By Bjorn Skaptason, Tom's Town Historian
RICHMOND, MO, 1939: – The trouble for Boss Tom began long before the bean counters obsessed over his tax forms.
Maurice Milligan got his start in Richmond, Missouri, back at the turn of the century. As a boy Mo liked to hang around the courthouse, and thrill to the bailiff’s call bringing local attorneys to court (as any boy would?). Mo would also while away the magical summer evenings listening to the great Midwestern orators argue the important political questions of the day at the local Chautauqua.
One golden Missouri eve young Mo was loitering around the square when he recognized an old vagrant sitting on the courthouse steps as Wisconsin Governor, and nationally celebrated Progressive hero Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette. While most sensible people, encountering a celebrated politician sitting on the courthouse steps, would simply toss a quarter and cross to the other side of the street, young Mo sidled up and said hello.
What followed spelled trouble for Boss Tom, the Paris of the Plains, and for everybody’s good times. Old La Follette spent the evening filling Mo’s impressionable young head with notions of political equality, fairness, and the sanctity of the electoral franchise to a free nation. Before sending poor Mo off to ponder the Missouri moon old La Follette proclaimed “Young man, take the side of the people. It’s the right side. It’s not only the right side, it’s the winning side.”
Thirty years later Maurice Milligan brought his wet blanket New Deal Progressivism to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and started nosing around in Boss Tom’s business. The first can of worms opened by Fighting Bob’s protégé was the perfectly satisfactory (to Tom) result of the 1934 elections. Later, Milligan would take down Pendergast on tax evasion charges, signaling the beginning of the end of Boss Tom's machine.