Powell Clayton

Last updated
Powell Clayton
Powell Clayton.jpg
1st United States Ambassador to Mexico
In office
January 3, 1899 May 26, 1905
President William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Edwin Conger
United States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
March 4, 1871 March 3, 1877
Preceded by Alexander McDonald
Succeeded by Augustus Garland
9th Governor of Arkansas
In office
July 2, 1868 March 4, 1871
Lieutenant James Johnson
Preceded by Isaac Murphy
Succeeded by Ozra Hadley (acting)
Personal details
Powell Foulk Clayton

August 7, 1833
Bethel Township, Pennsylvania
DiedAugust 25, 1914(1914-08-25) (aged 81)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Republican
Spouse(s)Adaline McGraw
Occupation Civil engineer
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1865-1867).svg United States
Branch/service United States Volunteers
Years of service1861–1865
Rank Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier–general
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.

The Radical Republicans were a faction of American politicians within the Republican Party of the United States from around 1854 until the end of Reconstruction in 1877. They called themselves "Radicals", with a goal of a complete, permanent eradication of slavery and secessionism, without compromise. They were opposed during the War by the moderate Republicans, by the conservative Republicans, and by the pro-slavery and anti-Reconstruction Democratic Party as well as by conservatives in the South and liberals in the North during Reconstruction. Radicals led efforts after the war to establish civil rights for former slaves and fully implement emancipation. After weaker measures in 1866 resulted in violence against former slaves in the rebel states, Radicals pushed the Fourteenth Amendment and statutory protections through Congress. They disfavored allowing ex-Confederates officers to retake political power in the South, and emphasized equality, civil rights and voting rights for the "freedpeople", i.e. people who had been enslaved by state slavery laws within the United States.

Union Army Land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Union Army referred to the United States Army, the land force that fought to preserve the Union of the collective states. Also known as the Federal Army, it proved essential to the preservation of the United States of America as a working, viable republic.

Missouri State of the United States of America

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.


Powell was the brother of U.S. Congressman-elect John Middleton Clayton, President Judge of the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Pennsylvania Thomas J. Clayton and U.S. Attorney W.H.H. Clayton.

Thomas J. Clayton

Thomas Jefferson Clayton was an American lawyer from Pennsylvania who served as the first elected President Judge of the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Pennsylvania from 1874 to 1900. Clayton was an author of several letters to the Delaware County Republican newspaper based on his travels throughout Europe, Asia and Africa which were turned into a book.

Early life and education

Clayton as a young man AR Powell Clayton.jpg
Clayton as a young man

Clayton was born in Bethel Township, Pennsylvania, to John and Ann (Glover) Clayton. [1] 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. [2]

Bethel Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania Township in Pennsylvania, United States

Bethel Township is a township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, United States. It contains the two unincorporated communities of Booth's Corner and Chelsea. The population was 8,791 at the 2010 census.

William Penn English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania

William Penn was the son of Sir William Penn, and was an English nobleman, writer, early Quaker, and founder of the English North American colony the Province of Pennsylvania. He was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans. Under his direction, the city of Philadelphia was planned and developed.

Upland Court

Upland Court was the governing body of the New Sweden colony following Dutch West India Company annexation from Swedish colonial rule. In 1655, Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Dutch colony, allowed the colonists to remain an independent Swedish nation through Upland Court, allowing freedom of religion, organization of their own militia, while maintaining their land and trading rights. The court typically met at Upland, now known as Chester, Pennsylvania. This location should not be confused with the current borough of Upland, which adjoins Chester. The Upland Court dealt with legal matters on both sides of the Delaware River.

Clayton attended the Forwood School in Wilmington, Delaware [3] and the Partridge Military Academy in Bristol, Pennsylvania. [1] He later studied civil engineering in Wilmington, Delaware.

Wilmington, Delaware Largest city in Delaware

Wilmington is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Delaware. The city was built on the site of Fort Christina, the first Swedish settlement in North America. It is at the confluence of the Christina River and Brandywine River, near where the Christina flows into the Delaware River. It is the county seat of New Castle County and one of the major cities in the Delaware Valley metropolitan area. Wilmington was named by Proprietor Thomas Penn after his friend Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, who was prime minister in the reign of George II of Great Britain.

Bristol, Pennsylvania Borough in Pennsylvania, United States

Bristol Borough is a borough in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 23 miles (37 km) northeast of Center City Philadelphia, opposite Burlington, New Jersey on the Delaware River. Bristol Borough predates Philadelphia, being settled in 1681 and first incorporated in 1720. After 1834, the town became very important to the development of the American Industrial Revolution as the terminus city of the Delaware Canal providing greater Philadelphia with the days High Tech Anthracite fuels from the Lehigh Canal via Easton. The canal and a short trip on the Delaware also gave the town access to the mineral resources available in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York via each of the Morris Canal, the Delaware and Hudson Canal, and the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and connected the community to those markets and trade from New York City. These were among the factors spurring development of Bristol and nearby towns, explaining in part the industries which developed in the region.

Pennsylvania State of the United States of America

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the northeastern, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.

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. [1]

Leavenworth, Kansas City and County seat in Kansas, United States

Leavenworth is the county seat and largest city of Leavenworth County, Kansas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 35,251. Located on the west bank of the Missouri River. The site of Fort Leavenworth, built in 1827, the city became known in American history for its role as a key supply base in the settlement of the American West. During the American Civil War, many volunteers joined the Union Army from Leavenworth. The city has been notable as the location of several prisons, particularly the United States Disciplinary Barracks and United States Penitentiary, 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. [4]

United States Volunteers also known as U.S. Volunteers,U. S. Vol., or U.S.V. were military volunteers enlisted in the United States Army who were separate from the Regular Army.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Battle of Wilsons Creek battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Wilson's Creek was the first major battle of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War. It was fought on August 10, 1861, near Springfield, Missouri, officially a neutral state, though its pro-South governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, was secretly collaborating with Confederate troops.

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. [1]

In October 1863, Clayton commanded federal troops occupying Pine Bluff, Arkansas using the Boone-Murphy House as his headquarters. [5] 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. [6]

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." [7]

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. [8]

Clayton was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on August 1, 1864. When he was mustered out of the service in August 1865, he commanded the cavalry division of the Seventh Army Corps.


Arkansas governor

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. [1]

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 and requiring those states to adopt new constitutions providing civil rights to freedmen. 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. [8]

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. [8]

The ratification of the 1868 constitution, providing civil rights and the vote to freedmen, produced a furor among Democrats, who adhered to white supremacist beliefs. That Spring the Ku Klux Klan arose in Arkansas, and was responsible for more than 200 murders of former slaves and Republicans leading up to the 1868 election. [9]

On April 1, 1868, the state board of election commissioners announced ratification of the constitution and Clayton's election as Governor of Arkansas. [10] Congress accepted the Arkansas constitution of 1868 as legal. Democratic 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. [8]

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 militia and placed General Daniel Phillips Upham in charge to help suppress violence throughout the state. [1]

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. [1]

During Clayton's Reconstruction governorship, the Arkansas Republican party splintered in the face of serious opposition from conservatives. [11] 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. [1]

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. [1]

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. [1]

U.S. Senator

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. [11]

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. [11]

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. [11]

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. [11]

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. [11]

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. [12]

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. [1]

Eureka Springs

In 1882, Clayton established a home at the developing resort town of Eureka Springs in Carroll County in northwestern Arkansas. He and his wife lived in what is now the Crescent Cottage Inn. [13]

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 [14]

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. [4] The now-defunct railroad line provided passenger and freight service from Joplin, Missouri, to Helena in Phillips County in eastern Arkansas. [15]

Powell Clayton at age 79 at the 1912 Republican Presidential Convention in Chicago Powell clayton 1912.jpg
Powell Clayton at age 79 at the 1912 Republican Presidential Convention in Chicago

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 [8] and served until 1905. [16]

In 1912, Clayton moved to Washington, D.C. and died there in 1914. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. [17]

Personal life

On December 14, 1865 Clayton married Adaline McGraw of Helena, Arkansas. [8] 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. [18] Two of Clayton's daughters married diplomats from Belgium and England. [8]

On September 9, 1868 Clayton lost his left hand while hunting outside Little Rock when his rifle discharged. [19]

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. [20]

Clayton's brother Thomas Jefferson Clayton, became a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania for Delaware County, serving for 25 years. [21]

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. [22]


Clayton's book The Aftermath of the Civil War in Arkansas was published posthumously in 1915.

See also

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  16. "Chiefs of Mission for Mexico". www.history.state.gov. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
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Further reading