The Progressive Democracy of James M. Cox
The Life Story

CHAPTER IX

THE LIFE STORY

     Born at Jacksonburg, Ohio, March 31, 1870, son of Gilbert and Eliza Cox; educated in public schools; reared on farm; worked in printer's office; taught country school; became newspaper reporter; secretary to Congressman Sorg, 3d Ohio District; bought Dayton Daily News, 1898, and Springfield Press Republic, 1903, forming News League of Ohio; member 61st and 62d Congress (1909-13), 3d Ohio District; Governor of Ohio; elected in 1912, defeated in 1914, elected in 1916 and 1918; now serving third term; home, Trailsend, Dayton.
     The family of Cox seems to have had its origin in England in the generations gone, but its Americanism is of two centuries in duration. At Freeboard, New Jersey, lived General James Cox, one of the early speakers of the New Jersey House of Representatives and later a member of Congress. Tillers of the soil and artisans, the closer forbears attained to no distinction in public life. To Ohio the family came sometime in the early years of the last century, and at Jacksonburg the paternal grandfather, Gilbert Cox, established himself. On the ancestral farm of 160 acres, his son, Gilbert, Jr., lived, and on it James M. Cox first saw the light of day. His uncles and aunts, for his father was one of a family of thirteen, were of the people who migrated westward. The youngest of a family of seven children, he learned the routine of tasks of a boy on the farm. In the little one-room country school he attended, his teachers found him an ordinary pupil but with a fondness for newspaper reading.
     Cox's first public job was the humble position of janitor in the United Brethren Church, and even now his favorite reminiscence is the difficulty he had in making the old wood stove function properly. The thrifty farmers in those days were accustomed to commute part of their dues in cord wood for the church, and often the quality they supplied was not of the best. The boy became a member of the Church, a membership which is still retained.
     At fifteen he left the elementary school to enter the Middletown High School, living with his sister, Mrs. John Q. Baker, whose husband was a teacher in the High School and owner of the Middletown Signal. Board was paid in working as a printer's devil until the apprenticeship was served and the county newspaper business was mastered from both the counting room and the editorial side. Upon completion of his high school course, the young man passed the county examination and obtained a position as teacher of the school he had in earlier years attended, but a pedagogical career was not to his liking and he returned to work on the Signal staff. He became also the local correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer and attracted the attention of the main office by a neat scoop which he landed regarding a railroad wreck. Graduating into the reportorial work, he became assistant telegraph and railroad editor of the Enquirer. He retired from the newspaper life for a time to become Secretary to Congressman Sorg, remaining in his capacity until his 28th year, when he purchased the Dayton News, giving $12,000 in notes and beginning with a capital of just $80. The times were hard enough for the young chap with creditors constantly upon him. Once his paper was forced to suspend by reason of an unpaid bill, and the opposition paper heralded its death. The struggling publisher retaliated with an "extra" announcing its continuance. Then again there were plenty of libel suits for the young editor-publisher, setting out to be a reformer, and the ruling powers in the city strongly disapproved his methods, but the militant editor brought readers and the readers brought advertisers, and the venture became a success. Five years from his first venture he bought the Springfield Press Republic and the Springfield Democrat, combining the two in the Evening News. Each is now housed in its own modern newspaper building and each is highly prosperous as a business institution, although the owner's supervision has been of a general character.
     His associates always speak of the "Cox luck" in politics, but upon analysis it seems that it consists either of seizing or making the opportunity. In 1908 his Congressional district, originally Democratic, had become Republican, but a factional quarrel breaking out in the opposition camps, the Governor took the Democratic nomination and won out, again riding to victory in the great landslide of 1910. In Congress his career afforded him no opportunity to attain to high distinction, but he became a member of the appropriations committee and there became most deeply impressed with the waste in public funds and the unbusinesslike methods of arriving at appropriations. One of his services was the disclosure that the care of Civil War veterans in the National Soldiers' Home at Dayton was shattered, and he won the contest for increased allowances. The gratitude of the veterans was expressed in a majority from the Home in his re-election in 1910, thus breaking an historical precedent.
     Two years later he became the champion of the constitutional amendments proposed by the Fourth Constitutional Convention of Ohio, then sitting, and as such was unanimously nominated by his party for Governor, on a platform which demanded a "new order" of things in Ohio. As soon as he was nominated he took the platform before the people for the adoption of the constitutional amendments in a special September election. These amendments included one providing for the initiative and referendum of which he had been an advocate for years, and one for the removal of officials failing to enforce the laws, giving the Governor the weapon with which he established his law-enforcement record. There was very little to the campaign in that year, the historical Republican party splitting in two upon the issue of progressiveness, and he was elected by an enormous plurality. Facing the tasks imposed by the new constitution, the Governor insisted upon legislative fulfillment of each popular mandate, and in a busy session of three months he accomplished his programme.
     Aside from the legislation suggested by the amendments, his greatest constructive step was the enactment of a budget system, which sought to place the financial affairs of Ohio upon a businesslike basis. Its worth as a saver of money and promoter of efficiency has never been challenged. The previous Ohio fiscal system had grown grossly archaic. Appropriations were made by the Legislature to the departments in lump sums or in the form of granting all receipts and balances, some of the departments being maintained by the fees from interests they regulated. Of the departments having receipts of their own, many had deposits of their own in banks and their own checking accounts, so that their funds never passed through the State Treasury or through the hands of the State Auditor. Other departments got much or little from the Legislature, depending upon whether they had a gifted representative to appear for them before the legislative finance committee. Institutions vied with each other in providing the best entertainment to these committees as they made their week-end junket trips over the State during legislative sessions.
     All this was changed in one sweeping stroke in the first administration of Governor Cox. All receipts of all departments now go into the State Treasury and none leave the treasury until it is appropriated in specific sums for specific purposes within specific departments. The state auditor has a check on every expenditure.
     The Ohio budget department is composed of one commissioner appointed by the Governor, an assistant and a clerk. All departmental requests for funds desired of the next succeeding Legislature are filed with the Budget Commissioner, to be brought before the Governor. He investigates all items, ascertains the reasons for any increases that are asked, and fixes the sums he deems proper. Also, he estimates what the State revenues during the next biennium will be and prunes the budget to come within the total of expected revenues. The budget as prepared by the commissioner is submitted to the Governor, who frequently makes changes of his own after advising with department heads.
     The Governor then presents the budget to the Legislature, which refers it to the finance committees of the two houses. The committees, and, in turn, the Legislature, have full authority to make any alterations, increases or decreases, desired, but the spellbinding by department representatives and wire-pulling by lobbyists are reduced to a minimum because the Budget Commissioner sits as the agent of the Governor at all sessions of the finance committees and at all times is prepared to defend the allowance he thinks a department should have.
     The first budgetary appropriation bill repealed an existing appropriation law. It reduced appropriations aggregating $9,709,288 to $8,762,664, a saving of $946,624. Since that time the Ohio budget system has effected savings of millions, not, of course, in the sense that expenditures of the State government now are less than in 1913--for they have increased as governmental activities have enlarged--but in the sense that expenditures each year have been vastly less than they would have been without the budget plan of pruning and scaling down demands of existing State departments with a view both to general economy and avoidance of deficits.
    The Ohio Budget and consequently its appropriation law classifies expenditures in two divisions: (1) Operating expenses and (2) Capital outlay (or permanent improvements). Operating expenses are subdivided into personal service and maintenance. Personal service in turn is divided into salaries and wages, and maintenance into supplies, materials, equipment, contract or open order service, and fixed charges and contributions.
     Elasticity of funds within departments is afforded by periodical meetings of a board of control, composed of the Governor (who may be and usually is represented by the Budget commissioner), the State Auditor, the Attorney-General, and the chairmen of the two legislative finance committees. If any new need develops within departments, funds for the purpose may be provided by a four-fifths vote of the board of control. Effort first is made to transfer the needed funds from one classification to another within the department. If no fund within the department has a surplus, and the need is great enough, relief may be granted by the emergency board, having the same membership as the board of control, which has at its disposal an emergency fund for contingencies arising between legislative sessions. Perfection never has been claimed for the Ohio system. Governor Cox himself realizes certain weaknesses in it and is making a fight now for strengthening features, which, however, necessitate a change in the constitution. One defect is that, regardless of probable income, the Legislature may increase items in the budget (or rather the appropriation bill based on the budget), and it may make other appropriations in separate bills as it sees fit without regard to prospective revenues.
     In his 1919 message to the General Assembly, a Republican body, the Governor urged submission to the people of an amendment to the constitution providing that the Legislature shall have the right to diminish any item in the executive budget by majority vote or to strike out any item: that, however, it shall not be privileged to increase any item or to add a new one unless it makes legislative provision for sufficient revenue to meet the added cost. Such an amendment was not submitted. Unless it is done by an early legislature, adherents of Cox in Ohio say it may be undertaken by initiative petition.

Good Roads

     Another notable achievement of Governor Cox is the advance of the Ohio highway system. Roads were in deplorable shape when he became Governor. There was no hope for rural counties with small tax duplicates, the ones in greatest need of good roads never being able to lift themselves out of the mud except through liberal state aid.
     One of the Governor's first acts was a survey of road conditions. A complete network of 10,000 miles of inter-county roads was mapped out. It connected the eighty-eight county seats. Of the 10,000 miles of inter-county highways, 3000 miles, connecting the larger cities, were designated as main market roads. The scheme of financing called for improvement of the main market roads entirely at state expense, which the remainder of the system was to be built on a fifty-fifty basis, the state furnishing half the funds, and the county in which the road lies, the other half.
     All road improvement under the Cox administration has been given such an impetus that the State, county and township programmes to-day call for an expenditure of $30,000,000 annually, including federal aid. Popular demand for highway improvement is greater than the State Highway department and county commissioners are able to meet.

Revitalizing the Schools

     As a pupil in a one-room country school and as a teacher, he had first knowledge of the shortcomings and possibilities of the Ohio educational system. It was his firm conviction that the country boy and girl should be given the same educational advantages that accrued to those of the city.
     The purpose of the Governor's school programme was to give Ohio a co-ordinates system of State, county and district supervision, to require normal or college training of all teachers, and, above all, to pave the way for speedier centralization and consolidation of the one-room district school. Results have been beyond the expectations of school men, every breath and opposition to the system has blown away, and it may truthfully be said that it has become an idol of the people of the state. The re-organization has stimulated interest in education in all respects and has made possible a more recent establishment of a state-wide teachers' pensions system and a complete revamping of financial support of schools through a State and county aid plan. Salaries of teachers have been increased the last six years from a minimum of $40 a month to a statutory minimum of $800 a school year. The teacher shortage occasioned by the war will be solved without much delay in Ohio, as county and state normal schools report prospective increases in attendance of fifty to one hundred per cent or even greater for next year.
     The time had come in 1913 when the little district school with its narrow curriculum and crude methods of instruction did not meet the needs and purposes of modern industrial and social life in Ohio. It had not kept step with rural economic progress. In the whole State it was the one evidence of retardation, an institution of bygone days which had deteriorated instead of having improved. The right of every child to educational opportunities for development to the fullest extent of his possibilities was not recognized by the State in the school system as it existed at that time. Governor Cox, in his first message to the general assembly in January, 1913, recommended that a complete school survey be made. A survey commission was created. To acquaint school patrons with the object of the survey in progress and to get them to discuss in their own communities the defects and the needs of the schools, November 14, 1913, was set apart as "School survey day" and a light burned in every school building in the State that night. Delegates were appointed to attend a state-wide educational congress the next month, and in January, 1914, the Governor called a special session to enact the rural school code.
     The survey report disclosed that not half of the teachers of the State ever had attended high school, nor had normal training. Rural schools were mere stepping stones for young teachers before securing positions in village and city schools, agriculture was scarcely taught, schools were without equipment, three-fourths of the buildings were twenty years old or older, unsanitary, poorly lighted, without ventilation and insufficiently heated.
     With one stroke the new school code created county supervision districts under the control of county boards, elected by the presidents of village and township boards; provided for county superintendents and supervisors over smaller districts within the county; required academic and professional training of all new teachers henceforth, and gave communities wider powers to centralize and consolidate schools.
     At present ninety-five per cent of the elementary teachers have had professional training, and high school teachers are required to be college graduates or have equivalent scholastic attainment. The most common faults of class-room instruction have been to a great extent eliminated. Standard methods of presentation are being practices in an attempt to give to each child opportunity for development of his possibilities.
     A great stimulation of public school sentiment is manifested by a closer co-operation and correlation of the school and the home, resulting in boys' and girls' club work, achievement courses, home projects and other school extension and community activities; a growth of the feeling of responsibility to the community on the part of the teacher; an attitude of greater interest and responsibility of the boards of education toward the school; a willingness of the people to vote money for new school plants and enterprises; a growing demand for consolidation and centralization; a better trained class of teachers, increased school attendance, especially in high schools where it has increased from fifty to one hundred per cent.
     School administration is much more efficient as is demonstrated by a uniform course of study for elementary and high schools, vitalized by its articulation with the industrial activities of the community, county uniformity of textbooks, selection and correlation of textbook material and its adaptation to the varying interests and needs of childhood, uniform system of reports and records, and the like.
     School centers have been made to coincide with social and business centers. Convenient districts have been formed around centers of population. village and surrounding rural districts have been united in accordance with the trend of the community interests and activities. Weak districts have been eliminated by the transfer of their territory to other districts, thereby strengthening property valuations.
     A centralized school in Ohio was almost a novelty in 1914. A year ago there were 310 centralized (township) schools and 599 consolidated (embracing several contiguous districts) schools, and the number has been materially swelled during the year. Seventy of the eighty-eight counties now have such schools and the trend is toward them throughout the State. One such school replaces, on the average, eight one-room schools. They have brought to the rural pupils trained teachers, well-equipped buildings, courses of study related to the interests of the farm and home by being well-balanced between the cultural and vocational. They have made it possible for the country boy who remains on the farm to obtain a high school education in his own community that is directly related to his needs. Scientific agriculture under trained instructors is taught in all of these schools. The possibilities of the farm and of rural life are thus revealed to the boy and he will be equipped with knowledge necessary to the scientific performance of his work. From the farm instead of the law office and the counting room will come those who know what the needs and interests of the farmer are and who will be qualified to represent those interests.
     While the system still may be said to be in its infancy, the progress of transformation of Ohio schools under it has been nothing short of wonderful, and unending results may be expected of it.
     This extensive legislation had aroused many prejudices particularly, in the rural sections, of which his opponent, Congressman Frank B. Willis, took advantage. The bold challenge of the Governor to his opponent was stated by him on the platform in many parts of Ohio "Which law will you repeal?" The question was never answered, but the tide of opposition to the changes swept Governor Cox out of office, although he ran many thousands ahead of his associates. In the succeeding sessions of the General Assembly popular sentiment began once more to swing to Governor Cox and two years later he was re-elected by a small plurality. Improvement in the various laws was sought during his next term, but the shadow of the world war was already beginning to fall, and the greater part of his efforts were devoted to preparation for Ohio's part.
     In general administration the Governor's supporters are fond of saying that he met successfully
     In his first term a flood,
     In his second term a war,
     In his third term reconstruction.
     The flood story was the one that really introduced him first to the country at large. Ohio was hit by a calamity greater than any that had befallen a state. Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Hamilton and other cities were under water for days, many villages were almost washed off the map, and hundreds of lives and untold millions of property were lost. Bridges everywhere were washed out and transportation was practically at a standstill. The eyes of the State and Country were on the then untried Governor Cox. He met the situation in a manner that will never be forgotten in Ohio. The Ohio National Guard was called out, stricken communities were placed under martial law, civilian relief armies under the command of mayors and other designated leaders organized everywhere, Ohio's motor truck, automobile and other facilities commandeered, and the work of feeding, clothing, cleaning up and rehabilitation carried on from the beginning with astounding efficiency.
     The New York World at that time said of him:
     "The man who has dominated the situation in Ohio is Governor Cox. He has been not only chief magistrate and commander-in-chief, but the head of the life-saving service, the greatest provider of food and clothing the State has ever known, the principal health officer, the sanest counselor, the severest disciplinarian, the kindest philanthropist and best reporter. He has performed incredible labors in all these fields, and his illuminating dispatches to the World at the close of the heart-breaking days have given a clearer vision of conditions than could be had from any other source. Reared on a farm, educated in the public schools, a printer by trade, a successful publisher and editor of newspapers, a great Governor and a reported who gets his story into the first edition, James M. Cox excites and is herewith offered assurance of the World's most distinguished consideration."
     The flood revealed the necessity for conservancy legislation and the measure recommended by the Governor was enacted to give local communities the right to protect themselves.
     The time has gone by when in Ohio the major things in the programme of Governor Cox can be attacked successfully before the people of the State. He does not claim perfection. Suggestion as to improvement has found him ready to listen. There is still a short time for him to serve, but the public judgment has been made up, and Buckeye citizens, without regard to party affiliation, says that he has been a "good Governor."

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