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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp





Iowa has had so many men of influence in our national Government that it would take many books to tell thoroughly of the work of all of them.  The discussion will therefore be limited to the men who have served in Presidents' cabinets, and to those who have been influential leaders in Congress.  Even then it will be necessary to mention some of them but briefly.


Iowa is the agricultural center of the United States.  It is but natural that Presidents should have looked to it for leadership in the Department of Agriculture.  Four Iowans whose combined service has extended over a quarter of a century have largely made the department what it is today.  These are James Wilson, Edwin T. Meredith, Henry C. Wallace, and Henry A. Wallace.


Few men have done more to improve agricultural conditions than James Wilson, familiarly called "Tama Jim," because he lived in Tama county.  As a young man he was a successful farmer in his home county.  He served several terms in the Iowa House of Representatives and was a member of the national House of Representatives for three terms.

In 1891 he became professor of agriculture and director of the agricultural experiment station at Iowa State College.  We can best tell of his work at Ames by quoting Mr. H. C. Wallace, who said:  "When Wilson went into the Iowa agricultural college at Ames it was a poor sort of college.  There were few students in the agricultural department, and they were called 'hayseeds.'  He changed all this.  He popularized the agricultural work. . . .He set the experiment station at work studying things Iowa farmers needed to know, and in the six years he was at Ames he wholly changed the spirit there and laid the foundation upon which has been built probably the greatest all-round agricultural college in the country."

In 1897 President McKinley asked Mr. Wilson to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.  He accepted the position and served for sixteen consecutive years under Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft.  No other man has ever served so many years in Presidents' cabinets.

When Mr. Wilson became secretary the department was small and unimportant.  There were only 2,444 people employed in it.  Sixteen years later, when he left it, there were 13,858 employees and the department had become one of the most important in the national Government.


In January, 1920, Iowa was again called upon to provide the Secretary of Agriculture.  President Wilson appointed to that position Mr. Edwin T. Meredith, publisher of the farm magazine Successful Farming.  This magazine had a circulation of over a million.

Mr. Meredith served in the cabinet until March 4, 1921, when President Wilson's term expired.


Iowa has the unique distinction of having had both a father and his son serve as secretary of the same department.  When President Harding took office on March 4, 1921, he asked another Iowa farm paper editor from Des Moines to succeed Mr. Meredith.  This time it was Henry C. Wallace, Editor of Wallace's Farmer.  The new secretary was a leader in agricultural work in the Middle West.

Henry C. Wallace served ably as secretary until his death on Oct. 25, 1924.

During the political campaign of 1932 Henry A. Wallace, then editor of Wallace's Farmer, left the party of his father and grandfather, who had been life-long Republicans.  "Henry A." supported the candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  When Mr. Roosevelt became President on March 4, 1933, he chose Henry A. Wallace as his Secretary of Agriculture and, in 1938, he is still serving in that capacity.


Several Iowa men have been chosen to positions in the presidential cabinets, aside from those who served as Secretary of Agriculture.  In March, 1865, President Lincoln asked James Harlan, then a United States Senator from Iowa, to become his Secretary of the Interior.  Mr. Harlan resigned as senator to accept the position.  He did not take office until May 15th, however after Lincoln had been assassinated.

Secretary Harlan was very efficient.  He discharged some men who did little or no work.  Their political friends accused Mr. Harlan of graft.  Because he did not agree with President Johnson on certain plans, Mr. Harlan resigned after serving   but a few months.

Samuel Kirkwood, who served as governor of Iowa during the Civil War, was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Garfield on March 4, 1881.  He took an active interest in Indian affairs.  After the assassination and death of President Garfield, Mr. Kirkwood tendered his resignation to Mr. Arthur, the new President.  He was continued in office until the spring of 1882.

Others who have served as cabinet members are:

Frank Hatton of Burlington, Iowa, as Secretary of War under President Arthur.

William W. Belknap, of Keokuk, Iowa, as Secretary of War under President Grant, for seven years.

George W. McCrary, of Van Buren county, as Secretary of War under President Hayes, for three years.

:Leslie M. Shaw, of Denison, Iowa, was made Secretary of the Treasury by President Theodore Roosevelt.  He served ably for several years.

James W. Good, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was appointed Secretary of War by President Hoover, on March 4, 1929.  He died while in office about a year later.


Among the many Iowans who have served ably in our national Congress, the names of four Senators stand out because of the influence and power which they exerted in the Senate.  The first is that of William B. Allison of Dubuque.  After having served in the national House of Representatives for four terms, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1872, and served there continuously until his death in 1908.  He was recognized as an authority on financial matters.  Three Presidents offered him a position in the cabinet but he declined, preferring to stay in the Senate.  In 1888 he was one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Jonathan P. Dolliver's long service in Congress was about equally divided between the House of Representatives and the Senate.  He served in the lower branch from 1889 until 1900, when he was appointed to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Gear.  He served in the upper house until his death in 1910.  Mr. Dolliver was an outstanding orator in Congress.

Albert B. Cummins was elected to the United States Senate in 1908, after the death of Senator Allison.  He had previously served for three terms as governor of Iowa.  He continued his service in the Senate until his death in July, 1926.

William S. Kenyon was elected to the United States Senate in 1911 and served until he resigned in 1922 to accept an appointment from President Harding as judge of the United States Circuit Court, Eighth District.

Two men from Iowa won conspicuous recognition in the national House of Representatives.  David B. Henderson of Dubuque, who was elected to that body in 1882 and served for twenty consecutive years, was chosen as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1899.  He is the only man from Iowa who ever served in that capacity and was the first man from west of the Mississippi to be elected Speaker.

Robert G. Cousins of Tipton was elected to the House of Representatives in 1892 and served eight terms.  He refused to run for a ninth term.  Mr. Cousins soon won a reputation in Washington as being one of the very best speakers in Congress.  He became one of the most popular platform and chautauqua speakers of his day.


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