Biography of Joseph Ralph Burton, Hon.

Among the men who have come out of the Hoosier State to aid Kansas in its. real growth and development, there had been no finer man nor better citizen than Hom. Joseph Ralph Burton. Youthful in years as he was in experience when he came to Kansas in 1878, he plunged at once into the heart of affairs and gained ready recognition from the people. Senator Burton had at that time the ability to impress others with his reliability; he gained public confidence; he possessed the power of making people know that his talents were not merely skin deep but that they were solid, substantial and lasting. Nearly forty years have passed since he cast his fortunes with the workers who have constrncted the mighty commonwealth of the Sunflower and his reliability need not now be mentioned, it is so well known; the public confidence which he gained in his youth had been strengthened and solidified as the years have passed; his hold upon the people is strong and sure because of what he had done in their behalf. His record speaks for itself.

Joseph Ralph Burton was born on his father’s farm near Mitchell, Lawrence County, Indiana, November 16, 1852, his parents being Allen C. and Elizabeth (Holmes) Burton. The Burton family, which is of English origin, was founded in America about the year 1750. John P. Burton, the great-grandfather of Joseph R., was a colonel of the Continental line in the war for American independence, and Hutehinson Burton, a brother of the colonel, was a member of the Continental Congress from Virginia. William Burton, son of Col. John P. Burton and grandfather of Joseph Ralph Burton, was born near Asheville, North Carolina. He was a pioneer settler of Lawrence County, Indiana, locating near Mitchell in the year 1830, and subsequently eugaging in farming. A democrat in politics, he was aetive in the civic life of the community and served several terms in the Indiana State Legislatnre. Allen C. Burton, his son, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, and went with his parents to Indiana. Like his father he was a farmer. Originally a Douglas democrat, he became later a Lincoln republican.

Joseph Ralph Burton received his elementary education in the district schools of his native county, He pursued an academic course of study at Mitchell Seminary, of which his father was one of the founders, and which at that time was conducted by a relative, the Rev. Simpson Burton. He matriculated at Franklin College, at Franklin, Indiana, under the special tutelage of Lincoln Wayland, the late editor of the National Baptist, of Philadelphia, and after completing a three-year course entered De Pauw University, Greencastle, Indiana. While in the university he paid his own expenses by teaching elocution. Becoming dangerously ill in the middle of his senior year, he was forced to leave college without receiving his academie degree.

After leaving De Pauw, Senator Burton read law in the ofilces of the celebrated firm of Gordon, Browne & Lamb, of Indianapolis, and was admitted to the bar in that city in July, 1875, and at once located for the practice of his profession at Princeton, in the same state. During the campaign of 1876, before he had cast his first presidential vote, he made a three-months’ speaking campaign for the national ticket under the auspices of the Republican National Committee, and was on the electoral ticket.

Attracted by the greater opportunities offered to young men in the West, Senator Burton located at Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas, in 1878. There he formed, with John H. Mahan, the law firm of Mahan & Burton, which soon acquired a large practice. Like most young lawyers, Mr. Burton took an active interest in pblities, and in 1882 had so far advaneed in publle eonfidence that he was elected a member of the Kansas Lagislature. With his colleague, the Hon. C. B. Hoffman, he at once became interested in railway legislation. The members-elect were called together in a sort of rump session at Abilene previous to the regular sitting. The call for this caucus of legislators was signed by C. B. Hoffman, A. P. Collins, G. W. Martin and J. R. Burton, and the efforts of Mr. Burton and his associates resulted in the organization of the first railway commission in Kansas. He was a member of the house judiciary committee during his first session in the Legislature. He was re-elected in the year 1884 and during the session of 1885, as chairman of the committee on county seats and county lines, had charge of the making of many new connties in Southwestern Kansas. He was recognized as the leader of the Kansas Hopse of Representatives. In the year 1886 he was a candidate for the republican nomination for Congress in the Fifth District, and after a heated campaign, in which Hon. John A. Anderson, the incumbent, took part, came within two votes of a nomination, a dark horse, the Hon. A. S. Wilson, finally winning. While campaigning for the republican national ticket in the State of Maine, in the year 1888, Senator Burton was nominated and elected for his third tern in the Legislature. He was the house leader of his party in the session of 1889 and declined all committee appointments. He introduced and secured the passage of an anti-trust bill, which became a law in 1889. What was substantially a copy of this law was passed by Congress in June, 1890, and had beeome well known as the Sherman Anti-Trnst Act. The Kansas measure was the first bill of this kind to become a law in the United States. In a speech before the republican state convention hald at Topeka in the year 1890, Senator Burton foretold the disstrous overflow that befell the republican party in the elections of that year. This speech, for a time, made him unpopular, but after the election his words of warning were remembered. In 1891 he spoke in a secies of joint debates with Senator William A. Peffer, who had been elected by a combination of populists and democrats. These debates attracted attention throughout the country and resulted in Senator Burton’s nomination for Congress in the Fifth District the following year. He made his campaign for Cougress in a distriet with a majority of more than 9,000 against him, spent five months on the stump, and was defeated by less than 1,300 votes. Although defeated, his campaign was the means of restoring his district to the republican party. In the year 1894 he was a candidate for the United States Senate and there were some other aspirants against him. He was also opposed by the republican national committeeman from Kansas and by the entire regular organization of the party, and was defeated in the party caucus by one vote, the nomination going to Lucien Baker, a dark horse in the contest. He was again a contestant for the Senate in 1896, he and the late Senator John J. Ingalls being the recognized candidates. Semator Burton defeated Ingalls by a vote of more than seven to one in the caucus of his party, but the Legislature was carried by the democrats and the Hon. W. A. Harris was chosen senator.

In the campaign of the year 1898, although a private citizen, Mr. Burton was recognized as the leader of his party, and largely through his efforts the republicans were resfored to power in Kansas. In the year 1900 Senator Lucien Baker was a candidate for re-election, but was easily defeated by Senator Burton, who was the unanimous choice of the republican caucus.

Senator Burton’s service in the United States Senate is chiefly noted for his uncompromising opposition to the Cuban Bill, which sailed under the name of “Cuban Reciprocity.” In his staud on this measure, which he believed to be unwise, unjust to the people and dangerous to the interests of his state, Senator Burton incurred the displeasure of President Theodore Roosevelt, the organized commercial interests, and especially of the notorious sugar trust. The enemies he made in the Senate, in the defense of the industries and resources of Kansas, finally capsed his retirement and embarrassed him financially- After his retirement from public life he returned to Ahilene, engaged in business, and soon acquired a comfortable fortune. In the year 1907 he bought the Central Kansas Publishing Company, of which he and his wife are the controlling owners, and purchased the Salina Daily Union, which he had since conducted. In this paper Senator Burton seeks to teach the members of both the great parties the true principles of democracy as opposed to autocracy, which, as he views it, had gained a dangerous foothold in the republic.

Senator Burton married, October 10, 1875, Mrs. Carrie Webster, daughter of Dr. E. V. Mitchell, of New Harmony, Indiana. Mrs. Burton is related to the leading families of that famous colony immortalized by Lord Byron in “Childe Harold.” The Senator and Mrs. Burton have no children, but have generously assisted in the edneation of several nephews and nieces. Mrs. Burton is one of the most brilliant and versatile women in Kansas, as well as one of the most boloved. She had been a co-worker with her husband in all his entorprises, as well as in his public life. She enjoys the distinction of being the only United States senator’s wife who had never had her picture taken. The family became residents of Salina in April, 1910.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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