|1st United States Ambassador to Mexico|
January 3, 1899 – May 26, 1905
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Edwin Conger|
|United States Senator|
March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1877
|Preceded by||Alexander McDonald|
|Succeeded by||Augustus Garland|
|9th Governor of Arkansas|
July 2, 1868 – March 4, 1871
|Preceded by||Isaac Murphy|
|Succeeded by||Ozra Hadley (acting)|
Powell Foulk Clayton
August 7, 1833
Bethel Township, Pennsylvania
|Died||August 25, 1914 (aged 81)|
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Volunteers|
|Years of service||1861–1865|
|Commands||5th Kansas Cavalry|
Post of Pine Bluff
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
Powell Foulk Clayton (August 7, 1833 – August 25, 1914) was an American politician and diplomat who served as a Radical Republican Governor of Arkansas during the Reconstruction Era from 1868 to 1871, a United States Senator from Arkansas from 1871 to 1877 and as United States Ambassador to Mexico from 1899 to 1905. He was an officer in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War, fought in battles in Missouri and Arkansas and was promoted to Brigadier General. Clayton retired to Eureka Springs, Arkansas and promoted the development of the resort town through his activity in the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Eureka Springs Railroad.
Early life and education
Clayton was born in Bethel Township, Pennsylvania, to John and Ann (Glover) Clayton. The Clayton family was descended from early Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania. Clayton's ancestor William Clayton emigrated from Chichester, England, was a personal friend of William Penn, one of nine justices who sat at the Upland Court in 1681, and a member of Penn's Council.
In 1855, Clayton moved to Leavenworth, Kansas to work as a surveyor. He speculated in land in Kansas and entered politics in 1860 when he successfully ran for the office of city engineer in Leavenworth.
U.S. Civil War
In May 1861 Clayton was formally mustered into the United States Volunteers as a Captain of company E in the 1st Kansas Infantry. During the war he served primarily in Arkansas and Missouri and fought in several battles in those states. In August 1861, Clayton received a commendation for his leadership when his unit saw action in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 5th Kansas Cavalry in December 1861 and to colonel in March 1862.
At the Battle of Helena in Arkansas on July 4, 1863, Clayton commanded the cavalry brigade on the right flank of the Union forces and received a commendation for his actions. In August and September 1863, Clayton's regiment accompanied General Frederick Steele's troops in the campaign against Little Rock.
In October 1863, Clayton commanded federal troops occupying Pine Bluff, Arkansas using the Boone-Murphy House as his headquarters. During the Battle of Pine Bluff, he successfully repulsed a three-pronged confederate attack of the forces of General John S. Marmaduke. During the battle, his troops piled cotton bales around the Jefferson County Courthouse and surrounding streets to make a barricade for the Union defenders.
Clayton was idolized by his men and respected by his enemies. John Edwards, a Confederate officer in Joseph O. Shelby's command wrote: "Colonel Clayton was an officer of activity and enterprise, clear-headed, quick to conceive, and bold and rapid to execute. His success in the field has caused him...to be considered the ablest Federal commander of Cavalry west of the Mississippi."
While still the commanding Colonel at Pine Bluffs, Clayton invested in cotton and acquired sufficient capital to purchase a plantation in Pine Bluff where he settled after the war.
In 1867, Clayton participated in the formation of the Arkansas Republican party. He attributed his participation in Arkansas politics to confrontations with ex-Rebels on his plantation that convinced him that Unionists required additional protection.
In 1866, Democrats took control of the state legislature and nominated two U.S. Senators. However, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to seat them. In March 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 declaring the governments of Arkansas and nine other former Confederate states illegal. Congressional Reconstruction established military rule across the South and General Edward Ord was appointed military governor of the Fourth Military District which included Mississippi and Arkansas. He disbanded the legislature and called for a constitutional convention.
Most of the delegates to the 1868 constitutional convention were Republican since few Democrats could take the "ironclad oath" that they had not served in the Confederacy or given aid or comfort to the enemy. Clayton was not a delegate to the constitutional convention but did participate in the Republican state nominating convention which was meeting at the same time. That convention selected Clayton as the Republican gubernatorial nominee and James M. Johnson as the candidate for lieutenant governor.
The ratification of the 1868 constitution was highly contested and often violent. Union leagues, Republican clubs, Democratic clubs and the Ku Klux Klan all were involved in campaign activities. It is estimated that more than 200 murders occurred on the eve of the 1868 election.
On April 1, 1868, the state board of election commissioners announced ratification of the constitution and Clayton's election as Governor of Arkansas. Congress accepted the Arkansas constitution of 1868 as legal. President Andrew Johnson vetoed it, but the Republican-dominated Congress was able to override his veto. The state was readmitted to representation in Congress when Clayton was inaugurated as Governor on July 2, 1868. The new legislature unanimously accepted the Fourteenth Amendment and Congress declared Arkansas reconstructed.
As governor, Clayton faced fierce opposition from the state's conservative political leaders and violence against blacks and members of the Republican party led by the Ku Klux Klan. During this time Arkansas Republican Congressman James Hinds was attacked and killed while on his way to a political event and Clayton survived an attempt on his life. Clayton responded aggressively to the emergence of the Klan in Arkansas by declaring martial law in fourteen counties for four months in late 1868 and early 1869. Clayton organized the state milita and placed General Daniel Phillips Upham in charge to help suppress violence throughout the state.
Clayton and the Republicans in the legislature accomplished much during his three-year terms as governor. State bonds were issued to fund the construction of several railroads throughout the state. Arkansas completed its first ever free public school system. The Clayton administration also formed the Arkansas Industrial University, the Arkansas School for the Deaf and the relocation of the Arkansas School for the Blind.
During Clayton's Reconstruction governorship, the Arkansas Republican party splintered in the face of serious opposition from conservatives. Clayton and his supporters were known locally as "Minstrels", they dominated the Republican party and were able to secure recognition from the National Republican organization and control the federal patronage in the state. This position garnered Clayton few friends at the state Republican party level and he faced repeated challenges to his leadership.
In 1868, Joseph Brooks who had been a partner with Clayton in the formation of the Arkansas Republican party, broke with Clayton and formed a faction known as the "Brindletails". Brooks opposition to Clayton developed partly due to Clayton's increasingly moderate stance toward ex-Confederates but also due to Clayton's displacement of Brooks as leader of the Arkansas Republican party.
In 1869, Lieutenant Governor James M. Johnson charged Clayton with corruption in the issuance of railroad bonds and misuse of power in his program to suppress violence. The supporters of Johnson, mostly white Republicans from Northwest Arkansas called themselves Liberal Republicans. The Brindletails managed to impeach Clayton in 1871 but he withstood the challenge and the legislature never heard the case against the governor.
In January 1871, the Arkansas legislature elected Clayton to the United States Senate which initiated another controversy of Clayton's administration. Clayton did not want to accept the Senate seat and have his political opponent and lieutenant governor James M. Johnson succeed him as governor. Instead, Clayton refused the Senate position and negotiated Johnson's appointment as Secretary of State of Arkansas and replaced Johnson with Ozra Hadley. In March 1871, the legislature again elected Clayton to the U.S. Senate which he accepted this time.
In January 1872, the U.S. Senate Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of the Late Insurrectionary States heard testimony raising questions about Clayton's behavior and integrity as governor. A United States district attorney testified that in April 1871, after Clayton became U.S. Senator, a grand jury had indicted him on charges that as governor Clayton issued fraudulent election credentials for the U.S. House of Representatives election to John Edwards.
In response to these allegations, Clayton contended that in eight precincts, there had been two separate sets of polls. One set was overseen by authorized judges and the other under the unauthorized control of opposing political factions. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the legal election had been held at the authorized polling places and that returns from the others were fraudulent. As governor, Clayton discarded the returns from the fraudulent polling places and certified the candidate who won from the genuine votes. The opposing candidate, Thomas Boles, contested the election and replaced John Edwards in the U.S. House of Representatives in February 1872.
The committee judged the issue to be beyond its jurisdiction and turned the matter over to the Senate. At Clayton's request, the Senate appointed a special three-member committee to investigate the charges. In June 1872, after interviewing thirty-eight witnesses and generating five thousand pages of transcript, the committee issued a partial report indicating that the testimony appeared to not sustain the charges against Clayton. The committee noted that the charges came from Clayton's bitter political rivals and that the indictment against Clayton had been dropped due to lack of evidence. However, the committee members stated that they required additional time and would issue a final report in the next session of the Senate.
In February 1873, the committee issued its final report declaring that the testimony failed to sustain the charges against Clayton and that there was no evidence that he had any fraudulent intent in certifying the election of Edwards as directed by the state supreme court. The Senate voted 33 to 6 to accept the committee's findings. Nine senators, mostly Democrats, abstained from voting on the grounds that they had been given insufficient time to review all of the testimony.
While in the Senate, Clayton appealed to his brother, William H.H. Clayton, the US Attorney in Arkansas, and President Ulysses S. Grant to have Judge Isaac Parker reassigned from Utah to Fort Smith, Arkansas, a frontier area with a high rate of violence and crime. Parker, the legendary "Hanging Judge," along with U.S. Attorney Clayton, are credited with bringing law and order to the region.
In 1877, Clayton lost his Senate seat since the legislature, now dominated by Democrats elected one of their own to the Senate. Clayton returned to Little Rock, Arkansas where he practiced law and supported economic development.
As president of the Eureka Springs Improvement Company (ESIC), Clayton worked to develop commercial and residential structures, many which still exist. ESIC sponsored the development of the Eureka Springs Railroad which was key to making the resort accessible to tourists. The ESIC also built the Crescent Hotel, now one of Eureka Springs' most notable landmarks. A poem on the fireplace in the lobby of the Crescent Hotel is attributed to Clayton
In 1883, Clayton became the president of the Eureka Springs Railway, which provided service to the resort community until 1889, when it was merged into what became the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad. The now-defunct railroad line provided passenger and freight service from Joplin, Missouri, to Helena in Phillips County in eastern Arkansas.
Ambassador to Mexico
Clayton remained active in the Republican Party. In 1897, he served as a member of the Republican National Committee. He was appointed as the first ambassador to Mexico by President William McKinley when that post was elevated to an embassy post and served until 1905.
On December 14, 1865 Clayton married Adaline McGraw of Helena, Arkansas. Together they had three daughters and two sons although one son died in early infancy. Their son, Powell Clayton, Jr., became a Major in the 16th United States Cavalry and is also buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Two of Clayton's daughters married diplomats from Belgium and England.
On September 9, 1868 Clayton lost his left hand while hunting outside Little Rock when his rifle discharged.
Clayton had two twin brothers, William Henry Harrison Clayton and John Middleton Clayton. These three men made their careers in Arkansas. William was appointed as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.
John was elected as an Arkansas Congressman, Arkansas State Senator and U.S. Congressman-elect. John was assassinated in 1889 in Plumerville, Arkansas. He had disputed the election results of a Congressional race with Democrat Clifton Breckinridge and was shot through the window of the boarding-house where he was staying.
While Clayton had resided in Washington, D.C. after resigning from being an Ambassador of Mexico, he was still able to manage multiple businesses and enterprises in Arkansas. He continued to do this, as well as persevering his status in the Republican party, until his death on August 25th, 1914.
Clayton's book The Aftermath of the Civil War in Arkansas was published posthumously in 1915.
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