Term: Spooner, John Coit 1843 - 1919
lawyer, politician, U.S. Senator, b. Lawrenceburg, Ind. He moved with his parents to Wisconsin in 1859, settling in Madison. He graduated from the Univ. of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1864; M.A., 1869). During the Civil War, Spooner served in Co. D, 40th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (100-day volunteers, May-Sept. 1864) and as captain, Co. A, 50th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (1865-June 1866); he was mustered out with the brevet rank of major, U.S. Volunteers. Returning to Madison following the war, he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1867 and soon became a prominent lawyer and politician. A specialist in railroad law, Spooner took up residence in Hudson, where he was solicitor for the Omaha system (1873-1884), and later, after returning to Madison, served as counsel for the Northern Pacific receivers (1893-1896). A Republican, Spooner began his long political career in 1866 when he was selected as secretary to Governor Lucius Fairchild (q.v.). He was assistant state attorney general (1868-1870), and in 1872 was state assemblyman. He was a regent of the Univ. of Wisconsin (1882-1886). In 1885 Spooner was chosen U.S. Senator by the Wisconsin legislature, serving from Mar., 1885, to Mar., 1891. With the Republicans in the minority in the Wisconsin legislature, Spooner was defeated in the legislative senatorial election of 1891. He returned to his law practice, moved to Madison in 1893, but remained active in politics, and was recognized as a leading Stalwart Republican. In 1897 and 1903 he was again chosen U.S. Senator, serving from Mar., 1897, until his retirement in Apr., 1907. As U.S. Senator, Spooner became one of the most powerful conservative politicians in the nation. He was a member of the caucus committee on committees and the steering committee, and of the standing committees on rules (chairman), foreign relations, finance, judiciary, and Cuba. Although he influenced numerous measures, only two bore his name: one establishing civil government for the Philippines (1901), and a canal act (1902). Spooner was known as an administration senator, and was consulted by Presidents Harrison, McKinley, and Roosevelt on political strategy, foreign policy, and legislative programs. An implacable foe of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (q.v.), Spooner was a powerful stump speaker against the Progressive faction in several of the early campaigns, and in 1904 was instrumental in seating Wisconsin's Stalwart delegation in the Republican national convention of that year. To retain his important position in the Senate, Spooner declined numerous cabinet appointments. He resigned his senatorship shortly after La Follette became a member of that body, and from 1907 until his death practiced corporation law in New York City. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Biog. Dir. Amer. Cong. (1928); Natl. Cyclopaedia Amer. Biog., 14 (1917); Milwaukee Sentinel, June 11, 1919.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the John C. Spooner Papers for details.
View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.
[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]