Three Governors in One Day

The election is over and the state has chosen a new governor. Despite all the mudslinging, this year’s election was rather tame when compared to Colorado’s most controversial gubernatorial election, more than one hundred years ago.

The 1904 election between Democrat Alva Adams and the incumbent, Republican James H. Peabody, was full of corruption on both sides. The Democrats were accused of using “repeaters” in Denver and other places, while Republican mine owners forced mine laborers to vote Republican or lose their jobs. Based on the returns, Alva Adams was elected, but when Peabody found out about the voting fraud, he contested the election. But since Peabody’s side had themselves engaged in fraudulent voting, an investigation was set forth. Adams took office but, following three months of deliberation, was replaced by Peabody on March 16, 1905 — on the condition that Peabody resign within 24 hours. Immediately following his resignation, Republican Lt. Gov. Jesse F. McDonald was sworn in as governor (at that time Lt. Governors were elected separately, instead of being running mates as today.) The result was that Colorado had three governors in one day.

CoSPL has some very interesting archival material on this election, including a 1905 copy of the speech given by Peabody’s lawyer, John M. Waldron, on behalf of Peabody. We also have reports of the General Assembly’s joint convention to determine the outcome of the contested election, and a 1905 copy of Adams’ inaugural address and remarks from Gov. Peabody. A full analysis of the 1904 election can also be found in Marjorie Hornbein’s well-researched article “Three Governors in a Day,” first printed in Colorado Magazine in 1968 and later reprinted in the Colorado Historical Society’s anthology Western Voices (2004). Both versions are available in our library.

Jesse McDonald only served one term as governor. Neither Adams nor Peabody ever served as governor again. Adams, who had already served 1897-99, ran again in 1906 but lost. Peabody never ran again. His house still stands in Denver at 1128 Grant Street.