Stories of children orphaned by war often dominate the news. These children sometimes grow up to do remarkable things. Robert Wallace was one such story. Though a largely forgotten figure today, Wallace at one time took Arkansas by storm and became a leader in a nationwide moral crusade.
Robert Minor Wallace was born in August 1856 in New London, at the time a prosperous farming community in eastern Union County. He was one of three children, but his childhood was not a happy one. His mother died when he was four. During the Civil War, he father enlisted in the Confederate Army and was killed in battle in 1864.
Orphaned at the age of seven, he spent the rest of his childhood being raised by relatives in Union County. As a young man, he enrolled at Arizona Seminary, a small Baptist institution just across the state line in the tiny community of Arizona in northern Louisiana. Wallace graduated in 1876.
However, as committed as Wallace was to his faith, he did not feel called to a life in ministry. He decided to become an attorney instead and began studying law under Uriah M. Rose in Little Rock, the most prestigious attorney in Arkansas. Wallace proved to be an enthusiastic pupil and was admitted to the state bar to practice law in 1879.
Wallace returned to Union County and established a law practice in El Dorado. He was elected to the Arkansas House of Representative in 1880 and served one term representing the county. After his time in the legislature, he founded a newspaper, The Union County Times, which he operated along with his law firm. In 1884, he suddenly sold the paper and left for Magnolia to begin a new law firm.
Wallace’s political career continued to rise. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as United States Postal Inspector. In 1890, he was elected prosecuting attorney for the state’s thirteenth judicial district. He served for one term. In 1894, President Cleveland appointed his as assistant U. S. Attorney.
In 1902, he won the Democratic nomination for Congress and went on to win election to the state’s newly created seventh congressional district with nearly 83% of the vote. In Washington, Wallace served on the Private Land Claims Committee. He also worked to improve the Red River for increased barge and steamboat traffic, long a major priority for southwest Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana alike. However, his great passion was prohibition, becoming part of a growing national movement to ban alcohol. As a devout Baptist, he had long frowned on alcohol; but with his national stage, he made a nationwide ban a priority. He was convinced that alcohol was a gateway to sin and the cause of many serious social problems. Wallace was re-elected without opposition in 1904 and 1906.
In 1908, he won re-election with 60% of the vote in a vigorously contested race. Republicans across the state posted strong returns in congressional races, but all Democratic candidates won their elections easily. The relative closeness of the race, however, prompted rivals within the Democratic Party to challenge Wallace for re-nomination in 1910. Wallace’s performance in Congress in 1909 and 1910 did not help his case as he missed a large number of votes as he campaigned for Prohibition. Ultimately, Warren attorney William S. Goodwin defeated Wallace for the Democratic nomination in 1910 and went on to win five terms in Congress. Wallace left Congress in March 1911 and never ran for office again.
He was praised for his speaking skills and went on the speaking circuit after his time in Congress. He continued to campaign for prohibition, seeing a constitutional amendment passed in 1919. However, he saw this effort falter as Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
He lived the remainder of his years in Magnolia. Wallace died at the age of 86 in 1942.??