John W. Davis

Clarksburg Exponent
March 25, 1955

Death Claims John W. Davis At 81

Noted Lawyer Was Nominee In 1924 Race

Clarksburg Native Succumbs to His Third Pneumonia Attack of Winter

John William (John W.) Davis, 81, a native Clarksburger who almost became President of the United States, died Thursday at 3:17 p.m. in St. Francis Xavier Hospital, Charleston, S. C., where he had been seriously ill for the past few days.

Mr. Davis was hospitalized two weeks ago after he suffered his third pneumonia attack of the winter at Yeaman's Hall, a resort near Charleston, S. C. Earlier in the week he was thought to be recovering and had expressed a desire to return home from the hospital. He suffered a relapse, however, and died yesterday.

John W. Davis was born on what is now Washington Avenue, Clarksburg, and the Davis home was later on Lee Avenue, in property which was purchased from the Davis family a few years ago by the Union Protestant Hospital.

He was born April 13, 1873, a son of the late John J. and Anna Kennedy Davis.

He was admitted to the bar in 1895 and in the year 1896-97 he was assistant professor of law at Washington and Lee University. In 1897 he began the practice of law here in partnership with his father, the late John J. Davis.

Voters in 1899 chose Mr. Davis as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, a post that started a political career which was to result in his nomination for the Presidency in 1924.

He was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in St. Louis in 1904 and he was elected to the 62nd and 63rd Congress. In 1913 the late President Woodrow Wilson named John W. Davis as Solicitor General of the United States and he remained in that post until 1918. His service as Solicitor General resulted in many appearances before the United States Supreme Court, where he was also to practice frequently in the later years of his life.

Davis was a member of the American delegation to a conference with Germans at Bern, Switzerland, in 1918 on treatment and exchange of prisoners in Word War I, then in progress. While he was there, William Hines Page resigned as ambassador to Great Britain and President Wilson appointed Mr. Davis to that most important diplomatic post.

Returning to this country in 1921, he returned to private practice to recoup his personal fortunes.

In one of his last appearances before the Supreme Court, Davis represented the state of South Carolina in the public school segregation case. The court rejected his arguments for continuing segregation under the separate-but-equal doctrine. Davis would accept no fee for his services in the school case. The South Carolina General Assembly authorized purchase of a silver tea service for him, and his long-time friend, former Gov. James F. Byrnes, went to New York to present it.

Mr. Davis' nomination for President came in New York at the longest convention ever held. William Gibbs McAdoo and Alfred E. Smith remained deadlocked through many ballots. Finally they released their delegates, and Davis was chosen on the 103rd ballot.

The country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity under President Coolidge, and Davis' vigorous campaign was in vain. Coolidge won all states except the 12 of the "Solid South" and Wisconsin, which voted for a third party ticket, and was continued in office.

Mr. Davis' legal career covered a wide range of cases. As a young man he defended "Mother" Mary Jones, a labor organizer, and Eugene V. Debs, Socialist leader against charges of inciting to riot growing out of a strike of West Virginia coal miners.

Later he represented financier J. P. Morgan and some of the country's largest corporations. As solicitor general he successfully defended constitutionality of the Federal Reserve Act, the income tax, the Adamson eight-hour law for railroads and the World War I draft law.

In 1952 the steel industry retained Mr. Davis to argue before the Supreme Court against President Harry S. Truman's seizure of the steel mills in an effort to stave off a strike. He won his case.

John W. Davis had degrees from Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University, and the University of Birmingham, England.

He married Julia T. McDonald June 20, 1899, and she died August 17, 1900. They were the parents of a daughter, Julia, who became Mrs. Charles P. Healy. On January 2, 1912, Mr. Davis married Ellen G. Bassel, who died in 1943.

Mr. Davis was president of the West Virginia Bar Association in 1906. He was a 32nd degree Mason and he returned here a few years ago for a program honoring him at the time he completed 50 years as a Mason. He was a charter member of Clarksburg lodge No. 482, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

The body will lie in state in Charleston, S. C., until sometime today, when it will be taken by train to the residence at Locust Valley, Long Island, N. Y. Funeral services will be held Monday at the Brick Prebyterian Church in New York. Burial will be in New York.

Mrs. J. Carl Vance and son, Atty. John Vance, and Dorsey R. Potter will be among those from Clarksburg who attend the funeral on Monday.

After John W. Davis was nominated for the presidency in 1924, Clarksburg put on a homecoming celebration for him. The official notification and acceptance addresses were given here.

Dignitaries from throughout the nation were among the tens of thousands who turned out for Davis' acceptance address, delivered in Goff Plaza. The crowd was one of the largest ever assembled in Clarksburg.

John W. Davis campaigned for Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic nominee for president in 1928, and backed Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932. Shortly after the 1932 election, however, he began attacking the New Deal and sought to upset some of its activities in the courts as unconstitutional.

He represented The Associated Press in an attack on the Wagner Labor Relations Act, part of the New Deal program, terming the law "a direct and palpable" invasion of freedom of the press. The Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act, 5-4.

Davis joined a group of Democrats opposing President Roosevelt's 1936 bid for re-election, and in 1940 he supported Wendell Wilkie for president. As World War II approached, however, Davis firmly supported Roosevelt's foreign policy and endorsed the 1941 lend-lease bill.

In the last presidential election, Davis supported Gen. Eisenhower. He said a change in party control was demanded by "widespread corruption" in the federal government.

Members of Congress offered a string of eulogies today in praise of Davis.

Starting with Rep. Bailey (D-W. Va.), who represents the same district which Davis once served in Congress 40 years ago, the legislators termed Davis one of the greatest men in American life.

Bailey said Davis had one of the nation's outstanding legal minds.

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