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John Coit Spooner

john coit spooner
John Coit Spooner January 6, 1843 – June 11, 1919 was a politician and lawyer from Wisconsin He served in the United States Senate from 1885 to 1891 and from 1897 to 1907 A Republican, by the 1890s, he was one of the "Big Four" key Republicans who largely controlled the major decisions of the Senate, along with Orville H Platt of Connecticut, William B Allison of Iowa and Nelson W Aldrich of Rhode Island He chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee1


  • 1 Early life and career
  • 2 Politics
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links

Early life and careeredit

Portrait of John Coit Spooner, in 1899

Born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Spooner moved with his parents to Madison, Wisconsin in 1859 He attended the common schools and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1864 During the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army and at the close of the war was brevetted major He served as private and military secretary to the Governor of Wisconsin, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1867, then serving as assistant attorney general of Wisconsin until 1870

Spooner moved to Hudson, Wisconsin and practiced law there from 1870 to 1884


He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1872 and was a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

He was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate January 27, 1885 and served from 1885 to 1891, being defeated for re-election by William F Vilas He served as chairman of the Committee on Claims from 1886 to 1891 Afterwards, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 1892 and moved back to Madison in 1893 He was elected to the US Senate again in 1897, was reelected in 1903, and served from 1897 until his resignation in 1907 He served as chairman of the Committee on Canadian Relations from 1897 to 1899 and of the Committee on Rules from 1899 to 1907 As a Senator, he sponsored the Spooner Act, which directed President Theodore Roosevelt to purchase the Panama Canal Zone

A popular figure among Republicans, he turned down three cabinet posts during his political career: Secretary of the Interior in President William McKinley's administration in 1898, Attorney General under President McKinley in 1901, and Secretary of State in President William Howard Taft's administration in 1909

Spooner and fellow Wisconsin Senator, Robert M La Follette, were known to be bitter rivals Spooner disagreed with La Follette's progressive policies, which were opposed to his own conservative policies Spooner was also one of the early opponents of direct primary elections At the time, party nominees were selected by the party officials, sometimes by party bosses Although the system left much to be desired, Spooner had this to say in description of political campaigns after the reform of direct primary elections:

"Direct primaries would destroy the party machinery and would build up a lot of personal machines, and would make every man a self-seeker, and would degrade politics by turning candidacies into bitter personal wrangles"2

After his retirement from the Senate, he practiced law in New York City at the firm of Spooner & Cotton until his death

He died on June 11, 1919 in Manhattan, New York City3 He was interred in Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin

See alsoedit

  • American Civil War portal
  • United States Army portal
  • Spooner Act
  • Panama Canal Zone


  1. ^ Lewis Gould, The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate 2009 pp 17-31
  2. ^ Eigen's Political & Historical Quotations Archived 2006-08-30 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "John C Spooner Dies In City Home Former United States Senator for Wisconsin Took Up Law Practice Here of 64" New York Times June 11, 1919 Retrieved January 25, 2015 Former United States Senator John Coit Spooner from Wisconsin, who since his retirement from the Senate in May 1907, had been engaged in the practice of law in New York, being a member of the firm of Spooner Spooner, 14 all Street, died at 1:10 this morning at his home, 205 West Fifty-seventh  

External linksedit

  • United States Congress "John Coit Spooner id: S000741" Biographical Directory of the United States Congress  Retrieved on 2008-02-15
  • "John Coit Spooner" Find a Grave Retrieved 2008-02-15 
US Senate
Preceded by
Angus Cameron
US Senator Class 3 from Wisconsin
March 4, 1885 – March 4, 1891
Served alongside: Philetus Sawyer
Succeeded by
William F Vilas
Preceded by
William F Vilas
US Senator Class 3 from Wisconsin
March 4, 1897 – April 30, 1907
Served alongside: John L Mitchell, Joseph V Quarles and Robert M La Follette, Sr
Succeeded by
Isaac Stephenson
Senate: P Sawyer J SpoonerSenate: P Sawyer J SpoonerSenate: P Sawyer J SpoonerSenate: J Mitchell J SpoonerSenate: J Spooner J QuarlesSenate: J Spooner J QuarlesSenate: J Spooner J QuarlesSenate: J Spooner R La Follette SrSenate: J Spooner R La Follette Sr I Stephenson

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