WILLIAM B. CONWAY MADE FIRST TERRITORIAL SECRETARY OF IOWA - COMES TO DAVENPORT AND MEETS ANTOINE LECLAIRE AND GEORGE DAVENPORT - HE IS GOVERNOR OF IOWA AND DAVENPORT IS ITS CAPITAL CITY - A CAUSTIC LETTER TO THE STATE COUNCIL -THE INDIGNANT REPLY OF THE COMMITTEE - CONWAY'S UNTIMELY DEATH AND BURIAL IN THIS CITY - A VALUABLE CITIZEN
(One picture is included with this chapter: Riverview Terrace)
WILLIAM B CONWAY MADE FIRST TERRITORIAL SECRETARY OF IOWA - COMES TO DAVENPORT AND MEETS ANTOINE LECLAIRE AND COLONEL GEORGE DAVENPORT
In the year 1838 William B. Conway, a young Pennsylvanian who had been admitted to the bar of his state and had taken an active part in politics at that time, came to the young and growing city of Davenport. He had been previously appointed by President Van Buren as secretary of the then newly formed territory of Iowa. He immediately fell in love with this section of the country and, meeting such men as Antoine LeClaire and Colonel Davenport, was led to believe by them and others that Davenport was the greatest town in the territory and had a magnificent future before her. In a letter published in the "Annals of Iowa" in July, 1865, a production of T. S. Parvin, that gentleman had the following to say concerning the appointment of Mr. Conway, his important position and certain of the incidents that grew out of his incumbency of the office. Mr. Parvin in his article says that prior to the appointment of William B. Conway to the office of secretary of the territory of Iowa, in 1838, he was editing a small political paper in the city of Pittsburg which supported Genreal Jackson during his candidacy for the presidence. It was a rabid, violent, partisan paper, quite in accord with many of the personal traits of the editor, and by reason of the earnestness of his advocacy of the election of General Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, he was appointed by the latter secretary of the territory of Iowa in June, 1838, a few days after the approval of the act separating Iowa from Wisconsin and creating it into an independent territorial district - the act to take effect in July, following, from which period Iowa dated its territorial existence.
CONWAY AN ENTHUSIAST
Mr. Conway had never held a political office and had had no experience in public affairs, but was an enthusiast of his own kind and immediately left Pittsburg for the new territory, landing at Davenport in the month of July. He was an Irishman and a member of the Catholic church, and very naturally, upon his arrival in Davenport, made the acquaintance of Antoine LeClaire, one of the founders of this city, and also of Colonel Davenport, then residing on the island of Rock island. These gentlemen made Mr. Conway believe that Davenport was the greatest town in the territory and the coming city of the west, and that it was the only proper place for the capital of the new territory. The organic law provided that the governor should "designate the temporary capital of the territory, to continue as such until the legislature should establish the territorial capital." The organic act also provided that the governor should "divide the territory into three judicial districts" and assign one of three judges appointed at the same time with Conway, to each of said districts. It also provided that the governor should issue a proclamation "ordering the election of members for the territorial legialature and designate the time of its convening."
The Hon. Robert Lucas (twice governor of the state of Ohio and president of the national convention which nominated Martin Van Buren for the presidency), appointed governor of the new territory, had not yet arrived and Mr. Conway's new Davenport friends persuaded him into the belief tha the was "acting governor" of the territory. The organic act provided that "in the absence or death of the governor" the secretary of the territory should act as governor. In this belief the young secretary of the territory issued his three proclaimations, naming Davenport as the territorial capital, ordering an election of the members of the legislature and providing for three judicial districts.
A few weeks later Governor Lucas, who had been detained by reason of low water in the Ohio, arrived at Burlington and was confronted with these proclamations. He became very indignant, declaring that all the acts of the secretary as "acting governor" were null and void inasmuch as no vacancy had been created either by his death or absence, as he had not yet entered upon the discharge of his official duties. He, however, confirmed the action of the secretary in relation to dividing the territory into three judicial districts and the assignment of the judges - Mason to the first district, a resident of Burlington; Wilson to the third, a resident of Dubuque and Judge Joseph Williams, of Pennsylvania, to the second district. Upon Governor Lucas' arrival in October following, however, he selected Bloomington, now Muscatine, as his residence.
UNKINDLY FEELINGS NEVER HEALED
These acts of Governor Lucas created in the breast of Secretary Conway unkindly feelings, which were never wholly healed. But Governor Lucas, being a man of great experience in public life and familiar with the administration of public affairs, looked upon the acts of his younger associate, ignorant in these matters, as an offensive usurpation of authority. It was in issuing the above mentioned proclamation that the secretary signed himself "acting governor." Later the secretary again came into collision with the governor in relation to the administration of the affairs of his office and upon the convening of the legislative assembly by his indiscreet acts he met with opposition from that body from which he was extricated only through the good offices of his friend and fellow statesman, Judge Joseph Williams.
T. S. Parvin, L. L. D., at that time editor of Annals of Iowa, had in the July, 1865, issue an article concerning the Iowa territorial legislature. At the time the events written of occurred he was private secretary to the governor:
The legislature had before this gotten into a controversy which if not exciting was at least ridiculous, with the secretay of the territory and finding themselves hard pushed by his excellency and in need of allies made their peace with the secretary, and very adroitly enlisted him in their cause.
Inasmuch as the communications and proceedings in relation thereto were withdrawn (in legislative language) or rather "expunged" I have drawn them forth from my portfolio of old documents and give them to our readers as a matter of serious history of early times.
On Friday morning (an unlucky day), Nov. 23, 1838,
On motion of Mr. Hughes:
Resolved, that the secretary of the territory be requested to furnish the members of the council with penknives, stamps, half-a-dozen inkstands and a tin pan for each stove in the council chamber.
CONWAY'S REMARKABLE LETTER
In reply to this resolution the Hon. Secretary addresses to the Hon. Council the communication following, upon receipt of which the following proceedings were had.
The president laid before the council a communication from the secretary of the territory.
On motion of Mr. Hempstead:
Ordered, that said communication do not appear in the journal, and that it be referred to the committee upon expenditures.
SECRETARY'S OFFICE, NOV. 24, 1838.
To the Honorable, the President of the Council:
SIR - A resolution in relation to knives, tin pans, etc. was duly transmitted to this department of the territorial government, where it received that attentive consideration which the magnitude of the subject appeared to demand.
To prevent an interruption of that perfect harmony which has heretofore existed, still exists and should continue to exist between the honorable, the legislative assembly and the department of state it becomes necessary to offer in a very respectful manner a few explanatory observations, and especially in relation to the knives. The secretary would therefore beg leave to explain.
In the latter part of last summer a young man of rather interesting personal appearance and associated as then alleged, with the executive department, called on the secretary and stated that he (the young man) was then on his way to Cincinnati in the state of Ohio, on business connected with the territorial library and then and there delivered an executive opinion that it would doubtless be better to purchase the stationery at Cincinnati and politely offered the use and exercise of his own talents in procuring the same, if authorized so to do. The matter was then held under advisement and in the meantime a letter was received from the executive department directing the attention of the secretary to the facilities afforded by the visit of the young man to Cincinnati, where, it was believed, that stationery could be procured on better terms than at any other place. In reply the secretary proposed a converence with the executive which resulted in a letter of instruction to the young man, then at or on his way to Cincinnati, authorizing him to make the purchases which it is alleged he did make with his usual ability and on advantageous terms. A bill of articles has been returned and the young man has returned, but he found it inconvenient, or to use his own language, impossible, to bring on the stationery. This young man was vested with certain discretionary powers and for reasons which satisfied his discretion after much mental exertion and consultation he omitted the purchase of knives.
The navigation of the Ohio was entirely suspended. This was the act of God whose holy name is pronounced with deep reverence and to whose holy will it is our duty to submit. Human power cannot resist the dispensation of his providence nor can human wisdom counteract his unfathomable designs. His excellency, the governor, in pursuance of law named a day on which the legislature should convene; and the secretary to meet the difficulties of a very difficult case proceeded to St. Louis to make preparations for the approaching session, and returned in despite of every peril to provide for the comfort of the honorable, the legislative assembly; in which dutiful design - always exepting knives.
Much exertion has been made to procure knives in Burlington but knives of a suitable finish and quality cannot be procured; nor can knives in a sufficient quantity of any quality be obtained, and and the secretary can't make knives. If he could do so, he would do so with expedition and pleasure, but if it should comport with his own wishes and the wishes of all those whom it may concern, that he should occupy his present station until the next session, he will take especial care to supersede the necessity of any further legislation on the subject of knives; - for it is the earnest and anixous wish of the secretary that all the members should have knives and stamps and folders; and all and singular, such thing or things, device or devices whatsoever, as may facilitate the operations of the hands in yielding assistance to the deliberationsof the head.
The part of the resolution which relates to extra ink-stands and tin pattypans, can, and will be promptly complied with; as well as the separate resolution thus acknowledged which requires increased accommodations for spectators in the lobby and in conclusing the secretary renders to the honorable members of the council, individually and collectively, the fullest assurance of that high consideration which they cannot be more anxious to receive than he is to bestow; and whilst he has no reason to invoke their indulgence, he would make every proper exertion to conciliate their respect, remaining most entirely their obed't serv't,
W. B. CONWAY, Secretary of the Territory.
A few days later the committee presented the following:
The committee on expenditures to whom was referred the communication of the Hon. William B. Conway, secretary of the territory of Iowa, dated Nov. 24, 1838, beg leave to make the following report:
That in the discharge of the duty assigned them they find with much regret the report of the honorable secretary of our territory to the council, dated Nov. 24th, is of such a nature as to call forth a severe animadversion upon its tone and spirit. The evident intention of that communication was not only to treat the resolution offered by Mr. Hughes and adopted by the council with irony and contempt but at the same time to convey the idea that articles asked for by the resolution were unnecessary and unimportant.
The reason of the adoption of the resolution offered by Mr. Hughes is obvious to every member of the council but it may not be known to the community at large, that great pains were taken to prevent the merchants and citizens of Burlington from crediting the officers of the council and house of representatives of this territory for small articles necessary for their use, and the honorable secretary of the territory was understood to intimate that accounts made by the officers of the legislature would not be paid by him. It therefore became necessary to ask by resolution the furnishing of small articles.
On the arrival of the members of the legislature, in accordance with the proclamation of the governor, they found the house which they were to occupy (notwithstanding the great "peril" which the honorable experienced in returning from St. Louis "to provide for the comfort and convenience, the ease, elegance and dignity of the honorable legislative assembly") unfurnished and unprepared for their reception and the reason assigned by the honorable-secretary for this delay is that it "was the act of God, etc." Your committee would not pretend to impute blame to the honorable secretary for the frustration of his great design by the Creator of the universe, whose powerful arm can arrest the progress of governors, secretaries and legislatures; yet your committee do think it somewhat surprising that the acts of God so far intervened as to prevent the officers of the council and house of representatives from getting upon the credit of the legislature a few tin cups and a bucket to drink out of, which articles as well as many others the honorable secretary on account of peril or some other cause unknown to your committee neglected to furnish.
As the legislature was not supplied with many necessary articles of stationery and furniture they were left with no other alternative than to inform the honorable secretary of the territory of their wants, presuming that so far as he was able, he would comply with their request; nor do your committee believe that any resolution has passed the council during the present session in any disrespect to the honorable secretary or his office; nor could the council possibly imagine from their friendly intercourse with him heretofore that he would ever reply to a resolution of their body with such a communication as the committee now have under their consideration, and it is a source of much regret that the honorable secretary should have so far forgotten the dignity which he owned to himself, his officers and the representatives of the people as to attempt to ridicule their proceedings and make their acts the subject of merriment and derision. The honorable secretary may rest assured that the present legislature will not tamely submit to the insults and derision of any officer of this territory and they at all times defind to the last their honest rights and the liberty of the people whom they have the honor to represent.
JEM. D. PAYNE.
This report was adopted by the council and the affair known as the "penknife and tin-pan controversy," occasioned no small talk until the 27th of December, when it was ended as the following printed proceedings show:
The president submitted the following communication from the secretary of the territory:
SECRETARY'S OFFICE, TERRITORY OF IOWA, DEC. 27, 1838
To the Honorable the Legislative Council:
GENTLEMEN: In compliance with the friendly suggestions of his honor, Judge Wilson, who kindly consents to be the bearer of this note, I hereby inform the honorable body that I am willing to withdraw my communication to that body of the 24th of last November provided the report of the committee on expenditures together with the subsequent proceedings of the council in reference to said communication be consequently withdrawn, which I have been informally advised, the council are disposed to do. And if so, I am prepared to renew my relations with the council, official and personal, as they existed prior to the 24th of last November.
If, however, there be any misapprehension as regard the disposition of the council toward the secretary of the territory this note will be immediately returned to me by the honorable gentleman to whom it has been intrusted.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM B. CONWAY,
Secretary of the Territory.
Whereupon Mr. Payne offered the following:
Resolved, that the secretary be allowed to withdraw his communication of the 24th of November, and that the proceedings of the council in relation thereto be also withdrawn.
These controversies growing out of a conflict of jurisdiction between coordinate branches of the government were never thoroughly healed.
The legislature attempted to override the functions of the governor and secretary and did many follish things and we present the following as one of them:
Resolved, by the council and house of representatives of the territory of Iowa that the postmaster of Davenport, Scott county, Iowa, be and he is hereby authorized to have the mail from Davenport to Dubuque conveyed in two-hourse post coaches during the present session of the legislative assembly.
Here is the doctrine of "state (or territorial) sovereignty" first asserted for young Iowa, it having before been supposed that congress regulated the mails.
T. S. PARVIN GOVERNOR'S SECRETARY
The young man whom Conway refers to in his letter to the territorial council was T. S. Parvin, who had come from Ohio to serve as governor's clerk. Governor Lucas sent his young fellow Ohioan to Cincinnati after books and suggested that he purchase stationery there. Congress had appropriated $5,000 for a territorial library and Mr. Parvin was appointed librarian. Mr. Parvin came to Davenport to consult Secretary Conway and was joined by him on the boat, and the two made the trip to Galena together arranging the prospective purchases. Conway was disbursing officer for all funds appropriated by congress and held all to the letter of instructions, thus becoming involved in trouble with both the governor and legislature. In Bloomington Herald of Dec. 25, 1840, for which paper Mr. Parvin was acting as legislative correspondent, Mr. Parvin writes, "The 'Iowa Minstrel' was one of Nature's poets, and had he lived would have left more numberous proofs of his claims to the proud title which has so justly been awarded him. Should your distant readers adk to whom I refer, tell them the late Secretary Conway, the scholar and the poet whose untimely death deprived his adopted land of one of its brightest ornaments, and the literary world of a devoted son and an aspirant after all that is noble and worthy of emulous fame."
In penning these lines the great man who in after years was one of the most honored citizens of Iowa showed his magnanimity toward an associate who for a long portion of their acquaintance delighted in belittleing him and systematically spelled Parvin with a small p in all communications referring to him by name.
William B. Conway died at Burlington in the prime of life, November 6, 1838, some four months after his arrival in the territory and after a brief illness of typhoid fever. He was succeeded in office by James Clark, at that time editory of the Burlington Gazette, who became the last of the three territorial governors of Iowa. The young secretry was regarded as one of the most gifted men in the territory and had endeared himself to everyone in Davenport for his many traits of character, brilliant, eccentric and otherwise, and also on account of his stanch support of everything that tended to the upbuilding and progress of the city. His body was received in Davenport on the 9th of November by a committee appointed for the purpose and was taken to St. Anthony's church where solemn services for the dead were performed by Rev. Father Pelamourgues. On the morning of the 9th a public meeting, whose proceedings were solemn and impressive, was held by the citizens of Davenport, which convened at the Davenport hotel. The object of this meeting was for the purpose of the citizens to testify their respect to the memory of William B. Conway. T. S. Hoge was called to the chair and Judge G. C. R. Mitchell was appointed secretary.
On motion it was ordered that John H. Thorington, Thomas S. Hoge, Duncan C. Eldridge, Ira Cook, G. C. R. Mitchell, Richard Pearce, Antoine LeClaire and John Owens be appointed a committee to make the necessary arrangements for the funeral of the deceased, and also to draft and report resolutions expressive of the sense of this meeting. The committee having retired for a short time reported the following resolutions which were unanimously adopted:
Resolved, That this meeting has heard with the most profound regret of the death of William B. Conway, Esq., late secretary of the territory of Iowa. Possessing a mind richly cultivated and improved, a disposition amiable and kind, he was generous and hospitable; of manners the most bland and courteous; respected, honored and beloved by all who knew him. We feel that in his death this neighborhood has lost its brightest ornament, and the territory one of its ablest and most worthy officers and highly valued citizens.
Resolved, That this meeting sincerely condole with the family of the deceased in their severe and deep affliction, and pray that He who tempers the blast to the shorn lamb may support and protect them.
Resolved, That as a mark of respect for the memory of the deceased, we will wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting be signed by the chairman and secretary, and the Iowa Sun and other papers throughout the territory be requested to publish the same.
Resolved, That Antoine LeClaire and G. C. R. Mitchell be, and they are hereby appointed a committee to deliver a copy of the proceedings of this meeting to the respected widow of the deceased.
TH. S. HOGE, Chairman,
G. C. R. MITCHELL, Secretary.
During Secretary Conway's Davenport residence he used his influence in congress to bring to Rock island a government arsenal and armory.