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

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.

Samuel M. Clark

pp 348-349: Samuel Clark was educated for a lawyer, but he never practiced much. He early  entered upon journalism and it became the great and absorbing work of  his life, for while he was drawn into official life, served two terms as member of Congress and in some other positions of honorable trust, the diversions were but temporary. As a graceful, classical, as well as virile writer, I do not think he has ever had his superior in the State. He was highly educated, his scholarly instinct strong, his reading wide, his classical and historical researches thorough and extensive. Many of his editorials were gems of literary productions. Withal he had the imagination of a dramatist, which enabled him to unfold the panorama of events in a most charming manner. The fame of a newspaper writer is decidedly ephemeral. Articles upon which have been bestowed the best fibres of his brain and are fairly alive with convincing thoughts, are for the most part consigned to the waste basket and they and their writer pass into oblivion. If some deft and skilful hand could select from the files of the "Gate City," the choicest articles of Mr. Clark, I think that it would make one of the most attractive of books. I hope someone will do it. Specimens of his writings will occasionally be found in quotations embodied in the "Annals of Iowa," and sometimes an original contribution, such as his sketch of the Rev. Samuel Clark, his father. Another specimen will be found embodied in my sketch of Judge Samuel F. Miller. The last time I had the pleasure of seeing him was at the dedication of the new courthouse in Ottumwa; he sat on the platform while I delivered one of the addresses, and after the close of the ceremonies, we had an interesting conversation. He was a delightful man to be with, his presence a charm. He and the late Charles Aldrich, founder and first curator of the State Historical Department, were close personal friends, and in place of my own, and as better than anything I could write myself, I, with pleasure, adopt the following sketch of Mr. Clark by Mr. Aldrich:

Samuel M. Clark was born in Van Buren County, Iowa, 1842; he died at Keokuk, 1900. He was the son of the Rev. Samuel Clark, the most distinguished Methodist Episcopal clergyman of Southeastern Iowa during our pioneer days. The father resided upon a farm a few miles from Keosauqua, where the subject of this notice spent his early years. In 1894 there appeared in the pages of the Annals (Vol. 1, Third Series, pp. 454-466) an appreciative sketch of the life of the Rev. Samuel Clark, from the pen of his gifted son who has now followed him to the grave. Young Clark was educated in the public schools near his home and in the old Des Moines Valley College at West Point, Lee County. He was an all-around product of this State. It is recorded that he sought to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War, but was rejected owing to his lack of health and strength. At the age of eighteen he entered the  office of George G. Wright, who then resided at Keosauqua, and began the study of the law. He completed his law studies in the office of Rankin & McCrary, of Keokuk, and was admitted to the bar in 1864. Immediately afterwards he was invited by J. b. Howell, who had published a paper several years earlier at Keosauqua, to join the staff of The Gate City, as associate editor. This invitation was accepted. Journalism and not the law was his proper field of effort, and it was not long until he had won an enviable reputation throughout the State. He was a keen-eyed observer, an omnivorous reader and a clear-headed, philosophic thinker. He became one of the ablest and most versatile editorial writers in  Iowa. His early life on the farm, his habits of close observation, his appreciation and love of nature, and his wide acquaintance with the pioneers of our State, had given him a fund of out-of-the-way knowledge possessed by no other Iowa journalist. And above and beyond all this, he was a man of the purest morals and the kindest heart. There are hundreds of men throughout the State who will say today: "The kindest words ever written about me were from the pen of Sam Clark." We once heard him reproached by a great Iowa jurist for so constantly "saying and doing things for other men and seldom anything for Sam Clark." But he enjoyed the opportunities that fell in his way to act generously toward friends - and who was not his friend? If a friend called upon him at a busy moment in Washington, while he was serving in Congress, he was certain to be invited to a longer visit before he left the city. Nothing so pleased him as a long evening's visit with a valued friend. In 1894 he was elected to a seat in the National House of Representatives and re-elected two years later. He was always an important factor in his party's state conventions and councils, and very frequently the author of its platform of principles. When fit names were mentioned for Governor or United States Senator his would come first or close to the head of the list. He was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1872, 1876, and 1880. The President appointed him Commissioner of Education to the Paris Exposition of 1889, which gave him a long coveted opportunity of travel in Europe. He was four years postmaster of the City of Keokuk. That he served twenty-one years as a member of the public school board of Keokuk, fourteen of which he was its president, shows the high confidence of those who knew him best and his own absorbing interest in the cause of education. It also shows that he shrank from no public duty, however laborious and unremunerative. In all the characteristics of a grand manhood he was admirably equipped. For fully thirty years he was recognized as one of the foremost Iowa editors, in many respects without an equal. He was possessed of that sublime patience which always enabled him to bide his time - and the fruition of his hopes doubtless came to him as far as was possible to one who was racked with acute pain during most of the years of his manhood. He was one who could "suffer and be strong."

The Clarksons

Coker F. Clarkson, who became as generally and as favorably known as any man in Iowa, was a New Englander by birth, but had early settled in Indiana, where for many years he was a prominent journalist of great influence. When past middle life he emigrated to Iowa and engaged in farming on a large scale in Grundy County. It was my fortune to be a fellow State Senator with him during the session of 1866, and to become better acquainted with him, perhaps, than any other member of that body, for in addition to our official associations, we boarded at the same private boarding house. He had been personally acquainted not only with the leading men of Indiana, but with many of the nation. In physique he was large and commanding, and his mentality was as rugged and commanding as his physique. His convictions were deep and abiding, and his opinions based thereon held with such tenacity as to sometimes subject him to the charge of stubbornness. And it must confessed that he did not brook opposition with a very good grace. But it was always known just where he stood. Equivocation had no part in him, and there was not a false fiber in his make-up. He could not have prevaricated if he would, and would not if he could. His morals were rigid, but he prescribed none to others that he was not willing to be governed by himself. He was seemingly stern and austere, but beneath his exterior there beat a kindly heart. His long observation of affairs and his wide acquaintance with public men made him a very interesting personage. He could tell of little events relating to the inner life of distinguished politicians, lawyers and statesmen not told in books. One now occurs to me: He, with others, had been constituted a committee to accompany Henry Clay on a speaking tour. On them devolved the duty of looking after the preliminaries at the different places, and at the request of Mr. Clay there was on each occasion placed before him on the speaker's stand a pitcher of white Catawba wine instead of water, from which the "Gallant Harry of the West" might occasionally refresh himself. Brother Clarkson said that while the efforts of Mr. Clay were generally grand, they were sometimes miserable failures. As to whether this was because too little or too much wine had been drunk, he gave no opinion, though I thought I knew what his opinion was. Doubtless the real cause was that great orators, like other mortals, experience at times a state of mental lassitude which renders them unable to reach the desired apotheosis or climax.

He was born in the State of Maine in 1810. When he was seven years of age the family removed to Indiana, going across the country in wagons. At the age of seventeen he entered the office of the Lawrenceburg Statesman to learn the printer's trade, and at the end of three years took charge of the paper. In a few years he became the owner and proprietor of the Brookville American at Brookville, Indiana, which he raised to great influence and wide circulation. He disposed of his paper in 1854, and in the following year came to Iowa and located in Grundy County. His large tract of land, which he brought to a high state of cultivation, was known as Melrose Farm. His dominant character, his sterling qualities and strong presence soon brought him into general notice and inspired a general respect for his sound judgment upon all matters of public interest. This became the case before he had been in the State scarcely more than a year. In the summer of 1856 he was chosen a delegate to the Republican convention held at Eldora to nominate a candidate for delegate to the State Constitutional Convention. Cyrus C. Carpenter, afterward Governor of the State, and some of his associates concluded that Mr. Clarkson, by reason of his experience and evident ability, would make a useful member of the convention to frame a constitution for the State, and without Mr. Clarkson's knowledge, who had been appointed and was acting as the Secretary of the convention, succeeded in securing his nomination on the first ballot. On the announcement of this result he warmly thanked the convention for the favor conferred upon him, but absolutely declined to accept it for the reason that his brief residence in the State had not enabled him to gain that information regarding its institutions that a delegate to such a convention should have. It was perfectly characteristic of the man. In 1863 he was elected to the State Senate from the district comprising the Counties of Hardin, Grundy, Blackhawk and Franklin. He served with great efficiency for four years. In 1870 he and his two sons, James S. and Richard P. Clarkson, purchased the Iowa State Register. Of this he became the Agricultural Editor, and through the regular columns which he devoted to that interest elevated the standard of both agriculture and horticulture, and endeared himself to the people of the entire State. In the notable contest between the farmers of the West and the Barbed Wire Syndicate, he was the leading spirit in the inception of the fight that ensued. The syndicate, backed by millions of dollars, had formed an iron-clad combination for the absolute control of the manufacture and sale of barbed wire material. The object was to absorb all independent manufactures. For a time it looked as though the farmers were to be compelled to pay 200 per cent profit to the syndicate. Mr. Clarkson saw clearly the situation and opened his guns upon the combine. Acting in concert with others and as a leading spirit in the movement, a public meeting was called. Mr. Clarkson opened it with a vigorous speech. It was a clear statement of the controversy. He proposed the organization of a Farmers' Protective Association to resist the extortions of the syndicate; his advice was followed, the association was formed, and a factory established to supply farmers without the intervention of the syndicate. Then ensued the most stubborn legal battle in the history of the State. This contest has been referred to in the sketch of Albert B. Cummins, for in it he won a national reputation. The farmers' free factory never closed its doors until the battle was won and the combination broken. Mr. Clarkson may be justly credited with inaugurating the plan which led to this beneficial and widespread result. He continued to reside in Grundy County until 1878, when he removed to Des Moines, continuing his editorial work to his last sickness, in which he died in 1890.

James S. Clarkson, familiarly known as "Ret," in many respects, especially with the pen, surpassed his father as much as Alexander did his parent Philip with the sword. There were two editorial writers in Iowa that in grace and felicity of expression excelled their compeers. One was Samuel M. Clark, of the Gate City, the other "Ret" Clarkson, of the Register. The story of Clarkson's public acts is neither long nor tortuous, but that of his private ones, of his good deeds and tender offices, brimming with helpfulness, there would be no end of telling. I shall make no attempt to recount them. I recollect distinctly when I was introduced to him by Frank Palmer of the State Register, more than fifty years ago. He was then about twenty-three and had just come upon the staff of the Register as a paragrapher; I was a little older and had just been elected a member of the State Senate. He was of medium height, but stockily built. He had blue eyes, light hair, a complexion bordering on floridity. He seemed to me a rather backward and quiet young man who had not much to say, but his keen and observant eyes denoted that, like the Irishman's owl, he kept up a de'il of thinking. This trait was highly characteristic of him throughout his life. He entered the Register office as a tyro; he left it one of the most brilliant and graceful editorial writers of his time. Frank Palmer was himself an able editor and newspaper man, and thereby brought his paper to a high standard in the public estimation; but when he left it and "Ret" took full rein, he eclipsed all previous efforts and advanced the Register to the highest domain of journalism and made it one of the best known and most potent organs of the Republican party. It advanced from the status of a local or state to a national journal, and such was the recognition given it. It furnished a passport to Mr. Clarkson for almost any reward he might have desired at the hands of his party. But he neither asked nor would he accept office save that of a nature purely utilitarian to it rather than advantageous to himself. In this spirit he accepted the chairmanship of the Republican State Central Committee, in which he exhibited remarkable executive ability; in the same spirit he became a member of the National Republican Committee in 1880; in 1884 one of the national managers of the Republican party; later, chairman of the Republican National Executive Committee, and in 1891, President of the Republican League of the United States. He was a warm supporter and an ardent personal friend of James G. Blaine, and it was said at the time that to his efforts as the head of the national committee, more than any other executive factor, was due the election of President Harrison. He refused to accept the portfolio of Postmaster-General under that President, but reluctantly consented to accept the place of first assistant, in order that he might have the opportunity of benefiting the service of that department by removals and appointments of post-masters, of which it is said he made so many that he was pictured by the caricaturists as the "Headsman" of the administration. By the Republican Presidents he was repeatedly tendered prominent federal positions. By President Grant he was offered the appointment of Minister to Sweden; by President Garfield his choice of several missions; and by President Harrison not only that of Postmaster-General, but a choice of Minister to China or Russia. There are but few instances where men have been offered and refused so many high offices.

Personally considered, he was one of the noblest and most generous of men. He had few saving qualities and dispensed his bounties with an open hand. Many men now living could testify to his kindly aid, though there are a few whom I could mention who seem to have forgotten it. He was too warm hearted and liberal to ever become a rich man, or acquire the habit of much accumulation. His accomplished wife, who was Miss Anna Howell, of Pella, was an whole-souled and generous as her husband. She was a beautiful as well as gifted wife and mother. She gave to the public a highly meritorious volume, entitled "A Beautiful Life and Its Associations," published under the auspices of the Historical Department of Iowa in 1899, and some other writings. One of their sons, named for his grandfather, Coker F. Clarkson, is a promising young lawyer of New York, and was for a time and perhaps is yet the Secretary and Treasurer of the "Iowa Society" of New York. He married a granddaughter of justice Samuel F. Miller of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1891 Mr. Clarkson sold his interest in the Register and took up his residence in New York City. During the administration of Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt he accepted and filled for several years the office of Surveyor of Customs of the Port of New York. He performed the duties of this important office, as he did every other, conscientiously, and left it without the smell of smoke upon his garments. The last time I saw him was on a most enjoyable occasion; we had come to be old men; it was in April, 1911, upon the return of myself, wife and daughter from a trip in Europe. While in New York we became the guests of Judge Dillon and as such with him were invited to a family dinner by Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson. There were present Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson, their two sons, the wife of their son Coker, Miss Touzalin, another granddaughter of Judge Miller, Judge Dillon, my wife, daughter and self. Old scenes and men were gone over and altogether an evening that will always be vividly remembered.

Richard P. Clarkson

I was not nearly so well acquainted with as with his brother and father whom I have mentioned, but enough to know that in some respects he was quite different from his brother. He was rather cold, unbending and reserved, though a man of worth and superior intellectual endowment. He was associated with his father and brother in the purchase of the Register in 1870, and became and acted throughout as its Business Manager. He stood behind and directed the finances of the paper, and with decided success. He did not have the liberal traits of "Ret." Along with his being a man of steadfast purposes and great earnestness in everything he did, he was a rigid economist. These characteristics were prominent, and constituted the basis of his successful life. His earlier discipline and experience had been severe, and had tended, I think, not only to impair his health, but to make his disposition less cheery than his brother's. He was early placed in the printing office of his father and kept there until he had learned the craft. After the removal of the family to Grundy County in 1855, when Richard was only fifteen years of age, and their settlement upon "Melrose Farm," he was put to work and labored upon it for some years, until he came to Des Moines in 1861, where he worked for several months as a printer on the Des Moines Register. In October of that year he enlisted in Company A of the Twelfth Iowa Infantry and participated in the Battle of Shiloh, in which he was captured in April, 1862, and languished for seven months in Confederate prisons. He was finally exchanged, returned to his regiment and served until the end of the war, having fought in many battles, suffering various hardships and privations. Upon his return from the army in 1865, he resumed his labors upon the farm, where he remained until he joined in the purchase of the Register as above stated. When his brother sold his interest, it was to him, and he became sole proprietor, and so remained until he in turn sold the paper in 1902. After he became sole proprietor and editor he demonstrated that he had fine editorial as well as business qualities, and was classed as one of the leading journalists of the State. It is said that while editing the Register he brought to the attention of the farmers of Iowa from his actual experience the fact that they were losing large amounts every year by the use of poor seed corn. Despite the sneers with which this announcement was met, he persisted in its discussion and lived to see his ideas carried into practical operation. It became of great profit to the agricultural interests of the State. "As a practical printer, and later as an editor, earnestness and devotion to duty as he comprehended the situation, marked his entire career."*

He was a patriot in love of country and gave himself to die if necessary in her defense; a Puritan in character; a radical in principle; a partisan in politics; a valuable friend; a disagreeable enemy. Though charitable to the needy, and a most generous and loving husband and father, he was cautious in expenditures, and left a comfortable fortune. He was born in Brookville, Indiana, in 1840, and died in Des Moines in 1905. _________

*Annals of Iowa, Third Series, Vol. 7, 315.