Daniel Wolsey Voorhees

Daniel Wolsey Voorhees

U.S. Senator from Indiana

  • U.S. Congressman from Indiana
  • Trial Lawyer, Orator
  • Proponent for the Library of Congress
  • Bust Location
    State House Rotunda
    2nd floor, Facing west,
    north corner

    Butler County, Ohio


    Daniel Wolsey Voorhees was born on the 26th of September, 1827 at Liberty Township in Butler County, Ohio. Daniel Wolsey Voorhees would grow to become a leading political figure of Indiana state and national politics. Though he was born in Ohio, Voorhees’ parents, Stephen and Rachel, moved their family to Fountain County, Indiana that same year.1 Voorhees grew up on a farm, graduated from Indiana Asbury College (now DePauw University) in 1849. After graduating, he took up the study of law at Crawfordsville in the office of Lane and Wilson.2 Upon officially being accepted into the Indiana Bar Association, Voorhees set up his own law office in Covington, Indiana.3

    In his time at Indiana Asbury College and in his first years in law, Voorhees gained a lot of notoriety for his natural abilities as a public speaker. This garnered him the attention of prominent people in Indiana law and politics. In 1853, he was appointed prosecuting attorney for the local Circuit Court in Covington.4 It was while he served as the prosecuting attorney that Voorhees was introduced into the political arena. In 1856, he received the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for Congress. He lost the election by a very small margin. Following this loss, Voorhees moved to Terre Haute, in Vigo County, to practice law there. Terre Haute remained his permanent residence until his death.5 It was not long after, in 1857, President Buchanan appointed Voorhees to serve as United States District Attorney for Indiana.

    As Voorhees moved into the political arena, he continued to gain notoriety for his skill in public speaking. Nicknamed the “Tall Sycamore of the Wabash,” Voorhees was also recognized for his physical appearance; standing over six feet tall, with a large head and broad shoulders. It was also said that “in the excitement of forensics [public speaking], his hair stood out like the quills of a sycamore’s button-ball.”6 During his run for Congress in 1856, Voorhees participated in a series of debates with his opponent, James Wilson. Though these debates occurred two years prior to the infamous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Voorhees and Wilson addressed many of the same issues. In particular, slavery was an important issue for politicians of the time to address. Voorhees, an ardent constitutionalist, expressed his views on slavery when he stated, “I do not favor the institution of slavery, I don’t want it here; but they have a right to it elsewhere; property in slaves is not to be distinguished from other kinds of property which are protected by the same constitution.”7 Though Voorhees personally disagreed with slavery as an institution, his concern was with the preservation of the Constitution as it was. Since the abolition of slavery called for an amendment to the Constitution, Voorhees was opposed.

    The event which catapulted Voorhees to national fame for his public speaking skills occurred in 1859, when he served as the defense lawyer for John E. Cook, who was a lieutenant under John Brown at the Harper’s Ferry raid.8 The raid was an attempt by the white abolitionist John Brown to lead an armed slave revolt; their attack on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry was unsuccessful and culminated in the loss of multiple lives on both sides. Cook was the brother of then-Governor Ashbel Parsons Willard’s wife, and it was Willard who asked Voorhees to defend his brother-in-law. Though Voorhees was adamantly against the abolitionists, he defended Cook as an individual, arguing that he had been forced to participate in the raid at John Brown’s command, and that the true blame lay with the abolitionists. Though Cook was found guilty of murder, he was not convicted for treason as others were.9 Voorhees’ passionate defense of Cook was soon circulated throughout the country, and it remains one of the events which he is most well known for today.

    As a result of this notoriety, Voorhees ran a successful campaign for Congress in 1860, winning a seat for which he was reelected in 1862 and 1864. He refused a nomination in 1866, but took his Congressional seat again in 1868, where he remained until he was defeated in 1872.10 Daniel Wolsey Voorhees was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by the death of Senator Oliver P. Morton in 1877. After finishing out the term, the Indiana state legislature voted to send Voorhees back to the U.S. Senate to serve a full term beginning March 4, 1879. His opposition for the seat that year was Benjamin Harrison, who would go on to become the 23rd President of the U.S. The legislators voted 83-60 in favor of Voorhees.11 Following the reelection, he served a total of 18 years.12 One of the accomplishments for which Daniel W. Voorhees is most recognized is the important role which he played in the establishment of the Library of Congress. Voorhees died in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 1897, and his body is interred at Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Vigo County.13

    Bust History

    This bust was created by Daniel W. Voorhees’ son, James Paxton Voorhees. Wanting to memorialize his father and the contributions which he made to the funding and establishment of the Library of Congress, James Paxton Voorhees created the memorial bust as late as 1906.14 In 1906, a copy of the bust was given to the Board of the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library in Terre Haute. Today, this bust can be found at the Vigo County Historical Society in the same city. The State House copy of the bust was presented to Governor Frank Hanly (1905–1909). In 1943, the bust was located in the southeast corner on the outside of the Rotunda.15 Today it is located inside of the niche on the northwest corner on the outside of the Rotunda, behind the tour office desk.


    James Paxton Voorhees

    James Paxton Voorhees, son of Daniel W. Voorhees, was born on October 1, 1855 in Covington, Indiana.16 James P. Voorhees was a sculptor, an actor, and a published author. He completed a bust of the ninth Vice President of the United States, Richard Mentor Johnson, in 1895. The bust was placed in a niche in the United States Senate chamber. A year later, James P. Voorhees was nominated to sculpt a bust of the 14th Vice President of the United States, John C. Breckinridge. James P. Voorhees also completed busts of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte.17

    1 Voorhees, Manning. “U.S. Senator Daniel Wolsey Voorhees” from the website “Distinguished Members of the Van Voorhees Family.” Van Voorhees Association: July 9, 2011. http://www.vanvoorhees.org/VVA/famous.php#Daniel.
    2 Bogardus, Frank Smith. “Daniel W. Voorhees.” Indiana Magazine of History. Vol. 27. No. 2. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1931). p. 92.
    3 Ibid. p. 93.
    4 Bradsby, H.C. “History of Vigo County, Indiana with Biographical Selections.” Chicago: S.B. Nelson & Co., Publishers, 1891.” p. 980.
    5 Bogardus, Frank Smith. p. 93.
    6 Voorhees, Manning.
    7 Ibid.
    8 Bradsby, H.C. p. 980.
    9 Bogardus, Frank Smith. p. 95.
    10 Bradsby, H.C. p. 980.
    11 Carleton, William G. “The Money Question in Indiana Politics, 1865–1890.” Indiana magazine of History. 42(2). (Bloomington: Trustees of Indiana University, June 1946). p. 141.
    12 Bogardus, Frank Smith. p. 95.
    13 Political graveyard.
    14 “Biography of James Paxton Voorhees, sculptor.” John C. Breckinridge. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Sculpture_22_00014.htm Current.
    15 “Memorials in the State House.” Indianapolis: Indiana State Library, 1982. p 1-2.
    16 “U.S. Passport Applications, 1795–1925 about James P. Voorhees.” Retrieved December 6, 2011 from ancestry.com.
    17 “Biography of James Paxton Voorhees, sculptor.”