William B. Allison

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William Boyd Allison
William B. Allison painting.jpg
Former U.S. Senator from Iowa
From: March 4, 1873 – August 4, 1908
Predecessor James Harlan
Successor Albert B. Cummins
Former U.S. Representative from Iowa's 3rd Congressional District
From: March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1871
Predecessor (none, district established)
Successor William G. Donnan
Party Whig (until 1850s)
Know Nothing (until 1856)
Republican (since 1856)
Spouse(s) Anna Carter (died 1859)
Mary Nealley (died 1883)
Religion Presbyterian
Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Service Years 1861–???
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/wars American Civil War

William Boyd Allison (March 2, 1829 – August 4, 1908), sometimes referred to as W. B. Allison, was a Republican from northeastern Iowa who represented the state's 3rd congressional district for four terms and served from the Class III Senate seat from 1873 until his death in 1908.

Described as a "sensible man" in a posthumous congressional memorial address in early February 1909, Allison reported had "saved the [federal] Government untold millions of dollars" when he chaired the Senate Committee on Appropriations.[1] He was also considered a party leader by Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., his Massachusetts senatorial colleague,[2] though a New York Times obituary suggested that he merely played a seemingly "leading part."[3]


Allison was born near Ashland, Ohio to John Allison and the former Margaret Williams. Shaped in his youth by Presbyterian faith, involvement in Whig politics, and pursuing success, he moved to Pennsylvania with his family at one point.[4]

In 1854, Allison married the former Anna Carter, who was among the wealthy residents of Ashland.[4] After she died five years later, he would later wed a second time in 1873, marrying Mary Nealley.

Political career

While in Ohio, Allison's rise in politics coincided during a period of time where the Whig Party was facing collapse due to internal divisions over slavery. An abolitionist and supporter of business interests, he served in conventions to the newly formed Republican Party as well as the Know Nothing Party.[4]

Although serving in the 1856 Know Nothing national convention, Allison left the party and joined the Republicans.[4] Following an unsuccessful bid for county attorney, he moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where his older brother resided. Although the city was a stronghold for the Democratic Party at the time, Allison's ties with a law partnership and a Presbyterian church proved to successfully propel him into the state GOP leadership.[4]

Rise into national politics, House tenure

During the 1860 presidential election, Allison was a delegate to the Republican National Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin.[3] He campaigned heavily for party nominees on both the national and state level during the election cycle, and would be appointed by Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood as a military aide a year later with the outbreak of the Civil War.[4] Allison served in the Army during the war effort, managing the needs of local volunteers from transportation to medical matters.

The Census of 1860 led to an increase in Iowa's congressional district seats from two to six. In the 1862 midterms, Allison ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from the third district which included Dubuque, challenging incumbent Republican congressman William Vandever.[4] Benefiting from connections to Kirkwood in addition to railroad interests, he denied Vandever renomination and won the general election.[5]

In the House, Allison sided with the powerful Radical Republican wing of the party which frequently opposed President Lincoln's policies as being too moderate,[4] instead favoring a harsher treatment of the Confederacy. After being re-elected in 1864,[6] he was a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, in addition to emerging as a leading expert on protective tariffs and railroads.[4] His tariff viewpoints were described as having "not always pleased" constituents.[3]

William Boyd Allison - Brady-Handy.jpg

The Radical Republicans were not unified on ideological issues aside from their advocacy of harsher Reconstruction policies to ensure and safeguard the constitutional rights of blacks. Indeed, Allison broke from the factions' more staunchly conservative members in maintaining a moderate stance on tariff policy.[4] However, he strongly represented railroad interests,[7] on which he was accused of conflicts of interests.

Allison and Grimes split over Johnson impeachment

President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat who assumed the presidency following the assassination of Lincoln, angered congressional Republicans by pushing for lenient Reconstruction policies. After violating the Tenure of Office Act, an impeachment resolution was spearheaded by Radical Republicans against him.

Allison, who at the time did not own a house of his own, shared a room with Iowa Sen. James W. Grimes.[4] A major difference between the two emerged when Allison voted to impeach Johnson while Grimes in the Senate opposed conviction. Despite such, the congressional pair's relationship did not sever.[4]

U.S. Senate

Allison ran for United States Senate in the 1870 midterms to succeed Grimes, though lost the primary to James B. Howell, a member of the opposing party faction.[4] However, he rebounded politically in the following 1872 elections, obtaining the Republican nomination for the race pertaining to Iowa's other Senate seat and winning the general election uncontested.[8]

Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:

Reelected numerous times, Allison's Senate tenure was marked by his influence on regulation, railroad, and tariff policy.[4] Initially retaining the moderate stances he was known for during his House years, Allison over time sided with protectionists. He also allied with the Stalwarts,[Citation Needed] the conservative wing of the GOP which opposed civil service reform in the late 1870s out of concern for the plight of Southern blacks in addition to supporting Ulysses S. Grant in the 1880 presidential election primaries.

William B. Allison 1904 picture.jpg

In 1887, Sen. Allison stated to an audience at Iowa State University:[4]

I am one of those who believe that the world is growing better and purer, as the years roll on.

—Allison at the State University of Iowa, 1887

In the early 1900s, Allison was among "the Four" senators who dominated the chamber, along with Orville H. Platt, Nelson W. Aldrich, and John C. Spooner.[7] He gave a speech in September 1900 amidst the upcoming general elections that year in Clinton, Iowa where he contemplated a potential flip in congressional control in favor of the Democrats.[9]

In the 1900 presidential election, Allison was supported privately by President William McKinley to run in the election, though ultimately withdrew his name from consideration.[10]

Compromise with Silverites

Iowa voters, who were mostly farmers, supported populist causes such as free coinage of silver as well as greenbacks, which induced monetary inflation.[4] Although Congress under the control of Republicans and Bourbon Democrats had shut down a silver coinage in 1873, Allison managed to push through measures that enacted some degree of bimetallism.[4]

Along with Rep. Richard P. Bland of Missouri, Allison co-sponsored the Bland-Allison Act that would permit silver to be coined at a limited amount.[4][7] The passed both houses of Congress and was vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, though the veto was overridden and the legislation became law.

Death in office

Although nearly eighty years old, Allison decided to run for yet another Senate term in the 1908 elections, where the Iowa Republican State Convention in Des Moines endorsed him.[11] Although he won the party nomination, Allison died in early August before the general election.[4]

He is interred at Dubuque, Iowa, where a private Presbyterian funeral session was held on August 9, 1908.[12]


  1. 1914. William B. Allison, p. 381. The Annals of Iowa. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  2. Lodge, Henry Cabot (1914). William B. Allison, p. 324. The Annals of Iowa. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 August 9, 1908. Senator Allison. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 Allison, William Boyd. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  5. IA - District 03 Race - Oct 14, 1862. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  6. IA - District 03 Race - Nov 08, 1864. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 William B. Allison. Britannica. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  8. IA US Senate Race - Jan 18, 1872. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  9. September 21, 1900. ALLISON ON SILVER PERIL; Iowa Senator Says Democrats May Control Congress. SITUATION IN THE SENATE If Bryan Carries Same States as in 1896 and Is Elected, Stevenson Will Cast Deciding Vote. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  10. Republican National Political Conventions 1856-2008. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  11. March 19, 1908. IOWA INSTRUCTS FOR TAFT.; Senator Allison Indorsed for Another Term by a Close Vote. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  12. August 9, 1908. Senator Allison Buried. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.

External links