“[The Sherman family] is of pure English stock and the American family begins with the arrival in 1634 at Watertown, Mass., of the Rev. John, Samuel, Captain John, and Philip. The first two were brothers, and the other two were cousins to each other and to the brothers. They all came from Essex, where the family was one of substance and standing — at Dedham stands the Sherman free school, founded In 1599 by Edmond Sherman, the father of the Rev. John and Samuel.
The descendants of the Rev. John have been reputable rather than noted, farmers in the earlier generations and today tending to the law and literary work. Samuel, styled the ‘Worshipful Magistrate’ in the family archives, was the progenitor of John and William Tecumseh Sherman. Captain John’s line gave us Roger Sherman and many less famous men, like William M. Evarts, George F. Hoar, and Chauncey M. Depew. From Philip is descended James Schoolcraft Sherman, Vice President-elect.
Easily the greatest of the blood and one of the most remarkable men this country ever produced is Roger Sherman. His position in American history is unique, in that he took part in the making of four great national documents — the stepping stones of our formative period: The declaration of rights, the Declaration of Independence, the articles of confederation, and the Constitution. He helped draft the first three of these documents, and his part in the making of the Constitution was second to none.
Roger Sherman began as a farmer’s boy and shoemaker. He had scanty schooling, and began his lifelong pursuit of knowledge with a book beside him on the bench as he made shoes. At 22 he moved to Connecticut and was in rapid succession surveyor, buyer and seller of lands, merchant, landed proprietor and lawyer — admitted to the bar at 33. Roger Sherman’s fellow citizens forced office upon him all his life. He so discharged his public duties. that he was ‘re-elected to all offices he would consent to take as long as he would accept them.’ The list, even in part, is amazing. It includes:
Selectman, justice of the peace. assemblyman for several terms, judge of the Court of Common Pleas, State Senator for eighteen years, judge of the Superior court for twenty-three years, treasurer of Yale college for ten years, mayor of New Haven from the incorporation of the city to his death ten years later, member of the Governor’s committee of safety during the Revolution, member of Congress from 1774 to 1784, member of the congressional boards of war, treasury, and legislation; member of the committee to draft the declaration of rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the articles of confederation, delegate to the Constitutional convention, member of Congress in 1789, and United States Senator from 1789 to hi death in 1793.
Possibly Roger Sherman’s greatest service to his country was his work in the Constitutional convention. He was then 66 years old, and, next to Franklin, the oldest delegate, yet James Madison’s records show that in fifty-eight out of seventy-nine sessions Sherman addressed the convention from one to three times, not counting the making and seconding of motions. When the convention came to a deadlock between the big and the little states over representation in Congress, Sherman initiated and brought to a successful conclusion the movement that resulted in the ‘Connecticut compromise’ — representation by population in the House and equal representation in the Senate. Later he was influential in securing the ratification of the Constitution by Connecticut, both as a member of the state convention and as a contributor to the press.
Roger Sherman is one of the most remarkable examples of the self-made man in our history. Not particularly endowed by nature with personal charm or winning ways, his popularity and influence were due to his patriotism, industry, honesty, ability, and common sense. Great in all these elements of statesmanship, it was his common sense that most impressed his contemporaries. Jefferson said of him: ‘He never said a foolish thing in his life.’ John Adams wrote of him: ‘He was one of the most sensible men in the world.’ A historian’s verdict is: ‘His reputation as a lawyer stood supreme; for industry, prudence, discretion, and sound logic he was unrivaled in the thirteen colonies.’ In the almanac which he published for eleven years are the original utterances, which typify his philosophy of life: ‘Plain, downright honesty is the beauty and elegancy of life’; ‘good laws well executed are the bulwarks of liberty and property.’
Just a century later, but of much the same type as Roger Sherman, was John Sherman. His public career, which is familiar to the present generation, extended for more than forty-three years, during which he was memner of the House and Senate, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State. When he left the Senate in 1897 his membership, though not continuous, had been longer than that of any other Senator. The period of our history from 1855 to 1898, the dates which mark John Sherman’s active participation in public life, is marked by events which in importance are not surpassed by those of any equal period in the history of any nation. In nearly all of these events he had a part, in many he was prominent, in some he was the central figure. So closely was he associated with the progress of the period that his biography is virtually a history of his country tor the forty-three years. His title to his country’s remembrance will probably rest upon his services a financier. History will presumably give this verdict, as uttered by Senator Hoar: ‘The resumption of specie payments and the establishment of the gold standard, the two great financial achievements of our time, are largely due to his powerful, persistent, and most effective advocacy.’ Not so great a man as Roger Sherman and less famous than his older brother, he must be given place in the first rank of our great men. Many Americans thought John Sherman great enough to be President. In 1880 he was an avowed candidate and a strong one before the convention that nominated Garfield.
Roger Sherman and John Sherman may become mere legends, but no such fate can overtake the name of William Tecumseh Sherman. For the great Rebellion will never be forgotten, and to think of the great Rebellion is to think of Sherman. Not only is he the second of the great three — Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan — but he has special claim to the fame that attaches to spectacular military exploits. ‘Sherman’s march to the sea’ ranks with the great military successes of history, and ‘Marching Through Georgia’ will be a familiar air so long as the last brass band survives.
Yet Sherman, curiously enough, was quite the reverse or the spectacular military leader. Though a hard fighter, omnipresent in battle and relentless in pursuit, he was shrewd, careful, and saving of his men. He looked ahead, made careful plans, and took no unreckoned chances. His leadership of fighting men was only one factor in his success. He knew the South as well as the North and he had the ability to grasp the situation as a whole. He was one of the few who saw at the start that the government had a great war, and not a temporary rebellion, on its hands. He told the authorities at Washington when the call went out for three months’ men that they might as well try to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt gun — and got himself disliked. Put in command of the Department of Kentucky early in the struggle, he was asked by the Secretary of War how many men he needed. He replied that he needed 80,000 to drive the enemy out of Kentucky and 200.000 to finish the war in that section — and was called crazy and relieved of his command. But be got his chance at Shiloh and thereafter fought his way straight to the front, crowning his career by marching 65.000 men through nearly 2,000 miles of hostile country, cutting the Confederacy in two and turning the knife in the wound. Sherman had no illusions about war. ‘War is hell,’ he said, and he proceeded to make himself more feared by the enemy than any General in the Union army, save perhaps the one who commanded them all.
This Sherman, besides his genius for war, had other hallmarks of greatness. He was an orator of ability and his ‘Memoirs’ show literary power. As he knew his own powers, so he knew his own limitations. He steadfastly refused to be put forward for the Presidency because of those limitations — which in itself is no mean proof of greatness.
The Sherman people have been earnest supporters of the Union: from the famous Roger down we find them loyally upholding the principles of their distinguished forefathers. In the village boards, the aldermanic councils, the list of mayors, the roll of Governors, the roster of Generals, and roll-call of House and Senate, the name Sherman is ever present.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois,) “Four Families Which Have Ruled America: The Adams, The Shermans, The Lees, The Harrisons,” by Dr. B. J. Cigrand, Sunday, December 27, 1908