Reference Entry

Sparks, William Andrew Jackson

in American National Biography Online


Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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congressman and commissioner of the General Land Office, was born near New Albany, Indiana, the son of Baxter Sparks and Elizabeth Gwin, farmers. Sparks moved with his family to Macoupin County, Illinois, in 1836. He was orphaned, which threw the teenaged youth on his own resources and forced him to work on neighboring farms during the summers and study at public schools in the winter months. Eventually, Sparks taught school for a period of time, and he also secured an appointment as assistant clerk of the Illinois House of Representatives. In 1850 he graduated from McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois. After reading law with Sidney Breese, a respected politician and jurist, Sparks gained admission to the bar in 1851 and opened his law practice in Carlyle, Illinois. He accepted an appointment by President Franklin Pierce in 1853 as U.S. land receiver for the Edwardsville land office, in which capacity he served three years. When an error of three dollars occurred in the account books, Sparks, a scrupulously precise person, traveled by stage to Washington, D.C., to prove that this alleged mistake was due to the miscalculation of a clerk in the nation’s capital.

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