peaker of the House Samuel Randall was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to
Ann Worrell Randall, from a prominent Jeffersonian-Republican family, and Josiah
Randall, an attorney and a Whig politician. After graduating from the University
Academy in Philadelphia at 17 years of age, young Randall took a job as a clerk
for a silk merchant. He soon joined a coal business as a partner, and by the age
of 21 had established a business in off-lot iron. In 1851, he married Fannie
Agnes Ward, the daughter of a Democratic Congressman Aaron Ward of New York; the
Randalls had three children.
Randall was elected as an American (i.e., nativist) Whig to the Philadelphia
Common Council (1852-1856), then switched to the Democratic party when the Whig
party collapsed in the mid-1850s. As a Democrat, he served one term (1858-1860)
in the Pennsylvania senate, where he ensured the passage of legislation
chartering street railways in Philadelphia, and chastised banks for their high
rates of interests.
During the Civil War, Randall served briefly in the Union army, as a 90-day
volunteer in 1861, plus a short stint in the Gettysburg campaign, but he saw no
action. In 1862 (before the Gettysburg campaign), he won a seat in Congress, the
first of 14 consecutive terms (1863-1890). Randall considered the Civil War to
be a fight to preserve the Union and the Constitution as they existed prior to
secession; thus, in February 1864, along with 22 other Democratic party leaders,
he backed efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy to
restore the pre-war Union, with slavery intact. Like many Northern Democrats, he
opposed the Lincoln administration's policies of emancipation, a military draft,
and the admittance of black men into the Union armed forces.
During and after the war, Randall proved to be a formidable opponent of
Republican-backed Reconstruction measures which granted basic civil rights and
liberties to black Americans. His skillful tactics of delaying and blocking
legislation, including a 72-hour filibuster, were nicknamed "Samrandalism."
He also earned the ire of the Republicans by pushing amnesty bills for former
Confederates, opposing subsidies and land grants to businesses (particularly
railroad companies), attempting to reduce federal spending, and calling for
congressional investigations of scandals in the administration of Republican
president Ulysses S. Grant. Reflecting his Philadelphia constituency, Randall
was also a committed advocate of high tariffs.
When the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 1874
elections (for the first time since before the Civil War), Randall maneuvered to
become speaker. Although a supporter of hard money, he hedged his bets by
campaigning for soft-money candidates and opposing the resumption act of 1875
(which returned the U.S. to the gold standard in 1879). In December 1875, he was
bested in the speakership race by a hard-money man, Michael Kerr of Indiana.
Kerr, however, died in August 1876, and Randall, who regained the confidence of
the hard-money faction of the Democratic party, won election as speaker in
As speaker, Randall supported the Electoral Commission Act, which established a
legal process for resolving the disputed 1876 presidential election, and refused
to allow filibusters to delay the inauguration of Republican Rutherford B.
Hayes. Randall drastically consolidated the House rules, and augmented the power
of the speaker by transforming the Rules Committee into a standing committee
chaired by the speaker. He backed the congressional investigation of Republican
vote fraud in the 1876 election, but the committee's findings primarily revealed
that the nephew of Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden had offered bribes in an
attempt to purchase the disputed election for his uncle.
Randall was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination
in 1880 and 1884. His firm stance in favor of trade protectionism was
increasingly out of line with the majority of his party. He lost the speakership
in 1881 when the Republicans took control of the House, and was not elected in
1883 when the Democrats returned to power. His defeat of tariff reform sponsored
by other Democrats lead President Grover Cleveland to withhold federal patronage
from the Pennsylvania congressman. After suffering from colon cancer, Randall
died in Washington, D. C., in 1890.