Tama County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Star Clipper Supplement
Traer, Iowa, March 6, 1887
History of North Tama
By Daniel Connell

Chapter XXIII
Joseph Dysart

Joseph Dysart came to Iowa in 1856, from Lee County, Illinois, and settled in Vinton. He is a native of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Dickinson College at Carlisle in that State. After completing his education, in 1845 he went to the eastern shore of Maryland and taught school during 1846. In January, 1847, he journeyed southward and stopped in Aberdeen, Mississippi, and was principal of a male academy over six years.

In May, 1853, he returned North and spent three years in developing a farm in the region above stated. He was first admitted to the bar in Monroe county, Mississippi, and obtained license in Dixon, Illinois, to practice in that State. He sold his farm in Illinois in order to establish himself in his profession in Vinton. At that time there was not sufficient litigation to keep attorneys constantly employed. Many acted as land agents or filled the editorial chair of newspapers.

Toward the heels of the winter of 1857 Mr. Dysart purchased a half interest in the Vinton Eagle. The slavery agitation was then at a high pitch. He had seen it in all its hideous enormities. Before that the Eagle had been independent in politics. He made it one of the most radical Republican journals of Iowa. His intense hatred of "the sum of all villainies" was infused into every sentence of his political articles. They fired the minds of the thinking men of Benton county against the institution, and strengthened the Republican ranks. In June of that year he was nominated by acclamation in the Republican convention for county judge against the noted Samuel Douglass, who had filled the position two terms. The canvass that followed in July and August was the most exciting and memorable that ever occurred within it. Previous to that the Democratic majority had never fallen below 300, but Mr. Dysart was beaten by less than fifty votes by oily Sam. This struggle broke the backbone of the Democracy in that stronghold, and at the next election it passed under Republican supremacy.

The free school law, copied after that of Pennsylvania, was adopted by the legislature of 1858. It was a novelty to the people, and many of them did not comprehend its provisions when published. It directed that a special election should be held in April to choose a superintendent in each county. Both parties in their convention nominated Mr. Dysart for the place, and he was elected without opposition. Two facts pointed him out as a competent man to discharge the duties--his experience as a teacher and ability to expound the statue. At the expiration of a biennial term he declined a renomination. In the fall of 1859 Charles H Conklin and John Shane, who both subsequently became district judges, and Mr. Dysart formed a partnership to practice law.

They soon developed an extensive business, but the breaking out the Rebellion in 1861 suddenly almost annihilated it. Many of the brightest lawyers m Iowa stepped into line at the first tap of the drum and led companies into the field. Among these patriots was John Shane, who came back with the rank of colonel. Very soon after Fort Sumpter was fired upon a call was issued by President Lincoln for several regiments from this State. Gov. Kirkwood conveyed the legislature for May 15 to provide for their equipment. At that date there was a vacancy in this senatorial district, composed of Benton and Tama counties, caused by the resignation of Hon. Thomas Drummond to accept a lieutenancy in the regular army. At a Republican convention to nominate a successor Mr. Dysart was named. Dr. J. C. Traer, of Vinton, ran on what was called a Union ticket. Mr. Dysart was elected by a large majority.

All the measures adopted by the extra session related to the raising and sending to the front those heroic regiments that covered the name of Iowa with glory at Belmont. Fort Donelson and Shiloh. At the opening of the long session of the winter of 1862 Senator Dysart was placed on the committee of county and township organizations. At that period it was considered a very important committee. The county judgeship had been abolished in 1860, and the supervisor system, modeled after that of New York enacted in lieu.

The change of township and county management was well received in many sections of the State. The chief cause of discontent under the county judge system was the sparseness of the settlement in the interior and western counties. This opened the door for numerous and flagrant abuses. A few corrupt men obtained control, levied onerous taxes and converted the revenues to their own gain. To prevent this knavery a flood of bills were introduced in each of the Houses and referred to this committee for consideration. Its chairman in the Senate, with his usual energy, pushed their investigation and amendments, and promptly reported them back to that body. Nearly all of them were passed without further alteration.

Early in the session Mr. Dysart drafted and presented a bill to establish a county court, to diminish and cheapen litigation. This tribunal was to have original jurisdiction for all sums in controversy less than $500, and the power to hear and pass upon finally all appeals from justices of the peace. The most eminent lawyers of both branches of the legislature saw merit in it, such men as Senator Woodward, who had been Supreme Judge and Judge Rothrock. It passed the Senate but failed in the House.

June 25, 1855, Mr. Dysart had entered section 24 in Clark township in this county. In 1858 he had 100 acres broken on it and a house erected. On his return home in the spring of 1862 he determined to put his farm in condition to take hold of in the next year.

On the 8th of June, 1863, he moved his family thither, and they have remained on it ever since-nearly twenty-four years. In the fall his neighbors elected him supervisor for that township, entering upon the duties at the January session 1864, and served six years.

The supervisors then numbered twenty. Afterward Tama township was organized and another member added. The body was a miniature legislature, and some of the debates would have been creditable to a deliberate assembly of higher grade.

In the autumn of 1869 it was the privilege of Tama county to name the candidate for this Senatorial district composed of Poweshiek and Tama counties, and Mr. Dysart was nominated, and was elected by a large majority. Four momentous issues were forced on the attention of the Thirteenth General Assembly, which met the second Monday of January, 1870. These popular demands were to change that supervisor system, to provide for the erection of a new capitol, the enactment of a herd law and a railroad tariff law and to prevent the unjust transportation rates and discrimination against non-competing points. The southern portion of Iowa was mainly settled by emigrants from the middle States and those bordering on the Ohio river, where the commission system had long been established. The people of that section were familiar with its workings. They favored the repeal of the supervisor system and the enactment of the commission system, which was in force for years after the admission of the State.

The eastern and northern counties, where the Yankee element was predominant, favored a township representation. A compromise was made. The name was unchanged, but the number was reduced to three with power to increase to five or seven by a popular vote. Mr. Dysart opposed the reaction, although aware a majority of his constituents were of the Yankee element.

He also voted against the bill for the new capitol, not because he was adverse to the commencement of the building of one, but for the reason that in his opinion it had been designedly framed to allow the expenditure of more than double the amount described as the limit. He had been an open advocate of a herd law both by tongue and pen long before he settled in this county. There has been some dispute about the authorship. Some person sent Mr. Dysart a Nebraska paper in which the law of that State was printed. He took it with him to Des Moines, and with it as a guide James Wilson and he agreed on the provisions of a bill.

The former introduced it into the House. There it encountered strong opposition from the members from the southern counties, in which there is plenty of timber for fencing. With his characteristic perseverance Mr. Wilson worked it through that branch.

He was wont to say that whatever measure he could put through the House Dysart was sure to get passed by the Senate. It is conceded by all that Mr. Dysart was its champion there. It passed that body without any modifications. He was a vigilant and untiring worker for the passage of the bill which ultimately became the farmers' Granger law. The fight for it continued unabated through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth General Assemblies. Through the treachery of senators pledged to vote for it, its defeat was encompassed in the first two, but the anti-monopoly wave which swept over the State in 1873 forced its adoption.

His efforts for and his fidelity to his needed check to the robbery on shippers and producers by the corporations really made him Lieutenant-Governor in 1874 to 1876. When his term of presiding over the Senate expired he sought no other office. In the latter part of 1877 Theodore F. Clark, then the supervisor from Northern Tama, fell into poor health and resigned. Mr. Dysart accepted the appoin1ment for Clark's remaining year of service, and with the exception of 1882 he has continued a member of the board.

He was twice elected on the county ticket, and the last time by the electors of district No.1. He has still two years to serve. In all he has served fourteen years as supervisor. No other man has participated so much in the management of Tama county finances-honestly and fairly earning the proud title of "Honest Joe," bestowed by intimate friends. Mr. Dysart is also a member of the board of trustees of the State Agricultural College, located at Ames.

Chapter XXIV

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