The Iowa Free Press on James Wilson Grimes

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White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was the guest for the premiere of Laura Ingraham’s new show on Fox News Channel on Monday night. During the interview, he outlined his view of the history of the Civil War. Kelly is a retired United States Marine Corps general. Kelly made several points. That Lee was honorable. That fighting for state was more important than fighting for country. That a lack of compromise led to the war. That good people on both sides were fighting for conscientious reasons. When I listened to Kelly’s words I had to go home and look for some books in my library. I agree that it was ultimately lack of compromise that lead to the war but I also believe that the rest of the story is not simple or easy to compare to our current place in history.

Last night during a facebook live video I mentioned that James W. Grimes was one of my favorite Governors from Iowa history. I am now compelled to elaborate as to some of the reasons why. Grimes studied law and he was a farmer. He spent most of his adult life in the area we know as Burlington, Iowa. Grimes helped start “The Iowa Farmer and Horticulturist” in 1853. Grimes served as a member of the Iowa Territorial House of Representatives for 1838 – 1839 and 1843 – 1844 terms. He served as Governor of Iowa from 1854 to 1858. Grimes slogan was “No More Slave States”.  He also insisted on the protection of all Iowa citizens as they had moved on to “free territory”. Many historians believe that Grimes let northerners use Iowa’s arsenal in the fight to help Kansas become a free state. Grimes was the only Iowa Governor to serve as a Whig, and the last Iowa Governor to date to be from a party other than the Democratic or Republican parties. While elected as a Whig in 1854, he was a guiding light in the Republican Party’s establishment in Iowa in 1855 and 1856. The RPI was founded on an anti-slavery platform in 1856 by citizens dissatisfied with the existing Whig and Democratic Parties.  Other than James W. Grimes, Samuel J. Kirkwood, abolitionist and later Iowa’s Civil War governor, is credited as one of the principal founders. Summoned from his mill at Coralville and still coated in flour dust, Kirkwood gave a rousing speech at the founding meeting of the Republican Party of Iowa in February 1856 in Iowa City. Many people credited Kirkwood’s speech and subsequent work with the success of the party in Iowa. Another principal founder was Edward Russell, an outspoken abolitionist editor who later turned the Davenport Gazette into an award-winning Republican newspaper and one of the largest dailies in Iowa. At the Republican State Convention in 1865, Russell introduced the resolution declaring negro suffrage in Iowa and carried it by a decisive majority. His more famous son, Charles Edward Russell, went on to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Pro-Union sentiment during and after the Civil War helped the party to expand in importance. Between 1858 and 1932 the Republicans won every Iowa gubernatorial election, with the exception of 1890, when Horace Boies, a former Republican, was elected because of his opposition to Prohibition.

James Grimes was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1859 and reelected in 1865. He served in the Senate from March 4, 1859, until resigning December 6, 1869 citing ill health. In the Senate, he served as chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia (in the 37th and 38th Congresses), and the Committee on Naval Affairs (in the 39th through 41st Congresses). He also served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official. The Due Process Clause prohibits state and local government officials from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without legislative authorization. This clause has also been used by the federal judiciary to make most of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, as well as to recognize substantive and procedural requirements that state laws must satisfy. The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people, including all non-citizens, within its jurisdiction. This clause has been the basis for many decisions rejecting irrational or unnecessary discrimination against people belonging to various groups.

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In 1861 Grimes was a member of the peace convention held in Washington, D.C., in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending Civil War. The Peace Conference of 1861 was a meeting of 131 leading American politicians in February 1861, at the Willard’s Hotel in Washington, DC, on the eve of the American Civil War. In failing to limit the expansion of slavery to all new territories, the compromise failed to satisfy hardline Republicans. In failing to protect slavery in all territories, the compromise failed to address the issue that had divided the Democratic Party into northern and southern factions in the 1860 presidential elections.

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In December 1861, Grimes introduced the senate bill which led to the creation of the Medal of Honor.  On 9 December 1861, James W. Grimes, Chairman on the Committee on Naval Affairs, proposed Public Resolution Number 82 (Bill 82: 37th Congress, Second Session, 12 Stat. 329) “to promote the efficiency of the Navy” which included a provision for a Navy Medal of Valor which was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861 (Medal of Valor had been established for the Navy), “to be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamen-like qualities during the present war.” Secretary Wells directed the Philadelphia Mint to design the new military decoration. On May 15, 1862, the United States Navy Department ordered 175 medals ($1.85 each) with the words “Personal Valor” on the back from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

 

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James W. Grimes’ most famous political action happened while he was a United States Senator. His vote helped save President Andrew Johnson from impeachment and his thinking secured the idea that our democratic republic would have many Presidents to come, and that impeachment of a President via congress would prove to be rare and quite difficult. Grimes had a stroke two days prior to his no vote and had to be carried to the senate chamber to vote. Johnson was saved by one vote. He was one vote short of the required two-thirds. Although James did not agree with Johnson, he did not want to risk changing the set up of the Presidency, “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the constitution for the sake of getting rid of an unacceptable President.” His vote was not a popular decision at the time and he was severely criticized even among some of his family and friends.

In all, eight U.S. presidents have faced possible impeachment. President Richard M. Nixon faced impeachment over his involvement in the Watergate scandal and its fallout. In fact, the House of Representatives approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, making him the second U.S. president (after Johnson) to face a potential hearing before the Senate. However, Nixon resigned in 1974 before Congress could begin the proceedings. More recently, President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 over allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a lawsuit filed against him relating to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Although the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved two articles of impeachment against President Clinton, he was ultimately acquitted by the Senate the next year and finished his second four-year term in office in 2000. Dennis Kucinich brought 35 articles of impeachment against Bush in 2008, although none of them ever progressed to a House vote despite Democratic control of the chamber.  As these cases indicate, impeachment is considered a power to be used only in extreme cases, and as such, it has been used relatively infrequently. In all, the House of Representatives has impeached only 19 federal officials, and the Senate has conducted formal impeachment trials with seven acquittals, eight convictions, three dismissals and one resignation (Nixon’s) with no further action. It’s also important to note that the power of Congress to impeach is not limited to the president or vice president. Indeed, throughout history, senators and federal judges have also been impeached.

 

In addition to federal impeachment, state legislatures are also granted the power to impeach elected officials in 49 of the 50 states, with Oregon being the lone exception. At the state level, the process of impeachment is essentially the same as at the national level: typically, the lower state legislative chamber (the state assembly) is charged with levying and investigating formal accusations before ultimately voting on articles of impeachment should there be evidence of possible misconduct. If the lower body approves any article(s) of impeachment, the upper chamber (the state senate) conducts a hearing or trial on the charges, during which both the legislators and the accused may call witnesses and present evidence. Once the evidence and testimony has been presented, the upper chamber of the state legislature—much like the U.S. Senate at the federal level—must vote on whether the charged official is guilty or innocent. Usually, a supermajority (two-thirds majority or greater) is required for conviction and removal from office. And just like at the federal level, impeachment at the state level is extremely rare. For example, the state of Illinois has impeached only two officials in its entire history—a judge in 1832-33 and a governor (Rod Blagojevich) in 2008-09.

 

There have only been a three occasions when the Iowa House of Representatives has filed articles of impeachment. In 1886, the House impeached District Judge Walter I. Hayes. In 1886, the House impeached State Auditor John L. Brown. In 1919, the House impeached Governor William Harding. In each of these instances, the impeachment failed in the State Senate. The most notable impeachment case involves the impeachment of State Auditor John L. Brown.  There is a plethora of information about this case.  The other instance involves the attempted impeachment of Governor William Harding over a pardon he granted.  According to Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens, Volume 2 by Johnson Brighmam, on March 3, 1885, Buren Sherman Iowa’s 12th governor “called Auditor John L. Brown to account for an alleged irregularity in reporting to the state treasurer the insurance fees collected by him.  Brown failed to satisfy the governor and was summarily suspended. The suspension was accompanied by an order to vacate the office. The auditor denied the right of the governor to make the order. Locking himself into his private office, Brown awaited Sherman’s next move. He had not long to wait. The governor, with the aid of his militia, forcibly entered and ejected the auditor. [Sherman] appointed Jonathan W. Cattell, ex-auditor to fill the vacant position.” (p. 490). Then, in April 1886, after William Larabee was elected governor, he removed Cattell as auditor and reinstated Brown to office on the basis that Brown had been wrongfully removed.  On April 9, 1886, “a senate committee reported unfavorably on Auditor Brown’s course. Articles of impeachment were preferred by the House, and Brown was tried before the Senate. Meantime the governor appointed Charles Beardsley auditor pro tem. The trial divided the Senate temporarily into hostile camps. Suffice to say, the impeachment failed, and Auditor Brown was reinstated.” (p.520). “After a lengthy trial he was acquitted of all serious charges and a subsequent General Assembly reimbursed him for expenses incurred in the trial.” (History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Volume 4, p. 31)  In 1919, Iowa Governor William Harding’s administration was clouded by the fact that the Iowa House Judiciary Committee attempted to impeach Harding due to allegations of granting a pardon to an Iowa prisoner after accepting a bribe from his family. Although Harding was not impeached, a censure motion was approved. When the House Judiciary Committee attempted to impeach Governor Harding it was because he gave a pardon in November 1918 to Ernest Rathbon who had confessed to rape in Ida County in December 1917. Rathbon had been sentenced to life in prison. Rathbon had testified at the trial of another defendant involved in the case and perjured himself in statements made concerning that trial. The statements, however, were helpful in securing his pardon. Then, when it was discovered that he’d perjured himself, he was convicted of that crime as well, and his pardon was annulled and his prior life conviction reinstated.

 

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Grimes died in Burlington on February 7, 1872, aged 55. He is buried in the Aspen Grove cemetery, in Burlington.

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The plot of land that his home was once located on is now home to an elementary school that bears his name.

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Grimes played a significant role in getting our country to the point where we have schools with public notices like the one that appears on Grimes Elementary’s website today, “PUBLIC NOTICE: IT IS THE POLICY OF THE BURLINGTON COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT NOT TO DISCRIMINATE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, CREED, SEX, MARITAL STATUS, NATIONAL ORIGIN, RELIGION, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, AGE, OR DISABILITY IN ITS EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, ACTIVITIES, OR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES.” The town of Grimes, IA is named for him.

John F. Kelly, I myself do believe that a hard reality is that the civil war was incited over world powers fighting over currency, a fight that led us to Wall Street and the Federal Reserve as we know it today, but that is a discussion for another day. Well, there, now you know a lot more about one of my favorite governors from Iowa history and much more about why I think that talking about the civil war is not as simple as many Democrats and Republicans try to make it.


 

“Burke said that there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate, more important far than they all.“ Thomas Carlyle

Marco Battaglia writes for the Iowa Free Press and is a proud member of The Fourth Estate. Marco Battaglia is running to be Iowa’s 44th Governor, and the first since James W. Grimes not to be from the Democratic or Republican parties.