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George Wallace Jones (April 12, 1804 – July 22, 1896), a frontiersman, entrepreneur, attorney, and judge, was among the first two United States Senators to represent the state of Iowamarker after it was admitted to the Union in 1846. A Democrat who was elected before the birth of the Republican Party, Jones served over ten years in the Senate, from December 7, 1848 to March 3, 1859.

Life before Congress

Jones was born in Vincennes, Indianamarker. He was the son of John Rice Jones, who became active in efforts directed toward the introduction of slavery to the country north of the Ohio River. When George was six years old, his father moved the family to Missouri Territory, recently acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. As a child he served as a drummer for a volunteer company in the War of 1812. He later moved to Kentuckymarker where he attended Transylvania Universitymarker in 1825, and returned to Missouri to study law with his brother. After he was admitted to the bar and had practiced law for a short time, he went to work at Sinsinawa Moundmarker, then in Michigan Territory, where he mined lead and worked and a storekeeper. He returned to Missouri, where he courted and married seventeen-year-old Josephine Gregiore in 1829. In 1831 Jones returned to Sinsinawa with his wife, seven slaves and several French laborers, to resume lead mining.

In 1832, Jones fought the Sauk and Fox Indians in the Black Hawk War. Jones was a judge in the local county court.

Delegate to Congress from territories

Jones represented the Michigan Territory as a delegate in Congress from 1835 until 1837. His constituency included all of what is now the states of Michiganmarker, Wisconsinmarker, Minnesotamarker, and Iowa. He then became the first Congressional delegate from the Territory of Wisconsin, which was formed from a portion of the Michigan Territory. In that position he successfully persuaded voting members to support the designation of areas of Wisconsin Territory west of the Mississippi River as Iowa Territory. He continued to represent the Wisconsin Territory until January 3, 1839, when he was succeeded by James D. Doty.

President Martin Van Buren appointed him as Surveyor-General of the Wisconsin and Iowa Territories, where he served (most likely in Dubuquemarker, in Iowa Territory) from early 1840 until the end of the Van Buren administration in 1841. In 1845, following the election of another Democrat, James K. Polk, as president, he was reappointed Surveyor-General of Iowa Territory, one year before the southeastern eastern area of Iowa Territory became the State of Iowa.

George W.
Jones in his elder years.

U.S. Senate

Jones represented Iowa in the United States Senate from December 7, 1848 to March 3, 1859. For its first two years, the Iowa General Assembly failed to choose Iowa's first U.S. Senators, due to a three-way split that prevented any candidate from earning the required number of 30 legislators' votes. However, after the 1848 elections gave the Democratic Party a greater share of Iowa legislators, Jones became a candidate for one of the two seats, and after four ballots won the Democratic caucuses' nomination for one of the two seats. He won the election and then, by drawing lots, received the seat with the longer term (to expire in four years). He won re-election (to a full six-year term) in 1852, after winning renomination by the Democratic Party by a single vote.

Jones was Chairman of the Committee on Engrossed Bills, the Committee on Pensions, and the Committee on Enrolled Bills. He served two terms before failing to be renominated. Jones had become increasingly unpopular in Iowa, even among those in his own party, because he often voted with southern Senators on slavery-related issues. As a senator, Jones was described by his biographer as a "Democrat in politics and a southerner by instinct." He claimed to oppose slavery (despite his own slaveholding past) but insisted that Congress had no right to forbid it or criticize it where states chose to allow it. Thus, he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That stance, while unremarkable at the time, ultimately rendered him incapable of re-election in a state whose antislavery, anticompromise faction became dominant midway in Jones' second term, as the new Republican Party. After his term ended, no Iowa Democrat would win election to the U.S. Senate until the 1920s. His ten years in the Senate were not matched by any Iowa Democrat until 1950, after Guy M. Gillette was elected a third time.

Later life

In 1858, the Democratic Party in Iowa, like those in other northern states, was bitterly divided over the support that its own president, James Buchanan, gave for the adoption by Kansas Territory and Congress of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Jones had voted to approve the Lecompton Constitution in the Senate. When anti-slavery Iowa Democrats passed a resolution at their 1858 state convention repudiating the party's previous support for the Lecompton Constitution, Jones and others in the party's "old guard" walked out.

In 1859, President Buchanan appointed Jones as Minister Resident of the United States to New Granada (encompassing modern Colombiamarker and Panamamarker), requiring his relocation to Bogotámarker.

His service in Bogotá ended just as the Civil War broke out, as the Abraham Lincoln administration displaced the Buchanan administration. Jones' two sons joined the Confederate Army. Upon returning to the United Statesmarker in 1861, Jones was arrested by order of Secretary of State William H. Seward on the charge of disloyalty, based upon correspondence with his friend, Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He was never indicted or placed on trial. Jones was held for 34 days, until he was released by order of President Lincoln.


Jones then began a long retirement in Dubuque. In 1892, he was granted a pension by special act of Congress for his services in the Black Hawk War. On his ninetieth birthday in 1894, Governor Frank D. Jackson and the Iowa General Assembly gave Jones a public reception in recognition of his valuable services in the formative periods of the Territory and State. He died in Dubuque on July 22, 1896.

Jones County, Iowamarker was named in his honor. In 1912, the State Historical Society of Iowamarker published the biography George Wallace Jones, by John Carl Parish.


  1. John Carl Parish, " George Wallace Jones," pp. 4-10, 30 (Iowa City: Iowa St. Hist. Soc. 1912).
  2. Benjamin F. Gue, " History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century," Vol. 4 (George W. Jones), pp. 146-47 (1902).
  3. " A Statesman of a Past Era," New York Times, 1881-03-22 at p. 3.
  4. Jones, George Wallace 1804 - 1896
  5. Dan Elbert Clark, " History of Senatorial Elections in Iowa," pp. 17-46 (Iowa 1913).
  6. Cyrenus Cole, " A History of the People of Iowa," p. 313 (Torch Press 1921).
  7. Olynthus B. Clark, " The Politics of Iowa During the Civil War and Reconstruction," pp. 12-13 (Iowa City: Clio Press 1911).
  8. " Arrest of Senator Jones," New York Times, 1861-12-21 at p. 1.

External links

  • Retrieved on 2009-04-14
  • Retrieved on 2009-04-14

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