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Iowa History Daily: December 20 - Samuel Kirkwood

Iowa History Daily: On December 20, 1813, Iowa Governor and US Senator from Iowa Samuel Jordan Kirkwood was born. Known for his clear expression and general farmer’s demeanor, Kirkwood stands as one of Iowa’s most significant politicians of the 1800s.

Born in Maryland and educated in Washington D.C., Kirkwood eventually passed the bar in Ohio before a visit to his sister in Iowa’s Johnson County during 1853 convinced the future governor to make his home in the Hawkeye state. Going into business with his brother-in-law who ran a mill near the then state capital of Iowa City, politics called to Kirkwood.

Joining the newborn Republican Party due his beliefs in the superiority of the northern free-labor system and opposition to slavery, Kirkwood gained the attention of Governor James W. Grimes who helped launch Kirkwood’s eventual bid to oust then-governor Ralph Lowe. Winning the election of 1859, Kirkwood arrived in Iowa’s highest office within a decade of moving to the state. The American Civil War dominated Kirkwood’s time in office, and he notably shielded Berclay Coppoc from prosecution for participation in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. 

A staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Kirkwood helped arm and equip 20,000 Iowans for service in the Civil War during the first winter of the conflict. Kirkwood’s advocacy for African American colonization of Latin America, support for fugitive slave compromises, and post-war opposition to Black suffrage complicate his legacy. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD


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