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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Governor Stephen Hempstead
Gravestone in Linwood Cemetery
Family History: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=rodohu10&id=I20396

HEMPSTEAD, Stephen. (New London, CT, Oct. 1, 1812--Dubuque, IA, Feb. 16, 1883). Hempstead lived in Connecticut with his parents until the spring of 1828. They then moved to St. Louis, Missouri and settled upon a farm a few miles from the city. In the spring of 1830, he moved to Galena, Illinois and was there during the SAUK AND FOX War. He was an officer in an artillery company, which had been organized for the protection of the city.

After the defeat of Black Hawk and the close of the war, he entered Illinois College at Jacksonville, remaining there about two years; returned to Missouri and began the study of law. He finished the regular course under Charles S. Hempstead, then a prominent lawyer of Galena. In 1836, he was admitted to practice as an attorney in all the courts of the Territory of Wisconsin, which then included the Territory of Iowa. The same year he settled in Dubuque and was its first lawyer. (1)

Hempstead was elected with General Warner LEWIS to represent the northern portion of Iowa Territory in the Legislative Council which met in Burlington in 1838. (2) He chaired the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Incorporations. Re-elected in 1839, he became president of the Legislative Council.

In 1844 he was elected one of the delegates of Dubuque County to the first convention to frame a constitution for the State. Hempstead was responsible for a minority report forbidding banks which he claimed," no principle ever devised by mortal man was so successful to swindle the people." He lost that battle. (3) In 1848, in company with Judge Charles Mason and W. G. Woodward, he was appointed by the Legislature to revise the laws of the State, which revision, with a few amendments, was adopted as the code of Iowa 1851. (4)

Hempstead ran as the Democratic candidate for governor in 1850 and was elected. His term of office occurred at a time of rapidly increasing population with fifty-two new counties being created. (5) He worked to increase the population by suggesting to create the position of "Commissioner of Emigration in New York to encourage more migration to Iowa." (6) The Iowa House of Representatives, however, rejected the idea. He tried again in 1854 with no success. The Iowa Legislature, however, did approve of his idea of establishing the Office of Attorney General.

The issue of temperance also arose. At the time, the only restriction on liquor sales was that it could not be consumed on the premises where it was sold. In 1852-1853 supporters pushed PROHIBITION in the state. Hempstead suggested "a judicious license system under the control of local authorities." The legislature took no action.

Other issues confronted the governor. The Iowa Constitution of 1846 prohibited banks and twice the governor vetoed legislation to call a convention to amend the constitution to permit them. He did support "an asylum for lunatics." Sioux Indians signed a treaty in 1851 giving up the rest of their land claims in Iowa and 46 new counties were formed. (7)

Hempstead ran for the United States Congress in 1854 but lost. Editorial opinion suggested that his loss was due to his opponent's support of prohibition. (8) In 1855 he was elected a Dubuque County judge, a position he held twelve years until the office was abolished. He then served as a county auditor until retiring in 1873 due to ill health. Hempstead is remembered in Dubuque with the naming of STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL. (9)



1. Oldt, Franklin. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 803-804

2. Coover, D. J. Books of Historical Interest. Online--http://freepages.books.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cooverfamily/album_4.html, p. 115

3. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008, p. 226

4. Coover, D. J., p. 115

5. "Iowa Governor Stephen Hempstead." National Governors' Association, Online--http://www.nga.org/cms/home/governors/past-governors-bios/page_iowa/col2-content/main-content-list/title_hempstead_stephen.html

6. Hudson, David, p. 226

7. Ibid. p. 227

8. Ibid.

9. Wikipedia. "Stephen Hempstead."