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

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VIII. Political Giants of the Present Day—

William R. Morrison

William R. Morrison[edit]

Ex-Congressman From Illinois

William R. Morrison is a native of Illinois, having been born in Monroe county, September 14, 1825. At that day, so comparatively recent, the wolves howled on the present site of the imperial city of Chicago, and the State itself was sparsely settled; but the fertility of the soil and the natural resources of the commonwealth were beginning to attract attention. It was admitted to the Union seven years before the birth of Morrison, and when he was seven years old the Black Hawk War broke out. Stirring as were the events of that brief struggle, they caused less excitement in some parts of the State than did the advent of the Mormons in 1840. It was during that intense agitation that Jo Smith, the founder of the order, was killed and the sect finally driven westward.

Like so many of our public men, young Morrison spent his boyhood on a farm, toiling industriously and attending the country schools as opportunity offered. He acquired a good common-school education, and later became a student at Kendree College, in his native State.

He had just attained his majority when the Mexican War broke out, and he was among the first to volunteer as a private in Colonel Bissell's regiment of Illinois volunteers. As in all stations of life, he did his duty manfully, and served to the close of hostilities.

In the House of State Representatives[edit]

He returned to his native country, where he was elected clerk of the supreme court in 1852–1854. His predilection was in the direction of law, and, pursuing his studies, he was admitted to the bar in 1855, the town of Waterloo being chosen as the opening field for the profession in which he was destined to become distinguished. At the close of his term, he was elected to the House of State Representatives, of which he was a member until 1860, being elected Speaker during each of the last two years.


The clouds of civil war were then gathering over the land, and again he volunteered in the service of his country. That he had not forgotten the training on the plains of Mexico was proved by his appointment as Colonel of the Forty-ninth Illinois infantry, which he commanded at Fort Donelson. In that terrific battle, fought in February, 1862, 15,000 Confederate prisoners were captured by General Grant, who thus won the first important victory of the war. Colonel Morrison was among the bravest of the Union officers, and was dangerously wounded.

In the Congress[edit]

Retiring from the army, he was elected a Representative from Illinois in the Thirty-eighth Congress, as a Democrat, receiving 10,999 votes against 6,854 for Smith, Republican. He served from December 7, 1863, to March 3, 1865. He ran again for the Thirty-ninth Congress, but was defeated by Jehu Baker, who, in a total vote of more than 23,000, received a majority of less than 100. Morrison was again defeated by Baker at the next election, when, turning his attention to State politics, he was sent to the Legislature, where he served in 1870–1871. In the election for the Forty-third Congress his Republican opponent was John B. Hay, whom he defeated.

The “Morrison Bill”[edit]

Morrison now had plain sailing until 1887, when his evil genius, Jehu Baker, again defeated him by a small majority. Morrison was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee from 1873 to 1875. In that capacity he reported the tariff bill which is known by his name; but, as will be remembered, the bill failed to become a law. The Inter-State Commission was appointed by act of Congress, February 4, 1887, with jurisdiction of rates on inter-State traffic, and power to inquire into the management of the business of all common carriers subject to the provisions of an “Act to regulate commerce.”

The “Reagan Bill”[edit]

In 1884, Representative Reagan of Texas had submitted a bill to the House for the regulation of inter-State commerce, and about the same time a similar bill passed the Senate, but both failed. Discussion following with each session of Congress until, on the date above named, the Reagan Bill was passed and approved. It provided for the appointment of a commission consisting of five persons, whose duty it was to see that railroad and other such companies established and preserved a just and uniform rate of transportation. This bill specially affected such corporations as control continuous lines from one State to another, either by land or by water or both. It has been very effective in preventing unfair discriminations in charges for freight and issuing of passes. Mr. Morrison was appointed a member of this commission by President Cleveland, and subsequently became chairman in place of Hon. T. M. Cooley, which position he still holds.

The Proper “Timber”[edit]

He is one of the most prominent of the Democratic leaders, and has been mentioned more than once as the proper “timber” from which to make presidential candidates. He is an able, conscientious, and high-minded man, and, should it ever become his fortune to occupy the chair of the Chief Executive, he is certain to give his country a worthy and creditable administration.