When John Anderson was 10 years old, his family moved 50 miles north of its hometown of Rockford, Ill., to Genoa, Wis., for a year, where his father opened a dry goods store. He kept a diary in a 10-cent composition notebook and there, in a bold, clear-lettered, somewhat unpunctuated scrawl, he described what seems the most idyllic childhood any little boy could hope for:
Friday May 20 1932
This has been a most beautiful day. The flowers are blooming tulips lilacs and I do enjoy every day in school my dad gave me a new straw hat today one which I can use when I go fishing.
Saturday May 21, 1932
This has been a lovely day. Sunshine and I have really had a good time playing all day and I also went fishing but did not catch any large fish. The wind blew so I could not wear my straw hat. When I went fishing .
It was a time of simple pleasures: picking raspberries, hunting night crawlers, picnicking by cool lakes on summer evenings, playing ball with the boys, finding new books at the library, going to a neighbor's house each week to take a bath, and enjoying his family.
Friday Sept 9, 1932
Today is my precious daddy's birthday. My Uncle Joe and Aunt Jennie and Aunt Ellen and Grandpa and Grandma Anderson [came]. I have had a very enjoyable day .
If John Anderson at 10 was a dutiful child, religious, bookish, something of a goody-goody, he was resilient too, a Midwesterner whose optimism was undaunted even by the brutal death of his dog.
Monday July 11, 1932
Today was a nice day very warm. I went to Tegtmans [neighbors] and helped shocked barley. This evening we went to a shiveree [wedding party] for Tegtmans daughter. We beat on a old washtub and shivered them they served ice cream and cookies I had two dishes of ice cream and three cookies. This afternoon fluffy [the dog] got her foot in the barley binder they took him to Doc Vanderveen but he said they would have to kill her so Keith shot her with Ray Coles rifle they shot her two times in the head and crashed her head with a rock. I rode horseback this afternoon .
There may be no grand conclusions to be drawn from reading between the lines of these somewhat startling juxtapositions, but the small adventures of childhood tell something of the man now running for president as an independent candidate.
After more than a year of campaigning, John Bayard Anderson, 58, is still the least known of the three principal candidates. He grew up in Rockford, only a few dozen miles from Ronald Reagan's childhood home, but in many ways Anderson calls to mind images of Jimmy Carter in 1976: an underdog, yet self-assured; a Christian of pious integrity; a politician uncomfortable with politicians; a conservative liberal; a product of small-town America, intellectually self-made.
Take, for example, this essay written at age 14 for a high school class. It is entitled "Some Peculiarities Concerning My Likes and Dislikes."
Ever since a small child I have possessed a fondness of spinach which some of my friends think must come from a rare malady judging from their astounded looks of surprise. I also like milk and I think I consume at least a quart a day. I am rather conservative in general, however, when it comes to clothing and personal appearance. . . . I enjoy good literature and am very fond of books. I have several hobbies . . . a stamp collection and a camera . . . golf . . . iceskating. During my spare time I clerk in my father's store, something which I enjoy very much because of the valuable experience it affords.
This is the essential John Anderson: an earnest straightarrow, steady, cautious, self-confident, purposefully well-rounded, his rhetoric slightly overblown, his sobriety only slightly enlivened by a wry sense of humor. Where some youths might confess a liking for candy or even beer, Anderson talks of spinach and milk. Where others might enjoy movies or cruising, Anderson's pleasures were apparently reading the classics and helping in his father's grocery store.
When E. Albin Anderson, a farmer's son from Westergotland, Sweden, arrived in East Rockford in 1901 at the age of 15, he felt comfortable. A bustling group of immigrants had settled in this small city to work in the furniture factories and to practice freely their strict form of evangelical Protestantism. Albin could stroll the streets in those days and hear nothing but Swedish spoken.
A half-century later, when Albin's son was deciding whether to run for office, some things hadn't changed all that much. A friend trying to lure John Anderson into politics in 1956 grabbed a phone book and said, "Just look at the number of Andersons in here."
The Andersons lived on the top floor of a two-story flat in a friendly Swedish neighborhood. It was a Norman Rockwell vision: neat little homes surrounded on the outskirts of town by undulating cornfields and growing factories. Anderson describes it as "a very happy, happy childhood. . . . It was a lower-middle-class environment where you worked hard and you got away for a little vacation in the summertime."
He remembers no fears, no traumatic events, nor any doubts about himself. "I think I was rather serene in the fact that I had parents who loved me and I grew up in comfortable surroundings," he said in an interview. "Certainly not in luxury, but I was not conscious of being deprived of anything and I loved my parents and they loved me and I had a good relationship with my brother and sister and I did reasonably well in school." Albin and his wife, Mabel, daughter of a Swedish farmer, ran their grocery in Rockford for 64 years. They had six children, but the three oldest daughters died, one of scarlet fever, one of brain damage from a dificult birth and one of pneumonia. Albin would visit the cemetery weekly for years afterwards, but the grief of the two parents was deeply private.
"My parents were not morbid or preoccupied with the fact that three children had passed away," says John Anderson, who was a toddler when the last death occurred. "I guess they were happy that three others had been born. I don't ever remember it as being any blighting kind of experience."
Albin Anderson often worked in the grocery store from 5:30 in the morning until 9 at night. His children remember him as solemn and soft-spoken. "I used to promise them a licking, but i never carried it out," he says today, straight-backed and clearheaded at 95. "My wife said, 'Don't tell them that because they know you'll never do it.'"
Mabel, who helped in the store from time to time, was a lively playmate for her children, dressing up with them at Halloween, helping them set off firecrackers on Independence Day. She wished she had become a novelist and she inspired her children with a love of reading. John especially spent as much time in the local public library as most boys spend playing catch. When he went out to dinner with his parents, he would seek out a bookcase and curl up to read, oblivious to all conversation.
The Anderson's social life revolved around family and church. Family included Mabel's 11 brothers and sisters, Albin's four sisters, grandparents and flocks of cousins. Church was the First Evangelical Free Church, one of the largest in Rockford, with more than 1,000 members.
In his book, "Between Two Worlds," Anderson wrote that church "not only meant Sunday School at 9:29 rain or shine; it meant Sunday morning church service when a 45-minute sermon was not considered unduly long, young peoples' service at five o'clock, and then a Sunday evening evangelistic service. It meant attendance at Wednesday night prayer meeting services, as well as the frequent 'special meetings' which would bring well-known evangelists and Bible teachers to our city."
One hot summer night at a tent meeting with the fiery evangelist Paul Rood, nine-year-old John Anderson was born again. "Seated there beside my parents on the rough planking of a makeshift church pew, I was suddenly gripped as never before in my young life by the message of this divinely gifted man of God," he wrote years later in the Evangelical Beacon. "The word of God as he expounded it simply and clearly became the 'Sword of the Spirit' that pierced my heart and convinced me of my complete unworthiness . . . I fell on my knees and beseeched God's mercy."
But, unlike Jimmy Carter, who was reborn much later in life, John Anderson seems somewhat uncomfortable with the label. He calls the Jesus Amendment, which he introduced as a favor to a constituent, "one of the stupidest things I ever did." And while he says his early religious training was "a great stabilizing rudder in my life," he adds that today he is "much more tolerant" in his beliefs. His church outlawed movie-going, but Anderson today has relaxed enough to enjoy an occasional scotch and even to be dragged to the movies by his teen-age brood.
Anderson declared in one of his childhood diaries that he wanted to be a minister or a professor. A favorite game at the age of about 10 was to play church. "We all had our little separate jobs," recalls his sister Helen, a Rockford housewife. "John was always the preacher, Bill was the usher and I was the organist. Bill and I would both listen to John preach and we'd sit there with our mouths open, he'd keep us so interested. John was always the leader."
Skinny, freckled, friendly but shy with girls, Anderson at the age of 14 had chosen retail selling as a career. "It . . . is a wholesome form of industry," he noted in a high school essay. "There is plenty of room at the top rung of the ladder called success for those persons having the very necessary quality of orginality."
But before deciding to follow in his father's footsteps, Anderson carefully studied the pros and cons. "In a small firm, long hours are often prevalent," he wrote. "also, a large salary or social prominence are not things to look for. . . . However . . . it is a widely diversified occupation especially in small firms and consequently very interesting. You meet, and talk with, and make many friends. It is an honest living regarded with respect by everyone."
Nonetheless, the seeds of a politician, however unconscious, were germinating. In that 10-year-old's diary, Anderson had noted on July 1, 1932, that "Franklin D. Roosevelt [sic] was chosen nominee [sic] as President." And in his essay four years later on likes and dislikes, he wrote, "I have always been interested in political matters and there is nothing that interests me more keenly than a political contest of any sort." At 16, Anderson became very close to his debate coach, John Burlund, who encouraged his interest in government and world affairs, and inspired him to become a lawyer. Rockford Central High's leading debater, Anderson was also valedictorian of his class of 700.
Alben Anderson, who had known only six years of schooling, always understood that John would go to college. On scholarship at the University of Illinois, John dated little, studied relentlessly, made Phi Beta Kappa and his father recalled, "never spent a nickel without thinking about it. When he bought a Coke, he'd mark it down in his ledger.
After law school and a tour in the Army, a certain restlessness characterized Anderson's early career. He left a prestigious Rockford law firm to study at Harvard for a year, returned to Rockford law practice, then joined the Foreign Service. But he found it "a regimented existence," he said in a recent interview. "You were assigned every two years to a new post. You really didn't have control over your future. Suppose I didn't want to go to Uganda or some place?" It bothered him to see top ranks filled with wealthy political appointees. Married with a child by this time, he worried about having to send his children away to school.
Deciding to quit diplomacy was traumatic. His wife, Keke, remembers him as so anguished over the decision that he would come home at midday to take a hot bath.
Once back in Rockford, he again grew restive. "It wasn't totally satisfying to be involved in representing people in automobile accident cases and drawing wills and deeds. I was just restless to do something a bit more meaningful after having lived abroad and traveled and enjoyed exciting work; the practice of law in that initial period did seem a rather mundane existence."
Soon after his return, however, friends approached Anderson in the winter of 1955-1956 to run for Winnebago County state's attorney. It wasn't his idea, but, he recalls, "It didn't take much persuading -- which leads me to think I must have sort of been waiting for someone to suggest it to me."
Politics for Anderson wasn't a career born of idealism. State's attorney -- involving criminal prosecution and county litigation -- was "a job for a lawyer and I was a lawyer," Anderson wrote in his book. "Having newly reestablished my practice, and being barred by the canons of ethics from advertising for clients, the campaign provided, win or lose, an excellent means of putting my name and qualifications before the public . . . I was blessed with no apocalyptic vision of bringing better government to an oppressed people."
It was a four-way primary. The local Republican committee back John Beynon, a brash, affluent, young lawyer who had been an all-state football player. Two other lawyers also ran.
"We didn't care for the entrenched group of Republicans and they didn't give us the time of day," recalled Harley E. Swanson, Anderson's first campaign manager and one of a dozen friends who convinced him to run. "When we won, the old guard couldn't believe it. They thought Beynon was a shoo-in."
Ideology played no part in the race. Anderson and his opponents delivered pretty much the same paeans to law enforcement -- but Anderson delivered them better. Beynon was a little cocky. Anderson's appeal was as a fresh face. "He won by virtue of his sincerity," Swanson said. "He came off as the typical American boy who could do things for the community. Someone with a good solid background and no bad habits that people could drag out of the woodwork."
Anderson campaigned tirelessly and his supporters organized telephoning, leafletting, radio interviews and speeches to local groups. He knew hundreds of people from church, high school and his father's grocery. He rarely forgot a name.
If Beynon had the sanitary district workers (whose jobs depended on Republican patronage), Anderson had the preachers. "This is a churchy town," Swanson said. "John spoke at the churches -- back then, that was not unusual. The Sunday before voting day, the preacher would tell the congregation that there was a man running with outstanding Christian principles and that's who they should vote for. The churches probably gave John the decisive vote that put him over."
Anderson won the April 1956 primary with a comfortable margin, and easily won the general election that fall.
He served his term with distinction and, four years later, was ready to return to private practice when Leo E. Allen, northwest Illinois' congressman for the previous 28 years, retired. In the subsequent five-man primary, state Sen. Marvin F. Burt, who had represented four of the seven counties in the district for 15 years, was endorsed by the Rockford newspaper and supported by the local Republican establishment.
It was a campaign of coffee parties, parades, pancake suppers, church ice cream socials, Rotary and Kiwanis Club luncheons. Keke, a strong woman who has taken a keen interest in her husband's political career, campaigned with toddlers in tow, handing out leaflets in shopping centers. John raced up and down the Rock River in a red Nash Rambler with his name painted on the side in bright letters and the backseat full of brochures, buttons and matchbooks. He was up at 6 a.m. to shake hands at plant gates.
"In every campaign, I've found it was a little hard to get started," says Anderson. "Like getting up in the morning: you have to stretch and yawn a little bit before you really feel the juices flowing. But once I got into it I found that I enjoyed diving into crowds and shaking hands with people. People sometimes have the impression I am a bit loath to do that, but once I get cranked up, I find that I don't mind it."
The issues of that first congressional race are largely forgotten. Federal aid to education was discussed; Formosa was argued about; the status of the floodplain in nearby Freeport was debated. But, as in the race that year between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, it was largely a matter of charisma.
"John Anderson had a certian glamor, an image of youth," remembers attorney Bernard Reese, one of the five candidates. "He was more articulate than the rest of us. There was one Tv debate that was a turning point. Burt and I did poorly. John had his answers ready."
Anderson won that primary with nearly half of the vote, and, if those early races left any lasting impression on him, it would have been that without party support and even without fierce ambition, but with a certain doggedness, one could win.
These gentlemanly non-ideological races of two decades ago, coupled with the easy time he had during the next eight elections, left Anderson unprepared for the bitter fight that would confront him in 1978 in the party primary.
After 18 years in Congress, Anderson was proud of his record. He worked long hours. His oratorical skills gained him the respect of his colleagues. He rose to be chairman of the House Republican Conference, the third-ranking position among House Republicans. His increasingly independent positions, beginning with his endorsement of the 1968 open housing bill, were earning him a national reputation. "He was like a little god," remembers one Rockford resident. "He could do no wrong."
But when Anderson became one of the first Republican congressmen to speak out against Richard Nixon, thus becoming a familiar face on the network news, many of his hometown supporters turned on him. "It seemed like the more they liked him nationally, the less they liked him in Rockford," said John Holub, a longtime Rockford supporter. Anderson was disheartened by the bitterness, so much so that in 1976 he nearly accepted an appellate judgeship from President Ford.
In 1978, Anderson faced his first primary challenge in 18 years from Donald M. Lyon, a 46-year-old envangelical preacher. Lyon had been a strong backer of Anderson in his run for state's attorney and later campaigns, but he and other conservatives came to feel Anderson had strayed too far from orthodoxy.
Lyon got in touch with national conservative groups who were looking for races with vulnerable liberals. The Washington-based Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress coached him at a candidates' workshop and provided him with a professional campaign manager. Mass-mailing expert Richard Viguerie of Northern Virginia helped him raise money.
Lyon's issues were the issues of the militant New Right across the country: abortion, gun control, the Panma Canal "giveaway," homosexual rights. As far as Lyon was concerned, Anderson was on the wrong side of them all.
But as the primary wore on, the most important issue became Anderson himself. Lyon claimed that Anderson had lost touch with his district, had become "Washington's representative to us, not the other way around." In the eyes of many, even Anderson's friends, there was truth to the charge. "It wasn't that people liked Lyon," said Roger Reno, an attorney who once practiced with Anderson. "They just wanted to teach John a lesson. He was getting too liberal."
Anderson's behavior during television and radio debates, and in speaking engagements with his opponent, didn't help. "He was thin-skinned," recalled a Rockford newsman who followed the race. "The attitude was that there were too many ingrates in the district who didn't realize that this man had done them proud. Keke used to get this 'How dare they do this to John' look. The slightest criticism would set Anderson off."
One television debate in particular stuck in people's minds. Anderson, stung by what he considered Lyon's "gross distortion" of his record, turned on the preacher with fire in his eyes and practically shouted at him, "You may be an ex-minister, but I am going to call a spade a spade. That simply isn't true." At another point, Anderson accused Lyon of being "programmed" by the right-wingers.
Lyon, with 16 years of television experience on his own weekly show, "Quest for Life," remained calm. Many of Anderson's constituents thought the congressman had been petulant, hot-headed, undignified.
Anderson didn't see it that way. "I didn't have any emotional crying jags," he said in a recent interview. "I didn't erupt in public. If I made some offhand comments of exasperation that I should have to be dealing with what I thought was a renegade minister -- I don't myself regard that as a character defect. I wouldn't try to make people think I am totally glacial in my calm. I don't think I'm a choleric person, but I do have a disposition to speak my mind."
The primary -- even though Anderson won it with 58 percent of the vote -- was a deeply emotional experience for a man who had never before run scared. He had been forced to raise $250,000 when he had never spent over $40,000 on a race before. He had called in all his chits -- even Jerry Ford and Henry Kissinger had come for Rockford to campaign for him. "It drove home to me in a very personal way the almost violent way in which the conservative wing of the Republican Party would seek to deal with someone whom they felt was beyond the pale," Anderson said. "[You've] gone along since 1960 with fairly nominal opposition and then suddenly you wake up and find someone is storming the ramparts of your carefully prepared defenses. Its bound to be something of an eye-opener."
But in the end, John Anderson came to agree with Lyon on one thing: he had changed. He wasn't the man they sent to Washington two decades before. He had grown and he had left many of his constituents behind. He decided it was just as well that Lyon had come along to challenge him out of his complacency. "It almost takes the shock therapy of a bruising encounter to make you reevaluate where you are in life and what you've done and what you'd like to do with the rest of it," he said.
Once Anderson decided he didn't want to be the congressman from Rockford any longer -- and he decided that even before he won that 1978 election -- he decided to put all his effort into beating the conservatives who had challenged him. "I wanted to speak for what I thought was the moderate wing of the Republican Party."
So it was that John Anderson, restlessness rekindled, had nothing to lose when he decided to run for the Republican nomination and then as an independent candidate for president. "I really have had a comfortable life," he said recently. "It hasn't been all that tough . . . Sure, I worked my way through college and my upbringing was one of very modest circumstances, but I've never had to endure great privation . . . This campaign is the biggest challenge that I have ever confronted."