JAMES TAYLOR LEWIS was born in Clarendon, New York. He taught school briefly and went on to study law with former New York Governor Henry R. Seldon. In 1845 he moved to Columbus, Wisconsin, where he was admitted to the bar. Between 1846 and 1852, he served as District Attorney, County Probate Judge, and member of the Constitutional Convention of 1847-1848 from Columbia County. He also won a seat in the State Senate and was elected Lieutenant Governor, serving from 1854 to 1856. In 1861, he was chosen by the Republican Party to run for Secretary of State, winning the election. In 1863, the Union Republicans nominated him for Governor, and he defeated his Democratic opponent. He was concerned during his tenure with providing sufficient troops for the Civil War and helping to protect them and their dependents. He visited troops in the field and helped establish hospitals in Wisconsin for the care of the wounded. Refusing renomination in 1865, he was offered a diplomatic post by President Lincoln, but chose instead to return to his law practice in Columbus.