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

MAHONY, Dennis

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Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/100088812/person/300000606495/facts?_phsrc=HEg9346&_phstart=successSource

Dennis Mahony

MAHONY, Dennis. (Ross County, Ireland, Jan. 20, 1821--Dubuque, IA, Nov. 5, 1879). After settling in Philadelphia, it was the intention of Mahony's parents that he be trained for the priesthood. He soon tired of the study and in the fall of 1843 moved to Iowa with the intention of being an educator. (1) He taught in Jackson County for five years while studying law in the firm of Davis & Crawford. During the winter of 1844-1845 Mahony taught school in Dubuque, and in the latter year established an academy in Jackson County. It was through his suggestion that the name for the settlement became Garryowen instead of Makokiti in memory of a section of his native Limerick. (2) Here he was also Postmaster and Justice of the Peace.

In 1847 Malony was admitted to the bar before the Supreme Court at Iowa City and opened practice. In 1848 he was elected to the House from the Legislative District, composed of Jackson and Jones Counties, and was made Chairman of the House Committee on Schools. He drafted the bill which became the Public School Law of Iowa during that session. Mahony came to symbolize the opposition in Dubuque to President Abraham Lincoln's approach to the South. Among the nation's most die-hard COPPERHEADS, Mahony went to work in 1849 as the editor of the Miner's Express. (3) While a specific date has not been found, it is known that he later purchased German type and printed the STAATS ZEITUNG.

Mahony was an agent for Manhattan Printing Ink.Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

With several associates, Mahony established the Dubuque Herald in 1851. He sold his interest three years later to his partner Joseph B. DORR, and reentered the state legislature in 1858. He also became involved with land speculation. According to the 1857-1858 Dubuque City Directory, he operated his business in a building located on the corner of 7th and Main.

The PANIC OF 1857, however, led Mahony to lose $40,000. (4) In 1860 Mahony repurchased the paper. He was also listed as an agent for the sale of Manhattan Printing Ink. (5) Mahony was, by this time, solidly a part of the Southern faction of the Democratic Party. During this time, he served on the city's first board of education. He declined nomination for MAYOR because he felt there were too many foreigners on the ticket.

During the first year of the CIVIL WAR, Mahony became increasingly harsh in his attacks on President Lincoln and the North. He considered the Civil War unnecessary and unconstitutional believing the South would return to the Union. He considered Lincoln's policies violated states' rights. Although personally opposed to slavery, Mahony believed it had to be accepted as long as it was allowed by law.

A meeting in Table Mound township in February 1862 passed the following: (6)

        Resolved, That we consider Abolitionism as preached 
        in the pulpit, spread broadcast amongst the people 
        by the infamous Abolition press, harped upon in 
        Congress and in the Legislature of the Free States, 
        as the most disastrous, mischievous and suicidal 
        doctrine ever promulgated among the people since the 
        formation of the government. We believe it to be the 
        primary cause of secession, for if we had no Abolitionists 
        we would have no secession.
        Resolved, That we believe D. A. Mahony to be an unflinching
        constitutional Democrat who has for the past year stood with 
        a bold front in the face of public opinion, fanaticism and 
        partisan feeling combined, threatened by suppression and the 
        fury of mob violence stirred up by a false view of patriotism; 
        he has triumphed over his most inveterate enemies. 

Before daylight on August 14, 1862, Mahony was arrested by a group of soldiers at his home by order of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. (7) Placed aboard the steamer "Bill Henderson," Mahony was able to write a note entitled "Fellow-Citizens of Iowa." In this he explained the reason for his arrest as his "fidelity to the Constitution." (8) Believing he would be able to see Iowa Governor Kirkwood, Mahony instead received only a letter and was quickly moved to Burlington. From there he was moved by railroad to Chicago and then to jail in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. (9) His writ of habeas corpus suspended by Lincoln, Mahony faced no specific charge, never found who accused him, and was never was given a hearing. (10)

On August 25, 1862, Mahony was nominated by district Democrats to be their candidate for the United House of Representatives. He accepted at the risk of having his imprisonment extended.

From his cell, Mahony wrote "Address of D. A. Mahony to the Citizens of the Third Congressional District." As a campaign document, the author's political beliefs were clearly stated:

         The Constitution As It Was
         The Union As It Was
         The Government As it Should Be (11)

Realizing that the South would not win the struggle, he swore allegiance to the federal government and the Constitution in November 1862. He was released from prison on November 11, 1862. A large portion of the people in his District felt his imprisonment was not only unjustified but a violation of the rights of a citizen. So strong was this feeling that he was nominated by the Democrats of the Third Iowa District for Representative in Congress. Alhough defeated by William Boyd ALLISON, he carried Dubuque County by a majority of 1,457 votes. (12) The year following his release, in 1863, he was elected Sheriff of Dubuque County and re-elected to the same office in 1865. (13) He then served one term as country treasurer. (14) He left his job at the Herald in August, 1863. In 1866 he went to St. Louis and became Chief Editor of the "St. Louis Times." (15)

Mahony wrote Prisoner of the State (1863). In it he accused President Lincoln of "setting the Presidential power far above than that what was created by the Constitution of the United States. Instead of preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution, Lincoln had in every instance destroyed, violated and suffered it to be outraged." (16) While living in New York, he wrote The Four Acts of Despotism. (17) He returned to Dubuque, purchased the Dubuque Telegraph, and worked as the editor until his death.

In his latter years, Mahony did not seem to mellow a great deal as witnessed by the following editorial in the Dubuque Herald: (18)

            That venerable old smut render Dennis Mahony piously preaches
            the Herald a sermon on the wickedness of libel and false
            swearing in his last issue. We feel much mortified at receiving
            reproof from such an eminently innocent and chaste source. Dennis
            is just the man to preach that doctrine to all the world. The
            man who levies blackmail on the good intentions of all mankind,
            who whines because he cannot steal a railroad, who steals beer
            from his printers, who cries for municipal economy, deplores the
            leanness of funds in the in the city treasury and sues the city
            for $10,000 on weak pretense, who charges $5,000 for haggling 
            bond settlements for the county, who is a proverbial liar and 
            gripes like Satan with the bellyache at the idea of telling the
            truth, and who would forswear himself into Satan's friendly
            embrace in two minutes to satisfy a grudge, is the man to
            dispense Christian wisdom to the community at large.

In 1874 Mahony broke his arm and sued the city. He won $600, but moved for a new trial in Delaware County. This led to another editorial in the Dubuque Herald which stated," (19)

            Dissatisfied as usual with every dispensation of providence in 
            this world, Dennis Mahony is anything but pleased with the 
            verdict of $600...and is now moving the case for a new trial and
            change of venue to Delaware County, where the name of Dennis
            Mahony has not become a stench and a filth in the nostrils of 
            all fair-minded people. 

This editorial apparently led to Mahony threatening to cow-hide the editorial staff of the Herald. Their comment did nothing to dampen the emotions: (20)

            We appreciate the compliment and meekly inquire whether old
            Dennis plans to do the job himself or let it out on contract.

Mahony's health began to fail in 1877 and he was confined to his house that winter. His health rallied in 1878, and he was able to visit the newspaper office and write. His health again began to fail in early 1879, and he was unable to eat. By October he was confined to his house where he died. (21)



1. "Death of Dennis A. Mahony, Editor of the Telegraph," Dubuque Herald, November 5, 1879, p. 2. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18791106&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Driscoll, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Justin A. With Faith and Vision, Dubuque: Bureau of Education Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1967, p. 5

3. "Death of Dennis A. Mahony..."

4. Johnson, Russell Lee. Warriors Into Workers: The Civil War and the Formation of Urban-industrial Society in a Northern City. Fordham University Press, 2003. p. 60 Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=ahqtg54TXyEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

5. "Manhattan Printing Ink, Dubuque Democratic Herald, September 10, 1863, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18630910&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. Salvaterra, David. "Old Abe" vs "Old Dogmatism"--Dennis Mahony-Kidnapped," Julien's Journal, October, 2013, p. 56

7. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=u9xDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA464&lpg=PA464&dq=Burton%27s+Furnace+%28dubuque+history%29&source=bl&ots=0CkCGLFR0v&sig=a0Ou1vN3ew6nQUYoq2aOJsXF9Mg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j3HVT5XALaP42QXVp9iFDw&ved=0CGgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Burton%27s%20Furnace%20%28dubuque%20history%29&f=false (p. 533)

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. "Dennis Mahony," Online: http://iagenweb.org/boards/dubuque/biographies/index.cgi?read=189491

13. Ibid.

14. Hansen, Gary. "Dennis Mahoney--The Dubuquer Who Hated Lincoln," Telegraph Herald, March 18, 1962, p. 11

15. "Dennis Mahony"

16. Hansen

17. "Dennis Mahony"

18. "Mahony on Libel," Dubuque Herald, November 20, 1873, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18731120&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

19. "Mahony's Case," Dubuque Herald, January 20, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740120&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

20. "A Cow-hiding Coming," Dubuque Herald, January 21, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740121&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

21. "Death of Dennis A. Mahony..."