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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 Iowa 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. During the American Civil War, he was arrested by Federal authorities and briefly jailed on suspicion of having pro-Confederate sympathies.

George Wallace Jones
George Wallace Jones, US Senator.jpg
United States Senator
from Iowa
In office
December 7, 1848 – March 3, 1859
Preceded by(none)
Succeeded byJames W. Grimes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin Territory's at-large district
In office
January 26, 1837 – January 14, 1839
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded byJames D. Doty
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan Territory's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1835 – January 26, 1837
Preceded byLucius Lyon
Succeeded byDistrict Abolished
Michigan added to the Union
Personal details
Born(1804-04-12)April 12, 1804
Vincennes, Indiana, US
DiedJuly 22, 1896(1896-07-22) (aged 92)
Dubuque, Iowa, US
Political partyDemocratic Jacksonian
Alma materTransylvania University
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer, Judge, Miner, Storekeeper


Life before CongressEdit

Jones was born in Vincennes, Indiana.[1] 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.[2] When George was six years old, his father moved the family to Missouri Territory, recently acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.[2] As a child he served as a drummer for a volunteer company in the War of 1812.[1][3] He later moved to Kentucky where he attended Transylvania University in 1825, and returned to Missouri to study law with his brother.[2] After he was admitted to the bar and had practiced law for a short time, he went to work at Sinsinawa Mound, 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.[2] In 1831 Jones returned to Sinsinawa with his wife, seven slaves and several French laborers, to resume lead mining.[2]

In 1832, Jones fought the Sauk and Fox Indians in the Black Hawk War,[1] in which his brother-in-law Felix St. Vrain was killed. Jones was a judge in the local county court.

Delegate to Congress from territoriesEdit

Jones represented the Michigan Territory's At-large congressional district as a delegate in the 24th Congress from March 4, 1835 until January 26, 1837 when Michigan was admitted to the Union. His constituency included all of what is now the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.[4] After Michigan became a state, Jones redistricted and became the first Congressional delegate from the Territory of Wisconsin, which was formed from a portion of the Michigan Territory, representing the territory's At-large congressional district as a non-voting member. 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.[2] He continued to represent the Wisconsin Territory until January 3, 1839, when he was succeeded by James D. Doty.[5]

President Martin Van Buren appointed him as Surveyor-General of the Wisconsin and Iowa Territories, where he served (most likely in Dubuque, 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,[2] one year before the southeastern eastern area of Iowa Territory became the State of Iowa.

George W. Jones in his elder years.

U.S. SenateEdit

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.[6] 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.[7] He won the election and then, by drawing lots, received the seat with the longer term (to expire in four years).[7] He won re-election (to a full six-year term) in 1852, after winning renomination by the Democratic Party by a single vote.[7]

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.[8] As a senator, Jones was described by his biographer as a "Democrat in politics and a southerner by instinct."[2] 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.[2] 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.[2] 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 lifeEdit

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.[7]

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

His service in Bogotá ended just as the Civil War broke out, as the Abraham Lincoln administration succeeded the Buchanan administration. Jones' two sons joined the Confederate Army.[2] Upon returning to the United States in 1861, Jones was arrested by order of Secretary of State William H. Seward on the charge of disloyalty,[9] 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.[3] 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.[3] He died at his daughter's home in Dubuque on July 22, 1896.[1]

Jones County, Iowa, was named in his honor.[10][11] In 1912, the State Historical Society of Iowa published the biography George Wallace Jones, by John Carl Parish.


  1. ^ a b c d "Eventful Life Ended: General Geroge W. Jones of Dubuque Passes Away". The Carroll Sentinel. July 23, 1896. p. 4. Retrieved September 17, 2017 – via  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k John Carl Parish, "George Wallace Jones," pp. 4-10, 30 (Iowa City: Iowa St. Hist. Soc. 1912).
  3. ^ a b c 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).
  4. ^ "A Statesman of a Past Era," New York Times, 1881-03-22 at p. 3.
  5. ^ Jones, George Wallace 1804 - 1896
  6. ^ Dan Elbert Clark, "History of Senatorial Elections in Iowa," pp. 17–46 (Iowa 1913).
  7. ^ a b c d Olynthus B. Clark, "The Politics of Iowa During the Civil War and Reconstruction," pp. 12-13 (Iowa City: Clio Press 1911).
  8. ^ Cyrenus Cole, A History of the People of Iowa, p. 313 (Torch Press 1921).
  9. ^ "Arrest of Senator Jones," New York Times, 1861-12-21 at p. 1.
  10. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 170.
  11. ^ Corbit, Robert McClain (1910). History of Jones County, Iowa: Past and Present, Volume 1. S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 27.

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Lucius Lyon
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan Territory

March 4, 1835 – January 26, 1837
District abolished
New district Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin Territory

January 26, 1837 – January 14, 1839
Succeeded by
James D. Doty
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Iowa admitted to Union
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Iowa
December 7, 1848 – March 3, 1859
Served alongside: Augustus C. Dodge, James Harlan
Succeeded by
James W. Grimes
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James B. Bowlin
United States Minister to New Granada
August 29, 1859 – November 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Allan W. Burton
As minister to the United States of Colombia