Charles A. Sprague, Governor

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Charles Arthur Sprague

Birthdate: (82)
Death: 1969 (82)
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Allen Sprague and Alice Caroline Glasgow

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Immediate Family

About Charles A. Sprague, Governor

Charles Arthur Sprague, (November 12, 1887 – March 13, 1969) was the 22nd Governor of the US state of Oregon from 1939 to 1943. He was also the editor and publisher of the Oregon Statesman from 1929 to 1969. Sprague High School in Salem, Oregon is named after him.

He was also distantly related to two Rhode Island Governors, William Sprague III and William Sprague IV.

Early years

Charles Sprague was born in Lawrence, Kansas, as the son of Charles Allen Sprague, a grain-elevator operator, and Caroline Glasgow. He grew up with his brother, Robert Wyatt, in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where he attended public schools and worked for his father. He enrolled at Monmouth College in Illinois and paid his expenses by reporting part-time for regional newspapers. When his income proved inadequate, Sprague took a leave at the end of his sophomore year and spent two years as a high school principal and teacher in Ainsworth, Iowa. On his return to Monmouth, Sprague served as editor of the student newspaper. From then on, he had aspirations to go into journalism. Following his graduation with honors in 1910, Sprague became superintendent of schools in Waitsburg, Washington. Two years later, he married Blanche Chamberlain, the principal of a local grade school; they had two children. Sprague was soon named assistant superintendent of public instruction for the state of Washington.

Becomes a public figure

In 1925 he acquired a one-third interest in the became the business manager of the Corvallis Gazette Times, and four years later, purchased a two-thirds interest in the Oregon Statesman, long the most influential newspaper in the capital city of Salem. For the next forty years, he was its editor and publisher. In 1955 Sprague received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College. Sprague established himself as one of the leading editorialists and public commentators of the Pacific Northwest, and his editorials were often reprinted in some of America's largest newspapers. Sprague gained a national reputation as an articulate spokesman for small-town values, fiscal conservatism, and internationalism. He held control of the paper until his death. A declared Republican, he nonetheless took an independent position on the issues of the time, reflecting a progressive view which was often at odds with leaders of his party.

In 1938 Republicans were hesitant to challenge the Democratic incumbent governor Charles H. Martin, who had strong Republican business support. As a result Sprague easily won the Republican nomination for governor in a field of eight candidates. In the meantime, however, Martin was a New Deal critic and was opposed in his own primary by the Roosevelt administration's choice, State Senator Henry Hess. Taking advantage of the split among the Democrats, Sprague made the administrations' intervention a major campaign theme, urging voters to "repudiate outside interference in local affairs." Martin and his allies campaigned for Sprague. Sprague won decisively, carrying 32 of the 36 counties in the general election, winning 214,062 votes to Hess' 158,744. Republicans also won control of the Oregon State Senate, 21 to 9, and the House, 50 to 10.

Term as governor

As governor, Sprague invoked the populist legacy of George W. Joseph and Julius Meier. With backing from both labor and industry, he moved quickly to improve the state's employment services and launched vocational-training programs to aid the jobless in efforts to lift Oregon out of the Great Depression. He modernized the state school system by pushing through legislation that provided for the consolidation of rural school districts. He reduced the state debt by $12 million and balanced the budget while increasing social welfare services. Sprague helped maintain peace in labor disputes by his forthright opposition to an antipicketing law that was later held to be unconstitutional by the Oregon Supreme Court. He lost the political backing of organized labor, though, as a result of his policy of awarding state contracts to the lowest bidder, whether or not they were union firms.

Republicans expected smooth sailing legislatively and politically. Nevertheless, he vetoed so many special interest bills passed by his fellow Republicans that opponents initiated a recall move. It failed, but Sprague's effectiveness had been reduced.

During Sprague's administration, Oregon became the first state to initiate control over logging operations to insure enforcement of progressive forest practices. These practices included reasonable protection of trees from slash burns, not harvesting immature trees during cutting operations, and retaining some mature trees for seeding purposes. In addition, a state forestry research program was adopted. He also established a forestry research program and obtained authority for the state to acquire abandoned cut over land for replanting. "Wise handling of natural forest lands," he declared, "calls for their consolidation under public ownership except for those lands in the hands of strong private interests capable of carrying them through long growing periods."

The Dictionary of American Biography wrote further, of his term in office:

"In 1940, Sprague chaired the favorite-son presidential bid of Senator Charles L. McNary, but when the Republican National Convention deadlocked in Philadelphia, Sprague helped nominate Wendell L. Wilkie by delivering Oregon's votes on the sixth ballot. He encouraged McNary's selection as Wilkie's running mate, and that fall he campaigned in nine western states for the Republican ticket. In the months before World War II, Sprague cautioned against isolationism and was among the few Republican governors who consistently supported Roosevelt's foreign policy. He endorsed lend-lease aid to Britain early in 1941 and later that year, called for the repeal of the Neutrality Act. While the nation's attention was focused on the hostilities in Europe, Sprague alerted Americans to the threat of imperial Japan. Speaking in Boston at the National Governors Conference in July 1941, he noted that the United States was vulnerable to Japanese aggression. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor five months later, Oregon's aircraft-warning system was already in place. Sprague mobilized the state's war effort, organizing civilian defense units and increasing the size of the National Guard to accommodate local defense battalions.

He was defeated for renomination in the 1942 Republican primary by Secretary of State Earl Snell. "Governor Sprague worked so hard on state problems and had so little time for the small amenities – or perhaps was distrustful of the," the Oregonian observed, "that the result was political defeat." As a private citizen, Sprague remained active in state and civic affairs, serving as president of the Oregon War Chest, which raised more than $1 million for war agencies in 1943. He narrowly lost a special election in 1944 for the United States Senate and never sought another public office. On leaving the governorship, Sprague returned to the Statesman and began writing a daily front-page column called "It Seems to Me", as well as most of the newspapers's editorials on state and national issues. Described by Richard L. Neuberger as "the conscience of Oregon," Sprague was an outspoken defender of civil liberties. using his column as a forum to denounce the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans and the red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1951 he led the opposition that killed a state loyalty oath for teachers. While he maintained a Republican editorial policy, Sprague often crossed party lines to support Democrats. He gave strong editorial support to President Harry Truman in his unpopular firing of Douglas MacArthur for insubordination in the Korean War. In 1952, Truman appointed Sprague as an alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. President Dwight D. Eisenhower named him in 1954 to a three-member national emergency railroad board and in 1955 to a committee on Labor relations in nuclear power plants. Sprague's natural aloofness and reserve were disadvantages in his political career, but he mellowed in later years and was gracious and often witty. a lifelong Presbyterian with what friends referred to as a stern sense of Calvinism, he neither smoked not drank, and his newspaper would not accept advertising for hard liquor. An avid outdoorsman, he climbed the highest mountains of the Pacific Northwest and, in his seventies shot the rapids of the Colorado River. He died in Salem.”


Sprague died on March 13, 1969. Sprague and his wife are interred in Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum, in Salem, Oregon.

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Charles A. Sprague, Governor's Timeline

Age 82