William Martin Jones was born on July 24th, 1841, in Manilus, New York. He was the son of Thomas P. Jones, an immigrant from Wales, and Lodoiska Butler Jones, of Crown Point, New York. He grew up in Knowlesville, New York.
Jones embraced the temperance movement at the age of 10. He was educated at Albion Academy; he had initially intended to study at Yale College, but his path was changed when he became acquainted with Edwin D. Morgan, who was governor of New York from 1859-1862 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1863-1869.
Jones spent two years as Senator Morgan’s secretary. In 1864, he acted as secretary for Secretary of State William Seward and his son Frederick. He was quickly promoted to the position of chief clerk for the Consular Bureau of the State Department. He worked long and hard to help protect U.S. diplomatic interests in the midst of the Civil War.
Jones was present at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th, 1866, about 20 feet away from President Lincoln when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Ten days later, he wrote a letter to Captain H. Bowen of Medina, New York, describing the assassination. It is considered to be one of the most detailed accounts of Lincoln’s assassination.
In 1866, Jones left his position as chief clerk to become the United States Consul at Clifton, Canada. While working as consul, he also studied law. In 1871, he left his position as consul, moved to Rochester, New York, and began practicing law in Rochester.
On July 5th , 1871, he married Gertrude M. Nichols of Buffalo, New York. They would have two sons and a daughter: Abraham Jones, William Martin Jones Jr., and Minnie Jones.
Jones was involved in a number of organizations. While he was living in Washington D.C., he had joined the Free Masons, and was involved with its chapter in Rochester for many years. In 1867, Jones joined the Good Templars: a major fraternal temperance organization, whose membership included many of the people who would go on to found and lead the Prohibition Party. Jones was a supporter of temperance and prohibition, though he didn’t join the Party until sometime later. Jones rose through the ranks of the Good Templars, in 1879 becoming Grand Chief Templar of the State of New York. He served four years in the position and later served as the group's state treasurer for seven years.
William Jones had initially been a Republican in politics. But due to his strong his support for prohibition, he joined the Prohibition Party in 1882. Jones was the Prohibition Party candidate for New York Secretary of State in 1885. He received 29,985 votes, 2.92% of the total statewide vote. The Ne3w YorkProhibition Party held its 1888 statewide convention in Syracuse on June 26-27. After a competitive nomination process, Jones was selected as the Prohibition Party for Governor of New York. He campaigned on a platform centered on opposition to the liquor traffic and support for prohibition. Jones received 30,215 votes 2.30% of the total statewide vote.
On June 14, 1890, Jones spoke before a joint meeting U.S. Senate committee on Education and Labor and the House of Representatives Committee on the Alcohol Liquor Traffic in favor of national prohibition. He was part of a group of prohibitionist speakers who addressed the meetings to encourage members of congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. constitution establishing national prohibition.
Jones joined the New York State Bar Association in 1892. In his time with the Association, he served on its executive committee, its nominating committee, and various special committees.
During the 1896 campaign, infighting broke out within the national Prohibition Party. The Narrow Gauge faction wanted the Party to hold a platform that was solely or almost exclusively focused on the issue of Prohibition, while the Broad Gauge faction wanted a broader platform which included positions on other major issues. This lead to temporary split in the party, where two rival Prohibition Party presidential tickets were nominated, and the party’s overall results decreased from its 1892 results.
Jones generally believed that the Prohibition Party should hold positions on the major issues of the time. But while he was a strong supporter of prohibition, he was also a strong supporter of the gold standard for U.S. currency. This put him at odds with the main body of the Broad Gauge faction, which was headed by proponents of silver.
The gold verses silver debate was a major issue in the 1896 election. Jones left the Prohibition Party in 1896, to campaign in favor of Republican Presidential Candidate William McKinley against the free-silver Democratic Candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Jones had also been active on advocating on international issues. He advocated in favor of international arbitration. In 1896, the U.S. became involved in a dispute between England and Venezuela, and he served on a committee considering the possibility of resolving the dispute by arbitration. Jones also advocated for the creation of an international court of arbitration to resolve disputes between countries. Jones, Edward G. Whitaker, and Judge William D. Veeder presented a proposal for such an international court to the president on behalf of the national bar association. This proposal was also sent to various other leaders around the world and became one of the influences for the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the 1899 Hague Peace Conference.
In 1898, Jones publicly promoted the idea that the U.S. should purchase the Philippines from Spain. He also advocated in favor of Cuba becoming and independent country, and he campaigned to get his friend Theodore Roosevelt elected governor of New York.
William Martin Jones Sr. died on May 3 rd, 1906.
Harper’s Book of Facts: AN Encyclopedia of the History of the World, a Record of History from 4004 B.C. to 1906 A.D. Ed. Charlton T. Lewis. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1906.
Kramer, David. Rochestarian Was Twenty Feet from Lincoln When He Was Assassinated.” Talker of the Town, November 7, 2019. https://talkerofthetown.com/2019/11/01/rochestarian-was-twenty-feetfrom-lincoln-when-was-assassinated/.
“Other Past Candidates: New York”. Partisan Prohibition Historical Society. Prohibitionists.org. Accessed October 29th, 2019. http://www.prohibitionists.org/Candidates/candidates.html
“The Army of Prohibition: The New York Branch at Convention”. New York Times. (New York City, New York). June 27, 1888. Accessed, January 2, 2020. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1888/06/27/106326814.pdf
“The Miscellaneous Documents of the Senate of the United States, For The First Session of the Fifty First Congress”. Vol. 4. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890. “To Pulverize The Saloons: New York Prohibitionists Ready for Work”. New York Times. (New York City, New York). June 28, 1888. Accessed, January 2, 2020. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1888/06/28/112635582.pdf
“William Martin Jones Papers.” RBSCP. Accessed January 3, 2020. https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/finding.
-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley