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The Pacific Northwest Quarterly

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Will Kennedy, the bright flash on Montana's Populist scene in the early 1890s, never dodged a political conflict, never avoided a public controversy, and never withheld his views. He was the persistent, often strident, and sometimes radical voice among those Montanans who accepted the label Populist. Some of his opponents called him a crank and many dismissed him as an eccentric, but it was difficult for them to ignore his accomplishments. Kennedy, almost singlehandedly, had crafted legislation that introduced the Australian ballot to Montana, coerced the territorial legislature to accept it, and followed that law with an effective electoral registration reform act. As a reformer, Will Kennedy never failed to impress friends and foes with his integrity, his dedication, and his seriousness. He advocated reforms as varied as public ownership of utilities and Henry George's single tax.

In 1888 he founded and edited the Age, a weekly reform-minded newspaper published in Boulder, Montana, a small mining and ranching community just about midway between two politically powerful cities, Butte and Helena. He sat three times as a member of the territorial legislature, ran three times as a candidate for the state assembly, tried for election to Montana's Constitutional Convention in 1889, and once contended for governor. Not an advocate of reform for its own sake, Kennedy never failed to have in hand one or more suggestions on how public policy could be formulated more democratically and applied more equitably. Although he appeared to shift from one reform movement to another and from one proposed measure to another, the common denominator of the causes he espoused was the democratization of American life.


The Pacific Northwest Quarterly © 1983 University of Washington


This is the publisher's final PDF. The final publication can be found at: The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 77-87.

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