John Sherman

John Sherman (1823-1900), American politician, was the most significant congressional figure in the development of American fiscal policy during the "gilded age."

John Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on May 10, 1823. He participated in the frantic development of his native state, working on canal improvements at the age of 14 and becoming a supervisor of canal construction at 16. He soon turned to the study of law and in 1844 was admitted to the Ohio bar. In 1854, at the age of 31, he was elected to Congress and, until 1898, served without interruption in Federal office.

Sherman maintained a moderate stance in the tense congresses of the 1850s. Although he criticized the Radical Republicans during the Civil War, in the end he voted with them. He served in the Senate after 1861. His knowledge of the complexities of currency and finance helped to make him head of the Senate Finance Committee, where in 1874 he engineered several bills concerned with the retirement of the wartime paper money. A man with presidential ambitions, Sherman found it useful to work with conservative eastern financiers, such as August Belmont, who insisted on a solidly based stable dollar, while still serving moderate financial interests in his home state.

Sherman managed Rutherford B. Hayes's difficult nomination and election to the presidency in 1876. He was instrumental in securing Louisiana's disputed electoral votes for Hayes and fully supported the President's program to establish a conservative, white-dominated Republican party in the South. The program failed, but Sherman became Hayes's secretary of the Treasury and a leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1880.

In 1880 Sherman's candidacy was passed over in a deadlocked convention, and his own campaign manager, James A. Garfield, was nominated. Sherman's failure to secure the nomination stemmed not from his political philosophy but from his inability to inspire excitement in either prominent politicians or the voters. A small dour man, he was an adequate orator and one of the most accomplished governmental technicians of his day. But in his long career he had made many enemies who also blocked his nomination in succeeding conventions.

In the Senate again (1881-1897), Sherman was best known for his sponsorship of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The latter was not really Sherman's work at all; his name was attached to lend it prestige.

In 1897 William McKinley named Sherman secretary of state as a final honor and in order to create a Senate vacancy for Mark Hanna. Sherman was ill-fitted for the position and soon found himself at odds with McKinley's imperialist policies. Sherman resigned a year later. He died in Washington on Oct. 22, 1900.

Further Reading on John Sherman

Until the biography currently being prepared by Jeannette Nichols is completed, the reader must refer to old and outdated works: Theodore E. Burton, John Sherman (1906), and Winfield S. Kerr, John Sherman (1908). H. Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to McKinley (1969), deals with the era of Sherman's prominence.