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William B. Allison


HON. WILLIAM B. ALLISON. Not alone through the development of its material resources has Iowa gained a national reputation, but since its organization as a state it has contributed to our country many of its most eminent statesmen and gifted men, who in its administrative councils, and in both Houses of Congress, have reflected honor upon and given marked distinction to our state. What is true in a national sense is also true as respects the management of our state affairs, which have been so conducted as to maintain the honor and integrity of our state at home and among our sister states.

Among the number of influential men, none are more widely or favorably known than the subject of this review, whose long public service in the House of Representatives and in the Senate has brought him into a constantly increasing prominence among the people. The events in the life of a public man are always read with interest, and this is especially true when, as in the career of Senator Allison, he has labored to promote the advancement of the best interests of the people as he understood those interests. He has a well earned reputation for industry and activity in the great bodies of which he has been a conspicuous member.

The ancestors of Senator Allison were of Scotch-Irish origin. Both of his grandfathers migrated to Pennsylvania from the North of Ireland just after the close of the War of the Revolution, where his father, John Allison, was born in 1798. That state was also the birthplace of his mother, who bore the maiden name of Margaret Williams. In 1824 John Allison, then married, settled in Perry Township, Wayne County, Ohio, on eighty acres of land, where he built a house of rude logs and cleared a farm, which was afterwards enlarged to one hundred and sixty acres.

In this log cabin and on this farm, March 2, 1829, the subject of this sketch was born. In his early life he had the advantage of an excellent common-school education; afterward he spent a year at Allegheny (Pa.) College, and another year at Western Reserve College, then located at Hudson, but now at Cleveland, Ohio. On leaving college he read law at Wooster, Ohio, whence in 1852 he removed to Ashland and began the practice of law. He continued thus engaged with reasonable success until the spring of 1857, when he removed to Dubuque, Iowa, and here he has since resided. He practiced law in Dubuque with good success until he entered the House of Representatives, March 3, 1863, having been elected from the Third District of Iowa in the fall of 1862. During 1861 and 1862 he was a member of the staff of Governor Kirkwood, and as such had full authority to raise troops for the war in the northern part of the state. He complied with the wishes and executed the orders of the Governor with fidelity and success, raising four regiments for the field. He was the first to suggest to Governor Kirkwood the importance of calling an extra session of the Legislature to authorize Iowa soldiers in the field to vote. Since March, 1863, with the exception of the years 1871 and 1873, he has been a member of the House or Senate. He left the House March 4 1871, and entered the Senate March 3, 1873, and when his present term n the Senate expires, March 4, 1897, he will have served twenty-four years in that body. At the beginning of his second term in the House, March 3, 1865, he was appointed a member of the Ways and Means Committee and so continued during the remainder of his service in the House, being one of its most conspicuous members on all questions relating to tariff, internal taxation and other questions of a financial character. Some of the most important legislation of that period bears the impress of his guiding hand.

Senator Allison always advocated a tariff so adjusted as to afford protection to American industries and American labor, but did not always follow the leaders of the party into what has been termed extreme protection, and some of his earlier speeches upon this subject have been criticized by his party friends and quoted by the opposing party as hostile to the policy of protection. In 1873 he entered the Senate, and four years later was placed on the Finance Committee, and from that time has taken a prominent part in all financial legislation. He was chairman of a sub-committee that revised the laws relating to the administration of the tariff, and framed the legislation now on our statute books relating to the collection of duties, and which was not disturbed in the revision of the tariff made in 1894. He was chairman of the sub-committee that framed the Senate substitute for the Mills bill in 1888, and had charge of the bill in the Senate.

To currency legislation, and especially the silver question, Senator Allison devoted considerable attention, and was the author of the law of 1878 which provided for limited coinage of silver on account of the Government. These suggestions were brought forward in the form of amendments to the free coinage bill proposed by Mr. Bland, and were adopted by both Houses and passed over the veto of President Hayes. This measure  was probably the most conservative that could have been passed at that time, and, though much criticized, has borne the test of time. It remained unchanged until it gave way for the Sherman act of 1890. Senator Allison has always been a bimetallist in the true sense of that word, believing that both silver and gold, as full legal tender money, are necessary to the commerce of the world.

In 1888 Senator Allison's name was brought forward as a prominent candidate for the Presidency and was favorably received. During his entire service in the Senate, he has been a member of the important Committee on Appropriations, and for twelve years, when the Republicans were in the majority, and up to March, 1893, was chairman of the committee. Always careful in regard to details, he favored liberal and fair appropriations for every essential public purpose, and always held the confidence of his associates respecting these details. He was twice tendered the position of Secretary of the Treasury, first by President Garfield in 1881, and again by President Harrison in 1889. He declined both offers, preferring to remain in the Senate.

Outside of his official capacity, Mr. Allison is known and esteemed as a generous, benevolent man, an agreeable companion, considerate friend and progressive citizen. Starting in life with nothing but his own energy and ability and upright character with which to make his way, he has achieved success beyond most of his fellows and secured for himself an important place in the history of his state and country. Though absorbed in great national questions, he has never failed to give full attention to every interest of his state, and no one ever sought his services from Iowa that did not find him ready and
willing to render such aid as was in his power.

Mr. Allison has been twice married. In 1855 he was united with Anna Carter, who was a daughter of Daniel Carter, Esq., of Ashland, Ohio, and died in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1859. In 1873 he married Miss Mary Neally, of Burlington, Iowa, a niece and adopted daughter of the late Senator Grimes. She died in 1883. Senator Allison, though in comfortable circumstances, has never turned his attention to money making, as his whole time since he entered Congress has been absorbed in public and political affairs.


~source: Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties, Iowa. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Co. 1894. Pages 117-118.


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