J. Will Taylor

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James Willis “J. Will” Taylor
James Willis Taylor.jpg
Former U.S. Representative from Tennessee's 2nd Congressional District
From: March 4, 1919 – November 14, 1939
Predecessor Richard W. Austin
Successor John Jennings, Jr.
Former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee
From: 1917–1918
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Mossie Emily Kincaid
Religion Methodist[1]

James Willis Taylor, Jr. (August 28, 1880 – November 14, 1939), known as J. Will Taylor and Hillbilly Bill,[2] was an eastern Tennessee Republican from Union County[3] who represented the state's 2nd congressional district for two decades in the United States House of Representatives. He previously was the chair of the GOP state executive committee for two years.

Although carrying some positive traits, the political domination of Democrats in Tennessee on the statewide level led Taylor to seek full control of state GOP matters due to the few Republicans with influence competing with one another for power.[4] Intraparty rivals believed that he actively worked to prevent the election of a governor or U.S. senator in the state, as such would result in a dilution of his influence in patronage.


Taylor was born in Lend Mine Bend, Tennessee to Sarah Elizabeth Rogers and James Willis Taylor, Sr.[2] After enduring through hardships, he attended and graduated from Holbrook Normal College, located in Fountain City. Taylor later graduated from Cumberland School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1902.[2]

He married the former Mossie Emily Kincaid and the couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Katheryne.

U.S. House of Representatives

Taylor ran for the House in the 1918 midterms, challenging incumbent Republican congressman Richard W. Austin. The latter's lack of popularity in the area led to an easy primary victory for Taylor,[2] who then handily won the general election by a landslide.[5] The second district of Tennessee has consistently been solidly Republican since the 1860s.

Popular among constituents, Taylor dominated state GOP politics during the 1920s, when Republican-held presidencies caused all federal patronage in Tennessee to run through him.[2] He was accused of corruption by opponents who even tried to indict him via a grand jury, though such attempts failed to succeed.

J. Will Taylor between 1918 and 1921.png

During his first term, Taylor voted in the likes of a Moderate Republican, backing the conservative side only 59% of the time.[6] However, being a traditional Southern Republican from the Appalachias, his voting record generally was sharply to the right compared to his Democrat colleagues.

During the presidency of Herbert Hoover, there were two proposals in Congress related to the Muscle Shoals; one emphasized private enterprise while the other, introduced by Nebraska liberal Republican George Norris, focused on federal government regulation. The latter was a forerunner to the eventual Tennessee Valley Authority. Taylor supported the Norris bill and won re-election while his colleague B. Carroll Reece from the neighboring first congressional district opposed it.[7]

Due to the district's somewhat populist bent (the mountainous Appalachia areas were unsuitable for development and thus have consistently been poorer than most of the U.S.), Taylor's position proved to be popular while Reece lost re-election in 1930 to Independent Republican Oscar Byrd "O. B." Lovette.[7] Reece managed to rebound in the following election cycle and join Taylor in the House once again.

In the earlier years of the Roosevelt presidency, Taylor and Reece joined four congressional Democrats from the state in objecting to an economy measure by the administration, arguing that it harmed veterans.[8]

Like Reece, Taylor was largely pro–civil rights and supportive of anti-lynching legislation, voting for the Dyer Bill in 1922[9] following the St. Louis race riots as well as the 1937 Gavagan-Wagner bill.[10] The rare Southern Republicans elected to Congress from solid GOP districts since the end of Reconstruction until the 1950s did not hold the bigoted, racist prejudices their Democrat counterparts made conspicuous of. Indeed, the owner of a restaurant where Taylor dined at said of the congressman:[11]

He greeted everybody the same—Democrat or Republican, white or black.

The landslide election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election ended most of Taylor's political influence, namely patronage.[2] He faced a strong challenge in his 1936 re-election bid from Democrat John T. O'Connor, and only won by two percentage points.[12]

During his last incomplete House term, Taylor voted with conservatives 80% of the time.[13]

J. Will Taylor bioguide picture.jpg

Death in office

Although considered healthy,[11] Taylor suffered a heart attack in mid-November 1939 and died while in office at the age of fifty-nine,[2] resulting in an outpouring of grief from shocked constituents whom he was beloved among.[11] Controversy also emerged afterwards, with reports of his federal office building being ransacked.[2] Although his older daughter Elizabeth managed to recover some personal papers, others were taken away and privately kept by his youngest daughter Katheryne. At the same time, a number of Republicans considered running for the seat to succeed Taylor.[2] These included John Jennings, Howard Baker, Sr., and his daughter Elizabeth, who asserted support and encouragement for her potential candidacy as having been:

...a great tribute to my Daddy for his friends to want me to fill out his unexpired term in Congress.

Jennings ultimately succeeded Taylor and was re-elected several times before being defeated for renomination by Baker, the father of later U.S. senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr.


An elevator operator and janitor who knew Taylor for nearly two decades said of the deceased representative:[11]

Congressman Taylor was never too busy to talk to the lowliest man here about any personal problem, and help however he could. When I told him sometime ago that I was planning to buy a little place of my own he said that was a wonderful idea. He went with me two or three times to look at places. And when I finally decided on one Mr. Taylor talked to the owner and helped work out terms that I could meet.

See also


  1. Taylor, J.. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Hill, Ray (July 19, 2015). ‘Hillbilly Bill:’ Congressman J. Will Taylor. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  3. Peters, Bonnie Heiskell (October 8, 2017). Union County. Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  4. hill, Ray (June 6, 2021). Carroll Reece: Tennessee’s ‘Mr. Republican’ Part 10. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  5. TN - District 02 Race - Nov 05, 1918. Our Campaigns. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  6. FascinatingPolitics (January 2021). 67th-conress.pdf. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hill, Ray (July 18, 2021). Carroll Reece: Tennessee’s ‘Mr. Republican’ Part 13. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  8. Hill, Ray (July 25, 2021). Carroll Reece: Tennessee’s ‘Mr. Republican’ Part 14. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  9. TO PASS H. R. 13.. GovTrack.us. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  10. TO PASS H. R. 1507, AN ANTI-LYNCHING BILL.. GovTrack.us. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Hill, Ray (August 26, 2018). The Mystery After J. Will Taylor’s Death, I. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  12. TN - District 02 Race - Nov 03, 1936. Our Campaigns. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  13. FascinatingPolitics (March 2020). 1939-40-mc-index-3.pdf. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved August 24, 2021.

External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Profile at Find a Grave