Governors of Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 115


STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD, second Governor of Iowa, is a native of Connecticut, where at New London, he was born Oct. 1, 1812. He resided in that State with his parents until 1828, when the family came West, locating upon a farm near St. Louis. This was the home of young Stephen until 1830, when he went to Galena, Ill., where he served in the capacity of a clerk in a commission house for a time. He was there during the exciting period of the Black Hawk troubles, and was an officer in an artillery company which had been organized for the protection of Galena. After the defeat of Black Hawk and the consequent termination of Indian troubles, he entered the Illinois College at Jacksonville, where he remained for about two years. On account of difficulties which he got into about sectarianism and abolitionism, he left the college and returned to Missouri. He shortly afterward entered the office of Charles S. Hempstead, a prominent lawyer of Galena, and began the study of the profession in which he afterward became quite proficient. In 1836 he was admitted to practice in all the courts of the Territory of Wisconsin, which at the time embraced the Territory of Iowa, and the same year located at Dubuque, being the first lawyer who began the practice of his profession at that place.

As might be expected in a territory but thinly populated, but one which was rapidly settling up, the services of an able attorney would be in demand in order to draft the laws. Upon the organization of the Territorial Government of Iowa in 1838, he was, with Gen. Warner Lewis, elected to represent the northern portion of the Territory on the Legislative Council, which assembled in Burlington that year. He was Chairman of the Committee Judiciary, and at the second session of that body was elected its President. He was again elected a member of the Council, in 1845, over which he also presided. In 1844 he was elected one of the delegates of Dubuque County, for the first convention to frame a constitution for the State. In 1848, in company with Judge Charles Mason and W. G. Woodward, he was appointed by the Legislature Commissioner to revise the laws of the State, which revision, with a few amendments, was adopted as the code of Iowa in 1851.

In 1850 Mr. Hempstead was elected Governor of the State, and served with ability for four years, that being the full term under the Constitution at the time. He received 13, 486 votes against 11,403 cast for his opponent, James L. Thompson. After the vote had been canvassed a committee was appointed to inform the Governor-elect that the two Houses of the Legislature were ready to receive him in joint convention, in order that he might receive the oath prescribed by the Constitution. Gov. Hempstead, accompanied by the retiring Executive, Gov. Briggs, the Judges of the Supreme Court, and the officers of State, entered the hall of the House where the Governor-elect delivered his inaugural messgae, after which the oath was administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This was an important period in the history of the State, being at a time when the public affairs were assuming definite shape, and indeed it was what might be termed the formative period. The session of the Legislature passed many important acts which were approved by the Governor, and during his term there were fifty-two new counties formed. Gov. Hempstead in his message to the Fourth General Assembly in December, 1852, stated that among other things, the population of the State according to the Federal census was 192,214, and that the State census showed an increase for one year of 37, 786. He also stated that he resources of the State for the coming two years would be sufficient to cancel all that part of funded debt which was payable at its option.

Among the numerous counties organized was one named Buncombe, which received its name in the following way : The Legislature was composed of a large majority favoring stringent corporation laws and the liability of individual stockholders for corporate debts. This sentiment, on account of the agitation of railroad enterprises then being inaugurated, brought a large number of prominent men to the capital. To have an effect upon the Legislature, they organized a " lobby Legislature " and elected as Governor, Verplank Van Antwerp, who delivered to the self-constituted body a lengthy message in which he sharply criticized the regular General Assembly. Some of the members of the latter were in the habit of making long and useful speeches much to the hindrance of business. To these he especially referred, charging them with speaking for " Buncombe," and recommended that as a lasting memorial a county should be called by that name. This suggestion was readily seized on by the Legislature, and the county of Buncombe was created with few dissenting voices. However the General Assembly, in 1862, changed the name to Lyon, in honor of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon who was killed in the early part of the Civil War.

The season of 1851 was one of great disappointment to the pioneers of Iowa, and much suffering was the result of the bad season of that year. By the year 1854, The State had fully recovered from the depression thus produced, and that year as well as the following, the emigration from the East was unprecedented. The prairies of Illinois were lined day after day with a continuous caravan of emigrants pushing on toward Iowa. During a single month 1743 wagons bound for Iowa passed through Peoria. So remarkable had been the influx of people into the State, that in an issue of the Burlington Telegraph appeared the following statement : " Twenty thousand emigrants have passed through the city within the last thirty days, and they are still crossing the Mississippi at the rate of 600 a day."

At the expiration of his term of service, which occurred in the latter part of the year 1854 Gov. Hempstead returned to his old home at Dubuque. In 1855 he was elected County Judge of Dubuque County, and so acceptably did he serve the people that for twelve years he was chosen to fill that position. Under his administration the principal county building, including the jail, poorhouse,as well as some valuable bridges, were erected. Owing to ill health he was compelled to retire from public life, passing the remainder of his days in quietude and repose at Dubuque. There he lived until Feb. 16, 1883, when, at his home, the light of his long and eventful life went out. The record he has made, which was an honorable and distinguished one, was closed, and Iowa was called upon to mourn the loss of one of her most distinguished pioneer citizens. He had been an unusually useful man of the State and his services, which were able and wise, were rendered in that unselfish spirit which distinguished so many of the early residents of this now prosperous State.

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