RECOLLECTIONS --James Cooney, Member of Congress

Friday, August 12, 2016

As we are being bombarded with political news, hype and rhetoric, in yet another election season, here is a little known bit of our political history.

James Cooney, a Democrat from Marshall, served three terms as a Member of U.S. Congress in the House of Representatives, from the 7th District 1897-1903. He was denied a fourth nomination by his party in the 1902 primary election.

Cooney, born in County Limerick, Ireland, July 28, 1848, immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 6, where they located near Troy, N.Y. At age 8 he was orphaned. His early life was spent on a farm, and at the age of 18, in 1866, he relocated to Knoxville, Ill., where he attended Knoxville Academy while teaching school. From 1868-1872, he attended "the State University at Columbia, Missouri," teaching at the same time. From 1873-1875, he was high school principal at Sturgeon, in Boone County, during which time he read law. In December 1874, he married Lilly Orme of Sturgeon. Regrettably, she died a few months later in March 1875.

In the fall of 1875, he came to Marshall, was admitted to the bar, and entered the practice of law in partnership with attorney L.W. Scott. From 1876-1880, he was Justice of the Peace of Marshall Township. In 1880, he was elected probate judge.

Information in this paragraph and the previous one came primarily from page 753 of the 1881 Saline County History.

According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Cooney was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Saline County in 1882 and 1884. He was then elected as a Democrat to the 55th, 56th, 57th Congresses -- March 4, 1897-March 3, 1903 -- from the Missouri 7th Congressional District. Following his unsuccessful campaign for re-nomination in 1902, he resumed the practice of law. He died in Marshall, Nov. 16, 1904, and is interred in Ridge Park Cemetery.

James Cooney was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. During one period the church held concerts and put on "home talent plays." In one of these plays, Judge Cooney played the female lead, Mrs. Jolly, in the play, "Mrs. Jolly's Wax Works." The play was so well received locally that it was taken on the road so the folks in Miami could see, "the wonderful production." Since he is identified as Judge, it is presumed that this occurred during or after his term as probate judge, 1880-1882.

Only two other men served in the U.S. Congress Saline County.

Robert Davis Johnson, who was born at Slater, was elected Sept. 29, 1931, to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Representative Samuel C. Major, deceased. He served only until March 3, 1933, as he was defeated in his bid for reelection. He is interred at Ridge Park Cemetery.

George Graham Vest was elected senator from Kansas City in 1879, and served four terms which ended in 1903 because of ill health. In the latter four years of his last term his home address was Sweet Springs, though he was never elected from Saline County. He, no doubt, moved there mid-term for health reasons, as he remained in Sweet Springs until his death Aug. 9, 1904. He is interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis.

This article appeared in the Marshall Writer's Guild book "Notes and Notables of Saline County, 2014." Edward Richards, PhD, is the current president of the guild and author of numerous historical books.