Iowa Heritage Digital Collections
State Library of Iowa

1854-1858, James Grimes


1854-1858, James Grimes



James W. Grimes, 3rd Iowa Governor was born October 20, 1816 in Deering, New Hampshire. He attended Dartmouth College, but left in 1835 without graduating. He went west and settled in Burlington, Iowa. Equipped with a critical mind, a retentive memory, and an innate self-confidence, he established a reputation for himself as a talented and sagacious lawyer, entering into partnership with Henry W. Starr in 1841. As the local economy began to expand, the practice proved to be a lucrative one. Along with heavy speculative investments in land and tax liens, it provided the imposing young man with a sound financial base on which to build a successful political career in the new state of Iowa. At the beginning of 1854, he found his career prospects transformed by the introduction into Congress of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, a deeply controversial measure that threatened to spread slavery into new territories on Iowa's western border. Grimes was a member of the Whig Party of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. His stalwart opposition to slavery persuaded independent political abolitionists to support his candidacy in the 1854 gubernatorial contest. In the ensuing campaign, he issued a potent rallying call, ""To the People of Iowa, "" in which he outlined the paralyzing consequences of having slave states to the west as well as south and underscored his determination to prevent further expansion of the South's peculiar institution. A combination of antislavery Whigs, Free-Soilers, and new voters mobilized by the Kansas-Nebraska Act voted him into office by a majority of 2, 500. The new governor's second contribution to the ongoing process of political realignment in Iowa was to help convert the Whig-led anti-Nebraska coalition into a state Republican organization. His efforts to solidify the anti-Democratic forces in Iowa were aided by an outbreak of guerrilla warfare in neighboring Kansas during the winter of 1855-1856. Grimes used his office to harangue the federal government for its failure to protect free-state settlers from proslavery violence. He gave protection to armed abolitionists bound for Kansas, and at one stage informed President Franklin Pierce that a situation might arise when Northern states would have to ""interpose"" their power to defend the rights of free staters. He was not present at the founding convention of Iowa's Republican Party in February 1856, but the new organization was spawned by a sectional conflict that Grimeshad done nothing to discourage. Sensing that the state's outmoded Jacksonian constitution was an obstacle to healthy economic growth, he was a strong advocate of fundamental legal reform and welcomed the advent in 1857 of a new constitution, one that made the state a more attractive place for investors. He also backed the development of certain public institutions among them public schools, an insane asylum, and a state universitythat he believed were essential to the general welfare. During his term in office, the Iowa State Capitol was moved to Des Moines. After stepping down as governor, Grimes represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate between 1859 and 1869. Refusing to yield to what most Republicans saw as proslavery blustering, he opposed any compromise likely to satisfy secessionists in the wake of his party's fateful election victory in November 1860, and during the ensuing Civil War he cooperated with fellow Republican senators to fashion a systematic attack on slavery as part of a broad-based effort to crush Confederate resistance. Although the necessity of preserving the fruits of Northern victory impelled him to support most landmark Reconstruction measures, he controversially voted with the Democratic minority to defeat the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in May 1868. Widely denigrated for that action and burdened with deteriorating health, Grimes resigned his Senate seat in August 1869 while touring Europe. Visibly aged and increasingly irritable, he was cooperating with dissident Liberal Republicans at the time of his death from heart disease on February 7, 1872.


State Library of Iowa and State Historical Society of Iowa


1854; 1855; 1856; 1857; 1858;


Biographical Dictionary of Iowa


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