William B. Allison

William Boyd Allison (March 2, 1829 – August 4, 1908) was an early leader of the Iowa Republican Party, who represented northeastern Iowa in the United States House of Representatives before representing his state in the United States Senate. By the 1890s, Allison had become one of the "big four" key Republicans who largely controlled the Senate, along with Orville H. Platt of Connecticut, John Coit Spooner of Wisconsin and Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island.

Born in Perry, Ohio, Allison established a legal practice in Dubuque, Iowa and became a prominent member of the nascent Iowa Republican Party. He was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention and won election to the House of Representatives in 1862. He served four terms in the House and won election to the Senate in 1872. He became chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, serving for all but two years between 1881 and 1908. Three different Republican presidents asked Allison to join their Cabinet, but Allison declined each offer. A significant number of delegates supported his presidential nomination at the 1888 and 1896 Republican National Conventions.

Allison emerged as a centrist and pragmatic leader in the Senate, and he helped pass several important bills. The Bland–Allison Act of 1878 restored bimetallism, but in a less inflationary manner than had been sought by Congressman Richard P. Bland. A prominent advocate of higher tariffs, Allison played a major role in the passage of the McKinley Tariff and the Dingley Act. He also helped pass the Hepburn Act by offering the Allison amendment, which granted courts the power to review the Interstate Commerce Commission's railroad rate-setting. Allison sought a record seventh term in the 1908, but died shortly after winning the Republican primary against progressive leader Albert B. Cummins.

William B. Allison
William B. Allison - Brady-Handy
United States Senator
from Iowa
In office
March 4, 1873 – August 4, 1908
Preceded byJames Harlan
Succeeded byAlbert B. Cummins
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1871
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded byWilliam G. Donnan
Personal details
Born
William Boyd Allison

March 2, 1829
Perry, Ohio, USA
DiedAugust 4, 1908 (aged 79)
Dubuque, Iowa, USA
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Anna Carter Allison
Mary Neally Allison
Alma materAllegheny College
Western Reserve College
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer
Military service
AllegianceUnited States United States
Branch/service United States Army
RankUnion Army LTC rank insignia.png Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Early life and career

Born in Perry, Ohio, Allison was educated at Wooster Academy.[1] Afterward, he spent a year at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, then graduated from Western Reserve College (then located in Hudson, Ohio) in 1849. He then studied law and began practicing in Ashland, Ohio. While practicing law there from 1852 until 1857, he was a delegate to the 1855 Ohio Republican Convention and an unsuccessful candidate for district attorney in 1856.[1] In 1857, he moved to Dubuque, Iowa, which would serve as his hometown for the last fifty years of his life.

Civil War

After his arrival in Dubuque, Allison took a prominent part in the politics of the nascent Republican Party. He was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago,[2] which nominated Abraham Lincoln for President of the United States.

During the subsequent Civil War, he was on the staff of Iowa Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood, who ordered him to help the state raise regiments for the war. He personally helped raise four regiments. He was given the rank of lieutenant colonel during the war, although it was unlikely he actually served in uniform.

In 1862, in the midst of the war, Allison was elected to the United States House of Representatives as the representative of Iowa's newly created 3rd congressional district.[3] As a congressman and member of the House Ways and Means Committee,[1] he pushed for higher tariffs.

Post-war political career

William allison
Portrait of Senator Allison which hangs in the U.S. Capitol

Following the war, Allison continued to serve in the House after winning re-election in 1866 and 1868. In January 1870, he was an unsuccessful candidate for election by the Iowa General Assembly to the United States Senate seat for 1871–1877, losing to Iowa Supreme Court Justice George G. Wright.[4] Allison declined to be a candidate for renomination to his own House seat later that year, but instead focused on laying the groundwork to run for Iowa's other Senate seat (then held by James Harlan), which was up in January 1872, following November 1871 state legislative races.[5] In the 1871 state legislative races, candidates were nominated and elected on the direct issue of whether they would vote for Harlan, Allison or James F. Wilson for senator.[6] Enough legislators who favored Allison were nominated and elected in 1871 that in January 1872 he won the required number of votes to take Harlan's U.S. Senate seat, effective March 4, 1873.[5][6]

Allison was reelected to six-year terms in the U.S. Senate six times — in 1878, 1884, 1890, 1896, and 1902.

He chaired the 1884–1886 Allison Commission, a bipartisan joint congressional committee "among the first to explore the question of whether federal intervention politicizes scientific research."[7] It considered the charge that parts of the government were engaged in research for theoretical, not practical, purposes. The majority report favored the status quo, and Congress upheld it.[7] In 1885, the Commission's finding of misuse of funds at the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey led to the dismissal of several officials but exonerated Charles Sanders Peirce.

As Allison earned seniority, he also earned one of the most powerful committee positions. From 1881–93 and again from 1895 to 1908, he was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he had great influence. Allison's combined years as chairman of the committee make him the longest-serving chairman to date. He was also a member of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs (and its chairman from 1875 to 1881),[1] the Senate Finance Committee, and the Committee on Engrossed Bills. He became chairman of the Senate Republican Conference in 1897.

He was twice asked to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury, first by President Chester Arthur (to which Allison agreed but then the next day declined),[8] then by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1897, President William McKinley offered him the position of U.S. Secretary of State.[1] Again, Allison declined.[9]

It was just as well. No Republican senator was so well fitted for the duties of responsible statesmanship, or positioned so well. For thirty years he sat on the Senate Finance Committee and took a critical role in framing legislation. In 1881, he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and continued to serve there until his death in 1908. After 1897, he was chosen as chairman of the Republican caucus, an unofficial position, but one generally accorded to the most venerable and respected party member in the Senate.

Eminently conservative, trusted by the railroad interests, Allison's pragmatism made him the centrist that everybody could deal with, even the Democrats. When in 1888 a Republican alternative was needed to the Mills tariff bill coming out of the House, Allison handled the details. The bill that emerged from committee was purely for campaign purposes. Nobody thought that it could pass, but it put the best face on protectionist principles and later served as a model for the 1890 McKinley Tariff, which Allison played a large part in framing. In 1897, when the Dingley Tariff bill reached the Senate, Allison did most of the work reconciling discontented interests. When the Bland bill, allowing the free coinage of silver, came to the Senate, Allison altered it. The resulting Bland-Allison Act of 1878 simply had the government buy a certain, more limited amount of silver, which the Treasury was permitted to put into circulation as silver dollars. It was far less inflationary than Bland's original bill. The Act passed over the veto of President Rutherford B. Hayes. It remained unchanged until the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. In 1892, Allison chaired the Brussels Monetary Conference and in 1900 was one of the fathers of the Gold Standard Act.

In 1896, he became a dark-horse candidate for the presidency.[10] However, support for his candidacy faded when it became clear that McKinley would be nominated on the first ballot.[11]

"Allison is the man of experience," an admiring reporter wrote in 1906, "the sage old pilot of the Senate. They say that no man who has ever been in the Senate knew so much about it as he does. He is the political forecaster, the compromiser, the weather prophet, the man who brings irreconcilable things together. It is said that the oldest inhabitant cannot recall having heard Allison give utterance to an opinion on any subject whatever. Doubtless he does give utterance to them, but never except in the inner councils of the Caesars. Sagacious to the point of craft, it does not annoy him to know that the epithet most frequently applied to him is 'the Old Fox.'...When he rises in his place in the Senate, he disdains to talk as if he were making a speech; he leaves all that to the youngsters, whose sum of knowledge does not equal all that he has forgotten. He never rises except to shed light on some knotty point, and when he does it is always as briefly as possible, and in a conversational voice that is almost an undertone. Then he drops back into his seat and, with sublime indifference, lets the talk go on."[12]

Allison was married twice, first to Anna Carter, who died in 1859, four years after the marriage. His second marriage was to Mary Neally, who died in 1883, ten years after their marriage.

1908 Senate race

In 1908, as Allison neared his 44th year in Congress, and his 80th birthday, he sought a record seventh term in the Senate.[13] However, Iowa's Republican Governor at the time, Albert B. Cummins, had aspired to become a U.S. Senator for several years, and as leader of Republican progressives had targeted his party's "old guard" for retirement or (if necessary) defeat. After seeming to promise that he would not challenge Allison in 1908, Cummins ran against Allison for the Republican nomination in the state's first-ever congressional primary on June 2, 1908. Much like Allison's 1873 race for the Senate against incumbent Harlan,[5] Cummins' 1908 race for the Senate against incumbent Allison was very acrimonious.[6] However, this time the incumbent prevailed; Allison won a clear victory over Cummins by over ten thousand votes.[14] As a reflection of the nature of its preference for Allison over Cummins, the Ames Times reported the primary results under a two-level banner headline simply stating "GLORY TO GOD!"[15]

Death and his legacy

Allison did not live to see the 1908 general election or a seventh term. Two months after his primary win, he died in Dubuque.[16] While many were surprised by his death, news reports soon indicated that he had been under constant medical care for more than two years, and that those familiar with his condition had expected his death.[1] He was interred in Linwood Cemetery in Dubuque.

Governor Cummins was elected by the Legislature to fill the unexpired term of Senator Allison and for the term beginning March 4. 1909, and was re-elected in 1914 and 1920, but in 1926 he lost in the Republican primary to Smith W. Brookhart. Senator Cummins died shortly after his loss in the June 1926 primary.

Senator Allison was the namesake of Allison, Iowa, the county seat of Butler County.

The Allison-Henderson Park in Dubuque was named in honor of Allison and fellow Dubuque icon, U.S. Speaker of the House David B. Henderson.

There is an imposing memorial to Allison by sculptor Evelyn Longman on the grounds of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

See also

External links

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Long Decline Before Death of Sen. Allison," Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, 1908-08-05 at p.1.
  2. ^ "Iowa Republican Convention," Waterloo Courier, 1960-01-24, p. 2.
  3. ^ "Iowa Election - Official," Davenport Daily Gazette, 1862-11-20 at p. 1.
  4. ^ "From Des Moines," Dubuque Daily Herald, 1870-01-16 at p. 1.
  5. ^ a b c Dan Elbert Clark, "History of Senatorial Elections in Iowa," pp. 152-67 (Iowa 1913).
  6. ^ a b c Cyrenus Cole, "A History of the People of Iowa," p. 396 (1921).
  7. ^ a b "Allison Commission", US History Encyclopedia, Answers.com Eprint.
  8. ^ Reeves, Thomas C. (1975). Gentleman Boss. NY, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 219. ISBN 0-394-46095-2.
  9. ^ "Mr. Allison has Declined," New York Times, 1897-01-07 at p.1.
  10. ^ "Stands on his Record: Iowa Formally Launches the Allison Presidential Boom," New York Times, 1896-03-12 at p. 5.
  11. ^ "Want Allison to Withdraw," New York Times, 1896-06-12 at p. 2.
  12. ^ Charles Willis Thompson, Party Leaders of the Time (New York: G. W. Dillingham Co., 1906), 32-33.
  13. ^ Editorial, "An Unfortunate Decision," Spirit Lake Beacon, August 30, 1907 at p. 4.
  14. ^ "Allison Victor in Iowa Senatorial Fight," Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 3, 1908 at p. 1.
  15. ^ "Country Press Hysterical over Election Result," Des Moines Daily News, June 6, 1908 at p.1.
  16. ^ "EXTRA - DEAD," Des Moines Daily News, 1908-08-04.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
(none)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1871
Succeeded by
William G. Donnan
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Harlan
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Iowa
March 4, 1873 – August 4, 1908
Served alongside: George G. Wright, Samuel J. Kirkwood, James W. McDill, James F. Wilson, John H. Gear, Jonathan P. Dolliver
Succeeded by
Albert B. Cummins
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Justin S. Morrill
Dean of the United States Senate
December 28, 1898 – August 4, 1908
Succeeded by
Eugene Hale
1829 in the United States

Events from the year 1829 in the United States.

1888 Republican National Convention

The 1888 Republican National Convention was a presidential nominating convention held at the Auditorium Building in Chicago, Illinois, on June 19–25, 1888. It resulted in the nomination of former Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana for President and Levi P. Morton of New York, a former Congressman and Minister to France, for Vice President. During the convention, Frederick Douglass was invited to speak and became the first African-American to have his name put forward for a presidential nomination in a major party's roll call vote; he received one vote from Kentucky on the fourth ballot.

The ticket won in the election of 1888, defeating President Grover Cleveland and former Senator Allen G. Thurman from Ohio.

1896 Republican National Convention

The 1896 National Convention of the Republican Party of the United States was held in a temporary structure south of the St. Louis City Hall in Saint Louis, Missouri, from June 16 to June 18, 1896.

Former Governor William McKinley of Ohio was nominated on the first ballot with 661½ votes to 84½ for House Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, 61½ votes for Senator Matthew S. Quay of Pennsylvania, 58 votes for Governor Levi P. Morton of New York who was Vice President (1889–1893) under President Benjamin Harrison. New Jersey banker Garret A. Hobart was nominated for Vice President over Henry Clay Evans of Tennessee. Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio placed McKinley's name in nomination.

The convention was originally slated for the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall. However it was determined that repairs and upgrading the Hall could not be done in time and so a temporary wood convention hall was built in 60 days at a cost of $60,000 on the lawn south of City Hall which was under construction. At the conclusion of the convention, both the temporary building as well as the original Exposition Hall were torn down and a new Coliseum was built.

The 1896 Convention was held in St. Louis less than a month after the infamous 1896 tornado that devastated a large swath of the city and killed at least 255 people. There was speculation that it might be unfeasible to hold the convention in the city, but, after a concerted cleanup effort was undertaken, the convention went ahead as planned.

Albert B. Cummins

Albert Baird Cummins (February 15, 1850 – July 30, 1926), American lawyer and politician. He was the 18th Governor of Iowa elected to three consecutive terms and U.S. Senator for Iowa serving for 18 years.

Albert F. Dawson

Albert Foster Dawson (January 26, 1872 – March 9, 1949) was a three-term Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa's 2nd congressional district.

Born in Spragueville, Iowa, Dawson attended the public schools and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He engaged in newspaper work at Preston, Iowa, in 1891 and 1892, and was the city editor for the Clinton Herald from 1892 to 1894. He was secretary to Representative George M. Curtis and Senator William B. Allison of Iowa from 1895 to 1905. He studied finance at George Washington University.

In 1904, Dawson challenged incumbent Democratic Congressman Martin J. Wade for the U.S. House seat for Iowa's 2nd congressional district. Riding the coattails of President Theodore Roosevelt's re-election, Dawson, like every other Republican congressional candidate in Iowa, defeated his Democratic opponent. After serving in the Fifty-ninth Congress, Dawson was re-elected in 1906 (to serve in the Sixtieth Congress), and in 1908 (to serve in the Sixty-first Congress). In 1910 he declined to run for a fourth term, citing business and family reasons. In all, he served in Congress from March 4, 1905, to March 3, 1911.

In 1911, he also declined an offer to serve as private secretary to President William Howard Taft. Returning to Iowa at age thirty-eight, he served as president of the First National Bank of Davenport, Iowa, from 1911 to 1929. He was executive secretary of the Republican National Senatorial Committee in 1930, and he was a public utility executive from 1931 to 1945.

He retired from business activities and resided in Highland Park, Illinois, until his death on March 9, 1949, on a train as it neared Cincinnati, Ohio. He was interred in Preston Cemetery.

Dean of the United States Senate

The Dean of the United States Senate is an informal term for the Senator with the longest continuous service, regardless of party affiliation. This is not an official position within the Senate, although customarily (since 1945) the longest-serving member of the majority party serves as President pro tempore.

The current Dean is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Francis McNulty Jr.

Francis McNulty Jr. was a Republican member of the Iowa House of Representatives from 1896 to 1898. Originally from Michigan where he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor, Michigan, McNulty removed to Sioux City, Iowa where he practiced law and served as a state representative in the Iowa General Assembly. He represented District 58 in Woodbury County, Iowa. Not a year after his term of office ended, after gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska (Cape Nome) in 1899, McNulty moved there. He practiced law in Nome, arguing cases before the United States District Court of the Territory of Alaska (Est. 1884). At least one of his successfully argued cases is published. In 1904, Republican Philander C. Knox, United States Attorney General in the Cabinets of both U.S. Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and the 7 term U.S. Senator from Iowa (prior having served four terms as a U.S. Representative from the state) Republican William B. Allison both endorsed McNulty for appointment as U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska. The position had been recently vacated by Marvin Grisby.

John Coit Spooner

John Coit Spooner (January 6, 1843 – June 11, 1919) was a politician and lawyer from Wisconsin. He served in the United States Senate from 1885 to 1891 and from 1897 to 1907. A Republican, by the 1890s, he was one of the "Big Four" key Republicans who largely controlled the major decisions of the Senate, along with Orville H. Platt of Connecticut, William B. Allison of Iowa and Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island. He chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee.

List of historical longest-serving members of the United States Congress

This is a list of United States congressmen who have set records for longevity of service since the United States 1st Congress in 1789. It is divided up into several categories.

Nelson W. Aldrich

Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich (; November 6, 1841 – April 16, 1915) was a prominent American politician and a leader of the Republican Party in the United States Senate, where he served from 1881 to 1911. By the 1890s he was one of the "Big Four" key Republicans who largely controlled the major decisions of the Senate, along with Orville H. Platt, William B. Allison and John Coit Spooner. Because of his impact on national politics and central position on the pivotal Senate Finance Committee, he was referred to by the press and public alike as the "General Manager of the Nation", dominating tariff and monetary policy in the first decade of the 20th century.

Born in Foster, Rhode Island, Aldrich served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After the war, he became a partner in a large wholesale grocery firm and won election to the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He served a single term in the United States House of Representatives before winning election to the Senate. In the Senate, he helped to create an extensive system of tariffs that protected American factories and farms from foreign competition, and he was a cosponsor of the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act. He also helped win Senate approval of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish–American War.

Aldrich led the passage of the Aldrich–Vreeland Act, which established the National Monetary Commission to study the causes of the Panic of 1907. He served as chair of that commission, which drew up the Aldrich Plan as a basis for a reform of the financial regulatory system. The Aldrich Plan strongly influenced the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which established the Federal Reserve System. Aldrich also sponsored the Sixteenth Amendment, which allowed for a direct federal income tax.

Deeply committed to the efficiency model of the Progressive Era, he believed that his financial and trade policies would lead to greater efficiency. Reformers, however, denounced him as representative of the evils of big business. His daughter Abigail married into the Rockefeller family, and his descendants, including namesake Nelson A. Rockefeller, became powerful figures in American politics and banking.

Orville H. Platt

Orville Hitchcock Platt (July 19, 1827 – April 21, 1905) was a United States Senator from Connecticut. Platt was a prominent conservative Republican and by the 1890s he became one of the "big four" key Republicans who largely controlled the major decisions of the Senate, along with William B. Allison of Iowa, John Coit Spooner of Wisconsin and Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island.

SS Hebrides

SS Hebrides was a passenger and cargo ship which operated in the Western Isles of Scotland. Built in 1898 for John MacCallum, she became part of the fleet of David MacBrayne Ltd, serving St Kilda until 1955.

SS Sneland I

Sneland I (Norwegian for “snowland one”) was a 1,791 GRT cargo ship which was built by Nüscke & Co. shipyard at Stettin-Grabow (then Germany) in 1922. She was the last merchant ship to be torpedoed by Germany in the Second World War, on 7 May 1945, one day before German surrender.

Senate Republican Conference

The Senate Republican Conference is the formal organization of the Republican Senators in the United States Senate, who currently number 53. Over the last century, the mission of the conference has expanded and been shaped as a means of informing the media of the opinions and activities of Senate Republicans. Today the Senate Republican Conference assists Republican Senators by providing a full range of communications services including graphics, radio, television, and the Internet. Its current Chairman is Senator John Thune, and its Vice Chairwoman is currently Senator Joni Ernst.

USS Inca (IX-229)

USS Inca, a 3,381-ton (light displacement) "Liberty" ship, was launched in March 1943 at Los Angeles, California, and entered merchant service later the same month as S.S. William B. Allison, MCE hull 724. Two years later she would be taken into US Navy as stores ship and renamed USS Inca (IX-229). For much of her service as Inca she was also named USS Gamage (IX-227) because of bureaucratic confusion.

United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

The United States Senate Committee on Appropriations is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It has jurisdiction over all discretionary spending legislation in the Senate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is the largest committee in the U.S. Senate, with 31 members in the 115th Congress. Its role is defined by the U.S. Constitution, which requires "appropriations made by law" prior to the expenditure of any money from the Treasury, and is therefore, one of the most powerful committees in the Senate.[1] The committee was first organized on March 6, 1867, when power over appropriations was taken out of the hands of the Finance Committee.[2]The chairman of the Appropriations Committee has enormous power to bring home special projects (sometimes referred to as "pork barrel spending") for his or her state as well as having the final say on other senators' appropriation requests.[3] For example, in fiscal year 2005 per capita federal spending in Alaska, the home state of then-Chairman Ted Stevens, was $12,000, double the national average. Alaska has 11,772 special earmarked projects for a combined cost of $15,780,623,000. This represents about four percent of the overall spending in the $388 billion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 passed by Congress.[4]Because of the power of this committee and the fact that senators represent entire states, not just parts of states, it is considered extremely difficult to unseat a member of this committee at an election - especially if he or she is a subcommittee chair, or "Cardinal". Since 1990, four members of this committee have gone on to serve as Senate Majority Leader for at least one session of Congress: Tom Daschle (committee member August 12, 1991 - December 10, 1999; Senate Majority Leader January 3–20, 2001 and June 6, 2001 - January 3, 2003), Bill Frist (committee member April 17, 1995 - December 29, 2002; Senate Majority Leader January 3, 2003 - January 3, 2007), Harry Reid (committee member August 13, 1989 - December 23, 2006; subcommittee chair March 15, 1991 - December 24, 1994 and June 11, 2001 - December 22, 2002; Senate Majority Leader January 3, 2007 - January 3, 2015), Mitch McConnell; Senate Majority Leader January 3, 2015 – present.

United States congressional delegations from Iowa

These are tables of congressional delegations from Iowa to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

William Allison

William Allison may refer to:

William Allison (Assemblyman) (1827–1882), member of the Wisconsin State Assembly

William B. Allison (1829–1908), early leader of the Iowa Republican Party

William Henry Allison (1838–1934), Canadian politician and school lands commissioner

William O. Allison, early director of National Reserve Bank of the City of New York in 1909

William Outis Allison (1849–1924), mayor of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

William G. Donnan

William G. Donnan (June 30, 1834 – December 4, 1908) was a pioneer lawyer, Civil War officer, and two-term Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa's 3rd congressional district during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Born in West Charlton, a hamlet in Saratoga County, New York, Donnan attended the district schools and Cambridge Academy.

He was graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1856.

He moved to Independence, Iowa, in 1856.

After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1856, and commenced practice at Independence in 1857. From 1857 to 1862, he was the treasurer and recorder of Buchanan County, Iowa.

In 1862, he entered the Union Army as a private in Company H, 27th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to the grade of first lieutenant and brevetted captain and major. He was adjutant on the staff of Gen. James Isham Gilbert. His hundred twenty-eight letters written to his wife Mary during the War are a valuable historical resource.

Following the War, he was elected to the Iowa Senate, initially serving in 1868 and 1870. He was largely instrumental in securing the establishment of the Mental Health Institute (formerly called the Iowa State Hospital for the Insane) at Independence.In 1870, incumbent Republican Third District Congressman William B. Allison focused on winning election to the U.S. Senate, and thus declined to seek re-election to his House seat. Donnan was elected as a Republican to succeed him, serving in the 42nd United States Congress. Donnan was re-elected two years later (in 1872), to serve in the Forty-third Congress. He declined to be a candidate for reelection in 1874. In all, he served in Congress from March 4, 1871 to March 3, 1875.

After his term ended, he resumed the practice of law at Independence, and remained active in politics. He was again elected to the Iowa Senate, serving from 1884 to 1886. He served as delegate-at-large to the 1884 Republican National Convention, and as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee from 1884 to 1886.

He later became president of the First National Bank of Independence. He died in Independence, on December 4, 1908. He was interred in Oakwood Cemetery.

The now-disincorporated town of Donnan, Iowa, in Fayette County was named for him.

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