Ollie Murray James

A Renowned Kentucky Senator

Senator Ollie James remained steadfast in his belief that "Liberty will be safe and Americanism secure" even during the dark days of World War I.

Ollie Murray James was born in Marion, Kentucky in 1871. After serving as a Page at the state legislature as a teenager, James decided to enter law and politics. Eventually, he became an important voice, first in state and later in national political affairs. He reached the pinnacle of his career during the 1910s, earning election to the United States Senate and becoming a staunch ally of President Woodrow Wilson until James’ death in 1918.

Before entering the national political fray, James established a successful legal career in Kentucky. He was part of the legal effort to challenge the validity of gubernatorial election results that declared Republican William S. Taylor the victor in 1899. In the end, his efforts helped to swing that contest to Democrat ill-fated William Goebel who died from an assassin’s bullets days into his term. As a rising star of the state Democratic Party, James was subsequently elected to the United States House of Representatives from western Kentucky in 1902, where he served until 1913. He was then elected to the Senate by the state legislature in a vote of 105 to 38 over Republican Edwin P. Morrow. James supported two ground breaking constitutional amendments, in favor of the direct election of Senators by popular vote and permitting Congress to levy a national income tax.

James played important roles in the national Democratic Party as well. He headed the Kentucky delegations to the National Democratic Conventions in Chicago in 1896, in Kansas City in 1900, in St. Louis in 1904, and in Denver in 1908. He served as Chairman of the conventions of 1912 in Baltimore and 1916 in St. Louis, which nominated and re-nominated Woodrow Wilson for President. While James toed the party line during the 1916 election cycle, emphasizing the pro-Wilson slogan “He kept us out of war,” he quickly transitioned to defending the Wilson’s administration’s conduct in the conflict once the U.S. entered the fight.

James supported U.S. participation in the war as a means of securing both “liberty” and “Americanism.” Yet, the heat of hostilities did not blind him to the danger of overheated rhetoric turned against segments of the American population, at least in the case of the German-American residents of Kentucky, who he defended as American as their neighbors. In his final speech before his untimely death, James predicted that “The day will come, in the providence of God, when our victorious American army will come back home in triumph and march down the same great avenue, panoplied with flowers, and with the tears of love and pride surrounding them by all of our people, they will pass in review before Woodrow Wilson, whom not only America but the civilized world trusts in this hour."

Historical Marker #668 was dedicated in his honor in 1964.