Saying Happy Birthday
[to Robert L. Owen]
February 4, 2004
Saying "happy birthday," this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
This week Oklahoma played an important role in the presidential election of 2004, and I thought that
it would be appropriate to maintain the political theme on the Almanac this
week, paying tribute to one of the early Oklahoma politicians the progressive democrat Robert Owen. Although
not born in Oklahoma, Owen moved and married into the Cherokee nation shortly after finishing his law
degree on the east coast.
The young Owen fit well into the exciting atmosphere of the twin territories. He was an active lawyer,
investor and advocate for the Native American nations. With the coming of statehood Owen's efforts within
Oklahoma Territory did not go unnoticed, and he along with Thomas P. Gore became the first two senators
sent to Washington by the new state of Oklahoma.
Once in the nation's capital Owen wasted little time in establishing his position within the political
spectrum. A progressive Democrat, Owen worked within the political movement that advocated such things
as female suffrage and prohibition. So progressive was he that at times Owen was accused by his foes,
Republican and Democrat alike, of residing on the lunatic fringe.
Today many of Owen's ideas would lie within the Libertarian zone as he was foremost for removing government controls the everyday lives of U.S. citizens. Within a few short years in Washington, Owen developed fully his political philosophy and gave it the title, People Rule. Part old-school
Populist, part new Progressive and part militia-esque Libertarian, Owen created a political agenda that
was both unique and admired. The political decisions of Owen were studied by other politicians, and many
looked to him for guidance on difficult issues. His national standing was such that he was often called
upon to travel through various states rounding up support for various political allies.
A failed bid for the presidency occurring in 1920 was one of only two mistakes Owen openly admitted,
the other was the year he spent as a Republican opposing the Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith.
Owen spent seventeen years in the U.S. Senate representing Oklahoma, and doing so apparently to the satisfaction of his constituents. He garnered respect and admiration during his terms in office and newspapers across the country remarked on his decision in 1924 to not seek re-election. It was in this week, on February 2nd of 1856 that Robert Latham Owen Junior, soon to be Oklahoma politician extra-ordinaire, first made his appearance in the world.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio
and the Oklahoma State University Library.