Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 8/Sherman

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John Sherman[edit]

Great Financier and Statesman


John Sherman is admittedly one of the ablest financiers and foremost statesmen of America. He was born May 10, 1823, at Lancaster, Ohio, and was the eighth of eleven children. He was the son of Charles Robert Sherman, who settled in Lancaster and took a leading part in the measures for defence in the war of 1812. He was a prominent and respected citizen, who, after serving for six years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the State, died suddenly in the forty-first year of his age.

Sherman's Younger Years[edit]

During his childhood, John Sherman attended a private school at Lancaster, but in 1831 his father's cousin, a prosperous merchant at Mount Vernon, invited him to his home and offered to take charge of his education until he was fitted for Kenyon College. The youth studied faithfully for four years, but, instead of entering college, returned to his mother's home and attended the academy there. The family were in such straitened circumstances that John decided that it was his duty to give up the plan of going to college and to support himself instead. His elder brother got him employment as junior rod-man under the engineer engaged in improving the § Muskingum River. He improved his leisure by study, but at the end of two years lost his place through the sweeping political changes in the State. Returning to Lancaster with nothing to do, he fell for a time into bad habits, but touched by the grief of his mother over his lapse, and by a sense of manliness, he quickly rallied, and thenceforth was his own “master.” Ever since that lapse, Senator Sherman has been a temperate man, and no one is more opposed to the drinking habit than he.

Sherman a Lawyer[edit]

In the autumn of 1839 it was arranged that young Sherman should study law at Mansfield with his elder brother Charles and with Judge Parker, who had married his mother's only sister. His industry enabled him to support himself while thus employed, and he had been a practicing lawyer for more than a year before his admission to the bar, which took place on the day that he attained his twenty-first year.

On December 31, 1848, John Sherman was married to Miss Margaret Cecilia Stewart, only child of Judge Stewart. After their wedding tour, the couple returned to Mansfield and the husband applied himself arduously to his profession. His industry, ability and integrity brought him success, and in 1854 he was elected a member of the House of Representatives. It was in that year that the Missouri Compromise was repealed, stirring up such a vehement revolt and uprising in the North, that the Republican party of to-day was born and brought into vigorous existence. § Recently, when asked if he remembered his first speech, the distinguished Senator, said:

“Yes; I remember it well. It was in the midst of the exciting Kansas-Nebraska times, and there had been numerous changes in the personnel of the House. There were many young men among the new members. Matt Day, one of the founders of the Cincinnati Commercial, was a member. He wrote a great deal, but did not speak much, and was slightly deaf. He had scant regard for the sophomoric efforts of the young Congressmen. On the day that I spoke I sat behind him. Day would listen with his hand at his ear, and the moment one had concluded, would say, with a grunt of satisfaction:

“‘Another Dead Cock in the Pit’[edit]

“At last I saw a place where I thought I could make a good point. I jumped to my feet, got the Speaker's eye, and said my say. When I was through and had sat down, I said: ‘Here is another dead cock in the pit.’ But Day replied: ‘No, my young friend, I don't think it is quite so bad as that with you yet,’ and he gave me to understand that I had another chance or so for my life.”

Mr. Sherman spoke frequently, and, despite his youth, speedily assumed a leading position among his associates. He was renominated in October, 1856, and triumphantly elected. He was one of the most active and vigorous workers in the presidential campaign of that year, and insists to-day that the § Republicans would have been successful had they placed Seward or Chase in nomination instead of Fremont.

The career of John Sherman is another proof that it is brains and ability which brings success in this country. Chosen again, in 1858, a member of the House, he had already become so prominent that he was placed in nomination for Speaker. On the twenty-fifth ballot he came within three votes of election, but he eventually withdrew and Pennington was chosen Speaker by a majority of one. Sherman was appointed chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, of which he had not previously been a member.

An Ardent Supporter of Lincoln[edit]

Mr. Sherman had been elected a fourth time when Abraham Lincoln was placed in nomination for the Presidency. He had no more ardent and powerful supporter than Sherman. In a speech at Philadelphia, September 12, 1860, he made a number of remarkable prophecies, every one of which was fulfilled in the momentous events that speedily followed.

It was February 23, 1861, that Lincoln arrived in Washington, and Sherman met him at Willard's Hotel in the evening, for the first time. “When introduced to him,” says Mr. Sherman, “he took my hands in both of his, drew himself up to his full height and, looking at me steadily, said: ‘You are John Sherman! Well, I am taller than you; let's measure.’ Thereupon we stood back to back, and some one present announced that he was two inches taller than § I. This was correct, for he was six feet three and a half inches tall when he stood erect.”

In the Senate[edit]

Salmon P. Chase having accepted the place of Secretary of the Treasurer in Lincoln's Cabinet, his seat in the Senate was taken by Sherman, who would have preferred to remain in the House, to which he had just been elected for the fourth time and of which he was certain to be chosen Speaker. But having entered the Senate, Sherman steadily rose to his present exalted place in the regard of his countrymen. In that august body, he has towered for years, head and shoulders above his distinguished associates, most of whom are of national reputation.

It seems to be the law of this country that the greatest men in a political party fail to receive its highest rewards. The peerless Henry Clay was nominated three times for the Presidency, but never attained it. Daniel Webster, longing with an unspeakable longing for the high office, died a disappointed man. If any Republican of the last quarter of a century was entitled to the presidential nomination at the hands of that party, John Sherman is pre-eminently the man. More than once it was almost within his reach, but never quite grasped. It was his humiliation to be forced aside, and see the honor bestowed upon men who were in the ranks when he was a leader, and whose ability was no more to be compared to his than is a bauble to a diamond. But § his place in the honor and grateful recollection of the nation is secure.

Sherman's Administration of the Treasury Department[edit]

Senator Sherman was foremost in financial and all other measures for the support of the Government, throughout the agony of the civil war. He personally recruited an Ohio brigade. He was chairman of the important Finance Committee for several years, and in 1877 left the Senate to enter the Cabinet of President Hayes. It was during his administration of the Treasury Department that the resumption of specie payments took place, January 1, 1879. With a foresight and a skill that could not be surpassed, Secretary Sherman had made such careful preparations for this important step that when it took place, there was not the slightest jar or friction. It was in the natural order of things, effect following cause with perfect smoothness.

Senator Sherman re-entered the Senate in 1881, and is there to-day, the same industrious, patriotic, sagacious, far-seeing statesman, whose utterances are read with profound interest in every corner of the land, the leader so eminent and able that none dreams of disputing his supremacy, equally respected by political friends and foes, still in the prime of his magnificent mental powers, and so great in the truest meaning of the word, that, when his farewell words come to be spoken, his loss will be felt throughout the nation.