John L. Bates

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John Lewis Bates
41st Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 8, 1903 – January 5, 1905
LieutenantCurtis Guild, Jr.
Preceded byWinthrop M. Crane
Succeeded byWilliam Lewis Douglas
38th Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 4, 1900 – January 8, 1903
GovernorWinthrop M. Crane
Preceded byWinthrop M. Crane
Succeeded byCurtis Guild, Jr.
Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1859-09-18)September 18, 1859
Easton, Massachusetts
DiedJune 8, 1946(1946-06-08) (aged 86)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Clara Elizabeth Smith

John Lewis Bates (September 18, 1859 – June 8, 1946) was a lawyer and politician from Massachusetts. A Republican, he worked to promote East Boston, securing legislative approval of the first tunnel under Boston Harbor, joining the neighborhood to the rest of the city. From 1903 to 1905 he served as Governor of Massachusetts, notably upsetting the Republican establishment with his organizing tactics, and then alienating his own supporters with some of his executive actions and proposals. He later served as chair of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917–1918.

Early years[edit]

John Bates was born in North Easton, Massachusetts to Rev. Lewis Benton Bates, an itinerant Methodist minister, and Louisa D. (Field) Bates. He attended public school in New Bedford, Chelsea, Taunton, and eventually the Boston Latin School. He then attended the Methodist-affiliated Boston University, earning an A.B. in 1882, and went on to graduate from Boston University School of Law in 1885. Over the next decade Bates practiced law in Boston, residing in its East Boston neighborhood. He married Clara Elizabeth Smith on July 12, 1887.

Bates, a Republican, first served on Boston's Common Council, and then won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1893. He served in that body from 1894 to 1899; from 1897 to 1899 he was Speaker of the House. During this period Bates built a ward-based political support system that was largely independent of the existing party infrastructure; his election to the speakership came without party support.[1] Beginning in 1891, Bates began promoting improved transportation connections between East Boston and the rest of the city (from which it is separated by the inner Boston Harbor). Early proposals for a bridge went nowhere, and he instead began working on a tunnel proposal. This proposal met with opposition from Boston's leadership, which did not wanted to be saddled with its construction costs. Bates convinced Mayor Josiah Quincy to accept a toll of one cent per rider, securing agreement for its construction. Opened in 1904, while Bates was governor, it was the first of the harbor's tunnels, and now carries the MBTA Blue Line.

Lieutenant Governor and Governor[edit]

In 1899 Bates again bucked the Republican party establishment, defeating the expected nominee, Curtis Guild, Jr., for the party nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts.[1] Bates was not highly thought of by the more Brahmin elements of the party establishment, but it ultimately supported his runs for lieutenant governor and governor. Murray Crane, under whom he served, noted that some dislike of Bates within the party was rooted "on the profound idea of a certain element .. 'that he was not our kind'".[2]

In 1902, Bates was elected the 41st Governor, despite a significant crossover of Republicans to his Democratic opponent, William A. Gaston.[2] During his first term, Bates stepped up enforcement of the state's strict liquor control laws, costing him votes in 1903, especially in Boston. He also generated controversy by disregarding supporters' requests by catering to the more exclusive elements of the party establishment. Those, however, only supported him out of party duty, and were also upset by the appointment of one of his East Boston cronies as Boston police commissioner.[3] Although he won reelection in 1903, his second term deepened divisions. He proposed further amendments to Sunday entertainment laws, and angered agricultural interests with a poorly thought proposal for reorganizing grading and inspection of farms. The Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill limiting the working hours of women and children, which he vetoed, earning him the opposition of labor interests. He then angered veterans groups by vetoing a bill granting a gratuity to the state's surviving American Civil War veterans, which the rebellious elements of the legislature successfully overrode.[4]

In 1904, the Democrats nominated Brockton businessman William L. Douglas, who had nationwide name and facial recognition, because his image was stamped on the shoes he sold. Douglas, who was on good terms with labor interests, basically financed the Democratic campaign, and won a landslide victory over Bates.[5]

Later years[edit]

Bates then retired to his private law practice in Boston, largely withdrawing from political life. He was offered the possibility of standing for Vice President of the United States in 1912, but refused. From 1917 to 1919 he presided over the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, which enacted a number of changes to the state constitution. During World War II, he served on the state's Public Safety Commission. He retired from his law practice in 1931, and died at his home in Allston in 1946. He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett.[6]

Bates was an active member of the Freemasons and the International Order of Odd Fellows. He was awarded an honorary law degree by Wesleyan University in 1903.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Abrams, p. 95
  2. ^ a b Abrams, p. 96
  3. ^ Abrams, pp. 100-103
  4. ^ Abrams, pp. 103-105
  5. ^ Abrams, pp. 105-107
  6. ^ a b "Deaths and Funerals: John Lewis Bates". Boston Globe. June 9, 1946.


  • Abrams, Richard (1964). Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics 1900-1912. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

External links[edit]

Massachusetts House of Representatives
Preceded by
George von Lengerke Meyer
Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
1897 — 1899
Succeeded by
James J. Myers
Political offices
Preceded by
Winthrop M. Crane
Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Curtis Guild, Jr.
Preceded by
Winthrop M. Crane
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
William L. Douglas