Albert Baird Cummins

Albert Baird Cummins was born at Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, February 15, 1850. He was educated in the academy of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and received the degree of LL.D. at Waynesburg college in 1903 and at Cornell college, lowa, in 1904.

Mr. Cummins studied surveying and became assistant chief engineer of the Cincinnati, Richmond and Fort Wayne R. R. He studied law in the offices of McClellan and Hodges, Chicago. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1875 and practiced in Chicago from 1875 until 1878, when he removed to Des Moines. Iowa.

He was a member of the lowa House of Representatives, 1888; presidential elector-at-large, 1892; candidate for United States senator, 1894 and 1900; chairman of the Republican state convention, 1892 and 1896; member of the Republican National Committee, 1896-1900; delegate to the Republican National conventions. 1892. 1896, 1900, 1904; governor of lowa from 1902 to 1908: elected United States senator November 24, 1908 for unexpired term (expiring March 3, 1909), of Senator Allison, deceased; re-elected for term, 1909-15.

Annals of Iowa, 1915
Submitted by Cathy Danielson

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The Republican State Convention held in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 1 closed a preliminary campaign which in intensity has had few parallels in the history of American politics. It brings, more prominently than ever, before the country at large an interesting personality, that of the nominee of the convention for Governor, Albert B. Cummins.

With the tumult of convention day still ringing in his ears, it is not easy to approach the subject of this sketch with judgment undisturbed. But those who for years have summered and wintered with Governor Cummins should at least be able to avoid the excessive praise and dispraise which marked the extremes of the campaign.

The strained situation, now happily relieved, was in some respects unique in Iowa politics. Never before had any Governor of Iowa aspired to serve for three consecutive terms. Never before had any Governor of Iowa been compelled to fight for his life, his political life, to secure a nomination. And yet, contradictory as it may seem, never before did a candidate for re-nomination enter the field with more personal reluctance.

Governor Cummins' administration had been chiefly marked by the advocacy of two reforms. The first was in a degree educational, namely, tariff reform, with its corollary, reciprocity. I use the term "educational," because it was clearly impossible for the Governor to do more than discuss the subject in the abstract, using such illustrations as the times suggested, relying on an educated public opinion for ultimate results. The second, and the one on which the recent campaign was made by him, was intensely practical, taking the form of opposition to what the Governor regarded as the over-intimate relations which the great railroad corporations traversing Iowa sought to maintain with the dominant party in the State, the too-evident purpose being to control, or at least unduly influence, legislation.


Himself for several years prior to his first nomination for Governor an attorney for railroad corporations, and consequently familiar with every detail of railroad assessments, it became evident at the first meeting of the representatives of the railroads with the Executive Council of the State, that the new Governor's pre-election assurances to the public and the oath taken by him at his inauguration really meant something! Let it suffice to say that assessments on railroad property in Iowa at the recent sitting of the council, in August, 1906, aggregated over fifteen millions* more than in 1901, when Mr. Cummins became Governor.

But this is not the head and front of his offending. The representatives of the railroads would have forgiven Governor Cummins for protecting the other tax-paying interests in the State; but it soon became evident to them that the new Governor was not tractable; was not imbued with the old idea that politics is a combination of interests, a system of log-rolling in which the few, ostensibly in the interests of the many, successfully serve their own interests. His former experience as an attorney for corporations, far from unfitting him for his new duties as chief of the State Board of Equalization, the better fitted him for them, enabling him to analyze the complicated figures of the railroad statisticians and follow without confusion the subtle arguments of the railroad solicitors.

The Governor did not stop with the matter of equalizing assessments. He used every opportunity, in addresses at home and abroad, in messages and campaign speeches, as in his personal intercourse with the thinking men of the State, to impress upon the public mind the necessity of emancipating politics and legislation from the undue influence of railroad corporations. He early became an advocate of the abolition of railroad passes, especially to State officials and convention delegates, and the establishment of a primary law, which should control and regulate the selection of candidates for all elective offices, from the lowest to the highest. It was in line with this policy that Governor Cummins recommended the movement, now in successful progress, for a convention of delegates from the several States of the Union, to be held in Des Moines, on September 5, 1906, to consider the advisability of moving, by States, for the passage of a constitutional amendments securing the election of United States Senators in all the States by a direct vote of the people.

The underlying motive of Governor Cummins, as I read it between the lines of his speeches and messages and in his votes in council, is not revenge,—for he is the friend of railroads and of railroad men; not retaliation, for he fully recognizes the right of corporations to present their side of all questions affecting their interests. It is, rather, a determination, strong from the first, but, through the logic of events, now become a master purpose, to use all the power he possesses as Governor of the State, all the influence he may have as chief citizen of Iowa, to compel the railroad corporations to abandon their present policy of interference with politics and legislation and to restore " the reign of the common people."

Governor Cummins' record shows that this is no new purpose born of opportunity. It is, rather, an evolution of the views held by him even when he was an attorney for corporations. From first to last during his career as attorney he kept himself aloof from all forms of service recognized as "lobbying."

When, in 1888, he became a legislator in Iowa's lower house, his intimates, who knew the trend of his mind and purpose, were not surprised to find him the author of a bill the sole object of which was to solve for Iowa jobbers, retailers, and consumers the long and short haul problem of that period.

The writer, then editor of an Iowa daily, was one day waited upon by a committee of local jobbers and urged to support "the Cummins bill," which, in their judgment, fully met the demands of the time. A few days later the same committee waited upon the editor to request that he oppose the measure.

"On what ground ?" asked the astonished editor. "Have you found a flaw in the.bill?"

"No," was the answer, "but we have discovered that its author is a railroad attorney, and that leads us to suspect there's a fatal flaw in it somewhere."

It was beyond the comprehension of men unacquainted with the future leader of the railroad reform movement in Iowa that an attorney for railroad corporations could as a legislator be other than a lobbyist in disguise.


Among the few men who at the time correctly sized the young legislator was William Larrabee, now known and respected as the reform Governor of that period, his book, entitled "The Railroad Question," everywhere regarded as a standard authority on the relations of railroads to the State. In a recent speech at Independence, Iowa, ex-Governor Larrabee spoke from his personal knowledge, declaring .that Governor Cummins had really started the battle against corporate greed, in his celebrated case against the barbed-wire trust; that in 1888, as a member of the Iowa Legislature, he had rendered valuable service in securing the present railway laws of Iowa, and that as Governor in 1904 he had vetoed a bill by which the railroads had hoped to "New Jerseyize" Iowa.

Perhaps Mr. Cummins' greatest victory at the bar was that to which Governor Larrabee referred. To the suit brought by him against the barbed-wire trust he gave the best powers of a vigorous manhood, strengthened by a large experience and by knowledge gained from long and thorough study of corporation law. This powerful trust had threatened the life of the small competing corporations which had sprung up in the West, and, by advancing prices, had levied a heavy tax upon Western farmers and herders. Case after case was brought and appealed, until finally the issue was fought out before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the result was the complete overthrow of the monopoly.


Few men have paid as dearly for political honors as has Mr. Cummins. Five years ago he was in the enjoyment of a large and fast increasing income derived from a general practice of the law. He was conceded to be at the head of the bar of his State and the peer of any lawyer in the Northwest. His home life was well-nigh ideal. As dispensers of hospitality, Mr. and Mrs. Cummins had (as they still have) no superiors at the State capital. Surrounded by troops of friends, his professional services in demand beyond the limits of his power to respond, he exchanged the highest honors of his chosen profession, and with them the pleasures of social life, unmixed with political complications and partisan antagonisms, for a career inevitably involving pecuniary loss; a position inviting him to laborious days and an infinite variety of annoyances and cares.

In the fierce light which during the recent campaign was thrown upon his official career, the minutest inspection did not bring out a single suggestion of motive for holding office other than an ambition to serve the public faithfully and efficiently, and a purpose to push forward to completion the reform work so vigorously begun by him. It has been charged that the Governor still cherishes his early ambition to enter national politics. Possibly, but if that be an unworthy ambition, few men in public life can be held to be altogether worthy!


Far from regarding himself as the only man in Iowa who could lead his party to victory in the coming campaign, Governor Cummins earnestly urged his political friends to unite upon some one who would take up his work and carry it on to conclusions. But his influential supporters were found to be united in insistence that the successful inaugurator of reforms could best carry them on to conclusions, that the people looked to him for definite results and would not let the fetish of the two-term precedent stand in the way of his second reelection.


A few words relative to the so-called "Iowa Idea" and Governor Cummins' identification therewith. Let the governor himself tell the story.

At the McKinley birthday banquet in Omaha in 1903, the governor said: "There is no Iowa idea, if that phrase is meant to convey the impression that the Republicans of my State hold any idea which distinguishes them from Republicans in other States." Referring to criticisms on his Minneapolis speech in 1902, he declared that the language criticized was taken from the Iowa Republican platform of 1901 and 1902, which only reiterated the national Republican idea of protection, as enunciated by William McKinley in 1896. "The phrase ' Iowa idea,' " he added, "was coined by one who would rather make an epigram than state a truth."


Even the most general survey of a career so resultful; even the merest sketch of a character so forceful, cannot be wholly devoid of interest. The subject of this sketch was born, of Scotch-Irish parents, in Carmichaels, Pa., on February 15, 1850. He early learned from his father the carpenter's trade, and at the age of twelve was earning good wages with hammer and plane. Ambitious to obtain an education, at the age of seventeen he entered Waynesburg College, Pa. He worked his way through college, taking the four years' course in two, at the same time serving as tutor, and filling in his vacations by teaching a country district school. In passing, it might be stated that his alma mater recently honored him with the degree of LL.D., a degree also conferred upon him about the same time by Cornell College, Iowa. The future governor spent the next four years feeling for his place in the world, and incidentally fitting himself the better for effective service at the bar and in public life.

A short term as clerk and another as express messenger sufficed him. He then became a self-taught surveyor and railroad builder. Though scarcely more than a mere youth, he was made chief engineer of the Cincinnati, Richmond & Fort Wayne Railroad, and, soon after, was tendered a position as chief engineer of a branch of what is now the Santa Fe system. But by this time he had determined upon the law as his profession, and in January, 1873, at the age of twenty-three, he became a student in the then well-known law office of McClellan & Hodges, Chicago.

In 1874 he married Miss Ida L. Gallery, of Eaton Rapids, Mich., and, strong in their faith in his future, the young couple returned to Chicago, where, soon after, Mr. Cummins was admitted to the bar. The fledgling attorney devoted the next three years to an all-round practice in the Chicago courts.

In 1878 he removed to Des Moines, and entered into a law partnership with his brother, J. C. Cummins. In 1881 he received from ex-Chief Justice George G. Wright, of Des Moines, an offer of a law partnership, which he was glad to accept. In due time he became the senior member of the firm of Cummins, Hewitt & Wright, for years the best-known law firm in the State. It has been his good fortune to crystallize into practical value, to his clients as an attorney and to the State as its chief executive, the rich and varied experiences of his early life. These experiences, as carpenter, teacher, clerk, express messenger, surveyor, railroad builder, etc., account for the man's encyclopedic knowledge, which has been the surprise of many.


The mental discipline acquired by him during those early years, aided by a retentive memory, has enabled him to pass from one subject and one task to another without mental friction and consequent brain-wear. Let me give a recent illustration of this rare quality of mind. In the midst of the hurly-burly of warring factions on the day before the recent convention, surrounded by friends all eager to have their word with him, the governor happened to see a State official, who, a month before, had been requested to examine certain plans for the furnishing of the State's new Historical Building. Turning at once from the overshadowing theme of the hour, contesting delegations, committee representation, etc., he proceeded to make inquiries, which showed that every detail under consideration a month before was still fresh in his mind. Finally satisfied, he dismissed the subject by declaring himself "ready to alter the specifications and sign the contract." The next moment he was deep in the consideration of another matter brought to his attention. In every board of which the governor is an official member, the same knowledge of detail, or insistence on knowledge, is apparent.


In 1888 Mr. Cummins took his seat as representative in the State Legislature, having been elected on what was then termed an anti-Prohibition Republican ticket. In all legislation aside from prohibition he acted with the Republicans. His belief in high license, as a more practical temperance measure than prohibition, for a time alienated him from many in his party; but subsequent legislation seems to have approved his judgment, for high license with local option now appears to be the settled policy of his State.

In 1894 he was a candidate for United States Senator, receiving more votes than any one else, except ex-Governor Gear. In the McKinley campaign of 1896 he was the national committeeman from Iowa, and in 1899 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate. In all these years be was frequently honored by his party with convention chairmanships, and by many and various organizations with invitations to make addresses.


In personal appearance Governor Cummins is about five feet eleven inches in height; broad-shouldered, deep-chested, erect. His hair has turned to an iron gray, but his dark eyes are undimmed, and, notwithstanding the fatigues of a campaign of unprecedented severity, there remains a strong suggestion of color in his tanned cheeks. He is what is termed a handsome man, unless that term implies effeminacy. As was said in substance of another, wherever he takes his seat there is the head of the table. Not that he suggests that other in self-assertion, for few men are as good listeners as he, and as courteous in discussing the views of others. He is a generous, genial nature. Those are no meaningless words which fell from his lips on the night before his nomination, when his friends called him out to speak at what they termed, in advance of the fact, "a ratification meeting." First thanking them for this renewed expression of their friendship, he exclaimed: "My heart is so full of affection and gratitude toward my friends that it has no room for thought of revenge upon my enemies."

The secret of the man's success in politics is an unusual combination of brain-power and flow of soul.

The Governor's rare power of expression, whether in informal speech or in formal address, always leaves his hearers with at least some single phrase or sentence impressed upon the memory. Quoting almost at random, let me conclude with a few sentences illustrative of this power:

Before the Roosevelt Club in Denver, June 2, 1902:

Do not fear the title of reformer, but put the true meaning upon the word. The reformer who destroys is the enemy of mankind. The reformer whose cry is "march on" is the benefactor of his race. In a country like ours, whose foundation stones were laid by the hands of patriots, and whose structure is cemented by the blood of heroes, where justice and equality have been the watchwords of our commanders, what we need is not revolution, but evolution. We need reformers who recognize that what we have is good, but that it may be better; men and women who devote their lives not to tearing down, but to building up.

At the reciprocity convention in Chicago, August 17, 1905:

I appeal to the protectionists of the United States to stand by the old doctrine: to follow Blaine and Garfield, Sherman and McKinley, and not to confound the time-honored and time-tried policies exemplified in these leaders of men and leaders of thought with the selfish fallacies that are now proclaimed as the faith of the fathers.

The American Monthly of Monthly Reviews, Volume 34, 1906
Submitted by Cathy Danielson

CUMMINS, Albert Baird, (1850 - 1926)

Senate Years of Service: 1908-1926

Party: Republican

CUMMINS, Albert Baird, a Senator from Iowa; born near Carmichaels, Greene County, Pa., February 15, 1850; attended the public schools, and a preparatory academy; graduated Waynesburg (Pa.) College in 1869; moved to Iowa; briefly engaged as a carpenter; clerked in the office of the recorder of Clayton County; moved to Allen County, Indiana in 1871 where he became deputy county surveyor and engaged in railroad building; moved to Chicago to study law; admitted to the Illinois bar in 1875 and commenced practice in Chicago; returned to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1878, where he continued the practice of law; member, State house of representatives 1888-1890; unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1894 and 1900; member of the Republican National Committee 1896-1900; Governor of Iowa 1902-1908, when he resigned, having been elected Senator; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1908 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of William B. Allison; reelected in 1909, 1914, and again in 1920, and served from November 24, 1908, until his death on July 30, 1926; unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1926; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Sixty-sixth through the Sixty-ninth Congresses; chairman, Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment (Sixty-first and Sixty-second Congresses), Committee on the Mississippi River and its Tributaries (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses), Committee on Interstate Commerce (Sixty-sixth and Sixty-seventh Congresses), Committee on Judiciary (Sixty-eighth and Sixty-ninth Congresses); died in Des Moines, Iowa, July 30, 1926; interment in Woodland Cemetery.
Submitted by Cathy Danielson

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