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

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.


The United States Marshals during the territorial period were, in their order: Francis Gehon, from 1838 to 1841; ...


What I have said of Mr. Aldrich as a public man will also apply to Benjamin F. Gue. He has written his own epitaph in the crowning effort of his life, his "History of Iowa, from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century," contained in four volumes. But independent of this great work, upon which he spent years of painstaking labor, he is entitled to be classed with Charles Aldrich in his long and useful efforts covering a period of more than forty years in collecting and preserving historical materials pertaining to the State and to the men who figured in making history during that time. His efforts in that cause have been conspicuous. On the creation of the Historical Department, he was at the instance of Mr. Aldrich, made Assistant Curator and Secretary. He took a leading part in founding the Pioneer Law Makers' Association, and became its Secretary, and to his efforts in this position the State is indebted for getting into shape and having published the proceedings of the Association. In its published proceedings of 1898 will be found an interesting article on the Seventh General Assembly, and in the same volume or pamphlet will be found a number of biographies of Iowa public men procured by him from different persons. And this work he continued during his connection with the Association. His contributions to that Association were numerous and will be found in its published proceedings. To the Annals of Iowa he was a frequent and most valuable contributor, especially in respect to sketches of public men. In Volume I of the Annals will be found one of General Nathaniel B. Baker; in Volume IV, one of Judge Geo. g. Wright; in Vol. I, one of Theodore Guelick; in the same volume, one of Hiram Price. Of his History of Iowa, no word is necessary at my hands. Its rare value is ably portrayed in a review of the work to be found in Volume VI of the Annals of Iowa, 395. On his father's side, he was of French origin, and on his mother's, English. His paternal grandfather, David Gue, was a French refugee during the French Revolution. His father was John Gue, and his mother, Catherine Gurney. It is stated in the United States Biographical Dictionary for Iowa, published in 1878, that his parents were both Quakers in their religious belief, and pronounced abolitionists. He used to say that the first paper he saw in his father's house was William Lloyd Garrison's "Liberator." He was born in Green County, New York, in 1828. In 1834 the family removed to Farmington, Ontario County, and settled on a farm a short distance from a Quaker meeting house. Here the family lived until 1851. When Benjamin was but ten years of age, his father died, leaving his widow and six children, all but one of whom were younger than he. With habits of close economy in the family, the children all managed to secure a good common school education. Benjamin also had the benefit of a term at Canandagua Academy. In 1852 he came to Scott County, Iowa. He was a delegate to the First Republican State Convention, held at Iowa City, in 1856. In 1857 he was elected a member of the Legislature from Scott County, and was one of the youngest members of the Seventh General Assembly, of which he has given us the account before alluded to. He took a prominent part and was a leader in some important measures that came before that body. In 1859 he was re-elected to the House by an increased majority, and was made Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture. His years of experience on the farm came in good play. In 1861 he was elected to the Senate from Scott County, serving in that body one extra and two regular sessions. Here he was also prominent in the advocacy of important measures. At the close of his term in the Senate he purchased the Fort Dodge Republican and accordingly moved to Fort Dodge. Under his administration the paper was enlarged and its name changed to the Northwestern. It acquired a large circulation and for many years was the leading advocate of Republicanism, Temperance and Woman's Suffrage for Northwestern Iowa. In 1864 he was appointed by President Lincoln, Postmaster at Fort Dodge. In 1865 he was elected Lieutenant-Governor on the Republican ticket and presided over the Senate during its session of 1866. It was my fortune to be a member of that body. It was no ordinary one. In it were men grown gray in the service of the State, and young men who hoped to follow in their course. There were lawyers, doctors and preachers of note; and there were soldiers that had led the surging lines of battle on bloody fields, displaying "a courage which, in its contempt of death, is a presage of immortality." The war had ended in the preceding April, and a few days later Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Andrew Johnson had become President of the United States. The absorbing theme of the nation was the work of reconstruction.

There could not well have been an abler or more satisfactory presiding officer than Mr. Gue. He was the personification of fairness and discernment. I am perfectly certain that this would be the sentiment and unhesitating expression of every member of that body, were they all living and could speak today. But these events occurred nearly half a century ago - forty-seven years - and the names of scarcely any of them are written among the living. Indeed, I believe I am the only surviving member of that body. This was the commencement of my acquaintance with Governor Gue. I became attached to him, as did every other member of that body, and the long years of acquaintance that followed only served to strengthen that attachment. If I should attempt to express my admiration and reverence for his pure and exalted character, my remarks might be deemed extravagant. I will only say that he was, by nature, a gentleman, possessing mental qualities of a high order and an integrity of purpose that was unswerving. Of him, his old associate, Charles Aldrich, thus fittingly wrote, following his death:

"Governor Gue stood for what he thought was right. This characteristic, this principle, was the thing that distinguished him above all else. His influence was always on the side of right, in politics, in business, in morals, in society."

Going back to the time when he was a member of the Senate from Scott County, in the Ninth General Assembly, I shall avail myself of some data contained in an obituary notice under the initials J. B., appearing in Volume VI of the Annals of Iowa, page 476:

"Among the measures introduced by him and carried to a successful conclusion were: An act prohibiting the circulation of foreign bank bills in Iowa, which was a measure of protection against 'wild-cat' currency; an act requiring jury fees to be taxed with costs in suits in the District Court, which resulted in saving to the State more than one hundred thousand dollars annually. But the law to which this pioneer legislator was wont to refer with most satisfaction was that advocated by him in conjunction with Senator C. F. Clarkson and Samuel J. Kirkwood, a law by which the Agricultural College land grant of 240,000 acres was reserved from sale at the low prices then prevailing and instead was leased for a long term of years at a rental sufficient of itself to maintain the College. By this act the lands were held until good prices were obtained and thus our State Agricultural College secured an endowment fund far larger than that received by any other similar institution *** In 1886 he was elected President of the Board of Trustees of the State Agricultural College, which he had done so much to place upon a permanent basis. In the face of strong opposition he advocated and secured the admission of girls as students of that institution, and the success of what was then a new departure is evidence of his far-sighted vision. It was on his recommendation that the progressive educator, A. S. Welch, was selected as the first President of the State College. In 1872 Governor Gue removed from Fort Dodge to Des Moines and took editorial charge of The Iowa Homestead. Under his editorship The Homestead gained a wide reputation as a leader of practical thought on public questions. In December of that year General Grant appointed him Pension Agent for Iowa and Nebraska, and in that capacity he served eight years. In 1880 he and his son purchased The Homestead, and for years afterward his editorial page was a powerful factor in the discussion of social, educational and economic questions. *** In religion he was a Unitarian, at a time when to be a Unitarian was to be almost alone in Iowa. He was one of the founders of the First Unitarian Churches of Des Moines and of the Iowa Unitarian Association. The crowning work of Mr. Gue's life is the four-volume History of Iowa on which he labored, at first intermittently and afterward daily, for more than seventeen years. The gathering and preparing of the material for this history was a work calling for rare patience, industry and good wisdom and a personal knowledge of the subject such as few have. It is not too much to say, borrowing the thought from Virgil, that he himself was part of the history of Iowa and had himself witnessed nearly all the public events which make up that history."

I have coupled Charles Aldrich and Benjamin F. Gue in this chapter because I thought it was eminently fitting. In most respects their lives were strikingly parallel. They were both natives of New York, of the same age, born the same year. They were both poor, and both were obliged to strive for an ordinary education. They were both printers, and both eventually became noted journalists, biographical writers and historians. The earlier portion of both their lives was a series of struggles which furnished the alembic through which were filtered the heroic forces of that patience and fortitude which served to successfully carry them to their great accomplishments.