Judge Eugene Wilder Chafin, Waukesha County's Only  Presidential Nominee
Stephen K. Hauser

Born on a farm in Mukwanago [Wisconsin] in 1852, Eugene Wilder Chafin attended the Wisconsin State University in Madison, graduating with a degree in law.  He moved to Waukesha in 1875, with plans to open his own law office.  In 1877, he was elected as Justice of the Peace, or "police magistrate," winning re-election the following year.
     At the time, Waukesha County still qualified as "the wild west."  Saloons and dance halls tolerated excessive drinking and rowdy behavior that often led to fights which spilled onto city streets, frightening horses and passersby and causing damage to hitching posts, watering troughs, shop windows, and lamp posts.  More passive drunks simply wandered about in a daze, passing out in doorways and on benches.  Sober citizens sometimes had to step over sleeping drunks to get to church on Sunday mornings after a Saturday night of revelry.
     Devoutly religious and a staunch opponent of alcohol, Judge Chafin was a Temperance man.  He used his authority to back and enforce local ordinances against public intoxication, jailing those who were found to be "drunk and disorderly."  His philosophy was simple:  Waukesha's streets and sidewalks were for the benefit of law-abiding citizens whose taxes had provided them and were not to be appropriated by drunks and vagabonds.  His solution was to fill Waukesha's jail with loiterers in various stages of inebriation.  Those who still wished to imbibe to excess moved on to nearby hamlets like Watertown and Beaver Dam which were still more accepting of "Demon Rum."  "Temperance is 99% enforcement," he said.
     The judge threw his hat into the ring as a Prohibition candidate in the 1898 Wisconsin gubernatorial contest, polling a respectable 8078 votes against (incumbent) Republican Gov. Edward Scofield.   Chafin also sought other state offices as a Prohibition or temperance advocate.
       Judge Chafin's enforcement of public intoxication penalties made national news and resulted in cities as far away as Seattle and San Francisco adopting similar measures.  The demand for safe and peaceful streets for God-fearing families had caught on, and the Judge took to the lecture circuit, regaling civic-minded audiences across the nation with tales of how he had "cleaned up Waukesha" and given boozers the boot.  Eventually, he became a popular speaker at Chautauqua tent meetings, known for his fiery delivery and his convincing arguments against the consumption of beverage alcohol, or "spirits."  This brought him to the attention of the Prohibition Party, which nominated him for the U.S. presidency at its 1908 national convention held in Columbus, Ohio that summer.  (Among those attending was hatchet-wielding Carry Nation, perhaps the most famous prohibitionist of her day, who pledged her support.)  The Party chose Rev. Aaron S. Watkins, a Methodist minister from Ohio, for the vice-presidential slot.
     Chafin's campaign platform was brief enough to be printed on a post card.  It called for a constitutional amendment banning the sale, manufacture, importation, or transportation of beverage alcohol, as well as woman suffrage, enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, tougher restrictions on divorce, regulation of tobacco products, and a federal ban on child labor practices by U.S. industries.  The two nominees campaigned from coast to coast, but on election day polled a mere 253,231 votes, placing fourth, far behind winning Republican William Howard Taft.
     Chafin and Watkins were again the Prohibition Party nominees in 1912.  They redoubled their efforts of the previous campaign, with Chafin delivering 538 speeches in just 14 weeks, often making at least 5 a day!  In one such talk, the Judge expressed amazement that America would engage in a bloody Civil War in the 19th century to free victims of chattel slavery, but would not lift a finger to free those held in bondage to alcohol in the 20th century.  His vigorous campaigning did not aid the Party at the polls.  In 1912, the Chafin/Watkins ticket garnered only 207,972 [votes], running 5th in an election which found Democratic Party nominee Woodrow Wilson victorious.
     Chafin subsequently left Waukesha, moving to Tucson, Arizona and eventually to California for reasons of health and climate.  He was invited home to speak in Waukesha on Sunday July 2, 1916,addressing a crowd of over 3000 persons in Cutler Park that evening.  His subject?  The Temperance Cause.  It was to be his last visit to his home county.  Judge Chafin died in November of 1920 in Long Beach, California, at age 68, only 10 months after the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, for which he had fought so long.    He is buried in Waukesha's Prairie Home Cemetery.   
     Reprinted by permission of the Elm Grove (Wisconsin) News-Independent (September, 2013, p.4)


Eugene Wilder Chafin

(Prohibition Presidential Candidate, 1908 & 1912)

Eugene Chafin was born on 1 November 1852 in East Troy, Wisconsin.  He graduated from the University of Wisconsin.  A lawyer, Chafin soon became involved in local politics, serving as a justice of the peace and on the school board.
     Chafin was attracted to the Prohibition Party and became one of our stalwarts:  He ran for Congress in 1882, for Attorney General of Wisconsin in 1886 and again in 1900, and for Governor in 1898. 
     Moving to Illinois, he ran again for Congress in 1902, for Attorney General in 1904, for President of The United States in 1908 and again in 1912; finally, in Arizona, in 1914, he ran for the U.S. Senate.
      Chafin won none of these races, but his enthusiasm for campaigning did much to publicize our Party.  In 1912, alone, he delivered 538 speeches.
      Eugene Chafin died on 30 November 1920, in Long Beach, California.

-- Gammon, 2007, pp. 72-74


Chafin was born ... where?

Country people don't live in "in town," and until recently they weren't even born " in town."  Chafin was born on a farm somewhere between Mukwonago and East Troy.   Which village his family identified with depended on where they picked up their mail (there was no RFD back then) and bought their supplies. 
     Hauser (above) says Chafin was born at Mukwonago; Gammon (above) says Chafin was born at East Troy.   Which really doesn't matter.  Either is close enough.  If one wants to avoid controversy, just say that he was born in Waukesha County.

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