John Sharp Williams

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For other people named John Williams, see John Williams (disambiguation).
John Sharp Williams
John Sharp Williams 1923.jpg
John Sharp Williams
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1911 – March 3, 1923
Preceded by Hernando D. Money
Succeeded by Hubert D. Stephens
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1903 – March 3, 1909
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by James W. Collier
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 3, 1903
Preceded by Joseph Henry Beeman
Succeeded by Adam M. Byrd
Personal details
Born (1854-07-30)July 30, 1854
Memphis, Tennessee
Died September 27, 1932(1932-09-27) (aged 78)
Yazoo City, Mississippi
Resting place Williams Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Virginia

John Sharp Williams (July 30, 1854 – September 27, 1932) was a prominent American politician in the Democratic Party from the 1890s through the 1920s, and served as the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 to 1908.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised in Yazoo County, Mississippi, after he was orphaned during the American Civil War. After studying at five different universities (including two in Europe), he received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1876. After a brief return to Memphis (where he married Elizabeth Dial Webb in 1877), Williams returned to Yazoo County, where from 1878 to 1893 he ran the family plantation and kept a law practice.

Political career[edit]

Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1893, Williams soon became a leader of the Democratic minority, renowned for his speaking skill and wit. Like most other Southern Democrats of the day, he was a proponent of coining silver and an opponent of high tariffs; unlike them, he refused to use racebaiting to build political popularity. In 1906, when Great Britain launched HMS Dreadnought, Congressman Williams introduced a bill to change the name of USS Michigan to USS Skeered O' Nothin' as a challenge to the prestigious English.

During his time as ranking Democrat in the Republican-controlled House, Williams was given the privilege of choosing the Democrats assigned to committees by the House Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon (by the rules of the House, Cannon was entitled to make all appointments himself), giving him tremendous power within the minority party. In gratitude, Williams was known to omit Democrats whom Cannon found particularly objectionable from committee assignments. Recognizing his status vis-à-vis Cannon, Williams jokingly described his relative political impotence in the Cannon-dominated Committee on Rules, "I am invited to the seances but I am never consulted about the spiritualistic appearances." [1]

By beating one of Mississippi's leading racebaiters, James K. Vardaman, Williams moved to the United States Senate in 1911. He became one of Woodrow Wilson's strongest supporters, from Wilson's nomination for the Presidency in 1912 to the losing battle to ratify American participation in the League of Nations in 1920. During his time as a senator, he also served as a chairman of the Committee to Establish a University of the United States. Williams once claimed on the floor of the Senate (and it was duly entered in the Congressional Record) that no nation in proportion to its size had contributed more to the development of the United States than had the Welsh.

He gave a classic denunciation of the black race when he declared on 20 December 1898: You could ship-wreck 10,000 illiterate white Americans on a desert island, and in three weeks they would have a fairly good government,conceived and administered upon fairly democratic lines. You could ship-wreck 10,000 negroes, every one of whom was a graduate of Harvard University, and in less than three years, they would have retrograded governmentally; half of the men would have been killed, and the other half would have two wives apiece. (Logan, The Betrayal, p. 99.)

After retiring from the Senate in 1923, Williams returned to his family plantation, where he spent the last decade of his life.


  1. ^ Tyrant from Illinois: Uncle Joe Cannon's Experiment with Personal Power, W. W. Norton & Company, 1951, p. 54

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph Henry Beeman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Adam M. Byrd
Preceded by
None (District Created)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
James W. Collier
Party political offices
Preceded by
James D. Richardson
Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives
Succeeded by
James Beauchamp Clark
United States Senate
Preceded by
Hernando D. Money
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
Served alongside: Le Roy Percy, James K. Vardaman,
Pat Harrison
Succeeded by
Hubert D. Stephens