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

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.

DANIEL O. FINCH was among the first lawyers of Des Moines. He came to Iowa and to the Iowa Bar in 1851, settling at Cedar Rapids. He came from Monroe, Wisconsin, where he had gone in 1847 from the State of New York, after graduating from the Poughkeepsie Law School. While at Cedar Rapids he was a partner of George Green, afterward one of the Judges of the Supreme Court. In 1853 Mr. Finch removed to Des Moines. It was then a place of two hundred and fifty inhabitants. Here he was when I came to the State and here he remained until his fame as a lawyer, and his eloquence as an orator had extended to all parts of the State. I met him in the early years of my professional career. He was one of the most magnetic and charming of men, having all the elements of good fellowship, combined with the accomplishments of a scholarly gentleman. Though heroic when occasion demanded, he was as free from every tinge of malice as any public man within my knowledge. His heart was as warm as his nature was open. He was generous to a fault, and cared nothing for money, save for what it would buy. He was true as steel to his friends; enemies, he had none. He was well built, gracefully formed and prepossessing in appearance. He had very dark, luxuriant hair, regular features, a rather florid complexion, while his face was lighted with full, dark and luminous eyes. His outward appearance and demeanor naturally drew people to him, and his innate qualities served ot make them lasting friends.

For many years he was a brilliant leader of the Democratic Party, and its most conspicuous and attractive orator with perhaps one exception in the person of Benjamin F. Samuels, of Dubuque. He was not only an eloquent, fascinating orator and advocate, but a lawyer of great ability. He had a living from the start, and a lucrative practice for a long period, but he was without the trait of accumulation, too generous to save, and died poor. His last days and those of his beloved wife were spent in California, where they were comforted and ministered to by his children, some of whom had become residents of that State, and whither Daniel was induced to turn his footsteps as the evening drew near, and where he died, at San Francisco, in 1906, in the seventy- seventh year of his age. He was born in Unadilla, Otsego County, New York. Both of his parents were natives of Connecticut whence they had emigrated to New York. He was educated at the Delaware Institute, at Franklin, New York, and at the Oxford Academy of Chelango County in that State. In the fall of 1847, immediately after leaving the law school, he located in Wisconsin, as before stated. Upon his coming to Des Moines from Cedar Rapids in 1853, he entered into a legal partnership with Judge Curtis Bates, then one of the leading lawyers of that part of Iowa. During the period of this partnership, Mr. Finch was the editor of the Iowa Star, started by Barlow Granger, and which was the first newspaper of Des Moines. In 1855 Judge Bates retired from the firm and was succeeded by Marcellius M. Crocker. This firm continued for some time, and the names of Finch & Crocker are frequently found in the Iowa Reports of that period.

In 1856 he was one of the presidential electors, and as such canvassed a good portion of the State, which prominently brought him before the people as a political orator of a high order. He cast his electoral vote for James Buchanan. In 1860 he was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention, which nominated Stephen A. Douglas for the presidency. In 1854 he had been a candidate for District Judge, and in 1857 for State Senator. In 1862 he was the Democratic candidate for Congress in his district. It was strongly Republican, but he was defeated by only a small majority. In 1864 he was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention, which resulted in the nomination of Gen. George B. McClellan. In 1868 he was again a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which nominated Horatius Seymour. In 1876 he was again a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and was made Chairman of the Iowa delegation. In 1877 he was President of the Democratic State Convention. In 1885 he was appointed by President Cleveland, United States District Attorney for the southern district of Iowa and served in that capacity with marked ability until 1889. He enjoyed a high degree of personal, as well as political popularity throughout his entire career. He was an uncompromising Democratic to the end of his days, but, as will be seen from one of his letters, he voted for Palmer and Buckner and the Gold Standard in the presidential campaign which resulted in the election of William McKinley for President.

In the preparation for the present work, I wrote to Mr. Finch after his removal to California, kindly asking him to furnish me information concerning some of his early associates. I wrote him several letters on the subject, to each of which he invariably replied; and as these replies furnish information of a more primary character than anything I could say, respecting the persons mentioned in the heading of this chapter, I feel justified in making some of them a part of this sketch, especially so as they throw a strong light upon Mr. Finch himself.

" Alameda, California, October 12, 1897.

My dear Stiles: Uncle Sam is good at finding the locus in quo of his subjects, and this is proven by the fact that your welcome letter of the 15th inst. after having visited three post offices has at last found its way to my open arms at the address at the head of this sheet, this being the place where I am for the winter, if not longer, to take my otium without the dignitata. I have a son in San Francisco, occupying a cottage on this side of the bay, and that we might have the benefit of good schools for our two grandsons, my wife and I accepted his kind invitation to spend a time with him - I give you this as my excuse for leaving temporarily my cabin in the woods by the sea. It was with great personal pain that I left the cabin, for I have seen enough of the rough and tumble of the world and would like to spend the little remainder of earthly habitation with nature and a few dear friends, and I hope to again get back to that sequestered nook where through nature I can commune with the Creator, and in memory at least, with the friends of early days. I am no longer a seeker of honors political or professional and am quietly mourning over the great errors of the party to which I have belonged for a lifetime, and mourning more over the grievous sins of the party in power. So strong, however, is my love for my country and so earnestly do I desire the perpetuation of our free institutions, that I went eight miles in a row boar over rough waters to cast my vote for Palmer at the last election. It was the only ballot of the kind cast in that precinct. In this I was guided by the rule of my life - Principia non homines.

"With regard to Judge P. M. Casady, I would say that when I came to Des Moines in March, 1853, his firm, Casady & R. L. Tidrick, was one of the leading firms in central Iowa. Upon the expiration of Judge William McKay's term Casady was elected Judge of that District, and qualified and performed the duties of that office for a short time, but, as I now recollect, never held a term of court because he was appointed by President Pierce to the Receivership of the United States Land Office, a much more lucrative office than the Judgeship. He resigned this office in a few years and has since been engaged in banking, and is now the President of one of the largest banking institutions in Des Moines. Judge Casady is a rare man in all respects, and perhaps there is no man in Des Moines who enjoys more universal respect. It was much regretted by the bar that he did not feel it his duty to continue in the Judgeship, a position he would undoubtedly have honored. At the solicitation of Mr. Aldrich, Curator of the State Historical Department of Iowa, I have written an article on the administration of Judge McFarland which will probably appear in the January number of the 'Annals of Iowa,' * and have partly promised some additional articles upon some of the early men of the State. My wife desires to be remembered to you and now, old fellow, don't let another century pass without my hearing from you. And believe me as ever, Your old friend, D. O. Finch."


* Note - neither this article nor any of the others referred to appeared.