Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 211

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 211


This is the grave of Roland Hartley.

Born in 1864 in New Brunswick, Hartley was the son of a reverend, but at some point became involved in the timber industry. He moved to Minnesota and started a timber company. In doing so, he rose among the circles of power in that state. He married the daughter of Minnesota governor David Clough and became the governor’s private secretary. Then, when Clough moved out to Washington to become a lumber baron there, Hartley followed him out in 1902.

They both moved to Everett. Clough was the biggest player in the timber industry there, the man responsible for the brutality toward IWW members trying to organize the city’s timber mills, leading to the Everett Massacre in 1916. Hartley was with him all the way. He was involved in many timber interests in that area, some with Clough and some with other partners. He also got involved in Republican politics. He was mayor of Everett for one term and then served a term in the Washington legislature that coincided with the Everett Massacre, keeping him a bit distant from the action. But the Clough-Hartley mill was the center of the strike and there is no reason to believe the Hartley had any remorse over the murder of radical workers by vigilante forces he probably helped pay for. He always had big opinions about the need to defend business and tackle organized labor he had no problem ranting about to the public. We don’t know a lot of details about the specifics of his actions because his son burned all his papers after his death, a common problem, especially from the wealthy and from corporations who never want the details of their evil deeds to become available. Makes one wonder what papers are going to end up in the Trump Library.

Hartley then ran for governor, winning in 1924. He won by building on anti-union sentiment in the aftermath of the Everett Massacre, the Seattle General Strike, and the Centralia Massacre. He combined his hatred for unions and worker power with a strong feelings toward reducing the size of state government and thus taxes. Hartley would have fit perfectly into the modern Republican Party. He served for two terms. His managing of Washington reflected the pro-corporate, anti-union rule of the Republican presidents of these years. He was a total tool of corporate power. More accurately, he was state-level corporate power personified. He alienated the media due to his personal spending on frivolities that got charged to the state while actually raising taxes on everyday citizens. It’s also possible that his bluster and foul language helped with this alienation. He was a huge braggart who swore like a sailor, forcing editors to censor nearly every interview with him. Much of that swearing was toward workers who he didn’t think “were worth a shit” because they didn’t work as hard chopping down trees as he demanded. The legislature at one point censored him for his language.

Tax policy would make up a large part of his administration, with commissions seeking to lower taxes, particularly on the wealthy, often running up against demands for greater accountability from the rich. He did create a state highway department. He faced significant opposition in 1926 with a recall effort after his board of trustees dismissed University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo after he had the school build a fancy new library, which the governor thought wasteful, but the recall effort failed. He was reelected in 1928 and ran for a third term in 1932, but was wiped out in the Democratic wave that fall that elected FDR nationally. It wasn’t surprising; he vetoed a popular income tax bill in 1931 that would have held wealthy men like him accountable for helping the state survive the Depression.

Roland Hartley died in 1952. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Everett, Washington.

I borrowed a bit from Norman Clark’s Mill Town, which is a history of Everett that culminates in the Everett Massacre, to write this post

If you want this series to visit more early 20th century governors you have no reason to care about, you can donate here to support the travel to make this series possible. Surely you can’t wait for posts on Wyoming governor Robert Carey or Arkansas governor Charles Brough. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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