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George G. Wright


Posted By: Fran Hunt, Volunteer
Date: 10/4/2001 at 08:27:48

From the Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties – 1890 County
Hon. George G. Wright, an eminent jurist and a pioneer lawyer of Iowa, a former citizen of Van Buren County, is a native of Indiana, having been born in the town of Bloomington, Monroe County, on March 24, 1820. His father, John Wright, was a native of Pennsylvania, and was of Welsh descent, the family dating its origin in America back to the year 1720, when the founder, an emigrant from Wales, settled in Pennsylvania. John Wright was a mason by trade, and in early life married Miss Rachel Seaman His death occurred in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1825, when our subject was but five years of age. Mrs. Wright survived her husband many years. She came to Iowa in its Territorial days, and died in Keosauqua in 1850.
George G. Wright was educated in the State University of Indiana, being graduated in the class of “39, while in his twentieth year, after which he read law at Rockville Indiana, under the tutelage of his brother Joseph A. Wright, afterward Governor of Indiana, and was admitted to the bar in the State Courts of that State in 1840. In September of that year he came to the Territory of Iowa and in November established himself in practice in Keosauqua, then one of the most promising towns in the Territory. A thorough Whig in political sentiment, the young lawyer at once took prominence in his party, and was chosen Prosecuting Attorney of his county; he was also elected to the State Senate for the term of 1848 and 1850. In the latter year he was the Whig candidate for Congress in a district comprising the whole southern half of Iowa, but the waning strength of the party was not equal to the task of electing him, although his vote exceeded that of the general ticket. In January 1855, and while yet under thirty-five years of age, his ability and learning as a lawyer and his personal popularity led to his election as Chief Justice of Iowa, to which position he was re-elected, holding the office for a period of fifteen years, or until 1870, when he was elected to the United States Senate. At the close of his Senatorial term, Judge Wright declined a re-election, preferring, as more congenial, the practice of his profession to the more exciting arena of politics.
“His time on the Supreme Bench covers the important period in the judicial history of the State. The adoption of the Code system and judicial construction of it is embraced in it. Judge Wright’s opinions will be found in all the Iowa Reports from Volume 1 to Volume 30, and the lawyer, whether he be in Iowa, Maine, California or elsewhere, will find in those volumes precedents on general law that he may cite with confidence to any court, assured that they will be accepted with respect and will carry weight and authority with them.”
Ten years after his election to the Supreme Bench, Judge Wright removed from Keosauqua to Des Moines, which has since been his home. In the fall of that year he associated with himself Judge Chester C. Cole, of the same court, in the organization of the Iowa Law School (the first law school west of the Mississippi River). Judge Wright had had a number of students in his office during the two or three years preceding, and several applications for a like privilege suggested the formation of a school, in which, during the first year, twelve students pursued the study of law under the tutelage of these two gentlemen, they being the only instructors. At the opening of the second year, Prof. William G. Hammond became connected with the school, giving it a constant personal attention, which the judicial duties of the other professors did not permit them to render; and the three men carried the enterprise through the two succeeding years with but slight increase in the number of students. The merits of the school attracted the attention of the bar throughout the State, and in 1868 the Iowa Law School, by the action of the Regents, became a department of the state University, and its instructors still remained in charge as its professors, while the prior graduates were made Alumni of the University. Professor Hammond removed to Iowa City and was placed at the head of the school, Judges Wright and Cole continued to give a portion of their time to its service.
During his labors on the bench, and while engaged in building up a sound and safe fabric of the unwritten law, Judge Wright found time to give, by his energy and influence, an impetus to many public enterprises and objects. Prior to the organization of the Iowa Law School, he took a prominent part in the organization of the State Agricultural Society, of which he was President for five years, from 1858 to 1863, thereby fostering and encouraging improved methods in all that pertains to Iowa’s peculiar agricultural population.
“An earnest patriot, while physical incapacity prevented his entering the army, by word and deed he sustained the arm of the Government in the struggle to save the Union, and many a soldier drew inspiration from his earnest speech, and many a soldier’s family found in him a steadfast supporter in time of need. In the Senate, he at once became Chairman and member of influential committees, and had he not, for reasons wholly personal to himself, voluntarily declined re-election, he would doubtless have become one of Iowa’s famous long-time Senators. Retiring from the Senate, he took the head of the law firm of Wright, Gatch & Wright, and again entered the practice with his early enthusiasm, and at once was felt in the work of his profession. A desire for rest and greater quiet induced him in time to seek less engrossing duties, and as the trusted head of financial institutions of his city, he now devotes such time, as he desires to business. Retaining however, his early love for his profession, Judge Wright continues to lecture to his old law school, and for like reasons is actively associated with the American Bar Association, of which he was president from June of 1887 to June of 1888. His wide experience as a lawyer, legislator and judge, makes his judgment in that body of recognized value, and as such is constantly sought and observed. In 1882 he severed his connection with the law firm of which he was the head, and accepted the Presidency of the Polk County Savings Bank, which was organized that year, and which position he has filed continuously since, covering a period of seven years During the same time he has been President of the Security, Loan and Trust Company of Des Moines an important financial institution of Polk County.
Judge Wright was married in Van Buren County, Iowa on October 19, 1843 to Miss Hannah M. Dibble, daughter of Thomas and Ruth Gates Dibble. Mrs. Wright was born in Saratoga County New York, near the celebrated springs of that name, and came to Iowa with her parents in 1839. Her family was of New England origin, and removed from Connecticut to New York early in the eighteenth century. Judge and Mrs. Wright have sic children living, four sons and two daughters: Thomas S., the eldest, wedded Miss Mary Tuttle, is an attorney by profession, and is the present solicitor of the Rock Island Railroad for Iowa and Illinois, and resides in Chicago; Craig L., married Miss Kate Van Dyke, and is a practicing attorney of Sioux City, Iowa; Mary D., the eldest daughter, is the wife of Frank H. Peavey, a grain merchant of Minneapolis Minn.; Carroll, who married Miss Nellie Elliott, was graduated from the Iowa State University, and also from the Law Department of Simpson College, and is a lawyer in active practice in Des Moines; Lucia H. is the wife of Edgar H. Stone, a banker of Sioux City; George G. is single and a resident of Des Moines.
Judge Wright is and has been an earnest Republican since the formation of the party. In his religious views he adheres to the Methodist Episcopal Church, under the auspices of which he received his early religious training. Mrs. Wright is a member of the Unitarian Church. The Judge is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and enjoys the distinguished honor of being one of the three Iowa members from civil life of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Almost half a century has passed since he made his maiden speech in an Iowa Court. Then this now populous and wealthy State was a sparsely settled region, with but a portion of its territory open to settlement by the whites. During that period his name has been honorably associated with the history of the bar of territory and State, and for fifteen years he has served with distinction in the highest office in its Judiciary. The imprint of his legal talent is stamped upon the records and reports of the state in a manner that reflects credit upon himself and the commonwealth, and will perpetuate his memory for all time. Many of the most successful and promising lawyers of the state were his pupils or were benefited in their professional education through his efforts in founding a law school and his continued interest in the Law Department of the State University. His election to the United States Senate was an honor justly deserved, and his honorable and upright service in that distinguished body fully justified the choice of his constituents.
While it is difficult to write of the living in terms worthy of their merits, virtues and talents, without incurring the risk of offending with an appearance of flattery, it is nevertheless true that in a work like this, that is intended to be a standard work of reference for posterity, a true delineation of character and a fair representation of the lifework of the subject should be presented. We know no reason why we should wait until a man is dead to speak the truth of him.
Judge Wright possesses all the characteristics of a great lawyer. Studious by inclination, he is well grounded in the law. His mind, always active, grasps with force the subject of his thoughts, and his opinions are expressed in terms at once clear, logical and comprehensive. In his intercourse with men his manner is entirely free from ostentation and self-consciousness, but is calm. Dignified and at the same time evincing an earnest cordiality that wins him many friends. The purity of his life and his fidelity to every trust, have won for him the unbounded confidence and respect of his fellow citizens, both at home and abroad.
I am not related, and am only copying this for the information of those who might find this person in their family.


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