James F. Wilson

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James Falconer
“Jefferson Jim” Wilson
James Falconer Wilson LOC picture.png
Former U.S. Senator from Iowa
From: March 4, 1883 – March 3, 1895
Predecessor James W. McGill
Successor John H. Gear
Former U.S. Representative from Iowa's 1st Congressional District
From: October 8, 1861 – March 3, 1869
Predecessor Samuel R. Curtis
Successor George W. McGrary
Former State Senator from Iowa's 10th District
From: January 9, 1860 – October 7, 1861
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former State Representative from Iowa's 52nd District
From: January 11, 1858 – January 8, 1860
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Whig[1]
Free Soil[1]
Spouse(s) Mary A. K. Jewett

James Falconer Wilson (October 19, 1828 – April 22, 1895), also known as Jefferson Jim,[2] was a Radical Republican[3] from Iowa who represented the state's 3rd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives for four terms during the 1860s. He later served as the state's U.S. senator for two terms from 1883 to 1895.

Wilson was previously a member of the state legislature, serving in both houses during the late 1850s and early 1860s.


Wilson was born in Newark, Ohio as one of three children.[4] When he was ten years old, his father died and left the family unprovided.[5] Wilson subsequently helped support the family, and soon became a harnessmaker's apprentice when only thirteen years old.[4]

Attending local common schools, Wilson would study following his working hours.[4] While involved in harnessmaking, a trade he was active in until 1851, Wilson also studied law and loaned books from attorney and future United States Supreme Court justice William B. Woods, who helped instruct him.

Admitted to the bar in 1852, Wilson married Mary A. K. Jewett the following year and moved to Fairfield, Iowa,[4] then a small village,[5] where he opened a law office.[6]

Political career

In 1856 amidst the presidential election that year, Wilson ran for and was elected to serve as a delegate to the Convention for the Revision of the Constitution of Iowa.[2][4] The following year he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, where he served in the Ways and Means Committee.

During his early career, Wilson's opposition towards slavery led him to join the Free Soil movement.[1]

In 1859, Wilson was elected to the Iowa Senate, where he served on the Committee of the Judiciary.[4] He also served as a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention[2] which nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine to head the party ticket for the presidential election.

U.S. House of Representatives

In 1861, Wilson was elected to the U.S. House from Iowa's 1st congressional district (the southern portion of the state), defeating Democrat opponent Julius E. Neal by sixteen percentage points.[7] He filled the vacancy left upon the resignation of Samuel Ryan "S. R." Curtis,[4] who was appointed to become a colonel in the American Civil War.

Rep. Wilson's first action in Congress was introducing a resolution prohibiting fugitive slaves from being returned to the South and ordering the dismissal of any military officer that instructs troops to do such, which was enacted.[4] He in addition reported legislation which enfranchised blacks in Washington, D.C., as well as shepherding a bill that granted freedom to the family of black soldiers.

James F. Wilson - Brady-Handy.jpg

Wilson in 1863 introduced a joint resolution aimed at ratifying the Emancipation Proclamation.[1] The following year, he authored the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the United States.[6] Wilson also later rallied House Republican support for the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was considered a forerunner to the 14th Amendment.[1] His speech refuting arguments calling it unconstitutional were remarked by James G. Blaine as having:

...great strength and legal research.

—James Gillespie Blaine

A business lawyer, Wilson advocated moderating the income tax among lower brackets and "reasonable" levels of protectionism.[1] He also backed railroad grants and the Homestead Act, though opposed the Morrill College Land-Grant Act. Along with other Radical Republicans, Wilson adamantly supported a military occupation of the South during Reconstruction on the grounds that it was the only effective means of ensuring security.[1]

During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, Wilson was offered several positions in the Cabinet, including one in the State Department, though declined to take any of them.[8]

Johnson impeachment

When President Andrew Johnson faced impeachment after violating the Tenure of Office Act in firing Edwin M. Stanton, Wilson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, served as one of the House managers.[6] Although initially opposing impeachment, he voted for the resolutions along with the vast majority of Republicans. Wilson sparred with Maine senator William P. Fessenden, who claimed that he broke from "his usual discretion."[1]

Johnson was ultimately acquitted by the Senate due to seven GOP members in the upper congressional chamber bucking their party.

U.S. Senate

Wilson ran for United States Senate in the 1882 midterm elections, and defeated Democrat L. G. Kinnie in the general election by fifteen percentage points.[9] He was later re-elected to a second term in 1888 with no opposition,[10] where it was observed:[1]

It is amusing to see Mr. Wilson ride triumph-antly into the United States senate. One candidate after another dropped out of the list, till Wilson stood alone in solitary grandeur.

—Samuel S. Storrs, The Annals of Iowa

In the Senate, Wilson was known as a staunch supporter of the Prohibition cause, being a member of the Sons of Temperance.[1] He was particularly outspoken on the issue, advocating in 1883 to commit the GOP state convention in Iowa to the issue.


Wilson died at his home on April 22, 1895 due to paralysis of the brain.[4] He is interred at Evergreen Cemetery, located in Fairfield, Iowa.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Ross, Earle D. James F. Wilson, Legalistic Free-Soiler. The Annals of Iowa. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wilson, J. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  3. United States Senator James F. Wilson Historic Resources in Fairfield. Iowa: 1853-18. National Park Service. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 April 24, 1895. DEATH OF THE SLAVE'S FRIEND; The Public Record of ex-Senator James F. Wilson, Who Died in Fairfield, Iowa, Monday Night. The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Howe, Samuel Storrs (1882). James Wilson. State Historical Society of Iowa. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 James Falconer Wilson. The Iowa Legislature. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  7. IA - District 01 Race - Special Election Race - Oct 08, 1861. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  8. March 20, 1869. Hon. James F. Wilson and the Cabinet. The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  9. IA US Senate Race - Nov 04, 1882. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  10. IA US Senate Race - Nov 04, 1888. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 27, 2021.

Further reading

External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Profile at Find a Grave