Here at Our Iowa Heritage, we attempt to focus our historical stories on the positives. As you can see from our Home Page – our motto is…
As a result of that desire to stay on the positive side of history, we will often avoid stories of those who, for various reasons, chose to stand on shaky, and less-than-desirable, ground. That’s why, for the most part, we tend to not write stories that center around the ugly fray of politics. Yet, from time to time, as we come across interesting historical collectibles – such as the two rare postal covers & letters found on this post – we must report truth, as we see it, even when that truth is difficult to hear. So, with that said, on this page, we will celebrate the historical facts surrounding Iowa’s first U.S. Senators – Augustus C. Dodge and George W. Jones – two Iowans who, as we see it, chose to stand on the wrong side of history.
So, let’s start by showing you our two rare postal covers and letters, the first from 1854 and the second from 1858. Both are written by Senator George W. Jones and are directed to Gilman Folsom, a prominent lawyer & businessman in Iowa City…
So, before we discuss the content of our two letters from Senator G.W. Jones, allow me to give you a bit of background on Iowa’s first two U.S. Senators…
Augustus Caesar Dodge was born in 1812, in Louisiana Territory – what is now Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Self-educated, Dodge moved to Illinois in 1827, settling in Galena, and employed in various capacities in his father’s (Senator Henry Dodge) lead mines. Augustus served in the Black Hawk War (1832), and in 1837, moved to Burlington – which was then in Wisconsin Territory – where he served as Registrar of the U.S. Land Office until 1840. Politically, Dodge was appointed as a Democratic delegate to the U.S. Congress – representing Iowa Territory – from 1840 until Iowa became a state in 1846.
George W. Jones was born in 1804 in Vincennes, Indiana, the son of John R. Jones, who became active in efforts to introduce slavery to the country north of the Ohio River. When George was six years old, his father moved the family to Missouri Territory, and as a child, he served as a drummer for a volunteer company in the War of 1812. In 1829, Jones married, and in 1831, moved to Sinsinawa, Wisconsin – near Dubuque – with his wife, seven slaves and several French laborers, in order to pursue a career in lead mining. Jones was appointed as a Democratic delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from both Michigan Territory and Wisconsin Territory (1836-1839), but fell out of favor when he was found to be involved with an armed duel between two U.S. Congressmen, in which one was fatally wounded. In 1840, President Martin Van Buren appointed Jones as Surveyor-General of the Wisconsin and Iowa Territories, where he served in Dubuque until the end of the Van Buren administration in 1841. In 1845, following the election of another Democrat – President James K. Polk – Jones was reappointed Surveyor-General of Iowa Territory, serving until 1848.
Keep in mind that, throughout the 19th century, U.S. Senators were not elected by voters, but were appointed to six-year terms by state legislators. With two seats given to each state, the terms were set to alternate by calendar year, so that both senators would never be appointed in the same session year. This was the official process across the country until 1913, when the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed for local state elections to decide who would fill each state’s two Senate seats.
So, once Iowa became a state in 1846, Iowa was given two U.S. Senate seats – with one of those seats having a shorter term to begin with (1846-1848), followed by the typical 6-year term (1848-1854). The second seat would begin with a full 6-year term (1846-1852), so that way, the two Iowa Senate seats would always be appointed in different years.
While that all sounds nice and neat, this orderly process was messed up right at the beginning when, in 1846, the Iowa General Assembly – which was evenly split between Whigs and Democrats – was unable to choose Iowa’s first U.S. Senators, due to a three-way split that prevented any one candidate from earning the required number of 30 legislators’ votes. This, of course, left Iowans unrepresented in the U.S. Senate during the 1846-1848 Sessions, which angered nearly everyone, regardless of party, across the Hawkeye State!
The solution to this ‘no-Senator’ problem didn’t come until two years later, following the 1848 general elections – which gave the Democratic Party a greater share of votes in the Iowa Legislature. Finally, in late December of 1848, the log-jam was broken when two long-time friends and old-school Democrats – Augustus C. Dodge and George W. Jones – were appointed as Iowa’s first two U.S. Senators. With the 1848-1849 Senate already in session, the two men were quickly off to Washington D.C. – arriving in January 1849 – just in time to finish up the Senate Session that ended on March 3rd!
Once Dodge & Jones were sworn into office, they were asked to draw lots in order to decide which of the two empty Iowa seats each one would take. Dodge drew the seat with that shorter (1846-1848) term, meaning his first term in office would actually end on March 3rd! This, of course, meant that Dodge would need to be re-appointed by the Iowa Legislature in order to be seated for the new six-year term (1848-1854) that would run until March 3, 1855. Jones, on the other hand, drew the longer term (1846-1852), meaning his six-year term would run until March 3, 1853. Dodge, of course, was easily re-appointed by the Iowa Legislature for the new six-year term (1848-1854), and Jones joined suit, being reappointed in 1852 – but, this time, just narrowly edging out his many challengers for the nomination by only one vote! More on that later, but for now, it’s December 1854, and it’s Augustus Dodge’s turn, once more, to see if he can be re-appointed in a political climate that was quickly changing – especially for the Democratic Party of Iowa…
In Washington D.C. – on December 14, 1853 – Senator Dodge, who was sympathetic toward the South’s view on slavery, introduced a bill to organize the new territory of Nebraska, and under the leadership of Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, that bill eventually became the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act, which both of Iowa’s Senators – Dodge and Jones, as old-school Democrats – forcefully supported. This bill, which was not popular in Free States like Iowa, sparked a thunderous political explosion, with antislavery Whigs and Democrats alike flocking into, what was called, the “Wide Awakes” movement – joining with many abolitionists to establish The Free-Soil Party, which by the late 1850’s had evolved into The Republican Party – electing its first presidential candidate – Abraham Lincoln – in 1860. Read more here.
These political shock waves of 1854 were felt in numerous Senate election contests, especially here in Iowa, where several anti-slavery voices – both Democratic & Whig – quickly emerged as strong candidates in a crowded field, all determined to challenge the incumbent, and increasingly unpopular, Augustus Dodge for the Senate nomination of 1854.
Which brings us now to our 1854 letter from Senator George W. Jones to his friend in Iowa City – the rather moderate Democrat – Gilman Folsom. Below, we’ll give you the letter’s contents (bold italics) along with my commentary…
Well, as it turned out, G.W. Jones’ efforts failed miserably, and when Augustus Dodge dropped out of the race after the 4th ballot, the Iowa Legislature finally came to a decision. On January 6, 1855, the Iowa House & Senate appointed The Free Soil Party candidate – James Harlan – as the new Senator from Iowa, replacing Dodge. Records indicate that this decision was fought tooth and nail by Jones, and despite Harlan being sworn into office on December 3, 1855, over the next two years the old school Democratic Party railed against his appointment. You can read all the details here, but as it turned out, James Harlan was the right man for the job – faithfully serving Iowans and their increasingly anti-slavery viewpoint, while also being a constant thorn in Jones’ side. By 1860, Harlan was re-appointed as Senator, becoming a solid spokesman on behalf of the anti-slavery movement, and one of Abraham Lincoln’s earliest supporters for the presidency in 1860.
Read about the special relationship between Abraham Lincoln and James Harlan.
Which now brings us to Senator G.W. Jones’ second letter, followed by my commentary…
Augustus C. Dodge, after losing his Iowa Senate seat in 1855, was appointed, by President Franklin Pierce to the post of minister to Spain, where he served until 1859. That same year, Dodge became the Democrat’s nominee for the Iowa governorship – matched against the anti-slavery candidate Samuel Kirkwood. In all truthfulness, it was a no contest – Kirkwood won – hands down! You can read more here. In 1864, Dodge moved to Des Moines, where he established the Second National Bank, of which he was cashier. He was also, for a time, engaged in the mercantile business in Des Moines, and afterward, in real estate. In 1869, Dodge was elected – surprise-surprise – by the Republican Party, as a member of the Thirteenth General Assembly of Iowa (1870-1872), serving in the House as a Representative of Polk County. Hmm. Did Dodge soften his stance toward racism as he grew older, or did he simply see that with all of the negativity across Iowa toward Democrats, produced by their earlier stance on slavery, his old party had been pretty much reduced to shambles? Who knows? But, in truth, Dodge’s questionable legacy still stands, so, we’ll leave it to future historians to work on those difficult questions. Augustus C. Dodge died on November 20, 1883, at age 71, and is buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington.
George W. Jones, on the other hand, remained a true friend to the South and their ugly views on slavery for the remainder of his days. One biographer calls Jones – “a Democrat in politics and a Southerner by instinct.” He claimed to oppose slavery – despite his own slave-holding past – but insisted that Congress had no right to forbid or criticize it where states chose to allow it. Thus, he enthusiastically supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, and it was that stance that ultimately rendered him incapable of re-election in a state whose anti-slavery, anti-compromise viewpoint became dominant midway in Jones’ second term. Interestingly, after Jones’ time in the Senate, which ended in March 1859, no Iowa Democrat would win election to the U.S. Senate until the 1920’s! Appointed minister to New Granada in 1859, on his return to the United States in 1861, Jones was arrested in New York City by order of Secretary of State William Seward on the charge of disloyalty, based on correspondence with his good friend – Jefferson Davis – President of the Confederate Union. Jones was imprisoned for thirty-four days, and after his release – ordered by a forgiving President Abraham Lincoln; he retired from public life; returned to Dubuque, Iowa, and died there July 22, 1896. Jones is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Dubuque. Regretfully, Jones County in Iowa is named for this racist senator, and in my humble opinion, the good people of Jones County just might consider, as Johnson County has recently done, finding another hero by the name of Jones so they might honor one with a much cleaner slate than Mr. G.W. Jones.
So, as we close, let’s offer a big salute to those who demonstrated to us that during the turbulent times of the 1850’s, there were some from both existing parties – Democrat & Whig – who chose to leave their political power behind in order to stand with those Truths they found to be self evident. Here in Iowa, for example we have our first Territorial governor – Robert Lucas, a long-time Democrat – who left his party to stand with what was right. Iowa’s Civil War governor – Samuel Kirkwood – was another long-time Democrat in Ohio before switching parties in order to be the abolitionist his conscience called him to be. And, of course, let’s salute the two Senators who were chosen to replace those who refused to stand up for what was right. Here’s to Senators James Harlan and James W. Grimes, our third and fourth U.S. Senators, and dare I say, a big improvement over #1 and #2.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Dodge, Augustus Ceaser, Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress
George Wallace Jones, Wikipedia
Jones, George Wallace, Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress
Senators Elected by State Legislatures, United State Senate
The First Senatorial Election In Iowa, Chapter I, Dan Elbert Clark, History of Senatorial Elections In Iowa, 1912, pp 50-58
The Election of George W. Jones In 1852, Chapter II, Dan Elbert Clark, History of Senatorial Elections In Iowa, 1912, pp 17-49
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854, United States Senate
H. D. La Cossitt, The Democratic Enquirer, The Newspaper, The History of Muscatine County, Iowa – 1879, IAGenWeb/Muscatine
H.D. La Cossitt, Editor, The Iowa Democratic Enquirer, July 19, 1851, p 1
John P. Cook, the Only Representative of Iowa Sentiment in Washington, The Des Moines Courier, April 13, 1854, p 2
The First Election of James Harlan, Chapter III, Dan Elbert Clark, History of Senatorial Elections In Iowa, 1912, pp 59-87
The Election Case of James Harlan of Iowa (1857), The United States Senate
The Contested Election of James Harlan, Chapter IV, Dan Elbert Clark, History of Senatorial Elections In Iowa, 1912, pp 88-103
Lecompton Constitution (1858), Wikipedia
Representative John W. Clark, The Iowa Legislature
Senator William E. Leffingwell, The Iowa Legislature
Senator Amos Harris, The Iowa Legislature
The Election of James W. Grimes In 1858, Chapter V, Dan Elbert Clark, History of Senatorial Elections In Iowa, 1912, pp 104-119
Representative Gilman Folsom, The Iowa Legislature
Augustus Caeser Dodge, Find-A-Grave
George Wallace Jones, Find-A-Grave
James Harlan (Iowa politician), Wikipedia
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