Tuesday, September 14, 2010

R.C. Bowman's 1900 Cartoons: Sen. William A. Clark

Before the passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Senators represented -- and were elected by -- not the people of their state, but their state legislatures. Not surprisingly, there arose such cases as that of Senator William A. Clark of Montana, who bribed state legislators to elect him in 1898.

Out there in Montana.
(The musical staff quotes "get your money's worth" from what I assume was a popular song.)

Clark came to Montana in the gold rush of the 1860s, eventually establishing himself as a banker and in turn, a mine owner by virtue of foreclosing on mining properties. He also owned a newspaper, the Butte Miner, which he used to advance his political ambitions. He presided over Montana's 1884 and 1889 constitutional conventions, and advocated Helena for the state's capital over its rival, Anaconda. (He was one of the two richest Americans when he died in 1925; Clark County, Nevada, home of Las Vegas, is named for him.)

The New Chore Boy
When Clark's bribes came to light in 1899, the U.S. Senate refused to seat him. But in 1900, he won election again.

And the cat came back.
Clark served one term (1901-1907) in the U.S. Senate. He was the subject of a scathing Mark Twain essay, "Senator Clark of Montana" (1907; see Mark Twain in Eruption, ed Bernard DeVoto, 1940):
"He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time."

To bring this story into the present day, 104-year-old Huguette Clark is his daughter. You may have heard of the legal dispute over the financial affairs of the reclusive Miss Clark, who has not been photographed since the 1930's. her palacial estate near Santa Barbara, California, has sat empty since 1963, and her properties in Connecticut and New York City are likewise unoccupied. The fact that nobody seems to have seen her except her accountant and her attorney have seen her in decades is a major point in the legal tangle.

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