Gen. William T. Sherman (1820-1891) remains one of the most successful and controversial U.S. military leaders of the 19th century. While there is no denying that his “scorched earth” policy helped end the Civil War and subdue the Plains Indians, many question whether or not his means justified his ends. Ironically, this general who was so well known for his use of fire had a younger brother called “The Ohio Icicle,” John Sherman.
John was born in Ohio in 1823. John started his adult life as an engineer but later became a lawyer. Four years into his law career he married the daughter of a judge and started getting involved in. In 1854 Ohioans elected him to Congress as a Republican.
In 1861 John was appointed to the U.S. Senate. He served there until 1877 when President Rutherford B. Hayes named him Secretary of the Treasury. He is credited with helping to keep the U.S. Banking system working during the Civil War and restoring the nation’s finances after the Panic of 1873.
John returned to the Senate in 1881. There he wrote one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. The still-enforced law puts limits on monopolies, trusts and market manipulations, and allows the federal government to prosecute violators. The most famous application of the act forced the break-up of Standard Oil in 1911, but the law has also been successfully used in recent times against AT&T and Microsoft.
John remained in the Senate until 1897 when President William McKinley named him Secretary of State as a reward for his years of service to the Republican Party. Ironically, John had helped write the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, which stated that federal government jobs should be awarded on merit rather than political patronage and favoritism. Unfortunately, John’s lack of experience in diplomacy showed and he was replaced the next year. John then retired from public life and died in Washington, D.C. in 1900 after a lingering illness.
Though John was a successful politician, his brother William hated politics and politicians with a passion. Despite this, the two remained very close. William wrote John as frequently as he could during the Civil War and those letters give a fascinating insight into William’s mind.
Even though Williams’ dislike for politics was well-known, he was viewed as a perennial potential presidential candidate for years after the war. But when approached about running in 1884 William made his famous reply, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”
However, John longed for the Republican nomination for president, only to be defeated for it in 1880, 1884 and 1888. Much of John’s lack of success is found in his unflattering nickname. Though respected for his honesty, and considered a good speaker, John, unlike William, had absolutely no charisma.