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Powell Clayton
9th Governor of Arkansas

In office
July 2, 1868 – March 4, 1871
Lieutenant James M. Johnson
Preceded by Isaac Murphy
Succeeded by Ozra Amander Hadley
as Acting Governor
United States Senator
from Arkansas

In office
March 24, 1871 – March 3, 1877
Preceded by Alexander McDonald
Succeeded by Augustus Garland
Personal details
Born August 7, 1833
Bethel, Pennsylvania
Died August 25, 1914(1914-08-25) (aged 81)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Adaline McGraw
Profession Engineer, planter, politician, entrepreneur
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Union Army
Years of service 1861 - 1865
Rank Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General
Unit Kansas 1st Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry
5th Cavalry Regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War

Powell Clayton (August 7, 1833 – August 25, 1914) was an engineer, a Union Army general in the American Civil War and the first Reconstruction Republican governor of Arkansas. He was appointed as United States Ambassador to Mexico during the administrations of U.S. Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Early life

Clayton as a young man

Clayton was born in Bethel in Delaware County in Pennsylvania, to John and Ann Glover Clayton. He was a direct descendent of William Clayton, originally from Chichester, England.[1] Clayton the immigrant was a close friend of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, and William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. John Clayton was an orchard keeper and carpenter. John and Ann Clayton had ten children in all; six died in infancy. The young Clayton attended a private military academy in Bristol, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. He later attended engineering school at Wilmington, Delaware. He moved to Kansas in 1855 and served as an engineer at Leavenworth, Kansas. On April 29, 1861, he is recorded as having a company of militia at Fort Leavenworth. His brothers William and John followed him to the West and, at one point, they all worked in Arkansas.

Civil War

In May 1861 Clayton was formally mustered into the Union Army as a captain of the 1st Kansas Infantry. In December 1861, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 5th Kansas Cavalry and later to colonel in March 1862. During the war he served primarily in Arkansas and Missouri, fighting in several battles in those states.

Occupation of Pine Bluff

During the morning and early afternoon of October 25, 1863, Clayton commanded federal troops occupying Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He successfully repulsed a three-pronged confederate attack of the forces of General John S. Marmaduke. His troops had piled cotton bales around the Pine Bluff courthouse and surrounding streets to make a barricade for the Union defenders, and it worked. Confederate losses were 41 killed, wounded, and captured. Clayton was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on August 1, 1864.

Arkansas life and career

Marriage and family

Powell decided to stay in Arkansas, likely because he fell in love. He married Adaline McGraw of Helena.

Together with his brother William (W.H.H. Clayton), they purchased a plantation in Jefferson County, Arkansas, in the Mississippi Delta, formerly a base of cotton plantations and production. As in other southern states, violence did not end with the war. Hostilities continued and intensified as whites used lynchings, other physical attacks and intimidation against emancipated freedmen to repress black voting and maintain white supremacy. They intimidated white Republicans as well to regain political power. Other planters told Powell that they would pretend to go along with Reconstruction but would win back what they had lost through peaceful means. Powell at first tried to stay out of the conflicts. When his neighbors became more threatening, he decided to enter politics.[citation needed]

Political career

In 1868 Clayton was elected as the first Republican governor of Arkansas. His tenure was marked by soaring state debt (despite a state surplus when he took office), corruption, and violence. He was forced to declare martial law at the beginning of his term because of racial tensions. Many members of his administration, and colleagues in his party were charged with corruption {{!<--by whom?-->}} while he was governor. Clayton was impeached by the legislature but was never formally convicted of a crime.[citation needed] He was reportedly involved with the tampering of a US senate election between Thomas Boles and John Edwards; at the time the office was filled by election by the state legislature. Clayton was not convicted of any charges.[citation needed] His administration is mainly blamed for the Brooks–Baxter War.[citation needed] He worked with the legislature to improve the infrastructure in Arkansas: building railroads and new levees, as well as replacing levees destroyed during the war. While these improvements temporarily increased the debt, they were needed investment for a state that had been underdeveloped before the war. The legislature established free public schools for the first time and funded the construction of some buildings. Because so little public investment had been made before, financing such projects was controversial. On September 9, 1868 Clayton lost his left hand while hunting outside Little Rock when his rifle discharged.[2]

Clayton was persuaded to resign and accept election to the United States Senate after trying to ensure that the state would be stable under the appointment of an acting governor. While in the Senate, he worked with President Grant and his brother, William H.H. Clayton, the US Attorney in Arkansas, to have Judge Isaac Parker reassigned from Utah to Fort Smith, Arkansas, a frontier area with a high rate of violence and crime. The legendary “Hanging Judge,” along with U.S. Attorney Clayton, are credited with bringing law and order to the region.[citation needed] W.H.H. Clayton was later instrumental in bringing statehood to Oklahoma.[citation needed] Clayton was appointed as ambassador to Mexico in 1897 by President McKinley and served in that position until 1905.

Later life

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

In 1912, Clayton moved to Washington, D.C.. Near the end of his life, Clayton reflected on the dilemma of Republicans trying to reestablish themselselves as a political force in Arkansas and other southern states:

In addition to the Democrats complete control and manipulation of the election machinery, as each biennial election drew near in Arkansas, some new version of the evils of Reconstruction was brought forth to distract the attention of the voters from the misdeeds of the Democratic Party ring and to make it possible for them to avoid giving an account of their stewardship. The wildest and most fallacious stories have been told by them.[3]

Family life

Clayton's brother, John Middleton Clayton, was assassinated in 1889 in Plumerville, Arkansas, in Conway County. He had disputed the election results of a Congressional race with Clifton R. Breckinridge, a Democrat.[citation needed]


Clayton died in Washington, D.C., and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[4]


In 1882, Clayton established a home at the developing resort town of Eureka Springs in Carroll County in northwestern Arkansas. He and Adaline lived in what is now the Crescent Cottage Inn.[5] As president of the Eureka Springs Improvement Company (ESIC), Clayton worked to develop commercial and residential structures, many which still exist. ESIC was most successful in having the Eureka Springs Railroad built. This was the 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[6] Tourism rose dramatically in Eureka Springs after the railroad was completed; it became the center for a variety of entertainments.

In 1883, Clayton became the chief promoter of the Eureka Springs Railway, which provided service to the resort community until 1889, when it was merged into what became from 1906 to 1946 the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad. This defunct line provided passenger and freight service from Joplin, Missouri, to Helena in Phillips County in eastern Arkansas.[7]

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

Further reading

See also


  1. Clayton, Thomas J., Rambles and Reflections, Chester Pa. (1899), pp. 399-400
  2. [1]
  3. Quoted in William C. Penrose, "Power Politics Is Old Hat", Arkansas Historical Quarterly XI (Winter 1952), p. 243
  4. "Powell Clayton". Find A Grave. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  5. "Crescent Cottage Inn"
  6. "History: Powell Clayton", Eureka Vacation
  7. "H. Glenn Mosenthin, "Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad"". Retrieved April 28, 2013. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Isaac Murphy
Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Ozra Amander Hadley
Acting Governor
United States Senate
Preceded by
Alexander McDonald
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Arkansas
Served alongside: Benjamin F. Rice, Stephen W. Dorsey
Succeeded by
Augustus H. Garland
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Matt W. Ramsom
United States Ambassador to Mexico
Succeeded by
Edwin H. Conger

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