Lawrenceburg’s Presidential Candidate
James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark was born near Lawrenceburg Kentucky, March 7, 1850. As a boy he worked on farms in Anderson County. By the time he was 62 years old he had become the Speaker of the U.S. of Representatives, was the ranking Democrat official in the nation, and the leading Democratic candidate for president going into the 1912 Democrat nominating convention.
While working as a farm hand in Anderson County James took every advantage to learn. He read all the material he could buy or borrow and debated with anyone that opposed his views. By the time he was about seventeen he was teaching school at Glensboro in Anderson County. By 1870, Clark had become a very popular teacher. It was said he was far ahead of his times in his teaching techniques and abilities.
James left Anderson County and enrolled in Transylvania University. After 3 years he was expelled for shooting at a fellow student. He transferred to Bethany College in West Virginia where he graduated in 1873. He also attended Cincinnati Law School before becoming president of Marshall College. At age twenty-three, he was the youngest college president in the history of the United States. Eventually he moved to Missouri, married, and was admitted to the bar in 1875.
Champ Clark never forgot his Kentucky roots. In a letter to his Lawrenceburg friend Mr. Will Shouse, he wrote, “You know of my early struggles, and how I have fought my way up inch by inch. While my wife was born in Missouri, both her parents were from Kentucky. Her father was a Bennett from Madison County and her mother was a McAfee was from Mercer. So you see ours is a Kentucky family.”
Champ practiced law for about 10 years before being elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. In 1892 he was elected to be a United States congressional representative and served as its Speaker from 1911 to 1919. His leadership qualities were evident when friends asked him to run for president in 1912.
During his presidential campaign the Lawrenceburg native stopped in his childhood home for a political rally. At 10:05 AM on September 20, 1911, Clarks train arrived from Louisville. He was greeted by a crowd of about 5,000 supporters in front of the Lawrenceburg Hotel. Before he gave his speech, a dinner was served in honor of the town’s distinguished native. The ladies of Lawrenceburg fixed two thousand gallons of burgoo and baskets filled with “good old country grub.”
Going into the 1912 Democratic presidential nomination convention, Champ Clark was the clear favorite to win the nomination. The Democrats were more united as they had been for the previous 20 years. The Republicans on the other hand were split. Teddy Roosevelt was running as a progressive and President Howard Taft as a conservative. All Champ had to do was to secure his party’s nomination and he would be assured to be the next president of the United States.
The only obstacle in his way was the upstart governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson. During the Progressive Era, Champ was running as a progressive Democrat, Wilson ran as a conservative Democrat. The initial balloting at the Democratic convention Champ Clark was the front runner with more than 100 votes over Woodrow Wilson. Eventually he secured a majority of all delegate votes. However, the rules of the convention stated that 2/3’s of a majority are required for the nomination.
During the initial balloting Champ had such a commanding lead that Wilson was willing to concede. Wilson’s supporters urged him to stay in the race and then began garnishing support. After lengthy negotiations over 6 days, with allegations of fraud, and influenced by special interests, the nomination went to Woodrow Wilson on the 46th ballot. Champ was devastated but continued to support his party. He was offered the vice president nomination but declined.
Author James Chase calls the 1912 presidential election “the election that changed the country.” With such a narrow loss, one cannot help but imagine what might the United States look like today if Champ Clark had become President? Wilson was in favor of creating the Federal Reserve, Clark opposed the Act. Wilson got America involved in World War I, Clark opposed that to. Not too bad for an old Lawrenceburg farm hand.
James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark
Born Lawrenceburg March 7, 1850
Died Washington DC March 2, 1921