Tuesday, November 26, 2019

William A. Clark: A "Copper King" fails to buy a Senate seat

As the mining ventures in the West gained steam, the businesses of three Butte men grew powerful enough that they were popularly dubbed Montana's "Copper Kings." One, F. Augustus Heinze, had been born into wealth and managed to establish the multi-million dollar United Copper Company. The other two - Marcus Daly and William A. Clark - shared a similar background: hardscrabble beginnings followed by success in the mining industry that allowed them to establish a foundation for their empires.

The two men also despised each other. It's unclear what sparked the feud between Daly and Clark, though several theories have been advanced. The most likely story seems to be that Clark interfered with the business of the Anaconda Company, Daly's business, by buying up the water rights Daly needed to operate a copper smelter. It was also suggested that Clark had offended Daly by making a racist remark about his Turkish-American business partner, James Ben Ali Haggin.

Regardless of what started the fight, the two titans would find themselves pitted against each other on a number of state political issues. One pitched battle occurred after Montana gained statehood in 1889. As the state government was organized, Daly sought to have the capital located in Anaconda, a community he founded; Clark was a vociferous advocate of Helena for the state capital. Clark would later estimate that more than $1 million had been poured into the capital fight, and that his spending had accounted for about $100,000.

The unchecked spending in the matter spurred the state legislature to try to reign in campaign finances. A newly minted law held that a candidate couldn't give more than $1,000 to any committee in one county, or pay more than $1,000 out of their pocket for any lawful campaign purposes.

About a decade later, Clark would be accused of blatantly disregarding this law in an attempt to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Early life

Clark was born near Connellsville, Pennsylvania, on January 8, 1839. He attended the common schools, as well as the Laurel Hill Academy, and demonstrated his entrepreneurial qualities at a young age. Toting farm produce from Connellsville to the community of New Haven in the west, he bargained with customers in an effort to secure the highest prices.

In 1856, Clark moved with his parents to Van Buren County, Iowa, after his father sold the struggling family farm. He studied law at Iowa Wesleyan University at Mount Pleasant, but never practiced. He also taught school, moving to Missouri to do so between 1859 and 1860. Some accounts suggest that he briefly joined the Confederate military during the Civil War, though these claims appear dubious.

Clark first got into the mining business in 1862, when he drove a team to Central City, Colorado, and stayed to work in the quartz mines near this town. A year later, he purchased and drove another team with three companions and wound up in Bannack, Montana, where he found work in the gold placer mines.

In one of his early successful enterprises, Clark found that he could realize more success in supplying the mining operations rather than working in them. He started by traveling to Salt Lake City, returning to Montana loaded up with groceries and supplies such as tobacco that he could sell at a profit. In 1869, on a trip east to establish additional supply lines, he stopped off in Pennslyvania and ended up marrying childhood friend Kate Stauffer.

An empire grows

By 1872, most of the easily accessible gold in the Butte region has been mined. What was left of the precious material was locked up in quartz ore. Clark responded by purchasing a foreclosed mill, with which he was able to reap significant profits processing the quartz. He then purchased four mining claims at a deep discount. These actions formed the nucleus of what would become a vast fortune.

Clark followed numerous mercantile pursuits in Blackfoot and Helena. His name would ultimately be associated with 28 companies, none of which were publicly traded. A glowing biographical sketch declared that this arrangement left his businesses "entirely untrammeled by boards of directors, stockholders with their numerous interests and constant liability to produce embarrassing situations, and of all stock market conditions." He purchased copper, coal, and silver mines in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and Utah. As his mining interests grew, he was said to be the largest individual owner of copper mines and smelters in the world.

As he became more invested in this business, Clark studied at the Columbia School of Mines. One of his more profitable mines was the United Verde copper deposit in Jerome, Arizona. He acquired 70 percent of the stock after the Phelps Dodge Corporation concluded the claim was too remote to yield much revenue. Just a few years later, Clark had reaped $60 million from it.

The empire forged by Clark went well beyond mineral wealth, though. He secured a mail contract between Missoula and Walla Walla, Washington. He opened a newspaper and bank in Butte, worked with two partners in wholesale and retail merchandising, bought up gold dust from panners to sell to banks on the East Coast, and acted as the purchasing agent for several Helena merchants by extending loans with 2 percent interest. Clark's holdings would eventually spread nationwide, including a blasting powder plant in Pennsylvania, a wire plant in New Jersey, and a beet sugar plantation near Los Angeles.

A contentious Senate race

Clark's first became involved in politics in 1884, when he served as president of a state constitutional convention. He supported the Democratic Party's desire for lower tariffs, and in 1888 the party chose him as their nominee for Montana's territorial delegate seat in Congress.

The feud between Clark and Daly was already underway at this point, with both men using newspapers they owned to lash each other in editorial broadsides. Daly was credited with sabotaging Clark's bid by having his own employees oppose the candidate, even if they agreed with his positions. The secret ballot was not yet in place in Montana, so it was a simple matter for the shift bosses at the Anaconda Company to inspect the ballots and make sure the workers had complied with Daly's wishes. In the final tally, Clark earned 17,360 votes to the 22,486 that went to his Daly-backed challenger, Republican candidate Thomas Henry Carter.

Marcus Daly (Source)

Clark didn't have to wait long for a larger prize to be available. While Congress had rejected Montana's attempt at statehood in 1884, it accepted it five years later after another constitutional convention that Clark again presided over. The Montana legislature at the time was firmly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The split was so bad that the house of representatives effectively broke into two separate chambers, with the parties meeting and acting separately. The state senate failed to pass any of the laws submitted by either half of the house, effectively preventing the state legislature from accomplishing any business in its first session.

This deadlock didn't bode well for the legislative responsibility of appointing two U.S. senators. Each party named its two picks and sent them to Congress in 1890 for the Senate to sort out; the partisan divide was just as pronounced in the nation's capital, and the Senate kept the Republican nominees while sending the Democratic ones (Clark included) back home.

Both Daly and Clark ran for the Senate in 1893, but neither was able to get the necessary majority support in the legislature. As a result, Montana simply didn't name a senator that year.

Again running for the Senate in 1899, Clark was finally appointed to a seat with his six-year term set to begin in March of that year. Fifty-four legislators voted for him, while 39 voted against. However, accusations of bribery quickly emerged. One of the most dramatic examples came when state senator Fred Whiteside brought $30,000 in cash into the legislature, announcing that the sum had been advanced to him and three others to win their support for Clark. Whiteside declared, "I know that the course I have pursued will not be popular, but so long as I live, I propose to fight the men who have placed the withering curse of bribery upon this state."

Fred Whiteside (Source)

Clark launched a vicious offensive against Whiteside, saying the accusation was part of an attempt by Daly and his cohorts to undermine his appointment to the Senate. He and his allies than challenged Whiteside's own close election to the legislature, managing to invalidate it by having any ballots where an X was marked after his name instead of before it thrown out.

Before departing, Whiteside delivered a speech which included a sarcastic toast to crime. The Senate matter, he said, reminded him of "a horde of hungry, skinny, long-tailed rats around a big cheese." He invited the legislators who had switched their votes to support Clark to stand up and explain why they had done so. However, he suggested it would be "much more clear and to the point if they would just get up and tell us the price and sit down."

"I never bought a man..."

When Clark arrived in Washington and presented his credentials, he was seated in the Senate without delay. However, his opponents filed a petition on the same day accusing him of winning the election though outright bribery. Clark, they said, had also far exceeded the $2,000 cap on campaign spending set by the 1895 state law in Montana.

The matter was referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections, which held hearings on the issue between January and April of 1900. Ninety-six witnesses would be heard, including Clark, Daly, Whiteside, and Montana state legislators who had voted in favor of Clark's appointment to the Senate.

The investigation uncovered a scheme, overseen by Clark's son, to funnel bribes of between $240 and $100,000 to support Clark's election bid. A committee had been set up with the understanding that Clark would provide them with unlimited sums of money to be used to sway legislators to his side. In some cases, the bribes had been subtle measures, such as paying mortgages and debts or purchasing land from a legislator at a vastly inflated price. Other bribes had been more straightforward, including instances where a recipient was simply handed an envelope full of cash. The larger bribes were usually paid in $1,000 bills.

It was estimated that Clark has spent about $431,000 to nail down 47 votes in the legislature, including 11 crucial Republican ones. Clark himself admitted to only paying $139,000 toward his campaign, though of course this vastly exceeded the state cap. He reportedly quipped, in private, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale." He didn't help his case before the Senate committee when he admitted that he had destroyed all records of his campaign finances, raising doubts as to the honesty of his Senate run.

The testimony of Whiteside and three other legislators who directly accused Clark of attempted bribery proved damning. The committee ultimately determined that their testimony could only be false if they had entered into a lengthy "conspiracy of the basest character, to be followed up by perjury of the worst sort," with the sole purpose of depriving Clark of his seat in the Senate.

On April 10, the committee unanimously concluded that Clark was not entitled to sit in the Senate. It declared his election null and void due to "briberies, attempted briberies, and corrupt practices by his agents," as well as violations of Montana state law. The committee noted how Congress had previously refused to seat elected members in cases of bribery even if the beneficiary was unaware of these efforts. It cited a similar case from 1873, when the Senate had reviewed the elections of Samuel C. Pomeroy and Alexander Caldwell in Kansas. In the Pomeroy case, the Senate had concluded that a candidate should not be seated if they had clearly participated in any one bribe or attempted bribe, even if it didn't change the result of the election.

Two committee members agreed with the conclusion, but sought to blunt the seriousness of the matter. They noted that Daly had also violated Montana's state law by channeling unlimited amounts of his own cash into the race to oppose Clark. Daly had even spent about $40,000 in lawyer's fees and other expenses to assist in the prosecution of the case before the Senate. The committee report acknowledged Daly's machinations, but said there was no evidence to support Clark's charge that Daly had concocted a conspiracy against him.

On May 15, on the eve of a vote before the full Senate, Clark rose to deliver a speech listing his grievances. He criticized the committee procedures, charging that the Senate had not granted him the presumption of innocence and had withheld certain evidence. He also said the committee had not proved any bribery sufficient to alter the results of the legislature's appointment and denounced Daly, saying his rival ruled the town of Anaconda like a despot and wasn't above trying to control politics on a larger stage.

But Clark said he was aware that he likely didn't have the support to keep his seat and thus resigned on the spot. In a letter to the governor of Montana, he said he was convinced his supporters did not result to corrupt means to secure his election. Nevertheless, he was "unwilling to occupy a seat in the Senate of the United States under credentials which its Committee has declared rest for their authority upon the action of a legislature which was not free and voluntary in its choice of a senator."

As it happened, both the governor and lieutenant governor of Montana were not in the state at the time of Clark's resignation. In a bizarre illustration of the state's divided loyalties, Lieutenant Governor Archibald E. Spriggs traveled 800 miles to get back within state lines and name Clark to fill the vacancy created by his own resignation. Governor Robert B. Smith, a Daly supporter, returned to Montana three days later. Outraged by Spriggs' action, he telegraphed the Senate to tell them that he would be naming Martin Maginnis, a former territorial delegate, to the Senate.

The Senate was presented with the credentials for both men. Exhausted, they tabled both of them and left one of Montana's seats unfilled. The sordid affair would be just one more piece of evidence reformers would use to argue that U.S. senators should be chosen by popular vote instead of legislators; this change would finally come about with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

Senate and sex scandals

Clark could easily fall back on his burgeoning business empire. By 1900, his fortune was estimated at about $50 million and he was considered one of the richest men in the world.

The Montana legislature convened again in January 1901, and again were tasked with choosing a senator. Clark had financially supported the campaigns of many of the legislators to help improve his goodwill in the body. He had won the support of the miners' union for promising to support an eight-hour day as well as legislation allowing miners to sue the company for damages caused by a coworker's negligence and to shop freely instead of being obligated to purchase goods at overpriced company stores. Perhaps more importantly, a major roadblock to his political ambition had been removed: Daly had died in November of the previous year.

The legislature again named Clark to the Senate, and this time he was seated without issue. His six-year term was unremarkable. He favor the construction of a canal through Nicaragua instead of Panama. He also supported a policy allowing mining companies to cut timber on federal lands without reimbursing the government; Clark and others used this policy to enrich themselves through logging as well as mining.

The famous humorist Mark Twain was none too impressed with Clark. In a 1907 essay, he declared, "He is as rotten a human being as can be found...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." He added, "By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell."

Clark's romantic life also gained attention during his Senate term. He had maintained a distant relationship with his wife and children; since 1878, they had been living in Europe and Clark had traveled to visit them every winter. Katherine had died in 1893. Clark later started a relationship with a young actress named Anna Eugenia La Chapelle; he had sent her from Montana to France when she was 16 years old to study music. Anna became pregnant in 1901 and again in 1903.

Anna Eugenia La Chapelle (Source)

The Anaconda Standard, a paper that Daly had owned, gleefully exposed this relationship with an article headlined "They're Married and Have a Baby" on July 12, 1904. Clark claimed that he and Anna had secretly been married on May 25, 1901. It was a dubious claim, since it conveniently put Clark in France at the same time as Anna and more than nine months before the birth of her daughter, Louise Amelia Andree Clark. No newspapers in Europe had mentioned a wedding, despite extensive coverage of Clark's trip; his itinerary also failed to mention such an event. The "secret" wedding was widely regarded as a flimsy excuse to try to sidestep any scandal.

Throughout 1904, Clark would be buffeted with charges that he was fond of seducing young women. Hattie Rose Laube, a noted campaign speaker, claimed that Clark had promised to marry her while the two traveled in Europe. There were questions over Clark's "sponsorship" of Kathlyn Williams, a Butte woman 40 years his junior whom he had sent to New York City to study opera; Clark had also supported her decision to switch to acting, where she became a well-known star. A woman named Mary McNellis sued him for $150,000, claiming that Clark had seduced and impregnated her and falsely promised her marriage; a judge later ruled against her, though the matter also included a questionable transaction where McNellis's lawyer sold his interest in a Canadian mine to Clark.

After serving one term, Clark retired from the Senate.

Later years

Clark's business ventures had continued apace while he was in the government. One of the more prominent accomplishments was the 1,100-mile San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Rail Line. He had financed the construction of this line, although its construction was largely overseen by younger brother J. Ross Clark. The railroad, completed in 1905 and now part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, is credited as the only railroad to be built with funding from a single person rather than a corporation.

One unintended consequence of this railroad was the creation of Las Vegas. Clark purchased and subdivided a ranch in the Nevada desert to create a community where the trains could be serviced and his employees could live. The small settlement eventually grew into the modern day gambling mecca, while Clark County was named in the tycoon's honor.

Meanwhile, Clark has been working to establish an opulent mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The home itself would not be completed until 1911, following 14 years of construction and planning. The rambling 121-room residence included four art galleries as well as an underground railroad line to bring in coal for heating. As part of the construction, Clark has purchased a quarry in New Hampshire to supply stone and a bronze foundry to cast its fittings.

Clark's mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City (Source)

Clark would live the rest of his life in the mansion. Despite his diminutive political career, he had made numerous charitable donations supporting organizations such as the YMCA and First Presbyterian Church. He helped establish a Girl Scout camp in New York and numerous organizations in Butte, including an orphanage, homeless shelter, and a 68-acre amusement park called Columbia Gardens. Clark also established an electric trolley line to this site, which children were permitted to ride for free on Thursdays.

On March 2, 1925, Clark died of pneumonia. His children received assets worth about $200 million, all of which has been sold off by 1935. La Chapelle received $2.5 million. Clark's vast art collection was donated to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., after the original recipient, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, balked at the requirement that exclusive galleries be maintained in perpetuity for the works. The paintings were transferred to the National Gallery of Art after the Corcoran dissolved in 2014.

The immense New York City mansion briefly remained as a monument to Clark's wealth while struggling to find someone willing to buy it. Finally, in 1927, it was purchased and quickly demolished to make way for luxury apartments. His comparably modest 34-room residence in Butte survives today as a bed and breakfast called the Copper King Mansion.

Some of Clark's children also earned recognition. William Andrews Clark Jr. was a notable philanthropist who founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1919. A daughter, Huguette Clark, was a reclusive heiress who preferred to live the last 20 years of her life under assumed names in hospital rooms despite owning a palatial 42-room apartment on Fifth Avenue. She also owned mansions in California, Connecticut, and New York which she kept in good repair but never visited.

Huguette died in 2011 at the age of 104, leaving behind an estate worth $300 million. Her will quickly became the subject of a prolonged court battle. Despite the stipulation that her relatives wouldn't receive a cent, her heirs were eventually granted $34.5 million. One of the main results of the probate process was the establishment of the Bellosguardo Foundation, which is located within Hugette's former estate in California and aims to be an arts and cultural destination.


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, Museum of the City of New York, Online Nevada Encyclopedia, The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA, The Copper King Mansion Bed & Breakfast, "The Right and Title of William A. Clark to a Seat as Senator from the State of Montana" report from The Committee on Elections and Privileges, "The Election Case of William A. Clark of Montana" at Senate.gov, "William Andrews Clark" in the Las Vegas Review Journal on Feb. 7 1999, "Daughter of Connellsville's Controversial Billionaire Dies" in the Tribune-Review on May 28 2011, "Huguette Clark's $300 Million Copper Fortune Is Divided Up" on CNBC on Sep. 24 2013, "A Familiar Scandal: Teenage Girls, A U.S. Senate Hopeful and a Century-Old Montana Story" in the Billings Gazette on Nov. 16 2017, McClure's Magazine Vol. 28The Battle for Butte: Mining and Politics on the Northern Frontier 1864-1906 by Michael P. Malone, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 by Michael Punke, Copper for America: The United States Copper Industry from Colonial Times to the 1990s by Charles K. Hyde, The Cyclopaedia of American Biography Vol. VIII,