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Hon. Jeremiah H. Murphy


Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 7/14/2021 at 09:46:38

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895

HON. JEREMIAH H. MURPHY was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, February 19, 1835. His father was Timothy Murphy, a native of County Cork, Ireland, by trade a hatter, and a man of great energy, industry and self-reliance. His mother was Jerusha Shattuck, a descendant of an old Pilgrim family, and a woman of great strength of mind and character. Thus the traits that in after years made Mr. Murphy famous can easily be accounted for by the laws of heredity. The foundation of his education was laid in the public schools of Boston, and this course of study was supplemented by an eighteen months' course at Appleton University, Wisconsin, his father having removed with his family to Fond du Lac County in 1849. The same energy and application for which he became so distinguished in after life, applied to his student days, and as he was both apt and assiduous he progressed rapidly in his studies, and thus fitted himself for the battle of life which he fought so heroically in later years. In 1852 the family removed to Iowa, took up a new claim on " Old Man ” creek in Johnson County, and began pioneer life in earnest. In the summer of 1852 Jere and a younger brother with two yoke of oxen broke eighty acres of prairie land and the winter following they cut and split rails and stakes enough to put an " old Virginia stake- and- rider” fence around the entire one hundred and sixty acres of their farm, and the following spring found them with the whole of it under cultivation . This incident is mentioned as illustrative of the presistence that characterized the whole life of the man.

While young Murphy gave his whole endeavor to whatever he undertook, yet he had ambition beyond the scope of farm life ; and in 1854 he entered the Iowa State University at Iowa City, and took a three years' course in that institution, graduating in 1857. Immediately upon graduation he entered the law office of Hon. William M. Smith of Marion, Iowa, and pursued a nine months' course of private study of the law under his instruction , when he was admitted to the bar. His first partner in the practice of law was a man named McCullough, at Marengo. This was soon dissolved, when Mr. Murphy associated himself with an able young attorney named H. M. Martin ; this partner ship was continued at Marengo and Davenport till Mr. Martin's death, many years later. The firm represented the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad at Marengo and built up a large practice. In 1867 their business had so increased that they determined to seek a wider field for operation, and they both removed to Davenport. Here W. P. Lynch was added to the firm . Mr. Martin died in 1882, and this practically dissolved the firm , Mr. Lynch removing to Dakota a year later and Mr. Murphy retiring from active practice. He retained for many years later, however, his interest in a law firm , as upon the dissolution of the old firm there was formed the new firm of Ellis, Murphy & Gould , Mr. Murphy's partners being Hon. Lyman Ellis, now of Clinton, Iowa, and the late George E. Gould of this city. This was succeeded in 1889 by the firm of Gould & Murphy, Mr. T. A. Murphy succeeding his father. Mr. Gould died in 1891, but the business is still carried on by Mr. T. A. Murphy. It has been before remarked that Mr. Murphy was ambitious ; one of his aspirations early in life was to be Governor of Iowa. Later in life this ambition was dismissed, but for many years it was a cherished hope. In political principle he was always Democratic, and was an earnest and untiring worker for the success of his party. His first experience as a politician was when he was but twenty years of age ; he stumped Iowa and Johnston Counties for James Buchanan, and he took an active part in every Iowa campaign since that time until the last one, when his health would not permit him to enter actively into the contest. His first public office was as alderman of Marengo. The same year, 1860, he was appointed Deputy United States Marshal and as such took the census of Iowa County. In 1861 he received the Democratic nomination for State Senator, but declined the honor. In 1864 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which nominated General George B. McClelland for the Presidency. He took a very earnest part in the proceedings of this convention . He was a delegate to the convention at Philadelphia in 1866 and to the convention in New York in 1868, at which Seymour and Blair were nominated . He was for a number of years one of the most active members of the Iowa Democratic State Central Committee. He was invariably a delegate to the State conventions, and never missed a national convention. He was elected Mayor of Davenport in 1873 and again in 1878, and served as an Iowa State senator from 1874 to 1878. In 1876 he received the Democratic nomination for Congress. Two years previous he had been a candidate before the convention for that nomination, which he lacked but one vote of getting. In 1876 his opponent was Hon . Hiram Price, who defeated him , but the vote evidenced Mr. Murphy's popularity, as he ran one thousand six hundred votes ahead of the rest of the Democratic ticket. He was a Hancock elector in the Presidential campaign of 1880. In 1881 he was elected to the Forty . eighth Congress and was reelected to the Forty -ninth, being succeeded in 1885 by the Hon . Walter I. Hayes of Clinton. With the expiration of this term of service Mr. Murphy retired from public life, but continued to take a lively interest in the affairs of the State and Nation .

Perhaps the most marked characteristic of the man, aside from his persistence, was his earnestness. When he undertook a case or a cause, it was after he had first convinced himself of its justice, and having . thus convinced himself, he looked ahead and never faltered . The objective point once fixed in his mind was never changed ; he might adapt his methods in some measure to the exigencies of the case, but the ultimate end was never lost sight of. Opposition only aroused him to greater endeavor, and he recognized no such word as defeat. This is evidenced by the whole career of the man .

Mr. Murphy worked hard when he was working for himself, and he was not less devoted to the object in hand when he was acting in the interests of the people who had elected him to office. He made a fine record as Mayor of this city. He was positive and assertive, and he generally knew what he wanted and did not hesitate to mention it, always with the interests of the city and its people in view. His best work, perhaps, was done in the course of the cholera epidemic of 1871. There was great general alarm in the city and an abhorrent fear of contact with the contagion, but to all the considerations that held the mass of the people away from the cholera district of the city Mayor Murphy seemed to be a stranger. He went right into the midst of it and grappled with it unhesitatingly, backed by physicians and citizens who were with him in this work . These determined and fearless efforts saved many lives, without doubt, and cut the plague's course shorter than it would have been.

It is related that one night during this siege, he entered a small, mean dwelling not far from the bridge. In the room he found the dead bodies of the father and mother - one on the bed and the other on the floor— while three little children were playing in the same plague -stricken room . Without waiting for instructions, Mayor Murphy called a conveyance and bundled those three little ones off to Mercy Hospital, where they were welcomed and cared for.

As State Senator he was always in his place, and he did excellent work for his city and State. His energy and attention to business were unfailing, and he had an acquaintance and influence in the whole State that made him a valuable man to his section and party. His more prominent positions there were taken in opposition to the bill to tax eleemosynary institutions of the State. He was largely led and influenced to this stand by the unselfish and devoted efforts of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy of this city in the time of the cholera visitation here years before. After seeing those sisters go fearlessly into the midst of the plague, where all others save a noble few refused to go, he conceived a fast friendship for them and their like, and he fought the measure that proposed a tax on them with all the energy that was in him , and helped to win it ; did more in that direction than any other man in the Iowa assembly. He was not less prominent in his opposition to the prohibition bill. He lent himself to that work unsparingly, and was among the leaders against it.

It was in connection with the Hennepin canal that Mr. Murphy made his mark and national name in Congress. He had taken the interest of a good citizen, merely, in this measure, but the national waterways convention that was held here in 1880 made him an enthusiastic advocate of the Hennepin. From that time forward his other ambition to be Governor of his State was paled by the absorbing interest with which he pursued this great project. He was granted the happiness of seeing it commenced as a reality, but was not permitted to see any part of it in service as a national highway.

Before he went to Washington as a member of the Forty -eighth Congress Mr. Murphy had made a reputation as champion of the Hennepin canal . It was natural that he should be placed on the committees on rivers and harbors, and railways and canals, in both of which places he served with zeal and efficiency, bending all his other attention, it seemed to his people here at home, to the accomplishment of the legislation needed to secure the Hennepin appropriations and set that work in motion.

In this interest he traveled widely over the country. He had done this before, but after he took up the subject of the Hennepin he included the whole country in his journeyings, till at the time of his death he was able to say that there was not a State or Territory of the Union, or an important city or section of the country, that he had not visited . Everywhere he went he carried the name of Davenport and talked Hennepin canal. He attended every waterways convention that was held, in any part of the country, and always in an official capacity, as an accredited delegate and representative. He used his acquaintance and influence to enlist interest in the great scheme, and he ceased not to labor till he saw the Hennepin canal take shape as an actuality. Everything was subordinated to this great pet plan of his. He even went to the end of rechristening himself a namesake of the canal, and in a pleasant mood often signed his name Jere Hennepin Murphy. He came to Davenport with his surviving wife not long after their marriage, and a few days after the first appropriation for work on the canal was made, and five thousand enthusiastic citizens assembled with a band at the depot to greet him upon his arrival. The reception was wholly impromptu, gotten up on the spur of the moment, but it was all the more spontaneous and sincere for that, and it afforded him, as the recipient of that token of esteem , what he declared to be the happiest and proudest moment of his life, as he addressed a crowd of Davenporters from the south balcony of the Kimball House. As long as the Hennepin canal stands the name of J. H. Murphy will be linked with it as that of its strongest and best friend in the most perilous period of its history — when it existed only in the minds of its friends, being then not even a canal on paper.

This fact and the record of the fact will be to his memory an everlasting monument. It was a great undertaking, and it required a man with the elements of greatness in his composition to champion it as heroically as did Mr. Murphy. No one at present can justly estimate the benefits that will accrue from this enterprise, nor can any tribute to the memory of the man who more than any other is responsible for its success be adequate. Posterity will reap the benefits and posterity will revere the memory of its most devoted apostle.

In this gigantic undertaking came to Mr. Murphy the opportunity to distinguish himself, and he proved equal to the emergency ; therein the honor lies.


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