John Winans

Men of Progress. Wisconsin. (pages 586-621) A selected list of biographical sketches and portraits of the leaders in business, professional and official life. Together with short notes on the history and character of Wisconsin.

WINANS, John, for many years a resident of Janesville and a leading and noted lawyer of that city and of the state, was born in Vernon, Sussex county, New Jersey, on the 27th day of September, 1831. His father, William R. Winans, and his uncle, Ross Winans, a prominent citizen of Baltimore, were Hollanders by descent, their ancestors having been among the early settlers of New Jersey. His father and his uncle had to do with the construction and operation of the railroad between St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia for many years.

The subject of this sketch, having been educated in New Jersey, began the study of law at Newton nd subsequently continued it at Trenton in the office of Martin Ryerson, who was afterwards distinguished as a circuit and supreme judge of that state. In the fall of 1855 he was admitted to practice in all he courts in New Jersey and in the spring of 1857 came to Wisconsin, settling in Janesville, where he has ever since resided and where he has been continuously and successfully engaged in the practice of his profession, occasionally interrupted by the duties of official station. His practice soon steadily grew in amount and importance, for his native and professional abilities early came to be generally recognized as of a superior character, and but few cases have been tried in southern Wisconsin, either civil or criminal, in which Mr. Winans has not taken a conspicuous part. Possessing an evenly balanced mind, keen sense of justice, ability to weigh impartially the value of evidence, a temper that nothing can ruffle, clearness of discernment, which enables him to present a case in its strongest light, argumentative powers of a most convincing character and an eloquence that appeals at once to the reason and sympathies of courts, jurors and auditors, makes him one of the very strongest advocates in the state.

The late Senator Carpenter, whose fame as a lawyer is national, said of him that if he had an important case of his own, he would as soon commit it to Mr. Winans or to the Hon. John R. Bennett as to any other member of the bar in Wisconsin.

Politically, Mr. Winans is a Democrat, but can not be considered a strong partisan. He has been prominent in his party, rather on account of his abilities than because of any desire on his part for participation in the struggles of parties or any ambition for official honors. In 1868 he was the Democratic candidate for congress in the Second district, then composed of the counties of Columbia, Dane, Jefferson and Rock, but the district had a large Republican majority, and, as he expected, he was defeated. In 1874 he represented Janesville in the assembly of this state, and was made chairman of the judiciary committee. He was again a member of the assembly in 1882 and received the vote of the Democrats for speaker. In the fall of 1882 Mr. Winans was the Democratic candidate for congress in the First congressional district, composed of Kenosha, Racine, Rock and Walworth counties. The district had a Republican majority of about 5,000, but owing to dissatisfactions in the Republican ranks and to Mr. Winans' popularity and his recognized ability, he was elected by a handsome majority, and at the expiration of his term declined a renomination. It is doubtful if any other Democrat in the district could have overcome so large a Republican majority. He represented the city of Janesville a third time in the assembly in 1887 and was again the Democratic candidate for speaker. He also received the vote of the Democratic members of the legislature that year for United States senator in opposition to Philetus Sawyer. In 1891 he was for the fourth time a member of the assembly and again chairman of the judiciary committee, and was tendered the speakership, which he declined. As a legislator he was always the leader of his party and not unfrequently of the assembly, was attentive to the proceedings, an excellent judge of what was demanded by the public interests in the way of legislation, a ready, forcible and eloquent debater and in all respects a most useful and honest representative. An evidence of his abilities and the value of his services was the spontaneous recognition which they always received alike from political associates and opponents.

Mr. Winans was made chairman of the national convention of Democratic clubs, which was held in Baltimore the 4th of July, 1888. He has several times been an elector on national Democratic tickets and a delegate to national conventions, and one several occasions has been favorably mentioned as a suitable candidate for governor by the press of his party, but never with his consent.

He has frequently served his fellow citizens in local positions, such as alderman, mayor and city attorney, having twice been elected to the office of mayor by large majorities. Under his administration as mayor most of the city improvements were established, such as waterworks, fire-alarm system, gates at street crossings, the Evansville cut-off, so-called, street cars and the lighting of the streets by electricity.


The above transcription has been contributed to this site by Kelly Mullins

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