That man was George Osgoodby, an unassuming citrus rancher in what was then the tiny farming community of Pomona.
What Osgoodby did with pen and paper 124 years ago not only got the British ambassador kicked out of the U.S. but arguably helped unseat President Grover Cleveland in the national election that year.
This great national upheaval unfurled in a rather unlikely place: Debrunner's grocery store, 328 W. Second St., in Pomona where the regulars sat around the cracker barrel and chewed the fat.
There, the story goes, Osgoodby and others argued the value of the national tariff, a key issue of the campaign of Democrat Cleveland and Republican Benjamin Harrison.
Cleveland wanted to reduce the tariff to improve trade; Harrison opposed it. Republicans charged that Cleveland favored the interests of England, whose economy would benefit from the reduced tariffs.
Many Americans, especially the growing population of Irish immigrants, still viewed the British Empire as an evil rival in the world. Unclear about who really favored what, the 35-year-old Osgoodby proposed writing a letter to the British ambassador asking for his position on the matter.
Osgoodby, the son of English parents, wrote to Lord Lionel Sackville-West in Washington, D.
In the Sept. 4 letter he said he was a former Briton who wanted advice as to which candidate he should vote for to most help England.
On Sept. 13, Sackville-West sent "Murchison" a terribly indiscreet reply that indicated a vote for Cleveland would benefit England.
Some of his acquaintances, recognizing the letter was a potential powder keg, persuaded Osgoodby, a Republican, to show the letter to Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
On Oct. 21, 1888, the Times, calling it "an interesting contribution to the campaign literature of the day," printed the letters by Osgoodby and the ambassador on its editorial page.
Otis also shipped copies of the letters to newspapers throughout the nation. The already-hot election, in its final 2 1/2 weeks, was ignited anew in the press over the letter. The secretary of state immediately demanded the removal of the British ambassador, which happened a few days later.
The voters ultimately elected Harrison, though Cleveland, who piled up a huge popular vote in the "solid South," received 96,000 more votes.
Northern states, with many Irish voters still angry over the Murchison letter, provided the victory for Harrison in the Electoral College, by a 233-to-168 margin.
And what happened to the Pomona man who may have changed a national election? Understandably, he went into hiding, worried about angry Democrats, even though his real name did not appear with the published letters.
National reporters came to Pomona seeking Charles Murchison, but naturally he couldn't be found. After the election, Otis secretly met with Osgoodby in Pomona, according to memoirs written by former Times correspondent George Merritt in 1936.
The Times revealed Osgoodby's identify on Jan. 8, 1889. The rancher left town for Los Angeles after his identity was unveiled, but returned after a short absence.
For the rest of his life, he and his brother, Andrew, farmed and lived out their lives in Pomona. He died Jan. 4, 1923, during a visit with his son in Pasadena.
Among those who criticized Osgoodby's action was one rather familiar name: his father, John.
".. I do not think George has acted quite honorably in this matter," the elder Osgoodby told the New York Times. "He never should have given the letter for publication, for Lord Sackville never for a moment believed when he wrote the letter that it would be made public. George broke faith with him. I don't like it."
Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history. He can be reached at 909-483-9382, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter @JoeBlackstock.