Samuel J. Kirkwood

The fifth Governor of Iowa was Samuel J. Kirkwood. He was born in Hartford County, Md., on his father's farm, Dec. 20, 1813. His father was twice married, first to a lady named Coulson, who became the mother of two sons. After the death of this companion, the elder Kirkwood was united in marriage with Mary Alexander, who bore him three children, all of whom were sons. Of this little family Samuel was the youngest, and when ten years of age was sent to Washington City to attend a school taught by John McLeod, a relative of the family. Here he remained for four years, giving diligent attention to his studies, at the close of which time he entered a drug store at Washington as clerk. In this capacity he continued with the exception of eighteen months, until he reached his majority. During the interval referred to, young Kirkwood was living the life of a pedagogue in York County, Pa.

In the year 1835, Samuel quit Washington and came westward to Richland County, Ohio. His father and brother had preceded him from Maryland, locating upon a timbered farm in the Buckeye State. Here Samuel lent them valuable assistance in clearing the farm. He was ambitions to enter the legal profession, and in the year 1841, an opportunity was afforded him to enter the office of Thomas W. Bartley, afterward Governor of Ohio. The following two years he gave diligent application to his books, and in 1843, was admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Ohio. He was then fortunate enough to form an association in the practice of his profession with his former preceptor, which relations continued for eight years.

From 1845 to 1849 he served as Prosecuting Attorney of his county. In 1849 he was elected as a Democrat to represent his county and district in the Constitutional Convention. In 1851 Mr. Bartley, his partner, having been elected to the Supreme Judiciary of the State, Kirkwood formed a partnership with Barnabas Bairns, with whom he continued to practice until the spring of 1855, when he removed to the West.

Up to 1854 Mr. Kirkwood had acted with the Democratic party. But the measures proposed and sustained that year by the Democracy in Congress, concentrated in what was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, drove him with hosts of anti-slavery Democrats out of the party. He was besought by, the opposition in the "Richland District" to become their candidate for Congress, but declined. In 1855 he came to Iowa and settled two miles northwest of Iowa City, entering into a partnership with his brother-in-law, Ezekiel Clark, in the milling business, and kept aloof from public affairs. He could not long conceal his record and abilities from his neighbors, however, and in 1856 he was elected to the State Senate from the district composed of the counties of Iowa and Johnson, and served in the last session of the Legislature held at Iowa City and the first one held at Des Moines.

In 1859 Mr. Kirkwood was made the standard-bearer of the Republicans of Iowa, and though he had as able and popular a competitor as Gen. A. C. Dodge, he was elected Governor-of Iowa by a majority of over 3,000. He was inaugurated Jan. 11, 1860. Before the expiration of his first term came the great Civil War. As Governor, during the darkest days of the Rebellion, he performed an exceedingly important duty. He secured a prompt response by volunteers to all requisitions by the Federal Government on the State for troops, so that during his Governorship no "draft" took place in Iowa, and no regiment except the first, enlisted for less than three years. At the same time he maintained the State's financial credit. The Legislature, at its extra session in 1861, authorized the sale of $800,000 in bonds, to assist in arming and equipping troops. So frugally was this work done, that but $300,000 of the bonds were sold, and the remaining $500,000 not having been required, the bonds representing this amount were destroyed by order of the succeeding Legislature.

In October, 1861, Gov. Kirkwood was, with comparatively little opposition, re-elected—an honor accorded for the first time in the history of the State. His majority was about 18,000. During his second term he was appointed by President Lincoln to be Minister to Denmark, but he declined to enter upon his diplomatic duties until the expiration of his term as Governor. The position was kept open for him until that time, but, when it came, pressing private business compelled a declination of the office altogether.

In January, 1866, he was a prominent candidate before the Legislature for United States Senator. Senator Harlan had resigned the Senatorship upon his appointment to the office of Secretary of the Interior by President Lincoln, just before his death, but had withdrawn from the cabinet soon after the accession of Mr. Johnson to the Presidency. In this way it happened that the Legislature had two terms of United States Senator to fill, a short term of two years, to fill Harlan's unexpired term, and a long term of six years to immediately succeed this; and Harlan had now become a candidate for his own successorship, to which Kirkwood also aspired. Ultimately, Kirkwood was elected for the first and Harlan for the second term. During his brief Senatorial service, Kirkwood did not hesitate to measure swords with Senator Sumner, whose natural egotism had begotten in him an arrogant and dictatorial manner, borne with humbly until then by his colleagues, in deference to his long experience and eminent ability, but unpalatable to an independent Western Senator like Kirkwood.

At the close of his Senatorial term, March 4, 1867, he resumed the practice of law, which a few years later he relinquished to accept the Presidency of the Iowa City Savings Bank. In 1875 he was again elected Governor, and was inaugurated Jan. 13, 1876. He served but little over a year, as early in 1877 he was chosen United States Senator. He filled this position four years, resigning to become Secretary of the Interior in President Garfield's Cabinet. In this office he was succeeded, April 17, 1882, by Henry M. Teller, of Colorado.

Gov. Kirkwood returned to Iowa City, his home, where he still resides, being now advanced in years. He was married in 1843, to Miss Jane Clark, a native of Ohio.

In 1886 Mr. Kirkwood was nominated for Congress by the Republicans of his district. Considerable interest was manifested in the contest, as both the Labor and Democratic parties had popular candidates in the field.

(Source: Portrait And Biographical Album of Lee County, Iowa, 1887)
Submitted By: Cathy Danielson

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