James S. Sherman, served March 4, 1909 - October 30, 1912
Sherman (October 24, 1855 - October 30, 1912) was a United States Representative from New York and the 27th Vice President of the United States, 1909-1912 under William Howard Taft. He was a member of the inter-related Baldwin, Hoar, and Sherman families, prominent lawyers and politicians of New England. Although not a high-powered administrator, he made a natural committee chairman, and his genial personality eased the workings of the House, so that he was known all his life as ‘Sunny Jim’. He was the first Vice President to fly in a plane (New York, 1911), and also the first to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game.
James Schoolcraft Sherman was born in Utica, New York, son of Richard Updike Sherman and his distant cousin Mary Frances Sherman. According to Facts on File., “Sherman was of the ninth generation of descendants from Henry Sherman, a line also connected to Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general during the Civil War.”
He was educated at Hamilton College, where he was noted for his skills in oratory and debate, and for his personal popularity as a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity. After law studies, he was admitted to the bar in 1880, practicing at the local firm of Cookingham & Martin, and also serving as president of the Utica Trust & Deposit Co. and the New Hartford Canning Co., becoming mayor of Utica at the early age of twenty-nine.
In 1886, Sherman was elected U.S. Representative from New York’s 23rd congressional district as a Republican, and he served twenty years in the House, with only a two-year interval. At a time when the Republican Party was divided over protective tariffs, Sherman sided with McKinley and the conservative branch, defending the gold standard against the potentially inflationary ‘free silver.’
As Sherman had never held a party leadership post or chaired a major committee, he was considered sufficiently neutral to be appointed Chairman of the ‘Committee of the Whole’ - a crucial device for speeding-up the passage of bills by suspending certain rules at the discretion of the Chairman. Henry Cabot Lodge recognized this job as a major test of integrity and judgment, and declared that Sherman was supremely fitted for it.
In 1908, Sherman was nominated as the Republican candidate for Vice President on the ticket with William Howard Taft. Although not an obvious front-runner, he balanced Taft’s profile, by being both an Easterner and a conservative (it was said that the two wings of the G.O.P. ‘flapped together’), and the New York lobby pressed hard for his nomination. The Republicans won by a comfortable margin, though Sherman is not credited as a major vote-winner in this election.
At first, Sherman and Taft found themselves at odds over both tariff policy and the role of the Vice President. But Taft presently moved to the right, and the two of them worked together more harmoniously - a relationship eased further by the First Lady’s enjoyment of the company of Sherman and his wife. The President declared that Sherman accomplished much on Capitol Hill by his “charm of speech and manner, and his spirit of conciliation and compromise”, backed by a “stubborn adherence” to his principles.
From 1910, Taft had experienced several disagreements with ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who presently walked out and formed his own Bull Moose Party. This made re-election for the Republicans almost impossible, but they campaigned on the same ticket in the 1912 contest, with New Yorkers once again supporting Sherman’s nomination - the first time a sitting Vice President had been re-nominated in eighty-four years.
But Sherman’s health had collapsed, due to his steadily worsening kidney condition (Bright’s disease), and he gave his acceptance speech against medical advice. Just days before the election, he died at home in Utica, and President Taft was left with no running mate with less than a week before the November 5 election, although Nicholas Murray Butler was designated to receive the electoral votes that Sherman would have received. Taft was not re-elected, and the office of Vice-President remained vacant until March 4, 1913.
To date, Sherman is the last Vice President to have died in office.
Read more about John S. Sherman here.