Nashville attorney and vocal opponent of woman suffrage and prohibition, John J. Vertrees was born in Sumner County on June 16, 1850. He attended Cumberland University and read law with W. S. Monday before being admitted to the bar. Vertrees began his law practice in Gallatin in 1870 before moving to Nashville in 1881, where he formed a law partnership with his brother, W. O. Vertrees.
Active in state Democratic Party politics, Vertrees participated in several notable political controversies. During the administration of Governor William B. Bate (1883-87), Vertrees proposed the final settlement for the state debt crisis. He served as general counsel for incumbent Governor Peter Turney when the general assembly was called upon to settle the disputed election of 1894. The legislators declared Turney the winner over Republican H. Clay Evans by a small majority of the popular vote.
Vertrees became personal friends with future President William Howard Taft while Taft was a United States circuit judge holding court in Nashville. When Taft’s secretary of the interior was investigated by a congressional committee, Taft asked Vertrees to represent the secretary. Vertrees declined an appointment by Taft to be governor of the Philippines and was considered by Taft for an appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
Believing that those who did not serve in the armed forces should not vote, Vertrees became an active spokesman in opposition to woman suffrage. His wife, Virginia, served as the first president of the Tennessee branch of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. In his pamphlet An Address to the Men of Tennessee on Female Suffrage, Vertrees attempted to identify woman suffrage with racial equality. Vertrees died in 1931 at the age of eighty-one in St. Augustine, Florida. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.