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What is a Sherman Pledge?

A Sherman Pledge is a commitment by a political candidate to refuse campaign contributions from corporate political action committees (PACs). This stance symbolizes a dedication to reducing corporate influence in politics, aiming to foster a more democratic and transparent electoral process. How might this pledge reshape the political landscape? Join the conversation and explore the potential impact on our democracy.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Sherman pledge, Shermanesque speech or Sherman speech is a declaration by someone being considered for political office that they have no intent to run for political office, and will do all in their power to avoid running. In other words, they’ll run for the hills rather than run for office. The statement is derived from General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the great figures of the American Civil War, who declared his intent not to accept any nomination to run for president in 1884. His pledge, which later became referred to as the Sherman pledge is the following: “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.”

Since the initial Sherman pledge, there have been many proposed candidates who have invoked similar pledges, either declaring their intent not to seek reelection or to attempt to convince anyone who might nominate them for an office that they are not interested. Perhaps one of the most frustrating of these, especially to Democrats in the US, is Al Gore’s lack of the pledge, but also lack of action in running for president. He has never actually made a Sherman pledge, but many are frustrated by his lack of interest in running. Many Democrats have felt, however, especially with the growing popularity of Gore and his recent win of the Nobel Peace Prize that he would be the best fit for President. News reporters have repeatedly tried to either determine whether he will state the possibility of running in the future or make a Shermanesque speech.

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Sometimes politicians use a version of the Sherman Pledge to determine just how disappointed people would be if they didn’t run, thus voiding the pledge. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a variant of the Sherman Pledge at the end of 2007. On the other hand, news broke in early 2008, that Bloomberg had been conducting private polls to determine whether a run for president made sense.

Versions of the Sherman pledge have been said and meant by a variety of people. President Lyndon Johnson vowed not to seek a second term as president, and Vice President Dick Cheney made the pledge not to run for president in 2008. As an incumbent vice president, Cheney would normally have been the natural choice to run for the 2008 presidency for the Republican Party. His Sherman Pledge was a nearly direct quote of General Sherman’s declaration.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Sherman Pledge?

A Sherman Pledge is a commitment made by a political candidate, typically during a campaign, to refuse contributions from certain sources deemed undesirable or unethical. The term originates from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, symbolizing the candidate's stand against monopolistic or corrupt influences. By taking such a pledge, the candidate signals a commitment to transparency and integrity in their campaign financing.

Why do candidates take a Sherman Pledge?

Candidates take a Sherman Pledge to demonstrate their dedication to running a campaign free from the influence of special interest groups, large corporations, or other entities that might expect policy favors in return for financial support. This pledge is meant to reassure voters that the candidate's decisions will be based on the public interest rather than on the interests of major donors.

How does a Sherman Pledge affect campaign financing?

When a candidate takes a Sherman Pledge, it can significantly alter the landscape of their campaign financing. They may have to rely more heavily on small individual donations and grassroots fundraising efforts. This can lead to a more democratic financing structure but may also put the candidate at a financial disadvantage compared to opponents who accept larger contributions.

Can a Sherman Pledge be legally enforced?

A Sherman Pledge is generally not legally binding; it is a moral and ethical commitment. The enforcement of the pledge relies on the candidate's integrity and the vigilance of the media and the public. If a candidate breaks the pledge, they may face political repercussions, such as loss of public trust and support.

Are there any notable examples of candidates who have taken a Sherman Pledge?

While specific examples of candidates who have taken a "Sherman Pledge" are not commonly cited in mainstream media, the concept is similar to pledges made by candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, who have publicly refused to take money from certain political action committees (PACs) and large corporations. These commitments are part of a broader movement towards campaign finance reform aimed at reducing the influence of money in politics.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent UnitedStatesNow contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent UnitedStatesNow contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


I think the Sherman pledge should be taken seriously, but not to the extent that people are rejected if they go back on their word.

Of course if this candidate makes it a habit of going back on his/her word, then they shouldn't be running for a position as important and critical as the President of the United States of America.

Presidents are human like the rest of us, and we all tend to change our minds from time to time. So let the presidents be human and make mistakes from time to time.

I am not saying do not acknowledge the mistakes. Instead, address the problem/mistake, let them be sorry and fix their mistakes, and move on. People should dwell on the present and the future, not the past.

Also, people should not be so critical on the politicians who do not declare the Sherman pledge but who also do not declare to run for presidency. Politicians should be aloud to not know for sure what they will or will not do in the future.


@JessicaLynn - Very interesting. I can't imagine giving a Sherman pledge and then changing my mind! It sounds rather shady, but that's politicians for you, right?

Anyway, I don't blame Sherman for making that speech. I looked at Shermans biography, and he was already 64 at that time. Back in those days 64 was a lot older than it is now. Also, he had quite the military career and he had just recently retired. I'm not surprised he wasn't interested in being the president! He probably just wanted to take a rest!


I've never heard of the Sherman pledge before! It sounds pretty serious. However, I was curious if anyone had ever given a Sherman pledge and then go on to serve anyway.

I did a bit of searching online and I found that someone has: Alex Salmond of Scotland. He gave the Sherman pledge, and then changed his mind a month later! And the he won the election for the position of First Minister of Scotland.

So it seems like even though the Sherman pledge is pretty serious, it doesn't necessarily mean a person won't be elected in the future.


Unfortunately, I think that the state of the economy and the inability of the political parties to work together to solve some of our problems, has discouraged some of the outstanding people in our country from showing any interest in running for government office.

I don't think the group of people who have come forward to run for office are necessarily the "cream of the crop." In the future, if things improve, maybe some of these outstanding people will come forward.


There are really quite a number of politicians who silently make the Sherman pledge. I think it's difficult for them to state absolutely that they aren't interested in seeking a political office. Their ego may be getting in the way.

There are a whole lot of legitimate reasons why someone may not want to be a candidate for office. They may have serious health problems,they may have young children and don't want the politician's lifestyle for them.

They may not want to put all the effort and money into campaigning and then come out the loser. Or they just don't want to get into the middle of a messed up government system, especially if they are being encouraged to run for President.


My understanding is that Sherman had a friend or brother-in-law or something like that who wanted to run for president. He would have been a natural choice as a war hero, but on the other hand, that path of destruction he tore through the South (hence the "Sherman tank" named after him) would have made him a divisive choice.

There seems to be something of a movement away from the idea of the vice president as a natural incumbent. Dick Cheney would have been completely unelectable, and I think President Bush knew that when he selected him as his running mate. Not only his age, but his history of heart attacks, made him just not a natural candidate.

And the same thing is true of Vice President Biden. He's been there, done that, time is past. You won't see anyone trying to put him on a ballot.

What the two have in common is a sort of "elder statesmen" role. Both were cast more as potential advisors to the president than as successors.


Looking at some of the recent situations with the upcoming elections, the Sherman pledge is needed sometimes to convince other party members about who will be a candidate for an office or not.

Take Hillary Clinton, for example, who says that she doesn't plan on running for President in the upcoming elections, but who also has not taken a Sherman pledge. As a result, there are a bunch of ads on TV and radio which calls on and promotes Hillary Clinton running for President.

So it's really up in the air right now what's going to happen. Hillary Clinton needs to make up her mind and either state that she's running or take the Sherman pledge so that the other party members know to look for another candidate.


@fify-- Yea, for the most part, it's like taking an oath. And you should be really sure about your decision before making the Sherman pledge.

Dick Cheney declared it because he is absolutely sure that he doesn't ever want to run for president. Al Gore, on the other hand, says he currently doesn't plan on running but who knows what will happen later on. That's why he has not taken the pledge.


It's really interesting how some politicians take the Sherman pledge unofficially to actually see what the public response to it would be. This is definitely not the way General Sherman had intended for it to be used.

At the same time though, the Sherman pledge is something that is taken seriously. So if a potential candidate doesn't plan on running for an election at that time, but this could change in the future, he or she tries to avoid the Sherman pledge. There seems to be a wide understanding that once a Sherman pledge is made, it cannot be taken back and it's an official declaration.

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