From Ohio History Central
Photograph of James E. Campbell taken in April 1922. He served one term as governor of Ohio from 1890 to 1892.
Ohio governor James Edwin Campbell was born in Middletown, Ohio, on July 7, 1843, to Andrew and Laura Reynolds Campbell. Andrew Campbell was a physician and surgeon. James Campbell was the first governor of Ohio whose parents had both been born in the state. He attended the public schools in Middletown and took private lessons with the minister of the Middletown Presbyterian Church. As a young man, he briefly taught school and studied law.
The American Civil War temporarily halted Campbell's education. He joined the United States Navy in the summer of 1863, but he left the service after becoming ill. He returned home to study law once again and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1865. Campbell began his legal practice in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1867. Three years later, he married Libby Owens, and the couple eventually had four children.
Campbell first went into politics in 1875, when he was elected to be Butler County's prosecuting attorney. Although as a young man Campbell had affiliated himself with the Republican Party, he became a member of the Democratic Party in the early 1870s. He remained a Democrat for the rest of his life. In 1882, 1884, and 1886, Campbell successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. He won the 1886 election by only two votes.
In 1889, Campbell decided to run for governor. His opponent was Republican Joseph Foraker. Foraker had already served two terms as governor, and Campbell argued that it would set a bad precedent to elect him to a third. In addition, Campbell claimed that the state government under Foraker was corrupt and needed to be cleaned up. Campbell's campaign slogan was "Home Rule for the Cities of Ohio." The election campaign was strongly contested, and Foraker's supporters attacked Campbell at every turn. Campbell eventually defeated Foraker by more than ten thousand votes. Cincinnati newspaperman Murat Halstead strongly supported Foraker during the campaign. At one point, he made a false claim against Campbell. The claim proved to be a hoax and damaged Foraker's chances for reelection.
As governor, Campbell worked to restore home rule to Ohio cities. At this time, the governor was able to appoint officials to election boards and other positions. This power gave him significant control over Ohio's cities. Campbell believed that the cities should have the right to appoint their own officials. The governor was successful in returning this power to the cities, but in doing so, he angered many members of his own political party. A number of other important laws were passed during Campbell's administration. Ohio became one of the first states to recognize Labor Day as a state holiday, and the state legislature passed other laws that were beneficial to workers. Ohio adopted the Australian or secret ballot for the first time in 1891. Campbell also successfully campaigned for a permanent tax levy to support The Ohio State University.
The Ohio Democratic Party nominated Campbell as its candidate for governor in 1891. Republican candidate William McKinley won the election. The Democrats nominated Campbell to run for governor again in 1895, but he was defeated by Republican Asa S. Bushnell. Campbell did not retire entirely from politics after this election. Between 1907 and 1910, the former governor served on a commission that revised Ohio's code of laws. He returned to his law practice and opened an office in Columbus. Campbell also pursued some business interests in New York City. During World War I, he served as a member of the Ohio Branch of the Council of National Defense.
Campbell died in Columbus on December 17, 1924. He was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.