Missouri’s almost first president

Wes Franklin
Neosho Daily News

So far, Harry Truman has been the only Missourian elected to the White House. 

We haven’t had anyone from the Show-Me State in the Oval Office since 1953. Maybe we need a dose of ol’ Missouri style horse-sense not just in the White House but nation-wide. 

Before Harry Truman came along, we almost had another Missourian sitting in the President’s chair. 

James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark (1850-1921) was born in Kentucky, but called Missouri home for most of his adult life. He represented northeastern Missouri in Congress and served as Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1911 to 1919. 

Clark was a frog’s hair away from cinching the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912, but couldn’t quite get the required two thirds majority of delegates. Going in to the convention, he had a simple majority of delegates backing him. He won the early voting, but couldn’t clear the two-thirds threshold. Dozens of ballot rounds later, Democrat populist hero William Jennings Bryan publicly announced his support for New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, who then secured the nomination. 

Had Champ Clark been nominated in 1912 he would have won the presidency, just like Wilson did. The Republican Party was divided in two that election, split between incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt who ran on a third party ticket (the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party). 

Had Clark became president it might have changed world history, for he was against The United States’ entry in World War I in 1917. Congress declared war on Germany, but it was with Wilson’s recommendation and request. Had the US not entered the war when it did, the opposing countries would have likely fought each other into a stalemate and sued for peace. There would have been no one-sided Treaty of Versailles, punishing Germany and creating the seething resentment that spawned the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party in the 1920s, ultimately resulting in World War II.

Clark was also opposed to the Federal Reserve Act, which created the Federal Reserve System, something President Woodrow Wilson was wholeheartedly behind in 1913. 

But what-ifs are only speculation, and the smallest occurrence can change everything (the butterfly effect), so who knows what would have actually happened if Champ Clark had become president. 

He died on March 2, 1921, only a couple of days before he was going to leave Congress. He is buried in Missouri soil, at Bowling Green, in Pike County, where he lived. 

Clark published his memoir just before he died titled “My Quarter Century of American Politics”. You can download or read it for free at archive.com. 

Maybe one day we’ll see a Missourian in the White House again. God bless Missouri. God bless America. 

-Wes Franklin writes a weekly column, That History Guy, for The Neosho Daily News.