The Late James W. Grimes of Iowa

A writer in N. Y. Tribune furnishes the following sketch of the late Hon. James W. Grimes of Iowa, a native of Deering, in this State, and in his youth a student of Amherst Schools:

The demise of one of the most prominent and marked men of the times furnishes much besides a mere obituary notice of supplemental interest to his friends and the country. No person now living in the North West has been so intimately and publicly associated with the varied history of that section of our country as the lamented Senator.

He came to Burlington, just reaching his majority when that now beautiful city was but a hamlet, a stranger with hardly money in his pocket to buy a dinner. Necessity soon developed native resource and ability in gaining business, and that confidence which led to political distinction. As a Territorial Representative in the minority he gained his points in matters of policy, passing what bills he chose and defeating those not desired by strategy in dividing to conquer. A quiet political autocrat knowing the effect of a skillful question or derisive amendment. Holding prominent away while Iowa was a Territory, and resisting the demands of slavery six years as a Whig, had fitted him to became the candidate for Governor in 1854, when the great blow by his election was struck at the dominant party.

Grimes said on his nomination, “I will not move until the Free Soldiers and Whigs make common cause, and when they do I will stump, the State, and we shall triumph by a majority of thousands.” The coalition was formed and a more effective canvass has not been made in this country. His opponent refused to meet him, quite sure of an election.

The humors of that campaign will not be forgotten by many, and no man enjoyed them better than Grimes. Once, weary with a long ride, he fell asleep in his chair at a hotel, where, on awaking the crowd were making bets that “Old Grimes” would not come; dare not as he would be met by Judge _____, a Democrat, and demolished. Concealing his name, he remarked that he was going over to the meeting and would speak himself if no one else appeared. The crowd responded, “We will go over if you will make a Democratic speech.” “I will do it,” was the reply, “and pay every Whig for his time who comes over, if not satisfied.” Grimes made his speech, “I understand,” said he, “these are the sentiments of Grimes the candidate.” It was not until after they had shouted, “we will go for him,” that he assured them, “I am sure to be elected.” At his last speech he tied his team to the courtyard fence, which was so poor and worn out as to occasion derision. He said he was as poor and weak as his horses, after his long summer trip, and remarked that the glass had told him how thin he was, and, musing as he rode over the prairies after his skeleton team, he thought of the poetic sentiment, “What shadows we are and what shadows we pursue.” Up to his last days he mentioned the salient and strong points of his contemporaries with delicacy and candid appreciation.

As Governor for four years, he was faithful, progressive, sagacious, and set Iowa in a train of financial and legislative success which he contributed much to her present position. He evinced much State pride, and was in theory a States Rights statesman, jealous of prerogatives, and fearing the assumption of the General Government, favoring intelligent supervision, care for the unfortunate, and ample endowment of her schools and colleges, which he regarded as the crown jewels of the State.

The country knows of his Senatorial career for ten years, and of his voluntary resignation, though under a political cloud, not joining his party in the demand for the impeachment of Mr. Johnson, but said he, a few weeks since, on being reminded that the press of the State were vying with each other in his praise: “I voted as a Juror with a good conscience and against a pressure which brought me to my bed, and of course am glad that now it is seen my course was best for the country.”

Few Senators spent so little time in elaborate preparation, yet none were at the head of a committee so truly master of the situation as Grimes at the head of the Committee on Naval Affairs; nor was he less prominent as legislator for the District of Columbia. An index of his position is seen in the remark of a gentleman with a doubtful bill: “I am more afraid of Grimes than any man in the Senate”—a position which was well sustained during those eventful years of his career, marked by colossal schemes and startling expenditure. In debate he was clear and concise, and was more skilled in debating doubtful legislation than in drafting bills which he thought far too numerous.

At one period he was a large farmer, an interesting agricultural writer, evincing practical taste in agriculture on the beautiful grounds he left on the bluffs which overlook the Mississippi River. Here he spent most of his time, so far secluded, that the world called him cold and unsocial; but a depression of spirits in a struggle with a hereditary heart-disease, will account for his quiet life, and the necessity which kept him from responding to numerous calls for public addresses. A grand State welcome was planned for him on his return from Europe, but he delicately declined the ovation.

Mr. Grimes was slow in cultivating new acquaintances, but tenacious of old friendships. Frugality, early purchases of real estate, and confidence in the growth of his city and the value of railroad property will leave an estate valued at near $1,000,000, perhaps it is the third in the State, and acquired by slow accretions to the first earned dollar, and not by the risks of trade.

Years since, he founded a Professorship in Iowa College, and furnished free tuition perpetually for a number of students. Liberality was shown to Dartmouth, and a valuable public library has been selected for the City of Burlington—one of his most conspicuous benefactions.

He leaves an adopted daughter, and a bereaved wife, whose gentle, winsome spirit and intellectual accomplishments lent a charm to every circle, in which she moved, and whose loss is only greater than that of his beloved State and the nation.

(Source: Farmers’ Cabinet, Amherst, N. H., Wednesday, 28 February 1872) Submitted By: Cathy Danielson


Ex-Senator Hon. James W. Grimes

Hon. James W. Grimes, late Senator from Iowa, died in Burlington, Iowa, on Wednesday night, of heart disease.

Mr. G. was born in Deering, this State, Oct. 20, 1816, was educated at Dartmouth, read law in Peterborough, and removed to the then Territory of Iowa and commenced the practice in Burlington, where he has since resided.

He was a member of the first Territorial Legislature, was Governor of the State from 1854 to 1858, was elected U. S. Senator in 1859, and re-elected in 1865 for six years, but resigned before the expiration of his term.

He was an able man and was very highly respected.

(Source: New Hamshire Patriot, 1872)
Submitted By: Cathy Danielson

 All data on this website is ©2009 by Genealogy Trails
with full rights reserved for original submitters.