ALLISON, William Boyd
Although Allison did not receive the political appointments he desired, Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood in 1861 appointed him to be one of his military aides during the CIVIL WAR. In this role, Allison proved to be a good manager of the transportation, organization, and medical needs of Iowa volunteers enlisting in the Dubuque area. (3) In 1860 at the Republican National Convention, Allison, a young delegate and state convention secretary from Iowa, was the first to tabulate the roll and inform the convention president that Abraham Lincoln had obtained enough votes to secure his party's nomination for President of the United States. (4)
The 1860 Census led Iowa's congressional delegation to increase from two to six. Allison used his political connection including Governor Kirkwood and railroad builder Grenville M. Dodge to win both the Republican nomination and general election to the United States House from Iowa's Third District. He went on to serve four terms from 1863-1871. (5)
Allison quickly joined the ranks of the Radical Republicans and opposed Lincoln's plans for Reconstruction. (6) During the first two years he was a member of Congress, Allison introduced a bill for improving the navigation of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. It was through his influence that the land grant was secured for the railroad leading westward to McGregor, Iowa. While in Congress, Allison supported every Republican measure including the Civil Rights Bill and the Freedman's Bureau Bill. (7)
In his second term, Allison became a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He also gained a reputation for his knowledge of tariffs and railroads and as a supporter of moderate tariffs that benefited agriculture. While not known as a great orator or thinker, he was considered a party loyalist who was also sensitive to party leaders, party factions and the electorate in Iowa. (8) For example, he assisted Charles Aldrich in obtaining specimens of birds, Native American artifacts, and an important collection of southwestern American Indian pottery from the Smithsonian Institution and the Bureau of Ethnology for the Iowa museum collections in the 1890s. He also helped obtain collections of guns from the Rock Island Arsenal. (9) He had the political backing of Iowa Senator Grimes who was retiring, but unfortunately did not, in this case, have the backing of Senator James Harlan's supporters who backed James B. Howell in the election. In 1871, Allison lost his campaign to become an Iowa senator.
Allison returned briefly to his legal practice in Dubuque. In 1872, his political alliances, however, led to him getting the Republican caucus nomination to the United States Senate. This guaranteed his election in the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature--by one vote. (10) He went on to serve as a U. S. senator from Iowa for six terms (1873-1908) and as the Senate majority leader in 1897, 1904, 1906, and 1907-1908. Allison's political alliances and his position in the United States Senate also led him to be the center of the "Des Moines Regency." This small group including James Clarkson of the Iowa State Register, Charles E. Perkins and Joseph W. Blythe of the Burlington Railroad had tremendous influence in the state on country, district, and state conventions after 1873. (11)
In 1875 Allison was one of the commissioners appointed to negotiate with the SIOUX for the sale of the Black Hills. The unsuccessful venture failed to stop white trespassing on sacred Native American land and led to the massacre of General Custer at Little Big Horn.
Allison found in the Senate nearly his only pleasures in life. Yet after 43 years in Congress only one piece of legislation bears his name, the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 which was intended to buy a certain amount of silver and put it into circulation as silver dollars. (13) Two other highly important pieces of legislation to which he made vital contributions were the Senate Report advocating a commission form of government for the District of Columbia, containing the idea for the now-familiar commission type of municipal government, and the Railroad Rate Act of 1906. (14)
In 1888 Allison launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He was nominated in 1896, but lost to the man who became President of the United States, William McKinley. Allison's long record of political service was brought out during his 1908 campaign when it was discovered that not one member of Congress from 1863, when Allison entered the House of Representatives, was still serving.
Held in high esteem by others in governmental service, Allison was offered cabinet positions by presidents Garfield, Harrison and McKinley. (15) In 1896 President McKinley asked him to be secretary of state. Allison declined believing he could do more for the country as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. President McKinley again asked Allison to join his cabinet in 1900 upon the death of Vice President Garret Hobart. Allison again declined for the same reason. McKinley then chose Theodore Roosevelt who assumed the presidency after McKinley was assassinated on September 9, 1901.
In 1917, friends of Senator William B. Allison, citizens and school children of Iowa, and the state legislature raised this memorial in Des Moines. The monument was designed by Evelyn B. Longman of New York. A central plaque picturing Allison is flanked by symbols of "Knowledge" on the left and "Peace" on the right. The former is followed by "Legislature" and "Financial Prosperity," the latter by "Humanity" and "Agricultural Prosperity." The topmost figure, "The Republic." (16)
Said to be so cautious as a politician "that he could walk on eggs from Des Moines to Washington without breaking one of them," Allison will be remembered as strongly supporting business, industrial, and railroad interests, promoting a "hard-money" currency program, and crafting high protective tariffs. (17)
1. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008 p. 14
3. Tigges, John. They Came From Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, "Allison and Henderson" by Rose M. Onufrak, 1983, p. 45
4. Pregler, John T. "Area's Political History Star-Crossed," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 28, 2012, p. 11A
5. Hudson, p. 14
7. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 761
8. Hudson, , p. 15
9. Hudson, p. 7
10. Hudson, p. 15
12. Sage, Leland. Two Gentlemen of Dubuque.Online: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/Bai/sage.htm
13. Bland-Allison Act. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h718.html
14. Hudson, p. 15
15. William Boyd Allison. Online: bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=a000160
16. William Boyd Allison Monument. Online:http://dsmpublicartfoundation.org/public-art/us-senator- william-boyd-allison-monument/
17. United States Senate, "William Boyd Allison: A Featured Biography,"http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Featured_Bio_Allison.htm
18. Donovan, Frank P. Jr. Iowa Railroads. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000, p. 211
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