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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 170

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This is the grave of James Cox.

Born in 1870 in Jacksonburg, Ohio, Cox never went to college but became a journalist in the 1890s, first working in Cincinnati and then in Washington, where he became highly interested in politics. He bought the Dayton Evening News in the late 1890s, renaming it the Dayton Daily News. This would be his ticket to prominence. He turned it into a leading Democratic rag during the 1900s, putting together a quality newspaper with a lot of AP stories as well as local news. He took on local Republican leaders, many of whom were deeply implicated in Gilded Age corruption at a time when that was no longer acceptable to large numbers of the public. Ambitious, Cox ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1908 and won. He served two terms and then became Ohio’s governor in 1913. He served a two year term, lost, and then won again in 1917 and 1919. Cox governed as a moderate progressive, supporting laws to limit child labor and increase workers’ compensation. He became an ally of Woodrow Wilson through World War I, supporting Prohibition (strongly opposed within the urban wing of the Democratic Party) and banning the teaching of German in World War I. He said of teaching German, in language that reminds one of modern Republicans and their racist xenophobia, it is “a distinct menace to Americanism, and part of a plot formed by the German government to make the school children loyal to it.”

By the 1920 election, the American population was looking for non-entities as leaders after two decades of tumult and reform. Both parties obliged. The Republicans nominated Ohio’s Warren Harding and the Democrats nominated Cox. Both were young and genial. Neither were national leaders. Cox’s campaign avoided discussion of the League of Nations, angering the Wilson supporters. His platform was pro-labor, bringing forward a national collective bargaining law, but anti-immigrant, continuing his attacks on Germans and supporting Americanization programs. Cox was overall a bit more substantial a figure than Harding, not to mention he selected a young New Yorker named Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be his VP candidate, but with the “return to normalcy” campaign of Harding, Cox lost. The lameness of the choices in 1920 would only be matched in the 20th century in 1924, when Calvin Coolidge and the legendary John Davis faced off in a snoozefest.

He was still only 50 years old when he lost the presidency. He left politics when his final term as governor ended in 1921 and concentrated on building a media empire. He bought more Ohio papers and then started investing in the South, owning radio stations from the Great Lakes to Miami. He remained close to FDR and actively campaigned for him in Ohio and through his media. He died in 1957.

James Cox is buried Woodlawn Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.

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