John Coit Spooner, U.S. Senator

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John Coit Spooner

Birthdate: (76)
Birthplace: Lawrenceburg, Dearborn, Indiana, United States
Death: June 11, 1919 (76)
New York, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Philip Loring Spooner and Lydia "Mary" Lord Spooner
Husband of Anne Elizabeth Spooner
Father of Charles Philip Spooner; Willett Main Spooner; John Coit Spooner; John Coit Spooner, Jr. and Philip Loring Spooner
Brother of Mary Coit Spooner; Charles Franklyn Spooner; Philip Loring Spooner; Roger Coit Spooner; Fannie Coit Spooner and 1 other

Occupation: U.S. Senator / Lawyer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Coit Spooner, U.S. Senator

He is the person that Spooner, Wisconsin is named after.

U.S. senator from Wisconsin (1885–91; 1897–1907), a powerful conservative force in his state and in Congress.

Spooner moved to Wisconsin as a youth. After service in the Union Army during the Civil War, he was admitted to the bar (1867). He began a law practice at Hudson, Wis., and eventually became best known in legal circles as counsel for railroad interests. A member of the Wisconsin legislature (1872), he was elected by that body to represent the state of Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1885 to 1891 and from 1897 to 1907.

Spooner emerged as a leading conservative voice in the Senate, consistently opposing labour reform and other progressive measures. With senators Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, William B. Allison of Iowa, and Orville H. Platt of Connecticut, he formed a core of conservative leadership that exerted strong influence on national affairs at the turn of the century. He was author of the Spooner Act (1902), which authorized Pres. Theodore Roosevelt to purchase rights to build the Panama Canal.

At the 1904 Republican national convention in Chicago, Spooner, as the head of the regular Wisconsin delegation, became embroiled in a bitter credentials fight with state Progressives led by Robert M. La Follette. Spooner survived the challenge, but the ascendency of Progressivism, especially in Wisconsin, was inevitable. The change in the political climate contributed to Spooner’s decision to retire from public life in 1907. He thereafter practiced law in New York City.


John Coit Spooner (January 6, 1843 – June 11, 1919) was a Republican politician and lawyer from Wisconsin. He served in the United States Senate from 1885 to 1891 and from 1897 to 1907.

Born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Spooner moved with his parents to Madison, Wisconsin in 1859. He attended the common schools and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1864. During the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army and, at the close of the war, was brevetted major. He served as private and military secretary to the Governor of Wisconsin, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1867, then serving as assistant attorney general of Wisconsin until 1870.

Spooner moved to Hudson, Wisconsin and practiced law there from 1870 to 1884. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1872 and was a member of the Wisconsin University board of regents. He was elected a Republican to the United States Senate in 1884 and served from 1885 to 1891, being defeated for reelection by William F. Vilas. He served as chairman of the Committee on Claims from 1886 to 1891. Afterwards, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 1892 and moved back to Madison in 1893. He was elected back to the U.S. Senate in 1896, was reelected in 1903 and served from 1897 until his resignation in 1907. He served as chairman of the Committee on Canadian Relations from 1897 to 1899 and of the Committee on Rules from 1899 to 1907. As a Senator, he sponsored the Spooner Act which directed President Theodore Roosevelt to purchase the Panama Canal Zone.[citation needed]

A popular figure in Republican politics, he turned down three cabinet posts during his political career, Secretary of the Interior in President William McKinley's administration in 1898, Attorney General under President McKinley in 1901, and Secretary of State in President William Howard Taft's administration in 1909. Spooner and fellow Wisconsin Senator, Robert M. La Follette, were both known to be bitter rivals, Spooner disagreeing with La Follette's progressive policies opposed to his own conservative policies. Spooner was also one of the early opponents of direct primary elections. At the time, party nominees were selected by the party officials, sometimes by party bosses. Although the system left much to be desired, Spooner was prescient in his description of political campaigns after the reform of direct primary elections:

"Direct primaries would destroy the party machinery... and would build up a lot of personal machines, and would make every man a self-seeker, and would degrade politics by turning candidacies into bitter personal wrangles."

After his retirement from the Senate, he practiced law in New York City until his death there on June 11, 1919. He was interned in Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.

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John Coit Spooner, U.S. Senator's Timeline

January 6, 1843
Lawrenceburg, Dearborn, Indiana, United States
June 5, 1869
Age 26
Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, USA
December 25, 1871
Age 28
Hudson, St. Croix, Wisconsin
Age 29
Hudson, St. Croix, Wisconsin, USA
February 26, 1877
Age 34
Age 35
Hudson, St. Croix, Wisconsin
June 11, 1919
Age 76
New York, New York, United States
Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, USA