Name:  Randall, Samuel Jackson

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Born:  October 10, 1828
Died:  April 13, 1890
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Speaker 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 December 1876.

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.

Source consulted: American National Biography.










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