Submitted by Lynn Wilder-Burrett
SOURCE: History of the Republic Party and Biographies of its supports - Illinois Volume, Copyright 1895 by Lincoln Engraving and Publishing
John R. TANNER has few equals in organizing and directing the forces that produce success. Successful in his private business enterprises because of his clear reasoning powers, his energy and his capacity to analyze the needs of the most complicated situations, he has achieved equally well as a leader in public movements for the reason that he has applied the same principles that have distinguished his private life, to the affairs with which he has been connected in a public capacity. Of acknowledged honesty of purpose in all that he does or thinks, distinctly one of the masses from which he came and to which he has always delighted to belong, and with a public record that is free from the slightest shadow, his influence with the people cannot be measured in language. The public delight in a self-made man. While it may admire the polish of the scholar, it is irresistibly drawn to the man who has secured his education, not in the college or university, but out in the practical world, amidst the hard experiences of practical life and who has developed into a man of affairs, with clear business judgment and an intelligent understanding of the requirements of society and the necessities of good government. The orator whose thoughts burn and whose rhetoric sparkles may charm and thrill; the graduate, with his degree, may impress with his learning, and higher education may be and is universally advocated, and yet the people are drawn to our men of self-education and feel a higher degree of confidence in those whose poverty have shut the schoolhouse door against them but who have developed a high degree of practical sense, and who by their own efforts have acquired a practical education which no school can impart. John R. Tanner belongs to this class of men, and is one of the self-made men who have shown themselves masters of every situation in which they have been placed. His election to various offices of trust and the frequent mention of his name in connection with higher offices than any he has filled, have been the result of the common familiarity with the fact that he is fitted by nature and practical education to discharge the duties of any position that he may assume.
Mr. Tanner was born April 4, 1844, in Warwick (Warrick) County, Indiana and is the son of John and Eliza Downs Tanner. He can trace his ancestry back five generations, the first Tanners having settled in Norfolk, Virginia, at an early day. Tanner's creek, which empties into the bay at Norfolk, received its name from this family. The name of John seems to have been a favorite one in the Tanner family, for every one of five generations has possessed the name. The mother of our sketch was the daughter of Thomas Downs, a prominent Baptist clergyman of Kentucky. His father was a farmer, and was one of the patriotic thousands who laid their lives upon the altar of their country in the war of the rebellion. He died in a rebel prison in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1862, and his wife, the mother of John died in Carbondale, Illinois, in January of the same year.
Our subject spent his boyhood and youth on the farm homestead and acquired all the school education that he ever had in a log schoolhouse. It has never made the slightest difference what the situation in which he has been placed was, he was always equal to the demands of the occasion. The very privations which he suffered in youth aided to make the man, for they taught him self-reliance and that whatever achievements he made he must fight for. Soon after his mother's death he recognized his duty to aid in carrying his country's flag to victory, and enlisting in the Ninety-Eighth Regiment, Illinois Infantry, he went to the front, and though only nineteen years old, he fully appreciated his individual responsibility to the present and to posterity and made a splendid military record. In 1865 he was transferred from the Ninety-Eighth to Company B, Sixty-First Illinois Regiment, and was mustered out in November of that year. He was with the army of the Cumberland in its campaigns in Tennessee and Georgia, and in the severe fighting which was done with his comrades attest that he never flinched or wavered in his loyalty to duty and the flag. After leaving the army he returned to Clay County, Illinois, where he has resided ever since. He began civil life anew, with nothing but brains, health and energy as his capital. With these he engaged in the business of sawing logs in the Little Wabash bottoms. The county was then overwhelmingly Democratic, and in 1870 the Republicans, believing him to be their strongest man, nominated him for sheriff and he was elected, which was the beginning of almost yearly Republican majorities in the county every since. Two years later he was elected clerk of the circuit court, and in 1880 he was elected to the state Senate, in a hitherto Democratic district. The district, like his county, was thus converted into what has proven a reliable Republican stronghold, and Mr. Tanner earned the reputation of being invincible as a candidate. As a Senator he at once took high rank as a practical, conscientious and far-seeing legislator. In 1883 he was appointed United States treasurer at Chicago and filled the office until December, 1893. He has also served on the board of state railroad and warehouse commissioners, having been appointed in 1891; and in all these positions he was efficient, honest and faithful. Not a breath of scandal has ever effected his official conduct.
As a political manager he is superb, a fact that was so clearly shown in his masterly management of the state campaign of 1894, when, as chairman of the state Republican Central Committee, he so perfected the party organization, and directed the campaign with such energy and tact, as to secure the enormous Republican majority of one hundred and thirty-five thousand. For ten years, from 1874, he was a member of the state central committee. In 1883, when he received his appointed as United States marshal, he resigned from the committee. In 1894 he was again selected by his district to represent it on the state central committee and was elected its chairman by acclamation. He resigned this position in December, 1895.
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