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It is within the bounds of moderation to say that no
paper was quoted more frequently by the state press
and leading politicians than the "Hamilton Free-
man" while conducted by Mr. Aldrich. He called
the first republican convention ever held in Hamilton
county, and was chairman of the republican county
committee for two

During the first candidacy of Governor Grimes
for the United States senate, in the summer of 1857,
a powerful effort was made to defeat him by urgent
appeals to the jealousy of the north half of the state.
The claims of northern Iowa for recognition were
never so persistently dwelt upon, and it was sought
by the opponents of Governor Grimes to unite the
press north of the center of the state in a solid array
against him. In this campaign " The Freeman "
warmly supported Mr. Grimes, on account of his al-
ready distinguished services in the cause of human
freedom, as well as his recognized position as one of
the ablest men in the west. This course brought
down upon the new frontier paper the animadver-
sions of quite a number of northern journalists, but
Mr. Aldrich has always been proud of the company
he found himself in during his first year in Iowa.

He published his paper until September, 1862,
when he locked up his office and entered the mili-
tary service as adjutant of the 32d Iowa Infantry.
Serving in this capacity about a year and a half, he
resigned and returned to Iowa, and was soon after
preparing to reenter the service as major of the loth
Cavalry, when orders came discontinuing the organ-
ization of that regiment. Subsequently he was ten-
dered an appointment on the staff of General M. M.
Crocker, when that officer was about to proceed to
Arizona, but was compelled to decline on account of
private business affairs. In 1865 he was for a short
time editor of the " Dubuque Daily Times," and in
1866 purchased and for about three years conducted
the " Marshall County Times." During his ownership
of that journal, no weekly newspaper in the state
excelled it in rapid increase of circulation, influence
or prosperity, and he only retired from it' on account
of impaired health, the result of severe labor. He
resided in Marshalltown till 1871, and in the au-
tumn of that year removed to his farm on the banks
of Boone river, one and a half miles from Webster
City, where he now resides. Since leaving the
" Marshall Times " he has been connected for brief
periods with the " Waterloo Courier," " Council
Bluffs Nonpareil," and "Chicago Inter-Ocean."

During the periods herein specified, in addition to
the editorial and military services rendered by him,
he was chosen to and discharged the duties of several
important civil trusts. In i860 he was elected chief
clerk of the Iowa house of representatives, and re-
elected in 1862, 1866 and 1870, thus having held
that position eight years, as well as the next highest
clerkship of the same body one year, chosen except



on a single occasion by acclamation — a manifesta-
tion of party confidence rarely accorded in the his-
tory of the Iowa legislature. It is a fact well known
to scores of legislators that during those years no
member of the general assembly originated so many
salutary, progressive and humane acts now on our
statute books as the ever-active and vigilant worker
who presided at the clerk's desk.

In January, 1872, he was appointed by Governor
Carpenter a member of a commission, under au-
thority of an act of the state legislature, to investi-
gate and report upon the land titles of sundry set-
tlers in the Des Moines valley, who were being
driven from their homes by reason of adverse de-
cisions of the supreme court of the United States.
The governor was also empowered to send these
commissioners to Washington, instructed to make an
effort to secure as far as possible indemnity to the
settlers for their losses. Mr. Aldrich was continued
in the office at Washington, and in Iowa a portion of
the time, until March, 1875. The other commis-
sioners, Messrs. John A. Hull and Norman H. Hart,
acted with him constantly, during the work at home,
and also for a time at Washington. The labors of
the commissioners resulted in the passage of a law
by congress under which the President appointed a
new commission to report the status of these titles
as connected strictly with the action of the federal
government. Mr. Aldrich was appointed by the
President as a member of that commission. Their
recommendation for the relief of settlers, in the
form of a bill, passed the house of representatives
in 1874, but was lost in the senate in 1875. During
the latter year he was a member of the United
States geological and geographical survey of the ter-
ritories under charge of Professor F. V. Hayden, the
expedition for that season proceeding to southwest-
ern Colorado, and adjacent portions of Utah, New
■ Mexico and Arizona. His published letters descrip-
tive of the country through which he passed, and
particularly a visit to the cliff builders' houses in
the canon of the Rio Mancos and other ruins of an
extinct race, formed very important contributions to
current scientific literature.

While Mr. Aldrich was connected with the Iowa
press he commenced the agitation of the practica-
bility of substituting the supervisor system of town-
ship and county government for that of the county
judge system, as the latter then existed throughout
the state. By his pen, and by his persona! persuasion
with legislators, he was instrumental, far more than

any other influence in the state, in the passage of a
law in i860 for the proposed change. Subsequently
the law was modified so as to provide for a dimin-
ished number of supervisors in each county, but the
principle of the system is substantially now as it was
established under Mr. A.'s leadership, and has proved
an incalculable improvement over the one-man plan
of local government, with its almost inevitable accom-
paniments of unjust favoritisms and jobberies, and
often of peculation.

Mr. Aldrich, as an editor, also rendered most in-
valuable service to his brethren of the Iowa press in
the passage of laws calculated to encourage and
build up rural newspaper establishments, without
detriment to, but in aid of, the rights of all the peo-
ple. He was also an early advocate of the idea of
giving systematic school instruction to the convicts
in our penitentiaries, contributing many elaborate
arguments in this behalf to the press of the state,
by which the misfortune and to some extent the
vice of ignorance might be eliminated from this
class of unfortunates. Our present statute for the
protection of the harmless classes of birds (section
4063 of the code) was drafted and urged by him
upon the legislature with such power of entreaty as
to secure enactment. This humane measure has at-
tracted the attention of naturalists as well as legis-
lators in several of the European states as well as
our own country.

One of his most recent labors, and one to which
he and his friends recur with especial pride, is his
successful effort in behalf of his friend, ex-Surgeon-
General William A. Hammond, whose quarrel with
Secretary Stanton resulted in his trial by court-mar-
tial and dishonorable dismissal from the army in
1864. During an acquaintance of several years
Mr. Aldrich became thoroughly convinced that Dr.
Hammond had been grievously wronged, and that
this most severe " continuing sentence " should be
annulled and wiped out. But the personal hostility
of a few men still in power prevented any special
effort until the past winter (1877-8). It was then
deemed best to appeal directly to congress for the
necessary authority to allow the President to review
the case and in his discretion to set aside the find-
ings and sentence of the court-martial. At this
stage of the proceedings General Hammond selected
Mr. Aldrich as his representative and manager in
securing the necessary legislation. He therefore went
to Washington in December, 1877, where he-remained
until the middle of March following, during which



time he had the satisfaction of seeing the bill pass
both houses of congress, with only one dissenting
vote, and duly approved by the President. As these
pages are going through the press a board of general
officers of the army are reviewing the case, for the
more full and complete information of the President,
and within a few weeks at farthest Dr. Hammond —
who has risen to the very first rank in modern times
as a medical author and practitioner, scientist and
philanthropist — will without question be relieved
from the odium of a most unjust sentence, under
which he has patiently bided his time for fourteen
years. The measure at first evoked some hostility
in the minds of the more devoted friends of the late
Secretary Stanton ; others feared to establish a pre-
cedent of the kind ; while others still believed that
courts-martial' (though generally organized for an
express purpose — either to convict or acquit) were
infallible and could not err; but as time wore on,
and the merits of the case became more fully under-
stood, the opposition gradually weakened and finally
melted out of sight.

During the summer and autumn of last year (1877)
Mr. Aldrich undertook to bring to the attention of
the people and the coming legislature the justice and
necessity of the repeal or essential modification of
tlie cast-iron railroad law of Iowa, passed in 1874.
He believed that the law of Massachusetts, which
has been in most successful operation several years,
presented the best example for imitation, and he
therefore visited that state for the purpose of more
fully acquainting himself with its operation. Return-
ing, he succeeded in awakening public attention to
the subject, so that it underwent general discussion
and ventilation, and a law akin in its general features
to that of the old Bay State was passed by the legis-
lature and is now in operation.

In later years he has been a frequent and welcome
contributor to the columns of some of the most noted
metropolitan journals, on the topics of politics, biog-
raphy, history and the natural sciences, and in the
treatment of them has exhibited varied and compre-
hensive intelligence possessed by few men in the
country. From an early period in his experience as
an editor he commenced the accumulation of a pri-
vate library, and has steadily added to it until he
possesses a collection of carefully selected volumes
rarely found except in public libraries. His love of
natural history and other kindred sciences has caused
him to seek the retirement of rural life, where com-
munion with nature is closer, though his interest in

the outside world is by no means abated. As a
writer he has wonderful facility and perspicuity in
composition. An old journalist, in speaking of Iowa
editors, said of him years ago, that he "has first-
class capabilities as a western editor. . . . He seems
to know intuitively what to say at the right time,
and the precise manner of saying it also, in order to
accomplish a specific purpose. In this field of jour-
nalistic sagacity, so admirable in itself, and so neces-
sary to professional success, he is blessed beyond a
vast majority, if not all, of his cotemporaries."

In religious belief, he is liberal.

Politically, he started out as a free-soil democrat,
but since the organization of the republican party
he has always acted with it, though in 1872, as a
matter of personal choice, he voted for Horace
Greeley, while supporting the remainder of the par-
ty ticket.

He was married on the 29th of July, 185 1, at
Knowlesville, Orleans county. New York, to Miss
Matilda Williams, daughter of Mr. Aaron Williams,
a lady whose graces of mind and person, and whose
active benevolence and kindly sympathies, have en-
deared her to all who enjoy her acquaintance.

An eminent public man of this state, one of her
favored sons, who has known Mr. Aldrich intimately
and well for over twenty years, furnishes the writer
with sundry memoranda concerning his friend, from
which the following sentences are selected, at the
risk of a little repetition :

Although the greater portion of Mr. Aldrich's active
business life has been devoted to politics, yet it is doubtful
whether, if circumstances had favored the natural bent of
his mind, he would not have followed other and more con-
genial pursuits. In every element of his character he is a
perfect child of nature. His love of the works of Thoreau,
and admiration for the character of their author, is an index
to the bent of his genius. He, however, possessed an active
mind and an ardent temperament, and circumstances of
early life throwing him into the newspaper profession, he
became a rapid, strong, sagacious writer and successful
newspaper manager. That, in this profession, a man with
a temperament which, in the exactions of busy hfe, would
lead him to write articles for the press and personally be-
siege legislators in behalf of a law to protect "our feathered
friends," the birds, and in advocacy of night schools and
libraries for the inmates of penitentiaries, should become
an anti-slavery man and republican was natural and inevi-
table. And it was just as natural for such a temperament
to do its best work in the heated excitement of the anti-
slavery agitation, when the Kansas imbroglio, the early
years of the war, and the discussions preceding reconstruc-
tion, presented political issues that touched the moral sensi-
bilities and moved the sympathies of the heart. When this
struggle was ended and political questions became largely
material, or simply issues respecting administrative pre-
rogatives, nothing was more natural than that a man of
Mr. Aldrich's peculiar characteristics should turn to' pur-
suits more in accord with the bent of his mind. Having
a strong taste for agricultui-al pursuits, he moved to his



farm near Webster City, where he has since lived. For a
few months in 1875 he was enabled to gratify his taste for
investigation in the natural sciences by becoming connected
with the Ilayden expedition. During his connection with
these explorations his letters to the " Chicago Inter-Ocean "
and other journals were a mine of practical thought respect-
ing the resources of the country he traversed, its inhabi-
tants of bygone ages, as well as the roaming tribes that
now incumber it, and its animal, vegetable and mineral
productions. These letters, with the exhibition of his tastes
in his home life on his farm, show that if his early educa-
tion had thrown him in the line of natural history he would
have excelled in it as discoverer and author, and that he
would have stood among leading scientists in his chosen

As a writer, his style is smooth, clear and vigorous. He
never travels out of his way for ornamentation, and yet he
never offends the taste by a harsh or awkward sentence.
He is especially happy and graphic in his descriptions of
scenery, and in his estimates of men, and he expresses
himself with clearness and force upon scientific principles.
When editing a country newspaper, its local Colunms were
noted for their raciness, and the interest and instruction of
every item.

Socially, Mr. Aldrich is one of the most agreeable and
interesting men the writer ever met. His kindly manners
and sympathetic voice, in connection with a vast fund of
information always at his command, tend to make him a
most pleasing conversationist. His knowledge of books, his
observations in the line of natural history, his acquaintance

with men, and especially those of scientific and literary
tastes in accord with his own, all afford him topics of inter-
esting conversation which he possesses the power to use in
a most agreeable manner.

As a business man, he is prompt, accurate and responsible.
Whilst in business he exacts an equivalent for what he gives,
no man was ever more careful to give a full equivalent for
what he receives. With all his employes, whether appren-
tices and compositors, or laborers on the farm, he is not only
just but generous. No worthy boy ever worked for Mr.
Aldrich who has not been followed in all his subsequent life
by the active interest and generous sympathy of his old em-
ployer. More than one young man owes the results of
successful life to the advice and instruction of Mr. Aldrich
while in his employment.

He is one of the most versatile men the writer ever knew.
A majority of men can do one thing well if they apply them-
selves to a single purpose; but few men, however, can turn
their hands and minds in quick succession to different and
widely diversified employments, and succeed in all of them.
Mr. Aldrich was a very successful newspaper man. He has
never been excelled in his duties as clerk of the house of
representatives. When appointed commissioner to represent
to congress the condition and hardships of. the river land
settlers, although the position required a knowledge of the
principles of law and the power to analyze and unravel a
vast confusion of facts, he soon mastered the situation. .\nd
later, as an agriculturist, he evinces a practical grasp of the
subject which will no doubt bring him that reasonable
measure of success to which he aspires.



j eral of Iowa, was born in Washington county,
Pennsylvania, on the 23d of September, 1830. His
parents were John Mcjunkin and Catherine nee Sny-
der, the former a native of the north of Ireland and
the latter of German origin. His father came from
Ireland in his infancy with his parents, who settled
in eastern Pennsylvania, where he was brought up
to agricultural pursuits, and in 1835 removed with
his family to Richland county, Ohio, where he opened
a farm in the woods and spent the remainder of his
life. He died in 1856 in the seventieth year of his
age. He was a quiet, plodding, unostentatious man,
rather positive in his character, decided in his con-
victions and resolute in carrying them out. He was
an old-line abolitionist, an Old School Presbyterian,
a man of probity and the sternest integrity. He
never had but one lawsuit in his life, and that was
quite an event in his history.

His mother was a meek, mild, gentle and amiable
woman, who loved to dwell at home, and who had
not a thought with reference to this world that was
not centered in her husband and children. Her life
was purely unselfish and devoted to others. She

died in early life, when our subject was but fifteen
years of age.

John F. Mcjunkin was the youngest of a family
of eight children, all of whom lived to maturity, and
but two of whom, besides our subject, sisters, sur-
vive. His eldest brother, Daniel, was a man of some
note in Richland county, Ohio, where he held a
magistrate's commission for over twenty years. His
brother William was a prominent business man in
Wyandot county, Ohio, being for many years con-
nected with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago
Railroad Company. He died at his home in Nevada,
Ohio, in the spring of 1874, leaving surviving him
one son, E. W. Mcjunkin, Esq., a prominent mem-
ber of the bar of Iowa, now practicing at Sigourney.
John F. was raised like the generality of country
boys of that day, attending the log school-house a
few weeks during winter months and working on
the farm in summer. He was a bright, ambitious
youth, fond of books and study, and early resolved
to obtain an education if within the bounds of his
power. In the winter of 1850-51 he taught a com-
mon school at twelve dollars a month, and " boarded
'round " with the pupils. With the money earned in



this way he defrayed the expenses of a five months'
tuition at the Hayesville Academy, Ashland county,
Ohio. During the winter following, 185 1-2, he taught
again, at the rate of sixteen dollars per month, and
spent the following summer at the Martinsburg Acad-
emy, Knox county, Ohio. The next winter he taught
the grammar school in Bucyrus, Ohio, and spent the
following summer again at Martinsburg. The winter
following he taught a public school in Martinsburg,
and recited Latin with a class in the academy, under
the direction of the president, Dr. Hervey. He con-
tinued in this way until 1856, teaching public schools
in winter and attending the academy in summer. In
the last named year he was appointed to the chair of
mathematics in the institution, which unexpectedly
became vacant, and for six months taught a class of
seventy-five students in algebra and the higher mathe-
matics. In the spring following he returned to Rich-
land county, Ohio, and commenced the study of law,
receiving books and also some directions from the
late Hon. William Johnston, of Mansfield, Ohio. He
spent the following winter at the Martinsburg Acad-
emy, partly as student and partly as teacher. This
ended his academic studies, and in the summer of
1858 he entered, as student, the law office of Hon.
R. C. Hurd, of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and was ad-
mitted to the bar in August of the same year. In
the winter of 1859 he removed to Washington, Iowa,
where he has since resided and practiced his profes-
sion. He soon took a leading position in his western
home, and had abundant patronage from the very

In 1863 he was elected to represent his county in
the senate of the state legislature, and served through
the tenth and eleventh general assemblies, being
chairman of the committee on constitutional amend-
ments and of the committee on corporations and
elections, and serving on the committee on federal
relations, and others, and was one of the most active
and useful members of that body.

Early in the tenth assembly Mr. Mcjunkin had
the honor and privilege of introducing the following
preamble and resolutions, which deserve to be held
in everlasting remembrance, and which should trans-
mit his name to posterity in the brightest characters :

Whereas, The constitution of the United States does not
confer on congress the power to abolish and prohibit slavery
in the States of the Union ; and

Whereas, Slavery is incompatible with a republican
government, and while it exists in any portion of our coun-
try it must endanger her peace and prosperity and retard
her progress ; therefore, be it

Resolved, By the general assembly of the State of Iowa,

that our representatives in congress be requested, and our
senators instructed, to use their utmost endeavors to pro-
cure the adoption bj congress of the initiatory measures
whereby the constitution of the United States may be so
amended as to forever prohibit slavery in the United States,
or any portion of the same, and so as to authorize congress,
by appropriate legislation, to carry into effect the provisions
of such amendments.

In commenting upon the completed work, of
which this wa? the initiatory step, the Washington
(Iowa) " Press," in its issue of the 17th of January,
1866, employs the following language:

It will be remembered that our senator, J. F. Mcjunkin,
during. the last session of the general assembly, introduced
a joint resolution requesting our representatives and in-
structing our senators in congress to use their influence for
the passage of an amendment to the federal constitution for
the entire abolition of slavery. Our general assembly was
the first legislative body in the Union which passed such a
resolution. . . . Although until now Iowa has had no op-
portunity to record its indorsement of this great measure
of national justice, the people of the state may pride them-
selves in no small degree that their legislature was the first
to move in the matter; and the people of Washington
county may also feel proud that it was their senator who
first proposed this great measure which has made the na-
tion free.

With the close of the eleventh general assembly
the legislative services of our subject terminated,
he refusing to be again a candidate, to the no small
disappointment of his constituents. He did not,
however, relinquish his interest in politics and in
political questions, as he has stumped the county,
and sometimes the surrounding counties, in every
political campaign since.

In 1868 he was tendered in convention the nomi-
nation of the judgeship of the sixth judicial district
of Iowa, but declined.

In 1876 he was nominated by the state repub-
lican convention for the position of attorney-gen-

Online Librarypub American Biographical Publishing CompanyThe United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume → online text (page 4 of 125)