Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Davidson, James O. 1854 - 1922

Davidson, James O. 1854 - 1922 | Wisconsin Historical Society

politician, governor, b. Sogn, Norway. He migrated to the U.S. in 1872, and in 1877 settled in Soldiers Grove, where he began a successful mercantile business. A Republican, he was state assemblyman (1893-1898), and in the assembly became identified with the La Follette Progressive Republicans in the anti-railroad pass fight. With his Norwegian background and progressive inclinations, Davidson rose rapidly in the ranks of the La Follette Republicans. He was Wisconsin state treasurer (1899-1903), and in 1902 was elected lieutenant governor as the running mate of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (q.v.). Re-elected to this office in 1904, he served from Jan., 1903, until Jan. 1, 1906. When La Follette resigned the governorship to take his seat in the U.S. Senate, Davidson became governor (Jan. 1, 1906), but in the Republican gubernatorial primary held in September of the same year, La Follette threw his support to Irvine L. Lenroot (q.v.). Davidson, feeling that his loyalty to Progressivism had been betrayed, appealed to the Norwegian vote and captured the nomination. In 1908 he was renominated without opposition and in 1910 declined to be a candidate. During Governor Davidson's administration (Jan. 1906-Jan. 1911), much of the progressive program was implemented. State control was extended over the issuing of stocks by private corporations and the power of the state railroad commission was increased so that virtually all public utilities were brought within its supervision. The two-cent-per-mile railroad fare bill was enacted, and Davidson also supported the state income tax and laws providing for stricter regulation of insurance companies. After leaving office, the breach between Davidson and La Follette grew increasingly wider, and he eventually joined forces with more conservative Republicans, such as Isaac Stephenson (q.v.), Emanuel Philipp (q.v.), and William Howard Taft. He served on the state board of control under appointment from Governor Philipp (1915-1919). Who's Who in Amer., 12 (1922); E. B. Usher, Wis. (8 vols., Chicago, 1914); R. S. Maxwell, La Follette and the Rise of the Progressives [Madison, 1956]; Madison Wis. State Journal, Dec. 17, 1922; J. O. Davidson Papers.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the James O. Davidson Papers for details.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

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[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]