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John Middleton Clayton (October 13, 1840 – January 29, 1889) was an American politician who served as a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives for Jefferson County from 1871 to 1873 and the Arkansas State Senate for Jefferson County. In 1888, he ran for Congressman but lost to Clifton R. Breckinridge. Clayton challenged the results and was assassinated in 1889 during the challenge to the election. He was declared the winner of the election posthumously. The identity of his assassin remains unknown.

John M. Clayton
John M. Clayton of Arkansas.jpg
John Middleton Clayton
United States House of Representatives
Personal details
Born(1840-10-13)October 13, 1840
Bethel Township, Pennsylvania
DiedJanuary 29, 1889(1889-01-29) (aged 48)
Conway County, Arkansas, U.S.
Resting placeBellwood Cemetery
Political partyRepublican

He was the brother of Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator Powell Clayton, President Judge of the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Pennsylvania Thomas J. Clayton and twin-brother to U.S. Attorney W.H.H. Clayton.

Early lifeEdit

Clayton was born on a farm in Bethel Township, Pennsylvania to John and Ann Glover Clayton.[1] The Clayton family was descended from early Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania. Clayton's ancestor William Clayton emigrated from Chichester, England, was a personal friend of William Penn, one of nine justices who sat at the Upland Court in 1681, and a member of Penn's Council.[2]

At birth, Clayton was named John Tyler Clayton by his father who was a strong Whig party supporter. However, after the death of President William Henry Harrison and what he described as "John Tyler's treacherous abandonment of the party", Clayton's father renamed him John Middleton Clayton.[3]

During the Civil War, he served as a Colonel[4] in the Army of the Potomac where he engaged in several campaigns in the east. In 1867, he and his family moved to Arkansas where he managed a plantation owned by older brother, Powell Clayton, who would become the Governor of Arkansas the next year.[4]


In 1871, Clayton was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives representing Jefferson County. In 1873, he served in the Arkansas Senate representing Jefferson, Bradley, Grant and Lincoln Counties, also serving as Speaker of the Senate pro tempore for part of his term. He served on the first board of trustees of Arkansas Industrial University, today the University of Arkansas, when it was chartered in 1871. Two years later, Clayton helped Pine Bluff, Arkansas secure the Branch Normal College, today the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Clayton became involved in the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874 which was fought over the disputed election for the governor's office between Joseph Brooks and Elisha Baxter. Clayton, a supporter of Brooks', raised troops in Jefferson County and marched them to Little Rock, Arkansas where they fought Baxter supporters. He remained loyal to Brooks to the end of the conflict when President Ulysses S. Grant declared Baxter the rightful governor.

Clayton remained involved in Arkansas politics in the years after Reconstruction. With the support of black Republican voters, he became sheriff of Jefferson County in 1876, being reelected to five successive, two year terms. In 1888, he ran to represent Arkansas's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, going up against incumbent Democrat Clifton R. Breckinridge. The election became one of the most fraudulent in Arkansas' history. Clayton lost the election by a narrow margin of 846 out of over 34,000 votes cast. However, in one case in Conway County, four masked and armed white men stormed into a predominantly black voting precinct and, at gunpoint, stole the ballot box that contained a large majority of votes for Clayton. Losing under such circumstances, Clayton decided to contest the election and went to Plumerville, Arkansas to start an investigation on the matter. On the evening of January 29, 1889, an unknown assailant shot through the window to the room he was staying in at a local boardinghouse and killed him instantly. He was later declared the winner of the election and Breckinridge was unseated and the seat declared vacant. His assassin was never found.

Personal lifeEdit

Clayton married Sarah Ann and together they had six children. Clayton is interred in Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.[5]


  1. ^ Goodley, George Walter (1987). Bethel Township Delaware County, Pennsylvania Thru Three Centuries. p. 63.
  2. ^ Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Volume 6. Philadelphia. 1917. pp. 12–13. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  3. ^ Clayton, Thomas Jefferson (1892). Rambles and Reflections. Chester, Pennsylvania: Press of the Delaware County Republican. p. 408. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Barnes, Kenneth C. (1998). Who Killed John Clayton? Political Violence and the Emergence of the New South, 1861-1863. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 60. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  5. ^ "John Middleton Clayton". Retrieved 8 September 2018.

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