American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview

JOHN SHERMAN (1823-1900)

Served 1897-1898

Appointed by President William McKinley

Republican

John Sherman was born on May 10, 1823, at Lancaster, Ohio, to Charles Robert and Mary Sherman (née Hoyt). John was the eighth child of the family and a younger brother to William Tecumseh Sherman. Their father moved from Connecticut to Ohio and in 1811 established a law practice, rising to a seat on the state supreme court before his untimely death in 1829.

The death put the family in straitened circumstances, and the children were sent to different relatives and friends for their care and educations. Although raised for the most part in different households, John and Tecumseh were bound together by ties of deep affection that lasted their whole lives. John was educated in Lancaster and in Mt. Vernon, where he lived for four years with an extended family member. Sherman learned surveying, quit school at 14, and joined a crew working on canal improvements. By the age of 16 he was the foreman overseeing the construction of a dam. Sherman was dismissed from his job after the Democrats won the elections in 1839 due to the spoils system.

In 1840 he began the study of law under his uncle, Judge Jacob Parker, and his oldest brother, Charles Taylor Sherman, at Mansfield, Ohio, with such self-discipline that people soon forgot Sherman's earlier indifference to education and his boisterous behavior. He was already practicing law by the time he was admitted to the bar on May 10, 1844. Sherman became a partner in a lumber company and began to invest in real estate shrewdly. Sherman married Margaret Sarah Cecilia, the only child of an important Mansfield lawyer, Judge James Stewart, on August 31, 1848. The Shermans never had biological children; they did adopt a daughter.

Sherman attended the national Whig conventions of 1848 and 1852 and in 1854 won election to the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the anti-Kansas Nebraska Act electoral avalanche. Against the spread of slavery into the federal territories, Sherman was a moderate within the new Republican Party on questions of both race and finance. He drafted the majority report of the committee sent to inves-tigate the troubles in Kansas, which the Republicans used effectively in the 1856

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