Sidney Clarke

Sidney Clarke (1831 – 1909)

Clarke was born at Southbridge, Massachusetts on October 16, 1831. He did not have the advantages of a liberal education, and at the age of 18 left the farm to work in a general store in Worchester. While there in the store he studied nights, and within a short time began writing for the press. He soon gained fame as a writer before joining a men’s literary society where his abilities as a debater quickly developed.

In 1854 Clarke returned to his native town and started a weekly newspaper known as the Southbridge Press which prospered over the next five years. Clarke then became a member of the Free Soil party, and in 1856 he actively supported Gen. Fremont’s candidacy. Then, 2 years later, Clarke had health problems and upon the advice of his doctor went west and located at Lawrence, Kansas. Poor health did not deter Clarke’s interest in politics. He remembers “I settled in Kansas in the spring of 1858. In December of that year Mr. Lincoln visited the territory and made speeches at Elwood, Troy, Doniphan, Atchinson, and Leavenworth. At the latter place we gave him a public reception fully worthy of his name and fame.”

Kansas becomes a state and Senator James Lane had Clarke as a secretary to him. Lane organized Kansas soldiers (known as the Frontier Guard) – and they in turn upon their arrival guarded the White House in the early days of April, 1861. These troops slept and lounged around in the White House for several weeks. Clarke most likely was a part of all this. By 1862 Clarke had been elected to the Kansas legislature – then President Lincoln appointed him adjutant-general of volunteers and he was assigned to duty as acting assistant provost marshal general for the District of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Dakota, with his headquarters at Leavenworth. Clarke in 1864 was elected to the 39th Congress as a representative – and was the youngest member in this Congress.

Clarke was at Ford’s theater the night of the assassination, and heard the crack of Booth’s pistol. A few days later Clarke was appointed as a Congressional delegate to the Lincoln funeral. At Lincoln’s funeral in Columbus, Clarke would be seated on the speakers’ platform outside the capital building (along with Ferry of Michigan and Shannon of California). Clarke served the Kansas government and later moved to Oklahoma City, where he became involved in the political process for statehood for Oklahoma. Clarke was actively engaged in railroad building.

Clarke was the only congressman from the 39th congress still alive during the centennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth – and gave an emotional speech on the occasion in Oklahoma. Two senators of the congressional delegation (Henderson and Williams) where alive at the time. Clarke survived his speech by just a few months, dying on June 18, 1909 in Oklahoma City and is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery.

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