William Bourke Cockran

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William Bourke Cockran
William Bourke Cockran NY.jpg
Cockran at C. M. Bell's studio
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 16th congressional district
In office
March 4, 1921 – March 1, 1923
Preceded byThomas F. Smith
Succeeded byJohn J. O'Connor
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 12th congressional district
In office
February 23, 1904 – March 3, 1909
Preceded byGeorge B. McClellan Jr.
Succeeded byMichael F. Conry
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 3, 1895
Preceded byJoseph J. Little
Succeeded byGeorge B. McClellan Jr.
In office
March 4, 1887 – March 3, 1889
Preceded byAbraham Dowdney
Succeeded byRoswell P. Flower
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 10th congressional district
In office
November 3, 1891 – March 3, 1893
Preceded byFrancis B. Spinola
Succeeded byDaniel E. Sickles
Personal details
BornFebruary 28, 1854
County Sligo, Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
DiedMarch 1, 1923 (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic Party

William Bourke Cockran (February 28, 1854 – March 1, 1923), commonly known as Bourke Cockran, was an Irish-American politician. His name sometimes appears as Burke Cochran in contemporary newspaper reports. He served as a United States Representative from New York City. He switched parties four times, but is best known as a Democrat. He was an leading orator of the late 19th and early 20th century, and an important influence on British statesman Winston Churchill, who noted that Cockran was a pacifist and capitalist, who vigorously fought against socialists, silver inflationists and advocates of high tariffs.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Carrowkeel, County Sligo, Ireland, he was educated in France and in his native country, and emigrated to the United States when seventeen years of age. He was a teacher in a private academy and principal of a public school in Westchester County, New York. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1876, and practiced in Mount Vernon, New York; two years later, he moved to New York City and continued the practice of law. A devout Roman Catholic, he became deeply involved in support of Irish nationalism.[2]


William Bourke Cockran photographed by C. M. Bell Studio

Beginning in 1886, Cockran, a Democrat, was a frequent candidate for the US House of Representatives and won several times; he served a number of non-consecutive terms. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1884, 1892, 1904, and 1920. At the 1920 convention, he delivered the nominating speech for Al Smith.[3]

Cockran was a member of the commission to revise the judiciary article of the New York Constitution in 1890. Cockran publicly broke with his party in 1896, opposing the Free Silver platform of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Cockran campaigned instead for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, which helped bring Gold Democrats over to McKinley's winning coalition.

In 1900, Cockran returned to the Democratic Party, supporting Bryan's second presidential campaign. Cockran returned to Congress in 1904 after he won a special election to fill the seat of George B. McClellan Jr., who had resigned to become mayor of New York City. He served his final years, 1921–1923, as a congressman, dying in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Cockran, a friend of Britain's Churchill family and reputed one-time lover of Jennie Churchill, introduced her 20-year-old son, Winston Churchill, to American high society during Churchill's first trip to New York in 1895. Years later, Churchill credited Cockran as his first political mentor and the chief role model for his own success as an orator. Churchill wrote in the 1930s that Cockran was, "A pacifist, individualist, democrat, capitalist, and a 'Gold-bug'....He was equally opposed to socialists, inflationist, and Protectionists, and he resisted them on all occasions." Churchill never became a pacifist but he did adopt all the rest of Cockran's stances during his own political career, and carefully read and reread his speeches for oratorical advice. [4] Churchill quoted Cockran in his 1946 "Iron Curtain speech" recalling: “words which I learned 50 years ago from a great Irish-American orator, a friend of mine, Mr Bourke Cockran: ‘There is enough for all. The earth is a generous mother. She will provide, in plentiful abundance, food for all her children, if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace.’” [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018) p 35.
  2. ^ Eoin Butler, "The Irish orator who taught Winston Churchill how to win a crowd. Irish Times February 17, 2017, 15:5]
  3. ^ James McGurrin, Bourke Cockran: a free lance in American politics (Arno Press, 1972).
  4. ^ Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018) p 35.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gibson, Florence E. The attitudes of the New York Irish toward state and national affairs, 1848-1892 (AMS Press, 1951).
  • Kennedy, Ambrose. American Orator: Bourke Cockran; His Life and Politics (1948). 225 pp.
  • McElroy, Robert, ed. In The Name Of Liberty: Selected Addresses Of William Bourke Cockran (1925)
  • McGurrin, James. Bourke Cockran: a free lance in American politics (Arno Press, 1972). Online review
  • Stovall, Richard Lee. "The rhetoric of Bourke Cockran: a contextual analysis" (PhD dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1975). Online

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Abraham Dowdney
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
Roswell P. Flower
Preceded by
Francis Spinola
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Daniel Sickles
Preceded by
Joseph J. Little
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
George B. McClellan Jr.
Preceded by
George B. McClellan Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
Michael Conry
Preceded by
Thomas F. Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
John J. O'Connor