J.E. Thompson couldn’t have picked a more difficult time to run for the U.S. Senate. The year was 1934, right in the middle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term. The county was in the midst of the Great Depression and strongly backed the president and his Democrat allies in Congress.
Moreover, Thompson, a relative unknown to state politics, was trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Henry F. Ashurst, one of the first two Senators ever elected from Arizona, even if he was a wind bag. Time magazine once referred to Ashurst, who was legendary for his oratories, “as the longest running U.S. theatrical engagement.” He served in the Senate 1912 to 1941.
In any event, Joseph Edward lost the lopsided race, securing only 25 percent of the vote.
Tony Thompson found a political pamphlet outlining his grandfather J.E.’s political positions when digging through some family papers 20 years ago. In a letter to his brothers, Bill and Boyce, Tony admitted surprise that his paternal grandfather had even run for office. No one had ever talked about it.
The brochure includes an excellent biography of J.E., who was, of course, the younger brother of William Boyce Thompson, easily the better-known of the two. He was born in Virginia City, Montana, then known as Alder Gulch, in 1875. His father, William Thompson, was one of the framers of the Montana constitution and a Republican mayor of Butte, Mont.
The pamphlet includes a letter to the voters of Arizona that lays out his political philosophy. A plain-spoken, take-charge individual, J.E. pledged to change the “passive representation we have had for the last few years.” He admits that some of the New Deal philosophies, which were popular at the time, are good, but he dismisses others as “”visionary.” In a folksy manner, he says he will apply “good horse sense” to government proposals and reject ideas that won’t work.
Thompson’s political agenda was pretty liberal for a business-minded Republican candidate, another reflection of the time. He favored collective bargaining, the 30-hour work week, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the hungry and homeless, the principle of the Public Works Administration. In a nod to his family’s interests, which mirrored the interests of Arizona–so I guess you could call this enlightened self-interest–he also suggested that the government purchase the entire existing copper surplus against future national emergencies. This would reopen the mines of Arizona, he wrote.
Thompson ran against direct inflation (“one of the most vicious and dangerous proposals ever made”), further devaluation of the dollar, and the idea of destroying excess farm production. “I assure you that if I am elected I will waste no time painting word pictures, but will work diligently and untiringly in committee rooms and with departments to accomplish for Arizona the things that need to be done.” Amen.
The campaign brochure includes a testimonial from Thomas E. Campbell, the former government of Arizona, who recounts Thompson’s hard early life, entreprenural instincts, and business accomplishments. “As a young man, Thompson earned the value of a ‘sweaty dollar’ in a planing mill and in the Montana mines,” wrote Campbell. “Development of the mineral resources of the west appealed to him, and he studied mining engineering at the University of California.”
Thompson moved to Arizona in 1902, settling at Clifton. After two years in the real estate and insurance business, he moved to Bisbee, where he built and sold 128 homes within about one year. “Mr. Thompson has never foreclosed a single mortgage,” the campaign brochure reads. He also served a term on the Bisbee city council.
Shortly thereafter, J.E. moved to New York City, where he worked with his brother William Boyce to finance various ventures, including several large mines in Arizona–Inspiration, Miami, Nevada Consolidated, and Shannon. The Magma copper mine at Superior, Arizon, was almost entirely a Thompson family operation. “Incidentally, there has never been a strike in any industrial operation under Thompson’s management,” Campbell wrote.
J.E. gave up his stock exchange memberships to support government efforts during WWI. A broken leg presumably prevented him from serving in the military. Instead, he headed the Liberty Loan and Red Cross drives, Belgian relief, and similar war activities. “He played a prominent part in the entertainment of American forces both en route and returning from France,” Campbell writes.
After the war, J.E. returned to Phoenix and engaged in experimental farming. At the time, he had the largest experimental date grove in the country, with the exception of a government grove in Indio, Calif. He also grew 400 varieties of grapes on his ranch. He produced reports for the University of Arizona on commercially viable grapes and deciduous fruits for Arizona conditions.
“During the last 15 years, Mr. Thompson has been Arizona’s unofficial ambassador, representing every governor since statement, and an active civic leader.” He chaired a commission that staged the state fair in 1931 and 1932. As chair of the Arizona Committee, he handled a birthday celebration for President Roosevelt. He was involved in Red Cross, Community Chest, and Boy Scout activities.
Alas, it wasn’t enough to get him elected to the Senate.