Lancaster’s Forgotten Presidential Candidate: Prohibitionist James Black

James Buchanan wasn’t Lancaster’s only Presidential candidate. Another (but considerably less successful) was the Honorable James Black. In addition to participating in the creation of the Republican Party, he was a temperance movement leader, founder of the Prohibition Party in 1869, and its first presidential nominee in the 1872 election.

Honorable James Black

Black was born on September 23, 1823, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the son of John Black and Jane Egbert Black. Thirteen years later, in 1836, the family moved to Lancaster, which would remain his hometown for the rest of his life. Black also had a residence in Fulton Township, Pennsylvania.

As a child, he worked in a sawmill on the Conestoga from 1836 to 1837. When he was 16 years old, Black became a member of the engineering corp completing the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal in 1839, running from Columbia to Harve de Grace. At this young age, Black had a formative experience with alcohol. One night, he became intoxicated with several of the canal workers. Upon sobering up, he was so ashamed that he “prayed God to preserve him from another such humiliation” and forever abstained from alcohol.

Circa 1836 Map & Profile of the Canal From Columbia to Tide as located by E.F. Gay Engineer.

From that moment on, Black became a crusader against such behavior. It is reasonable to assume he was a bit of a buzz kill while attending the Lewisburg Academy from 1841 to 1843. LOL! In 1844, Black began the study of law, passing the Pennsylvania bar exam in 1846 and setting up a legal practice in Lancaster, PA.

In 1845, he married Eliza Murray and would later have six children with her.

Black was busy in 1854 because, while initially a Democrat, he actively helped to create the Republican Party. Later, Black served as a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention, where he voted to give John C. Frémont the Republican nomination.

Black was actively involved in establishing the Good Templars, a temperance organization. In addition, he co-founded the “National Temperance Society and Publication House” with Neal Dow, another pioneering temperance leader. In its first 60 years, the publishing house printed over one billion pages. It published three monthly periodicals with a combined circulation of about 600,000. It also published over 2,000 books, pamphlets, textbooks, flyers, broadsides, and other temperance materials.

Black was one of the 26 who, in 1869, organized the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association at Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Fun Fact: Ocean Grove is still a dry town today – no bars or liquor stores.

Also, in 1869, Black and several friends founded the Prohibition Party in Chicago, Illinois, with Black serving as president of the convention. Three years later, he was selected to run as the party’s first presidential candidate. However, Black had a poor showing in the 1872 general election receiving only 5,607 votes and zero electoral votes. 

From 1876 to 1880, he served as the National Prohibition committee chairman.

On December 16, 1893, Black died of pneumonia at his 323 N. Duke Street, Lancaster, PA home (now the Iris Club) at age 70. He is buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster.

The Prohibition Party continues today and successfully achieved alcohol prohibition in the United States from 1919 to 1933. In fact, the Prohibition Party is the oldest living third party in the United States. According to the Prohibition Party website, they have, for over 150 years, “worked to advance social and political reforms aimed at protecting life, advancing public well-being, promoting good governance, and upholding ethical public service.”

Raise a glass (of water ) to the honorable James Black, Lancaster’s forgotten presidential candidate!

Adventure Awaits!

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Purchase a beautiful reproduction map of Fulton Township or Lancaster County, PA.


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