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John Sherman


JOHN SHERMAN, United States Senator from the State of Ohio, comes from the distinguished Connecticut family of Shermans, which was founded by a refugee Roundhead from Essex, England, who brought with him to America, the Puritan politics, courage, and conscience, which sent him into the field as soldier on the popular side in the Civil Wars. The Senator's father, Charles Robert Sherman, a thoroughly educated lawyer, removed from Connecticut to Ohio in 1810, and there became famous first as an advocate, and afterwards as a Judge of the Supreme Court. His professional life and judicial service won the success of eminent reputation and social regard—his generosity and disinterestedness restricted their profits to the maintenance of his large family. When, in 1829, he was stricken upon the bench with a mortal disease and died, he left a widow and eleven children, the oldest eighteen, the youngest an infant—and he left no estate. The boys became somewhat scattered.   William Tecumseh, now General Sherman, became by adoption a member of the family of the Hon. Thomas Ewing. John went to Mount Vernon, Ohio, where he was sent to school, and kept steadily and generally under good masters until he was fourteen years old. Then he was sent to the Muskingum Improvement, in part to earn his own support, in part to learn the business of a civil engineer, and was placed under the care of Colonel Curtis, since General Samuel R. Curtis, the resident engineer of the work The lad's grade in the corps was junior rodman. He was employed two years on this work —the two most valuable years of his education; for in them he learned the methods and forms of business, acquired a habit of working hard and systematically, and became self-reliant. When he was sixteen years old and innocent of all politics, save a boy's idea that Tom Corwin and Tom Ewing were the greatest men in the world, he became the victim of politics, and lost his employment. The Ohio election of 1838 brought the Democratic party into power. The pernicious doctrine the leaders of that party had established, that "to the victors belong the spoils," was applied to the Muskingum Improvement. Colonel Curtis was a Whig. He was turned out in the summer of 1839, and most of his boys were turned out with him, to give place to a Democratic engineer, and to Democratic boys. Sherman was among the discharged. He lost little time in weighing the justice which punished him for other people's politics, and not his own, but after his divorce from his engineering apprenticeship, set himself to thinking how he could accomplish the dream and ambition of his young life—a college education. He went to his brother, Charles T. Sherman, now United States District Judge in Ohio, who was then engaged as a lawyer in Mansfield, Ohio. The collegiate education was discussed in domestic session of the Ways and Means committee, composed of the two brothers, with the family resources all around subject to requisition. It could not be accomplished. John had to give up the idea of a college course.  Furthermore, he had to earn his living. It was finally agreed that the best thing to be done was for John to fit himself to be a lawyer as soon as he could, and while he was reading law with Charles, and working in his office as a clerk, to go to school to his brother in some sense, and study mathematics and the Latin classics under his instruction and direction. The attorney's business of the office of course ran over this, the boy's substitute for a college education, but amid his drudgery as a clerk, and his reading or elementary books of law, he picked up considerable Latin, and read miscellaneously, but, largely of English authors. His four years' novitiate expired while he was thus liberally educating, himself, and he was graduated out of his college by a license to practice law, which he obtained on examination the day after he was twenty-one years old. He immediately entered into a co-partnership with his older brother, which lasted for eleven years, and which was active and lucrative for those days and the region of Ohio, and in which John earned a solid reputation as an able, wise, resolute, laborious, honest, and successful lawyer. John rode the circuits; Charles managed the business and counselled in the office.

Like all western lawyers, John Sherman was a politician. He was an ultra Whig by organization and education, and of course was debarred from office in the Democratic district in which he lived. But his talents and character made him the representative of the young politicians of the minority party in his region, and he had been sent while yet in full practice as a lawyer to the Whig National Conventions of 1848 and 1852, and in the latter year was chosen a Presidential elector.  Up to that time he had never ran for an office, and neither had hoped for or desired one. But when the Nebraska issue arose in 1834, like a true statesman he felt the necessity for combining all the opposition in the country to the further extension of human slavery, and zealously and laboriously worked to organize a new party without a name, whose mission was to be to check the aggrandisement of the slave power, and preserve the Republican principles and forms of our Government. 

He accepted a nomination to Congress in the XIIIth Ohio district, and greatly to his surprise, in the general political revolution of that year, was elected. The law firm of Charles and John Sherman was now dissolved. Charles drifted into railway enterprises. John was in the current of politics which bore him away forever from his profession. He came into the House of Representatives fully equipped for useful public service—a fluent debater, with a large knowledge of affairs, patient of details, laborious in investigation, with habits of hard work, conciliatory in temper, yet persistent in purpose. lie brought with him the reputation of being sound in judgment, sincere in purpose, and superior to personal considerations in the discharge of a public duty. His career was rapidly successful. Its prominent events in the first session of the XXXIVth Congress were his service as one of the Kansas Investigating Committee, and his preparation of the famous Report, which the committee presented to the House of Representatives and the people of the country. He bore a large and influential part in the debates which followed the report. At the close of the session the Republican members of the House, chiefly on the persuasion of Mr. Sherman, adopted the amendment to the Army Bill, denying the validity of the slavery-extending laws of Congress. It is almost certain that if the Republican party had stood upon that declaration as a plat-form, they would have carried the presidential election that year. The Republicans in the House agreed to do so, and Sherman wrote an address to the people of the United States, elaborating the principle contained in that declaration, which was signed by all the Republican members, but was not promulgated—for Seward and other Senators, under his example and dissuasion, "backed down," and the Congress adjourned on a Democratic triumph.

The XXXVth Congress was chiefly marked by the long and heated contests, over the Lecompton Constitution, the English Bill, and the defection of Douglas. In these struggles, John Sherman took an active part, and made many and powerful speeches. He was also appointed, and served as chairman of the Naval Investigating Committee, which made a most damaging exposure of the administrative complicity of Buchanan and Toucey, with the crimes and purposes of the slavery propagandists. He made, too, a masterly speech upon the public expenditures, which was widely circulated as a campaign document.

The XXXVIth Congress opened in the House, with the memorable contest for speaker, in which John Sherman was the candidate of the Republicans. On Mr. Pennington's election, he was made chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, and by virtue of that office, the leader of the House of Representatives. He crowned his great and varied labors on this Committee, by putting through the House the beneficent measure on which, more than on any other, the material prosperity of the country rests—the so-called Morrill Tariff. In his best speech of that Congress, delivered in reply to Pendleton in February 1861, he was prophetic in his appreciation of the influences that divided parties, and the result of the conflict which the South was hastening with such arrogant confidence; he declared that war was inevitable, that slavery would be destroyed, that the North would triumph.

Mr. Sherman was elected to the XXXVIIth Congress as a member of the House, but on the resignation by Mr. Chase of his seat in the United States Senate, was chosen, by the Legislature of Ohio, to represent that State in that body. He was put upon the Finance Committee, made by the war the most important in the organization of the Senate. He introduced the National Bank Bill, and had charge of that almost vital measure, as well as of the Legal Tender Acts, on the floor and in the debates. Among his speeches in this Congress, those which commanded general attention, and were of decisive influence, were the one against the continuance of the State banking system, delivered in January 1863, and the one in favor of the national banks soon after. He also spoke powerfully against slavery in the District of Columbia, and took part in every important debate upon subjects growing out of and connected with the war, and always on the right side. But his labors were chiefly confined to finance and taxation—to providing money and maintaining credit to carry on the war.

In the first session of the XXXIXth Congress Mr. Sherman principally devoted himself to the reduction of the taxes. He also introduced into the Senate the bill to fund the public indebtedness, which, if passed as reported, would, as Jay Cooke has borne witness, have been followed by the beneficial results of the saving of about $20,000,000 of interest per annum, the wider dissemination of the loan among the masses, and the removal of the debt from its present injurious competition with railroad, mercantile, mining, manufacturing, and all the other vital interests of the country. Had the bill been passed as reported, the larger portion of the indebtedness of the United States would now have been funded into a five per cent. loan, and the Treasury and the banks could, in the judgment of the most sagacious financiers in the country, have resumed specie payments by the 1st of July, 1867. Most unfortunately for the public interests, the bill was mutilated in the Senate and defeated in the House. Mr. Sherman, in his funding scheme, and in the speech with which he supported it, completely anticipated, and would certainly have avoided the perils and questions that now threaten the national credit.  In this session he also opposed strenuously the bill to contract the currency, which has since exercised so mischievous an influence upon the business of the country, and the effect of which he clearly foresaw and pointed out, both on the floor of the Senate and in the committee room. Upon these questions, the funding of the public debt, and the contraction of the currency, Mr. Sherman differed so much from Mr. Fessenden, who was chairman of the Committee on Finance, that subsequent co. operation between them became impossible. In the second session of this Congress, Mr. Sherman spoke and labored in favor of a revised tariff. A patriotic attempt had been made to graduate the duties on foreign goods, so -as to equalize the cost of production here and abroad, reference being had to the difference between wages, cost of living, and interest on money,—a patriotic attempt to secure to American working men and women the possession of the American market. Not only in the XXXIXth Congress, but in all the Congresses o which he was a member, John Sherman spoke and voted for the industry of his country. The nation is indebted to him, also, for the substitute for the Reconstruction Bill, which he introduced in the second session of the XXXIXth Congress and which finally became a law.

The XLth Congress was principally occupied with Reconstruction and the contest between the legislative and executive branches of the Government, which Andrew Johnson forced and pushed to an issue whose only solution was his impeachment and removal from office. Mr. Sherman was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and, by virtue of the pre-eminent importance of that post, the leader of the Senate. In the second session he reported a new bill for funding the national debt and converting the notes of the United States—a measure of the greatest consequence. The bill authorized;

1. The sale of 10-40 five per cent. bonds to redeem all out. standing debts.
2. It exempted these bonds from State taxation.
3. It provided for the payment of one per cent. annually of the public debt.
4. It offered to the holders of the 5-20s the option to exchange them for 10-40s at par.
5. It authorized the conversion of legal tenders into bonds, and bonds into legal tenders.
6. It authorized contracts payable in gold.

The proposed measure was received with favor as being just, wise and necessary, by a large portion of the people. It was attacked as a violation of the pledged faith of the Government, and a step towards repudiation, by a class of capitalists and financiers in some of the large cities. Mr. Sherman, in his masterly speech in support of the bill, delivered on the 27th of February 1868, made the following points:

By reducing the rate of interest from six to five per cent., without increasing the volume of greenbacks, we can save to the people of the United States seventeen millions of dollars in gold annually, and neither derange the currency, disorder the money market, nor depreciate our credit:

Equity and law will be fully satisfied by the redemption of the 5-20 bonds, in the same kind of money received for them, and of the same intrinsic value it bore, when the bonds were issued:

Every citizen of the United States has conformed his business to the law which made greenbacks a legal tender. He has collected and paid his debts according to it. And every State in the Union, without exception, has, since the legal tender act was passed, made its contracts in currency and paid them in currency The wide discrimination now made between the bondholder and the noteholder, gives rise to popular clamor and is the cause of great and just complaint:

No privilege should be granted to the bondholder that is not granted to the noteholder. Both the bond and the note are public securities, and both equally appeal to the public faith:

No privilege should be given to the bondholder unless it is compensated for by some advantage reserved to the Government:

The whole public debt should be made to assume such form that it may be a part of the circulating capital of the country, bearing as low a rate of interest as is practicable, and having only such exemptions as will maintain it at par with gold:

This funding process will give increased value to the United States notes—under it both notes and bonds will gradually rise, step by step, until they reach the standard of gold—the provision indeed is the most rapid way to specie payment.

Mr. Sherman in this speech also drew from British and American history five striking precedents to recommend and sanction the measure he had reported from the Finance Committee. The rate of interest on portions, or the whole of the public debt of England, was reduced by act of Parliament in 1715 from 6 per cent. to 5 per cent.—in 1725 from 5 per cent. to 4 per cent.—in 1749 from 4 per cent. to 31 per cent., and subsequently, by the same act, to 3; and in 1822 from 5 per cent. on exchequer navy bills to a 4 per cent. annuity. Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, funded, by authority of Congress, the combined public debt of the nation and the revolutionary war debts of the several States, by offering the fundholders 6 per cent bonds for two thirds of their debt, 3 per cent. bonds for the other third, and by giving public lands for some of it, and annuities for some. The bondholders and government creditors who would not accept this offer, got but 4 per cent. interest on the debt they held, 2 per cent. less than they were entitled to under the law creating the debt. The nation at the time sustained the arrangement as reasonable, fair, and for the best.

Mr. Sherman closed his speech on his Funding Bill with these noteworthy words:

I say the plan now proposed by the Committee on Finance is in accordance with precedents, holds out no threats, deals with all alike, holders of five-twenty bonds, greenbacks, and all. It gives them a proposition to fund their debt at their own option by the 1st of November next, or if they will not choose to do it, then, as a matter of course, the question is to be decided at the next session of Congress, what provision ought to be made, whether or not Congress will redeem the five-twenty bonds in the currency in which they were contracted or post-pone its redemption, paying the interest at six per cent. in gold, until we can redeem the principal in gold.

"If this offer is rejected, I will not hesitate to vote to redeem maturity bonds in the currency in existence when they were issued and with which they were purchased, carefully complying, however with all the provisions of law as to the mode of payment, and as to the amount of currency outstanding."

With the decline in the value of gold in 1868 and subsequent years, and the sounder views in regard to our obligations to the foreign holders of our national debt which became prevalent after the National Conventions of 1868, these plausible but fallacious theories in regard to its payment in greenbacks, which had been a favorite hobby with the Ohio and some other political leaders of both parties, were finally abandoned, and we suppose that Mr. Sherman himself would hardly care to recall at the present time the earnestness with which he formerly advocated them. But except this slight, and as it turned out inconsequential, departure from the principles of a high and broad statesmanship, there is nothing in Mr. Sherman's record to be ashamed of. He has, during his last senatorial term, which expires in March, 1873, maintained his old reputation as an efficient and faithful worker; has materially aided Secretary Boutwell in forwarding measures for the funding at lower rates of interest the Five-Twenty bonds, and the paying off of the National Debt. He has taken no active or prominent part in the violent and unseemly controversies of the last year, but in general supports President Grant.

John Sherman is very tall, erect, exceedingly spare, brown-haired, gray-eyed, has a large head, high and square in front, has firm square jaws, a large mouth, with thin lips, expressing in an uncommon degree decision, firmness, and self-control, but betraying his emotional nature, which is tender and sympathetic. He speaks without effort, without hesitation, with great rapidity, wholly free from effort at display, and without a single trick of oratory or any self-conscious mannerism.

In debate he is greatly animated, and shoots his statements and reasoning straight at his mark. He commands the undivided attention of the Senate when he speaks, and his words always carry weight, and generally produce conviction. His life is pure; his personal and political history are without spot or blemish.

Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872

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