Great Conservatives from American History #2: John W. Weeks

Today I wish to honor a man who could best be thought of as both a hardline and constructive conservative. An investment banker by profession, John Wingate Weeks (1860-1926) founded with Henry Hornblower the investment banking firm Hornblower & Weeks in 1888. He was heavily focused on budget efficiency, a trait that would serve him well in the private and public sector. Weeks served an energetic term as the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts from 1902 to 1903, in which he was interested in getting things done to develop the city over adhering to tradition or precedent. Weeks first was elected to Congress in 1904, and he proved a trusted man for the legendary conservative Speaker Joe Cannon with his strong support for tariffs, trusts, and pro-business policies in general. Although Weeks’ specialty was banking, Cannon placed him on the House Agriculture Committee so that a fiscal conservative could have influence over agricultural and conservation legislation. If anyone could write a conservation bill that the famously anti-conservation Speaker would approve of, it was Weeks. As Cannon told him, “If you can frame a forestry bill which you, as a business man, are willing to support, I will do what I can to get an opportunity to get its consideration in the House” (New England Historical Society).

The Weeks Act

Representative Weeks followed through, sharing the wishes of many Americans to conserve the nation’s natural treasures, and on June 24, 1910 the Weeks Act passed the House and the Senate, with the critical support of conservative Republican Jacob Gallinger of New Hampshire, passed the bill on February 15, 1911. This law authorized the Federal government to purchase private lands to preserve them from destruction. This law has protected 20 million acres in the Eastern United States. In 1913, Weeks was elected to the Senate.

The Wilson Years

Although Senator Weeks was opposed to President Wilson’s anti-trust legislation and his administration overall, he lent crucial support to the enacting of the Federal Reserve, adding a multitude of amendments to the bill. He was one of the few “pro-bank” Republican senators to support the law. Weeks, like many other politicians on the Eastern seaboard, supported former President Roosevelt’s push for military training and expanding the size of the navy to prepare for war with Germany. In 1916, he was held in sufficiently high regard to come in second for the Republican nomination for president, losing out to the more moderate Charles Evans Hughes, a candidate the conservative and progressive wings could agree on.

Defeat By Suffragists

Senator Weeks, like his colleague Henry Cabot Lodge, was an opponent of many social reform pushes of his day. One of them was Prohibition, and another was women’s suffrage. Many men in Massachusetts had shared his views on suffrage; in an October 1915 referendum, almost 65% of the voters went against, and some women in the state also opposed suffrage. However, attitudes were changing by the year and what a difference three years made! Democrat David I. Walsh was able to fully capitalize on rising approval for women’s suffrage, and made history by being the first Democrat to defeat a Republican in a Senate election in Massachusetts in 1918. His MC-Index score was a 97%. However, Weeks was not out of the game yet!

Harding and Coolidge Administrations

Weeks had been an early supporter of Senator Warren G. Harding’s (R-Ohio) candidacy for president, and after his election, he tapped him to be Secretary of War. The Harding Administration was famously troubled with corruption in Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, Attorney General Harry M. Daughtery, and Veterans Bureau Chief Charles Forbes. However, Weeks was among the honest and competent of Harding’s picks and worked hard to transition the military to peacetime levels of personnel and expenditures through his emphasis on fiscal efficiency. President Coolidge kept Weeks on after Harding’s death and he continued his hard work. Unfortunately, it turns out he worked too hard.

The End

Weeks worked strenuously for long hours, and this taxed him beyond what he could handle at his age. In April 1925, he suffered a stroke and by October he retired due to his failing health. Weeks’ health continued to deteriorate as he developed a brain tumor and died of heart failure on July 12, 1926. His biographer and dear friend, Charles Walsh, wrote on his passing, “His earnest wish had been gratified. He died in the spot dearer to him than any other. The towering peaks of the majestic Presidential Range, stood, almost like sentinels, at his bedside. He fell asleep in the land of his fathers” (Baird, 102). Weeks’ son, Sinclair, would also serve as mayor of Newton and would for most of 1944 serve in the Senate as a placeholder. He would then serve as head of the American Enterprise Association (today known as the American Enterprise Institute) from 1946 to 1950. His most significant role was as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce from 1953 to 1958, where he proved to be one of the most conservative members of his cabinet. I plan on giving Sinclair Weeks his own entry for he too has a great accomplishment under his belt…one that all of America benefits from today.


Baird, I.D. (2011). Biographical Portrait – John W. Weeks. Forest History Today.

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John W. Weeks. Miller Center.

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Passing the Weeks Act. Forest History Society.

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Passing the Weeks Act

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