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Professor of Economics, Political and
Social Science, Drake University

[ Reprinted with additions ( V . 3; troin The A nnui* of Iowa, Vol VUI .


Chicago Convention. May 16-18. I860

U. S. Senator

U. S. Senator

U. S. Diplomat

U. S. Senator



Professor of Economics, Political and Social Science,
Drake University.

The delegates from Iowa will go to Chicago to nominate a Presidential
ticket — the strongest ticket possible — and to this end will be glad to listen
to the suggestions of well informed friends at Washington or elsewhere,
but they go unpledged, uncommitted, and fully at liberty to hear all
suggestions and then to do what shall commend itself to their unfettered
judgment as best for the cause. As it is in Iowa, so it will be elsewhere.
— Horace Greeley (Feb. 8. 1860). 1

. . . the blot does not rest upon the history of the Union, that this
[Lincoln's nomination] the most fate-pregnant decision which an Ameri-
can convention had ever to make, was brought about by blind chance in
combination with base intriguers. Far from it. It was the conscious
act of clear-sighted and self-sacrificing patriots to whom honor and grati-
tude in the fullest measure are due. — Von Hoist (1892). 2



The average Iowan is wont to indulge in the presumption
that Iowa's politicians and statesmen have always played
prominent parts in our national affairs. While often ex-
pressed in language more exuberant and vasty than modesty
or truth sanctions, the assumption is fairly well founded. In
recent years no one will gainsay this State's prominence in
our Federal councils. Fifty and sixty years ago the case
was likewise. Iowa's chiefs commanded attention and exacted
consideration in the conduct of the national government.

Mr. James G. Blaine in closing his characterization of the
leaders of the Senate at Washington in the momentous session
of 1850, says: "Dodge of Wisconsin and Dodge of Iowa,
father and son, represented the Democracy of the remotest

(1) New York Tribune, Feb. 17, I860.— Extract from letter dated at
Mansfield, Ohio, written after making circuit of the Northwestern States.

(2) Constitutional and Political History of the United States, Vol. VII,
p. 173.

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outposts of the North-West. ... At no time, before or
since in the history of the Senate has its membership been so
illustrious, its weight of character and ability so great." 1
Henry Dodge, father, was Iowa's first Governor de facto when
the State was a part of Wisconsin ( 1836-38 ). 2 In the country
at large Iowa was regarded as a stronghold of the democ-
racy and her first Senators, A. C. Dodge and Geo. W. Jones,
were considerable factors in the party councils of Presidents
Pierce and Buchanan. Both men were given important diplo-
matic posts when the political revolution in Iowa enforced
their retirement from the Senate, the former at Madrid and
the latter at Bogota. At the National Democratic Convention
in Charleston in 1860, the Douglas forces triumphed in the
struggle over the platform and we are told that it was "skill-
fully accomplished under the lead of Henry B. Payne of Ohio
and Benjamin Samuels of Iowa." 3

In President Taylor's short-lived administration, an Iowan,
Fitz Henry Warren of Burlington, acquired fame as Assist-
ant Postmaster-General by his swift elimination of Democratic
office-holders, 4 and his resignation because of indignation
over Fillmore's apostasy on the subject of slavery.
Afterwards, in 1852, he became the Secretary of the National
Executive Committee of the Whig party in the Pierce-Scott
canvass. 5 Later the pages of J. S. Pike show us that the
brilliant flashes of Warren's pen made him a forceful factor
in the determination of anti-slavery opinion and procedure. 6
It was his clarion calls in 1861 that aroused the furore
in the north against the inactivity of the new administration
and forced the precipitate movement "On to Richmond"
which ended in the disastrous rout at Bull Run. 7

pi R'aine's Tivntv Years of Congress, Vol. 1. p. 90.

(2) Governor Robert Lucas, first Territorial Governor of Iowa, 1838-41,
was the permanent chairman of the first National Democratic Convention,
that met in Baltimore, May 21, 1832. See Parish's Robert Lucas, p. 111.

(3) B'aine. Tbid, p. 162: McClure's Our Presidents and How We
Make them, p. 167.

' ') Bf>n Perlev Poore. Reminiscences, Vol. I, p. 355.

(5) Annals of Iowa (3d ser.), Vol. VI, p. 486.

(6) Pike's First Blows of the Civil War, pp. 483-4, 496; and Von
Hoist's Vol. VII. pp. 155. 157.

(7) Letters from Washington to New York Tribune; see Mr. E. H.
Stiles. Annals Tb., 487-410. It is not unlikely that President Lincoln's
refusal to appoint him Postmaster-General, for which he was earnestly
pushed by Iowans, made Warren's ink more acid than otherwise.

The triumph of James W. Grimes in 1854 made him a na-
tional figure. His election as Governor was a surprise to the
entire country. This was not strange for Iowa was looked
upon as a "hot-bed of dough faces," 1 and the annals of
the ante helium period contain no clearer, stronger, or more
courageous pronouncement against the aggressions of the
Slavocrats than his address "To the People of Iowa" when he
accepted the nomination for Governor. 2 His election was
mostly his personal achievement and not the result, as it
would be nowadays, of organization and widely concerted ef-
fort. Senator Chase of Ohio wrote the new champion that he
had waged "the best battle for freedom yet fought." 3
Giddings declared that he had made "the true issue" on
which the battle had to be fought in the northern States. 4 In
the Senate from 1859 to 1869 he was distinguished "for iron
will and sound judgment" 5 and became, says Perley Poore
"a tower of strength for the administration" in the crises
of the war. G

Grimes's victory in 1854 sent James Harlan to the Senate
in 1856. He, too, says a distinguished historian, immediately
made his "mark." 7 His speech on the Lecompton Consti-
tution won Seward's admiration. s The Republican Asso-
ciation at Washington printed and sold at a low price Sena-
tor Harlan's speeches along with those of Collamer, Hale,
Seward and Henry Wilson. 9 Harlan was a statesman the
country reckoned with, Mr. Blaine telling us that he later
became "one of Mr. Lincoln's most valued and most confiden-
tial friends and subsequently a member of his cabinet." 10

No fact, in the writer's judgment, indicates more strik-
ingly the potency of Iowa's influence at Washington fifty
years ago than President Lincoln's appointment in the fore-
part of his first term of Samuel P. Miller as Associate Justice
of the Supreme Court. He was endorsed strongly by Iowa's
bench and bar and by others in States adjacent. The Presi-
dent, however, delayed making the appointment. Upon per-

(1) Von Hoist. Vol. V, p. 78. (2) Salter's Life of Grime*, pp. 34-50.
(3) lb., p. 54. (4) lb., p. 63. (5) Blaine, lb., p. 321. (6) Poore, lb.,
Vol. II, p. 100. (7) Rhodes* History of U. S., Vol. II, p. 130. (8) Pike's
First Blows, etc.. p. 417. (!)) Rhodes, lb., p. 1 3 I . (10) Blaine, lb., p. 321

— 4-

sonal inquiry, Mr. John A. Kasson, then Assistant Post-
master-General, learned that the reputation of the Keokuk
lawyer "had not then even extended so far as to Springfield,
Illinois" (a distance but little over one hundred miles). 1
Nevertheless the appointment was made and Justice Miller
became almost immediately the "dominant personality" of
our great court. 2 The significance of his elevation is this —
President Lincoln was not a petty spoilsman and he had no
special fondness for the office monger; but he was a politician
par excellence. He made appointments with an eye single
to the public good, which was then the preservation of the
Union, yet he always gave close attention to the influence of
the Potentialities back of the aspirants for office who pressed
their claims upon him. 3 Government is not a philosophical
abstraction or an academic thesis. It is a constantly shifting
balance of contrary and divergent forces and interests. It
was essential to success in combating the nation's enemies at
the front for the President so to co-ordinate factors and con-
trol conditions behind him as to assure him at once non-inter-
ference and efficient support. Justice Miller's appointment
must have appeared to President Lincoln not only credit-
able and safe, but eminently worth while, insuring strength
upon the bench and influential support for his administration,
both in Congress and in Iowa. Besides consideration
of the influence of Iowa's leaders we should naturally pre-
sume that recollections of the prominent part taken by Iowans
on his behalf in the Convention that first nominated him for
the Presidency played no small part in deciding President
Lincoln to select the then but little known jurist of Keokuk.
This presumption, however, is apparently upset if the curi-
ous make casual inquiry. There is nothing whatever in the
record of the proceedings of the Convention showing that Iowa
did anything for any candidate worthy of special note or
remembrance. One of Iowa's delegates moved an amendment
to a motion to thank Chicago's Board of Trade for an invi-

(1) Mr. John A. Kasson to Charles Aldrich — letter dated Washington,
D. C, Nov. 10, 1893. See Annals, Vol. I, p. 252. (2) Characterization of
Chief Justice Chase quoted in Annals, lb., p. 247. (3) See Mr. Horace
White's introduction to Herndon & Weik's Lincoln, Vol. I, p. XXII.

tation to an excursion on Lake Michigan. 1 Another dele-
gate secured an amendment allowing each State to choose
its member of the National Committee as it pleased. 2
When the Committee on Credentials reported that Iowa had
"appointed eight delegates from each Congressional district
[Iowa had only two] and sixteen Senatorial delegates," when
entitled to but eight votes, the minutes record " [laughter]." 3
In the entire proceedings of the Convention, Iowa is
credited with but one significant performance and that was
manifestly either a blunder due to excitement or a play to the
galleries — A delegate elicited "great applause" by seconding
the nomination of Abraham Lincoln "in the name of two-
thirds of the delegation of Iowa." 4 Yet, on the first
ballot immediately following, Iowa gave Lincoln only two
votes, or one-fourth of her quota; and on the third ballot
even when it was clear that the candidate of Illinois was al-
most certain to be nominated Iowa gave over a third of her
vote to other candidates. 5 After Mr. Cartter of Ohio
changed four of Chase's votes to Lincoln and decided the re-
sult then a delegate from Iowa joined the chorus and on
behalf of the delegation moved to make it unanimous. 6
But there is nothing in all this that denotes conspicuous
achievement or influence, neither staunch service nor effect-
ive generalship such as politicians exact.

If we turn to formal histories or accounts of national cur-
rency or general use our presumption is further seriously
disturbed. Iowa's influence in the nomination seems to have
been conspicuous chiefly by its absence. There are no refer-
ences to Iowans whatever in scores of volumes relating the
events of the convention week. One would almost imagine that
Iowa's men were not present at all. In practically but one
case has the writer found mention of Iowa's influence in a
favorable connection and even here the assertion is disputed.
In two other instances distinguished national historians refer
to her representatives in Chicago in derogatory terms that

(1) Proceedings of the First Three Republican National Conventions of
1856, 1860, 1861,, published by Charles W. Johnson, p. 91. (2) lb., p. 107.
(3) lb., p. 110. (4) lb., p. 149. (5) lb., pp. 149, 153. (6) lb., p. 154.

— 6-

seem to imply conduct not worthy of commendation or re-

In spite of appearances thus to the contrary there are sub-
stantial reasons for thinking that men from Iowa played an
influential part in bringing the Convention to what Von Hoist
declares was "the most fate-pregnant decision which an
American Convention ever had to make," verifying precisely
Horace Greeley's prediction three months before, to-wit, " As
it is in Iowa, so it will be elsewhere." In what follows I shall
deal with the animadversions referred to and then exhibit the
growth of Republican sentiment in Iowa regarding the Presi-
dential nomination, the character of Iowa's delegates, and the
nature of their work in the Convention.



Notwithstanding Professor Von Hoist's conclusive demon-
stration to the contrary 1 there still prevails a wide-
spread notion that the first nomination of Abraham Lincoln
was received by the country at large with surprise and shock,
a consummation believed to be the issue of either cabals and
machinations against New York's candidate or the irrational
overwhelming influence of a shouting, surging mob round
about the delegates, or of both combined. This notion is not
a common popular prejudice merely, but the deliberate con-
clusion of academic chroniclers and savants. 2 In a general
way Mr. James Ford Rhodes seems to agree with Von Hoist's
presentation of the major facts and their interpretation, us-

(1) Von Hoist, History, Vol. VII, pp. 149-186. (2) Judge J. V. Quarles
in Putnam's Monthly, Vol. II, p. 59 (April, 1907), says that the nomina-
tion was a "tremendous surprise" ; Admiral French E. Chadwick in Causes
of the Civil War, 18591861 (Amer. Nation: A History, Prof. A. B. Hart,
editor, Vol 19, 1906), says "the result was a shock of surprise to the
country at large," p. 119; Dr. Guy Carlton Lee in The True History
of the Civil War (1903), says: "The nomination was received with a
shock of surprise by the country," and he adds Wendell Phillips' harsh
exclamation in The Liberator, "Who is this huckster in politics?" Gold-
win Smith in The United States (1893), p. 241, says: "But it was mainly
to cabal against Seward that Lincoln owed the Republican nomination" ;
Professor Alex. Johnston says: "Much of the opposition to Seward came
from the mysterious ramifications of factions in New York." Lalor's
Cyclopedia of Political and Social Science (1882), reprinted in his Amer.
Political History, [edited by Professor J. C. Woodburn, 1906], Vol. II, p.

— 7—

ing the same or similar evidence. But the sweep and implica-
tions of his assertions give color and substance to the general
opinion. In his account of the conditions precedent and de-
termining the developments and results during the Conven-
tion week, May 14-18, 1860, Mr. Rhodes makes the following
statements in his History of the United States, Vol. II:

Contrasting the Republican National Conventions of 1856 and I860,
he says: then [1856] the wire pullers looked askance at a

movement whose success was problematical, now [1860] they hastened
to identify themselves with a party that apparently had the game in
its own hands; then the delegates were liberty-loving enthusiasts and
largely volunteers, now the delegates had been chosen by means of the
organization peculiar to a powerful party, and in political wisdom were
the pick of the Eepublicans (p. 457).

Seward 's claim for the nomination was strong. * * * Intensely
anxious for the nomination, and confidently expecting it, he was alike
the choice of the politicians and the people. Could a popular vote on
the subject have been taken, the majority in the Republican States
would have been overwhelmingly in his favor. One day at Chicago
sufficed to demonstrate that he had the support of the machine politi-
cians (p. 460).

While much of the outside volunteer attendance from New York
and Michigan favoring Seward was weighty in character as well as
imposing in number, the organized body of rough fellows from New
York City, under the lead of Tom Hyer, a noted bruiser, made a great
deal of noise without helping his cause. All the outside pres-

sure was for Seward or Lincoln, there being practically none for the
other candidates. While many of Seward's followers were disinterested
and sincere, others betrayed unmistakably the influence of the machine.
Lincoln's adherents were men from Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, who had
come to Chicago bent on having a good time and seeing the rail-splitter
nominated, and while traces of organization might be detected among
them, it was such organizaton as may be seen in a mob (pp. 462-463).
(Italics here.)

Several important facts are clearly asserted in the fore-
going and some serious implications are no less apparent.
First, politicians and wire pullers rather than earnest self-
sacrificing patriots made up the dominant forces of the Chi-
cago Convention of 1860. Second, Seward was the choice of
the politicians and people alike. Third, honesty or sincerity
was for the most part lacking among the rank and file of
Seward's followers at Chicago; fourth, earnestness or
serious purpose was notably absent from the followers of Mr.

— 8—

Lincoln. By "adherents" he apparently refers chiefly to the
"volunteer outside influence," namely, unofficial attendants,
rather than to accredited delegates. Yet the comprehensive-
ness and variable sweep of portions of previous paragraphs
suggest that a first impression that delegates were also in-
cluded is not unwarranted. And, fifth, Mr. Rhodes would
have us conclude, we may infer, that Lincoln's nomination
was an amazing conclusion resulting from the variable but
coercive suggestions of a dominant organized mob. It is but
fair to say, however, that Mr. Rhodes seems to shrink from this
last conclusion, for later he says: "One wonders if those
wise and experienced delegates 1 interpreted this manip-
ulated noise as the voice of the people" (p. 468).

Since Edmund Burke confessed his inability to discover "a
method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people,"
scholars and scientists have not deemed it appropriate or safe
to condemn institutions, parties or governments, let alone
peoples en bloc. Mr. Rhodes is not a psuedo-historian who
imagines that cynical contempt for the commonality is a solid
basis for historical scholarship; and he does not proceed on
the assumption that all men in politics are scamps or scoun-
drels, although he squints occasionally in that direction. lie
has deserved renown as a scientific historian who depends
upon extensive and minute researches and basic facts, whose
narrative is characterized by judicial balance and impartiality,
by caution and sobriety of statement. Common prudence
makes one hesitate to question his assertions or conclusions.
Nevertheless several queries are pertinent which are not
wholly academic for there are scores, probably hundreds of
men still living, men of eminence in letters and politics in
many cases, who took part in that conclave at Chicago. I
shall not here undertake to discuss all the phases of the asser-
tions referred to except indirectly as they affect the character
or conduct of Iowa's representatives at the Convention.

(1) Enlarging upon Blaine's notation (Twenty Years of Congress, Vol.
I, p 164), Mr. Rhodes gives a list of some of "the many noted men, or
men who afterwards became so," mentioning e. g. E. H. Rollins (N. H.),
John A. Anirews. George S. Boutwell, B. L. Pierce (Mass.), Gideon
Wells, William M. Evarts and George W. Curtis, David Wilmot and
Thaddcus Stevens, Francis P. and Montgomery Blair, Carl Schurz, "John
A. Kasson of Iowa," p. 469.

— 9—

We may take the statements involving the character and
conduct of the Iowans in one of two ways. Either the
writer meant all that the paragraph implies or he did not
mean to be taken strictly. In either case we may ask if char-
acter and sincerity were confined conspicuously to the unof-
ficial Seward supporters hailing from New York and Michigan
and hence his discrimination of them in the forepart of the
paragraph whence the quotation. There were ardent admir-
ers of the statesman of Auburn from Iowa as well as from
Massachusetts who mingled in the throngs that surged the
lobbies of the Tremont and Richmond Hotels; such men as
Fitz Henry Warren of Burlington and Samuel A. Bowles of
The Springfield Republican. Men of like character and local
fame by scores and hundreds were with them from the same
States and from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and other States
as well ; men who worked just as earnestly for Senator Seward
and felt the bitter disappointment of his defeat as keenly as
did his followers from Michigan and New York. Seward sen-
timent in Iowa, as will be shown in some detail later, was
intense, staunch and wide-spread and when the news of his
non-success came his partisans in many a community almost
wept in grief and vexation and gloom held them for
awhile. 1

Another implication that seems to be necessarily involved
in the discrimination made in the citation under review is
that there was an utter absence of weighty character and
sincerity among the "outside volunteer" followers of other
candidates. Such a conclusion doubtless w T as not contem-
plated nor desired perhaps. If so, it may seem unkind to
take the statement in all its rigor, but words are rather flinty
substances and if thrown recklessly and they strike, hurt and
mar. Such a construction is not a captious inference. The

(1) Hon. W. G. Donnan, a Representative of Iowa in the Forty-Second
and Forty-third Congresses (1871-75), was born and educated in New
York. He came to Iowa in 1856. In 1860 (as now), he resided at Inde-
pendence, and was a strong admirer of Seward. In a letter to the writer
(February 4, 1907), he says: "Went over from Union College, where I
was then a student, and heard Seward's great speech, organizing the
Republican party. Could have wept when 'the Great New Yorker' failed
of the nomination. How fortunate for the country and the party that
Lincoln was made the nominee."


uninformed or undiscriminating reader usually rests with first
impressions and the impression made is not favorable to the
people and representatives of other States. In these halcyon
days we are used to wholesale indictments of public men and
political conventions in our partisan press and periodicals
that retail the ' ' literature of exposure ; ' ' but we do not ex-
pect them from scholars who work in the clear, cool air and
the dry, white light of a library.

But what is the significance and what is the justification
of the assertion that "Lincoln's adherents were men from
Illinois, Indiana and Iowa who had come to Chicago bent on
having a good time?" Why such a discrimination? Were
the admirers and promoters of the "Rail-Splitter" more in-
clined to that sort of thing than the crowds that shouted for
"Old Irrepressible?" What is meant by a "good time,"
harmless diversion or reprehensible license?

With pious and proper persons a good time implies noth-
ing more serious than an excursion or picnic with its mild
ecstacies and hysterics. No doubt hundreds and thousands,
when they joined the throngs bound for Chicago, thought
only of the cheap rates and seeing the crowds and "the
sights" of the city. Among gay lords and certain politicians,
however, a good time signifies often, if not generally, fun
and frolic that begins with huge fuss and noise and reckless
abandon that, unless curbed, rapidly runs the leeways into
riot and carousal. If the latter is meant is there any special
reason to suppose that Lincoln's adherents had a greater pre-
disposition in that direction than the workers for Sew r ard
from the same States or from other States !

Mr. Rhodes is usually careful to give his authorities, chap-
ter and verse, for his important assertions. He cites accounts
of several participants in the Convention, Messrs. Greeley.
Welles and Halstead for statements in the first part of the
paragraph, but there is none given upon the point here re-
ferred to. Their reports, however, do not seem to warrant any
such differentiation. If we are to believe Mr. Halstead 's par-
ticular and synchronous account there were few if any States
whose representatives were not largely given to noisy demon-
stration, intemperance and rowdyism. If any State achieved


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Online LibraryF. I. (Frank Irving) HerriottIowa and the first nomination of Abraham Lincoln → online text (page 1 of 8)