William Bourke Cockran (February 28, 1854 – March 1, 1923), commonly known as Bourke Cockran, was a United States Representative from New York and a political orator. A Democrat, he advocated the repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbade states from preventing U.S. citizens from voting on account of "race" or "color".
Early life and education
Born in 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.
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. Between terms, he concentrated on his New York law practice. 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.
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 for opposing the Free Silver platform of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Cockran campaigned instead for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, which was considered a major factor in McKinley's victory.
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.
In 1895, 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. Years later, as British prime minister, Churchill credited Cockran as his first political mentor and the chief role model for his own success as an orator.