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John Coit Spooner

John C. Spooner

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-38111


Spooner Street on Madison’s near west side commemorates John Coit Spooner (1843 – 1919), an advisor to presidents and one of the nation’s most powerful conservative politicians in the last decades of the nineteenth century. He came to Madison in 1859 and entered the UW a year later. He enlisted in the Civil War a month prior to graduation, serving in the Sioux country in Minnesota. After the war he was Governor Fairchild’s private secretary. He was elected to the United States Senate three times - in 1885, 1897 and 1903.

Spooner was “fiery-tongued and a formidable opponent, a brilliant debater - some said the foremost in Congress - an able constitutional lawyer, and an authority on international law.” He advised presidents Harrison, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt on political strategy, foreign policy, and legislative programs. He seconded the nomination of Benjamin Harrison at the Republican Convention in 1892. He also ran for governor that year, but lost. His arch-rival was Robert La Follette.

Spooner declined many Cabinet appointments to retain his important position in the Senate. In the early 1890s he was a member of the steering committee, controlling the bills that were voted upon. He contributed to passage of the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the McKinley Tariff Bill. From 1896 to 1906 he and three others virtually ran the Senate. He influenced bills setting up the governments of the territories acquired during the Spanish-American War, and helped secure the Panama Canal. He resigned in 1907.

His wife, Annie Main (1842 – 1930), was considered the best musical talent in the city and performed often in Chicago. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed the Oratorio of Elijah by Mendelssohn in April 1863: “One of the principal parts was taken by Miss Annie Main of this city who, though only an amateur, has a voice whose surpassing sweetness and compass are seldom found equaled in trained and professional singers… She has a clear and strong soprano voice, of fine quality and considerable cultivation; a firm and unfaltering tone, and good range. It is remarkably pure in the upper register, and shows great power in that quarter… there is so much purity and sweetness in her tone that the large breadth which is generally deemed indispensable is not missed. It is a purely homelike voice, full of power and capacity… The grand aria Hear Ye Israel developed all the resources of her fine voice. She sang it, especially the allegro, exquisitely, and commanded, as she deserved, the applause of the audience.”

Mark Gajewski