Crusader for Democracy

The Political Life of William Allen White

Charles Delgadillo

“Roosevelt bit me and I went mad,” William Allen White said of his first encounter with Teddy in 1897. He grudgingly praised Franklin D. Roosevelt’s performance at the 1943 Casablanca Conference with, “We who hate your gaudy guts salute you.” Editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, the Sage of Emporia is known for his quips, quotations, and a sharply crafted view from Main Street expressed in his 1896 essay, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” But for all his carefully cultivated small-town sagacity, William Allen White (1868–1944) was a public figure and political operator on a grand scale. Writing the first biography in a half-century to look at this side of White’s character and career, Charles Delgadillo brings to life a leading light of a once-widespread liberal Republican movement that has largely become extinct.

White built his reputation as the voice of the midwestern middle class through his nationally syndicated articles and editorials. Crusader for Democracy takes us behind the veneer of the small-town newspaperman to show us the sophisticated, well-traveled man of the world who rubbed elbows with local, state, and national politicians, world-renowned journalists and authors, political activists of all kinds, and every president from William McKinley to FDR. Paradoxically, White, the master of insider politics, was also an insurgent who fought a fifty-year crusade for liberal reform, usually through and sometimes against the Republican Party. Delgadillo’s vivid portrait gives readers a behind-the-scenes view of the twentieth-century political and economic order in the making, with William Allen White firmly in the middle, deploying the soft power of friendship and influence to advance the cause of the common man and the promise of equal opportunity as the very foundation of American democracy.

“Charles Delgadillo has produced a full-fledged political biography of William Allen White that showcases the political power and influence of a man who never sought public office but for five decades had the ear of the nation’s leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike. The author demonstrates a mastery of White’s writings, including his books, newspaper articles, autobiography, and vast correspondence. Crusader for Democracy is a nuanced account of how a stubbornly provincial man nonetheless became a valued confidant and adviser to some of the most influential leaders in American history, including Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

—Nancy C. Unger, author of Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer

“Charles Delgadillo’s Crusader for Democracy is the long-awaited biography of William Allen White, the famed editor of the Emporia Gazette. White was a political giant in his own right, and Delgadillo ably tells us why with clear prose, meticulous research, and absorbing analysis. Highly recommended!”

—Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of Cronkite

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About the Author

Charles Delgadillo is a lecturer in history at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Norco College, in California.