The Oldest Presidential Candidate in American History

If Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden are nominated and elected president, they will be the oldest incoming presidents in history. On January 20, 2021, Sanders will be 79 and Biden will be 78. They will also stand as the oldest nominees of either the Republican or Democratic Party, breaking Bob Dole’s record age of 73 in his 1996 run. However, neither will stand as the oldest candidate a significant political party ever ran. For this, we must go back to the 1870s.

During the Civil War, the United States government issued greenbacks not backed by hard currency through the Legal Tender Act. This fulfilled two purposes: first, as a necessity to pay for the war, and second, to bring the country to a unified national currency. However, after the war, Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch sought a quick return to the gold standard and a rift developed between supporters of McCulloch and advocates for the continued distribution of greenbacks. This was an issue that split the most prominent Radical Republicans: Senators Charles Sumner and Zachariah Chandler wanted the gold standard while Senator Benjamin F. Wade and Representative Thaddeus Stevens stood for greenbacks. In 1874, the gold advocates won control of the direction of the Republican Party when President Ulysses S. Grant vetoed the Inflation Bill, which would have increased greenbacks in distribution by $100 million. The following year, Congress passed the Specie Resumption Act, which returned the nation to the gold standard. The trouble for farmers was that it had been easier for debtors to pay through greenbacks and through silver than gold, while gold was favorable to creditors and not easily available for farmers in the west. A significant group of farmers thus grew discontented and sought an alternative to the Republicans. The Democratic Party might have been an option had it not still had issues in the North over its Civil War politics and not itself had major divisions over currency. This was the context in which the Greenback Party formed to keep dispensing greenbacks into the economy as well as the entry into national politics of one of its top champions, Peter Cooper.

Peter Cooper 1900.jpg

Cooper was an 85-year old businessman and inventor whose achievements included the design and construction of the first steam-powered train in the United States, Tom Thumb, in 1830 and the invention of powdered gelatin. He also participated in the supervision of the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858. Despite his age, Cooper was quite active and wrote against the gold standard and stood for a credit-based paper currency. Both his son, Edward, and his son-in-law, Abram Hewitt, served as Mayor of New York City. Although all involved in the Greenback Party were aware that he stood no chance of winning, in 1876, they nominated him for president as an alternative for farmers. The Greenback Party itself lasted some more years and even elected people to Congress from areas that would not elect members of the major opposing party, but as a potential left-wing alternative to the two-party system it had some major limitations. First, its appeal was limited to farmers. Second, although its membership trended left, currency was the only issue its members could be guaranteed to be unified. Had Cooper won in 1876, he may have lived through his first term, as he died in 1883 at the age of 92.


How They Voted: Women’s Suffrage march in New York City, 1917.


August 26th was the 99th anniversary for women’s suffrage but this year constitutes the 100th anniversary Congress voted to ratify. By 1919, much of the country was in support of suffrage with a majority of holdouts being from the South. In addition to the affinity of its politicians for state’s rights on the question of civil rights they also feared that the approval of the 19th Amendment would further legitimize the 15th Amendment, as black women would be granted the vote. Indeed, Southern Democrats attempted to amend the 19th Amendment to apply it to white women only. Below is the vote breakdown, with the House passing it May 21st 304-89 (R 200-19, D 102-70), with one Prohibitionist and Union Labor member voting for as well. The Senate followed suit on June 1st 56-25 (R 36-8, D 20-17). Accompanied with these of course are my ideological scores from the Congress it was passed in.

1 McDuffie D N 20 1 Burroughs R Y 95
2 Dent D N 0 2 Wason R Y 95
3 Steagall D N 0 NEW JERSEY
4 Blackmon D N 0 1 Browning R N 100
5 Heflin D N 9 2 Bacharach R Y 88
6 Oliver D Y 5 3 Scully D 50
7 Vacancy 4 Hutchinson R Y 94
8 Almon D N 0 5 Ackerman R Y 95
9 Huddleston D ? 5 6 Ramsey R X 80
10 Bankhead D N 10 7 Radcliffe R ? 95
ARIZONA 8 McGlennon D Y 24
AL Hayden D Y 13 9 Minahan D Y 41
ARKANSAS 10 Lehlbach R Y 88
1 Caraway D ? 0 11 Eagan D Y 28
2 Oldfield D Y 0 12 Hamill D ? 0
3 Tillman D Y 0 NEW MEXICO
4 Wingo D Y 0 AL Hernandez R Y 83
5 Jacoway D Y 0 NEW YORK
6 Taylor D Y 6 1 Hicks R Y 100
7 Goodwin D Y 0 2 Caldwell D ? 14
CALIFORNIA 3 MacCrate R Y 92
1 Lea D Y 30 4 Cullen D Y 40
2 Raker D Y 18 5 Johnston D Y 31
3 Curry R Y 71 6 Rowe R Y 100
4 Kahn R ? 93 7 Maher D Y 27
5 Nolan R Y 53 8 Cleary D Y 33
6 Elston R Y 87 9 O’Connell D Y 20
7 Barbour R Y 65 10 Haskell R Y 50
8 Hersman D Y 41 11 Riordan D N 25
9 Randall P Y 17 12 Goldfogle D Y 36
10 Osborne R Y 83 13 Sullivan D 58
11 Kettner D Y 100 14 La Guardia R Y 33
COLORADO 15 Dooling D ? 31
1 Vaile R Y 80 16 Smith D Y 36
2 Timberlake R Y 86 17 Pell D Y 75
3 Hardy R Y 77 18 Carew R Y 38
4 Taylor D Y 25 19 Rowan R Y 20
CONNECTICUT 20 Siegel R Y 83
1 Lonergan D Y 56 21 Donovan D Y 29
2 Freeman R Y 100 22 Griffin D Y 27
3 Tilson R N 100 23 McKiniry D Y 20
4 Merritt R Y 100 24 Ganly D Y 20
5 Glynn R ? 89 25 Husted R Y 94
DELAWARE 26 Platt R Y 100
AL Layton R Y 84 27 Ward R Y 78
FLORIDA 28 Sanford R Y 93
1 Drane D Y 13 29 Parker R Y 94
2 Clark D N 29 30 Crowther R Y 86
3 Smithwick D Y 0 31 Snell R 100
AL Sears D Y 0 32 Mott R Y 85
GEORGIA 33 Snyder R Y 100
1 Overstreet D N 15 34 Hill R Y 100
2 Park D N 19 35 Magee R Y 91
3 Crisp D N 32 36 Gould R ? 100
4 Wright D N 26 37 Houghton R Y 89
5 Upshaw D Y 17 38 Dunn R N 94
6 Wise D N 15 39 Sanders R N 73
7 Lee D ? 11 40 Dempsey R Y 100
8 Brand D N 14 41 MacGregor R Y 94
9 Bell D N 21 42 Mead D Y 19
10 Vinson D N 5 43 Reed R Y 93
11 Lankford D N 6 NORTH CAROLINA
12 Larsen D ? 7 1 Small D N 36
IDAHO 2 Kitchin D N 27
1 French R Y 68 3 Brinson D N 6
2 Smith R ? 64 4 Pou D N 26
ILLINOIS 5 Stedman D N 0
1 Madden R Y 95 6 Godwin D Y 20
2 Mann R Y 73 7 Robinson D N 12
3 Wilson R Y 82 8 Doughton D N 0
4 Rainey D Y 11 9 Webb D N 0
5 Sabath D Y 23 10 Weaver D Y 0
6 McAndrews D Y 26 NORTH DAKOTA
7 Juul R Y 79 1 Baer R Y 44
8 Gallagher D Y 27 2 Young R Y 63
9 Britten R Y 90 3 Sinclair R Y 29
10 Foss R Y 95 OHIO
11 Copley R Y 93 1 Longworth R Y 76
12 Fuller R Y 69 2 Stephens R N 65
13 McKenzie R Y 89 3 Gard D N 10
14 Graham R Y 86 4 Welty D Y 5
15 King R Y 52 5 Thompson R Y 63
16 Ireland R 86 6 Kearns R Y 81
17 Smith R Y 92 7 Fess R Y 100
18 Cannon R Y 100 8 Cole R Y 88
19 McKinley R Y 65 9 Sherwood D Y 38
20 Rainey D Y 6 10 Foster R Y 82
21 Wheeler R Y 78 11 Ricketts R Y 70
22 Rodenberg R Y 71 12 Brumbaugh D ? 14
23 Brooks R Y 75 13 Begg R Y 80
24 Williams R Y 90 14 Davey D Y 6
25 Denison R Y 79 15 Moore R Y 83
AL Mason R Y 44 16 McCulloch R Y 91
AL Yates R Y 56 17 Ashbrook D Y 25
INDIANA 18 Murphy R Y 72
1 Luhring R Y 85 19 Cooper R Y 88
2 Bland R Y 70 20 Mooney D Y 23
3 Dunbar R Y 80 21 Babka D Y 41
4 Benham R Y 67 22 Emerson R Y 65
5 Sanders R Y 84 OKLAHOMA
6 Elliott R Y 86 1 Howard D Y 21
7 Moores R Y 82 2 Hastings D Y 6
8 Vestal R Y 70 3 Carter D Y 0
9 Purnell R Y 94 4 McKeown D Y 0
10 Wood R Y 83 5 Vacancy
11 Kraus R Y 86 6 Ferris D Y 0
12 Fairfield R Y 67 7 McClintic D Y 13
13 Hickey R Y 74 8 Morgan R Y 72
1 Kennedy R Y 90 1 Hawley R Y 76
2 Hull R N 79 2 Sinnott R Y 81
3 Sweet R Y 67 3 MacArthur R Y 94
5 Good R Y 100 1 Vare R Y 91
6 Ramseyer R Y 80 2 Graham R 100
7 Dowell R Y 68 3 Moore R N n/a
8 Towner R Y 84 4 Edmonds R ? 93
9 Green R Y 91 5 Costello R Y 86
10 Dickinson R Y 86 6 Darrow R Y 86
11 Boies R Y 69 7 Butler R Y 88
KANSAS 8 Watson R N 91
1 Anthony R Y 85 9 Griest R Y 83
2 Little R Y 71 10 McLane D Y 13
3 Campbell R Y 85 11 Casey D Y 0
4 Hoch R Y 82 12 Reber R Y 100
5 Strong R Y 77 13 Dewalt D N 38
6 White R Y 81 14 McFadden R Y 100
7 Tincher R Y 71 15 Kiess R Y 86
8 Ayres D Y 9 16 Lesher D N 20
KENTUCKY 17 Focht R N 63
1 Barkley D Y 10 18 Kreider R ? 71
2 Kincheloe D Y 10 19 Rose R Y 95
3 Thomas D Y 0 20 Brooks R N 80
4 Johnson D Y 0 21 Jones R Y 94
5 Ogden R Y 87 22 Wilson D Y 12
6 Rouse D N 5 23 Kendall R Y 69
7 Cantrill D Y 25 24 Temple R Y 91
8 Vacancy 25 Shreve R Y 88
9 Fields D Y 21 26 Steele D N 57
10 Langley R Y 69 27 Strong R Y 82
11 Robsion R Y 57 28 Hulings R Y 75
LOUISIANA 29 Porter R Y 80
1 Vacancy 30 Kelly R ? 44
2 Dupre D ? 38 31 Morin R ? 79
3 Martin D N 29 32 Campbell D Y 35
4 Watkins D N 5 AL Burke R ? 43
5 Wilson D N 5 AL Crago R ? 80
6 Sanders D N 0 AL Garland R N 87
7 Lazaro D N 14 AL Walters R Y 90
MAINE 1 Burdick R Y 89
1 Goodall R Y 67 2 Stiness R Y 86
2 White R Y 95 3 Kennedy R Y 100
4 Hersey R Y 89 1 Whaley D N 6
MARYLAND 2 Byrnes D N 16
1 Andrews R Y 100 3 Dominick D N 19
2 Benson D N 47 4 Nicholls D N 23
3 Coady D N 62 5 Stevenson D N 5
4 Linthicum D Y 47 6 Ragsdale D N n/a
5 Mudd R N 81 7 Lever D N n/a
6 Zihlman R Y 72 SOUTH DAKOTA
MASSACHUSETTS 1 Christopherson R Y 79
1 Treadway R Y 100 2 Johnson R Y 87
2 Gillett R 3 Gandy D Y 13
3 Paige R N 100 TENNESSEE
4 Winslow R Y 100 1 Sells R Y 58
5 Rogers R Y 91 2 Taylor R Y 69
6 Lufkin R Y 78 3 Moon D N 0
7 Phelan D Y 36 4 Hull D N 0
8 Dallinger R Y 90 5 Davis D Y 13
9 Fuller R Y 85 6 Byrns D Y 9
10 Fitzgerald D Y n/a 7 Padgett D Y 18
11 Tinkham R N 94 8 Sims D Y 0
12 Gallivan D ? 53 9 Garrett D N 16
13 Luce R N 95 10 Fisher D Y 5
14 Olney D ? 82 TEXAS
15 Greene R N 71 1 Black D N 52
16 Walsh R N 100 2 Box D Y 17
MICHIGAN 3 Young D Y 13
1 Doremus D N 7 4 Rayburn D N 26
2 Michener R Y 83 5 Sumners D Y 19
3 Smith R Y 78 6 Hardy D N 0
4 Hamilton R Y 100 7 Briggs D Y 9
5 Mapes R Y 95 8 Eagle D N 25
6 Kelley R Y 85 9 Mansfield D N 19
7 Cramton R Y 72 10 Buchanan D N 26
8 Fordney R Y 77 11 Connally D ? 14
9 McLaughlin R Y 90 12 Lanham D Y 4
10 Currie R Y 100 13 Parrish D Y 39
11 Scott R Y 71 14 Bee D Y 19
12 James R ? 58 15 Garner D N 11
13 Nichols R Y 55 16 Hudspeth D Y 18
MINNESOTA 17 Blanton D Y 43
1 Anderson R Y 80 18 Jones D Y 29
2 Ellsworth R Y 50 UTAH
3 Davis R Y 47 1 Welling D Y 33
4 Keller UL ? 5 2 Mays D Y 6
5 Newton R Y 74 VERMONT
6 Knutson R Y 62 1 Greene R X 100
7 Volstead R Y 65 2 Dale R ? 79
9 Steenerson R Y 55 1 Bland D N 30
10 Schall P Y 54 2 Holland D N 55
MISSISSIPPI 3 Montague D N 45
1 Candler D N 0 4 Watson D N 20
2 Stephens D N 7 5 Saunders D N 40
3 Humphreys D N 29 6 Woods D N 33
4 Sisson D N 6 7 Harrison D N 38
5 Venable D N 10 8 Vacancy
6 Johnson D N 0 9 Slemp R Y 81
7 Quin D ? 5 10 Flood D N 16
8 Collier D N 0 WASHINGTON
MISSOURI 1 Miller R Y 71
1 Romjue D Y 0 2 Hadley R Y 74
2 Rucker D Y 0 2 Johnson R Y 90
3 Alexander D Y 0 4 Summers R Y 86
4 Booher D Y n/a 5 Webster R Y 78
6 Dickinson D Y 5 1 Neely D Y 38
7 Major D Y 0 2 Bowers R Y 71
8 Nelson D Y 0 3 Reed R Y 90
9 Clark D Y 10 4 Woodyard R Y 73
10 Newton R Y 65 5 Goodykoontz R Y 89
11 Igoe D Y 19 6 Echols R Y 84
12 Dyer R Y 62 WISCONSIN
13 Rhodes R Y 50 1 Randall R Y 74
14 Hays R Y 64 2 Voigt R N 36
15 McPherson R 85 3 Monahan R Y 90
16 Rubey D Y 9 4 Kleczka R Y 61
MONTANA 5 Vacancy
1 Evans D Y 16 6 Lampert R N 39
2 Riddick R Y 69 7 Esch R Y 82
NEBRASKA 8 Browne R Y 50
1 Reavis R Y 82 9 Classon R Y 47
2 Jefferis R Y 83 10 Frear R Y 59
3 Evans R Y 81 11 Nelson R Y 94
4 McLaughlin R Y 81 WYOMING
5 Andrews R Y 83 AL Mondell R Y 90
6 Kinkaid R Y 80
AL Evans D Y 27
Bankhead D N 57 Norris R Y 44
Underwood D N 38 Hitchcock D N 24
Ashurst D Y 6 Henderson D Y 5
Smith D Y 31 Pittman D Y 11
Kirby D Y 6 Keyes R Y 77
Robinson D 21 Moses R N 100
Johnson R Y 73 Edge R Y 81
Phelan D Y 20 Frelinghuysen R Y 100
Phipps R Y 90 Fall R Y 88
Thomas D Y 55 Jones D Y 16
Brandegee R N 94 Calder R 94
McLean R N 94 Wadsworth R N 94
Ball R 94 Overman D Y 6
Wolcott D N 21 Simmons D Y 19
Fletcher D Y 0 Gronna R Y 65
Trammell D Y 5 McCumber R Y 56
Harris D Y 0 Harding R Y 100
Smith D X 23 Pomerene D X 29
Borah R N 52 Gore D ? 64
Nugent D Y 0 Owen D ? 0
McCormick R Y 79 McNary R Y 42
Sherman R Y 100 Chamberlain D Y 19
New R Y 96 Knox R N 100
Watson R Y 100 Penrose R X 100
Cummins R Y 67 Colt R ? 78
Kenyon R Y 53 Gerry D Y 19
Capper R Y 59 Dial D N 19
Curtis R Y 94 Smith D N 0
Beckham D N 7 Sterling R Y 56
Stanley D Y 14 Johnson D 8
Gay D N 14 McKellar D Y 4
Ransdell D Y 29 Shields D ? 82
Fernald R Y 100 Culberson D Y 0
Hale R Y 78 Sheppard D Y 5
France R Y 79 King D 25
Smith D N 33 Smoot R Y 84
Lodge R N 95 Dillingham R N 100
Walsh D Y 26 Page R Y 87
Newberry R Y 90 Martin D X n/a
Townsend R 67 Swanson D N 13
Kellogg R Y 65 Jones R Y 79
Nelson R Y 43 Poindexter R Y 88
Harrison D N 0 Elkins R Y 94
Williams D N 30 Sutherland R Y 94
Spencer R Y 71 La Follette R Y 52
Reed D N 58 Lenroot R Y 45
Myers D Y 21 Warren R Y 84
Walsh D Y 21 Kendrick D Y 12

An Answer to Low Voter Turnout from History

In 2016, about 55% of the voting age population turned out on election day. Political pundits and politicians who lost elections often comment upon this negatively, but what if I told you there was a time in which voter turnout rates often were as high as 80% in the United States? Well, it’s true and the time period was the Gilded Age, which was from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century. Political participation was high and left-wing groups concerned about monopolies and farmers were often outvoted, with none of the presidents of this period being satisfactory to them. The central concerns of the day regarded tariffs, soft vs. hard currency (inflationary vs. deflationary), and political machines. Indeed, it was the latter that played a fundamental role in bringing out the vote. In New York City, Democrats had Tammany Hall but Republicans had their machine in Philadelphia. Both parties exercised tremendous control over the goings of these cities. New York City is still highly Democratic, and the Philadelphia Republican machine was broken in 1951. How could such machines be continued and bring in high voter turnout? The spoils system.

The Rise of the Spoils System

Udo Keppler cartoon from 1899 from the humorous Bourbon (conservative) Democrat magazine Puck, illustrating that the politics of New York City revolve around Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker.

Although the term was seen in American politics as early as 1812, the spoils system on a federal level started after the 1828 presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson awarded his supporters in positions high and low in federal government. One of his supporters, Senator William Marcy of New York, defended the practice with “to the victors belong the spoils of the enemy” (Feller). Jackson didn’t think of it that way, rather he regarded it as cleaning out the government of “corrupt” people in the Adams government, that time’s “draining of the swamp” if you will. However, Jackson appointed some people who were not up for the job, the most notorious being his old army buddy Samuel Swartwout as collector for the New York City customhouse, who embezzled more than $1 million in 1838, the equivalent of almost $24 million today. From this time until 1883, administrations would be fully replaced with party supporters of varying degrees of quality. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across the nation depended on successful election efforts as big city machines came into their prime. I cannot think of a single thing that is as motivating to voter turnout as jobs, and in this case, you would literally be voting to keep or get a job.

Spoils also came in the form of favors and aid, so if you were a poor immigrant the Tammany Hall machine could help you out, the price being active support of the Democratic Party and voting for their slate on election day. Spoils, also known as patronage, could also be used to enforce party discipline and penalize those who too often dissented from party line. The Roosevelt Administration through its machine chief, Postmaster General James A. Farley, denied patronage to some recalcitrant senators, including Burton K. Wheeler of Montana and Rush D. Holt of West Virginia, both non-interventionists who criticized Roosevelt’s use of federal power. The problem with these machines, of course, was that they were corrupt and employed extensive voter fraud and bribery in addition to their turnout efforts. Although the spoils system started to be ended with the Pendleton Act in 1883, this only initially covered 10% of federal workers and spoils were still very much a part of big city machine politics. President Benjamin Harrison, for instance, found that he couldn’t decide to make any appointment to his cabinet since every position was already reserved by Senator Matthew Quay and other party bosses as rewards for their contributions to the campaign.

The Fall of Spoils and Political Machines

The Pendleton Act over time would cover more and more employees until we have today’s situation, in which only the highest officials are political appointees. Additionally, although the Roosevelt Administration had its own powerful political machine through the New Deal, this brought an end to the power of many machines or caused them to start their death spiral. The Philadelphia Republican machine, for instance, weakened until its mayor lost reelection in 1951 to Democratic reformer Joseph S. Clark. The city has been staunchly Democratic since. The Roosevelt Administration as well as liberal Republican Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia opposed Tammany Hall, and its influence waned until finally dissolving in 1967. There are still a few functioning machines today (such as Chicago), but people have come to look to state and federal governments for the dispensing of benefits through entitlements and social programs rather than big city machines. Although the relation to voting and getting benefits is more indirect than it used to be and thus turnout is lower, there is still motivation for people to vote for parties that promise more benefits. To get such a high turnout, bring back political machines and an extensive spoils system.


Feller, D. Andrew Jackson: Domestic Affairs. University of Virginia.

Retrieved from

“Sunny Jim” Sherman: The Happy Warrior

Image result for James S. Sherman

Last time I covered John Sherman, and this time I have another, but unrelated, Sherman to cover: James Schoolcraft Sherman (1855-1912), the 27th Vice President of the United States.

Sherman first got his start in Congress at the age of 31, when he was elected to Congress in 1886 from New York. He quickly proved to be one of the ablest legislators in the Republican Party and this got the attention of Republican House leader Thomas Brackett Reed, himself one of the most effective party leaders. In 1890, he supported higher tariffs under the McKinley Tariff Act, a law which proved so unpopular that both he and McKinley lost reelection that year. However, Sherman regained his seat in the 1892 election. He proved an outstanding parliamentarian and was sought for his abilities by three successive Speakers: Thomas Brackett Reed, David B. Henderson, and Joe Cannon. Sherman also proved one of the most masterful people to preside over the Committee of the Whole, which Senator Henry Cabot Lodge regarded as “a severe test of a man’s qualities, both moral and mental. He must have strength of character as well as ability, quickness in decision must go hand in hand with knowledge, and firmness must always be accompanied by good temper” (U.S. Senate).

A staunch political conservative, he actively participated in the debates over currency, favoring the gold standard as opposed to free coinage of silver, the latter which was inflationary. Sherman was a bit of a Reaganesque figure in his time as well as he possessed a jovial personality, for which he was nicknamed “Sunny Jim”. During the Roosevelt Administration, Sherman sided with the conservatives led by Speaker Joe Cannon, which limited the ability of President Roosevelt to effectively pursue a more progressive domestic agenda. Despite his influence, he never held the chairmanship of a major committee, preferring to allow others to have those positions. During the debate on the Food and Drug Act, Sherman proposed a weaker substitute that would only require a canner to be accurate in labeling the weight and measure of a product if they opted to label a weight and measure. He was consistently trusted to hold the gavel in the absence of the Speaker and performed his duties as expected.

In 1908, the conservative wing of the Republican Party wanted to be sure that one of their own was in the White House to keep in check Roosevelt’s successor William Howard Taft and pushed strongly for Sherman on the ticket. Initially, the two men had significant policy disagreements, and Sherman refused to serve as a liaison between the White House and Congress, stating “You will have to act on your own account. I am to be Vice President and acting as a messenger boy is not part of the duties as Vice President” (U.S. Senate). However, Taft moved to the right throughout his presidency and they grew closer. Taft himself stated that Sherman achieved much in Washington due to his “charm of speech and manner, and his spirit of conciliation and compromise” but also stated “it would be unjust to Mr. Sherman to suggest that his sunny disposition and his anxiety to make everybody within the reach of his influence happy, was any indication of a lack of strength of character, of firmness of purpose, and of clearness of decision as to what he thought was right in politics” (U.S. Senate). An example of his amiable nature was when the Democratic VP candidate in 1908, John Worth Kern, was elected to the Senate in 1911 and within minutes of his swearing in Sherman invited him to take the gavel and proceed over the Senate despite having never served in the chamber before. However, he also was willing to bring down the hammer when he felt it necessary and urged Taft to penalize progressive Republicans rebelling against the Payne-Aldrich Tariff through denying postmaster appointments to progressives in the party.

Unfortunately, Sherman had suffered from what at the time was called Bright’s Disease (a kidney ailment) since 1904, the same affliction that killed President Chester Arthur. The illness progressively advanced and by 1912 he was too ill to campaign. Defying his doctor’s advisement, however, he delivered an acceptance speech on August 24th at the Republican National Convention, and his health began to collapse two days later. On October 30th, six days before the election, he succumbed to his illness at the age of 57.

Personal aside: I think quite frankly we need more people in our fractured, tumultuous politics like “Sunny Jim” Sherman. Although I see a lot of promise in Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas for this role, we need many more figures like him and less like Steve King or any of the four members of “the squad”. I also wish President Trump would be a “happy warrior” type as opposed to being largely a combative one, although I think he gives as good as he gets nowadays.


James S. Sherman: 27th Vice President (1909-1912). U.S. Senate.

Retrieved from



John Sherman: Grand Old Statesman

When people hear the name Sherman, they tend to think of either the Sherman tank or the general it was named after, William Tecumseh Sherman. While he distinguished himself during the Civil War, his younger brother, John Sherman (1823-1900), distinguished himself in politics. Sherman’s involvement in politics began in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which motivated him to run for office as a Republican. After the Republicans took Congress in 1858, he became chair of the Ways and Means Committee. His time was short in this position, however, as in 1860 he was elected to the Senate.

In the Senate, he became respected across the aisle and could be independent in thought. Sherman was also known as a financial expert and supported the Legal Tender Act of 1862, providing for distribution of greenbacks to pay for the Civil War. He also gave his support to the National Bank Act, and hoped that the United States could ultimately function under one stable national currency.  Although he did not identify himself as a “Radical Republican” and opposed a punitive approach to the South, he often voted with them, including for the 14th and 15th Amendments.

After the Civil War, Sherman backed a return to the gold standard, regarding the distribution of greenbacks unbacked by gold or silver to be an emergency policy justified by war. This position brought him the favorable attention of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who appointed him Secretary of the Treasury. In this capacity Sherman opposed the Bland-Allison Act, which established bimetallism by having the government purchase gold and silver and was passed over Hayes’ veto. Under his watch, the treasury purchased only the minimum amount of silver required by law. After Hayes’ presidency, he was again elected to the Senate. Sherman played an important role during this time in the formation of national fiscal policy. In 1882, he voted against the Chinese Exclusion Act, opposing the idea of excluding immigrants on the basis of national origin.

In his life, Sherman tried thrice to secure the Republican nomination for president, but he never could quite muster up the political support for it despite his recognized expertise and competence. In 1890, two pieces of legislation bearing his name were passed: the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. The former he authored and was the first law that attempted to regulate trusts and the latter was a compromise that didn’t offer free coinage of silver but increased required silver purchases. Sherman didn’t author the latter and didn’t give it high marks, stating merely that it was “safe”. During the Panic of 1893, Sherman voted with the majority of the Senate to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. In 1897, a Republican president again called upon the elder statesman, this time as Secretary of State. McKinley sort of kicked Sherman upstairs with this move, as he wanted to get his friend and campaign manager, Mark Hanna, elected to the Senate. However, he was no longer in his prime and his memory and health were failing. This got to the point in which Sherman was no longer attending cabinet meetings, rather his second-in-command, William R. Day, who was performing the real day-to-day work. Day was appointed in his place in 1898. Sherman died two years after his retirement on October 22, 1900.

John Sherman overall played a crucial role in the politics of the United States from the Civil War to the Gilded Age, serving as one of the nation’s respected experts on economic policy, a foundational figure of the Republican Party, and one of the finest statesmen to come from the party.

Admission of Hawaii Helps Communists!: Revisiting a Ridiculous Argument Against Statehood

In 1959, the United States admitted its final (as of 2019) two states into the union, Alaska and Hawaii. The fact, however, that these states were controversial admittances into the United States is forgotten. Today I cover one of the most ridiculous arguments posited against its admission.

Image result for John R. Pillion

John R. Pillion, the most visible opponent of statehood for Hawaii and Alaska in the House.

Contrary to its current status, Hawaii as a territory voted Republican, and thus support for its admission continually had strong support from the GOP. However, not all Republicans were keen on it and the state was growing increasingly Democratic at the time of admission. One of the most notable opponents was Republican Congressman John R. Pillion of New York.  He cited as a reason for opposition the allegedly strong influence of Harry Bridges, a leftist labor leader and statehood advocate who had followed the Communist Party line in the 1930s and 1940s. Pillion feared that he would control its representation in Congress, and went as far as to claim that he “rules a Communist collectivized kingdom in Hawaii” and that the result of admission would be to “invite four Soviet agents to take seats in our Congress” (Fried, 195). Congress didn’t buy this argument, with the House passing it 323-89 and the Senate 76-15. Most statehood opponents in this case were Southern Democrats who believed correctly that Hawaii would elect two pro-civil rights senators. 83% of Pillion’s own party backed it in the House, and only one Republican opposed in the Senate.

Lest you think Pillion was picking on Hawaii, not a chance! He thought Alaskan statehood would advance Communism as well, claiming that Bridges’ influence had spread there too and that the territory was “a Communist beachhead” (Fried, 195). Republican opposition ironically was substantially greater on Alaska than Hawaii for two reasons: first, it was certain two Democratic senators would be elected, specifically Bob Bartlett and Ernest Gruening, the leading advocates for the state’s admission. Second, they feared that it would be a welfare state, and they would turn out to be correct as the state has the highest number of welfare recipients per capita and all residents are paid a yearly subsidy just for living there. Again, the largest contingent of opposition were Southern Democrats, who again correctly believed the state would add two pro-civil rights senators. However, what they did not anticipate was the state shifting to the GOP. This simply goes to show that the long-run political consequences of events cannot always be foretold.


Fried, R.M. (1990). Nightmare in red: The McCarthy era in perspective. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Matthew Quay: The Political Boss Who Made Two Presidents!

The Gilded Age was a time in which political parties were at their strongest, voter participation was at its highest, the legislative branch was dominant, and the politics were corrupt often as a matter of routine. The ultimate man for this age was Senator Matthew Stanley Quay (1833-1904) of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania was one of the most reliable states for the Republican Party in this time, and this was due to the machine that operated out of Philadelphia. The machine had been started by Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War who although was never indicted, had a reputation for corruption so strong that Thaddeus Stevens once stated to President Lincoln in response to his question regarding his honesty, “I do not believe he would steal a red hot stove” and when Cameron demanded he retract it, he stated to Lincoln, “I believe I told you he would not steal a red hot stove. I will now take that back” (Mr. Lincoln’s White House). Cameron would go back to the Senate after his incompetent stint as Secretary of War and retired in 1877, leaving both his seat and the machine to his son, J. Donald Cameron. However, the younger Cameron lacked the political skills of his father and was not known to be charismatic. During the 1880s, Matthew Quay surpassed him in influence and became the machine’s boss.

Quay had gotten his rise in politics through his outstanding service in the Civil War as a colonel, earning the Medal of Honor for his heroism at the Battle of Fredericksburg. This placed him into contact with Governor Andrew Curtin, and as his secretary he gained a reputation for being second to none in organization and his ability to help soldiers with questions regarding their enlistments. In 1885, he was elected Treasurer of Pennsylvania, and was able to maintain control of it past his time in that position. Quay found access to the Treasury to be his most powerful political weapon, stating, “I don’t mind losing a governorship or a legislature now and then, but I always need the state treasuryship” (ExplorePAHistory). He was not known for making public speeches or bold declarations, indeed, he kept as publicly quiet as possible.
Quay excelled in behind-the-scenes activity and gaining promises from politicians individually. He was meticulous in keeping track of the favors he doled out in little packets known as “Quay’s coffins”, so he always knew who owed him. He was not perfect, however. On one occasion he directly pressured Governor Henry Hoyt to pardon legislators who had been convicted of accepting bribes from the Pennsylvania Railroad, the incident helped in the election of the only Democrat who would serve as governor between 1861 and 1935. In 1887, he was elected to the Senate.

Quay was neither an ideologue nor a policy wonk and was responsible for no significant legislation, but he was a masterfully shrewd politician and loved the process of it all. His view of politics was that it was “the art of taking money from the few and votes from the many under the pretext of protecting the one from the other” (ExplorePAHistory). As a senator, he was popular with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and became the chair of the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee, resulting in his fellow senators having to gain his favor for the construction of post offices. Quay also proved to be quite possibly the GOP’s greatest electoral asset, and no case demonstrated this more than in his running of Benjamin Harrison’s 1888 campaign. He had examined the 1884 election and realized that the Democratic source of victory was New York, a swing state at the time. Quay, who ran a machine that regularly employed ballot stuffing, bribes, and other forms of voter fraud served this time to combat Tammany Hall corruption. Quay had behind-the-scenes formed an apparently non-partisan organization to tally up all the registered voters in New York City. Two weeks before the election, he announced that he had a list of all registered voters in New York City and that he would know of any voter fraud and enforce the law. Quay also sent poll watchers to New York City precincts to watch for fraud. Similarly, he hired Pinkerton detectives to deter intimidation and violence against black voters in the South. His efforts countered voter fraud in New York City in the 1888 election (while his own voter fraud machine in Philadelphia chugged along), tipping the state to Harrison, who dubbed Quay a “kingmaker”. When Quay was informed by Philadelphia reporters that Harrison attributed his victory to Providence, he shot back, “He ought to know that Providence hadn’t a damn thing to do with it” and went on to state that he would “never know how many Republicans were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary to make him president” (ExplorePAHistory). Harrison, however, was not a corrupt president and didn’t deliver on the rewards that he and other bosses like him were expecting. As a result, efforts to reelect him in 1892 were not nearly as vigorous and he lost reelection.

Although Quay was known most for his machine politics, there were other elements to his legacy. Having American Indian heritage, he was known as an advocate for American Indians and called for voting rights enforcement in the South (but carried favor with southern senators when he shelved the Lodge Bill in 1890). He backed high tariffs and pro-business legislation but voted with some independence from party line.

In 1898, Quay was indicted for misappropriating state treasury funds but was acquitted. Despite his acquittal, resistance to him had built up and the state legislature refused to elect him. Governor Daniel Hastings reappointed him, but in the Senate he lost a vote on April 24, 1900 to seat him by one. Ohio’s Mark Hanna, who had run William McKinley’s 1896 election, paired against his seating. However, Quay would not have to wait long to get even with him.

The previous year McKinley’s first Vice President, Garret Hobart, passed away. Running for reelection, he sought a replacement. In New York, Senator and political machine boss Thomas C. Platt had a problem, and his name was Theodore Roosevelt. As Governor of New York, Roosevelt was a reformer and opposed said political machines, so Platt had devised a solution: kick Roosevelt upstairs. However, Platt could not arrange this on his own, and he sought the aid of Quay. Platt and Quay arranged to have Theodore Roosevelt nominated Vice President. Hanna couldn’t stand Roosevelt, and he was livid at the news. Quay had gotten his revenge on Hanna, and would ultimately return to the Senate anyway in 1901 when the new state legislature voted him in. However, by this point he was no longer in control of the machine, as it had been taken over by his colleague, Boies Penrose.

Quay’s health had never been good: he inherited a susceptibility to tuberculosis (his parents and siblings died from it) and struggled with recurring bouts of it throughout his lifetime, being painfully aware that he was likely to eventually die from it. He would regularly take trips to St. Lucie, Florida, to reinvigorate his health, which resulted in the highest absenteeism rate among his colleagues in the Senate. Additionally, during the Civil War he had contracted typhoid fever, and this would also return from time to time. However, Quay didn’t meet the same fate as his family: in 1903, his stomach began to progressively deteriorate due to chronic gastritis and was he losing weight from being increasingly unable to absorb nutrition. By early 1904, he knew he was going to die, writing to his son on February 16th, “In the week ending yesterday noon I lost something like one pound and a quarter…This cannot go on very long. Say nothing about it. I thought you ought to know” (FLGenWeb). The most powerful and effective boss of the Pennsylvania Republican machine and possibly in American history died on May 28th of that year, aged 70.

P.S.: Boss Quay had a rule for any candidate for public office, and this was to “keep your mouth shut”, a wise bit of advice and a marked contrast to the politics of today (FLGenWeb).


Croly, H.D. (1965). Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His life and work. Hamden, CT: Archon Books

Matthew S. Quay Historical Marker. ExplorePAHistory.

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U.S. Sen. Matthew Stanley Quay. St. Lucie County FLGenWeb.

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Visitors from Congress: Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868). Mr. Lincoln’s White House.

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The Sudden Rise and Fall of Speaker J. Warren Keifer

Most Speakers of the House are selected after many years of service. The longest-serving Speaker in history, Sam Rayburn, had been in office for 27 years before being elected to the post, and Joseph G. Cannon, possibly the most powerful Speaker to have served, had served for 28 years before Republicans finally decided to elect him. On average, Speakers since 1861 have served 18 years in the House before being elected to the position. This made me curious about a seemingly insignificant Speaker, Joseph Warren Keifer (1836-1932) of Ohio, who was elected after serving only four years! Some factors suggest his rise: his distinguished war record as a brigadier general in the Union Army as well as his identification with the “Stalwart” faction of the Republican Party, which supported Ulysses S. Grant (and then Garfield for including Stalwart Chester Arthur as VP) and favored machine politics rather than civil service reform, supported by the “Half-Breed” faction. It also didn’t hurt that he was from Ohio, the same state as winner of the 1880 presidential election, James A. Garfield. However, there was another possible under-the-surface reason which I shall get to a little later.

Keifer as Speaker, 1881-1883.

Unfortunately for Keifer, his time as leader proved to be quite disruptive. In 1881, the nation would suffer its second presidential assassination, with James Garfield falling victim to a deranged and delusional office seeker names Charles J. Guiteau. He thought he was owed a consulship because he delivered a speech twice in campaigning for Garfield, copies of which had been distributed at the Republican National Convention. The Stalwart Keifer in the meantime had been baldly partisan in his committee assignments and lacked skill in building support for the issues he sought to push, most notable being his failure to curb the House filibuster. This feat would eventually be achieved by the much more capable Republican Thomas Brackett Reed, but his story is for another time. Keifer also ran into trouble when he got into conflict with the press.

The issue with the press started when one night at the end of a session the press section of the House gallery was mostly empty and he permitted House family members to sit in the section, which the press corps, led by its dean Republican Henry Boynton of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, interpreted as retaliation for negative coverage of his rise as Speaker. Some papers had reported that Keifer’s selection was due to a bargain that in exchange for him being Speaker, he must kowtow to whatever the factions that elected him wanted. This could explain his handling of committee assignments. Keifer became pitted in a public battle with Boynton, who had previously made an agreement with Keifer’s predecessor, Democratic Speaker Samuel J. Randall, to reserve that portion of the gallery for the press. Keifer responded to Boynton’s allegations of retaliation with hostility, accusing him of trying to illegally influence legislation and writing in a public letter to him that “You have so often been shown to be a liar and defamer of character that it has become unnecessary to deny anything you say” (Stafford, 2009). His accusations were investigated by Congress but were unsubstantiated. Boynton responded in letters released to the public in 1884 stating, “it is unnecessary to respond to your puerile charges touching my general course as a correspondent, except to repeat that they, also, are without substantial foundation and evidently are invented to distract attention from grave charges of official misconduct brought against yourself” (Stafford, 2009).

Keifer’s leadership of the Republican House was ended by the Republican Party’s loss of the House in the 1882 midterms, a repudiation of Stalwart Republicanism. Rank and file Republicans also didn’t support him for continued leadership thanks to his troubles and the fact that he practiced nepotism, giving “choice jobs to close relatives…all at handsome salaries” (Congressional Research Service). They turned instead to Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine. The following election year, Keifer lost renomination, which was undoubtedly assisted by the publishing of Boynton’s letters. As a leader, he was overall a disaster: he lacked political leadership skills and was brought down by his own conflicts with the press. The Republican Party dispute over civil service reform was resolved when almost every Republican officeholder voted for the Pendleton Act, which was passed just before the end of the 47th Congress, making the civil service merit-based. The Republican Party chose to unify on this issue because of the dismal election results in 1882 and to keep their own people in office. However, this was not the end of Keifer’s political career!

Keifer’s Comeback

In 1898, the Spanish-American War was on and President William McKinley placed Keifer in command of the 7th Army Corps, which marched into Havana after the Spanish forces pulled out. In 1900, he wrote Slavery and Four Years of War, his account of the Civil War and the history of slavery in the United States. In 1904, he was again elected to Congress, but didn’t regain the level of influence he had before. Conservative in his worldview, he supported the agenda of Speaker Joseph G. Cannon and voted against the Norris Resolution stripping him of his ability to chair the Rules Committee in 1910. That year, he lost reelection and the House was won by the Democrats. Keifer subsequently retired from politics.

Keifer differed from modern speakers in the following sense: most of them don’t stay after their time as speaker or party leader is done. The last Speaker of the House who lost leadership of the party and continued to stick around in Congress was Republican Joseph W. Martin Jr. of Massachusetts, and he was defeated for renomination 53 years ago. He also differed in that he was only picked after four years; not since 1891 has a Speaker been elected who didn’t serve at least 12 years in Congress beforehand. Keifer was an unusual example of someone who could rise so quickly in politics only to fall by the weight of his own political inadequacies and public relations failings…and then make a political comeback!


O’Brien, S.G. (1991). American political leaders: From colonial times to the present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Stafford, T.  (2009, November 9). Rise to power ends rapidly. Springfield News-Sun.

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The Role of the House Minority Leader: An Overview. (2019, January 25). Congressional Research Service.

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Click to access RL30666.pdf


Jones and Stewart: Nevada’s First Career Senators

When you read the title “Jones and Stewart”, you may think of a law firm or possibly a company that makes root beer, but they were the two most prominent national figures in 19th century Nevada. Both men made a fortune through ownership of silver mines, had investments in railroads, established communities outside Nevada, and had really bushy beards.

John P. Jones

Image result for John P. Jones

John P. Jones (1829-1912) began his career in the west in 1849 when he participated in the California Gold Rush. After a stint in the California State Senate from 1863 to 1867, Jones moved to Gold Hill, Nevada and managed to make a fortune with the ownership of the Crown Point silver mine, which was part of the Comstock Lode. In 1873, the state legislature dumped incumbent Senator James W. Nye in favor of fellow Republican Jones.

John P. Jones became known for his independent views in the Republican Party and stood as a leading advocate for free coinage of silver. This brought him into conflict with an increasingly gold standard favorable Republican Party and in 1895 he left the party when they embraced it, returning in 1901. Jones was also an advocate of racially exclusionary immigration policy. In 1882, he argued on the floor of the Senate for no immigration for Asians or blacks in the name of protecting the white race. Jones’s stance was based both in racist views and in keeping out cheap labor. Yet, Jones also stood with the rest of the Senate Republicans in opposing racially segregated train cars. In 1893, Jones delivered a speech for eight days with interruptions against President Grover Cleveland’s proposal to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

The leftist South Dakota Republican Senator Richard Pettigrew held Jones in the highest regard in his memoirs, stating that he was “the ablest man in the Senate of the United States during the twelve years that I was there. He was a careful student, had a great intellect, and understood the science of political economy and the money question” (Pettigrew, 1920). Jones was also one of the founders of the city of Santa Monica, California, where he established a railroad between the city and Los Angeles, which he later sold.

In 1903, Jones retired to his Santa Monica mansion, Miramar.

William M. Stewart

On October 31, 1864, Nevada was officially admitted into the union and done in haste so its electoral votes could be counted in the 1864 presidential election. In the subsequent Senate elections, the Nevada State Legislature elected Republicans William M. Stewart (1827-1909) and James W. Nye as their first senators. There were a few noteworthy things about him even in his first term. In 1867, Stewart briefly employed a struggling reporter named Samuel Clemens as his personal secretary, but fired him for spending more time with his personal writing than writing official correspondence. Clemens would later become famous for his writing under another name, Mark Twain, and would skewer Stewart in Roughing It (1872), accusing him of swindling him out of mining stock. This would not be the only allegation of unethical behavior against Stewart: as a lawyer representing mine owners he was accused of bribing judges and juries and was nearly disbarred over the allegations.

In 1868, the freshman senator drafted the final version of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, requiring that race not be a determinant for denial of suffrage. The state of Nevada was the first to ratify it. Like John P. Jones, Stewart was independent in his thinking and was willing to buck the party line for the interests of his state. According to him, President Grant personally offered him a seat on the Supreme Court in 1871, but he declined. Stewart chose not to run for reelection in 1875, opting to continue his law practice. He was easily one of the wealthiest men to serve in the Senate during the Gilded Age given his law practice and ownership of silver mines, the latter interest he promoted relentlessly throughout his political career. In 1887, he returned to the Senate. Although the Republican Party’s compromise to embrace bimetallism with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act satisfied him, the party’s decision to embrace the gold standard after the Panic of 1893 and the depression that followed was so objectionable to him that he left the Republican Party. He served as a “Silver Republican” until 1901, when the furor over currency had died down, especially with the economic recovery and William Jennings Bryan’s second loss in 1900. During his time in the Senate, Stewart co-founded with fellow Nevada Senator Francis G. Newlands the community of Chevy Chase, Maryland. The community was racially restrictive and Stewart’s partner in the venture, Newlands, was a staunch racist and ran his 1912 presidential campaign on the theme of opposition to the 15th Amendment. He retired in 1905.


Pettigrew, R.F. (1920). Triumphant plutocracy: The story of American public life from 1870 to 1920. New York, NY: The Academy Press.