1850’s – The Rise & Fall Of Iowa’s First Two Senators.

Iowa’s First U.S. Senators – Augustus C. Dodge and George W. Jones.

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…

Our Iowa Heritage is all about recalling pleasant things and taking the time to dwell on them.

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

(JP-070a & JP-070b) These two rare postal covers & letters are written by Senator George W. Jones and directed to his friend – Gilman Folsom in Iowa City. On the left is Senator Jones’ letter – written in Washington D.C. on December 30, 1854, and marked ‘Free’. The U.S. Post Office offers free postage for U.S. Senators – but apparently, the letter was hand-delivered by H.D. La Cossitt instead. On the right is Senator G.W. Jones‘ second letter – written & postmarked in Dubuque on July 21, 1858, and again, marked ‘Free’, but this time, the letter includes another friend – John W. Clark along with Gilman Folsom in Iowa City.
Our 1854 G.W. Jones Letter – above.
Our 1858 G.W. Jones Letter – above.

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…

Washington City D.C., Dec 30th 1854

My dear friend.
I embrace the occasion presented by a contemplated visit to Iowa by my esteemed friend H.D. La Cossitt to address you a few lines on the all important subject which engrosses the attention of politicians at this place as well as in Iowa- the election of a U.S. Senator & three Supreme Court Judges for Iowa.

H.D. La Cossitt was a long-time friend of Senator Jones, and between 1848 and 1854, was the editor of The Iowa Democratic Enquirer – the voice of Democratic Party in Muscatine County. It appears that it was La Cossitt who hand-delivered this important letter from Jones in Washington D.C. to Folsom in Iowa City. Jones’ first paragraph summarizes how everyone’s attention in Washington was focused on the Iowa re-appointment of Senator Dodge. Those old-school Democrats – like Jones and many others – who favored slavery and stood by the Kansas-Nebraska Act were holding their breath, knowing that the political climate in Iowa was changing quickly and that Dodge’s re-appointment was truly uncertain.

For God’s sake bestir yourself & do not let the mongrel party (the moderate Democrats & The Free Soil Party) cheat us & our state out of the services of my noble colleagues for the next six years. This defeat now would prove to be a great political loss to our party & its principles. It is so viewed by honest men of all patriotic instincts here from the President (Democrat Franklin Pierce) & his Cabinet throughout the Departments & the two Houses of Congress, saving & excepting only the Anti Nebraska al Abolition al Know Nothing gang.

As we stated earlier, many of the younger, more moderate, anti-slavery Democrats and Whigs were joining together to form a movement across the North known as the “Wide Awakes”. Read more here. The “anti-Nebraska al Abolition al Know Nothing gang” Jones is referring to had become the base for The Free Soil Party which rose up in 1848 to challenge those in the existing political parties who were remaining silent about the evils of slavery.

I apprehend your devotion to the duties of your laborious office may have prevented you from taking on an active part in the struggle at Iowa City; but I write this to entreat you to lay all things else aside & give your undivided & all powerful influence & splendid talents to bear in this matter. We think that it would politically be better to use every honorable means to prevent an election at this session & not again to risk a ballot if it can possibly be avoided. Let the question of U.S. Senator & Supreme Court Judges go before our people at the next August election in 1856 & if we are then beaten for members of the legislature we will submit without a murmur.

Senator Jones is strongly encouraging Gilman Folsom – a very influential lawyer and businessman in Iowa City – to immediately get out of his office and begin campaigning on behalf of his friend and fellow Senator – Augustus Dodge. You see, now that the Iowa Legislature – in the August 1854 general election – had turned from being Democratic-led to Whig-led, with many leaning toward an anti-slavery viewpoint, the only way the increasingly unpopular Dodge could stay in office would be if the Legislature became divided enough (as it was in 1846-1847), so that no new candidate would receive enough votes to oust him. Historical records show that on December 21, 1854 – nine days before Jones’ letter was written – the Legislature met in the State House (Old Capitol) and had failed to make a selection. Another session was scheduled for January 5, 1855, and records indicate that no clear cut winner was announced then as well. So, when Jones wrote his letter on December 30th, 1854 in Washington D.C., having it hand-delivered to Folsom by his friend, H.D. La Cossitt, it’s obvious that Jones knows that the only way for Dodge to survive all this is by keeping the opposition divided amongst several anti-slavery candidates. Here, Jones is pushing his friend Gilman Folsom to get out of his office, and use his political prowess to stir the pot of dissension, helping to keep the Legislative dead-lock intact. If Jones can accomplish that, he hopes the whole appointment process can be called off until the 1856 general election, when hopefully, from his perspective, the old-school Democrats can regain power in the Iowa Legislature, keeping his buddy, Augustus Dodge, in office.

I cannot bear the idea of having any other man than Genl. Dodge, who has acted so ably & efficiently for our State, as my colleague, but to be compelled to cooperate with a Whig of any stripe is too humiliating when I feel absolutely certain that Genl. Dodge is the favorite of our State. Just think of John P. Cook’s letter published at Tipton last spring in ridicule & abuse of Dodge, Henn & myself because of our course on the Nebraska Bill & say whether I ought now to feel indifferent when his brother (Ebenezer Cook) – who feels as he does always – is prominent before our Legislature for succession to Genl (Dodge). I would not prefer him to almost any other Whig even of the National Party, but I tell you I would prefer Warren as his infamy & abolitionism would cripple him here as to render him comparatively harmless.

In the spring of 1854, the Tipton, Iowa newspaper featured an editorial by the anti-slavery, U.S. House Representative – John P. Cook. That editorial (see below) – which was very critical of Senators Dodge, Jones, and U.S. House Representative Bernhart Henn – stirred many around the state, and it obviously was a thorn in Jones’ side all these months later. Fitz Henry Warren, a leading banker in Burlington and a Whig Party representative, was one of several candidates to replace Dodge. Ebenezer Cook (John P. Cook’s brother) and James Harlan were two others who were also believed to be serious challengers. Jones’ only hope, if he can’t stop the appointment of a new Whig candidate, is for the Legislature to pick a radical abolitionist like Warren, who in Jones’ view, will be so vocal about ending slavery, many moderate Democrats and Whigs in Washington (i.e. the establishment), will tune him out, knowing the anti-slavery message, while popular in the North, will only serve to divide North from South – a politically-incorrect move in Jones’ eyes.

Put your shoulder to the wheel & I shall have no fear.
Your friend near & with matched confidence
Geo W. Jones
In the spring of 1854, U.S. Representative John P. Cook’s editorial swept across the state, being published in numerous newspapers. His article galvanized those Iowans who were appalled to hear that Senators Dodge & Jones, and other Representatives like Bernhart Henn would dare cast a positive vote for something as vile as The Kansas-Nebraska Act, let alone be pro-actively supporting it!

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…

Dubuque – 21 July 1858

Dear friends –
I wish you to give me your recollections as to the course pursued by Leffingwell, Amos Harris and the other (Democratic) Members of the Senate after I was nominated for re-election in 1852 – to stave off or prevent a joint meeting of the two houses of the Legislature for the purpose of carrying out the injunctions of the (Democratic) Convention which had nominated. I distinctly remember that Leffingwell and Amos Harris did oppose the joint convention of the two houses, because of their opposition to me and in violation of (Democratic) usage, the resolution which had been passed in the caucus, if not also of the rules of parliamentary proceeding. Please find the Journals on this subject and send to me. I do not wish to use your reply to this publicly.

With my best regards for (your) families and yourselves.
I am, Your friend – Geo. W. Jones

So, in a nutshell, here’s the situation. The political climate surrounding the issues of slavery only became more divisive since the resounding 1855 defeat of G.W. Jones’ fellow, old-school Democrat – Senator Dodge. When The Free Soil Party candidate James Harlan was appointed, in 1855, by the Iowa Legislature, replacing Dodge, Jones and the entire pro-slavery gang in Washington, D.C. took it upon themselves to find any way they could to silence Harlan’s anti-slavery voice. Much like today, there were countless efforts by the white supremacists in Congress to call the 1855 Iowa Legislative appointment of Harlan a “fake” election, claiming it was done without a full House & Senate vote. In 1857, a U.S. Senate committee actually decided to agree with that view, but by then, the Iowa Legislature was so filled with anti-slavery proponents, they quickly turned around, re-affirming Harlan, while silencing his critics once more!

Now, as the fall of 1858 was quickly approaching, it was time for Senator Jones to face the music. Barely re-appointed to his Senate seat in 1852 (winning by one vote!), he now realizes that his back was against the wall, and he’s looking for political help anywhere he can find it back in Iowa City. Just as he did in his 1854 letter, Jones contacts his old friend Gilman Folsom, and now, he includes John W. Clark, brother-in-law to Iowa’s soon-to-be Civil War Governor – Samuel Kirkwood. As you can read for yourself, he’s looking to dig up some political ideas from his own 1852 near-loss re-election where several of his adversaries from his own party – William E. Leffingwell, Amos Harris, and others – tried to tie up the Legislature with motions to delay the vote. Political shenanigans if your opponent does it, but fair game for you, right?

Politically, in 1858, the Democratic Party of Iowa, like those in other northern states, was bitterly divided over the support that its own President, James Buchanan, gave for the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Senator Jones had voted to approve both controversial decisions, so when anti-slavery Iowa Democrats passed a resolution at their 1858 state convention, repudiating the party’s previous support for the Lecompton Constitution, Jones and others in the party’s “old guard” walked out. But, as fate would have it, the Iowa Legislature had had its fill of Jones, and in the fall of 1858, refused to even renominate him – putting in his place, the highly-popular Governor James W. Grimes, who some call the “Father of Republicanism in Iowa.”

BTW – in defense of Gilman Folsom and John W. Clark – the recipients of this 1858 letter from Jones. We can find no records that indicate that either man held the strong racist attitudes like Jones. While fellow Democrats, there is evidence that both Folsom & Clark might have had more interest in being “new-school” Democrats who tended to lean toward the anti-slavery view held by a majority of Iowans as the Civil War grew ever closer. So, while we have no evidence to prove it, we sense that both men in Iowa City didn’t work too hard to rescue Senator Jones from his self-made troubles.

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.

Augustus C. Dodge, Wikipedia

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

Bernhart Henn, Wikipedia

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

James W. Grimes, Wikipedia

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