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  Name:  Samuel Sullivan Cox
  Born:  September 30, 1824
  Died:  September 10, 1889

  Complete HarpWeek Biography:

Cox, Samuel Sullivan “Sunset” (September 30, 1824 – September 10, 1889) 

S. S. “Sunset” Cox was a longtime Democratic congressman and writer. 

Samuel Sullivan Cox was born in Zanesville, Ohio, on September 30, 1824, to Mary Matilda Sullivan Cox and Ezekiel Taylor Cox, a publisher.  He attended Ohio University before transferring to Brown University, where he graduated in 1846.  He returned to Ohio to study law and passed the bar in 1849.  That same year he married Julia Ann Buckingham; they had no children.  Their honeymoon in Europe was the basis for his first book (of ten), A Buckeye Abroad (1852).  In 1853, he bought controlling interest in the Columbus, Ohio, Statesman, which he edited.  In its pages, his rhapsodic description of a sunset earned him the nickname “Sunset.” 

In 1855, illness precluded Cox from assuming a diplomatic appointment as secretary to the American legation in Lima, Peru.  The next year, however, he won election as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, where he would spend most of his professional career.  During the political strife of the late 1850s, Cox advocated compromise on the slavery issue.  Once the Civil War began, he supported the war effort to restore the Union, but opposed emancipation and violations of civil liberties.  Although he was personally opposed to racial equality and voted against the Thirteenth Amendment, he also believed that the Democratic Party needed to shed its pro–slavery image; therefore, he convinced enough of his Democratic colleagues to abstain so that the amendment abolishing slavery was able to pass the House with the constitutionally required two–thirds majority. 

Having lost his reelection bid in the 1864 election because of gerrymandering, Cox moved in the spring of 1865 to New York City to practice law.  Backed by Tammany Hall, he won another seat in Congress in 1868.  Known for his wit and eloquence, Cox opposed Republican policies of Radical Reconstruction and high tariffs.  His two pet causes were the Life Saving Service and the Post Office for which he strove to improve the service and working conditions of both.  In 1872, gerrymandering again resulted in a reelection loss, but he won a special election the next year following the death of James Brooks.  When the Democratic Party secured a House majority in the 1874 elections, Cox expected to win the speakership.  Michael Kerr of Indiana was selected instead, but Cox served as speaker pro tempore during Kerr’s long illness.  Despite that position and committee chairmanships, Cox was less influential and effective than he had been in the past as a leader of the minority. 

In 1885, Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic president since the Civil War, named Cox as U.S. minister to Turkey.  He served only one year before returning to America to win election to the U.S. House again.  He was reelected in 1888, and served until his death on September 10, 1889, in New York City.  In the politically volatile nineteenth century, Cox was unusual for the long length of time that he had served in Congress.   

His other publications include The Diplomat in Turkey; Eight Years in Congress; Free Land and Free Trade; Puritanism in Politics; Three Decades of Federal Legislation; and Why We Laugh.   

Sources consulted:  Allan Peskin, “Cox, Samuel Sullivan,” American National Biography (online); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; and Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History.  


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