The political career of Stephen M. White has been studied not because White was a leader who changed the course of history in the United States or in California, but because his career was a part of the process by which present-day political life of California and of the nation has evolved. The history of a period is not revealed by a study of outstanding events and movements alone, however carefully their causes and beginnings, their results and significance may be traced and evaluated. A cross section of life at a given time, even though it be a phase of life limited in its outlook, may be truly illuminating to the student of history.
Such a cross section of life on its political side is found in the private correspondence of Stephen Mallory White. White was at the same time a successful lawyer and a prominent leader in the Democratic party of California. Because of the pressure of professional business, White formulated by an interchange of letters the general plans and routine details of party life which most political leaders work out in conference. Consequently in the letters written by him between the years 1883 and 1899 and in the letters written to him by his associates in the party during the same period we have a fairly complete view of the course of events in the Democratic party of California in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
These letters, which are in the possession of the Library of Stanford University, are the basis of this study. Newspapers have been used only to furnish material for depicting the situation in the party at the time that White's political career began and to furnish dates of conventions, personnel of committees, and such details of party affairs as were matters of common knowledge and therefore not referred to in the correspondence.
The purpose of the study is not so much to interpret the procedure of these political leaders as to reveal it; not to establish any particular theory of party, but to show how a party works. The convention system was still in use in California in the period under discussion: and the possibilities of that system in the direction of representative and responsible party organization are shown, to some extent at least.
The writer is indebted to Miss Sara Adele Young and to Miss Clara Louise Osgood, from whose master's theses, based on the earlier volumes of the correspondence valuable information concerning Los Angeles politics and the situation in the state legislature, 1887-1889, was gained. From . . .