Term: Keyes, Elisha Williams 1828 - 1910
lawyer, politician, b. Northfield, Vt. He moved with his family to Wisconsin in 1837 and settled in Lake Mills. In 1850 he moved to Madison where he studied law and sold insurance. He was admitted to the Wisconsin bar in 1851 and practiced law with George B. Smith (q.v.) until 1862. Beginning his long and colorful political career as a Whig, he became tainted with Know-Nothingism, and eventually became a staunch Republican. Throughout the I850's he was active in city and county politics, gradually rising through the ranks in the party. His work in organizing the Republican ranks won him the appointment of postmaster of Madison (1861), a position he held for the next 21 years and from which he judiciously distributed patronage. He served as mayor of Madison (1865, 1866, 1868), and in 1869 succeeded Horace Rublee (q.v.) as chairman of the Republican state central committee, a post that enabled him to become the undisputed "boss" of Wisconsin politics. Keyes and the coterie that dominated the party were known as the "Madison Regency." Utilizing the railroads, press, patronage, and an unguarded, lashing tongue to keep his party in power, Keyes was a stern party disciplinarian and a fierce partisan. He was chairman of the Wisconsin delegation to the Republican national conventions of 1872, 1876, and 1884. His control of the Republican party was weakened in 1875 when a group of Republican legislators formed a coalition with the Democrats to elect Angus Cameron (q.v.) to the U.S. Senate over the party candidate, Mathew H. Carpenter (q.v.), and ended in 1877 when President Hayes' civil service policy forced Keyes to resign the chairmanship in order to keep the post-office position. He was unsuccessful in his bids for the U.S. Senatorship in 1879 and 1881, and when he became state assemblyman in 1882 he was forced to give up his postmastership. Suffering still another defeat in the congressional campaign of 1882, he sought minor political offices, serving as municipal judge of Dane County (1889-1892). From 1877 to 1889 he served as regent of the Univ. of Wisconsin. Old in years and hard pressed for money, the man who had been one of the country's most astute and resourceful political managers pleaded with his friends for the Madison postmastership. In 1897 President McKinley made the appointment and Keyes retired into the security of that office until his death. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Madison Democrat, Nov. 29, 30, 1910; E. W. Keyes, Hist. of Dane Co. (Madison, 1906); R. W. Hantke, "Life of E. W. Keyes" [Unpub. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Wis., 1942]; E. W. Keyes Papers.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Elisha W. Keyes Papers for details.
View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.
[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]