James M. Bell

Stories of Guernsey county by Wm. Wolfe Page 675-676

An early Attorney and Politician

     James M. Bell a Prominent Citizen.—There are very few persons in Guernsey county today, perhaps, who ever heard of James M. Bell.  For a period of thirty years he was one of the leading citizens of Cambridge, an outstanding attorney and politician, and an enthusiastic supporter of every movement to advance the welfare of town and county.

     He was the only Guernsey county man ever elected to serve five terms in the lower house of the state legislature, and one of two Guernsey county men to be chosen speaker of that body.  Although this was in the days when a term in the legislature was one year instead of two, as at present, he, nevertheless, came before the people for election five times, and that he was always successful showed him to be either an able statesman or a clever politician—or both. He was the first Guernsey county man to be elected to Congress.

     James M. Bell was born in Huntingdon county, Pennsylvania, in 1796.  Having studied law in Steubenville, Ohio, he was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-one.  In 1818 he came to Cambridge where he lived until his death which occurred in 1849.

     First Master of Guernsey Lodge No. 66.—Interested in giving Cambridge youth a better education than the district school with its limited curriculum of the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic afforded, he assisted in establishing an academy here, and became one of its first directors.  This was in 1838.  In 1832 Mr. Bell took a leading part in a movement to establish the first public library in Cambridge, and when an organization was effected, he became its first president.  Having become a Mason before locating in Cambridge, he helped to organize a lodge here and he became its first master.  This lodge was established in 1822 and chartered as Guernsey Lodge No. 66.

     As an outstanding attorney Mr. Bell had an extensive practice.  His excellent business qualifications, quick perception and ability for profound thinking were qualities that enabled him to succeed in his profession.  He was an eloquent and convincing speaker.  It was only natural that, with such qualifications, he would be sought as a political leader. 

     A Whig in Politics.—In politics James M. Bell was a Whig.  He was elected to represent Guernsey county in the lower house of the state legislature in 1826, and for the four succeeding terms.  This is a record that has never been equaled by another Guernsey county state representative. Isaac Grummond served four terms in early days, but they were not consecutive. Honor was brought to Guernsey county  in 1830 when James M. Bell was chosen speaker of the lower house. Only one other Guernsey county man has thus been honored—Freeman T. Eagleson who was chosen speaker for the term of 1904-1906.

     Elected to Congress.—In 1832 Mr. Bell was a candidate for Congress against William Kennon, of Belmont county.  Guernsey county was then located in the Eleventh district of which Belmont was a part. Andrew Jackson was the Democratic candidate for the presidency that year against Henry Clay, a Whig.  While the Guernsey county voters gave Jackson a majority, they cast such a large vote for Bell as to enable him to win over Kennon who was a candidate for a second term.  Two years later Kennon defeated Bell.

     Following his term in congress Mr. Bell devoted his time to the practice of law in Cambridge.  He was familiarly known as “General” Bell, having been an officer in the Ohio militia.  At the time of his death he was only fifty-three years old.

     Mr. Bell’s wife was the daughter of Wyatt Hutchinson, one of the pioneer tavern keepers of Cambridge.  A daughter of Mr. Bell became the wife of Dr. W. V. Milligan, long-time pastor of the Presbyterian church.



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