By D. A. Richardson
Judge Charles Bismark Ames died at his summer home near Meredith, New Hampshire, on July 21, 1935. Although he was born a Mississippian and died a resident of New York, during nearly thirty years of his early manhood and mature age he was an honored citizen of Oklahoma. The evidences of his useful life here are yet around and about us, his last resting place is with us, and we claim him as our own.
From his arrival in Oklahoma City in 1899 until he established his residence in New York in 1928, Judge Ames was active and outstanding not only in the legal profession and the business world but also in whatever tended to the educational, cultural, religious and material advancement of his city and state. He was a learned and able lawyer and the legal guide of many large business concerns, but he never permitted his interests and activities to be bounded by his profession. He was more than a great lawyer. He was an able executive, a cultured gentleman, and a civic-minded and forward-looking citizen.
He was born of a distinguished family, in Macon, Mississippi, on August 1, 1870. His was a compound of the best blood of New England and the old South. His father, Charles Bingle Ames, was a great nephew of Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, famous orator and statesman of the Revolutionary period; and was also a nephew of Bishop Ames of the Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother was a sister of General James Longstreet, famous as an able and daring Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army, and she was also a niece of August B. Longstreet, once president of the University of Mississippi.
Judge Ames completed his academic education at Emory and Henry College, graduating from that institution in 1890 with the degree of B. S., and he received his legal education in the University of Mississippi, from which he graduated in 1892 with the degree of LL. B. He then entered the practice of law in Mississippi and carried it on there with success for nearly five years.
During that time he married Miss Pearl Allen, a cultured and talented lady whose grace and charm made his home a happy and delightful one during the remainder of his life, and who now survives him.
Considering that the rapidity with which the West was developing would give him there greater opportunities in his profession than were possible in the older agricultural states, in 1897 he and his wife moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he practiced law for two years; and in 1899 they moved to Oklahoma City in the then Oklahoma Territory, and there made their home during all but the last few years of his remaining life. He soon became eminent among the leaders of the Oklahoma bar, and he easily maintained that eminence during the remainder of his professional career. He was successively a member of the law firms of Howard & Ames, Flynn & Ames, and Ames, Chambers, Lowe & Richardson. His membership in any law firm assured it a large volume of important business. He assisted in the organization of many of the business institutions which are rendering valuable services in Oklahoma today, and he was the legal counsellor of many of the largest organizations, both foreign and domestic, which did business in this state.
Judge Ames believed it the duty of every citizen to interest himself and take a part in his government and therefore in politics; and so, while he never became a candidate for public office, his voice was heard and his influence was exerted in every campaign in behalf of the persons and policies deemed by him most likely to promote the general good. He knew when he arrived in Oklahoma City that in a few years Oklahoma and Indian Territories would be admitted into the Union as a state or states; and soon the question whether they should be admitted as separate states or as a single state became a burning issue. Believing that it would require the combined territory, population and resources of both to form a state comparable in size and taxable wealth with the other states in this section of the Union and capable of performing its functions without overburdening its citizens, Judge Ames early espoused the cause of single statehood, and he was active and ardent in his advocacy of it. In 1902, three years after he arrived in the Territory, he was made
chairman of the resolutions committee of the Democratic Territorial Convention, held at Enid, and he wrote the platform which embodied a plank favoring single statehood. In 1904, though he was not a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, he was nevertheless influential in procuring a similar plank to be inserted in the national platform. In the next year, a Territorial Joint Statehood Convention, composed of delegates from both Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, was held in Claremore. It adopted a resolution prepared by Judge Ames in favor of single statehood, and transmitted the same to Senator Beveridge, then chairman of the Committee on Territories in the United States Senate, who caused it to be incorporated in the Congressional Record. Later, another Territorial Joint Statehood Convention, attended by more than a thousand people, was held in Oklahoma City, and again Judge Ames prepared and introduced a resolution favoring single statehood. The Convention adopted it enthusiastically, and sent him to Washington as one of the delegates to present it and urge the admission of the two territories as one state. Ben Tillman of South Carolina, then one of the ablest and most influential democrats in the United States Senate, had strongly favored the admission of the two territories as separate states, and Judge Ames felt that single statehood would be impossible of attainment over Senator Tillman's opposition. He therefore procured an interview with the Senator and argued the question out with him, urging that each of the territories supplemented the other, that neither was large enough in territory or population or wealthy enough adequately to perform alone the functions of a state, that the majority of the people in each territory favored single statehood, and finally, that the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis had committed the party to that plan. Judge Ames' other arguments were cogent, but it was probably the reference to the action of the National Democratic Convention which carried the day. Senator Tillman was finally induced to give the single statehood plan his support and Congress passed the Oklahoma Enabling Act.
During all that time and for several years thereafter Judge Ames was actively engaged in carrying on a large and lucrative law practice. In 1911, however, the Oklahoma, Legislature, for the purpose of assisting the Supreme Court of Oklahoma which
was behind in its work, created to endure for two years a Supreme Court Commission of six members to be appointed by the Supreme Court, one from each of the five Supreme Court judicial districts of the State and one from the State at large. The Commission was to sit in two divisions, each of which was to hear and determine appeals and write opinions therein which were to become effective upon their adoption by the Supreme Court. The Court appointed Judges Ames as the member of the Commission from the State at large, and made him Presiding Judge of Division No. 1. Although his acceptance of the appointment would require that he forego a practice which brought him fees running into tens of thousands of dollars a year in lieu of which he would receive a salary of only $3600 per annum, Judge Ames accepted the appointment and held the office for two years. When a friend remonstrated against his forsaking his exceptionally profitable practice and accepting a judicial appointment at a salary comparatively insignificant, he said that he felt that he owed that service to the State and to his profession, and that, because he owed it and was able to render it, he had made up his mind to do so. His opinions are notable for their sound legal learning and the orderliness of their arrangement, and are models of brevity, clearness and force.
Retiring from the Commission in 1913, he returned to the practice of law in the firm of Ames, Chambers, Lowe & Richardson. When we entered the World War he was active in the work of the Council of Defense, and when the Food Administration was established he was appointed Federal Food Administrator in Oklahoma. Thereupon he took an office in the State Capitol Building and there spent a large portion of each day and sometimes the entire day and a part of the night, at a salary of $1 a year. He was also active in all the Liberty Loan drives.
Judge Ames had been associated with A. Mitchell Palmer in some litigation in Oklahoma, and the latter conceived such an opinion of him that, when Palmer was appointed Attorney General of the United States in 1919, he solicited Judge Ames to accept the position of The Assistant to the Attorney General, which Judge Ames at first declined. General Palmer was insistent, however, and by continual urging he finally induced Judge Ames
to accept the appointment, which he held for approximately a year and a half. During that time he argued many cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, notably the anti-trust case of the United States against the United States Steel Company, which he lost by a divided court; and in the United States District Court in Indiana he tried the case against the United Mine Workers of America and procured an injunction against their calling and maintaining a nation-wide strike, thereby rendering a great service both to the nation and to the United Mine Workers themselves.
He returned to Oklahoma City and resumed his law practice in 1920. His firm had been attorneys for The Texas Company in Oklahoma for a number of years, and Judge Ames had come into intimate contact with the president of that company, who esteemed his executive and legal abilities so highly that he tendered him the position of General Counsel for the company, which Judge Ames accepted and which took him to New York. He continued as General Counsel until November, 1925, when he resigned and returned to Oklahoma City. There he resumed his practice of law and his interest in civic affairs.
The tracks of the Rock Island Railway Company and of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company ran through the business section of Oklahoma City, interfered with and congested traffic on several of the principal streets, rendered an important portion of the city an eye-sore and retarded its growth and development. The city had been endeavoring for some years to induce the railway companies to remove their tracks and stations from their then locations and to build their stations and route their tracks south of the business section, but without success. The city had been unwise enough to take the position that it could compel the railway companies to, and that they should, abandon their rights-of-way and stations and acquire and construct new ones without being compensated for the property abandoned. When Judge Ames returned in 1927, negotiations were at a deadlock. The City demanded the removal of the tracks as nuisances and the railway companies refused to remove them.
Judge Ames had long known that the relocation of the railway tracks was necessary for the city's growth and the convenience of its inhabitants; but he also knew that the railway companies could not be compelled uncompensated to give up their rights-of-way lawfully acquired and acquire new ones. He therefore arranged to bring together in a succession of conferences representatives of the railway companies and the officers and representative citizens of the city, in which conferences he was the composing and guiding spirit. The result was an agreement whereby the city engaged to purchase the rights-of-way at a reasonable agreed price, and the railways to relocate their tracks and build their stations south of the business section of the city. That agreement was carried out; the city speedily voted the necessary bonds, the rights-of-way were purchased, and the railway companies rerouted their tracks and erected a new modern and commodius union station. Now the old Rock Island and Frisco rights-of-way are about to become a civic center on which are to be constructed an auditorium, a city hall and a new county court house, all modern and beautiful in design, and the remainder is to be used as a park. By the generation that knew Judge Ames and the constructive part which he played in making that civic center possible those buildings will be visioned as monuments to him. In 1927, because of the many services which he had rendered to Oklahoma City, culminating in the removal of the railways' tracks, Judge Ames was formally named Oklahoma City's Most Useful Citizen.
In 1928 Judge Ames was induced to return to The Texas Company, and he was a member of the board of directors and of the executive committee and an active vice-president of that company until 1932, when he was elected president of The American Petroleum Institute. He served in the latter capacity until May, 1933, when he was elected chairman of the board of The Texas Company, in which position he continued until his death.
He had and deserved many honors. He was a delegate to the Universal Congress of Lawyers and Jurists in St. Louis in 1904. He was a delegate from the Methodist Episcopal Church South to the Ecumenical Methodist Conference in Toronto in 1911 and again in London in 1921. He was president of The Oklahoma
State Bar Association in 1916, and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920. In 1924 Emory and Henry College conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D.
He is survived by his wife, and by his daughter, Mrs. J. L. Cleveland, Jr., of New York City, and by four sons, Ben Allen Ames and Fisher Ames of Oklahoma City, Longstreet Ames of Richmond, Virginia, and Charles Ames of Port Arthur, Texas.
Judge Ames loved his State and Nation with patriotic fervor and he earnestly strove for their advancement and well being. In politics he was a Democrat of the Jefferson school. He believed in the Constitution of the United States, and he believed that only by maintaining its limitations and guaranties could democracy be prevented from degenerating into mobocracy and liberty be preserved. He considered that the only legitimate function of government is to govern, — to preserve peace and order, prevent fraud, dishonesty and oppression, and to protect the citizens in their lives, liberty and property — and that all private business should be carried on solely by the citizens and not by the government. He believed that every department of government should respect the Constitution, and that, if new powers or limitations are found necessary, they should be provided for in an orderly manner by constitutional amendment. He knew that limitations upon the powers of government and their observance are indispensable to the liberty of the citizen; and, when he saw during the last few years what he considered to be willful violations of the limitations contained in our Constitution committed by the very officers of government who were sworn to observe, protect and defend it — the assumption by the United States of powers and duties reserved solely to the states, the curtailment of personal liberty, the oppressive interference with private business, and the extortion under the guise of taxation of money from one citizen for the avowed purpose of giving it to another — he was saddened and was disturbed by misgivings lest we were fatally wounding the Constitution and perpetuating our distress. Referring to Macaulay's statement in 1857 that our Constitution was "all sail and no anchor," he said that that statement was not true when made, but that by amendments, misconstructions and tolerated violations of the Constitution we were rapidly tending to make it so.
Judge Ames was quiet and unassuming. He detested pretense. He loved his home, his family and his friends, and they loved him. He was never happier than when surrounded by the members of his family or by a group of his friends. He was an entertaining conversationalist and a genial and gracious host. His charm was in his intellectuality, his good humor, his plainness of manner and his frankness and friendliness. He made no pretense to eloquence, but he was always logical and forceful. He thought straight and spoke clearly, and he never jumped at conclusions. When he essayed to speak, he knew what he was talking about and spoke as though he did. He was kindly and tolerant, but when the occasion required he had the manly capacity of feeling and vigorously expressing a righteous indignation. He liked clean sports—baseball, football and golf, and was one of the charter members and a past president of Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.
Even after Judge Ames took up his residence in New York in 1928 he maintained his interest in the welfare of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City. He kept informed of the happenings here, and readily and willingly assisted in our civic enterprises both with his advice and with his purse. In heart axed soul he continued an Oklahoman, and so Oklahoma, with just pride in his character and achievements, claims and mourns him as her son.