Alexander Kelly McClure was born in Sherman’s Valley, Pennsylvania to the farming family of Alexander and Isabella Anderson McClure on January 9, 1828. He received little formal schooling and was apprenticed to a tanner in 1843. He also assisted as a printer at the local Perry County Freeman, and so began a long and distinguished career as a newspaperman. Within a few years he was editor and publisher of the Juniata Sentinel in Mifflintown, and before long the strident Whig views he had developed earlier at the Freeman came to the notice of Pennsylvania political leaders. The youthful McClure was appointed to the staff of William F. Johnson, the first Whig governor of the Commonwealth, with the honorary rank of colonel. In 1850 he served as the deputy United States marshal for Juniata County thanks to Whig president Millard Fillmore. Two years later McClure relocated to Franklin County, took over the Franklin Repository, and then turned it into one of the most influential newspapers in the state.
A prominent citizen of Chambersburg for two decades, McClure studied law and was called to the Franklin Bar in 1856. Politics and the press, however, remained his major interests. In 1853 he had been selected as the Whig candidate for auditor-general, the youngest man up to that time in Pennsylvania nominated for a state office. He lost that race, and his Whig passion began turning toward the newly emerging Republican Party. McClure carried on a spirited conflict with the local Democratic Valley Spirit through his own press in Chambersburg, the powerfully Republican Repository. He attended the Commonwealth’s Republican organizing convention in Pittsburgh in 1855, was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1858, and the following year became a member of the state Senate. He played an even more prominent role in Republican politics in 1860 when, still only thirty-two years of age, he and Andrew Curtin succeeded in bringing over the Pennsylvania delegation at the national convention from Simon Cameron to Abraham Lincoln. McClure immediately launched himself in the state and national elections as chairman of the Republican State Committee, constructing an efficient and widely organized campaign that swept his friend Curtin to the governorship and Lincoln to a sweeping Pennsylvania victory.
On the outbreak of war, Senator McClure became the chair of the state's Senate Committee on Military Affairs. He acted as spokesman for Curtin and offered the governor strong support within the legislature. He assisted Curtin in the calling of the influential meeting of “Loyal War Governors of the North,” held in Altoona on September 24 and 25, 1862. He was also commissioned as an assistant adjutant general under President Lincoln and helped provide seventeen Pennsylvania regiments to the Union armies. His own personal brush with war came with the Confederate occupations of Chambersburg, the second of which, in 1863, saw him meet with General Lee personally. In 1864 a third Confederate foray into Pennsylvania saw the town burned to the ground with McClure’s “Norland” estate on the northern outskirts deliberately targeted for destruction. He never rebuilt his estate in Chambersburg (Norland was later to become much of the campus of Wilson College), and instead moved to Philadelphia, opening a law office in that city. Around this same time, he also invested in western mining. As a representative of the Philadelphia-based Montana Gold and Silver Mining Company, he traveled and worked, in 1867 and 1868, as superintendent of the mill that was built with company funds on the Oro Cache vein in the Montana Territory.
The remainder of his political career saw McClure take on an increasingly independent bent. He supported Ulysses S. Grant at the 1868 Republican National Convention, but by the time of the General’s reelection bid, McClure had become disillusioned with the party; he then led the Pennsylvania delegation to the Liberal Republican National Convention that nominated Horace Greeley. Back home in Philadelphia, he had similarly broken party ranks, winning a hard fought election to the state Senate on the Citizen’s ticket, with Democratic endorsement. In 1874 McClure ran for mayor, with similar backing, on the popular platform of anti-corruption, losing by only a few hundred votes. Not giving up, the following year he and Frank McLaughlin founded the Times as an independent, anti-corruption voice for Philadelphia. McClure remained its editor until 1901 when he sold the newspaper to Adolph Ochs. McClure had earlier, in 1869, published letters of his travels in Montana, but from 1892 onwards he began to write on his reminiscences of a long political career. He published works on Andrew Curtin, Abraham Lincoln, and Pennsylvania politics as he had seen them, and he also wrote a more contemporary biography of William McKinley. Alexander Kelly McClure died in Philadelphia on June 6, 1909.