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James Schoolcraft Sherman was born in Utica on October 24, 1855, one of the six children of Richard and Mary Frances Sherman. His education began in a little red schoolhouse near Washington Mills and he later attended Whitestown Seminary. He graduated with honors from Hamilton College in 1878. In Congress he was credited with speaking more distinctly than any other member; perhaps because he practiced his student speeches in the woods atop College Hill-the trees his critical audience.
Sherman was admitted to the bar in 1880, after studying law in the offices of Beardsley, Cookinham, and Burdick. He practiced mainly as counselor and business advisor, but retired from the legal profession to give his full attention to politics. Active in Republican politics since 1879, he progressed through a succession of political paces as delegate to state and national conventions, campaign speaker, and chairman of committees. He was mayor of Utica in 1884 and a member of Congress continuously from 1886 until 1908, except for a two-year interlude.
Nominees William Howard Taft (center foreground) and James S. Sherman (right of Taft) greeting the reception committee in Utica during the 1908 presidential campaign.
Mr. Sherman was a staunch party man and conservative Republican who opposed progressive legislation. He gave meticulous attention to the responsibilities of various committees while serving in Congress: Judiciary, Census, Industrial Arts and Expositions, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Rules, and the Committee of the Whole. Further, he served as chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs for 14 years; a position which was of special interest to Sherman. He developed a sympathetic understanding of the problems facing Native Americans and built a strong relationship with some who fondly called him "Four Eyes" because he wore spectacles. Sherman also maintained a connection with Oneida County; he served as trustee of Hamilton College, president of the Utica Trust and Deposit Company, and maintained other business interests in the local community.
The Republican National Convention of 1908 nominated William Howard Taft for president and Sherman for vice-president. The latter's illness delayed the original plans for homecoming celebration in Utica, but rejoicing crowds met the train with fanfare when he returned from the convention.
March 4, 1909 was Inauguration Day in Washington-a memorable date on the calendars of Uticans. Family, friends, business and political associate, and members the Conkling Unconditionals and the Sherman Scouts marching clubs were scheduled to attend. The Scouts marched through the slush covered streets of Washington, but the train carrying the Unconditionals arrived after the parade was over.
The new Vice-President presided over the Senate with extraordinary skill and parliamentary expertise. His early courses in public speaking served him well.
Sherman passed away a few days before the 1912 election at the age of 57. Official memorial ceremonies were held in the Senate Chambers on February 15, 1913 and Sherman was fondly remember by many.
President Taft paid tribute to his vice-president as a "modest American, distinguished patriot, able statesman, and noble man."
Senator Elihu Root, his lifelong friend and Oneida County native, spoke of the influence of the vice-president in words that would then and in future years hearten his family, his descendants, his friends, and his countrymen: "His life made men happier; his example is making men better. His service will endure in the fabric of our institutions." Oneida County remembers and reveres James Schoolcraft Sherman.
Revolutionary War Figures
He was called "Sunny Jim." The nickname denoting the appearance, disposition, and nature of a popular son of Oneida County who attained the office of Vice-President of the United States.
Oneida County History Center
Sherman, second from left, and Taft, at right, golfing at the Yahnundasis Golf Club
Vice-President James S. Sherman (center, standing) during the ceremony at his home August 21, 1912 notifying him of his nomination to a second term as vice-president. This was his last public speech before his death.