Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thanks From a Rough Rider

If the saying is on target, everyone will, at some point, experience his or her fifteen minutes of fame. Better to be prepared before one’s time approaches.

No one could argue that Upper Peninsula attorney Richard C. Flannigan had neglected his due diligence in preparation. Before long, his thriving legal practice extended beyond the doors of his Norway, Michigan, office and he had represented a number of important corporations in the area, including the United States Steel Corporation.

Perhaps serendipity heralded that approaching fifteen minutes for Mr. Flannigan. In 1909, a local circuit court judge was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court, leaving a vacancy in his unexpired term back home in the Upper Peninsula. Then-Governor Fred M. Warner appointed Richard Flannigan to fill that position as Judge of the Twenty-Fifth Judicial Circuit. His appointment was endorsed by all political parties in the district, demonstrating the unusual level of support that he enjoyed among his neighbors and peers.

Not long after this appointment, a slice of history delivered itself to the front steps of Judge Flannigan’s courthouse. None other than Theodore Roosevelt, himself, was campaigning in the area—as a third party candidate running against his successor to the White House, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt’s route that fall led through the Upper Peninsula towns of Marquette and Houghton.

A local newspaper editor had gone to hear the former President speak in Marquette. Taking up a personal issue with the candidate—as often happens in such scenarios—this editor chose to wield his pen to express those views publicly.

Rather than stick to the issues of the campaign, however, the editor wandered dangerously close to murky editorial territory, repeating in print what some others had affirmed to him as truth. The editor published his report, including accusations of various character weaknesses. Unfortunately, this editor also included the statement that, in the course of his trip through the Upper Peninsula, Theodore Roosevelt was “not infrequently” drunk.

Not surprisingly, Theodore Roosevelt sued the editor for libel and the trial commenced after the close of the election. At the Marquette County courthouse, the case was tried before a twelve-person jury beginning on May 27, 1913, with the Honorable Richard C. Flannigan presiding.

Considering the cast of players in this drama, the whole story attracted a local following in the packed courthouse—as well as national and even international attention. Mr. Roosevelt was represented by three attorneys—one local, one from Detroit, and one from New York. The defendant was equally armed. A veritable Who’s Who of governmental dignitaries came to Mr. Roosevelt’s aid to affirm his sterling character.

At the conclusion, the defendant took the stand and admitted that he was unable to substantiate his published claims. Those who had made the assertions that were the basis of his editorial had retracted their statements and would not stand as witnesses. The editor was left only being able to make the statement that he had not published those remarks with any malice.

At this point in the trial came a surprising turn of events. Theodore Roosevelt asked the judge for permission to speak once again. Though his attorneys had pursued an award of ten thousand dollars, given the outcome and comments by the defendant, Mr. Roosevelt requested only “nominal charges.”

It was at this point that the judge instructed the jurors to return a verdict of a mere six cents, which they did.

Toward the close of that 1913 case, a local paper, The Escanaba Morning Star reported on the front page of its June 1st edition a remark by the former President: 
I must say that the presiding judge in this court is one of the most fair; one of the most learned and one of the most dignified with whom it has been my pleasure to sit before. I consider Judge Flannigan to be the ideal type of the true American jurist; than that no higher compliment can be paid to any man.
According to a statement made many years later by the Honorable J. J. O’Hara, Judge Flannigan received the thanks of the former President “for his eminent fairness and the dignified manner in which he had conducted the case.”

Richard C. Flannigan continued to serve capably as the Circuit Court Judge for his district for many years, leaving that position in 1927 only upon appointment to an even higher honor: that of Michigan Supreme Court Justice.

Photograph, above right: Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in Rough Rider uniform; courtesy United States Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Wow I cant wait to read your BLOG every morning!I so look forward to it and you have such a wonderful writing style. This is such an interesting little story! 6 cents!
    My great Aunt Sina McKay went to live with this family while she went to college in Michigan in 1920. I never knew her because she died a few years later at the age of 22. She was RC Flannigan's great neice. I have Sina's old College scrapbook. It is a real treasure.

    1. Connie, I've really enjoyed delving into this family's stories! Of course, you've been a great help. I think I remember seeing your aunt's name in a census report, by the way. Sad to think she only lived those few years.

  2. Teddy seems rather profuse with the praise.

    Interesting how in this court case, the defendant didn't actually prove or disprove the "drinking" allegation. He just said he had no means to - all (or any) of the witnesses of the alleged drinking didn't show up at the trial. R. C.'s "sentence" of 6 cents makes one wonder if he actually thought there was some merit to the claim.

  3. P.s., when do you think you will have your 15 minutes of fame?

    1. Oh, Iggy, I'm sure I've already had my fair share of those 15 minutes, though I always like to think my time is yet to come!

    Just read that R.C. and Anna had a "hunting camp" near a lake in Michigan. It said that Mrs. Flannigan guided researchers from the University to study and document the ecology and habitats of that area.

  5. Replies
    1. Susan, it has really been quite a journey finding all these details about this family. I had no idea how much I would learn just by uncovering a tiny slip of a newspaper clipping from my grandmother-in-law's personal papers. And to think most people would just toss something like that away as garbage. Makes me really take a second look at that notion to declutter!

    2. Hence, we spend our days digitizing clutter... It's a joy on most days.

  6. That's a cool story to have to pass on.


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