He attended the common schools and the Western University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Yale College, where he was a member of Scroll and Key, with the class of 1865. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1867 and commenced practice in Pittsburgh.
Dalzell was elected as a Republican to the Fiftieth and to the twelve succeeding Congresses. He served as chairman of the United States House Committee on Pacific Railroads during the Fifty-first Congress, and the United States House Committee on Rules during the Sixty-first Congress.
He was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1912. He was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1904 and 1908, and served as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1906 to 1913.
As cited in "The Congressional Career of John Dalzell with Special Emphasis Upon His Tariff Views" by Kathryn E. Beazell, A.B.," John Dalzell worked closely with President Theodore Roosevelt. "It was said that because of President Roosevelt's outspoken manner, scores of Congressmen stayed away from the White House. But during the seven years that Mr. Roosevelt occupied the White House, he had no more frequent or welcome visitor than Mr. Dalzell. Oftentimes, when someone wanted favor from Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Dalzell was asked to intercede. It was also said that with Presidents Harrison and McKinley, Mr. Dalzell was in close and constant touch, and that many of their ideas were brought before the House by Mr. Dalzell." At one point, President Theodore Roosevelt was asked about one particular matter, and responded: "Is Mr. Dalzell in favor of this improvement?" "He is, Mr. President," replied the spokesman. "Gentlemen," said the President, "I'll say this to you. I would do more for John Dalzell than I would for any other man on the floor of the House."
According to obituary newspaper clippings reproduced on page 27 of vol 2 of Kitzmiller's The Family Encyclopedia:
"For 18 years he was a member of the all-powerful committee on Rules and Ways and Means."
and because of his position on the Rules, Ways and Means Committee:
"For his service in Congress, Dalzell for years was known as the 'Father of the House of Representatives'."
He married Mary Louise Duff, Sept 26, 1867. She was the daughter of Peter Duff (Feb. 16, 1802 to Sept 13, 1869), the founder of Duff's Business Institute in Pittsburgh, (now Everest Institute).
John and Mary Dalzell had five children: William Sage Dalzell (Aug 17, 1868 - Sept 27, 1934), Elizabeth Marter Dalzell (Mar 4, 1870–1961), Samuel Dalzell (April 22. 1873 - 1958), John Dalzell Jr (Aug 1, 1875 - May 6, 1877) and Robert Duff Dalzell (Aug 27, 1882 - Nov 30, 1967). Elizabeth Marter Dalzell married Col. George M. Dunn,  one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders].
During John Dalzell's political career, his wife Mary Louise was a prominent hostess active in the Washington political scene. Although women did not have the vote at that time, still she was politically influential. To briefly quote a passage describing this from vol 2, p 25 of Kitzmiller's The Family Encyclopedia:
"... his friends persuaded him, somewhat against his will, to go to Congress. In this project they were aided and abetted by his wife .... (who) was exceptionally well-fitted to be the helpmate of a congressman. Relieving her husband of many of the burdens which constituents place upon the representative, she also unobtrusively engineered campaign contracts, quietly supervising that meticulous reelection detail which is the bane of a congressman's existence.... The death of Mrs Dalzell in 1909 broke the mainspring of his political existence."
He retired in Washington, D.C., following the death of his wife in 1909. In 1925, he moved to live in the home of his youngest son, Samuel Dalzell, in Altadena, California. He died in California at the age of 82. He is buried in Pittsburgh's Allegheny Cemetery.
- John Dalzell at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- The Political Graveyard
- R. B. Kitzmiller(Robert Blythe,b 1913), The Family Encyclopedia Volume 2, 1982, Private Printing. pp. 22 to 29.
- Bartleby.com Great Books On Line Nonfiction > Theodore Roosevelt > The Rough Riders > APPENDIX A: MUSTER-OUTROLL
|United States House of Representatives|
James S. Negley
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 22nd congressional district
1887 - 1903
George F. Huff
Robert H. Foerderer
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 30th congressional district
1903 - 1913
M. Clyde Kelly