Know Your US Senators: James “Ham” Lewis (D-IL)

April 13, 2010 at 2:19 am | Posted in Historical | Leave a comment
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Body of Illinois Senator lies in state in Senate chamber. Washington, D.C., April 12, 1939. The body of the late Senator from Illinois, J. Ham Lewis lying in state in the Senate chamber today where final rites were conducted. (Library of Congress)

James Hamilton Lewis, born May 18, 1863, was a member of the Democratic Party and represented Washington State in the US House of Representatives (1897–1899) and Illinois in the US Senate (1913–1919, 1931–1939). He was the first Senate Majority Whip, serving in that position from 1913 until 1919 and then from 1933 until his death in 1939. He had a sealing schooner named for him that was captured by the Russians in approximately 1903.

Lewis was a close ally of President Woodrow Wilson, particularly with respect to Wilson’s New Freedom policies developed in reaction to President Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. Wilson was likely disappointed when Lewis lost reelection to his senate seat in 1918. Lewis’ replacement, Joseph M. McCormick, was one of those who voted against, and defeated, Wilson’s League of Nations.

Before and between serving in elected office, Lewis was a lawyer with some interesting clients.

Considered a fine orator in his day, you can listen to a sound recording of Lewis arguing for US involvement in what would be WWI here.


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