James Hamilton Lewis served the state of Washington in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the state of Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Born in Danville, Virginia, Lewis spent most of his youth in Georgia. In 1885, however, he left the South and moved to Seattle, where he established a law practice and became active in territorial politics. After Washington's admission to the Union, Lewis was elected in 1896 to the U.S. House of Representatives. There he argued for recognition of Cuba's independence and for the establishment of the Mount Rainier area as a national park.
After losing both his congressional seat in 1898 and a subsequent bid for the U.S. Senate, Lewis moved to Chicago, where he once again became active in Democratic politics. In 1913 he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, the last senator chosen by that state legislature before the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators. Lewis became the first Democratic whip of the Senate. He was defeated at the end of his first term but won another term in 1930 and was reelected in 1936. Lewis resumed his role as party whip during his second and third terms. He was an authority on the U.S. Constitution and on foreign affairs, and a skillful legislative tactician. Lewis stood out among his contemporaries for his eloquent oratory and courtly manner. He died in office; his funeral service was held in the Senate Chamber.