J. Hamilton Lewis

For other people named James Lewis, see James Lewis (disambiguation).
J. Hamilton Lewis
1st and 5th Senate Majority Whip
In office
March 4, 1933  April 9, 1939
Preceded by Simeon D. Fess
Succeeded by Sherman Minton
In office
March 4, 1913  March 3, 1919
Preceded by office created
Succeeded by Charles Curtis
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
March 26, 1913  March 3, 1919
Preceded by Shelby Moore Cullom
Succeeded by Joseph M. McCormick
In office
March 4, 1931  April 9, 1939
Preceded by Charles S. Deneen
Succeeded by James M. Slattery
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Washington's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1897  March 3, 1899
Preceded by William H. Doolittle
Succeeded by Francis W. Cushman
Personal details
Born James Hamilton Lewis
(1863-05-18)May 18, 1863
Danville, Virginia
Died April 9, 1939(1939-04-09) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Virginia
Profession Lawyer

James Hamilton Lewis (May 18, 1863 – April 9, 1939) was the first Senator to hold the title of Whip in the United States Senate. Lewis was born in Danville, Virginia, and also grew up in Augusta, Georgia. He was educated at the University of Virginia and studied law in Savannah, Georgia before he served in the Spanish–American War.

Congressional career

Lewis was one of a very few politicians to represent two states in the United States Congress. Lewis represented Washington (1897–1899) in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat, and went on to serve Illinois (1913–1919, 1931–1939) in the United States Senate as a member of the Democratic Party. Lewis served as Majority Whip from 1913 until 1919. At some point in his congressional career, he became known to colleagues as "Ham".

A close ally of President Woodrow Wilson, Lewis was a leader in getting much of Wilson's "New Freedom" legislation passed. Upon his defeat for reelection in '18, Lewis was offered the ambassadorship to Belgium by the President, but he declined and returned private legal practice in Chicago, Illinois. He eventually became a partner in the newly named Lewis, Adler, Lederer & Kahn (now known as Arnstein & Lehr, LLP) where he remained until he began his campaign for return to the United States Senate.[1]

James H. Lewis, 1921.[2]

He would hold the Majority Whip position again from 1933 until his death in 1939. He was defeated for reelection to the Senate in 1918, but regained his seat in the election in 1930. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Illinois in 1908 and 1920, and continued to serve as Minority Whip in the Senate during the Depression and the New Deal era. Lewis won his last Senate election in 1936, and died in office in 1939.

In 1932, Lewis went to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the "favorite son" candidate of Illinois, at the behest of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak's hope was to use Lewis to keep the Illinois delegates from supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Lewis later withdrew his name from consideration, and released his delegates, many of whom went to FDR and helped secure him the nomination.

Lewis was one of the first to befriend the new, and rather intimidated, Senator Harry S Truman. In 1935, during Truman's first few weeks in office, Lewis sat next to Truman and kindly said "Harry, don't start out with an inferiority complex. For the first six months you'll wonder how the hell you got here. After that you'll wonder how the hell rest of us got here."[3]

Lewis was known to be something of an eccentric in manner and dress, wearing spats well into the 1930s, and sporting Van Dyke whiskers and a "wavy pink toupee", but he was courtly in manner, and a talented orator. He was an authority on the U.S. Constitution and on foreign affairs, and a skillful legislative tactician. He died in office, and his funeral service was held in the Senate Chamber.

Lewis was buried in Abbey Mausoleum near Arlington National Cemetery. But it was demolished in 2001, and his remains were moved to an unknown location.


Wikisource has original works written by or about:
James Hamilton Lewis
  1. Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1923
  2. Taylor, Julius F. "The Broad Ax". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  3. McCullough, David: Truman. Simon and Schuster, New York, New York. 1992. P. 214
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William H. Doolittle
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Washington's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Francis W. Cushman
United States Senate
Preceded by
Shelby M. Cullom
Class 2 U.S. Senator from Illinois
Succeeded by
Medill McCormick
Preceded by
Charles S. Deneen
Class 2 U.S. Senator from Illinois
Succeeded by
James M. Slattery
Party political offices
Preceded by
United States Senate Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Charles Curtis
Preceded by
Simeon D. Fess
United States Senate Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Lister Hill
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