Lake Maxinkuckee Its Intrigue History & Genealogy Culver, Marshall, Indiana

"Dick" Richard J. Bright  



Richard J. Bright is a fair type in energy and industry of what his father was at his age, and resembles him very much in personal appearance


Richard Jesse Bright was born on March 14, 1833, in Madison, Jefferson, Indiana; the son of Michael Graham Bright & Betsy Brooke Steele being from a family of twelve children total.

His uncle Senator Jesse Bright and obtained an appointment to the the naval academy for him but for some reason plans were changed and Bushrod Bennett Taylor ended up wit the appointment and graduated in 1856

He left to attend Brown University, and returned to establish a law practice.

Richard married Letitia M. Smith daughter of John C. and Emily J. Smith.

He built a thriving practice and started a political career with his election as Madison's city attorney. In 1868, he moved north to the more exciting political and social environmentof the Indiana state capital. There he purchased the Indianapolis Sentinel in April 1868, then described as a "stalwart Democratic paper." Of the newspaper history is found:
    On the 28th of January, 1822 the "Indiana Gazette" was established and the first number of made its appearance. It was issued from a log cabin that stood about the center of the square, between the canal and West streets, Washington and Maryland, this cabin was about fifteen by eighteen feet square, and served the proprietors (Smith & Bolton) as a residence as well as printing office. This was the first printing establishment in the "New Purchase" . In 1865..the name changed to the Herald, ... In October 1866 it was put into hands of a receiver... In April 1868, Mr. Richard J. Bright, now (1882) Sergeant-at-Arms of the National Senate, took the establishment, and in December, 1869, moved into the old Methodist Church, called "Wesley Chapel", which he reconstructed for it. The "Evening News" is the other paper published at Mr. B's establishment... There it has remained ever since, but will probably be removed very soon. Since Mr. Bright's retirement about twenty years ago, the paper has been owned by a company and by Mr. John C. Shoemacker, the present proprietor...


< Also found in a biography on his father the Hon. Michael Bright :
    ....Mr. Bright is the father of the energetic proprietor of the Sentinel Printing Establishment, which he has made one of the most complete in all its appointments of any similar establishment in the Western country. From his newspapers presses are issued two Dailies and one Weekly paper. Connected with it he has also an extensive Book Publishing and Job Office and Bindery, and guarantees work of the mest material and modern style.


In Indianapolis, Bright developed a close personal and professional association with former state attorney general Joseph McDonald.

Richard J. Bright, was a delegate to the New York convention, and that he steadily voted against the nomination of Mr. Hendricks. Had Indiana been solid for Governor Hendricks he would undoubtedly have been the nominee instead of Governor Seymour.

In 1871, Bright obtained a contract to do the state's official printing at the facilities of his newspaper company. Within months, however, a local grand jury indicted him on three counts of perjury in connection with his billings for paper supplies. With the help of his friend and attorney Joseph McDonald, Bright eventually had these charges dismissed. An accounting of this is found in the March 27, 1879, Wednesday Page 1, New York Times as follows:
    INDIANAPOLIS, March 26. In 1871 Richard J. Bright, who is now Sergeant-at-Arms of the United States Senate, was proprietor of the Indianapolis Herald, now the Sentinel.

    The Legistlature of that year elected him State printer, and he assumed the office on Feb. 26. On the next day, the 27th he presented to the State Auditor a bill for 200 reams of 50-pound book paper, amountign to $2,020. He swore to this account, and it was approved by Secretary of State Eddy. On march 6, Bright presented another bill for 644 reams of paper and other items, amounting to $6,807.72. On the 20th of March, another bill was presented for 452 reams of paper and printing work, amounting to $12,621.85. On the 1st of May another b ull was presented for 519 reams of paper and other items, amounting to $13,477.00. These vouchers were published in the Indianapolis Journal of July 11, and Bright asked for an explanation. On the 12th of July he published an article in reply, which was headed with the couplet: "When You get a good thing, save it, save it; When you catch a Black cat, skin it to the tail,"

    Bright said in response to these bills that he propesed to make every dollar out of the office he could legally, and "we hope it will produce a sufficient amount of satisfy our modest desires and leave on hand some balance to spend, if ncessary, to aid in continuing Indiana Democratic.: As a result of this article, the term "cat-skinner" was generally applied to Bright, and "cat-skinnign" became a name for fraud in office.

    On July 26 mr. Bright was arrested for perjury, based on a bill rendered to the State on March 6. Going before a Justice of the Peace, he gave bail for appearance in the criminal Court on the 12th of August next followng. The Grandjury returned an indictment in three counts, charging Mr. Bright with the crime of prejury in swearing to the correctness of his bill against the State of March 6. The first count charged Bright with false and corrupt swearing for the purpose of inducing the Secretary fo State to approve the bill, Bright well knowing that the State was not indebted to him at that date for any suche amount of paper or sume of monery. The second count charged Bright with false and corrupt swearing to induce the Auditor of State to draw his warrant upon the Tresurer of the State for the amount of the bill, and the third count charged him with false andcorrupt swearing, in violation of the fortieth section of the Felony Act. On the 14th of August Bright was arrested and gave bail in the sum of $2,5000. One Spet. 4 his trail was begum in the Criminal court, the defense being represented by Senator McDOnald, A. W. Hendricks, Hon. John R. coffroth, of Layfatte; the late Hon. James Huughes of Washington; Hon. Jonathan W. Gordon and W. W. Leathers, of this city. The trail lasted 16 days. No evidence was introduced to show that the paper had been furnished to the State or the work done as charge. The foreman of Bright's office swore it would have been utterly impossible to use the amount of paper for which Bright had charged withing the time specified. The defense relied mainly upon proving that it was not the custom of the Auditor of State to rquire such bills to be sworn to, and that the affidavit being one upon a matter in which no oath was legally required, the charge of prejury could not be maintained.

    Secretary of State Eddy testified that he did not approve the bill by reason of Bright's oath., and Auditor Shoemaker testified that he did not require the oath; so the first two counts of the indictment fell. The fight was made on the last count. The jury, consisting of six Republicans and six Democrats, after being out 48 hours, came into court, and being unable to agree, were discharged.

    This criminal action created the greatest political and personal excitement throughout the State. The feeling was so decided that Attorney-General Hanna, a Democrat, began a civil proceeding against Bright for $20,000, the sum the State had been defrauded out of through these false bills. Associated with him in the proscestuiton was Hon. Napoleon B. Taylor, a leading Democratic attorney of this city. In the month of Novemeber, bright began the work of furnishing paper for which he had charged the State in the preceduing March. He built an irom warehouse in the rear of the Sentinel printing establishment, filled it with paper, had it insured against loss by fire, and then began to negotiating with the counsel represnting the State. As a res ult the officers of the State agreed to dismiss the civil suit for the sum of $20,000, the consideration being that the State had been secured against the loss by receining 859 reams of paoper then stored in the warehouse. This agreement is entered on the court records of the court, under date of Feb. 9, 1872.

    The second trial for prejuery began Feb. 6, 1872, and ended in Bright's acquittal. The civl suit having been compromised three days after this second trial had begun on this hearing, no effort was made to establish the truth of the bills presented in March of the previous year. During this exposure Mr. bright was denounced by the leading newspapers of his own party. The New Albany Ledger-Standard said on June 22, 1871: "Mr. Bright owes it to his party to make an explanation of thie book-paper transaction. If he does make a satisfactory explanation, none will be more ready than we to publish a refuation of the charges amde by the Journal. If he does not do it , then the sooner he makes good his threat to resign his office the better for the party."

    The vincennes Sun, quoting the remark of Bright that he expected to be re-elected State Printer, said:'We expect nothing of the kind, and we will hazzard a limited amount of currency that in the next Legislature you receive a less number of votes for State Printer than you got for the Penitentiary last week from a jury of 12 good and lawf ul men of the County of Marion."

    The same paper under the date of July 18, said: "The recent discovery of tremendous frauds on the Treasury by Richard J. Bright, is sufficient to ocverwhelm with shame and mortification the Democracy of Indiana, and calls for the prompt, earnest, and unanimous comdemantion of our party friends throughout the State. Every democratic editor in the State should fearlessly and unhesitatingly condemn this great wrong. we must either destroy bright and render him powerless for further evil, or Bright will destroy the party."

    From their Advent in public afairs In Indiana, the Bright family have been the bane and curse of the Democratic party. Imperious, tyrannical, selfish, and corrupt, they scruple at nothing, however dishonorable, in order to advance their own individual interests. "R ule or ruin' is the motto which has always guided them, and for personal aggrandizement there is not one of them that would hesitate to corrupt and defeat the party.

    Richard J. Bright sought to swindle the State Central committe last year out of more than $1,000 on trumped up charges for printing that was never done. A statement is made by one of the best Democrats in Indiana that Richard Bright undertook, during the session of the legislature last Winter to black-mail a prominent Democrat of Vigo county out of $1,000 by offering for that amount to use hius influence to have Gov. Baker veto a certain bill, when he knew at the time that Baker had determined to veto it, and that his influence was not worth a farthing.

    Bright was the nominee of his party for Sheriff of this county last Fall, and all these facts were published again and again. The contest was very heated, and as Bright is a man of personal pop ularity, and as warmly supported by the party, he made a strong run, but was defeated by 600 votes.
Soon after Bright's trial, McDonald won an Indiana seat in the United States Senate. When his party moved into the majority in 1879, he suggested Bright's selection as Senate Sergeant at Arms. As Republican newspapers began to alert their readers to Bright's former legal troubles, McDonald assured fellow Democrats that the indictments stemmed from the efforts of local Republicans to capture the lucrative state printing contract for a member of their party.

Within days of Bright's election, Senate Democrats introduced a resolution returning to the Sergeant at Arms exclusive authority to appoint and remove members of his staff. For the past twenty-five years, the Senate had given the vice president power to override all such personnel actions. But on March 23, 1879, for the first time since 1854, the vice president was not a member of the party that controlled the Senate majority. And the front page New York Times headlines of March 27, 1879, Wednesday was as follows:
    BRIGHT'S TARNISHED NAME.; A DISHONORED DEMOCRAT IN A SENATE OFFICE.THE FRAUDS PERPETRATED BY THE NEW SERGEANT-AT-ARMS ON THE STATE OF INDIANA A COMPROMISE EFFECTED BY RESTITUTION CRIMINAL INDICTMENTS FOUND THE DENUNCIATIONS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PRESS.

    "When You get a good thing, save it, save it; When you catch a clack cat, skin it to the taill." - Richard J. Bright


Seventeen years earlier (1862), during the early months of the Civil War, the Republican-controlled Senate had expelled Jesse Bright—then the Senate's most senior Democrat—for "disloyalty to the Union." Now the Democrats, back in control of the Senate for the first time since before that war, had placed his nephew in this important office— as some believed—to get even. Of this:
    The appointment of Jesse Bright's nephew partic ularly galled the Republicans. Senator Bright had owned twenty slaves on a Kentucky farm and had opposed the use of force against the South, arguing that the seceding states would soon voluntarily return to the Union. Then came the July 1861 Battle of B ull Run. When Union forces captured an arms merchant trying to cross into Confederate territory, they found that he carried a letter of introduction from Senator Bright to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Bright later told Senate investigators that he did this simply as a courtesy, for he considered both men to be his friends. He also emphasized that he had written the letter several weeks before the outbreak of hostilities. Not impressed with these arguments, the Senate's Republican majority quickly expelled Bright.


Richard Bright proved to be an effective and respected Sergeant at Arms. Members of both parties demonstrated that respect two years later, in March 1881, by agreeing to keep him in office when the Senate, for the first time, found itself equally divided between the two parties. At the start of the following Congress, in December 1883, however, the Republicans returned to the majorityand dismissed Bright in favor of their own appointee

In what proved to be a temporary retirement from the Senate, Bright opened a Washington law practice with Joseph McDonald and remained active in Democratic party affairs. He had so enjoyed the title of Sergeant at Arms that he took that post at three successive Democratic National Conventions, from 1884 to 1892. That service helped him maintain a network of friendships with party officials throughout the nation. When the Democrats regained control of the Senate following the 1892 election, they invited Bright to return as Senate Sergeant at Arms. On August 8, 1893, he became the first of only two persons to hold that office for two non-consecutive terms.
    THE CAMPAIGN IN INDIANA.; GOV. GRAY'S FRIENDS DISTRUST BRIGHT -- C ulLOM'S FRIENDS TALK.

    February 11, 1892, Wednesday

    INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., Feb. 10. -- The appointment or Richard J. Bright as Sergeant at Arms of the National Democratic Convention is looked upon with distrust by Gov. Gray and his supporters. Bright was a personal friend of the late Senator McDonald, through, whose influence he was elected Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate in the Forty-sixth, Congress.

    Bright was Mc Donald's Washington law partner until the firm was dissolved by death of the ex-senator. Next to McDonald, no man contributed more toward Gray's deafeat for the Vice Presidential nomination at St. louis than did Bright, who, was Sergeant at Arms of the concention, managed to let in the hall every friend of McDonald, and allowed the Gray supporters to do their shouting on the streets. Gray's friends fear that they will be frozen out at chicago, and that , when the Indiana candidate is presented to the convention, there will not be enought Gray men in the hall to make a respectable demonstration.

    The fact that Simon P. Sheerin of this State is a membeer of the Committee on Arrangements gives the Gray boomers no comfort. Sheerin will do nothing for Gray. Politically he is controlled by Senator Brice. Bright will also be controled ed by the Gorman-Brice combine. Since his election as Sergeant at Arms of the Senate bright has been a resident of Washington and for eight years has not voted in Indiana. Since McDonald's death he has ceased to be a political factor in this State.....


When the Republicans regained the Senate majority in 1895, they agreed to keep Bright in office. This decision owed much to his effectiveness, but even more to the political realities of a deeply divided Republican caucus' inability to agree on a slate of officers On February 1, 1900, with the Republican caucus more firmly under the control of its leaders, the sixty-six-year-old Bright decided the time had come to retire. In a Senate career that had spanned more than twenty years, Bright had become an authority on the Senate's r ules, procedures, and customs. With caref ul confidence, he capably managed presidential inaugurations and senatorial funerals. Newspaper reporters partic ularly valued his encyclopedic knowledge of Senate operations. As one observed, "Few men seek and find so many opportunities as he has daily discovered, in his career as Sergeant at Arms, to be the friend of the newspaper correspondent." Richard Bright remained in Washington for another twenty years, until his death on October 6, 1920

Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana, by William Wesley Woollen. Indianapolis, Published by Hammond & Co., 1883.

During and mercantile resources of Indianapolis, Indiana : a review of its manufacturing, mercantile & general business interests, advantageous location, &c. : to which is added a historical and statistical sketch of its rise and progress. unknown: unknown, 1883, pg. 390

United States Senate -Richard J. Bright, Sergeant at Arms, 1879-1883

Early reminiscences of Indianapolis : with short biographical sketches of its early citizens, and a few of the prominent business men of the present day Indianapolis: Sentinel Book and Job Print. House, 1870, 439-441

Captain Bushrod Bennett Taylor






Today is