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HON. EDWARD JOHNSTONE

JOHNSTONE, FREAME, REID, MCMURPHY, BACON, SMITH, RICHARDS

Posted By: STurner (email)
Date: 7/7/2018 at 00:11:03

HON. EDWARD JOHNSTONE

Edward Johnstone was for half a century one of the most prominent and distinguished citizens of Iowa, and was a leader in business and political affairs, as well as a man of most extensive information and versatile talents. No man in the State of Iowa was better known or more highly respected than was he. In almost every public enterprise he was a prominent figure, yet he never sought preferment, although he possessed qualifications for the highest offices.

Hon. Edward Johnstone was born in Kingston, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1815. His paternal ancestry was originally from Annandale, Scotland, and the first of his immediate family who emigrated to Ireland was Robert Johnstone. This was late in the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century. Alexander Johnstone, the father of our subject, was born in Ireland in 1772, and came to this country in 1796, where he married Miss Elizabeth Freame, a native of the Keystone state though of Irish descent. Unto them were born ten sons and two daughters. The two eldest sons were educated in the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, and served in the regular army. Another son, William F. Johnstone, was the third governor of Pennsylvania. Another James, a scholar and a poet, was through the Mexican War and was one of the prominent military men of western Pennsylvania. Another brother, John W., served in the Mexican and Civil Wars, attaining the rank of colonel. The youngest son, Richard, was appointed to a lieutenancy in the regular army, and was killed in the Mexican War. The father, a man of fine physique, died at the age of one hundred years.

Our subject was educated in his native town, and also read law and practiced at Greensburg in the same county. Admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-two, he set for the West, locating at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where he remained until the fall of the same year, when he went to Burlington, then the capital of Iowa, and served as clerk in the territorial legislature. During that session he was appointed one of three commissioners to gather testimony regarding titles to what were known as "half-breed" lands. The discharge of this duty was facilitated by his removal to Montrose, where he remained for one year. In 1839, after the law under which he was appointed was repealed, he went to Fort Madison, having, together with General Hugh T. Reid, been employed by the St. Louis Land Company to institute proceedings to secure a division of the lands under the partition laws of the territory. This resulted in the Decree Title under which the lands are now held.

In 1839 Mr. Johnstone was elected to the legislature, and for two successive terms was speaker of the house. In 1840 he was elected to the council, and during President Polk's administration was United States district attorney for the judicial district of Iowa. In 1851, when the board of county commissioners was established, Mr. Johnstone was elected judge of Lee county, and served in that capacity until 1855, making the most efficient guardian of the community's interests to whom the public affairs of the county was ever intrusted.

In 1857 he was a member of the state constitutional convention, and as such assisted in making the present constitution of the state. He distinguished himself in that body by his eminent ability, took a prominent part in all its deliberations, and did much to secure the incorporation into the constitution of many of its most important provisions.

After the expiration of his term upon the bench Judge Johnstone engaged in the banking business, the title of the firm being McMurphy, Johnstone & Bacon, which was subsequently change to Johnstone & Bacon. In 1868 he removed to Keokuk and to the management of the Keokuk Savings Bank, of which he continued the executive head until his death, which occurred May 17, 1891, and it is to Judge Johnston's great business and financial ability that the success attained by this most prosperous institution is due.

Through his influence the first state insane asylum at Mount Pleasant was established, he being one of three commissioners. When Iowa's commission was appointed for the World's Columbian Exposition he was made a member and chosen president. In fact, he never entered a meeting of men assembled for deliberation that he was not called to preside.

When Mr. Cleveland was elected to the presidency for the first time there was a large and spontaneous movement to have Judge Johnstone called to the cabinet from the West, but he himself refused to consent. From public office he ever shrank. During the last years of his life he was president of the Pioneer Lawmakers' Association of Iowa.

In January, 1840, the first attempt formally to organize the Democratic party in Iowa was made, and with that end in view a document, which is still in existence, was prepared by Mr. Johnstone personally and signed by himself and sixteen others setting forth the necessity of at once taking steps toward bringing the party's members into line and electing Democrats to congress.

When Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, met with those difficulties at Nauvoo which have become matters of history he at once wrote to Mr. Johnstone to defend him, and had not that gentleman been starting for his old home in Pennsylvania, he would have been counsel in that celebrated case. The letter from Mr. Smith is still in the possession of Judge Johnstone's family.

Judge Johnstone was greatly interested in the success of the Columbian exposition, and was especially anxious that Iowa's geological display should be full and complete. Had he been spared, there is no doubt that he would have been of great assistance to Iowa's exhibitors. To Judge Johnstone as much if not more than any other man is the city of Keokuk indebted for its fine government building, as well as for the dry docks, for his influence was exerted most effectively in behalf of these important improvements.

He was a close student as well as a great reader, and it was rare indeed that the moments between business hours did not find him engaged in reading. To his many other accomplishments was added the ability to compose poetry of superior merit. As early as 1857 he was awarded the prize offered by the management of a prominent St. Louis opera house for the best poem to be used on the occasion of their opening performance.

Judge Johnson married Miss Elizabeth V. Richards in April, 1849, the ceremony being celebrated in St. Louis county, Missouri, and to them were born three sons and one daughter. Alexander E., president of the Keokuk Savings Bank, of Keokuk, Iowa. Edward R., now residing in California. Hugo R., a resident of New York. Miss Mary M. makes her home with her brother at Keokuk.

Judge Johnstone was affable and friendly in conversation, and had the faculty of making friends. He numbered his friends among both political parties. He was a man of high culture and education, with all the instincts and fine sensibilities of a gentleman. No man in Iowa had more to do with the making and shaping of the commonwealth than he. During all the time of his residence here he was identified with all the great public movements. He had a wide acquaintance throughout the state, and many went to him for counsel and advice. It seems appropriate in this place to quote from an estimate of Judge Johnstone's character as made by a fellow citizen of Keokuk:

"A man of strong convictions, he was ready on all occasions to express them and conscientiously stand by them. Charitable in his judgement of others, fair to those who opposed him, considerate of the opinions of others, however widely them might differ from those entertained by himself, with a warm and sympathizing heart towards all who were in need and sorrow, with a loyalty to friends that was proverbial, the sum of such a life may find expression in the words, a good citizen, faithful public servant, true friend, kind husband and indulgent father. He was at all times an honest, honorable, kindly man. He flattered nobody, he persecuted nobody, he maligned nobody, but was always frank and open. He gave everybody his due. He was plain in his manner, plain in attire, plain in language. He was a man of the people."

Source: BIOGRAPHICAL REVIEW OF LEE COUNTY

CHICAGO, HOBART PUBLISHING COMPANY 1905

Transcription typed/proofed as article was originally published in 1905


 

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