Following a successful career in law, business, and finance, Governor Angus Wilton McLean implemented sensible fiscal and economic policies during his 1925-1929 term as North Carolina governor. Born in 1870 to a farming family in Robeson County, McLean was educated as a lawyer by the University of North Carolina. After graduating, McLean served North Carolina as an auspicious lawyer, mill-owner, banker, and public servant. In 1920, prior to his tenure as governor, McLean moved from his home in Lumberton, NC to Washington, D.C. to serve under President Woodrow Wilson as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. In 1924, McLean defeated Josiah W. Bailey in the state’s gubernatorial race by a convincing margin.
Though he began his career practicing law, McLean soon transitioned to public service and politics. As the representative of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, McLean, according to North Carolina historian William S. Powell, played an integral role in the construction of a rail line from the Atlantic Coast Line to his hometown of Lumberton. McLean went on, writes Powell, to found “three textile mills and a profitable bank” in North Carolina. After serving as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the Democrat set his sights on North Carolina’s top elected position.
Called the “Businessman’s Governor” by some, McLean helped streamline the state’s fiscal management and thereby amplified the economic prosperity of North Carolinians in the 1920s. By means of the Advisory Budget Commission, McLean secured the governorship as the head manager of the state budget. This move generated a $2.5 million surplus by the end of his term, which, his successor, O. Max Gardner, claimed permitted North Carolina to avoid bankruptcy during the Depression in the following decade. McLean actively recruited business to North Carolina, standardized wage and work schedules for state employees, and voted against more confining labor laws including workers’ compensation.
Governor McLean heavily invested into the state’s future prosperity. Keen on improving North Carolina’s educational system, McLean allotted large sums to K-12 and higher education public programs to help foster North Carolina’s young minds. According to historian Powell, by the time McLean left office, over half of the state’s total revenues went into North Carolina education. McLean was also concerned with developing the state’s infrastructure. Significant revenue was raised via bonds aiding in the construction and maintenance of roads to improve development and commerce.
Upon the completion of his term, McLean resumed practicing law until his death in April 1935 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Lumberton, North Carolina.
William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989); Michael Hill, ed. The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2007); Lindley S. Butler and Alan Watson, eds., The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive & Documentary Experience (Chapel Hill, 1984)