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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 195

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This is the grave of James Sherman.

Born in Utica in 1855, Sherman graduated from Hamilton College in 1878, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1880. The young man rose in local politics and finance quickly, becoming a bank president and then mayor of Utica. He was elected to Congress in 1886 as a Republican and what a Republican he was. Sherman quickly became known as one of the most staunch conservatives in Congress, which is this era meant serving the needs of plutocratic Gilded Age masters. Congress is so large that by and large, discussing all but a few members in this series is fairly pointless. Like today, most of the time there isn’t that much to say except that they voted with their party. That’s mostly true of Sherman except that while he was never a major committee chairman (he did head the Indian Affairs Committee for 14 years but not only was this not a powerful committee, let’s just say Sherman was not a modern-day progressive on Native American issues), he was considered personally honest (rare enough in the Gilded Age) and a reliable conservative, supporter of McKinley, and a hard money man dedicated to the tariff. When the Cleveland administration lowered the tariff, Sherman led the fight to restore the high tariff after McKinley’s 1896 election. He was also an important player in the Republican caucus, getting bills through committee and to the floor. This all happened because the powerful Speaker of the House Thomas Reed took the young man under his wing and made him an important Washington player. For a series of speakers, he became the go-to man when they were out of the House and needed someone to preside over the Committee of the Whole. He did lose his re-election bid in 1890 but won the seat back in 1892. In fact, those two years were the only time he did not hold office after his victory as mayor of Utica.

Theodore Roosevelt’s ascension to power and his naming William Howard Taft as his heir apparent while highly vexing to the Gilded Age elites who hated the Progressives. And while they were nervous about Taft, they hated Roosevelt. So when Taft was the nominee in 1908, bringing the Republican Party together required a reliable conservative who made the money men happy. That man was James Sherman. He was no fan of Roosevelt himself and routinely voted against his regulatory bills such as the creation of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906. He became Vice-President when Taft was elected. Taft wasn’t too happy about this as he had wanted a Progressive to wrap himself tighter in Roosevelt’s legacy, but it was not acceptable to powerful Republicans. This led to some tension within the new administration. Initially, Taft and Sherman disagreed on the tariff, but then Taft moved away from the Progressivism of Roosevelt and then became closer by the end of the first term. Sherman also chafed against the limited role of the Vice-President, which the people holding that job always all felt until the last couple decades. He wrote to Taft, “You will have to act on your own account. I am to be Vice President and acting as a messenger boy is not part of the duties as Vice President.” Sherman never really did have that much to do, but his seeming integrity did gain him Taft’s confidence and they spent a lot of time together during his presidency. Amazingly, when Sherman was renominated as VP in 1912, it was the first time a sitting VP had been renominated since John C. Calhoun in 1828, when he became the first and only person to be VP under two consecutive presidents (not to mention two consecutive presidents who hated each other). However, a week before the election, Sherman died from complications from Bright’s Disease.

James Sherman is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica, New York.

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