed his election as governor for the second term, on the ground that he demanded English be taught in all the schools [public or private], we are now old, have in late years come to him individually, in committees, and in groups to humbly apologize.

"Such are the rewards that come to men who stand for the right, regardless of public opinion and temporary gain. He appreciated fully the meaning of being an American citizen, for he understood the price that has been paid for the opportunity; the struggle of humanity to secure liberty; the tyranny of kings; and he believed in the rights of the masses and not in the privileges of the classes.

"When he saw men
playing with this rich heritage . . he rose with all his power against them. He suffered political defeat rather than yield to any course that interfered with the making of true American citizenship." In conclusion, there must be a lesson in there, somewhere, for the 'Old Guard elites,' for the Establishment Swamp, and its "conventional wisdom." Amen?

P.S. This column was first posted June 25, 2016 and I thought its rerun would be timely, with Wisconsin having a new governor in 2019, and English-as-primary-language under attack!

PPS: Hoard's farm is still operating at the edge of my home town of 38 years. I also knew Bill Hoard, Jr. and trimmed trees for him and Mary Hoard.

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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