James Clark was the second of six members of the Whig Party (the party of Henry Clay) to serve between 1834 and 1851. Prior to his election as Governor in 1836, Clark had served as a Court of Appeals Judge, Circuit Judge, State Senator and in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A native of Virginia(where he was born in 1779), Clark grew up near Winchester in Clark County.
He was appointed to the KY Court of Appeals in 1810 and served until his election to the U.S. Congress in 1813. He resigned from Congress to become a Circuit Judge for Clark and Bourbon Counties. A post in which he rendered the controversial decision in Williams v. Blair which declared a law which allowed debtors to be relieved of their debts by a moritorium on debt repayments. This legislation had been passed by the KY legislature in response to the "Panic of 1819". Because of his decision, the legislature voted 59 to 35 for his removal as Circuit Judge. However, as there was not a two-thirds majority in favor of removal Clark was able to stay on as judge.
When Henry Clay resigned his House seat in 1825 to become Secretary of State in the administration of John Quincy Adams, James Clark ran in the special election and was again elected to Congress where he served until 1831.It has been said that Clark's service in the U.S. Congress was unremarkable.
In 1832, Clark was elected to the Kentucky State Senate where he did serve with some distinction. He chaired the Committee on Internal Improvements which was involved in stimulating road building in Kentucky. In 1835, he became "speaker" of the Senate when Lt. Gov. Morehead became governor.
As Governor, Clark supported legislation during the first session of his term which created a state board of education, a state superintendent of public instruction and public schools in each county of the Commonwealth.
During the second session of the legislature in 1838, he supported a law which added a second (2nd) auditor to the State Auditor's office. He also proposed legislation which would have prohibited the distribution of abolitionist "writings" within the state. This legislation was defeated as being an infringement on "freedom of speech". The legislature did pass laws providing penalties for harboring fugitive or runaway slaves. One such law made it illegal for stage coach drivers to carry fugitive slaves.
Clark died on August 27, 1839 with less than a year on his term. He had survived two wives--Susan Forsythe with whom he had four children; They were married in July 1809 and she died in 1825. In 1829, he married Margaret Buckner Thornton a widow while in Washington. She died in August 1836, within days of Clark's election as Governor.
Governor James Clark
The new Judicial Center in Winchester was named after Gov. Clark.