Williams, John Sharp, 1854-1932

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1854-07-30
Death 1932-09-27

Biographical notes:

John Sharp Williams of Mississippi was a congressman 1893-1907 and a senator 1911-1923. At the time of the writing of this letter he was chairman of the Senate Committee on the Library.

From the description of Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1917. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 191100814

Born in Memphis, Tenn., but raised in Yazoo City, Miss., John Sharp Williams practiced law and dabbled in cotton planting before being elected in 1893 as a Democrat to the U.S. Congress, where he served eight terms. In 1910 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving two terms. Williams retired from public life in 1923 to take up residence at Cedar Grove, his plantation near Yazoo City.

From the description of John Sharp Williams letters, 1904-1907. (Louisiana State University). WorldCat record id: 166421463

U.S. representative and senator, lawyer, and planter from Mississippi.

From the description of Papers of John Sharp Williams, 1902-1924 (bulk 1914-1924). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83534466

John Sharp Williams represented Mississippi in the U.S. Congress for twenty-nine years. Williams' grandfather Christopher Harris Williams, a Tennessee Whig, had served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1837 to 1852. Born to Christopher Harris Williams Jr. and Annie Louise Sharp in Memphis on 30 July 1854, Williams became an orphan during the Civil War when his lawyer father died fighting at the Battle of Shiloh (his mother having passed away several years earlier). Williams and his brother moved to Cedar Grove, the 3,000 acre plantation home of their maternal grandfather John Sharp in Yazoo County, Mississippi. Williams had an extensive and varied education. After attending local schools, he studied at the Kentucky Military Institute, the University of the South, and the University of Virginia. Williams left the latter institution in 1873 as a Phi Beta Kappa member but with no degree since he refused to enroll in anything but liberal arts classes. Abroad, he attended the Universita╠łt Heidelberg in Germany and the College of France at Dijon (years later, his studies and travel experience garnered him a reputation in Congress as a European specialist). After returning to the United States, Williams enrolled in law classes at the University of Virginia and read with a Memphis law firm. Admitted to the bar in March 1877, Williams married Elizabeth Dial Webb of Livingston, Alabama later that year. He returned to Yazoo City in 1878 to practice law and grow cotton at Cedar Grove which eventually grew to 8,000 acres. His family also increased with the birth of seven children. The Fifth Mississippi District electorate sent Williams, a Democrat, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1893. With impressive debating skills, he adopted positions for silver coinage (but against Williams Jennings Bryan's demand for unlimited circulation of that currency); against protective tariffs and the annexation of Hawaii; and for states' rights. Williams faced his first real electoral challenge after 1903 redistricting forced a campaign against two other incumbents. Victorious, he became the House Minority Leader, a post held until 1908. Williams also served on the Rules Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. In 1906, he announced that he would run for a Senate seat in 1911 instead of seeking reelection to the House. Therefore in 1909, he returned home to fight a vicious campaign for the post against Mississippi Governor James K. Vardaman. Although Vardaman promised white voters that he would work to rescind the 15th Amendment, Williams won the election. In recognition of his House experience and leadership, Senate Democrats placed the new Mississippi member on both the Finance and Foreign Relations committees. Williams also chaired the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses (1913-14), the Committee on the Library (1915-18), and the Committee on the University of the United States (1919-1920). Williams allied himself with President Woodrow Wilson, supporting the United States' entry into World War I and lobbying for U.S. membership in the League of Nations. During the latter legislative battle, a bitter feud developed between Williams and Vardaman, who had eventually won Mississippi's junior senate post and who opposed both the war and the League. Williams actively supported Pat Harrison in the 1918 campaign which removed Vardaman from office. Disappointed with the Senate's isolationist majority, Williams decided not to seek reelection in 1922 stating famously that he would "rather be a hound dog and bay at the moon from my Mississippi plantation than remain in the United States Senate." He remained close to home after retirement and died on 27 September 1932. His grave rests in the family plot at Cedar Mound.

Mississippi state senator, governor; U.S. senator

Born on 26 July 1861 in Jackson County, Texas, James Kimble Vardaman was one of six children by parents William Sylvester and Mollie Fox Vardaman. Originally from Mississippi, the father moved his family back home in 1868, settling in Yalobusha County. Vardaman moved to Carrollton, Mississippi as a young man to study law at Helm & Somerville. Admitted to the bar in 1882, he opened a practice in the nearby community of Winona where he also edited the local newspaper. In 1884, he married Anna Robinson with whom he had two daughters and a son. In 1890, Vardaman became editor of the Greenwood Enterprise. The year before, Leflore County had elected him to the Mississippi House of Representatives. The young legislator would hold on to both jobs through 1896. Although defeated in a race for House Speaker in 1892, Vardaman garnered the post in 1894. He also served as a democratic presidential elector in both 1892 and 1898. In 1895, he failed to win the gubernatorial nomination of the state's Democratic Party. The following year, Vardaman established the Greenwood Commonwealth. During the Spanish-American War, Vardaman accepted a commission as captain in the 5th U.S. Volunteers. At the end of service in Cuba, he had risen to the rank of major. Despite these military ventures, party leadership at home refused yet again to nominate him for the Governor's Mansion. Consequently, Vardaman backed the popular primary measure in which voters selected a party's nominees for all public offices. In 1903, he became the first governor in the state elected after receiving his party's nomination through a popular primary election. Since his early newspaper years, Vardaman had espoused a prohibition platform. A "southern progressive," he also fought against child labor, supported prison reform, and established the State Insane Asylum as well as the Deaf and Dumb Institute during his two terms in office. However, his racism propelled him to recommend the closing of black public schools and to seek repeal of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. After John Sharp Williams defeated him in a 1907 contest for the U.S. Senate, Vardaman established a weekly newspaper in Jackson called The Issue which he continued to manage until 1911. Defeated in another campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in 1910, he finally succeeded in 1912. During his tenure, the junior senator served as chair of the Committee on Conservation of Natural Resources (1913-1918), the Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department (1913-1914), and the Committee on Manufactures (1917-1918). Largely due to his vocal opposition to United States participation in World War I, Pat Harrison defeated his reelection bid in 1918. Vardaman lost an attempt to return to the Senate in 1922 and thenceforth relocated to Birmingham, Alabama where his two daughters lived. Dying on 25 June 1930, Vardaman returned to Mississippi to lie in state at the capitol before burial in Jackson's Lakewood Memorial Park.

From the description of John Sharp Williams Collection, 1862-1943 (bulk 1898-1932). (University of Mississippi). WorldCat record id: 430984223

Biographical Note

  • 1854, July 30: Born, Memphis, Tenn.
  • 1868 - 1870 : Attended Kentucky Military Institute,Lyndon, Ky.
  • 1870: Expelled from the University of the South,Sewanee, Tenn.
  • 1870 - 1873 : Attended University of Virginia,Charlottesville, Va.
  • 1873 - 1876 : Baden, Germany Baden Dijon, France Dijon Attended University of Heidelberg,Baden, Germany, and Dijon, France
  • 1876: LL.B., University of Virginia Law School,Charlottesville, Va.
  • 1877: Admitted to bar in Tennessee
  • 1878: Moved to Yazoo City, Miss., to practice law
  • 1892: Elected delegate, Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1893 - 1909 : Member, U.S. House of Representatives
  • 1898: Published Hawaiian: Against Annexation (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 16 pp.)
  • 1900: Published Philippine Annexation Not Desirable (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 15 pp.)
  • 1903 - 1909 : Democratic minority leader
  • 1904: Elected temporary chairman, Democratic National Convention, St. Louis, Mo.
  • 1911 - 1923 : Member, U.S. Senate
  • 1912: Elected delegate, Democratic National Convention, Baltimore, Md. Published The Supply Bills (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 16 pp.)
  • 1913: Published Thomas Jefferson: His Permanent Influence on American Institutions (New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press. 330 pp.)
  • 1916: Published Lincoln Birthplace Farm at Hodgenville, Kentucky (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 8 pp.)
  • 1932, Sept. 27: "Cedar Grove" plantation Cedar Grove Plantation Orange Grove Plantation Pine Grove Plantation (historical) Holy Grove Plantation Forest Grove Plantation Shady Grove Plantation (historical) Poplar Grove Plantation The Grove Plantation (historical) Oak Grove Plantation Moss Grove Plantation Cemetery Locust Grove Plantation (historical) Locust Grove Plantation (historical) Laurel Grove Plantation Mavis Grove Plantation (historical) Cedar Grove Plantation (historical) Cedar Grove Plantation Pond Mulberry Grove Plantation (historical) Moss Grove Plantation Orange Grove Plantation Orange Grove Plantation Ash Grove Plantation (historical) Groves Valley Plantation (historical) Myrtle Grove Plantation Yazoo City, Miss. Yazoo City Died, "Cedar Grove" plantation,Yazoo City, Miss.

From the guide to the John Sharp Williams Papers, 1902-1924, (bulk 1914-1924), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

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Subjects:

  • Politicians
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Patronage, Political
  • Home rule--Ireland
  • Legislation
  • Home rule
  • Armenian massacres, 1894-1896
  • United States--Politics and government--1921-1923
  • Political Campaigns
  • Irish question
  • Self-determination, National
  • Disarmament
  • Prohibition
  • Emigration and immigration law
  • Currency question
  • Armenian question
  • Debts, External
  • Military readiness
  • Armenian massacres, 1909
  • Armenian massacres, 1915-1923
  • Women--Suffrage

Occupations:

  • Legislators--United States
  • Judges--New York (State)
  • Lawyers
  • Plantation owners
  • Representatives, U.S. Congress--Mississippi
  • Senators, U.S. Congress--Mississippi

Places:

  • Armenia (as recorded)
  • Mississippi (as recorded)
  • Ireland (as recorded)
  • Armenia (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Puerto Rico (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Mississippi (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Puerto Rico (as recorded)
  • Philippines (as recorded)
  • Mississippi (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)