Governors of Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 119


JAMES W. GRIMES, the third gentleman to fill the Executive Chair of the State, was born in the town of Deering, Hillsborough Co., N. H., Oct. 20, 1816. His parents, John and Elizabeth ( Wilson ) Grimes, were also natives of the same town. The former was born on the 11th of August, 1772, and the mother March 19, 1773. They became the parents of eight children, of whom James was the youngest and became one of the most distinguished citizens of Iowa. He attended the district schools, and in early childhood evinced an unusual taste for learning. Besides attending the district schools, the village pastor instructed him in Greek and Latin. After completing his preparations for college, which he did at Hampton Academy, he entered Dartmouth College, in August, 1832, which was the sixteenth year of his age. He was a hard student, advanced rapidly, and in February, 1835, bid adieu to the college halls, and with James Walker, of Peterborough, N. H., he began the study of his chosen profession.

Feeling that his native State afforded too limited advantages, and, in fact, being of a rather adventurous disposition, as well as ambitious, he desired broader fields in which to carve for himself a fortune. He accordingly left the home that had sheltered him during his boyhood days, and turning his face Westward proceeded until he had crossed the great Father of Waters. It was in 1836, and young Grimes was indeed young to thus take upon himself such responsibilities ; but possessing business tact, determination and tenacity, as well as an excellent professional training, he determined to open an office in the then new town of Burlington, Iowa. Here he hung out his shingle, and ere long had established a reputation which extended far beyond the confines of the little city.

In April 1837, he was appointed City Solicitor, and entering upon the duties of that office he assisted in drawing up the first police laws of that town. In 1838 he was appointed Justice of the Peace, and became a law partner of William W. Chapman, United States District Attorney for Wisconsin Territory. In the early part of the year 1841 he formed a partnership with Henry W. Starr, Esq., which continued twelve years. This firm stood at the head of the legal profession in Iowa. Mr. Grimes was widely known as a counselor with superior knowledge of the law, and with a clear sense of truth and justice. He was chosen one of the Representatives of Des Moines County in the first legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa, which convened at Burlington, Iowa, Nov. 12, 1838 ; in the sixth, at Iowa City, Dec. 4, 1843 ; and in the fourth General Assembly of the State, at Iowa City, Dec. 6, 1852. He early took front rank among the public men of Iowa. He was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives of the first Legislative Assembly of the Territory, and all laws for the new Territory passed through his hands.Mr. Grimes had become prominently identified with the Whig party, and being distinguished as an able lawyer, as well as a fair-minded, conscientious man, he was a prominent candidate for Governor before the convention which met in February, 1854. It was the largest convention of that party ever held in Iowa and the last. He was chosen as a nominee for Governor, was duly elected, and in December, 1854, assumed the duties of the office. Shortly after his election it was proposed that he should go to the United States Senate, but he gave his admirers to understand that he was determined to fill the term of office for which he had been chosen. This he did, serving the full term to the entire satisfaction of all parties. He was a faithful party leader, and so able were his services that, while at the time of his election as Governor Democracy reigned supreme in the State and its representatives in Congress were allied to the slave power, he turned the State over to the Republican party.

His term of office expired Jan. 14, 1858, when he retired from the Executive Chair, only, however, to assume the responsibilities of a United States Senator. Upon the 4th of March, the following year he took his seat in the Senate and was placed upon the Committee on Naval Affairs, upon which he remained during his Senatorial career, serving as Chairman of that important committee from December, 1864. Jan 16, 1864, Mr. Grimes was again chosen to represent Iowa in the Senate of the United States, receiving all but six of the votes of the General Assembly in joint convention.

His counsel was often sought in matters of great moment, and in cases of peculiar difficulty. Always ready to promote the welfare of the State, he gave, unsolicited, land worth $6,000 to the Congregational College, at Grinnell. It constitutes the " Grimes foundation," and " is to be applied to the establishment and maintenance in Iowa College, forever, of four scholarships, to be awarded by the Trustees, on the recommendation of the faculty, to the best scholars, and the most promising, in any department, who may need and seek such aid, and without any regard to the religious tenets or opinions entertained by any person seeking either of said scholarships." These terms were imposed by Mr. Grimes, and assumed July 20, 1865, by the Trustees. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1865 from Dartmouth College, and also from Iowa College. He also aided in founding a public library in Burlington, donating $5,000, which was expended in the purchase of costly books, and subsequently sent from Europe 256 volumes in the German language, and also contributed 600 volumes of public documents.

In January, 1869, he made a donation of $5,000 to Dartmouth College, and $1,000 to the " Social Friend," a literary society of which he was a member when in college.

His health failing, Mr. Grimes siled for Europe, April 14, 1869, remaining abroad two years, reaching home Sept. 22, 1871, apparently in improved health and spirits. In November he celebrated his silver wedding, and spent the closing months of his life with his family. He voted at the city election, Feb. 5, 1872, and was suddenly attacked with severe pains in the region of the heart, and died after a few short hours of intense suffering.

Senator Grimes was united in marriage at Burlington, Ia., Nov.9, 1846, with Miss Sarah Elizabeth Neally. Mr Grimes stood in the foremost ranks among the men of his time, not only in the State, but of the nation. The toung attorney who left the granite hills of New Hampshire for the fertile prairies of the West, distinguished himself both as an attorney and a statesman. His personal history is so inseparably interwoven in that of the history of the State that a sketch of his life is indeed but a record of the history of his adopted State during the years of his manhood and vigor.

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