Monday, May 29, 2017

Political Operative, U. S. Senator, and Public Servant Fred Dubois [otd 05/29]

Senator Dubois. Library of Congress.
Idaho Senator and political operative Fred Thomas Dubois was born May 29, 1851 in Illinois. Dubois graduated from Yale in 1872, then worked in a Chicago dry-goods store for about three years.

More inclined toward politics and public service, DuBois wrangled an appointment to a low-level Illinois administrative post. He resigned a year later, shortly before the death of his father, a prominent Illinois politician.

He kept himself busy until 1880, when his brother was appointed resident physician at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Fred and his brother were very close, so he decided to move west also. After their arrival, Fred rode on a cattle drive and then worked various jobs around Fort Hall.

Possessed of remarkable political instincts and skills, DuBois began by using family connections to obtain an appointment as U.S. Marshal for Idaho Territory. The job took him all over the Territory. He then parleyed all those contacts into election as Idaho’s Delegate to Congress in 1887. For the first but not the last time, his campaign promises exploited an undercurrent of anti-Mormon sentiment in the Territory.

DuBois played a key behind-the-scenes role in arranging for the selection of the state’s first U. S. Senate slate [blog, Apr 1]. In the end, DuBois became one of Idaho’s first two Senators, as a Republican. By all accounts, he put his extraordinary political skills to good use there.

Silver mining was then a mainstay of the Idaho economy, so DuBois quite naturally became part of the 1896 Silver Republican Party. Their Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, won overwhelmingly in Idaho, but lost nationwide. Meanwhile, a Democratic-Populist party “fusion” ticket won the Idaho legislature, which elected a Populist to replace Dubois in the U. S. Senate.

As the Silver Republicans withered away nationally, DuBois resuscitated his career with a clever end-run. His skillful manipulation of factions in Idaho’s Democratic Party won him control of that group, which he then led into a fusion with the state’s remaining Silver Republicans. This peculiar amalgam gained control of the Idaho legislature, which then elected Dubois to replace Senator Shoup in the 1900 election.

Filipino rice field, ca 1905. Library of Congress.
For various reasons, DuBois switched to the Democratic Party for his term in the Senate. He particularly opposed the continued American presence in the Philippines. DuBois and other “anti-imperialists” pushed independence for the islands. On the other hand, DuBois supported Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s proposal to expand national forest reserves, and a program to encourage irrigation projects for arid western lands.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s Republicans had re-unified to gain an overwhelming majority in the state legislature. Thus, DuBois didn’t even bother to run for reelection. (Even with his skills, he probably felt he’d burned too many bridges.) He remained active in Idaho politics until about 1918, but never again ran for public office himself.

DuBois spent the rest of his career in various appointive Federal positions, and sometimes as a lobbyist. He died in February 1930.
References: [B&W]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Leo W. Graff, Jr., “Fred T. Dubois – Biographical sketch,” Fred T. Dubois Collection, MC 004, Idaho State University  Special Collections, Pocatello.
"Fred Thomas Dubois,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online.
"Fred Thomas Dubois: May 29, 1851 - February 14, 1930," Reference Series No. 541, Idaho State Historical Society.


  1. I'm surprised no one has done a biography of this guy. (At least I assume no one has since you don't list a book-length reference for him.)

  2. So far as I could find, no one HAS done a full biography of Dubois. And I'm surprised too. The Graff reference from ISU is fairly detailed -- 9 pages long, but that's about it.

  3. Deana Jensen wrote a book on Sen. Dubois, but concentrated mainly on anti-Mormon aspects of his career, to the exclusion of other important aspects. It is called Let the Eagle Scream. Published by Wildfire Press, I cannot find an ISBN number. I do have a copy. Ellen Carney, 435-890-6057