Daniel W. Voorhees

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Daniel Wolsey Voorhees
Sen Daniel W Voorhees 04790r.jpg
United States Senator
from Indiana
In office
November 6, 1877 – March 3, 1897
Preceded byOliver H.P. Morton
Succeeded byCharles W. Fairbanks
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana
In office
March 4, 1861 – February 23, 1866
Preceded byJohn G. Davis
Succeeded byHenry D. Washburn
Constituency7th district
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1873
Preceded byJohn Coburn
Succeeded byMorton C. Hunter
Constituency6th district
Personal details
Born(1827-09-26)September 26, 1827
Liberty Township, Ohio, U.S.
DiedApril 10, 1897(1897-04-10) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (September 26, 1827 – April 10, 1897) was an American lawyer and politician who served as a United States Senator from Indiana from 1877 to 1897. He was the leader of the Democratic Party and an anti-war Copperhead during the American Civil War.

Childhood and early career

He was born in Liberty Township, Butler County, Ohio, of Dutch and Irish descent. He was the son of Stephen Pieter Voorhees and Rachel Elliott.[1] During his infancy his parents moved to Fountain County, Indiana, near Veedersburg. He graduated at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University), Greencastle, Indiana, in 1849; was admitted to the bar in 1850, and began to practice in Covington, Indiana, whence in 1857 he moved again to Terre Haute.[2] From 1858 to 1861, Voorhees was U.S. District Attorney for Indiana.


From 1861 to 1866 and 1869 to 1873, Voorhees was a Democratic representative in Congress. During the American Civil War he was an anti-war Copperhead, though not as radical as Clement Vallandigham. He was accused of membership in the Knights of the Golden Circle, an organization promoting Southern conquest of much of Central America and the Caribbean as a pro-slavery empire.[2]

Historian Kenneth Stampp has captured the Copperhead spirit in his depiction of Voorhees of Indiana:

There was an earthy quality in Voorhees, "the tall sycamore of the Wabash." On the stump his hot temper, passionate partisanship, and stirring eloquence made an irresistible appeal to the western Democracy. His bitter cries against protective tariffs and national banks, his intense race prejudice, his suspicion of the eastern Yankee, his devotion to personal liberty, his defense of the Constitution and state rights faithfully reflected the views of his constituents. Like other Jacksonian agrarians he resented the political and economic revolution then in progress. Voorhees idealized a way of life which he thought was being destroyed by the current rulers of his country. His bold protests against these dangerous trends made him the idol of the Democracy of the Wabash Valley. [Stampp, p. 211]

After the Civil War, Voorhees was a staunch opponent of Black civil and political rights. He complained repeatedly about what he perceived as the North's unjust treatment of the vanquished South, saying it would "challenge the darkest annals of the human race" to find any group ever treated worse than white Southerners during Reconstruction.[3] He believed that whites' temporary loss of total political control in places where they were not in the majority made them "as very a slave in the hands of a brutal overseer as any negro ever driven in a cotton-field, and that he had no more power under existing laws to protect his personal freedom than an African bondsman on the auction-block before the war...the liberation of one race had been followed by the enslavement of another."[4]


Throughout the 1880s, during the Presidencies of James A. Garfield and Chester Arthur, Voorhees and his fellow Indiana Senator Benjamin Harrison both advocated increasing America's trade and interaction with the United Kingdom. Voorhees viewed Britain as a large market with which America could do business and with whom America had much in common.[5][6][7]


Partisan Democrat though he was, Voorhees became widely liked on both sides of the aisle in the Senate. He had struck up a warm friendship with Abraham Lincoln in their circuit-riding days before the war, and that friendship outlasted their political differences and to the end Lincoln's life. President Ulysses Grant also got along well with Voorhees, and it was said of President Chester Alan Arthur that Voorhees had as much influence with him as any Republican could hope to have.[8] Republican senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts, who rarely agreed with his Indiana colleague about anything, declared him "a very kind-hearted man indeed, always willing to do a kindness to any of his associates, or to any person in trouble. If he could not be relied on to protect the Treasury against claims of doubtful validity, when they were urged by persons in need, or who in any way excited his sympathy, it ought to be said in defence of him, that he would have been quite as willing to relieve them to the extent of his power from his private resources."[9]

That was very likely true. Stories abounded about Voorhees's freehandedness with anyone telling a hard luck story. "Uncle Dan is the most unsophisticated person in the use of money you ever saw," an old friend commented in 1894. "He will lend or give away a pocketful of money in a day, and at night he will not have the least idea what he has done with it. I have been with him when he would feel in his pocket and suddenly discover that he had not enough to pay his restaurant bill or buy a newspaper."[10] After Voorhees's death, Senator Vest of Missouri declared that if every one for whom Voorhees did a good deed "would but bring a single leaf to his grave and lay it there, the Indiana Senator would sleep tonight beneath a mountain of foliage."[11] That same generosity meant that Voorhees rarely met a pension bill that he could oppose. The Treasury, as far as he was concerned, was open to whoever needed help. As Vest once told him, Voorhees "would have put Aladdin's Lamp in the hands of a receiver within thirty days."[12]


Voorhees served in the U.S. Senate from 1877 to 1897. He was a member of the powerful Finance Committee throughout his service in the Senate, and his first speech in that body was a defence of the free coinage of silver and a plea for the preservation of the full legal tender value of greenback currency. He had an active part in bringing about the building of the new Congressional Library.[2] On tariff matters, he voted dutifully with his party, but he was no enthusiast for free trade, and his frankness could be embarrassing, at least from a Democrat. "Why, the cow and the goose are the greatest fools in the world," he blurted out once, "except the man who thinks that a tariff can be laid without protection."[13] Voorhees made a fascinating speaker, if somewhat careless in his use of facts. "The readers of the News are aware that it has been repeatedly forced, by the variety and brilliance of his misinformation, to compliment Senator Voorhees on the unfailing inaccuracy of his historical statements, whether political, social, or literary," an Indianapolis newspaper remarked.[14] He was widely known as an effective advocate, especially in jury trials. In allusion to his unusual stature he was called "the Tall Sycamore of the Wabash."[2]

In 1893, Voorhees came in for serious controversy when President Grover Cleveland called Congress into extra session to repeal the silver purchase clause of the 1890 Sherman Act. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the senior senator from Indiana could prevent action, and three years before, he had stood among the leading supporters for an unlimited coinage of silver. His views, in fact, had not changed. He remained, to the end of his days, a believer in bimetallism: the use of both silver and gold to back up the United States currency. But Indiana was less friendly to an inflated currency than it had been twenty years before, and manufacturers and industrialists were much more decisive in their demand for a gold standard. From members of the Indiana House delegation, Voorhees found an intense desire that he do nothing to risk their own political futures, as any blockage of the repeal bill would be sure to do. Finally, the senator had to reckon with the other big issue pending, on which he and the president would have to part company: tariff reduction. Realizing that he would have to pick his fights, and sweetened with great dollops of patronage by the Administration, Voorhees agreed to carry the repeal bill through, and he kept absolute faith. In late October, when a compromise was proposed that would delay the silver purchase act's repeal until July 1, 1894, thirty seven of the forty-four Democratic senators signed a letter endorsing it. Voorhees's name was not among them. He refused to consider any halfway measures, and saw to it that unconditional repeal went through within the month.[15]

Vooorhees delivered his last speech in the Senate in January 1896, a plea on behalf of silver coinage and denouncing the tariff protectionists and centralizers of government power. He meant it as something of a valedictory. His health was in steep decline, and in any case the Indiana legislature had gone heavily Republican, and Democrats' chance of regaining it that fall were slim. The following winter, when the lawmakers assembled, Voorhees was replaced with a Republican, though every Democratic vote went for him.[16]

Retirement and death

Voorhees returned to Indiana, preparing lectures that he intended to deliver on the lyceum circuit, should his health permit, and writing a memoir, "The Public Men of My Times," that he hoped would be completed and would sell, as General Grant's memoirs did; without it, he would be leaving his daughter with no estate at all. Only three sections of it were completed before his death in Washington, D.C., in April 1897 at the age of 69.[17] His generosity or profligacy was such that his estate could not even afford his funeral expenses.


  • Stampp, Kenneth M. Indiana Politics during the Civil War (1949)
  • Voorhees, Daniel. Forty Years of Oratory (2 vols., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1898), edited by his three sons and his daughter, Harriet C. Voorhees, and with a biographical sketch by T. B. Long.

See also


  1. ^ International Genealogical Index, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, copyright c. 1980, 1997
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Voorhees, Daniel Wolsey". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 211.
  3. ^ Clark, Washington Augustus (1922). The History of the Banking Institutions Organized in South Carolina Prior to 1860. Historical Commission of South Carolina. Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  4. ^ Voorhees, Daniel Wolsey (1897). Forty Years of Oratory: Daniel Wolsey Voorhees Lectures, Addresses and Speeches. Bobbs-Merrill Company. Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  5. ^ Daniel Wolsey Voorhees by Henry D. Jordan · 1920
  6. ^ The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash, Daniel Wolsey Voorhees by Leonard Stout Kenworthy · 1936
  7. ^ Daniel Wolsey Voorhees, Frontier Democrat by Leonard Stout Kenworthy · 1935
  8. ^ Leonard S. Kenworthy, The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash: Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (Boston, 1936), 46.
  9. ^ George F. Hoar, Autobiography, 2:62-63.
  10. ^ Washington Post, August 3, 1894.
  11. ^ O. O.Stealey, 63-64.
  12. ^ Leonard S. Kenworthy, The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash: Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (Boston, 1936), 47.
  13. ^ Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1884.
  14. ^ Indianapolis News, August 20, 1884.
  15. ^ Kenworthy,Tall Sycamore of the Wabash: Daniel Wolsey Voorhees,106-09.
  16. ^ Leonard S. Kenworthy, The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash:Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (Boston, 1936), 125-26.
  17. ^ Leonard S. Kenworthy, The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash:Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (Boston, 1936), 127-28.

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 7th congressional district

March 4, 1861 – February 23, 1866
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1873
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from Indiana
Served alongside: Joseph E. McDonald, Benjamin Harrison, David Turpie
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
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