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

https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/graphic/xlarge/StewartWilliam.jpg

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.

References

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

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