The nation’s twenty-seventh vice president during William Howard Taft’s presidency was James Schoolcraft Sherman. Being a member of the House of Representatives for almost two decades, he stood firmly for the Republican Party as an influential role during the Progressive Era. He was nicknamed “Sunny Jim” for his genial demeanor and civility, and was the first Republican vice president to be renominated. However, he didn’t live long enough to see the election day.
James was born in Utica, New York on October 24, 1855. His parents were Richard Updike Sherman and Mary Frances Schoolcraft Sherman. They educated James in the Utica public schools, and his advanced education took him towards Hamilton College in Utica. Sherman was not a brilliant student but he was greatly distinguished as a debater by his professors and his peers. He gained admission to the bar in 1880, then entered the Utica law firm of Cookinham, Gibson and Sherman. He remained here as a business adviser until 1907. He was moving on to politics.
His father sparked James interest in politics, and chose to be a Republican against his father’s advice. Sherman’s first political victory was his election as mayor of Utica in 1884 at the age of 29, making him the youngest mayor in the city’s history. He declined renomination, as he was preparing to move into national politics. Even without any outstanding achievements as mayor, he managed to work his way into position for the Republican nomination for Congress in 1886. He defeated his opponent Thomas J Spriggs, who held the office for two terms. This congressional victory started him on a long successful career in national politics. With only one election defeat in 1890, Sherman served in the House until selected as Taft’s running mate in the 1908 election.
Meanwhile, Sherman’s personal life was steadily progressing. He married Carrie Babcock from East Orange, New Jersey on January 26, 1881. Carrie and James attended school together in Utica and had known each other since childhood. During her husband’s vice presidency, she founded the Congressional Club for senators and representatives wives. When in Utica, they attended the Dutch Reformed Church, where he was the president of trustees and church treasurer. When his father died in 1895, he took control of the New Hartford Canning Company, which was one of the most important financial institutions in Central New York.
Sherman was not known as a legislative leader, and few bills bear his signature. Instead, his main contribution was as a parliamentarian. Here he developed a reputation for his detailed knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He was chairman of the Committee of the Whole during important debates, and few men have been known whose parliamentary knowledge was more highly respected. Sherman was a member of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, and was also appointed Committee on Indian Affairs chairman, a post that he held for 12 years. Other committees on which he served were the judiciary, civil service, and census.
A successful career in Congress led Sherman to aspire to further political ambitions. In 1899, he was nominated and confirmed for the post general appraiser for New York. He soon declined because his constituents wished him to stay in Congress. Shortly after this he entered the race for Speaker of the House but the position went to David Henderson of Iowa instead. Sherman debated whether or not to run for Senate, but soon decided against it. Instead he further enhanced his reputation by chairing the New York Republican convention in 1895, 1900 and 1908. He was a Republican national convention delegate in 1892, and in 1906 chaired the Republican Party’s National Congressional Committee.
Sherman’s congressional career came to an end in 1908 when he was selected as Taft’s running mate. Several other men were selected as other possibilities, but none seemed to be interested, so Sherman was choosen. His main qualifications were his parliamentary skills. Also, he was well liked in the Senate, and had been an effective Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. Sherman was a competent vice president during a period that saw growing divisions within Republican Party ranks. Despite declining health and reports that he might retire from politics, Sherman was renominated in 1912, becoming the seventh vice president in U.S. history to achieve this, and was the first Republican vice president to do so since the party’s beginning in 1856. Sherman remained a conservative throughout his life, even though he was Taft’s running mate on a relatively progressive platform.
Sherman’s continued through his vice presidency term and was renominated for another. He accepted the nomination however; he died a few days before the election was held.