William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform, a Biography

By Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
Postmaster General [1895-1897]

AS WILSON ended his labors on Capitol Hill, his thoughts carried him back to the Shenandoah Valley; for at Charles Town he could now do the one thing he had long wanted to do: write the biography of James Madison, perhaps the only truly great Virginian still lacking a diligent biographer in 1894. But beyond this the Shenandoah had little to offer, nor could Wilson forget the lean seventies, the shift back to teaching and the fortuitous escape to politics. He was mentioned for the currently vacant post of minister to Mexico--a situation made to order for "a tired soldier needing a furlough"--but he was not an applicant.1 He may have been watching developments in another quarter. Isidor Straus had not forgotten that Wilson once told him that his highest ambition was a place on the Supreme Court; so at the very moment when others were urging his Mexican appointment Straus was playing for a higher stake. Even then Mr. Justice Jackson was ill, and it was doubtful that he would return to the bench; a resolution was then in fact before the Senate to retire him. Straus wrote Clifton R. Breckinridge that he was keeping his "eyes on a Supreme Court vacancy for Wilson" and that the moment that one was in sight he would have "a plain talk with the President."2 He did so, only to end the interview, however, with the impression that in the event of an opening on the bench the appointment would go to a New Yorker. On the other hand he came away convinced that Wilson would be taken care of in the immediate future and that the place would be a position "worthy of the man."3

On Sunday evening, February 24, 1895, Cleveland called Wilson to

____________________
1
William H. Wilson, "William Lyne Wilson," loc. cit., 262-90; H. Parker Willis, "An American Statesman: William Lyne Wilson," Putnam's Monthly, II ( July 1907), 468.
2
Isidor Straus to C. R. Breckinridge, February 12, 1895, Straus Papers.
3
Isidor Straus to C. R. Breckinridge, March 22, 1895, ibid.

-223-

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