Silas Comfort Swallow

Prohibition Party candidate for President in 1904

Silas Swallow

Silas Comfort Swallow Presidential Candidate, 1904

  • Born in 3/1839, son of George & Sarah Swallow
  • Attended school in Plain Twp., north of Wilkes-Barre PA. Wyoming Seminary (where his father was a trustee); Susquehanna Seminary at Binghamton NY. While at Wyoming Seminary, he was preparing to enter law school but instead entered the ministry.
  • Began his ministry at Drums PA in the Cunnyngham Valley, in 1862
  • Served in Company E of the 18th Regiment of Pennsylvania during the Civil War, from which he obtained the nickname of “The Fighting Parson.”
  • Began itinerant ministry in 1863, preaching at Berwick, Catawissa, Newberry, Williamsport, Milton, Altoona, York, Dickinson College, and Harrisburg.
  • Married on 6/30/1866; wife was seriously injured on 8/3/1930 and was in the Keystone Hospital at the time of Swallow’s death.
  • Superintendent of the Harrisburg Book Room to 1908.
  • Editor of the Methodist publication “The Pennsylvania Methodist.” Began to publish news of political corruption in Harrisburg and connections between legislators and the alcohol industry.
  • After the Pennsylvania State Capitol building burned in 1897, Swallow printed stories of malfeasance regarding the cause of the fire and in fighting the fire. He was charged with criminal libel for his stories.
  • Candidate for State Treasurer (Prohibition-PA) 1897. Won 119,000 votes (16%), a record for a Prohibition Party candidate up to that time. He won twice the votes of his running mate, the candidate for Auditor General.
  • A few days after the 1897 election, a state appeals court overturned his conviction for criminal libel. The court ruled that citizens have the right to criticize state officials.
  • Candidate for Governor (Prb-PA) 1898. Nominated by the Prohibition Party. The Honest Government Party, formed to object to machine politics by the Democrats and Republicans, endorsed Swallow and quickly merged into the Prohibition Party. Supporters of John Wanamaker bolted the Republican ticket and supported Swallow. He won 133,000 votes (13.7%).
  • Candidate for Governor (Prb-PA) 1902. Some Methodists objected to his political involvement and brought him before Methodist authorities for shifting too much energy away from religious activity. This activity resulted in a dramatic drop in his vote from 1898.
  • Candidate for President (Prb) 1904. At the Prohibition National Convention in 1904, when Swallow’s name was placed in nomination, a PA delegate objected so strenuously that he was ruled out of order. Swallow was not sure that he should run, as his wife was seriously ill at the time. He was successful in widening the party’s platform to include a call for initiative, referendum, and direct election of U.S. Senators. Won 148,000 votes for President (1.9%).
  • In his ministry, Swallow had a special interest in building new church buildings and parsonages.
  • Doctor of Divinity from Taylor University (IN)
  • Died on 8/13/1930 at 5:00 p.m.; his last words were “No funeral desired; give the money to the poor. Good-bye.” Buried in Paxtang Cemetery, Harrisburg PA. Source

The “Fighting Parson,” Silas Swallow, was born in Pennsylvania in 1829.  He became a Methodist minister and editor of The Pennsylvania Methodist.  At that time, the Methodist Church was opposed to drinking, and Swallow used his newspaper to expose politicians who favored the liquor traffic.

Swallow was also active in the Prohibition Party.  He ran for Mayor of Harrisburg (the state capitol), for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, for Treasurer, and for Governor of Pennsylvania.  In his 1892 race for Governor, he had the endorsement of the Populist, Liberty, and Honest Government parties, in addition to that of the Prohibitionists.
Denied the Prohibition nomination for President in 1900, Swallow tried again and succeeded in 1904.  His campaign button, “When the Swallows come Carrolling…” is a classic.  Silas Swallow was one of the oldest men ever nominated for President by the Prohibition Party but was nonetheless one of our most successful presidential candidates.  His autobiography, III Score and X details his personal life
Silas Swallow died in 1930.

— Gammon, 2007, pp.68-69

Also see bibliographies:

  • Swallow, S.C. (1909) — III Score and X:  Or, Selections, Collections, Recollections of Seventy Busy Years:  Harrisburg, United Evangelical Publishing House
    —–  (1920) – Then and Now, or Some Reminiscences of an Octogenarian:  privately published.
    —– (1922) — Four Score and More:  An Omnium Gatherum and Multum in Parvo:  Harrisburg, United Evangelical Publishing House.