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History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/4/James W. Grimes

JAMES W. GRIMES, third Governor of Iowa, was born at Deering, New Hampshire, October 20, 1816. At the age of sixteen he entered Dartmouth College where he graduated and began the study of law. In 1836 he came to the “Black Hawk Purchase,” stopping at Burlington. He served as secretary to Governor Henry Dodge in September at a council held with the Sac and Fox Indians at Rock Island, in which these tribes ceded to the United States a tract of land on the Iowa and Missouri rivers. In 1837 Mr. Grimes was admitted to the bar and was soon after appointed city solicitor. He entered into partnership with W. W. Chapman, then United States District Attorney for Wisconsin Territory. When the Territory of Iowa was established in 1838, Mr. Grimes was elected a member of the House of the First Legislative Assembly at the age of twenty-two. He was appointed chairman of the judiciary committee and was one of the leaders in a conflict which the majority had with Governor Lucas over the respective powers of the executive and legislative branches of the Territorial government. He was the Whig candidate for member of the Council of the Third Legislative Assembly but was defeated. In 1843 he was again elected a member of the House. In 1852 he was elected to the House of the Fourth General Assembly and was the recognized leader of the Whig minority. He took an active interest in the improvement of the school system, the encouragement of railroad building, the promotion of temperance and opposition to the extension of slavery. In 1853 he helped to establish the first agricultural journal in the State and was one of its editors. It was named The Iowa Farmer and Horticulturist and was published monthly at Burlington by Morgan McKenny. Mr. Grimes had attained such prominence in the State that in 1854 he was nominated by the Whigs for Governor. His well-known antislavery views rendered him acceptable to all who were opposed to the extension of that institution. That issue was then becoming intense and while many conservative Whigs united with the Democrats, all classes who favored “free soil” united in the support of Grimes and he was elected. It was the first defeat for the Democrats since Iowa was organized into a Territory. In January, 1856, Governor Grimes wrote the call for the convention which, at Iowa City on the 22d of February, founded the Republican party of Iowa. After serving as Governor for the term of four years, Grimes was chosen United States Senator by the Seventh General Assembly. He became one of the leading members of that body and as a member of the naval committee was a power in sustaining the administration of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He was one of the earliest advocates of the employment of slaves in the Union armies and of their emancipation. As chairman of the committee on the District of Columbia, in July, 1861, he secured the release from jail of all slaves held by their masters. In 1864 Senator Grimes was reëlected. After the overthrow of the Rebellion, Senator Grimes, as a member of the joint committee on reconstruction was one of the number who devised the terms upon which the union of the States was restored. He was largely instrumental in securing the National Arsenal on Rock Island and the construction of the canal for steamers around the Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi River. On the trial of President Johnson in the impeachment proceedings, Senator Grimes rose above party clamor and, actuated by the highest considerations as a judge, voted “not guilty.” Such was the clamor of Republicans for conviction that the great Senator was assailed with a storm of rage and abuse of the most malignant character, by his own party. Conscious of his own rectitude, he bore the reproaches with unshaken fortitude. He would not become a party to revolutionary methods of removing the Chief Executive of the Nation at the demand of his political friends. When the storm of rage and disappointment had passed and reason returned, the country realized that his courageous act in that momentous crisis was the noblest and most heroic of his official deeds. He was stricken with paralysis and made a journey to Europe hoping to restore his shattered health; but failing in that, resigned his seat in the Senate and returned home where he died on the 7th of February, 1872. Benton J. Hall, a life-long political opponent, said of him in the State Senate:

“Perhaps no other man had the opportunity, or used it with the avail that Senator Grimes did to form and mould the State and its institutions. He was one of the living men in the Territorial legislation and early State history. Afterwards we find the same master mind moulding the affairs of the National Government. I doubt whether any Senator ever impressed himself in a greater degree upon the Government in all directions. Whether in regard to the navy, or army, or foreign relations, he made himself master of the subject, and left his impress upon almost every page of the history of the Nation.”

The veteran Congressman George W. Julian wrote of Senator Grimes, after his death:

“I was one of the many men whose partisan exasperation carried them headlong into the impeachment movement, in which the heroic conduct of Senator Grimes has been so gloriously vindicated by time; and no man is more ready than myself to do honor to the brave men who faced the wrath and scorn of their party in 1868.”