Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission
Carl Bailey was born on October 8, 1894, in Bernie, Missouri, where he lived until the age of seven when the family moved to Campbell, Missouri. He graduated from Campbell High School in 1912, first in his graduating class. Bailey worked at a variety of jobs before marrying Margaret Bristol, a life-long resident of Campbell, in 1915. The union produced five sons and a daughter.
Bailey attended Chillicothe Business College in Missouri, where he completed courses in bookkeeping and accounting. The family returned to Campbell, where he took a job as a deputy tax assessor in Dunklin County. The couple moved to Arkansas in 1917, and over the next few years lived in Weona, Trumann, and Augusta, Arkansas. During this time, Bailey began his law studies, and on February 26, 1923, was licensed to practice law by the Arkansas Supreme Court. That same year the Baileys moved to Little Rock where he served first as assistant secretary of the Arkansas Cotton Growers Association and then as the Arkansas state commissioner of immigration. He began his law practice in November 1925. In 1927 he became a deputy prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District (Pulaski & Perry Counties), serving for four years under Boyd Cypert. In 1931 he succeeded Cypert and served as prosecuting attorney until 1935. The case which garnered him the most notoriety was the prosecution of A.B. Banks, the president of the American Trust Company of Little Rock, the state's largest bank, which collapsed in 1930, bringing sixty-six other banks down with it. Bailey won the case, but the judge sentenced Banks to only one year and the governor promptly pardoned him. Already a political outsider, the young prosecutor had managed to alienate some of the most powerful Democrats in Arkansas.
Nevertheless Bailey decided in 1934 to challenge Hal Norwood, the incumbent attorney general and surprised many by winning. As attorney general, Bailey was not only an enthusiastic proponent of social welfare but he also made the critical ruling which helped exempt the new sales tax from the three-fourths legislative majority imposed by the state constitution that was required to raise previously existing state taxes. Bailey served as Attorney General of Arkansas until 1937.
In 1936 Bailey was handed a public relations bonanza when the famous gangster "Lucky" Luciano was arrested at Hot Springs. New York "crime buster" Thomas Dewey appealed to Bailey to take Luciano into state custody. This Bailey did, reporting at the time that one of Luciano's associates had offered him a $50,000 bribe. Luciano was returned to New York and subsequently deported. The infamy of the Luciano affair propelled Bailey into the 1936 gubernatorial primary which he won by a plurality of less than 32% of the vote, since election laws at that time did not require a run-off election.
Six months into Bailey's first term, Senator Joe T. Robinson died. The state Democratic committee, which Bailey controlled, nominated him to succeed Robinson. The Robinson wing of the party, led by Internal Revenue Collector Homer Adkins, quickly convinced John E. Miller to oppose Bailey by running as an independent. Miller's victory formally sparked a feud between Adkins and Bailey that had been smoldering for some time and would continue into the next decade.
Bailey feared for his political life during his 1938 reelection bid, but Adkins and the New Dealers made no attempt to run a serious candidate against him and concentrated instead on re-electing Hattie Caraway, who faced a serious challenge from the younger and more conservative congressman John L. McClellan.
Once restored to a second term, Bailey sought retribution against Adkins's cronies, Floyd Sharp and the WPA, headquartered at the Old State House, but to no avail. In other matters Bailey proved an able governor. He was the first governor in the South to institute civil service procedures in state hiring and he effectively reorganized many state agencies to take full advantage of the programs of the New Deal.
In 1940 Adkins announced his candidacy for governor. Bailey, who could not resist the challenge of facing his nemesis head-on, ran for a third term. Adkins won by 31,500 votes.
Bailey stayed active in politics and continued to wield some influence. In 1944, J. William Fulbright, a congressman and former president of the University of Arkansas, who was fired by Governor Adkins in a political power play, ran against Adkins for a U.S. Senate seat in 1944. Bailey supported Fulbright, who won over Adkins and two other opponents.
After his service as governor, Bailey resumed his law practice and founded the Carl Bailey Company, an International Harvester franchise, which sold innovative farming machinery. Bailey died on October 23, 1948.
Next: Homer M. Adkins