About Clarence Joseph Morley
Clarence Joseph Morley (1869–1948) was the 24th Governor of Colorado from 1925 to 1927, serving one two-year term. He was a Republican. Before becoming governor he was a judge in Denver, Colorado. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan which was an important force in Colorado politics during the 1920s and largely responsible for the division of the Republican and Democratic votes that enabled him to take office. After office, he was convicted of Mail Fraud and imprisoned.
Clarence Morley, Governor of Colorado in 1925 – 1927, was born in Dyersville, Iowa on February 9, 1869. His public schooling in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was interrupted when his family relocated to Trinidad, Colorado in 1890. It was in Trinidad that Morley began his career in law as an official of the District Court. Five years later Morley attended the law school at Denver University. After nineteen years of private practice and serving on the Denver School Board, Morley was elected District Judge of Denver in 1918. He retained this judicial post until his gubernatorial victory in 1925.
Morley’s political ascent paralleled an anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920's. Proponents of these beliefs found many supporters in the Ku Klux Klan, which in Colorado came under the leadership of the charismatic and persuasive John Galen Locke. Locke focused less on the overt violence and racism that characterized many other Klan groups and more on creating one of the strongest political machines that Colorado had thus far seen. As the Denver Post wrote, "..beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state…" Under Locke’s control, the Klan secured a variety of political seats and gained advantageous alliances, including one with Ben Stapleton, mayor of Denver. Taking advantage of weak leadership in the Republican Party, the Klan promoted Judge Morley as the party’s choice for governor. The primarily conservative voters of Colorado tended to vote for a straight Republican party ticket, and thus also chose the Klan. The Republicans, top-heavy with Klan members, won the 1924 election by a landslide. The Klan instituted Morley as Governor, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship as well as seven benches on the Denver District Court. John Galen Locke’s Ku Klux Klan now seemed to be in control of the Colorado political system.
Morley’s administration was exemplified, however, by a growing dichotomy in the Republican Party. There was also considerable opposition from a small group of democrats, led by future governor Billy Adams, that successfully killed almost all Klan sponsored legislation in committee. In 101 days 1,080 bills were introduced under the statehouse dome. Of those bills, only fifteen percent made it as far as the governor’s pen and only three of those were originally sponsored by Morley. Despite his apparent lack of legislative success, Morley was responsible for ratifying the Colorado River Compact, strengthening prohibition laws, developing a successful inmate labor program, and promoting legislation that allowed the state to carry its own insurance on its public buildings. Thus, while Morley was an active Klansman, his legislative successes had little to do with his special interest group affiliations. His connections to the Klan also failed to make him popular with many Colorado citizens who admonished him for his numerous acts of clemency, and for his development of a police force, that many felt, enforced the prohibition laws too aggressively.
Soon after his administration ended, Morley established C.J. Morley & Company, a stock brokerage firm in Indianapolis, Indiana. After three years in this endeavor, Morley returned to Denver in order to practice law again. His plans were interrupted, however, when he was arrested in 1935 for mail fraud. Specifically, Morley’s Indiana investment firm was accused of knowingly sending false statements through the mail in order to defraud their customers. While he was found not guilty in Colorado, the Federal courts indicted him for twenty-one counts of mail fraud and for using his prestige and past public office connections to defraud his customers. Morley was found guilty on these charges, and was sentenced to Leavenworth Prison for five years. After he completed his prison term, Morley moved to Oklahoma City where he died three years later on November 15, 1948.