From Ohio History Central
Ohio governor James Middleton Cox was born on March 31, 1870, in Butler County, Ohio. His parents were Gilbert and Eliza Cox. Cox spent his childhood on his parents farm. After attending the public schools, Cox briefly became a teacher. Soon he decided to become a journalist instead. Over time, Cox gained a name for himself in journalism. He eventually owned and edited newspapers in Ohio, including the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News, as well as papers in Florida and Georgia.
Cox, a Democrat, first entered politics in 1908, when he successfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cox served two consecutive terms in Congress, from 1909 to 1913, before being elected governor of Ohio. Although Cox was a member of the Democratic Party, he was very supportive of many Progressive reforms. This commitment to reform contributed to his success in the gubernatorial election.
Cox had a very successful record as governor. He was able to work with the state legislature to enact a number of important Progressive reforms. It was during Cox's first term as governor (1913-1915) that Ohio formally adopted direct primaries, initiative and referendum. Cox's administration oversaw reforms within the state court system, the civil service, and the budget and tax processes. The state passed laws that dealt with municipal home rule, workmen's compensation, educational reform, and prison reform, among numerous other issues.
Despite the progress Cox made in Ohio during his term, he was unsuccessful in gaining reelection in 1914. Instead, Republican candidate Frank B. Willis became the state's next governor. Cox ran again in 1916 and was successful this time. He also gained reelection in 1918, becoming the first Ohio governor to serve three full terms in office.
Cox faced new challenges after election to his second term in office. He continued to work for Progressive reforms, but he also had to mobilize Ohio to support the American war effort during World War I. The governor worked particularly hard to keep labor disputes from disrupting war production in the state during the war. Cox also helped to build patriotism and support for the war effort, including supporting a law that banned the teaching of the German language in Ohio schools. The Ake Law, as it was known, was very popular at the time, as Ohioans wanted to do all that they could to be patriotic, but the Supreme Court later declared it unconstitutional.
His prominence within the Democratic Party in Ohio thrust Cox into the national political arena in 1920. His party chose him as their presidential candidate and chose Franklin D. Roosevelt as his vice presidential running mate. Cox's campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, and fellow Ohioan Warren G. Harding was elected president instead.
When Cox's third term as governor ended in 1921, he retired from politics. Cox focused his attention on his newspapers, both in Ohio and in the South. Cox briefly returned to public service in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the American delegation to a world economic conference. Cox published his memoirs, which he titled Journey Through My Years, in 1946.
Cox died in Dayton, Ohio, on July 15, 1957.
- Cayton, Andrew. Ohio: The History of a People. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2002.
- The Governors of Ohio. Columbus: The Ohio Historical Society, 1954
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1960.
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Movement, 1900-1915. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
- McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. New York, NY: Free Press, 2003.