Governors of Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 111


ANSEL BRIGGS, the first gentleman chosen to fill the gubernatorial chair of Iowa after its organization as a State, was a native of Vermont, and was born Feb. 3, 1806. His parents, who likewise were New Englanders, were Benjamin and Electa Briggs. The boyhood of our subject was passed in his native State, and in attendance upon the common schools he received a fair education which was subsequently improved by a term at Norwich Academy. When a young man he removed with his parents to Cambridge, Guernsey Co., Ohio, where young Briggs engaged in the work of establishing stage lines. He also here embarked in political affairs and as a Whig run for the office of County Auditor but was defeated by John Ferguson, a Jackson Democrat.

After remaining in Ohio for six years, the glowing accounts of the fair fields and the fertile prairies of the Territory of Iowa, led him westward across the Father of Waters. He had previously united his fortunes in life with Nancy M. Dunlap, daughter of Major Dunlap, and officer in the War of 1812. Even prior to this marriage he had chosen a wife, a lady who was born on the same day and year as himself, but of whom he was soon bereft. He brought with him to Iowa his little family and located at Andrew, in Jackson County. Seeing the opportunity here for resuming his former business, he began opening up stage lines, frequently driving the old stage coach himself. He made several contracts with the Postoffice Department for carrying the United States mails weekly between Dubuque and Davenport, Dubuque and Iowa City and other routes, thus opening up and carrying on a very important enterprise. Politically, Gov. Briggs was a Democrat, and on coming to Iowa identified himself with that party. In 1842 he was chosen a member of the Territorial House of Representatives from Jackson County, and subsequently was elected Sheriff of the same county. He had taken a leading part in public affairs, and upon the formation of the State Government in 1846, he became a prominent candidate for Governor, and though his competitors in his own party were distinguished and well-known citizens, Mr. Briggs received the nomination. The convention was held in Iowa City, on Thursday, Sept. 24, 1846, and assembled to nominate State officers and two Congressmen. It was called to order by F. D. Mills, of Des Moines County. William Thompson, of Henry County, presided, and J. T. Fales, of Dubuque, was Secretary. The vote for Governor in the convention stood ; Briggs, sixty-two ; Jesse Williams, thirty-two and William Thompson, thirty-one. The two latter withdrew, and Briggs was then chosen by acclamation. Elisha Cutler Jr., Van Buren County, was nominated for Secretary of State ; Joseph T. Fales, of Linn, for Auditor, and Morgan Reno, of Johnson, for Treasurer. S. C. Hastings and Sheperd Leffler were nominated for Congress. The election was held Oct. 28, 1846, the entire Democratic ticket being successful. Briggs received 7,626 votes and his competitor, Thomas McKnight, the Whig candidate, 7,379, giving Briggs a majority of 247.

The principle question between the two leading parties, the Democratic and the Whig, at this period, was that of the banking system. It is related that a short time prior to the meeting of the convention which nominated Mr. Briggs, that in offering a toast at a banquet, he struck the key-note which made him the popular man of tha hour. He said," No banks but earth and they well tilled." This was at once caught up by his party and it did more to secure him the nomination than anything else. His administration was one void of any special interest. He labored in harmonious accord with his party, yet frequently exhibited an independence of principle, characteristic of his nature. The Missouri boundary question which caused a great deal of controversy at this period, and even a determination to resort to arms, was handled by him with great ability.

On his election as Executive of the State, Gov. Briggs sold out his mail contract, but after his expiration of his term of service he continued his residence in Jackson County. In 1870, he removed to Council Bluffs. He had visited the western part of the State before the day of railroads in that section, making the trip by carriage. On the occasion he enrolled himself as one of the founders of the town of Florence on the Nebraska side of the river and six miles above Council Bluffs, and which for a time was a vigorous rival of Omaha. During the mining excitement, in 1860, he made a trip to Colorado, and three years later, in company with his son John and a large party, went to Montana, where he remained until the year 1865, when he returned to his home in Iowa.

As above stated, Gov. Briggs was twice married, his first wife being his companion for a brief time only. His second wife bore him eight children, all of whom died in infancy save two, and of these latter, Ansel Jr. Died May 15, 1867, aged seventy-five years. John S. Briggs, the only survivor of the family, is editor of the Idaho Herald, published at Blackfoot, Idaho Territory. Mrs. Briggs died Dec. 30, 1847, while her husband was Governor of the State. She was a devoted Christian lady, a strict member of the Presbyterian Church, and a woman of strong domestic tastes. She was highly educated and endowed by nature with that womanly tact and grace which enabled her to adorn the high position her husband had attained. She dispensed a bounteous hospitality, though her home was in a log house, and was highly esteemed and admired by all who met her.

Gov. Briggs went in and out among his people for many years after his retirement from the executive office, and even after his return from the Montana expedition. He was admired for his able services rendered so unselfishly during the pioneer period of the now great and populous State. His last illness, ulceration of the stomach, was of brief duration, lasting only five weeks, indeed only three days before his death he was able to be out. His demise occurred at the residence of hie son, John S. Briggs, in Omaha, Neb., at half-past-three of the morning of May 5, 1881. His death was greatly mourned all over the State. Upon the following day, Gov. Gear issued a proclamation reciting his services to the State, ordering half-hour guns to be fired and the national flag of the State capitol to be put at half-mast during the day upon which the funeral was held, which was the following Sunday succeeding his death.

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