Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (September 26, 1827 – April 10, 1897) was a lawyer and United States Senator from Indiana, who was leader of the Democratic party and an anti-war Copperhead during the American Civil War.
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. 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.
In 1858-61 he was U.S. district-attorney for Indiana; in 1861-66 and in 1869-73 he was a Democratic representative in Congress; and in 1877-97 he was a member of the U.S. Senate. During the American Civil War he was an anti-war Copperhead and enemies alleged him as affiliated with the Knights of the Golden Circle, which—as it was more an imaginary organization than one of any substance—seems quite unlikely. In any case, he was not so radical as Clement Vallandigham and others.
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]
Voorhees 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. 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." 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. 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."
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 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. 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."
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." 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." 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."
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.
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.
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. His generosity or profligacy was such that his estate could not even afford his funeral expenses.
THE PLUNDER OF THE 11 March 23, 1872
"From turret to foundation you tore down the government of eleven States. You left not one stone upon another. You not only destroyed their local laws, but you trampled upon their ruins. You called Conventions to frame new Constitutions for these old States. You not only said who should be elected to rule over these States, but you said who should elect them. You fixed the quality... of the voters. You purged the ballot box of intelligence and virtue, and in their stead you placed the most ignorant and unqualified...in the world to rule over these people.... You clung to her throat; you battered her features out of shape and recognition, determined that your party should have undisputed possession and enjoyment of her offices, her honors, and her substance. Then bound hand and foot you handed her over to the rapacity of robbers.... There is no form of ruin to which she has not fallen a prey, no curse with which she has not been baptized, no cup of humiliation and suffering her people have not drained to the dregs. There she stands the result of your handiwork bankrupt in money, ruined in credit... her prosperity blighted at home and abroad, without peace, happiness, or hope. There she stands with her skeleton frame admonishing all the world of the loathsome consequences of a government fashioned in hate and fanaticism, and founded upon the ignorant and vicious... Her sins may have been many and deep, and the color of scarlet, yet they will become as white as snow in comparison with those you have committed against her in the hour of her helplessness and distress." "I challenge the darkest annals of the human race for a parallel to the robberies which have been perpetrated on these eleven American States. Had you sown seeds of kindness and good will they would long ere this have blossomed into prosperity and peace. Had you sown seeds of honor, you would have reaped a golden harvest of contentment and obedience. Had you extended your charities and your justice to a distressed people you would have awakened a grateful affection in return. But as you planted in hate and nurtured in corruption so have been the fruits which you have gathered."
PLUNDER OF ELEVEN STATES The Honorable Daniel Voorhees Speech made to House of Representatives
March 23, 1872