Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers...Iowa - 1915 - A

1915 Index

Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa
by Edward H. Stiles. Des Moines: Homestead Publishing Co., 1915.


Unless noted, biographies submitted by Dick Barton.


So much of George Acheson has been in the preceding sketch of Mr. Slagle, that what I have to say in addition need not be lengthy, and especially so in view of what Dr. J. M. Shaffer says concerning him, as we shall presently see. Knowing of the life-long and intimate acquaintance existing between Mr. Acheson and Dr. Shaffer, I wrote to the latter concerning Mr. Acheson, requesting him to furnish me some biographical data of Mr. Acheson; to which I received the following reply:

" Keokuk, Iowa, November 5, 1881.

Dear Friend: In response to your letter, I enclose you a brief sketch which I have prepared of George Acheson, and which I hope you may be able to utilize in your work; if so, I shall be gratified.

Truly yours,

J. M. Shaffer."

The following is the sketch referred to, which is not only valuable for what it said of Mr. Acheson, but for the light it throws upon others who are mentioned, and which I present in slightly condensed form:

"George Acheson was a man of no ordinary character. He was about sixty-one years of age when he died. He received his collegiate training at Washington College, Pennsylvania, and his legal education at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He came to Iowa in 1843 with Christian W. Slagle and became associated with him as a law partner, an association which lasted until Mr. Acheson's death. They came west as boys in 1843. Arriving on a boat at St. Louis, they took another one northbound from there, in April of that year. The boat was frozen in six miles below Hannibal; they walked on the ice to the shore, and remained until the boat went to St. Louis and returned. Somehow they never quite lost the title of "boys." They were boys when they came to Iowa, and in the midst of important deliberations they were still boys."

Mr. Acheson was a Democrat of the old stamp. He loved Democracy for its very name, but he would never accept any candidacy for an office. He used to make stirring speeches for his party and was contemporary with Bernhart Henn, J. C. Hall, Charles Negus, Wm. G. Coop and others not unknown to fame. He fought and aided in the defeat of the first constitution which divided the State of Iowa at a point north and south of where the City of Des Moines now stands. At the very first assault on Sumpter, he came bravely out, and at a public meeting presided over by Hon. Bernhart Henn, who had been a Democratic member of Congress, he denounced secession and all its aiders and abettors. He took strong grounds with Stephen A. Douglas, through that bitter contest, afterwards allied himself with the Republican Party, and voted and worked with it. He gave liberally of his substance to the Union cause, and for the support of those engaged in it.

At Burlington, the disaffected had George Francis Train to address a meeting. The Union men determined to offset that, and induced Mr. Acheson to come from Fairfield to Burlington, and make a speech in Grimes' Hall. The hall was crowded with the best men and women of the city. He made a speech so full of fire and force that it was long remembered. He fairly entranced his audience. Reaching a climax in his denouncement of treason and traitors, it seemed as if language failed to fairly express his detestation, and he exclaimed in the language of the Psalmist David, "Do not I hate all thy enemies, oh, Lord." The effect was electrical; and then in a low voice that penetrated every ear in the audience: "I propose three cheers for every soldier in the field, and for every loyal man and woman at home." No such magnificent outbreak from human throats ever awakened the echoes in Grimes' Hall before. Zenophon said that the words some men used in their social intercourse were worth preserving. And so it was with those used in the social intercourse of George Acheson, Christian W. Slagle, Samuel C. Farmer, William Long, James F. Wilson, Daniel P. Stubbs and Edward Campbell. Of George Acheson, nothing may be recalled that was not truest, best and highest in all that pertains to a noble life.

He was a Mason and he loved the order. He was for many years Master of Clinton Lodge No. 15, and High Priest of McCord Chapter No. 5. It was an inspiration to see him work. I heard a Mason once say, "The Lord created George Acheson on purpose to be Master of a lodge." He believed in Masonry as a system of morality and religion, and as a great factor continually at work in advancing the spiritual condition of the people. After the death of Mr. Acheson I wrote to Brother J. L. Myers, an officer of McCoid Chapter No. 5, of Fairfield, to give me an account of Companion George Acheson's exaltation in said Chapter. In his reply, among other things, he said this of George Acheson: "He supported our institution in sunshine and in storm; and his life was an exemplification of faith, temperance, industry, frugality, brotherly love and charity."

Mr. Acheson was educated in the Calvinistic faith, but later in life, became a liberal in religious matters. He firmly believed and taught the doctrine of the final restoration of all men to holiness and happiness. He rejoiced in the belief that God's goodness and mercy were immeasurable, and that He never grieved or afflicted his children in this world and would never do so in the world to come.

A few suggestions may be added to what has been said, which will throe some additional light on Mr. Acheson's early life. There are to be found several indications, that as a young man, he took an active part in Democratic politics, though neither seeking nor being willing to accept political office. In a Democratic County Convention called in 1846 to discuss certain provisions recommended for incorporation into the new constitution, we find him taking a spirited part in the debate.* (* Annals of Iowa, October, 1871, in an article by Charles Negus, entitled, "The Early History of Iowa.") As I recollect him when he was a comparatively young man, he was small in stature, and quite different in temperament and appearance from his partner, Mr. Slagle, for, while the latter was what might be termed on the blonde order, the former was rather on that of the brunette; dark, nervous, quick in movement, eloquent in speech. The maiden name of his wife was Mary Hemphill. He left surviving him two daughters and two sons. One of the daughters married Charles Clarke, a Lieutenant in the United States Navy; another, Mr. Frank Garrettson, then a resident of Kansas City; while the two sons, John and George, at the time of their father's death, were in business in Fairfield.