By Kathryn Allamong Jacob (Guest Contributor)
The ring–a five-carat sapphire surrounded by 42 glittering diamonds–flashed each time Sam Ward gestured to emphasize a point, and he had many points to make. The ring’s fire distracted members of the House Ways and Means Committee trying to concentrate on this lively witness’ testimony in January 1875. The congressmen didn’t want to miss a word of what Ward had to say. Already within the first few minutes, he had made them laugh so hard that the stenographer was obliged to insert “[laughter]” into the official transcript.
This hearing was supposed to be a serious affair. The committee was investigating the latest scandal to rock the second Grant administration. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had allegedly pried out of Congress a subsidy to carry the mail to the Orient only after greasing the skids (and several palms) with what one newspaper claimed was the extraordinary sum of one million dollars. Sam Ward’s name turned up on a list of men who profited by the deal.
The witnesses who preceded him sweated through their testimony. Not Sam Ward. Five-feet eight-inches tall, with a perfectly cut suit, shiny bald head, and precisely trimmed Van Dyke beard, one reporter claimed he “fairly gleamed with good living” as he strode into the chamber with a self-assured air. His regal bearing was no surprise. Sam Ward was known to everyone in the room and far beyond Capitol Hill as “The King of the Lobby.”
Combining delicious food, fine wines, and excellent conversation, he had perfected a new type of lobbying–social lobbying. While most Washington banquets were big, dreary affairs, guests called his intimate dinners “the climax of civilization.” His art was to guarantee that the congressmen he entertained never focused on the purpose that lurked beneath his perfectly cooked poisson.
Kathryn Allamong Jacob, author of King of the Lobby, is curator of manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
IMAGE:After lecturing a House committee on the hazards of lobbying and the importance of dining well, Sam Ward told a parable about a cook, the king of Spain, and a meal of pigs’ ears. In this newspaper cartoon, he cooks up a pot of $1,000 pigs’ ears himself. (New York Daily Graphic, December 20, 1876.)
This post first appeared on Wonders & Marvels in January 2010.