Abraham Lincoln and Iowa

Abraham Lincoln and Iowa

Abraham Lincoln spent only three days in Iowa, but he made a permanent mark on the state and its economy. The purpose of Mr. Lincoln’s August 1859 visit was to examine land that had been pledged by Chicago attorney Norman B. Judd as collateral for a loan from Mr. Lincoln. On August 9, Mr. Lincoln left Springfield with Secretary of State Ozias M. Hatch. Their route of travel is uncertain but probably they traveled first to Kansas before they arrived in Council Bluffs on Friday, August 12. They registered at the Pacific House, described by one historian as “a famous hostelry whose chief characteristics were sagging floors and great double porches.”1

Upon arrival, the two Springfield visitors toured the town. They travelled visit Cemetery Hill for a panoramic view of the area. Later, they dropped back to the Pacific House, where they encountered railroad engineer Grenville M. Dodge. Dodge was engaged in real estate and according to biographer J.R. Perkins acted as an agent for the Mississippi and Missouri River Railroad Company for which he had purchased a large piece of property in Council Bluffs, a portion of which he resold. “Among the purchasers of these new town lots was Norman B. Judd, attorney for the M. & M., and a legal and political associate of Lincoln.” Judd, Perkins wrote “believed that this land would become of great value when the Mississippi and Missouri River Railroad reached Council Bluffs and, as a direct consequence, linked up with the proposed Pacific railroad. So he bought seventeen lots – for which he paid three thousand five hundred dollars – that were but a stone’s throw from where the M. & M. had decided to make its terminus.”2 Judd was in financial difficulty and wanted to borrow $3000 from Mr. Lincoln with the land as security. “Lincoln wanted to see this land before he made the loan, and more than this, there is certain evidence to show that he made his trip tot he West in 1859 to learn what he could of the railroad situation of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska, for this section seemed about to become basic in Pacific railroad legislation,” wrote Perkins.3

Economic historian Olivier Frayssé wrote that the purpose of Mr. Lincoln’s trip was “to evaluate the possibilities of speculating on the passage through that locality of the Pacific Railroad, a proposal that the Republicans had included in the affair — on the advice of his friend Ozias M. Hatch — he did agree to renew and increase a loan of $2,500 made to Judd in 1857 to finance this speculation and took a mortgage for $3,000 on seventeen plots in Council Bluffs and on ten acres along the route of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad. At 10 percent a year — the legal maximum and the practical minimum — ‘the lending of money was not a rapid road to wealth, but it accorded far better with Lincoln’s cautious temperament than the speculation in which he might have engaged.”4

Lincolns’ host, former Springfield resident W. H. M. Pusey, had recommended Grenville Dodge as someone who was knowledgeable about railroads. Lincoln suggested they meet him. Dodge was not only knowledgeable about railroads. He was very knowledgeable about the lots in question. As Dodge later remembered it, the future President asked “Dodge, what’s the best route for a Pacific railroad to the West?” Dodge sketched out a route “From this town out the Platte Valley.” Dodge argued that a railroad could easily follow the Platte River’s gentle elevation to Colorado. As was his practice, Lincoln peppered Dodge with questions. “He shelled my woods completely and got all the information I’d collected,” recalled Dodge.5 For two hours, Dodge and Mr. Lincoln relaxed on the hotel porch and discussed the practicalities of a transcontinental railroad. Years later, Dodge wrote: “This interview was of the greatest importance to me. It was a milestone in my life and Lincoln never forgot it.” According to Lincoln friend Pusey, at one point in the visit, Mr. LIncoln predicted “Not one, but many railroads will center here.”6

As President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Enabling Act into law on July 1, 1862. By then, Grenville Dodge was a highly regarded army engineer in charge of railroad construction and reconstruction in the Mississippi region. In 1863 Brigadier General Dodge was ordered to Washington. Dodge thought he might be in trouble for his aggressive recruitment of black soldiers. He “reported to the Adjutant General, and he informed me that the President wished to see me and he made an appointment with President Lincoln for me. I went in and met the President, who greeted me very cordially, and learned from him that I had been called there for the purpose of aiding him in determining the location on the Missouri River where the Union Pacific Railroad should have its initial point. When I heard this it was a great relief to me. I sat there with him and we discussed that question very fully, and I saw he was thoroughly posted on the sentiment of the country locally, as every town from Sioux City to Kansas City was contending for the location. The people interested at that time remember what a discussion there was in regard to where the initial point of the Union Pacific should be located. From an engineering point of view, I pointed out clearly to the President where the line should start and what our surveys had determined. He listened and discussed this question with me for a long time. I saw from his talk and his indication that his views coincided with mine, and I have no doubt he made his decision at that time, as recommended by me, and soon after made this order:

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby fix so much of the western boundary of the State of Iowa as lies between the north and south boundaries of the United township within which the city of Omaha is situated as the point from which the line of railroad and telegraph in that section mentioned shall be constructed.

This order was not considered definite enough by the company and on March 7, 1864, President Lincoln issued the second executive order as follows:
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do upon the application of said company, designate and establish such first named point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa, east of and opposite to the east line of Section 10, in Township 15, south of Range 13, east of the sixth principal meridian in the Territory of Nebraska.7

The location defined by President Lincoln was, according to Dodge biographer J. R. Perkins, “in a township in which Council Bluffs is situated, and near a tract of land to which he held a quitclaim deed.” 8 In their conversation, General Dodge pressed the case for moving forward on the railroad’s construction: “The law of 1862 had been passed but the promoters of the road had been unable to raise a single dollar to build it; they could not induce the capitalists to take hold of it, notwithstanding the fact that the United States had loaned its credit – it having the first lien on the property while the company’s bonds were only second mortgage bonds. There was no one in the United States then who had enough confidence in the future of the Union Pacific Railroad to buy second mortgage bonds at any price. I discussed that question with him. I thought that the Government of the United States should build this road; it was too big a job for private enterprise. He said the Government of the United States had all it could care for then, but that he and the Government were willing to do anything they could to aid any company who would take this matter up in earnest and raise the money and go forward with the work. He intimated that he was perfectly willing to have the law changed so that the Government should take the second mortgage and the promoters of the road should take the first. From my visit with President Lincoln, I went to New York to see my friends who had organized the Union Pacific road, Mr. John A. Dix, Mr. Henry Farnam, T. C. Durant, Francis Train, and others, and I told them in a board meeting what President Lincoln had said and they were greatly encouraged, and made up their minds to take the matter up, and they went before Congress and in 1864 they passed the law which placed the mortgage bonds of the company ahead of the mortgage bonds of the Government, and with the Government’s and other mortgage bonds they were enabled to start the road, and by 1865 they had built the road as far west as Fremont.”9 Despite the Civil War, construction of the Union Pacific railroad began at Council Bluffs in December 1863. Dodge, meanwhile, was seriously wounded in battle and out of active military service. In 1866, Dodge became chief engineer for the transcontinental railroad.

Back in Council Bluffs in August 1859, Mr. Lincoln was invited to speak the night after he met with Grenville Dodge. It was Saturday and a buffet dinner was prepared for the guest in Council Bluffs park. Unfortunately, some irreverent residents filched the chicken and cake before the dinner began. The speech time was set for Concert Hall. It had been announced that “‘The distinguished ‘Sucker’ has yielded to the importunities of our citizens without distinction of parties, and will speak on the political issues of the day at Concert Hall this evening. The celebrity of the speaker will most certainly insure him a full house. Go and hear Old Abe.” 10 Another speaker, a Democratic judge from Indiana, was supposed to present contrasting views to Mr. Lincoln but ended up agreeing with the Illinois visitor.

Many residents came and heard. According to one local newspaper: “The clear and lucid manner, in which he set forth the true principles of the Republican party–the dexterity with which he applied the political scalpel to the Democratic carcass–beggars all description at our hands.” 11 A local Democratic (and unsympathetic) newspaper reported:

“The people of this city were edified, last Saturday evening, by a speech from Hon. ABE LINCOLN, of Illinois. He apologized very handsomely for appearing before an Iowa audience during a campaign in which he was not interested. He then, with many excuses and a lengthy explanation, as if conscious of the nauseous nature of that Black Republican nostrum, announced his intention to speak about the ‘eternal Negro,’ to use his own language, and entered into a lengthy and ingenious analysis of the…question to be agitated until finally settled. He carefully avoided coming directly to the extreme ground occupied by him in his canvass against Douglas results, amounts to precisely the same thing. He was decidedly opposed to any fusion or coalition of the Republican party with the opposition of the South, and clearly proved the correctness of his ground, in point of policy. They must retain their sectional organization and sectional character, and continue to wage their sectional warfare by slavery agitation; but if the opposition South would accede to their views and adopt their doctrines, he was willing for president in 1860, a Southern man with Northern principles, or in other words, with Abolition proclivities. His speech was in the character of an exhortation to the Republican party, but was in reality as good a speech as could have been made for the interest of the Democracy. He was listened to with much attention, for his Waterloo defeat by Douglas has magnified him into quite a lion here.”12

After the speech, host W. H. M. Pusey invited townspeople to his home for an impromptu reception. The following day, Mr. Lincoln went to Presbyterian church services in Concert Hall before having dinner at the home of Thomas Officer, who formerly resided in Springfield. He apparently left that afternoon. Historian William E. Barringer wrote: “As LIncoln and Hatch traveled homeward the Iowa press gave ‘some but not much’ notice to his speech. But it was a gain.”13

Mr. Lincoln was subsequently asked by an Iowa Republican leader in Keoluck to speak there in September 1859. Mr. Lincoln dispelled former Congressman Hawkins Taylor’s assumption that he was coming to Keokuck to appear before the U.S. District Court: “I have had no thought of being there. It is bad to be poor. I shall go to the wall for bread and meat, if I neglect my business this year as well as last. It would please me much to see the City, and good people, of Keokuck, but for this year it is little less than an impossibility. I am constantly receiving invitations which I am compelled to decline. I was pressingly urged to go to Minnesota; and I now have two invitations to go to Ohio. These last are prompted by Douglas’ going there; and I am really tempted to make a flying trip to Colombus and Cincinnati. Mr. Lincoln then addressed himself to the Iowa political situation: “I do hope you will have no serious trouble in Iowa. What thinks [Senator James W.] Grimes about it? I have not known him to be mistaken about an election in Iowa. Present my respects to Col. [Samuel R.] Curtis, and any other friends….”14

About a week later, Mr. Lincoln received another speaking request – this from Republican State Chairman John A. Kasson: “Will it be possible for you to visit Oskaloosa in this State, at the State Fair, say the 28th Sept.? and speak there, &and perhaps at one or more other places. It is earnestly desired you should visit the State if possible.”15

Iowa presented a political opportunity for Mr. LIncoln. Although he personally deprecated his presidential aspirations, he had been careful to nurture potential support in likely northern states. Iowa supporter Hawkins Taylor wrote Mr. LIncoln in February 1860: “I was much gratified yesterday in receiving a letter from Col [Samuel] Curtis who in speaking of the nomination for President puts your chance in the front rank, & Chase & Seward in the rear — not but that they are Reliable men but that we must get a Man that while he is Reliable is also available. The Col is in good Spirits at the Result of the Election of their officers & the Spirit and harmony of the op[p]osition.” 16 A month before the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May 1860, Taylor wrote:

“We are trying to get a respectable Company from here to the Chicago Convention. And but for the hard times there would be a large delegation. We hope to have at any rate from 100 to 150. a Flag and a Glee Club. (Judges of Music Say that we have an Act[u]al Glee Club) We will probably go by your place. We are now trying to Make an arrangement for half fare tickets — that route & if we succeed we will go that way and would like to make the arrangement to Spend one night in your place. Let me hear from you.”
“So far as Candidates are concerned I do not think that there has been much danger in Iowa If Douglass is nominated (which no Republican here now expects) There will be a very strong desire to see you and him make the race together, but if Some Southern Man gets the Nomination, then there will be a Strong effort in favour of Seward But as I before Said I think all will depend on the Delegates from the doubtful States And as Iowa is not one of them she will of course not have much to Say in the matter at least what she does say will not be Much heeded. However I understand that Grimes has writen to Judge Johnston one of his Loco Pets that Sewards nomination is certain I have had letters from Curtis & Harlan they do not feel Safe with Seward altho they would like to see him President.”17

Among those in attendance at the Chicago convention was railroad expert Grenville Dodge. Dodge biographer J. R. Perkins suggested that Lincoln’s nomination fit in with the plans of Iowa’s railroad interesst: “At Chicago Dodge joined himself to a group of railroad men who considered the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln vital to their plans of building a Pacific railroad from the Mississippi River, or perhaps from the Missouri, somewhere along the forty-second parallel. They were John A. Dix, president of the Rock Island; Thomas C. Durant, later the moving spirit in the Union Pacific; Sheffield and Farnam, builders of the Rock Island; John I. Blair, then promoting the Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad across Iowa; and Norman B. Judd, attorney for the Rock Island and a leader in Lincoln’s political affairs.”18

Although there were strong anti-abolitionist strains in southern Iowa and anti-immigrant pockets elsewhere, much of the state was strongly antislavery, especially in the Republican Party. “Next to Michigan, Iowa is the most completely and thoroughly abolitionized State in the Northwest; it is therefore not surprising that [John] Brown here found practical exponents of Sewardism, or that [Impending Crisis author Hinton] Helper finds champions in the deliberative councils of the rulers of the State,” wrote a New York Herald journalist in January 1680.19 In truth, Iowa had Seward, Chase and Lincoln supporters, and as the New York Tribune reported before the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May, “Iowa is discordant and uncertain.”20 Mr. Lincoln’s leading advocates were Samuel Kirkwood and Colonel Alvin Saunders. As one Lincoln supporter recalled, on the night before balloting, “The outlook for LIncoln was gloomy, indeed, “I recall Saunders coming in. He was depressed and dubious about our chances of overcoming the New Yorkers. Kirkwood came in later. He was nervous and very uneasy and glum.”21

Kirkwood was not an official delegate and had never met Mr. Lincoln. Kirkwood had settled in Iowa in 1855 and been elected as the conservative Republican candidate for governor four years later. “The tall, broad-shouldered Samuel Kirkwood looked every inch an honest man of the people,” wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. “His austere, sharply chiseled countenance, with high cheekbones…bespoke only simple integrity and unwavering rectitude. His deep-set eyes were steady in their gaze, his brow high and furrowed as became a thinker…Nevertheless, he was careless, even uncleanly, in his dress, but that did not count against him on the rough frontier.”22

According to Kirkwood biographer Dan E. Clark, “From a personal standpoint Kirkwood found himself somewhat divided in his sympathies for several candidates for the nomination. He had warm recollections of the old days in Ohio when he and Salmon P. Chase had both been members of the Democratic party. William H. Seward, he felt, had a strong claim to the nomination, for the reason that he had long been the ‘best abused man’ in the Republican party. But especially as he attracted by the personality and doctrines of Abraham Lincoln, whom he regarded as the most logical and promising candidate, and to whom in the end he gave his whole-hearted support.”23

The eight-member Iowa delegation to the convention, chaired by attorney William Penn Clarke, was officially unpledged. In reality, it split among six candidates. When it came time for Clarke to cast the state’s ballots, however, he was overcome by excitement and was unable to speak. Another delegate had to make announce the division of the state’s votes. It cast two votes on the first ballot for Mr Lincoln, five votes on the second ballot and 5 and a half votes on the third ballot. Historian F. I. Herriott wrote: “Such marked and persistent division among Iowa’s men must have reflected not only lack of harmony, due to stubborn personal preferences of the delegates, but sharp factional dissensions in the party’s ranks in Iowa.”24 Herriott observed: “A fact of the greatest significance in the conduct of all the Iowans in the Convention was their staunch stand and sturdy fight in the presence of overwhelming odds. Two of the Chase delegates, all of the Seward delegates stood fast throughout the three ballots. All the others apparently decided to go to Lincoln, when his chances were not favorable, when Horace Greeley had telegraphed The Tribune that the opposition to Seward could not unite and conceded the latter’s nomination. If Iowa’s contingent had been petty traders and hucksters, or politicians of the weather-vane sort, they certainly would not have aligned themselves with the ‘Rail-Splitter’ and his uncertain prospects.”25

The summer and fall campaign was active in Iowa with frequent speeches and parades by Republican “Wide Awakes.” Governor Kirkwood was particularly active and brought the campaign to a climax with a debate with Douglas advocate Le Grand Byington on October 26 in Iowa City. In October, Senator James Grimes wrote Mr. Lincoln: “In regard to this state, you may rely upon all being right. We shall carry it in Nov. by an increased majority – The democrats are making tremendous exertions to carry one of our Congressional districts and thus defeat Curtis, but I have not the most remote idea that they can do it. So far from it, I am satisfied that we shall carry it by an increased vote over that of any former year.”26 In November Abraham Lincoln received nearly 55% of the state’s votes.

Kirkwood finally met President-elect Lincoln in January 1861 when he met to Springfield to confer with Mr. LIncoln at Kirkwood’s hotel. According to Kirkwood biographer Clark: “The actual words of that interview are nowhere on record, but they established the basis of the understanding between the two executives which lasted through the dark years of the war. Mr. Lincoln ‘spoke calmly, earnestly and with great feeling’, while Mr. Kirkwood ‘listened with anxious interest and heard with profound satisfaction’; and in the end each man fully understood the position of the other with respect to the great issues of the day.’ When he left’, wrote Kirkwood later in life, ‘I went with him to the door of the hotel, and when I returned to the office I found myself an object of considerable attention. It was known that Mr. Lincoln w as up stairs with somebody, and when it appeared that I was that body, a good many people about the hotel seemed anxious to learn who I was, and where I had come from.'”27

Kirkwood would serve as Iowa’s governor until 1864. He wrote President Lincoln in July 1862: “I now assure you that the State of Iowa will be found in the future as in the past prompt and ready to do her duty to the country in this time of sore trial– Our harvest is just upon us and we have scarcely men enough to save our crops, but if need be our women can help. I am anxiously waiting the requisition of the Secretary of War [for new troops]. I will be in Washington next week & hope to have the pleasure of seeing you.” 28 He attended the Altoona Conference of Northern governors in September and subsequently spoke frankly to President Lincoln about the need to remove George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. President Lincoln told him: “Gov. Kirkwood, if I believed our cause would be benefited by removing Gen. McClellan to-morrow, I would removed him to-morrow. I do not so believe to-day but if the time shall come when I shall so believe I will remove him promptly, and not till then.”29

In 1863, President Lincoln named Kirkwood as Minister to Denmark but Kirkwood declined the nomination. Iowa politician Josiah B Grinnell wrote about Kirkwood: “Of a kindly heart, he was not wanting on occasion in combative force. A war governor had opportunities, and Kirkwood well improved them, and later kept in sympathy with the agricultural masses, before whom for years he has been a plain but favorite speaker in championship of economy, higher education and the policy of a tariff.”30

Mr. Lincoln’s relations with Iowa’s Republican members of Congress were uneven. At the beginning of his administration, the President wrote Senators James W. Grimes and James Harlan: “Would your friend, [Alvin] Saunders be Surveyor General of Nevada?” Instead, Saunders, an early Lincoln backer from Iowa, was named territorial governor of Nebraska.31

Historian Allan Nevins called Senator Grimes “a leader of iron independence and shrewd judgment.”32 Grimes was an strong anti-abolitionist who supported General John Fremont’s actions on emancipation. Grimes authored the idea for Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. He sponsored a law in 1862 that “there should be no exemption from military service on account of color.”33 He was a lawyer and farmer who also worked on the development of western railroads. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote: that Grimes “mastered the wants and became acquainted with the welfare of that branch of the service, and…urged liberal appropriations for it in a lucid, comprehensive, and vigorous manner. An enemy of all shams, he was a tower of strength for the Administration in the Senate.”34

President Lincoln’s relationship with Senator Grimes was rocky. He forcefully opposed Simon Cameron’s appointment to the Cabinet in January 1861 and opposed President Lincoln’s preferred candidate for secretary of the Senate, John W. Forney, six months later. Even rockier was Grime’s relationship with U.S. Marshall Ward Hill Lamon, a close friend of the President’s. Lincoln aide John Hay came to Lamon’s defense in an anonymous newspaper article decrying congressional cowards and bullies: “One of the special objects of their wrath is Ward H. Lamon, the Marshal of the District of Columbia. A great deal of useless eloquence had been lavished on the condition of the ‘men and brothers’ incarcerated in the dirty little District jail, and it became so fashionable to visit the jail, that the Marshal’s Deputies had little else to do than to introduce the idlers of Washington the male and female factors in the donjon keep. To keep out the thousand strangers who thronged there, Lamon issued an order admitting members of the Senate and House upon a certificate of membership from the President and Speaker. Mr. Grimes, a bushwhacker from Iowa, strolled around the jail one fine afternoon, to have a little congenial conversation with the thieves and runaway negroes therein abiding, and was asked for his pass. He told the jailor he was a Senator, and blasphemed the pass. The jailor, after scanning him attentively, concluded that he did not look like a Senator, nor talk like a Senator, and logically concluded that his Senatorship was a convenient myth for gaining access, with a pocket full of files and bedcords, to his friends inside the doors, and very properly ordered him off the premises. In a decided state of snub he went to the President’s to complain, and found that this functionary was closeted with General McClellan and the Cabinet, and was not visible, even to Senatorial optics. In a frame of mind bordering on frenzy, he went to the Senate and blabbered forth his griefs to a sympathizing world.”35

Iowa Senator James Grimes was strongly pro-emancipation, even when General John C. Frémont proclaimed it briefly in Missouri in 1861. Grimes wrote Maine Senator William Fessenden in mid-September 1861 : “When it was reported that Frémont was suspended, cold chills began to run up and down people’s backs, they bit their lips, said nothing, but refused to enlist. I know nothing of the merits of the controversy, but it is evident as the noonday sun that the people are all with Frémont….My wife says…that the only real noble and true thing done during this war has been his proclamation. Everybody of every sect, party, sex, and color approves it in the Northwest, and it will not do for the Administration to causelessly tamper with the man who had the sublime moral courage to issue it.”36

Despite his difficulties with President LIncoln and Lamon, Grimes’ relations with the administration in one regard. Rather than deal with Senate Committee Chairman John Hale on naval matters, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox dealt with Iowa Senator Grimes. A Grimes biographer noted: “While congress was in session, Mr. Fox met Mr. Grimes at least three times a week in Mr. Grimes’s parlor, when all naval matters of every description were discussed and settled. They consulted upon all important commands and expeditions.”37 In December 1864, Senate Republicans finally stripped Hale of his chairmanship and awarded it to Grimes. Iowa politician Josiah B Grinnell wrote: “The navy became not a hobby, but engaged his deep interest as a patriot; while during the war era at the head of the senate committee, he became the counsellor and confidant of admirals.”38

Grimes’ Senate colleague, James Harlan, was an attorney and sometime co-counsel to Abraham Lincoln, a judge and university president. He was generally loyal to the President and headed the President’s campaign fund raising in 1864. He had much better personal relations with President Lincoln than did Grimes. Harlan’s confirmation to replace John Usher as Secretary of the Interior was confirmed on March 1865 to be effective May 15. Harlan served until 1866 when differences with President Andrew Johnson prompted his resignation. Mary Todd Lincoln abetted and encouraged a relationship between Senator Harlan’s daughter Mary and her son Robert. They were married in 1868. The Harlans were frequent social companions of the Lincolns in the month before the assassination. But Mrs. Lincoln grew angry with Harlan after her husband’s death when he did not provide for Dr. Anson G. Henry, a Lincoln family friend who wanted to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs. “Mr. Harlan, has acted in the most contemptible way!” she wrote Dr. Henry.39

Harlan was an outspoken advocate for using black soldiers. Biographer Johnson Brigham wrote: “Late in June [1862], together with several other Senators, Harlan called upon President Lincoln to interview him upon the question of the advisability of arming the negroes. Lincoln listened to what each interviewer had to say, and then replied that he did not see his way clear to follow their advice at that time. He feared that such a policy would result in driving into the Confederate ranks great numbers of Union men in the border States and in the South, and would harm the Union cause.” Harlan maintained: “I did not concur with him in opinion as to the magnitude of the danger he apprehended.” He subsequently delivered a speech on the Senate floor laying out his views in an attempt to influence President Lincoln.40

Harlan biographer Johnson Brigham noted that by 1864, “Senator Harlan’s influence with President Lincoln seems…to have been quite generally recognized, for the Senator received numerous letters urging him to call upon Lincoln, not only in support of office-seeks, but also for the purpose of giving the President counsel and advice on various subjects. While he was a firm friend and admirer of Lincoln, Harlan was, nevertheless, not blind to the President’s shortcomings. ‘I wish he could be induced to be more careful in his appointments,’ Harlan wrote confidentially to William Penn Clarke in April, 1864. ‘It is is a terrible shame that his real friends – the friends of the vital elements that brought him into power, have to fight the influence of his administration, and the pro-slavery element combined, or jointly.”41 Nevertheless, Harlan took a leading role in the Republican campaign that fall as head of the Republican Congressional Committee.

Attorney James F. Wilson assumed the congressional seat of Samuel R. Curtis in 1861 after Curtis resigned to take a position as a Union officer. (Curtis would become the controversial commander of Missouri and Kansas.) Wilson was one of the prime promoters of the 13th Amendment to end slavery, arguing that “slavery is incompatible with a free government.” 42 Like most congressmen, Wilson sought favors, including suspension of military punishments. Mr. Lincoln acceded on a case about an Iowa soldier who faced charges of desertion: “I know it is a small thing, as some would look at it, as it only relates to a private soldier, and we have hundreds of thousands of them. But the way to have good soldiers is to treat them rightly. At all events, that is my order in this case.” The President added: “I am glad you stuck to it and that it ended as it did, for I meant it should so end, if I had to give it personal attention. A private soldier has as much right to justice as a major general.”43 Wilson served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Attorney John A. Kasson was a St. Louis attorney before moving to Iowa in 1857. “His political sagacity and capacity for generalship were so soon exhibited that in 1858, he was made chairman of the Republican State Central Committee wrote Drake University professor F. I. Herriott. Kasson’s work helped elect Samuel Kirkwood to the governorship that year. At the beginning of the Lincoln Administration, he was appointed assistant postmaster general. He resigned to campaign in the summer of 1862, pledging to President Lincoln “every assurance of fidelity to the President, & his principles.”44 Kasson was elected to Congress in the fall.

Also joining Congress in 1863 was Josiah B. Grinnell, the founder of Grinnell College. Grinnell wrote: “Senator Grimes would have for on Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration an honorable post abroad, but for this position I had no taste, and accepted an appointment as special agent of the Post Office department. It was a place of high trust, giving large control in Chicago and supervision in Iowa and Minnesota…”45

William M. Stone replaced Kirkwood as governor in 1863. Josiah B Grinnell wrote: “Governor Stone was district judge in the war era, and resigned for the military service as major, until appointed colonel of the Twenty-second Iowa infantry. In charge of a brigade he was wounded in the arm, and when on a furlough was tempted into the political arena, seeking a nomination as the successor of Kirkwood, and having rivals in the astute politician who was secretary of state, and the brilliant Fitz Henry Warren. After a most exciting struggle, in which Warren showed the greatest magnanimity, Colonel Stone was nominated.” 46

Governor Stone claimed that President Lincoln had told him that a War Democrat would be preferable as a running mate but that he “shrewdly avoided expressing any preference” for several potential candidates he mentioned.47 But it was Stone who stampeded the Republican National Convention in Baltimore for Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson.. At the conclusion of the first ballot for Vice President, noted historian William Zornow: Stone “jumped to his feet and cast the sixteen votes of his state for Johnson. In doing so, he completely disregarded the delegation’s spokesman, Daniel Chase, and also the fact that the majority of the delegates from Iowa opposed Johnson. Before Chase could get the floor to denounced Stone’s move, Kentucky announced the change of its vote to Johnson and the irresistible tide had begun.”48

In the November 1864 election, President Lincoln easily carried Iowa, 63-37%, over Democrat George B. McClellan. Shortly before the election, Congressman Grinnell wrote President Lincoln: “The State of Iowa will give you from 35 to 40 thousand majority. We are at work early and late. I write to say that your devoted friends expect that you will make Gov. [Salmon P. Chase] Chief Justice. On that subject I trust there will be no question.”49

Joshua Speed recalled President Lincoln’s response to a visiting delegation of complaining Westerners, including Iowans: “Judge List, this reminds me of an anecdote which I heard a son of yours tell in Burlington, Iowa. He was trying to enforce upon his hearers the truth of the old adage that ‘three removes are worse than a fire.’ As an illustration, he gave an account of a family who started from Western Pennsylvania, pretty well off in this world’s goods when they started. But they moved and moved, having less and less every time they moved, till after a while they could carry every thing in one wagon. He said that the chickens of the family got so used to being moved, that whenever they saw the wagon sheets brought out they laid themselves on their backs and crossed their legs, ready to be tied. Now, gentlemen, if I were to be guided by every committee that comes in at that door, I might just as well cross my hands and let you tie me. Nevertheless, I am glad to see you.”50


  1. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 49.
  2. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 45.
  3. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 48.
  4. Olivier Fraysse, Lincoln, Land & Labor, 1809-60, pp. 147-48.
  5. Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, pp. 24-25.
  6. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 50. Perkins was written that this meeting occurred on Sunday rather than on Friday.
  7. Grenville M. Dodge, Personal Recollections of President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman, pp. 16-17.
  8. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 47.
  9. Grenville M. Dodge, Personal Recollections of President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman, pp. 15-16.
  10. William E. Barringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power p. 92 (Council Bluffs Nonpareil, August 13, 1859).
  11. Earl Schenk Miers, editors, Lincoln Day by Day, Volume II (August 20, 1859).
  12. Roy R. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume III, pp. 396-97 (Speech at Council Bluffs, Iowa, August 13, 1859 – Council Bluffs Bugle, August 17, 1859).
  13. William E. Barringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 93.
  14. CWAL, Volume III, pp. 399-400 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Hawkins Taylor, September 6, 1859).
  15. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from John A. Kasson to September 13, 1859).
  16. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hawkins Taylor to Abraham Lincoln, February 15, 1860).
  17. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hawkins Taylor to Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1860).
  18. J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, p. 57.
  19. F. I. Herriott, Iowa and the First Nomination of Abraham Lincoln, p. 42.
  20. F. I. Herriott, Iowa and the First Nomination of Abraham Lincoln, p. 36.
  21. F. I. Herriott, Iowa and the First Nomination of Abraham Lincoln, p. 16.
  22. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 52.
  23. Dan E. Clark, Samuel J. Kirkwood, p. 165.
  24. F. I. Herriott, Iowa and the First Nomination of Abraham Lincoln, p. 37.
  25. F. I. Herriott, Iowa and the First Nomination of Abraham Lincoln, p. 34-37.
  26. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from James W. Grimes to Abraham Lincoln, October 1, 1860).
  27. Dan E. Clark, Samuel J. Kirkwood, p. 178.
  28. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Samuel J. Kirkwood to Abraham Lincoln, July 8, 1862).
  29. Dan E. Clark, Samuel J. Kirkwood, p. 252.
  30. Josiah B. Grinnell, Men and Events of Forty Years, p. 259.
  31. CWAL,Volume IV , p. 298 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to James W. Grimes and James Harlan, March 26, 1861).
  32. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Improvised War, 1861-1862, p. 182.
  33. Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 246.
  34. Ben Perley Poore, Perley’s Reminiscences, Volume II, p. 100.
  35. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864, pp. 199-200 (January 20, 1862).
  36. Andrew Rolle, John Charles Fremont: Character as Destiny, p. 212.
  37. William Salter, James W. Grimes, p. 10.
  38. Josiah B. Grinnell, Men and Events of Forty Years, p. 250.
  39. Justin G. Turner, and Linda Levitt Turner, editors,Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 200 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Anson G. Henry, July 17, 1865).
  40. Johnson Brigham, James Harlan, p. 172.
  41. Johnson Brigham, James Harlan, pp. 185-186.
  42. Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 353.
  43. James F. Wilson, “Some Memories of Lincoln”, North American Review, December 1896, pp. 674-675.
  44. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from John A. Kasson to Abraham Lincoln, August 3, 1862).
  45. Josiah B. Grinnell, Men and Events of Forty Years, p. 124.
  46. Josiah B. Grinnell, Men and Events of Forty Years, p. 260.
  47. Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Making of a Myth: Lincoln and the Vice Presidential Nomination of 1864”, Civil War History, December 1992, p. 286.
  48. William F. Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 102.
  49. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Josiah B. Grinnell to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1864).
  50. Francis Fisher Browne, The Every Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 489.