A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIAL TREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR, INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A. M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and New York
JAMES COX DAVIS. For over thirty-five years Hon. James Cox Davis, one of
the most distinguished sons of Iowa, has been a representative of the Iowa bar,
and has practiced continuously for nearly thirty years at Des Moines.
Although fully qualified for successful practice in any branch of his profession,
Mr. Davis has largely concentrated upon corporation law, and today is
nationally recognized as one of the ablest corporation lawyers in the country, and is general attorney for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company in Iowa.
A native son of the state, Mr. Davis was born at Keokuk, Iowa, September 12,
1857, eldest son of Caleb F. and Caroline (Thistle) Davis, both of whom were
born and reared in West Virginia. They came to Iowa at an early day and
were pioneers of Keokuk, in whose early history they took part.
Attending the public schools of Keokuk, James Cox Cavis early displayed
abilities of no ordinary character, and his watchful parents encouraged him to
continue his studies, which he did at Hellmouth College, Canada. Lack of funds
made it impossible for him to attend law school but he studied law in the
office of P. Thomas & Gillmore & Anderson, Keokuk, Iowa, and did so to such
good results that he was admitted to the bar August 17, 1877, at which time he
was not quite twenty years old. In spite of his youth he entered upon
practice in his home town, and has worked his way up to prominence and distinction.
While Mr. Davis has for years been connected with very important litigation,
there are several cases which are outstanding ones, notably that of Lelsy
vs. Hardin, 135, U. S. 100, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States,
April 28, 1890. In this case was involved the constitutionality of the Iowa prohibitory law. The United States Supreme Court held the law unconstitutional, and this decision was largely instrumental in changing the policy of the State of Iowa in regard to the sale of intoxicating liquors, and bringing about the legislation known as the Iowa "Mulct" law. At the time of this decision it was popularly known as the "Original Package" case, and attracted very general attention and comment throughout the whole country.
Not only did Mr. Davis serve most ably as city attorney of Keokuk, but he
was twice elected and served for two terms as mayor of that city. In 1896 he
was a delegate to the national convention of his party held at Saint Louis,
Missouri, and in 1901 was temporary chairman of the Iowa State convention of
his party, and he has always been a stalwart Republican. For years he has been
a keen member of the Grant, Des Moines, Golf and Country Clubs, the Chamber
of Commerce and Prairie Club, and in 1916 he served the latter as president.
The Episcopal Church holds his membership, and his family also belongs to
it, and are active in good work connected with the parish.
On December 10, 1884, Mr. Davis married in Keokuk, Iowa, Miss Clara B. Moar,
a daughter of late Judge Daniel Moar, of that city. Mrs. Davis died March
21, 1895, having borne her husband three children: Daniel Moar, Ora and
Caroline T. On August 15, 1901, Mr. Davis married Miss Louise Pomeroy, a daughter of Dr. Joseph C. Pomeroy, of Waverly, Iowa. Their children are: James C., Junior, Joseph P. and Frank W.
For some years Mr. Davis maintained headquarters at Chicago as general
counsel for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company. Since 1916 he has been very active in railroad and government affairs. He was on the staff of R. H. Aishton, one of the regional directors of railroad during the World War.
On the 15th of June, 1920, he was appointed general counsel for the United
States Railroad Administration under John Barton Payne, as director general of
railroads and agent of the President. After Mr. Harding was elected and
qualified as President, on the 28th of March, 1921, he was appointed director
general of railroads and agent of the President, and served in that capacity
for some four and a half years.
During this period the railroads presented claims against the Government
which were originally in excess of $1,000,000,000 but afterwards reduced to
$768,003,274.33. As against these claims the Government set up sundry tentative claims which aggregated $438,130,811.74. These claims were all adjusted under the supervision of Mr. Davis, and without litigation. This settlement involved perhaps one of the largest controversies that ever existed.
As a final result the creditor roads were paid $243,647,196.91, and there
was collected from the debtor roads $195,072,295.17, the Government paying to
the railroads, in excess of what was collected, $48,574,901, or a little less
than five per cent on the claims as originally presented.
In addition to this there was collected during this period by the director
general some $500,000,000 which the railroads were indebted to the Government on account of advances made for capital expenditures, and these collections were all returned to the treasury of the United States.
One of the most prized possessions of Mr. Davis is the letter he received
from President Coolidge that choses this article, in which the President states
that this was the largest financing project of the United States and
probably of the world. Mr. Davis considers his work in this connection the biggest
thing he has accomplished. In 1926, after the conclusion of the settlement,
he retired and returned to Des Moines, where he formed a partnership with Mr.
A. A. McLaughlin and George E. Hise, and is now engaged in a general law
practice under the firm name of Davis, McLaughlin & Hise, with offices in the
Bankers Trust Building, Des Moines.
The following letter from President Coolidge bears the date of December 14,
"My Dear Mr. Davis:
"I hereby accept your resignation as Director General of Railroads and Agent
of the President, to take effect at midnight of December 31, 1926, your
successor having been duly appointed and qualified at that time.
"The liquidation of the controversies growing out of Federal control of the
railroads has been substantially completed in a most satisfactory manner, due
to your energy, ability and tact. Therefore, I cannot well ask you to
remain longer at your post. When one contemplates the extent of the work
accomplished under your direction, he feels that the thanks of the country should be extended to you in most generous measure. Instead of endless litigation as prophesied by many, we have seen such adjustments of the claims between the railroads and the government, growing out of our handling of these vast properties during the war, as to bring about satisfactory settlements out of court. The claims of the railroads against the government, amounting to over one billion of dollars, were adjusted for less than $244,000,000. Our claims against the carriers, amounted to approximately $440,000,000, resulted in our collection of nearly $200,000,000. The net result is that the claims against the government have been liquidated on a basis of less than five per cent. All through these operations, you have preserved cordial relations with the railway executives, obtaining their generous co-operation and helping to establish an era of good feeling between the government and the carriers, which are so vital a factor in the nation's life.
"In extending my personal appreciation of your fine service, let me add best
wishes for the future.
"Most sincerely yours,
"Honorable James C. Davis
Director General of Railroads and Agent of the President
Washington, District of Columbia."
This most valuable document is, as before stated, cherished by Mr. Davis,
and it will be handed down to his children as a memorial of the work of their
father and proof of the warm friendship which existed between him and the
chief executive of the country.