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John Sherman
35th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1897 – April 27, 1898
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byRichard Olney
Succeeded byWilliam R. Day
Chairman of the United States Senate Republican Conference
In office
September 2, 1884 – December 1885
Preceded byHenry B. Anthony
Succeeded byGeorge F. Edmunds
In office
December 1891 – March 4, 1897
Preceded byGeorge F. Edmunds
Succeeded byWilliam B. Allison
President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
In office
December 7, 1885 – February 26, 1887
Preceded byGeorge F. Edmunds
Succeeded byJohn James Ingalls
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
March 4, 1881 – March 4, 1897
Preceded byAllen G. Thurman
Succeeded byMark Hanna
In office
March 21, 1861 – March 8, 1877
Preceded bySalmon P. Chase
Succeeded byStanley Matthews
32nd United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
March 10, 1877 – March 3, 1881
PresidentRutherford B. Hayes
Preceded byLot M. Morrill
Succeeded byWilliam Windom
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 13th district
In office
March 4, 1855 – March 21, 1861
Preceded byWilliam D. Lindsley
Succeeded bySamuel T. Worcester
Personal details
Born(1823-05-10)May 10, 1823
Lancaster, Ohio, U.S.
DiedOctober 22, 1900(1900-10-22) (aged 77)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyWhig (before 1854)
Oppositionist (1854–1858)
Republican (1858–1900)
Spouse(s)Margaret Stewart

John Sherman (May 10, 1823 – October 22, 1900) was an American politician during the American Civil War and into the late nineteenth century. He represented Ohio in both houses of the U.S. Congress and was a founding member of the Republican Party. He also served as Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State.

His brothers included General William Tecumseh Sherman, Judge Charles Taylor Sherman, and Hoyt Sherman, an Iowa banker.

As Senator and Secretary of the Treasury, Sherman helped to redesign the United States' post-war monetary system by restoring the nation's credit abroad and producing a stable, gold-backed currency at home. In both roles, Sherman pursued financial stability and solvency and reduced wartime inflationary measures.

After returning to the Senate, Sherman also took a prominent role in immigration, business competition law, and the regulation of interstate commerce. Prominent legislation bearing his name includes the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act, both passed in 1890.

Sherman unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for President three times, coming closest in 1888.

In 1897, President William McKinley appointed him Secretary of State, but failing health and declining faculties forced him to retire in 1898, at the start of the Spanish–American War.

Early life and education

Sherman at age 19
Sherman at age 19

Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio on May 10, 1823 to Charles Robert Sherman and Mary Hoyt Sherman, the eighth of their 11 children.[1]

Charles Robert Sherman was the son of Taylor Sherman, a Connecticut lawyer and judge who first visited Ohio in the early nineteenth century, gaining title to several parcels of land before returning to Connecticut.[2] After Taylor's death in 1815, Charles moved the family west to Ohio.[2] Several other Sherman relatives soon followed, and Charles became established as a lawyer in Lancaster.[2] At the time of John Sherman's birth, Charles had just been appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio.[3]

Sherman's father died suddenly when he was six, leaving his mother to care for 11 children.[4] Several of the oldest children, including Sherman's older brother William, were fostered with nearby relatives. John and his brother Hoyt stayed with their mother in Lancaster until 1831, when Sherman's father's cousin (also named John Sherman) took Sherman into his home in Mount Vernon, Ohio.[4] The elder John Sherman enrolled his namesake in school and intended to enroll him at Kenyon College, but the young Sherman disliked school and was, in his own words, "a troublesome boy."[5] In 1835, he returned to his mother's home in Lancaster.[6] Sherman continued his education there at a local academy where he studied for two years and was briefly expelled for punching a teacher,.[7]

In 1837, Sherman left school and found a job as a junior surveyor on construction of improvements to the Muskingum River through Whig Party patronage.[8] The election of a Democratic Governor meant that Sherman and the rest of his Whig surveying crew were discharged in June 1839.[8]

The following year, he moved to Mansfield to study law in the office of his older brother, Charles Taylor Sherman.[9] He was admitted to the bar in 1844 and joined his brother's firm.[10] Sherman quickly became successful at the practice of law, and by 1847 had accumulated property worth $10,000 and was a partner in several local businesses.[11] By that time, Sherman and his brother Charles were able to support their mother and two unmarried sisters, who now moved to a house Sherman purchased in Mansfield.[12]

Entry to politics

In 1844, he addressed a political rally on behalf of the Whig candidate for president that year, Henry Clay.[13] In 1848, Sherman was a delegate to the Whig National Convention.[13] Sherman was a conservative Whig who supported the Compromise of 1850 as the best solution to the growing sectional divide.[14] In 1852, Sherman was again a delegate to the Whig National Convention, where he supported the eventual nominee, Winfield Scott.[13]

U.S. House of Representatives

Congressman John Sherman
Congressman John Sherman

Sherman moved north to Cleveland in 1853 and established a law office there with two partners.[15] However, the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 inspired Sherman (and many other anti-slavery Northerners) to take a more involved role in politics. The Act opened the two named territories to slavery, an implicit repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820.[16] Intended to quiet national agitation over slavery by shifting the decision to local settlers, the Act instead inflamed anti-slavery sentiment in the North by allowing the possibility of slavery's expansion to territories held as free soil for three decades.[16]

Two months after the Act's passage, Sherman was nominated by the Opposition Party for Ohio's 13th congressional district.[17] The new party, a fusion of Free Soilers, Whigs, and anti-slavery Democrats, had many discordant elements, and some among the former group thought Sherman too conservative on the slavery question.[17] Nevertheless, they supported him against the incumbent Democrat, William D. Lindsley. Democrats were defeated across Ohio that year, and Sherman was elected by 2,823 votes.[18]

When the 34th United States Congress convened in December 1855,[a] members opposed to Democratic President Franklin Pierce (most of them Northerners) held the majority in the House, while the Democrats retained their majority in the Senate. The House majority was mainly split between the new anti-Nebraska Opposition Party, and the new nativist American (or "Know-Nothing") Party. The American Party were also fractious, with some former Whigs and some former Free Soilers in their ranks.[19] The result was a House that was unable to elect a Speaker for two months. When they finally agreed on the election of Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, the House quickly turned to the matter of Kansas.[20]

Kansas report

Preventing the expansion of slavery to Kansas was the one issue that united the fragile majority, and the House resolved to send three members to investigate the situation in that territory; Sherman was one of the three selected.[21] Sherman spent two months in the territory and was the primary author of the members' 1,188-page report, filed upon their return in April 1856.[22]

The report explained what the House majority already feared: the principle of local control was being seriously undermined by the invasion of Missourians who, while not intending to settle there, used violence to coerce the Kansans to elect pro-slavery members to the territorial legislature.[23] The House took no action on the reports, but they were widely distributed as campaign documents.[24] That July, Sherman proposed an amendment to an army appropriation act to bar use of federal troops to enforce the acts of the Kansas territorial legislature, which many now viewed as an illegitimate body.[25] The amendment narrowly passed the House, but was removed by the Senate; the House ultimately agreed to the change.[25] In spite of this defeat, however, Sherman had achieved considerable prominence for a freshman representative.[25]

Second term

In 1856, Sherman was reelected over Democrat Herman J. Brumback by 2,861 votes.[26] When the 35th Congress assembled in December 1857, the anti-Nebraska coalition—now formally the new Republican Party—had lost control of the House, and Sherman found himself in the minority.[27]

The sectional crisis had also deepened in the past year. In March 1857, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, holding that Congress had no power to prevent slavery in the territories and that blacks—whether free or enslaved—could not be citizens of the United States.[28] In December 1857, Kansas adopted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution in an election boycotted by free-state partisans and petitioned Congress to be admitted as a slave state.[29] Buchanan urged that Congress take up the matter, and the Senate approved a bill to admit Kansas.[30] Sherman spoke against the Kansas bill in the House, pointing to evidence of fraud in the territorial elections.[30] Ultimately, some Northern Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus to defeat the measure.[29] Congress agreed to a compromise measure, by which Kansas would be admitted after another referendum on the Lecompton Constitution.[30] The electorate rejected slavery and remained a territory, a decision Sherman would later call "the turning point of the slavery controversy".[31]

Sherman's second term also saw his first speeches in Congress on the country's financial situation, following the Panic of 1857.[32] Sherman especially criticized Southern Senators for adding appropriations to the House's bills, citing the need to pare unnecessary expenditures in light of diminished revenues.[32] Sherman's focus on financial matters would continue throughout his long political career.[33]

House leadership

The voters returned Sherman to office for a third term in 1858.[34] After a brief special session of Congress in March 1859, Sherman and his wife went on vacation to Europe.[35] When they returned that December, the situation was similar to that in 1854. No party had an absolute majority: Republicans held 109 seats, Democrats 101, and the combination of remaining Oppositionists and Know Nothings 27.[b][36][37] Again, sectional tension had increased while Congress was in recess, this time due to John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia.[37]

The election for Speaker of the House promised to be contentious.[36] Sherman was among the leading candidates, receiving the second-largest number of votes on the first ballot, with no candidate receiving a majority.[38] However, Southerners accused Sherman of having endorsed the anti-slavery book The Impending Crisis of the South, written by Hinton Rowan Helper and endorsed by many Republican members.[39] Sherman protested that he only endorsed its use as a campaign tool and had never read it,[40] but after two months of balloting, no decision had been reached.[41] After their attempts to adopt a plurality rule failed, Sherman accepted that he could not be elected and withdrew.[41]

Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, with whom Sherman worked on tariff legislation
Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, with whom Sherman worked on tariff legislation

Republicans shifted their support to William Pennington, who was elected on the forty-fourth ballot.[42] Pennington assigned Sherman as Chairman of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means, where he spent much of his time on appropriations bills, working with Representative Justin Smith Morrill on what became known as the Morrill Tariff.[43] The Morrill Tariff raised duties on imports to close the deficit that had resulted from falling revenues.[44] It also encouraged domestic production over foreign imports, which appealed to the nationalist former Whigs in the Republican Party.[44] Sherman spoke in favor of the bill, and it passed the House by a vote of 105 to 64.[44]

Sherman was renominated for Congress in 1860 and was active in Abraham Lincoln's campaign for President, giving speeches on his behalf in several states.[45] Both were elected, with Sherman defeating Barnabas Burns by 2,864 votes. Sherman returned to Washington for the lame duck session of the 36th Congress.

By February 1861, seven states had reacted to Lincoln's election by seceding from the Union. The withdrawal of those Southern Senators opposed to the Morill Tariff allowed the rump Senate to pass the tariff during the lame duck session, and President Buchanan signed it into law in February 1861.[44] Likewise, Sherman supported a bill admitting Kansas as a free state that passed in 1861.[46]

In response to secession, Congress passed a constitutional amendment proposed by Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio.[47] The Corwin Amendment was an attempt to keep the remaining slave states in the Union and entice the seceded states to return by prohibiting any future amendment granting Congress power to interfere with slavery.[48] Sherman voted for the amendment, which passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification.[49] However, few states ratified it, and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery in 1865, rendered the compromise measure moot.

U.S. Senate (1861–77)

Senator John Sherman
Senator John Sherman

After President Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, he nominated Ohio Senator Salmon P. Chase as his Secretary of the Treasury. Chase resigned his Senate seat on March 7, and after two weeks of indecisive balloting, the Ohio Legislature elected Sherman to the vacant seat.[c][50]

Sherman took his seat on March 23 for a special session of the 37th Congress called by Lincoln to deal with the secession crisis.[51] The Senate had a Republican majority for the first time, and the majority grew as more Southern members resigned or were expelled.[52]

In April, Sherman's brother William visited Washington to rejoin the Army, and the brothers went together to the White House to meet Lincoln.[53] Lincoln soon called for 75,000 men to enlist for three months to put down the rebellion, which William Sherman thought too few and too short a duration.[53] William's thoughts on the war greatly influenced his brother, and John Sherman returned home to Ohio to encourage enlistment, briefly serving as an unpaid colonel in the Ohio Volunteers.[54]

Financing the Civil War

Civil War expenditures quickly strained the Union's fragile financial situation and Sherman, assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, looked toward increasing government revenue.[55]

A Demand Note (top) and a United States Note (bottom)
A Demand Note (top) and a United States Note (bottom)

In July 1861, Congress authorized the issuance of Demand Notes, the first form of paper money issued directly by the United States government.[56] The notes were redeemable in specie (gold or silver coin) but did not solve the revenue problem, as the government did not have the coin to redeem the notes should they all be presented for payment.[57] To solve this problem, Secretary Chase asked for and Congress authorized the issuance of $150 million in bonds in exchange for gold, which replenished the treasury.[56] Congress also sought to increase revenue when they passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which imposed the first federal income tax in American history. Sherman endorsed the measure, and even spoke in favor of a steeper tax than the one imposed by the Act (3% on income above $800), preferring to raise revenue by taxation than by borrowing.[58][d] In August, the special session closed and Sherman returned home to Mansfield to promote military recruitment again.[60]

When Congress reconvened in December 1861, Sherman and the Finance Committee continued to address the deepening financial crisis. Banks had begun to suspend specie payments—that is, they refused to redeem their banknotes for gold[61]— and gold began to disappear from circulation.[62] With 500,000 soldiers in the field, the government was spending the then-unheard-of sum of $2 million per day. Sherman understood that "a radical change in existing laws relating to our currency must be made, or ... the destruction of the Union would be unavoidable ..."[63]

Secretary Chase proposed that the Treasury Department issue United States Notes (commonly referred to as "greenbacks"), redeemable not in specie but in 6% government bonds.[61] The bills would be "lawful money and a legal tender in the payment of all debts."[61] The resulting First Legal Tender Act passed both the House and the Senate, establishing the first use of paper money as legal tender in United States history.[e][64] The Act limited the notes to $150 million, but two subsequent Legal Tender Acts that year expanded the limit to $450 million.[65] Accepting paper money as legal tender was controversial, and Finance Committee chairman William Pitt Fessenden was among its opponents.[66] Sherman disagreed and spoke in favor of the idea. He defended his position as necessary in his memoirs, saying, "From the passage of the legal tender act, by which means were provided for utilizing the wealth of the country in the suppression of the rebellion, the tide of war turned in our favor."[66]

Sherman, along with Secretary Chase, worked to establish a centralized national banking system in favor of the existing system of state-chartered banks.[67] Sherman believed the state-by-state system of regulation was disorderly and could not facilitate the borrowing a modern nation might require.[68] He also believed the state banks were unconstitutional.[69]

These reforms were realized in the National Banking Act of 1863. This Act, first proposed by Chase in 1861 and re-introduced by Sherman, established a series of nationally chartered private banks that would issue banknotes in coordination with the Treasury, partially replacing the existing system of state-chartered banks.[70] Not all Republicans shared Sherman's views, and when the Act eventually passed the Senate, it was by a narrow 23–21 vote.[67] Although its immediate purpose was financing the War, the National Bank Act was intended to be permanent and remained the law until 1913.[71] In 1865, Congress instituted a 10% tax on state banknotes to encourage the shift to a national bank system.[70] Lincoln signed the bill into law on February 25, 1863.[72][f]


Besides financial matters, Sherman also participated in debate over the conduct of the war and goals for the post-war nation.

Sherman voted for the Confiscation Act of 1861, allowing the Union to confiscate any property used to support the Confederate war effort (including slaves), and for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.[74] He also voted for the Confiscation Act of 1862, which clarified that slaves "confiscated" under the 1861 Act were free.[75]

In 1864, Sherman voted for the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery.[76] After some effort, it passed Congress and was ratified by the states the next year.[76]

When the session ended, Sherman campaigned in Indiana and Ohio for Lincoln's reelection.[77] In 1865, he attended Lincoln's second inauguration and traveled to Savannah, Georgia to meet with his brother William, who had arrived there after his army's march to the sea.[78] Sherman returned home to Mansfield in April, where he learned of Lincoln's assassination just days after the Confederate surrender.[78] He was again in Washington for the Grand Review of the Armies and then returned home until December 1865, when the 39th Congress assembled.[79]


There had been no special session of Congress in summer 1865, and newly elevated President Andrew Johnson had taken the lead on Reconstruction of the conquered South, to the consternation of many Republicans in Congress.[80] Sherman and Johnson had been friendly as fellow Senators, and some observers hoped that Sherman could serve as a liaison between Johnson and the Radical wing of the Republican Party, who demanded harsh punishment of the rebels and federal action to assist the freedmen.[81]

By February 1866, however, Johnson was publicly attacking the Radicals. In March, Johnson vetoed the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1866, which had passed Congress with overwhelming numbers.[82] Sherman joined in re-passing the bill over Johnson's veto.[82] That same year, Sherman voted for the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws to the freedmen.[83] It became law in 1868.

By 1868, Johnson had made himself the enemy of most Republicans in Congress, including Sherman.[84] Sherman, a moderate, joined the Radicals to pass the Tenure of Office Act over Johnson's veto in 1867 but argued, in debating the First Reconstruction Act, against disenfranchising those who had participated in the rebellion.[82] The latter bill, amended to remove that provision, also passed over Johnson's veto.[85]

The continued conflict between Johnson and Congress culminated in Johnson's impeachment by the House in 1868.[83] Though Sherman voted to convict in the Senate, the total vote was one short of the required two-thirds majority, and Johnson remained in office.[83] Writing later, Sherman said that although he "liked the President personally and harbored against him none of the prejudice and animosity of some others," he believed Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act and accordingly voted to remove him from office.[86]

After Ulysses S. Grant's election in 1868, Congress had a more willing partner in Reconstruction. The lame duck session of the 40th Congresspassed the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed that the right to vote could not be restricted because of race; Sherman voted for its passage. During the 41st Congress, Sherman also voted for both the Enforcement Act of 1870, which created penalties for violating another person's constitutional rights, and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which strengthened the Enforcement Act by allowing federal trials and federal troops to be used.[87][88]

Post-war financial regulation

After the War, with the financial crisis abated and expenditures down, many in Congress wanted the greenbacks to be withdrawn from circulation.[89] The public had never seen greenbacks as equivalent to specie and by 1866 they circulated at a considerable discount.[g][91]

In 1865, Post-war Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch believed the notes were an emergency measure only and should be gradually withdrawn.[89] McCulloch proposed the Contraction Act to convert some greenbacks from notes redeemable in bonds to interest-bearing notes redeemable in specie.[91]

Sherman found himself alone in opposition to the proposal. Sherman believed that withdrawing greenbacks from circulation would contract the money supply too drastically and harm the economy.[91] He instead favored leaving the existing notes in circulation and letting the growth in population catch up to the growth in money supply.[92] Sherman unsuccessfully proposed a compromise amendment that would instead allow the Treasury to redeem the notes for lower-interest bonds.[91]

The Contraction Act passed as proposed; greenbacks would be gradually withdrawn, but those still circulating would be redeemable for the high-interest bonds as before.[89] In his memoirs, Sherman called this law "the most injurious and expensive financial measure ever enacted by Congress," as the continued high-interest payments it required "added fully $300,000,000 of interest" to the national debt.[93]

In 1867, the Ohio legislature reelected Sherman to another six-year term, and after a three-month vacation in Europe, he resumed his seat. Public support for greenbacks had grown, especially among businesspeople who foresaw an expansion in the economy and thought withdrawal would lead to artificially lower prices.[94] A bill passed the House suspending the Contraction Act, and Sherman supported it in the Senate.[94] It passed the Senate 33–4 and became law in 1868.[94]

In the 1868 election, Democrats proposed to repay bondholders (mostly supporters of the Union war effort) in greenbacks, while Republicans favored gold, as the bonds had been purchased with gold.[94] In the next Congress, among the first bills to pass the House was the Public Credit Act of 1869, which fulfilled the Republican campaign promise and required the government to pay bondholders in gold.[94] Sherman agreed with his fellow Republicans and voted with them to pass the bill 42–13.[95]

Sherman continued to favor wider circulation of greenbacks when he voted for the Currency Act of 1870, which authorized an additional $54 million in United States Notes.[94]

Sherman also sponsored and authored the Funding Act of 1870, which he called "[t]he most important financial measure of that Congress."[96] Sherman's proposal refunded the national debt by authorizing low-interest bonds for the purchase the high-rate bonds issued during the war, to take advantage of the lower borrowing costs brought about by the peace and security that followed the Union victory.[96] The Act was the subject of considerable debate over the exact rates and amounts, but once the differences were ironed out, it passed by large majorities in both houses.[96] While Sherman was unhappy with the compromise amendments (especially the extension of the bonds' term to 30 years), he saw the bill as an improvement over the existing conditions and urged its passage.[96]

Coinage Act of 1873 and the gold standard

A silver dollar of the type Sherman said he never saw in circulation
A silver dollar of the type Sherman said he never saw in circulation

In 1872, the Ohio Legislature elected Sherman to a third term after Governor Rutherford B. Hayes declined the invitation of several legislators to run against Sherman.[97] Sherman returned to the Senate as Chairman of the Finance Committee.

Since the early days of the republic, the United States had minted both gold and silver coins, and for decades the ratio of value between them had been set by law at 16:1.[98] Both metals were subject to "free coinage" — anyone could bring any amount of silver or gold to a United States Mint and have it converted to coinage.[99]

The ratio was bound to be an imperfect reflection of each metal's market value, as the market supply of each mined and international demand for each fluctuated from year to year. If a metal's commodity value exceeded its face value, coins of that metal would disappear from circulation (Gresham's law).[99] Before the Civil War, the market ratio of silver to gold was roughly 16.5:1, so gold coinage circulated freely and silver disappeared. While silver dollars remained legal tender, Sherman wrote that "[a]lthough I was quite active in business ... I do not remember at that time to have ever seen a silver dollar."[100]

Greenbacks had pushed debate over gold-to-silver ratios to the background as coins of both metals disappeared from the nation's commerce in favor of the new paper notes. As the dollar became stronger in peacetime and the national debt payments were guaranteed to be paid in specie, Congress saw the need to update the coinage laws.[101]

In 1873, Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell sent Sherman a draft of what would become the Coinage Act of 1873, which removed the silver dollar and two smaller coins from the free coinage list.[101] Silver remained legal tender, but only for sums up to five dollars. The Treasury rationale was that to mint a gold dollar and a silver dollar with different intrinsic values was problematic; as the silver dollar did not circulate, it made sense to drop the unused coin.[h][103]

In switching to what was effectively a gold standard, the United States joined a host of nations around the world that based their currencies on gold alone. In doing so, these nations increased the demand for gold which, combined with increased silver mining, drove the cost of gold up and silver down.[104] The result was not apparent immediately after the Coinage Act's passage, but by 1879 the ratio between the price of gold and that of silver had risen from 16.4:1 to 18.4:1. By 1896, it was 30:1.[104]

The ultimate effect of the Act was more expensive gold, which meant lower prices and deflation for other goods.[105] The deflation exacerbated the effects of the Panic of 1873 on debtors, because they had contracted their debts when currency was less valuable but still had to pay them at current rates.[106] Farmers and laborers were particularly affected by such deflation and clamored for the return of coinage in both metals, believing the increased money supply would restore wages and property values.[107] Opponents of the bill would later call the Coinage Act the "Crime of '73" and circulate tales of widespread bribery of Congressmen by foreign agents.[108]

Sherman later emphasized that the bill was openly debated for several years and passed both Houses with overwhelming support and that, given the continued circulation of smaller silver coins at the same 16:1 ratio, nothing had been "demonetized."[103] Later scholars have suggested that Sherman and others did wish to demonetize silver and move the country onto a gold-only standard of currency—not for corrupt gain, but because they believed it was the path to a strong, secure national currency.[109] Writing in 1895, Sherman defended the bill, saying that, barring some international agreement to switch the entire world to a bimetallic standard, the United States dollar should remain a gold-backed currency.[110]

The divide between pro- and anti-silver forces grew in the decades to come.[107]

Resumption of specie payments

A cartoon from the April 9, 1870 issue of Harper's Weekly anticipates the resumption of government payments in precious-metal coins.
A cartoon from the April 9, 1870 issue of Harper's Weekly anticipates the resumption of government payments in precious-metal coins.

Parallel to coinage reform, Sherman worked for the resumption of specie payment on all bank notes, including the greenbacks.

As late as 1872, Sherman remained a proponent of keeping existing greenbacks backed by bonds in circulation, though he opposed printing additional greenbacks.[111] Over the next two years, Sherman worked to develop what became the Specie Payment Resumption Act.[112]

By now, Sherman admitted that greenbacks were "a great favorite of the people,"[113] and the economic turmoil of 1873 made it even clearer that immediate monetary contraction would be harmful to the average American.[114] Still, Sherman and others desired an eventual return to gold as the sole medium of exchange. As he said in an 1874 speech, "a specie standard is the best and the only true standard of all values, recognized as such by all civilized nations of our generation".[115] If greenbacks were not to be withdrawn from circulation, therefore, they must be made equal to the gold dollar.

The Resumption Act required the maximum value of greenbacks in circulation to be gradually reduced to $300 million[i] and, while earlier drafts had allowed the Treasury the option of paying in bonds, the final version of the Act required payment in specie to begin in 1879.[116] It passed on a party-line vote in the lame duck session of the 43rd Congress, and President Grant signed it into law on January 14, 1875.[117]

Election of 1876

After the close of the 43rd Congress, Sherman returned to Ohio to campaign for Rutherford B. Hayes, who hoped to return as Governor in 1875.[118] Hayes endorsed specie payments and his Democratic opponent, incumbent Governor William Allen, favored increased circulation of greenbacks redeemable in bonds.[118] Hayes won a narrow victory and was soon mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 1876.[119]

The controversy over resumption carried into the presidential election. The Democratic platform demanded repeal of the Resumption Act, while the Republicans nominated Hayes, whose position in favor of a gold standard was now well known.[120]

The election of 1876 was extremely close and the electoral votes of several states were ardently disputed until mere days before the new president was to be inaugurated.[121] Louisiana was one of the states in which both parties claimed victory, and President Grant asked Sherman, James A. Garfield, Stanley Matthews, and other Republican politicians to go to New Orleans and ensure the party's interests were represented.[122] Sherman, though thoroughly displeased with Grant and his administration, took up the call in the name of party loyalty.[122] The Democrats likewise sent their own men, and the two sides met to observe the elections board's decision that Hayes should be awarded their state's electoral votes.[123] This ended Sherman's direct role in the matter, and he returned to Washington, but the dispute carried over until a bipartisan election commission was convened in the capital.[121]

A few days before Grant's term ended, the commission narrowly decided in Hayes's favor, and he became the 19th President of the United States.

Secretary of the Treasury

The Hayes Cabinet in 1877; Sherman is seated directly behind Hayes.
The Hayes Cabinet in 1877; Sherman is seated directly behind Hayes.

Sherman's financial expertise and his relationship with Hayes made him a natural choice for Treasury Secretary in 1877.[124]

Like Grant before him, Hayes did not consult party leaders about his cabinet appointments, and the Senate took the unusual step of referring all of them to committee.[125] Two days later, Sherman's nomination was approved after an hour of debate, and he began lobbying his former colleagues to approve the other nominations, which they eventually did.[125]

Hayes and Sherman became close friends in the next four years, taking regular carriage rides together to discuss matters of state in private.[126] In the Treasury, Sherman was confronted with two tasks: preparing for resumption in 1879 and dealing with the backlash against the diminution of silver coinage.

Bland–Allison Act of 1878

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Sherman as Secretary of the Treasury

Sentiment against the 1873 Coinage Act and in favor of silver gained strength as the economy worsened. Democratic Representative Richard P. Bland of Missouri proposed a bill that would require the United States to resume free coinage of silver, which would increase the money supply and aid debtors. In short, silver miners would sell the government metal worth fifty to seventy cents and receive back a silver dollar.[127]

Pro-silver sentiment cut across party lines, and William B. Allison, a Republican from Iowa, led the effort in the Senate.[106] Allison offered an amendment in the Senate requiring the purchase of two to four million dollars in silver per month but not allowing private deposit of silver at the mints. Thus the coin's seignorage, or the difference between its face value and commodity value, accrued to the government's credit, not private citizens. The resulting Bland–Allison Act passed both houses of Congress in 1878.[127]

Hayes feared that the Act would expand the money supply so as to cause inflation that would be ruinous to business.[128] Sherman knew that silver was gaining popularity and opposing it might harm Republican candidates in 1880, but he also agreed with Hayes in wanting to avoid inflation.[129]

Sherman pressured his friends in the Senate to defeat the bill or to limit it to production of a larger silver dollar, which would actually be worth 1/16th its weight in gold.[130] These efforts were unsuccessful, but Allison's amendment made the bill less financially risky. Sherman recommended Hayes sign the amended bill but did not press the matter, and Hayes vetoed it.[131] "In view of the strong public sentiment in favor of the free coinage of the silver dollar", Sherman later wrote, "I thought it better to make no objections to the passage of the bill, but I did not care to antagonize the wishes of the President."[132] Congress overrode Hayes's veto and the bill became law.[128] However, the effects of the Bland–Allison Act were limited. The premium on gold over silver continued to grow, and financial conditions in the country continued to improve.[133]

Resumption of 1879

In preparation for the resumption of specie payments, Sherman and Hayes agreed to stockpile gold.[128] The Resumption Act remained unpopular in some quarters, leading to four attempts to repeal it in the Senate and fourteen in the House—all unsuccessful.[134]

However, public confidence in the Treasury had grown to the extent that a dollar in gold was worth only $1.05 in greenbacks.[135] Once the public was confident that they could redeem greenbacks for gold, few actually did so. When the Act took effect in 1879, only $130,000 out of the $346,000,000 outstanding dollars in greenbacks were redeemed.[136]

Greenbacks were now at parity with gold dollars, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation had a unified monetary system.

Sherman appointed John Jay to investigate corruption in the New York Custom House.
Sherman appointed John Jay to investigate corruption in the New York Custom House.

Civil service reform

Hayes took office on a promise to reform the system of civil service appointments, which had been based on the spoils system since Andrew Jackson was president forty years earlier. Under the spoils system, appointments were distributed on the basis of political support.[137] Sherman himself was not a civil service reformer, but he went along with Hayes's instructions.[138]

The foremost enemy of reform—and Hayes—was Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, who controlled appointments to the powerful Port of New York Custom House.[139] At Hayes's direction, Sherman ordered John Jay to investigate the Custom House, which was stacked with Conkling's appointees.[138] Jay's report suggested that the New York Custom House was so overstaffed with political appointees that 20% were expendable.[140]

Hayes issued an executive order forbidding federal officials from being required to make campaign contributions or otherwise taking part in party politics.[140] Chester A. Arthur, the Collector of the Port of New York, and his subordinates Alonzo B. Cornell and George H. Sharpe, all Conkling appointees and supporters, refused to obey.[140]

Sherman agreed with Hayes that the three had to resign, but he made clear in a letter to Arthur that he held no personal grudge against Arthur.[141] In September 1877, Hayes demanded the three men's resignations, but they refused.[142] Hayes submitted replacement appointments to the Senate for confirmation, but the Senate's Commerce Committee, which Conkling chaired, voted unanimously to reject the nominations.[142] In July 1878, Hayes fired Arthur and Cornell (Sharpe's term had expired) and appointed replacements.

When Congress reconvened, Sherman pressured his former Senate colleagues to confirm the President's replacement nominees, which they did after considerable debate.[143] In 1879, Jay and other reformers criticized Sherman for campaigning for Cornell's election as Governor of New York.[144] Sherman replied that it was important that the Republican party win the election there, despite their intra-party differences.[144] Sherman's friendliness may also have been out of a desire to keep Conkling's New York machine on his side as the 1880 presidential election approached, as Arthur's biographer Thomas C. Reeves suggests.[145]

1880 presidential campaign

James A. Garfield emerged as the unexpected Republican nominee after delivering a nominating speech for Sherman.
James A. Garfield emerged as the unexpected Republican nominee after delivering a nominating speech for Sherman.

Hayes had pledged himself to a one-term presidency, and the Republican nomination in 1880 attracted many candidates, including Sherman. Hayes's preference was for Sherman to succeed him, but he made no official endorsement, and he did not think Sherman could win the nomination.[146]

Sherman was respected among his fellow Republicans for his intelligence and hard work, but there were always doubts about his potential as a national candidate. As one author described him, Sherman was "thin as a rail, over six feet high, with close cropped beard and possessed of bad teeth and a divine laugh, when he laughs."[147] His public speeches were adequate and informative, but never "of a sort to arouse a warm feeling for John Sherman, the man."[148] Unlike Blaine or Conkling, Sherman "communicated no colorful personality, no magnetic current".[148] His nickname, "the Ohio Icicle," deserved or not, hindered his presidential ambitions.[citation needed]

Among the early favorites for the nomination were former President Ulysses Grant, Senator James Blaine of Maine, and Senator George Edmunds of Vermont.[149] Grant did not actively promote his candidacy, but his entry into the race energized his partisans. When the convention met in Chicago in June 1880, delegates divided into Grant and anti-Grant factions, with Blaine the most popular choice of the latter group.[149]

After Grant and Blaine were placed before convention, Ohio Congressman and Senator-elect James Garfield nominated Sherman with an eloquent speech, saying "You ask for his monuments, I point you to twenty-five years of national statutes. Not one great beneficent statute has been placed in our statute books without his intelligent and powerful aid."[150] The speech, while heartfelt, did not particular stir the delegates. As Convention Chair George Frisbie Hoar later explained, "[t]here was nothing stimulant or romantic in the plain wisdom of John Sherman".[150]

After all candidates had been nominated, the first ballot gave Grant leading 304 votes and Blaine 284. Sherman's 93 placed him in a distant third. No candidate had the required majority of 379.[149] Sherman's delegates could swing the nomination to either Grant or Blaine, but he refused to withdraw for twenty-eight ballots in the hope that the anti-Grant forces would desert Blaine and flock to him.[149] By the end of the first day, it was clear that neither Grant nor Blaine could muster a majority; a compromise candidate would be necessary.[151] Sherman held out hope that he would be that compromise candidate, but while his vote tally reached as high as 120, he never commanded even all of Ohio's delegates.[149] The division of the Ohio delegation was highly damaging for Sherman's candidacy, as Blaine delegates, searching for a new champion, took it as evidence Sherman would not make a popular candidate.[152] After several days of balloting, Blaine's men found their compromise candidate, but instead of Sherman they shifted their votes to his fellow Ohioan, Garfield. By the thirty-sixth ballot, Garfield had 399 votes, enough for victory.[149]

Garfield placated the pro-Grant faction by endorsing Chester A. Arthur as nominee for Vice President. Despite his good relations with Arthur in 1879, Sherman disfavored the choice. "The nomination of Arthur is a ridiculous burlesque," he wrote in a letter to a friend, "and I am afraid was inspired by a desire to defeat the ticket ... His nomination attaches to the ticket all the odium of machine politics, and will greatly endanger the success of Garfield."[153] He was nearly correct, as Garfield eked out a narrow victory over the Democratic nominee Winfield Scott Hancock. Sherman continued at the Treasury for the rest of Hayes's term, leaving office March 3, 1881.

Return to the Senate (1881–97)

Sherman's home at 1323 K St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Sherman's home at 1323 K St. NW, Washington, D.C.

With Senator-elect Garfield in the White House instead, the Ohio legislature elected Sherman in his place.[154] Sherman's position in the Senate changed after his four-year absence. He rejoined the Finance Committee, but Justin Smith Morrill, his old House colleague, now held the chairmanship.[155]

When Sherman re-entered the Senate in the 47th United States Congress, the Republicans were not in the majority. The Senate was divided among 37 Republicans, 37 Democrats, one independent (David Davis) who caucused with the Democrats, and one Readjuster (William Mahone), who caucused with the Republicans.[156] Arthur's tie-breaking vote as Vice President left the Republicans with a narrow hold on the chamber.[156] The special session convened in March 1881 deadlocked for two months over Garfield's nominations because of opposition from Conkling and his New York colleague Thomas C. Platt, resulting in their resignations in protest of Garfield's continuing opposition to their faction.[157]

Sherman sided with Garfield on the appointments and was pleased when the New York legislature declined to reelect Conkling and Platt, replacing them with two less troublesome Republicans.[158]

Garfield assassination and the Pendleton Civil Service Act

After the special session of Congress adjourned, Sherman returned home to Mansfield.[159] He campaigned for Governor Charles Foster's re-election and went to Kenyon College with ex-President Hayes, where he received an honorary degree.[159]

Though Sherman looked forward to staying with his wife at home for an extended period, news soon arrived that Garfield had been shot in Washington.[159] The assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, was a deranged office-seeker who believed that Garfield's successor would appoint him to a patronage job.[160] Garfield died after lingering for several months, and Chester Arthur became president. After completing a long-planned visit to Yellowstone National Park and other Western sites with his brother William, Sherman returned to a second special session of Congress in October 1881.[161]

Garfield's assassination amplified public demand for civil service reform.[162] Both Democratic and Republican leaders realized that they could attract the votes of reformers by turning against the spoils system. By 1882, a bipartisan effort began in favor of reform.[162] In the previous Congress, Sherman's fellow Ohio Senator, Democrat George H. Pendleton, had introduced legislation that required selection of civil servants based on merit as determined by an examination, but Congress declined to act on it right away.[162] In the 1882 congressional elections, Democrats campaigned on the reform issue and the Republican Party lost its narrow majority in the House.[163]

In the 1883 lame duck session, Sherman spoke in favor of merit selection and against removing employees from office without cause.[164] He was against the idea that civil servants should have unlimited terms of office but believed that efficiency, not political activity, should determine an employee's length of service.[164] Sherman voted in favor of Pendleton's bill, and the Senate approved it 38–5. The House concurred by a vote of 155–47. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law on January 16, 1883.[165]

Tariff of 1883

There was relatively little financial legislation in the 1880s.[166] By that time, fewer bonds were necessary, as the government now ran a consistent surplus, reaching $145 million by 1882.[167]

Opinions varied on how to balance the budget. Democrats favored low tariffs to reduce revenues and the cost of imported goods, while Republicans believed that high tariffs ensured high wages in manufacturing and mining. Republicans preferred the government spend more on internal improvements and reduce excise taxes.[167]

Congress created a committee to study tariff reduction, but Arthur appointed mostly protectionists. In December 1882, the committee submitted a report calling for tariff cuts averaging between 20 and 25%. The commission's recommendations were ignored, and the House Ways and Means Committee, dominated by protectionists, provided a 10% reduction.[168] After conference with the Senate, the bill that emerged only reduced tariffs by an average of 1.47%, but it did remove or reduce many excise taxes.[168] Sherman supported the bill, more for the excise reduction than for the tariff changes.[169] The Tariff of 1883 (known to detractors as the Mongrel Tariff) passed both houses narrowly on March 3, 1883, the last full day of the 47th Congress. Arthur signed the measure into law, but it had no effect on the surplus.[169]

Chinese immigration

Sherman paid greater attention to foreign affairs during the second half of his Senate career, serving as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations.

In 1868, the Senate ratified the Burlingame Treaty with China, allowing unrestricted immigration from China. After the Panic of 1873, Chinese immigrants were blamed for depressing wages, and Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1879, but Hayes vetoed it.[170]

In 1882, after China agreed to treaty revisions, Congress tried again to exclude Chinese immigrants. Senator John F. Miller of California introduced another Exclusion Act that denied Chinese immigrants United States citizenship and banned their immigration for a twenty-year period.[171]

Sherman opposed both the 1880 treaty revisions and the bill Miller proposed, believing that the Exclusion Act reversed the United States' traditional welcoming of all people and the country's dependence on foreign immigration for growth.[172] President Arthur vetoed the bill, and Sherman voted to sustain the veto.[172] A new Exclusion Act passed to conform to Arthur's objections. Sherman voted against this bill, too, but it passed, and Arthur signed it into law.[172]

In 1885, Sherman voted in favor of the Alien Contract Labor Law, which barred foreigners from contracting for labor in the United States before immigrating and barred transporting a person under such a contract to the United States.[172] Sherman saw this Act as a more appropriate solution to depressed wages than Chinese exclusion. The problem, as he saw it, was not the national origin of Chinese immigrants, but their employment under serf-like conditions.[172]

Presidential campaigns in 1884 and 1888

An 1885 political cartoon accuses Sherman and Foraker of fanning sectional hatred for political gain.
An 1885 political cartoon accuses Sherman and Foraker of fanning sectional hatred for political gain.

In 1884, Sherman again ran for the Republican nomination, but his campaign never gained steam.[173] Blaine was considered the favorite and President Arthur also gathered delegates in an attempt to win the term in his own right.[174] Again, the Ohio delegation failed to unite behind Sherman, and he entered the convention with only 30 total delegates pledged to him.[175] Former Cincinnati judge Joseph B. Foraker gave a speech nominating Sherman, but it drew little attention. Blaine gathered support the next day, and Sherman withdrew after the fourth ballot.[176] Blaine was duly nominated and lost the election to Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York. It was the Republicans' first loss in 28 years.

Sherman returned to the Senate where, in 1885, he was elected President pro tempore of the Senate.[177] After the death of Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks later that year, Sherman was next in line to the presidency until February 26, 1887, when he resigned the position.[177]

In 1886, the Ohio legislature elected Sherman to a fifth term but, before long, he was considering another run for the presidency. To broaden his national image, he traveled to Nashville to give a speech defending Republican principles. He encouraged fairness in the treatment of black Americans and denounced their mistreatment at the hands of the "redeemed" Southern state governments.[178] The tour had its effect, and Sherman's hopes were high. His old friend, ex-President Hayes, thought him the best candidate.[179]

The early favorite for the nomination was again Blaine, but after Blaine denied any interest in the nomination, his supporters divided among other candidates, including Sherman.[180] With no clear consensus going into the 1888 convention, delegates divided their support among an unusual number of favorite sons.[173]

Daniel H. Hastings of Pennsylvania placed Sherman's name in nomination, seconded by Foraker (by then, Governor of Ohio).[181] Sherman, at last, had a unified Ohio delegation behind him and led on the first ballot with 229 votes—more than double his nearest competitor, but well short of the 416 needed for nomination.[182] Walter Q. Gresham of Indiana was in second place with 111, followed by Russell A. Alger of Michigan with 84.[182] Sherman gained votes on the second ballot, but plateaued there. By the fifth ballot, it was clear that he would gain no more delegates.[182] Sherman refused to withdraw, but his supporters began to abandon him; by the eighth ballot, the delegates coalesced around Benjamin Harrison of Indiana and voted him the nomination.[182]

Sherman thought Harrison was a good candidate and bore him no ill will, but he did begrudge Alger, whom he believed "purchased the votes of many of the delegates from the southern states who had been instructed by their conventions to vote for me."[183] A loyal Republican, Sherman gave speeches for Harrison in Ohio and Indiana and was pleased with his victory over Cleveland that November.[184] After 1888, Sherman, aware that he would be seventy-three years old when the nomination was next open, resolved that from then on "no temptation of office will induce me to seek further political honors" and did not run for president again.[185]

Interstate commerce

For some time,[when?] there had been concern about the power of the railroads and the way they charged different rates for different customers.[186]

In 1885, a bill to regulate the practice authored by John Henninger Reagan passed the House. The Reagan bill forbade discrimination in railroad or pipeline freight rates, required that rates be reasonable, and fixed maximum charges allowed.[186]

Sherman agreed with the general idea of the law, but objected to certain portions, especially a provision that gave state courts jurisdiction over enforcement disputes.[186] Sherman believed the law should allow for more nuance as well, insisting that competition against other forms of transit be considered.[187] These changes were adopted in the conference committee and the resultant Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 owed much to Sherman's influence.[187] President Cleveland signed it into law on February 4, 1887, and appointed members to the new Interstate Commerce Commission. The act displeased the railroad industry, but was a boon to farmers and the oil industry.[188]

Sherman Antitrust Act

An 1889 cartoon suggests that the monopolies held too much power over Congress.
An 1889 cartoon suggests that the monopolies held too much power over Congress.

By the late nineteenth century, businesses began to form combinations, known as trusts, which claimed a larger and larger share of the market—large enough to dictate prices, their detractors claimed.[189] Members of both major parties were concerned with the growth of the power of trusts and monopolies. Until 1888, Sherman had shown little interest in the trust question but it was rising in the national consciousness, and Sherman now entered the fray.[190]

At the opening of the 51st Congress, Sherman proposed what would become the Sherman Antitrust Act.[191] The bill Sherman proposed was largely derivative of a failed bill written by Senator George F. Edmunds.[192] The revised bill Sherman proposed was simple, stating that "[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal".[j] The bill further prescribed criminal penalties for any person who monopolizes trade.[k] In debate, Sherman praised the effects of corporations on developing industry and railroads and asserted the right for people to form corporations, so long as they were "not in any sense a monopoly".[193]

Sherman was the prime mover in getting the bill passed and became "by far the most articulate spokesman for antitrust in Congress".[194] The Act was later criticized for its simple language and lack of defined terms, but Sherman defended it, saying that it drew on common-law language and precedents. He also denied that the Act was anti-business at all, emphasizing that the Act aimed not at lawful competition, but at illegal combination.[195][196] Later analysis was more generous: "The Sherman Act was as good an antitrust law as the Congress of 1890 could have devised."[197]

The bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming 52–1 vote and passed the House without dissent. President Harrison signed the bill into law on July 2, 1890.[191] When Harrison signed the Act, he remarked, "John Sherman has fixed General Alger," referring to Sherman's 1888 rival, also a lumber baron.[198]

Silver Purchase Act

A $100 Treasury Note, authorized by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, redeemable in gold or silver coin.
A $100 Treasury Note, authorized by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, redeemable in gold or silver coin.

Since the passage of the Bland–Allison Act in 1878, there had been little discussion of gold versus silver coinage. Silver was hardly mentioned in the 1888 campaign. Harrison's exact position on the issue was unclear, but his appointment of Treasury Secretary William Windom encouraged supporters of free silver.[199] Silver supporters' numbers had also grown in Congress with the addition of new Western states, where both silver mining and agriculture were key economies. A drop in agricultural prices, which made farmers' debts harder to pay, broadened their cause's appeal.

Harrison attempted to steer a middle course between the two positions, advocating free coinage of silver at its own value, rather than at a fixed ratio to gold.[200] This served only to disappoint both factions. Windom suggested doubling the amount of silver coinage under the Bland–Allison system.[201] The intrinsic value of the silver dollar had fallen to 72.3 cents, but Windom believed that coining more silver would increase demand and raise its value.[202] Harrison was willing to sign whatever bill would satisfy the largest group of people, as long as it did not destabilize currency.[200]

Both Houses of Congress had Republican majorities, but their solutions differed. In June 1890, the House passed a bill requiring the purchase of an additional 4.5 million ounces of silver each month.[200] The Senate passed a bill by Republican Preston B. Plumb of Kansas for free coinage of silver at the legal 16:1 ratio.[203]

Sherman voted against Plumb's bill, but was appointed to the conference committee to produce a compromise bill that passed that July. Under the Act, dubbed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, the Treasury would buy 4.5 million ounces of silver monthly, paid for in Treasury Notes redeemable in gold or silver. The law also provided that the Treasury could coin more silver dollars if the Secretary believed it necessary to redeem the new notes.[200] Sherman thought the bill was the least harmful option.[204] Harrison believed it would end the controversy, and he signed it into law. The effect of the bill, however, was the depletion of the nation's gold reserves.[200]

In 1893, a financial panic struck the stock market, and the nation soon faced the greatest economic depression in its history. The panic was worsened by the acute shortage of gold. President Cleveland, who had replaced Harrison that March, called Congress into special session and demanded repeal of the part of the Act requiring the government to purchase silver.[205] The effects of the panic had driven moderates to support repeal and silverites rallied ahead of the session at a convention in Chicago. The House debated for fifteen weeks before passing the repeal by a considerable margin.[206] In the Senate, repeal was equally contentious, but Cleveland assembled a coalition of loyal Democrats and eastern Republicans to form a 48–37 majority.[207] Sherman voted for repeal of "his" bill.[208]

After repeal, depletion of the Treasury's gold reserves continued, but at a slower rate. Subsequent bond issues replenished supplies of gold.[209] Academic debate continues over the exact effects of the Act, but the consensus is that the repeal of the Silver Purchase Act was unharmful at worst.[209]

Final years in the Senate

Caricature published in Blanco y Negro (March 21, 1896) depicting Sherman, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as an insect crushed by Spain.
Caricature published in Blanco y Negro (March 21, 1896) depicting Sherman, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as an insect crushed by Spain.
Sherman in his Senate office, about 1894
Sherman in his Senate office, about 1894

In 1892, Sherman was elected to a sixth term after a difficult fight for the Republican caucus's vote, as many preferred Foraker to Sherman.[210] With assistance from Cleveland businessman Mark Hanna, the caucus agreed to support Sherman over Foraker after four days of balloting. Sherman was easily reelected over his Democratic opponent by the full legislature on January 12, 1893.[211][212]

In 1894, Sherman surpassed Thomas Hart Benton's record for longest tenure in the Senate.[l][213] His memoirs, Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate and Cabinet, were published the following year.

In 1896, he gave speeches on behalf of fellow Ohioan William McKinley in his campaign for the presidency, but took a lesser role than in previous campaigns because of his advanced age.[214] McKinley was elected over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

Secretary of State

An 1897 political cartoon depicts Sherman as a young woman attempting to answer major U.S. diplomatic questions by playing the game He loves me ... he loves me not.
An 1897 political cartoon depicts Sherman as a young woman attempting to answer major U.S. diplomatic questions by playing the game He loves me ... he loves me not.

President McKinley favored the election of Mark Hanna, his friend and political manager, to the Senate. To ensure Hanna's election, McKinley created a vacancy by appointing Sherman to his cabinet as Secretary of State in January 1897.[215] Sherman, facing a difficult re-election campaign in 1898, quickly accepted.[216] His appointment was swiftly confirmed when Congress convened that March.[217]

The appointment was seen as a good one, but many in Washington soon began to question whether Sherman, now 73 years old, still had the strength and intellectual vigor to handle the job. Rumors circulated to that effect, but McKinley did not believe them.[218]

Tensions with Spain

Asked for advice on McKinley's inaugural address, Sherman offered a draft threatening intervention in Cuba, then in rebellion against Spain. The suggestion was ignored.[216]

Both Sherman and McKinley sought a peaceful resolution to the Cuban War, preferably involving an independent Cuba without American intervention.[219] The United States and Spain entered negotiations in 1897, but it became clear that Spain would never concede Cuban independence, while the rebels (and their American supporters) would never settle for anything less.[220] In January 1898, Spain promised some concessions to the rebels, but when American consul Fitzhugh Lee reported riots in Havana, McKinley agreed to send the battleship USS Maine there to protect American lives and property.[221] On February 15, the Maine exploded and sank with 266 men killed.[222]

War fever ran high, and by April, McKinley reported to Congress that efforts at diplomatic resolution had failed; a week later, Congress declared war.[223] By this time, McKinley was relying on Assistant Secretary of State William R. Day, a McKinley associate of long standing, for day-to-day management of the State Department. Day attended cabinet meetings in Sherman's place.[223] Day superseded his boss as the real power in the State Department.[224]

Sherman, sensing that he was being made a mere figurehead and recognizing, at last, his declining health and worsening memory, resigned on April 25, 1898.[225]

Retirement and death

Sherman's home in Mansfield, Ohio
Sherman's home in Mansfield, Ohio

Sherman retired from public life after resigning as Secretary of State. Except for one day,[m] Sherman had spent the previous forty-two years, four months, and twenty-two days in government service.[226] He gave a few interviews in which he disagreed with the administration's policy of annexing Puerto Rico and the Philippines.[227] Later that year, his wife, Margaret, had a stroke; she died two years later on June 5, 1900.[227] Sherman continued to alternate between houses in Mansfield and Washington. He mostly remained out of politics, except for a letter he wrote endorsing George K. Nash for Governor of Ohio in 1899.[228]

Sherman died at his Washington home on October 22, 1900, in the company of his daughter, relatives and friends.[227] After a funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, he was interred in Mansfield City Cemetery with his wife.[229]

Personal life

Margaret Cecelia Stewart
Margaret Cecelia Stewart

In 1848, Sherman married Margaret Cecelia Stewart, the daughter of a local judge.[230] The couple never had any biological children, but adopted a daughter, Mary, in 1864.[230]

Sherman was a charter member of the District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He served as one of the Society's vice presidents from 1891 to 1893.


Sherman was not unmindful of his legacy and left $10,000 in his will for a biography to be written "by some competent person".[231] Two biographies were published shortly after that, but neither mentions the bequest.

In 1906, Congressman Theodore E. Burton of Ohio published a biography; two years later, former Representative Winfield S. Kerr of Mansfield published another. Both were very favorable to Sherman.

A scholarly biography was said to be in preparation in Allan Nevins's "American Political Leaders" series of the 1920s and 1930s, to be written by Roy Franklin Nichols and his wife, Jeanette Paddock Nichols, but the work was never completed.[232] Jeanette Nichols later published several articles on Sherman in the next few decades, but he still awaits a full-length scholarly biography. He is most remembered now for the antitrust act that bears his name. Burton, in summing up his subject, wrote:

It is true that there was much that was prosaic in the life of Sherman, and that his best efforts were not connected with that glamour which gains the loudest applause; but in substantial influence upon those characteristic features which have made this country what it is, and in the unrecognized but permanent results of efficient and patriotic service for its best interests, there are few for whom a more beneficial record can be claimed.[233]


  1. ^ At that time, Congress did not convene as soon as they took office (March), but usually waited until the end of the year.
  2. ^ Sherman and his biographer, Burton, give these figures, but other references give different breakdowns of party membership. See, e.g., "Congress Profiles: 36th Congress (1859–1861)". History, Art & Archives. House of Representatives. This illustrates the difficulty in assigning party designations to a time of shifting loyalties and creation of a new party system.
  3. ^ Before the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913, Senators were chosen by their states' legislatures.
  4. ^ The income tax was collected until 1870, when it was repealed.[59]
  5. ^ The Senate did amend the bill to provide that interest on the national debt would continue to be paid in specie.
  6. ^ The 1863 Act was followed a year later by the National Banking Act of 1864, which made various technical fixes and added a tax on state banks' deposits.[73]
  7. ^ During the war, it had taken up to $2.80 in greenbacks to buy one gold dollar. By 1866, the greenback had gained value, but it still took almost $1.50 in notes to equal the purchasing power of one dollar in gold.[90]
  8. ^ The Act did introduce a new silver dollar, the Trade dollar, that was intended for overseas trade only, but was legal tender domestically for sums up to five dollars.[102]
  9. ^ The Act required that for every $100 increase in the circulation of gold-backed national bank notes, $80 in greenbacks should be withdrawn.[116]
  10. ^ Now codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1.
  11. ^ Now codified at 15 U.S.C. § 2.
  12. ^ Sherman's record was broken by William B. Allison in 1905. The current record for longest Senate service is held by Robert Byrd.
  13. ^ March 3, 1881, after his resignation as Treasury Secretary but before his swearing-in as Senator


  1. ^ Burton, pp. 1–5.
  2. ^ a b c W. Sherman, pp. 9–10.
  3. ^ W. Sherman, pp. 11–12.
  4. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 26–29.
  5. ^ Burton, pp. 5–6; J. Sherman, p. 30.
  6. ^ J. Sherman, p. 32.
  7. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 33–34.
  8. ^ a b Burton, p. 7.
  9. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 47–51.
  10. ^ Burton, p. 16.
  11. ^ Burton, p. 17.
  12. ^ J. Sherman, p. 78.
  13. ^ a b c Burton, p. 31.
  14. ^ J. Sherman, p. 94.
  15. ^ J. Sherman, p. 91.
  16. ^ a b Freehling 1990, pp. 554–565.
  17. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 101–104.
  18. ^ J. Sherman, p. 105.
  19. ^ Gienapp, pp. 136–137.
  20. ^ Harrington, pp. 641–643; J. Sherman, pp. 111–113.
  21. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 115–116; Sibley, pp. 3–4.
  22. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 115–116; Burton, pp. 39–41.
  23. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 117–131.
  24. ^ Burton, p. 42.
  25. ^ a b c Burton, pp. 43–44.
  26. ^ J. Sherman, p. 139.
  27. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 145–146.
  28. ^ Freehling 2007, pp. 109–110.
  29. ^ a b Freehling 2007, pp. 136–141.
  30. ^ a b c Burton, pp. 52–53.
  31. ^ J. Sherman, p. 152.
  32. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 153–156.
  33. ^ Burton, pp. 58–60.
  34. ^ J. Sherman, p. 167.
  35. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 161–166.
  36. ^ a b Burton, p. 61.
  37. ^ a b J. Sherman, p. 168.
  38. ^ Crenshaw, p. 323.
  39. ^ Crenshaw, p. 324.
  40. ^ Crenshaw, p. 325.
  41. ^ a b Crenshaw, pp. 326–327.
  42. ^ Crenshaw, p. 328.
  43. ^ Burton, pp. 65–66.
  44. ^ a b c d Burton, pp. 67–73; J. Sherman, pp. 182–193.
  45. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 197–201; Burton, pp. 75–76.
  46. ^ Burton, p. 65; J. Sherman, pp. 229–230.
  47. ^ Burton, p. 76.
  48. ^ Bryant, pp. 501–502.
  49. ^ Burton, p. 76; Bryant, pp. 520–524.
  50. ^ Burton, pp. 76–77.
  51. ^ J. Sherman, p. 234.
  52. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 232–233.
  53. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 241–245; W. Sherman, pp. 185–186.
  54. ^ Burton, pp. 84–85; J. Sherman, pp. 245–250; Nichols 1968, p. 126.
  55. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 258–259; Burton, pp. 88–90.
  56. ^ a b Dam, p. 372.
  57. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 258–259.
  58. ^ Burton, pp. 120–123, 129.
  59. ^ J. Sherman, p. 307.
  60. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 262–267.
  61. ^ a b c Dam, p. 373.
  62. ^ Million, p. 251.
  63. ^ J. Sherman, p. 270.
  64. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 272–274.
  65. ^ Unger, p. 15.
  66. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 275–280.
  67. ^ a b J. Sherman, p. 284.
  68. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 284–291.
  69. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 291–292.
  70. ^ a b Dam, p. 375.
  71. ^ Million, pp. 255–256.
  72. ^ Burton, p. 137.
  73. ^ Burton, p. 138.
  74. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 310–313.
  75. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 314–316.
  76. ^ a b J. Sherman, p. 335.
  77. ^ J. Sherman, p. 348.
  78. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 351–355.
  79. ^ J. Sherman, p. 359.
  80. ^ Burton, pp. 148–154.
  81. ^ Burton, pp. 155–156.
  82. ^ a b c Burton, pp. 158–160.
  83. ^ a b c Burton, pp. 164–165.
  84. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 369–370.
  85. ^ Burton, pp. 161–163; Foner, pp. 274–277.
  86. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 427–432.
  87. ^ Burton, pp. 166–171.
  88. ^ Foner, pp. 454–455.
  89. ^ a b c Burton, pp. 172–180.
  90. ^ Smith & Smith, p. 698.
  91. ^ a b c d J. Sherman, pp. 377–384.
  92. ^ Nichols 1934, p. 185.
  93. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 384–385.
  94. ^ a b c d e f Burton, pp. 182–185.
  95. ^ J. Sherman, p. 448.
  96. ^ a b c d J. Sherman, pp. 451–458.
  97. ^ Hoogenboom, pp. 237–238; Nichols 1968, pp. 129–130.
  98. ^ Friedman, p. 1162; J. Sherman, pp. 459–462.
  99. ^ a b Friedman, pp. 1161–1163.
  100. ^ J. Sherman, p. 465.
  101. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 462–464.
  102. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 543–544.
  103. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 464–466.
  104. ^ a b Friedman, pp. 1168–1169.
  105. ^ Friedman, pp. 1169–1171.
  106. ^ a b Hoogenboom, p. 356.
  107. ^ a b Unger, p. 358.
  108. ^ Friedman, pp. 1165–1167.
  109. ^ Friedman, p. 1166; Weinstein, p. 312.
  110. ^ J. Sherman, p. 470.
  111. ^ Burton, pp. 233–234.
  112. ^ Nichols 1934, p. 186.
  113. ^ Burton, p. 226.
  114. ^ Burton, pp. 228–229.
  115. ^ J. Sherman, p. 491.
  116. ^ a b Burton, pp. 244–247.
  117. ^ Burton, pp. 248–249.
  118. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 521–523.
  119. ^ Hoogenboom, pp. 257–260; Foner, p. 557.
  120. ^ Burton, pp. 252–254.
  121. ^ a b Burton, pp. 255–257; Hoogenboom, pp. 256–295.
  122. ^ a b J. Sherman, pp. 553–557; Nichols 1968, pp. 132–133.
  123. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 556–561.
  124. ^ Davison, p. 104; Nichols 1934, p. 186.
  125. ^ a b Hoogenboom, pp. 301–302.
  126. ^ J. Sherman, p. 808.
  127. ^ a b Davison, pp. 176–177.
  128. ^ a b c Hoogenboom, pp. 358–360.
  129. ^ Nichols 1934, p. 187.
  130. ^ Burton, pp. 266–267.
  131. ^ Davison, pp. 176–177; J. Sherman, p. 623.
  132. ^ J. Sherman, p. 623.
  133. ^ Burton, pp. 268–269.
  134. ^ J. Sherman, p. 597.
  135. ^ Smith & Smith, p. 704.
  136. ^ Trefousse, p. 107.
  137. ^ Trefousse, pp. 93–94.
  138. ^ a b Hoogenboom, pp. 318–319.
  139. ^ Davison, p. 164–165.
  140. ^ a b c Hoogenboom, pp. 322–325; Davison, pp. 164–165; Burton, pp. 292–294.
  141. ^ Burton, pp. 292–294; J. Sherman, pp. 681–682.
  142. ^ a b Hoogenboom, pp. 352–355; Trefousse, pp. 95–101.
  143. ^ Burton, pp. 295–297; Hoogenboom, pp. 370–384.
  144. ^ a b Burton, pp. 296–297; Reeves, pp. 155–157.
  145. ^ Reeves, p. 156.
  146. ^ Hoogenboom, pp. 415–416; Davison, pp. 104–105.
  147. ^ Davison, p. 106.
  148. ^ a b Nichols 1934, p. 189.
  149. ^ a b c d e f Burton, pp. 301–304; Muzzey, pp. 160–172.
  150. ^ a b Kerr, pp. 66–67.
  151. ^ Kerr, pp. 69–70.
  152. ^ Nichols 1934, p. 188; Kerr, pp. 68–69.
  153. ^ Burton, pp. 296–297.
  154. ^ Kerr, pp. 76–79.
  155. ^ Burton, p. 310.
  156. ^ a b Reeves, pp. 220–223.
  157. ^ Reeves, pp. 230–233.
  158. ^ J. Sherman, p. 817.
  159. ^ a b c J. Sherman, pp. 819–821.
  160. ^ Reeves, p. 237.
  161. ^ J. Sherman, pp. 821–830.
  162. ^ a b c Reeves, pp. 320–324; Doenecke, pp. 96–97.
  163. ^ Doenecke, pp. 99–100.
  164. ^ a b Burton, pp. 320–321.
  165. ^ Reeves, p. 324; Doenecke, pp. 101–102.
  166. ^ Burton, pp. 311–315.
  167. ^ a b Reeves, pp. 328–329; Doenecke, p. 168.
  168. ^ a b Reeves, pp. 330–333; Doenecke, pp. 169–171.
  169. ^ a b Burton, pp. 316–319.
  170. ^ Reeves, pp. 277–278; Hoogenboom, pp. 387–389.
  171. ^ Reeves, pp. 278–279; Doenecke, pp. 81–84.
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  173. ^ a b Burton, pp. 304–305.
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  175. ^ Muzzey, pp. 281–285; Reeves, p. 380.
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  182. ^ a b c d Muzzey, pp. 376–380.
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  184. ^ Kerr, p. 192.
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  187. ^ a b Burton, pp. 340–343.
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  232. ^ Nevins, p. flyleaf.
  233. ^ Burton, p. 429.


  • Freehling, William W. (2007). The Road to Disunion: Volume 2 Secessionists Triumphant 1854–1861. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-505815-4.
  • Gienapp, William E. (1987). The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-505501-2.
  • Muzzey, David Saville (1934). James G. Blaine: A Political Idol of Other Days. New York, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company. OCLC 656771.
  • Socolofsky, Homer E.; Spetter, Allan B. (1987). The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison. American Presidency. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-0320-6.
  • Crenshaw, Ollinger (December 1942). "The Speakership Contest of 1859–1860: John Sherman's Election a Cause of Disruption?". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 29 (3): 323–338. doi:10.2307/1897913. JSTOR 1897913.
  • Harrington, Fred Harvey (December 1936). "Nathaniel Prentiss Banks: A Study in Anti-Slavery Politics". The New England Quarterly. 9 (4): 626–654. doi:10.2307/360988. JSTOR 360988.
  • Nash, Gerald D. (July 1957). "Origins of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887". Pennsylvania History. 24 (3): 181–190. JSTOR 27769741.
  • Nichols, Jeanette Paddock (September 1934). "John Sherman: A Study in Inflation". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 21 (2): 181–194. doi:10.2307/1896890. JSTOR 1896890.
  • Sibley, Joel H. (Summer 1989). "After 'The First Northern Victory': The Republican Party Comes to Congress, 1855–1856". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 20 (1): 1–24. doi:10.2307/204047. JSTOR 204047.
  • Weinstein, Allen (September 1967). "Was There a 'Crime of 1873'?: The Case of the Demonetized Dollar". The Journal of American History. 54 (2): 307–326. doi:10.2307/1894808. JSTOR 1894808.

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