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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1890 - 1892

The thirty-eighth governor of Ohio, James Edwin Campbell, was the first Ohio governor whose parents were both natives of the Buckeye state. Governor Campbell was proud to be what he called the first specimen of the "second growth of timber." He was born in Middle- town, Ohio, on July 7, 1843, the son of Laura Reynolds and Andrew Campbell, a successful surgeon.

James attended the public schools of his home town and studied privately with the pastor of the Middletown Presbyterian Church. Later, he read law and taught school.

In the summer of 1863 he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in the Mississippi and Red River flotillas. He contracted break- bone fever, however, and was discharged from the service.

As soon as his health permitted it, he resumed the study of law. He was admitted to the bar in 1865, and in 1867 began the practice of law in Hamilton, Ohio. He %was elected prosecuting attorney of Butler County in 1875 and 1877. Meanwhile in 1870, he had married Libby Owens. The Campbells had four children.

Campbell was a Republican until 1872, when he voted for Horace Greeley, the Liberal Republican candidate for president. After that he became and remained a staunch Democrat. In 1882, 1884, and 1886, he was elected to congress, winning his seat in 1886 by only two votes.

In 1889 Campbell ran against Joseph Benson Foraker for the governorship. The Republican party was strongly entrenched, and "Fight- ing Joe" was a formidable opponent. But "Jimmie" Campbell had an amazing capacity for hard work and organizational detail. Murat Halstead, noted publisher of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, bitterly opposing him, said that Campbell would drive across three counties on a rainy night to clinch a single vote.

The slogan of the campaign was "Home Rule for the Cities of Ohio." To the lively tune of "The Campbells Are Coming," great crowds turned out to hear the man that could give "Fire Alarm" Foraker measure for measure in ridicule and invective. Foraker was running for a third term. Campbell denounced the third term as a bad precedent, charged corruption in state institutions, and boldly advocated home rule. His sensational exposure of one of Governor Foraker's graft-practicing appointees to the Cincinnati Board of Control was a staggering blow to the Republicans. To counteract this scandal, Murat Halstead, unwisely and without Foraker's consent, published what he thought was the genuine signature of Campbell to a contract for a financial interest in a ballot box. The signature was a forgery, and Halstead was forced to publish a retraction of the famous ballot-box hoax. The campaign grew hotter and hotter and Campbell drove himself harder and harder, and defeated Foraker by 10,872 votes.

In his inaugural address Governor Campbell insisted that the governor of Ohio should be divested of authority to appoint election boards and clerks and various other governing boards which enabled him virtually to control most of the cities. The general assembly acted on his advice in some cases, but refused to follow him in the case of Cincinnati's board of public affairs which had complete jurisdiction over the city. Greatly chagrined, Governor Campbell had to appoint the members of the Cincinnati board. Soon he had reason to suspect the integrity of some of those appointees. He called a special session of the general assembly and demanded that they fulfill the promises of the Democratic party. After much wrangling, the general assembly passed "the ripper bill" which restored to the mayor of Cincinnati the right to appoint the board of public affairs. Governor Campbell knew that he was committing political suicide, for the president of the Cincinnati Board of Public Affairs was also the chairman of the Democratic com- mittee of Hamilton County.

The general assembly of 1890-91 enacted important labor laws. By that time workers' unions were politically potent. In April 1890 the legislature authorized union labels on union-made goods, established free employment agencies in most of the cities of Ohio, and designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Ohio was among the first states to recognize Labor Day as a legal holiday. All corporations were ordered to pay their employees at least twice a month. Railroad companies were obliged to pay a higher rate for labor performed beyond the ten-hour day. Those companies could no longer compel their employees to sign agreements which relieved the employers of all responsibility for injuries incurred by the employees while at work. It was a well-known fact that fifty-six percent of all accidents to railroad employees occurred in coupling cars. On April 24, 1891, the general assembly declared itself in favor of a national law requiring railroad companies to install automatic couplers on all cars.

The crowning achievement of Governor Campbell's administration was the introduction of the Australian ballot system in elections by an act passed on April 30, 1891. At that time only two or three states were using the Australian ballot. Braver than his predecessors, Governor Campbell also recommended a permanent levy on the tax duplicate for the benefit of the Ohio State University. To his great surprise and gratification, it passed without opposition.

Governor Campbell was renominated in 1891, but he was defeated by William McKinley. It was a hard-fought campaign, but a clean one. McKinley and Campbell were warm friends. Throughout the campaign they were known as "two gentlemen in politics." It was generally recognized that the real stake was the presidency. Had Campbell won, he might have succeeded Benjamin Harrison as president of the United States.

Much against his wishes, the Democratic state convention nominated Campbell for governor again in 1895. He was certain that he faced defeat, because the tide was still running against the Democrats. His acceptance speech contained fourteen words: "A good soldier may fall, but he dare not falter. I accept the nomination." Though he put up the hardest fight of his career, he was defeated by Asa S. Bushnell.

From 1907 to 1910 Governor Campbell was a member of the commission to revise and codify the statutes of Ohio. He practiced law in Columbus for a time and later had business interests in New York City. He never changed his legal residence, however, from Butler County, the "Democratic Gibraltar."

Campbell was an able lawyer, a skillful politician, and a thorough student of the history of his state. He contributed much to the growth of the Ohio Historical Society, and was president of that organization when he died on December 17, 1924. Oxford. Ohio


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