Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Judge" William Clagett: Mining Investor, Lawyer, and "Silver Tongued" Orator [otd 9/21]

Judge William Horace Clagett was born September 21, 1838 in Prince Georges County, Maryland, which wraps around the east side of Washington, D. C. In 1850, the family moved to Iowa. After high school, William studied at the Albany Law School in New York.

Mark Twain, 1867.
Library of Congress.
In 1861, Clagett moved to Nevada and began a life-long passion for prospecting and mining investments. On one “stampede” to Humboldt County, he was in a party with the later celebrated Samuel Clements (Mark Twain). When Twain’s book Roughing It was published in 1872, it contained the passage, “Young Clagett (now member of Congress from Montana) unharnessed and fed and watered the horses … ”

William also went into Nevada politics, serving in the Territorial and then State House of Representatives. There, he became known as an outstanding speaker, soon earning praise as “the silver tongued orator of the west.”

He then practiced law, served in political offices, and invested in mining properties in Montana and Dakota Territories, as well as around Denver. In 1871-1873, he served Montana Territory as Delegate to Congress. (Delegates have no vote on the floor, but can serve on committees and vote on issues at that level.) While there, he introduced the bill that would eventually result in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

In 1873-1874, he held an appointment as a U. S. Special Counsel to investigate possible fraud in the Office of Indian Affairs for Montana. However, he failed to accomplish much in that position. Newspaper reports of the day suggest that backroom politics thwarted his most diligent efforts.

Clagett practiced law in several mountain west towns, including Denver and Deadwood, Dakota Territory, before gold and silver discoveries in the Coeur d’Alene region brought him to Idaho in 1883. According to the Illustrated History of North Idaho, “Mr. Clagett’s cabin was the first one put up in Murray.” [Blog, Murray, March 5.]

When residents of Idaho Territory convened their Constitutional Convention in 1889, delegates selected Clagett as Convention President. After that, newspaper reports from the convention began referring to “Judge” Clagett, an honorary title he carried for the rest of his life. (There is no record that he served any regular judgeship.)

After Idaho achieved statehood, Clagett became involved in a nasty political dispute with regard to the new state’s first Senatorial seats. Voting together (technically a violation of the legally mandated procedure) the state House and Senate elected Fred T. Dubois to a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

Judge Clagett. Library of Congress.
Opponents challenged this process on that and other technical grounds, and a subsequent election designated Clagett to fill the seat. Clagett supported his case in a speech before the entire U. S. Senate. Observers rated his oration as being remarkably eloquent and effective, and the hopeful Senator-elect emerged very confident of success. However, Senators found the technicalities insufficient to unseat Dubois.

Clagett ran again when the other Senatorial seat came up for a vote, but lost. The Illustrated History said, “Friends and foes alike unite in believing he was too uncompromising to succeed in politics.”

After his election disappointments, Clagett moved to Spokane to enjoy its more civilized amenities. (Such a move was common practice for well-off pioneers from the Coeur d’Alene mining districts.) He died there in August 1901.
                                                                                                        
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
“Clagett is Very Hopeful,” The New York Times (May 23, 1891).
“William H. Clagett,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
“Old Friends of the Late Judge Clagett Speak … ,” The Standard, Anaconda, Montana (August 11, 1901).

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