William Morris Stewart

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William Stewart
William M. Stewart - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
February 1, 1865 – March 3, 1875
Preceded by(none)
Succeeded byWilliam Sharon
In office
March 4, 1887 – March 3, 1905
Preceded byJames G. Fair
Succeeded byGeorge S. Nixon
5th California Attorney General
In office
Preceded byJohn R. McConnell
Succeeded byWilliam T. Wallace
Personal details
Born(1827-08-09)August 9, 1827
Galen, New York
DiedApril 23, 1909(1909-04-23) (aged 81)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyRepublican, Silver Republican (1893-1901)
ResidenceVirginia City

William Morris Stewart (August 9, 1827 – April 23, 1909) was an American lawyer and politician.


Stewart was born in Wayne County, New York, on August 9, 1825. As a child he moved with his parents to Trumbull County, Ohio. As a young man he was a mathematics teacher in Ohio. In 1849 he began attending Yale University but left in 1850 to move to California. He came to California because of the Gold Rush. He arrived in San Francisco, California and soon left to begin mining near Nevada City, California.[1]:1-4

In 1903 he was reputed to be one of the richest men in the Senate (with a fortune of some $25 million and ownership of silver mines) and the oldest member of that body.[2]


Stewart was married to Annie Elizabeth Foote, daughter of his law partner, Henry S. Foote, on May 31, 1855.[1]:8

His second wife was May Agnes Cone, widow of Theodore C. Cone. They were wed on October 26, 1903, in the Piedmont Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia. Judge Thomas M. Norwood, who had served with Stewart in the U.S. Senate was the best man.[2]

According to the book Reminiscences of William M. Stewart (1908) in May 1905 he moved with his new wife and her daughter to the Bullfrog Mining District (Nevada), where he started a law firm and law library.

Political career[edit]


In 1851 Stewart ran for sheriff of Nevada County, California, and the next year, in February, he was at the Whig State Convention in Sacramento, where he was named a delegate to the party's national convention.[1]:5

In 1852 he studied law in the office of Nevada County District Attorney John R. McConnell, becoming a Democrat in the process. He was appointed to succeed McConnell as district attorney in November 1852. At that time he became a "motivating force" in beginning a Democratic newspaper, Young America (later called The Nevada Democrat.) Stewart continued as district attorney after an election in November 1853.[1]:6,7

He was acting attorney general of California from June 7, 1853, until December.[1]:8

Stewart moved to San Francisco and became a law partner with Henry S. Foote, Louis Aldrick, and Benjamin Watkins Lee.[1]:8



In 1860 Stewart moved to Virginia City, Nevada where he participated in mining litigation and helped the development of the Comstock Lode. As Nevada was becoming a state in 1864, he helped the state develop its constitution. Stewart’s role as a lawyer and politician in Nevada has always been controversial. He was the territory’s leading lawyer in mining litigation, but his opponents accused him of bribing judges and juries.[3] Stewart accused the three Nevada territorial judges of being corrupt, and he barely escaped disbarment.[4]

United States Senate[edit]

In 1864, Stewart was named by the Nevada State Legislature to the United States Senate as a Republican. He served in the Senate from 1865 until 1875 when he retired and practiced law again in Nevada and California.[5] In 1873, Stewart's palatial residence, nicknamed Stewart's Castle, was built in Washington, D.C. and became a center of the city's social scene.[6][7] He was elected to the Senate again in 1887 and reelected in 1893 and 1899. During the 1890s he left the Republican Party to join the Silver Party, which supported the Free Silver movement.[5] He caucused with the Silver Republicans

During his many years in the Senate, Stewart drafted or co-authored important legislation, including several mining acts and laws urging land reclamation by irrigation. Most famously, Stewart is given credit for authoring in 1868 the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution protecting voting rights regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. During his time as senator, Stewart received 50,000 acres of land for his service on the Committee on Pacific Railroads.[8] In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant offered Stewart a seat on the United States Supreme Court. Stewart declined. Stewart was also involved in an international scandal where he promoted the sale of a worthless worked out Emma Silver Mine at Alta, Utah for millions of pounds to unsuspecting English citizens.[9]

In 1902 he was in The Hague in connection with the Mexican-American arbitration case, when his wife, the daughter of Confederate Senator Henry S. Foote,[10] was killed in a motor-car accident in California.[11]

Post political career[edit]

Stewart retired from the Senate in 1905. He was a co-founder of the city of Chevy Chase, Maryland, along with Francis G. Newlands, a fellow Senator from Nevada.[12] Stewart remained in Washington, D.C. and died there four years later. He was cremated and the ashes were originally kept in Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco before being moved to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Servant of Power, University of Nevada Press, Reno, 1983
  2. ^ a b "Senator Stewart, Patriarch of the United States Senate, Leads to Altar Mrs. May Agnes Cone, of Madison, Ga.," Atlanta Constitution, October 27, 1903, page 1
  3. ^ Grant H. Smith, 1943, The History of the Comstock Lode, Univ. of Nevada Bulletin, v.37, n.3, p.69.
  4. ^ Dan Plazak, 2006, A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top, Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press, ISBN 0-87480-840-5, p.26-27.
  5. ^ a b "Senators Who Changed Parties During Senate Service (Since 1890)". United States Senate. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  6. ^ Hansen, Stephen A. (2014). A History of Dupont Circle: Center of High Society in the Capital. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 31–44. ISBN 9781625850843.
  7. ^ Goode, James M. (2003). Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings (Second Edition). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 96–97. ISBN 1-58834-105-4.
  8. ^ Faragher, John Mack (2006). Out of Many: A History of the American People, 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 505.
  9. ^ E.G.D. (October 9, 1893). "New York Times" (PDF). The New York Times.
  10. ^ Carter, John D. (May 1943). "Henry Stuart Foote in California Politics, 1854-1857". The Journal of Southern History. 9 (2): 224–237. doi:10.2307/2191800 – via JSTOR. (Registration required (help)).
  11. ^ "Latest intelligence - Fatal motor-car accident". The Times (36873). London. 15 September 1902. p. 3.
  12. ^ http://www.chevychasehistory.org/content/view/3/144/
  13. ^ William Morris Stewart (1827 - 1909) - Find A Grave Memorial

His story was dramatized in an early episode of the TV western series, "Death Valley Days."

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada
Served alongside: James W. Nye, John P. Jones
Succeeded by
William Sharon
Preceded by
James G. Fair
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada
Served alongside: John P. Jones, Francis G. Newlands
Succeeded by
George S. Nixon
Legal offices
Preceded by
John R. McConnell
California Attorney General
Succeeded by
William T. Wallace