re a politically powerful Missouri family well into the twentieth century. Mrs. Clark, a graduate of the University of Missouri and teacher in Louisiana, Missouri, when Clark met her, became engrossed in his political career. She campaigned with Champ and was active in the congressional wives’ club and the women’s suffrage movement. In the 1930s, she encouraged Bennett’s career in the U.S. Senate, where he carried on his father’s political legacy of fiscal conservatism and isolationism. His sister, Genevieve, also campaigned for Bennett. She and her husband, James M. Thomson, publisher and editor of the New Orleans Item, were active in Democratic politics until their retirement in 1960. Treated as part of the family, Clarence Cannon began his career as the Speaker’s clerk and carried Clark’s memory and values throughout his own congressional career, 1923-64.
In his memoirs, Clark tells about his father giving him a copy of William Wirt’s Life of Patrick Henry when he was about ten years old. “…that book determined me to be a lawyer and a congressman before I had even seen a lawyer, a law-book, a court-house, or a Congressman." Although the Speaker can be accused of exaggeration in his childhood remembrance, the evidence is clear that he consciously planned a political career. Born James Beauchamp Clark, he experimented with “Jamie”, “Beauchamp” and “Beau” before settling upon “Champ” while a law student as an eye catching and easily remembered name. He joined the Missouri Democratic Party in 1876 and thereafter worked conscientiously to begin his “life work proper” which to Champ was a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. His goal was “…to achieve a name worthy of a place beside the best of the immortals."
He began his quest at the local level. Clark became a popular civic and religious leader, first in Louisiana and then in Bowling Green. In July, 1876, he was elected a member of the Louisiana Fire Company. He helped organize the Louisiana Lyceum where he enjoyed debating this kind of topic: “Affirmed: That the Whipping Post Should be Re-established as a Punishment for Petty Larceny." He raised a Sunday school class for young men for the Church of the Disciples in Bowling Green and taught it throughout 1889. He was also active in the Masons.
Clark was engaged in Democratic politics steadily from 1876 onward. After holding local and county prosecutor positions, he was elected to a term in the state legislature in 1888. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to the House in 1890 for Missouri’s Ninth District, but won both the nomination and the election in 1892. He failed re-election in 1894 due to the depression, but was re-elected in 1896 and in each successive election until 1920, when he lost in the post-World War I Republican landslide. Clark’s hold on the Ninth’s congressional seat was due not only to his popularity but to the gerrymandering tactics of the Democratically controlled state legislature.