George W. Clarke

George W. Clarke was born in Shelby county, Indiana, October 24, 1852. He removed with his parents to Davis county, Iowa, in 1856, and worked on a farm until manhood. He taught school twelve months and graduated from Oskaloosa college in 1877 and from the law department of the State University of Iowa in 1878.

Immediately upon his graduation he began the practice of law in Adel and continued in this profession until his election as governor in 1912.

He was a member of the House of Representatives in the Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth. Thirtieth and Thirty-first General Assemblies and was speaker in the Thirtieth and Thirty-first General Assemblies.

Mr. Clarke was elected lieutenant-governor in 1908 and re-elected in 1910. On January 17, 1913, he became Governor of Iowa.

Annals of Iowa, 1915
Submitted by Cathy Danielson

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1913—1916

The life history of Iowa's twenty-first governor may be briefly sketched in outline; but between the lines is a story of early ambition, unceasing toil, unflinching integrity, rare intellectual equipment for public service, and a remarkably full realization of the dreams of youth—honors many and deserved, troops of friends, and the enduring satisfaction of an ideal home and family life.

George Washington Clarke was born in Shelby County, Indiana, on the 24th day of October, 1852. His mother was an Indianian and his father an Ohioan. When the boy was four years old, with his parents, he came to Davis County, Iowa, where his father settled upon a farm near Drakeville. Here, with alternations of farm work and winter schooling, the boy grew to vigorous manhood.

For a time he taught school, first in the country, then in Drakeville and later in Bloomfield. At the age of twenty-five he was graduated from Oskaloosa College. He became a student of law in the office of Lafferty and Johnson, in Oskaloosa. In 1878, at the age of twenty-six, he was graduated from the law department of the Iowa State University. He located in Adel, Dallas County, where he was married to Miss Arietta Greene. After establishing himself as an attorney, in 1882 he formed a law partnership with John B. White, and the firm of White & Clarke has long ranked as one of the strongest in a state of good lawyers. During the early years of his long residence in Adel, the young lawyer served acceptably as justice of the peace. His induction into state politics was as a member of the Twenty-eighth General Assembly in 1900. He was three times reflected and in the Thirtieth and Thirty-first General Assemblies he was speaker of the House. His fairness and discrimination in the make-up of committees; his promptness and precision as a parliamentarian, and his steady insistence on results, combined with his oratory on state occasions, made him one of the ablest and most popular of the many able and popular speakers of the Iowa House. In 1908, and again in 1910, he was elected lieutenant-governor of Iowa. The qualities which popularized him as speaker made him acceptable as presiding officer of the Senate; and when in 1912 the republicans cast about for a successor to Governor Carroll, they nominated Lieutenant-Governor Clarke.

It was evident at the outset that the republican nominee for governor would be confronted by a divided party, by a hopeful democracy and by several thousand votes scattered among the smaller minority parties. The presidential campaign in Iowa resulted in 119,805 votes for Taft, republican; 161,819 for Roosevelt, progressive; and 185,325 for Wilson, democrat. And yet, in spite of the Roosevelt defection—which gave Stevens, progressive, 71,877 votes for governor, and notwithstanding nearly 8,000 votes cast for the prohibition candidate and nearly 15,000 for the socialist candidate, Clarke was elected, receiving 184,148 votes, as against 182,449 cast for Dunn, the democratic nominee.

Governor Clarke received 64,343 more votes than President Taft received in Iowa. This result was attained only by hard campaigning—campaigning which revealed an unanticipated degree of reserve strength in Lieutenant-Governor Clarke.

The occasion of Governor Clarke's first inaugural, January 16, 1913, was a veritable home-coming. In addressing the Thirty-fifth General Assembly and his fellow citizens, the governor was addressing many who had frequently heard his voice in the House, in the Senate and on the stump. He brought his hearers no new gospel; but, rather, the old gospel of common honesty, mutual helpfulness and representative duty and responsibility. But so earnestly and pointedly did he present this old gospel that the hearts of his hearers were stirred within them with hope for better things. They who best know the governor most fully realize the sincerity with which he declared, at the outset, that if he could but be the servant of all, if he could, with the help of others, contribute something to the common good, if he could assist in making Iowa more distinguished among the states for the desirableness and wisdom of her laws and the cleanness of her political life, that would indeed be worth the effort. There is a measure of self revelation in such aphorisms as these:

"Responsibilities sober a man."

"A consciousness of confidence reposed in one quickens his sense of fidelity."

"No betrayal can come without disappointing, even wounding, the finest sensibilities of life."

"No man can give the highest measure of service until he has lost himself. 'He that loseth his life shall find it,' is just as true in politics as in religion."

The governor-elect was not unmindful of the circumstances of his election. Even if so inclined, he felt he could have nothing of which to boast. He extended to the gentlemen who contested with him for the election his congratulations upon the fact that they were men who could command the preference of so many of their fellow-citizens. Instead of invoking undue charity from the public, the incoming governor announced that he expected "to be held to a high order of accountability.'' This he did not shun; his only plea was for just and unselfish judgment. He proposed to regard "no distinction in Iowa citizenship, except that which lies between a decent life, honest purposes, courageous effort, and a disregard of all that goes to make a meritorious life." The governor preached the economic gospel of equality of opportunity. "Superiority must not exploit inferiority…So far as may be, human life must have healthful, safe places in which to work at a fair wage and reasonable hours, that, in the interest of the future manhood and womanhood of the state, child life must be protected."

The address outlined the history of economics from pure individualism to collectivism, from unrestrained competition to unrestrained combination, and the consequent popular acceptance of responsibility for the submerged individual. "The law fitting old conditions is inadequate to the new." The point had been reached at which workmen engaged in hazardous occupations for the common good must be protected from the possible consequences of their daily hazard. This changed condition led the governor to urge the passage of a workman's compensation act. The commission authorized by the last general assembly had reported a bill which he trusted would be given fair consideration. The same conclusion had been reached by both employer and employee that the losses consequent upon hazards taken for the general welfare should be laid upon all as a part of the cost of production; that costly and vexatious, personal injury litigation should cease, and the losses should be promptly and fairly adjusted. Iowa's material development "must not be at the expense of human rights and justice."

The governor saw in the growth of collectivism the desirability of a public utilities bill, one which would enable the state to do that which it would be impracticable for local authorities to do and to aid municipalities in the valuation of plants, reviewing of rates, examination of books, cost of maintenance, etc.

He strongly presented the gospel of good roads, and the desirability of strengthening the state's railroad laws. As a remedy for the evident defects of county management, he recommended a county manager, who, under the direction and control of the supervisors, should devote his entire time to county affairs. Concerning the "trafficking in offices" the governor expressed himself emphatically. To him it was "far more reprehensible to secure influence and preferment by promise of place than by the promise of money. When one uses m6ney he uses that which belongs to him, but when, he is trafficking in offices he is bartering with that which does not belong to him, but to the people. .... The law ought to make it a crime for any candidate .... prior to his nomination or election, to promise, either directly or indirectly, to name or appoint another to any place, position or office,'' in consideration of support or influence. He recommended an amendment to the law relating to campaign expenses covering such "gentlemen's agreements." He favored "the short ballot," locating and concentrating responsibility, increasing the number of appointive positions.

Deeply interested in schools, the governor recommended vocational instruction, and the consolidation of rural schools and such revision of the school curriculum as would make education more interesting and of more practical value and so attract a high grade of teachers. He advised the abolition of the school treasurer, and the turning over of school funds to the county treasurer. He pointed to the party platform favoring a reference of the question to the voters of the state. "If platform makers have been insincere .... let them be taught the great virtue of sincerity. Go to the voters on the question."

Following the lead of his predecessors, the governor urged consideration of the extension and beautification of the capitol grounds. "We should have a vision of what Iowa is to do and be….The whole question .... should be placed in the hands of the best landscape artist that could be found, with instructions to prepare a plan commensurate with the needs and interests of a great, progressive and cultured people….Every day of postponement only makes the realization more expensive and difficult."

A number of other subjects, with those above mentioned, presented to the legislature an "inspiring program," in which the governor said he wanted to lend a hand. "And so, dismissing factionalism, forgetting party, remembering only the common good," he invited the members of the Thirty-fifth General Assembly to enter heartily upon the work before them.

Following up the call to duty in his inaugural, the governor, in a special message, March 26, 1913, urged the extension of the capitol grounds as "the need of the present, the imperative demand of the future, a matter of the very best business policy." Regarding it solely as an investment, he was sure it would pay. As to ways and means, he proposed an extension of payments over a period of ten years. The burden would thus be so distributed that it would not be felt as a burden. Advantage should be taken of present opportunity. The governor predicted the people would sustain the legislature. He regarded the present as the greatest opportunity in the lives of the legislators.

As a public speaker few Iowans in public life have surpassed Governor Clarke in forcefulness. Never content with mere rhetorical platitude, he brings to his audience a carefully considered and well-rounded message. His is a thought-preparation rather than a grouping of words. He never uses a manuscript, except on state occasions, and then his thought runs ahead of the page. With a robust figure and a strong, resonant voice, he can make himself heard in any auditorium. In the course of his two terms as chief executive he gave himself freely to many and various calls.

Of the 1,200 bills introduced in the Thirty-fifth General Assembly, 397 were enacted into laws and thirteen joint resolutions were passed. The first act passed provided for the editing and printing of the Supplement to the Code, 1913. The long struggle of the woman suffragists for legislative recognition was finally rewarded by a joint resolution providing for the submission of a constitutional amendment extending to woman the right to vote. A law was passed providing for the selection at primary elections of delegates to national party conventions. It makes provision for a preferential vote on candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. It further gives the voter opportunity to express his choice as to whether the unit rule, or the district rule, shall prevail in the counting of the vote of the state at the national convention. A wise provision was made by which the apparently self-seeking attitude of candidates for nomination in townships is obviated by empowering qualified voters to file nomination papers for those too modest to solicit signatures. The corrupt practice acts were amended by a new section making it a misdemeanor for a candidate to promise future support or influence as a consideration in return for support. "The short ballot" movement made a start at this time by the transfer of the superintendent of public instruction, the clerk of the supreme court, and the supreme court reporter to the list of appointments. The office of county superintendent and that of city solicitor in cities of the second class were also made appointive.

A seventh member of the supreme court was added, and provision was made for the division of the court into two sections, the chief justice presiding over each section. It was decreed that the nomination and election of judges of the supreme, district and superior courts should be made on separate tickets, and on a non-partisan basis, with the names rotated to protect courts from the indifferent voter's tendency to check the first names on his ballot. State examiners, for counties, appointed by the state auditor, were brought into being, their mission to see that the counties install a uniform system of accounting, reporting and auditing. The joint committee on retrenchment and reform was authorized to employ "expert accountants" and "efficiency engineers" to investigate and report to the committee, the committee to recommend such changes in the department as in its judgment would promote the efficient and economical administration of the affairs of the state. The compensation of nearly all county officers was raised. County supervisors were required to give bonds in the sum of $5,000. The powers of the county attorney were increased, by authorizing him to require peace officers to investigate and report alleged or supposed infractions of the liquor law. The revocation, or suspension, of an attorney's license to practice disqualifies him from the office of county attorney.

The commission form of city government, originally limited to cities of 25,000 population, was in 1911 extended to cities of 7,000 and in 1913 extended to cities of 2,000, and the compensation of the mayor and council was put upon a population basis. Many bills of minor interest were passed in aid of cities in their endeavor to govern themselves systematically and economically.

The library movement in Iowa received a healthful impetus. Cities and towns were permitted to increase their tax-levy for library purposes to five mills. Library trustees were empowered to contract with school corporations, township trustees, boards of supervisors and town and city councils for the free use of the library by residents of their respective jurisdictions, thus extending the library's sphere of influence.

A state highway commission was organized and located at Ames, the commission composed of the dean of engineering at the state college and two appointees of the governor. The commission was directed to devise and adopt plans of highway construction and to disseminate information to county supervisors and highway officials on methods, costs of material, etc. It was given power to remove county engineers, and was required to approve the roads designated by the supervisors for improvement. The act was later amended, making the system of bridge and culvert work applicable to the whole county outside cities of the first class, and consolidating road districts of each township into a township road district. Eight per cent of fees for regulation of motor vehicles was set aside as a maintenance fund for the commission. Notwithstanding a serious attempt to go back to the old system, the Thirty-sixth General Assembly refused to repeal the new road laws, contenting itself with giving them much needed revision, and the Thirty-seventh General Assembly, after a long and intensely contested struggle, retained the essential features of the new law, content to modify some of the minor objections to the measure.

The State Board of Health was reorganized, reduced to five members and a secretary; not more than two members to be of the same school of practice; one member to be a civil and sanitary engineer. The board was given power to enforce sanitary regulations anywhere when petitioned by five or more citizens —a long step toward state control of local health conditions. County boards of supervisors were empowered to segregate indigent persons affected with* pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages. Legislation was enacted aiming to establish standards of sanitation in food-producing establishments, also the licensing and regulating of cold-storage plants by the state dairy and food commissioner; also regulating hotels in matters sanitary.

Important laws were passed aiming to curb the liquor traffic. The saloon day was shortened three hours. The "Five Mile Bill," many times defeated in previous legislatures, was finally passed. It prohibits the sale of liquor within five miles of any educational institution under the control of the State Board of Education. It was clearly aimed at Iowa City.

The work of the board of control was materially strengthened by a special mileage tax, of one-half mill on the dollar for five years, to create a fund for the purchase of land and the erection and repair of state institutions. The Soldiers' Home situation was improved by an act permitting veterans who are not indigent to reside at the home and pay for their care; also an act extending admission to widows of soldiers and sailors, if married to them prior to 1890. A "Mother's Pension" act provides that widowed mothers may receive not to exceed $2 a week for each child under fourteen. The act extends to wives of inmates of institutions under the board of control. The survivors of the Spirit Lake Relief Expedition were pensioned at $20 a month. A colony of epileptics was authorized, the board of control to purchase land therefor.

The "Blue Sky Bill," so-called, had narrow escapes from defeat. It provides for the supervision and regulation of investment companies, and requires all persons, companies and corporations offering stocks, bonds and securities, to obtain a license. The secretary of state was given discretionary powers as to licenses. Several railroad laws were passed, one providing that railroads shall carry passengers to and from the state fair at 1 ½ cents a mile. An injunction carried the law to the supreme court, where, at this writing, it yet remains. The powers of the railroad commissioners were in several respects enlarged. Additional powers were given to state and savings banks and trust companies to act in a fiduciary capacity. State and savings banks can lend money to their officers or directors only upon the same security as required of other borrowers. Compensation of officers and directors of banks was made contingent on the approval of the state auditor. Savings banks were permitted to loan money on real estate outside of Iowa, but only in counties along the Iowa line.

A department of insurance was created, with a commissioner at a salary of $3,000, thus separating insurance supervision from the state auditor's office. An act was passed attempting to strike at the evil of combinations to destroy competition in dealings with state and local corporations. An act was passed to establish legal weights and measures. It substitutes an inspector of weights and measures for the superintendent of weights and measures, the inspector to be appointed by the state dairy and food commissioner. It provides that fruit, vegetables, grain and nuts shall be sold by weight. It increases state activities in prevention of dishonest weights and measures.

The most radical legislation of the session was an inheritance from the Thirty-fourth General Assembly, which created an employers liability commission "to investigate the problem of industrial accidents, and especially the present condition of the law of liability for injuries or death suffered in the course of industrial employment." This commission submitted to the Thirtyfifth General Assembly, through its chairman, John T. Clarkson, an "Employers' Liability and Workmen's Compensation Bill." The bill was variously amended, but after its passage its author was reported as having been able to recognize the essential principles for which he had contended! The compulsory feature was eliminated. It is optional with employer and employee—except where the state is concerned—whether the terms of the act are accepted. If an employer rejects the terms of the act, he is liable as under pre-existing laws. If an employee rejects the terms, his status is same as before. The law includes a carefully prepared compensation schedule. The office of industrial commissioner was created, with a salary of $3,000, for the purpose of carrying out the features of the bill. Governor Clarke's appointment of ex-Governor Warren Garst to this important position met with general approval. The measure includes a system of industrial insurance by the state, the validity of which has been questioned and the question has gone to the supreme court.

The salary of the school treasurer was abolished, and that official was required to deposit all funds at interest at not less than two per cent on ninety per cent of the daily balances. Another inheritance from the Thirty-fourth General Assembly was a temporary tax commission for the purpose of securing information looking toward a complete revision of the tax laws. The Thirty-fifth General Assembly repudiated its inheritance, refusing to pass the bill recommended by the commission.

Formidable as is the long list of laws enacted—of which those above mentioned are some of the more important—these do not begin to measure the activities of this body. After much debate the general assembly refused to recommend the direct election of the President; refused to sanction amendments to the constitution making amendments easier; refused to extend the terms of county officers to four years; refused a direct inheritance tax, a public utilities commission, uniform school books, more normal schools, teachers' pensions, etc. A fierce contest was held over the coordination policy of the State Board of Education. Members of the board appeared before a joint session in the House and ably defended their course. The question raised was over a merging of the engineering department of the state university with that department at the state college, and the transfer of the department of domestic economy from the college to the university. Legislative action was prevented by the action of the board rescinding its resolution.

Summarizing the work of the Thirty-sixth General Assembly, there were 1,279 bills and forty-five joint resolutions introduced and 326 laws and nine joint resolutions passed. It is the habit of many to underrate legislative bodies, and always with some measure of excuse; but even the most unpromising legislature somehow accomplishes far more than at first would seem to be expected of it. The Thirty-sixth General Assembly was largely made up of new men, unused to legislation, but bent on achieving certain general results which loomed large in their minds. Like the Thirty-fifth General Assembly, a majority of its members were native Iowans. And, too, a preponderance of the members were farmers and tradesmen in close relations with the farm.

With Lieut. Gov. W. L. Harding in the chair and L. E. Crist president pro tem., the organization was readily effected and a working system soon established. At the heads of the principal committees were experienced legislators who soon got down to the hard work of the session. At the head of Ways and Means was Allen, of Pocahontas; Judiciary, Francis, of Dickinson; Appropriations, Savage, of Adair; Judiciary No. 2, Chase, of Hamilton; Educational Institutions, Arney, of Marshall; Railroads, Larrabee, of Webster; Banks and Banking, Jones, of Montgomery; Public Schools, Boe, of Winnebago; Highways, Balkema, of Sioux; Cities and Towns, Kimball, of Pottawattamie, etc.

The House was well organized for business with Atkinson, of Butler, speaker, and Brady, of Dallas, speaker pro tem. Able and experienced men were placed at the head of the principal committees: Barry, of Linn, Ways and Means; Anderson, of Greene, Appropriations; Ring, of Linn, Judiciary; Brady, of Dallas, Agriculture; Kimberly, of Scott, Municipal Corporations; Brammer, of Polk, Insurance; Kopp, of Henry, Public Utilities; Buxton, of Warren, Labor; Johnston, of Lucas, Mines, etc. The minor committees were in the main equally well organized and apparently chaotic conditions soon gave way to systematic committee work, and this in time blossomed out into a full calendar of bills reported.

Besides defeating many questionable measures, the Thirty-sixth did much effective work. In addition to its radical legislation in support of prohibition and its "boost" for woman suffrage, the Thirty-sixth General Assembly abolished contract labor, substituting labor compensation for the convict's family; directed railroad corporations to pay their men semi-monthly, thus weakening the hold of the loan shark; appropriated $50,000 to sustain the movement of the middlewestern states to secure just and equable railroad rates; opened a way for cities to provide children's playgrounds; established a woman's reformatory; legislated directly against the loan shark; perfected a "blue sky" law, which Attorney-General Cosson declared to be "the best measure of the kind in any state in the Union''; established a free employment bureau; met the question of hog quarantine with several practical measures; strengthened the hands of the board of control; passed a long list of bills affecting cities and towns, among them a city manager law; placed additional safeguards around savings banks and insurance corporations; strengthened the state militia, the schools, local boards of health, etc.; raised the bar to child labor; made generous appropriations for state institutions, provided for future budgets covering their needs, withdrawing the millage tax, a measure dear to the friends of those institutions; reenacted the "red light" law, which had been declared invalid on a technicality; authorized the free services of surgeons at the University Hospital for the children of indigent citizens; passed a bill authorizing the governor to appoint special agents, limited to four, to enforce state laws; passed a lake-bed conservation bill; created a board of audit; permitted cities to regulate the "jitneys"; turned the custodianship of the capitol over to the adjutant-general; and last, but far from least in this partial list, abolished the prison contract system and established a system by which money earned by convicts shall be placed to the credit of their families. The hardest fought battle of the session was over "the Johnston bill," a bill embodying all the opposition which had developed against the road law passed two years before. The principal opposition was raised against the road commission with headquarters at Ames. Senator Balkema and Representatives Barry and Ellwood led the forces in favor of the law, with such amendments as experience suggested, and finally, after long drawn-out debates in both houses, the friends of the law were successful.

Governor Clarke's Last Word

Governor Clarke's last biennial message, read in person before the Thirty-seventh General Assembly, January 9, 1917, was a comprehensive document discussing with characteristic freedom a variety of mooted questions. The outgoing governor recommended, along with a revision of the budget system, an equalization of salaries, and an abolition of all continuing annual appropriations, and the consolidation of overlapping departments and commissions. The message explained away existing misapprehensions relative to recent road laws, also recommended a careful consideration of the Better Roads Commission, and such compliance with the federal law as would give the state the large sum apportioned to Iowa,—in 1917, $146,175.60, and sums to be apportioned estimated at $2,192,634, in the five years ending 1921. Governor Clarke reviewed the capitol grounds extension law and recommended a new office building on the grounds. He showed the disappointing inadequacy of the primary law and advocated the law's repeal and with it a return to "true, popular representative government." He paid tributes of respect to General Dodge, Colonel Hepburn, Henry Wallace and Judge Nourse, all recently deceased.

In conclusion, the governor, frankly admitting he had made mistakes, declared he had enjoyed the sympathy and approbation of many and had keenly felt "the severity of disapprobation" Of some and "the rapier thrusts of bitter criticism." However, on his retirement to private life he had nothing in his heart, but "gratitude to all the people and an inspiring hope for the increasing growth of the greatness of the state and the constant improvement of her moral and political life and ideals."

Prior to Governor Clarke's retirement from office the heads of state departments, and several others, grateful to the governor for the consideration they had received at his hands, presented him with valuable tokens of their esteem and regard.

In December, 1916, ex-Governor Clarke was elected dean of the College of Law, Drake University, succeeding Dean E. B. Evans, resigned. His term officially began June 15, 1917; but he did not enter upon his duties until the autumn of that year.

Early in 1918, he resigned the deanship and resumed the practice of his profession, locating permanently at the state capital.

Iowa, Its History & Its Citizens, Volume 2, 1918
Submitted by Cathy Danielson


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