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Champ Clark

November 15, 2017

James Beauchamp Clark was born in Kentucky in 1850.  Except for a one-term hiatus in the mid- 1890’s, he had been a Congressman from Missouri for almost 20 years and had been elected Speaker of the House in 1911.  Regarding his nickname, he once said “that a man had as much right to cut off part of his Christian name as to trim off part of his hair.”  Perhaps he thought “James Beauchamp” sounded too pretentious.  “I sprang from the loins of the common people, God bless them, and I am one of them,” was his boast.  In any case, the prospective voter who saw “Champ” Clark’s name on a poster or on the ballot would have no trouble with the pronunciation.

At the 1912 Democratic Convention, Champ Clark led Woodrow Wilson on the first 29 ballots.  He temporarily captured a majority of the delegates on the 10th through 17th ballots, but in 1912 a simple majority was not enough to win the Democratic nomination for President.  The Party required its nominees to have two-thirds.  This was not accomplished until Wilson overtook Clark on the 46th ballot.

William Jennings Bryan, the “Great Commoner” who had been the Democratic nominee in 1908, should have been Clark’s natural ally, but Bryan was still upset over Clark’s handling of tariff legislation.  Also, Clark’s Eastern supporters were just the sort of people Bryan had been railing against since 1896.  When Bryan threw his support to Wilson, Clark’s defeat became inevitable.

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