About Lee Cruce
Lee Cruce (July 8, 1863 – January 16, 1933) was the second Governor of Oklahoma. Running against Charles N. Haskell in 1907 in the Democratic primaries, Lee would not receive the party's nomination for Oklahoma's first Governor. However, Cruce would later take Haskell's seat once he left office as the second Governor of Oklahoma.
Early life and move to Oklahoma
Lee Cruce was born in the city of Marion in Crittenden County, Kentucky on July 8, 1863. He attended Marion Academy, and subsequently attended Vanderbilt University, receiving a law degree from the latter. Though he passed the Kentucky bar exam in 1887, he did not practice law until he joined his brother’s law firm at Ardmore in Indian Territory in 1891. After ten years of practicing law, Cruce entered the financial world as the first cashier of the Ardmore National Bank, of which he later served as the bank’s president. In 1901, Cruce was elected an alderman in the local government of Ardmore. Through his combined positions of power in the Ardmore National Bank and the movement towards statehood in late 1906, Cruce submitted his name on the Democratic primary for Governor of the newly created state of Oklahoma. The powerful, and popular Charles N. Haskell defeated Cruce for the nomination.
Governor of Oklahoma
Before Governor Haskell's term ended in 1911, Lee once again sought the Democratic nomination for governor. This time Cruce was successful. Defeating his Republican opponent, Cruce stepped in to fill Haskell's vacated office and was inaugurated as the second Governor of Oklahoma on January 9, 1911.
Despite the fact that Haskell and Cruce were both Democrats, that is where the similarities end. Whereas Haskell exercised extensive executive control over the Oklahoma Legislature (mainly through his force of personality), Cruce lost much of the executive power Haskell established. As Governor, Cruce continually struggled for power against the Legislature throughout his term. Despite his lacking Haskell's control, Cruce still managed to complete many projects he initiated. Cruce’s first major success came in the realm of automotives. With the increase in automobiles, the Legislature acted upon Cruce’s commendation and established the Oklahoma Department of Highways in 1911. Roads were improved with funds generated from an annual one-dollar license fee.
Next on the Governor's agenda was to construction of the Oklahoma State Capitol in the State's capitol, which Haskell officially moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City in 1910. Under the supervision of Cruce, the Legislature established the three member State Capitol Commission in 1913. This commission was charged with purchasing land for the Oklahoma’s new State Capitol Building. After purchasing the desired property in downtown Oklahoma City, on July 20, 1914, groundbreaking began. Then on November 16, 1915 (Oklahoma's 8th birthday) the cornerstone was laid in Masonic fashion and construction began.
Believing the State needed to take on a greater moral role, Cruce supported enforcement of blue laws. Through specific legislation, Cruce and the Legislature closed businesses on Sundays, and declared prize fighting, gambling, bootlegging and horseracing illegal. This, combined with Haskell's prohibition plan, proved too much for the State to handle. The Legislature did not possess the funds needed to finance the operations and only ended up shifting funds around from one law enforcement agency to another. Cruce, on numerous occasions, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, called out the state militia to enforce his laws. The most famous of these events occurred when Cruce declared martial law in Tulsa to prevent a horserace from taking place. The race was brought to a halt as shots were fired over the heads of the jockeys.
Much like his desires for a greater morality of the state, Cruce was an avid abolitionist when it came to the use of capital punishment throughout the state. Pioneering the movement to abolish capital punishment, Cruce commuted twenty-two death sentences to life imprisonment and only one execution took place during his administration. Despite this, he did little to prevent lynchings of non-white people, explaining to the NAACP;
There is a race prejudice that exists between the white and Negro races wherever the Negroes are found in large numbers ... Just this week the announcement comes as a shock to the people of Oklahoma that the Secretary of the Interior ... has appointed a Negro from Kansas to come to Oklahoma and take charge of the supervision of the Indian schools of this State. There is no race of people on earth that has more antipathy for the Negro race than the Indian race, and yet these people, numbering many of the best citizens of this State and nation, are to be humbled and their prejudices and passions are to be increased by having this outrage imposed upon them ... If your organization would interest itself to the extent of seeing that such outrages as this are not perpetrated against our people, there would be fewer lynchings in the South than at this time ...
Congressional reapportionments nearly resulted in the downfall of Cruce's administration. In 1912, Cruce vetoed a bill to reapportion the state into eight congressional districts designed to minimize Republican voting strength. This veto as well as the Governor's attempts to abolish some public institutions for economic reasons, led the legislature to investigate the executive branch. As a result, the State Auditor, State Insurance Commissioner, and State Printer were impeached. Cruce himself escaped impeachment in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a single vote, similar to U.S. President Andrew Johnson. (Johnson was impeached, but was acquitted in the Senate by a single vote.)
By the end of his term in 1915, the voters were, for the most part, ready for a change. Looking for a new Governor, the voters looked to Governor Haskell's friend and then Chief Justice of Oklahoma Robert L. Williams. Elected in 1914 following the end of his only term on the Court, Williams became the third Governor of Oklahoma.
Late life and legacy
After Cruce left office, he would continue his career as a lawyer and banker through Oklahoma. In 1930, Cruce was defeated in the primary for the United States Senate losing out to Thomas Gore, one of Oklahoma’s first Senators. Cruce died January 16, 1933, in Los Angeles. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in adoptive hometown of Ardmore.