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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Hempstead, Stephen P.
(October 1, 1812–February 16, 1883)

–second governor of Iowa—was born in New London, Connecticut, the eighth son of Joseph and Celinda (Hutchinson) Hempstead. When he was 13, his father, who was in the boot and shoe business, was for some months imprisoned for debt, as a result of the machinations of a crooked partner. During that period, Hempstead worked in a woolen mill. On his father's release, the family settled on a farm near St. Louis.

    Hempstead disliked farm life, so in 1830 he went to work in a store in Galena, Illinois. In 1832, during the Black Hawk War, he enlisted in an artillery company. After the war, he studied law at Illinois College, Jacksonville; then in St. Louis; and finally with an uncle who was a lawyer in Galena. Admitted to the bar in 1836, he became the first lawyer to practice in Dubuque. In 1837 he married Lavinia Moore Lackland of Baltimore. They had three sons and three daughters.

    In 1838 Hempstead was elected to the Legislative Council (the upper house) of the First Legislative Assembly of Territorial Iowa. He chaired the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Incorporations. He was a leading thorn in the flesh of Territorial Governor Robert Lucas. Hempstead proposed that the government should be located in Johnson County—the genesis of Iowa City. Reelected in 1839, he became president of the Legislative Council.

    In 1844 Hempstead was elected a delegate to the constitutional convention of that year—which produced a constitution that was ultimately rejected by popular vote. At the convention, Hempstead was responsible for a minority report forbidding banks. He said of banking, "No principle ever devised by mortal man was so successful to swindle the people"–but he ultimately lost the banking battle. The following year he was again elected to the Legislative Council, where he again chaired the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Incorporations. He was reelected in 1846 and was again president of the Legislative Council. In 1848 Hempstead was appointed one of three commissioners to draw up a code of Iowa law. Their report was largely adopted in 1851.

    In 1850 Hempstead ran as the Democratic candidate for governor. He was elected and took enormous pride in the office. He said to a friend that it was "an honor greater than being president because this state, sir, is bound to be the greatest and most noted of the Union."

    Hempstead's term of office (1850-1854) was characterized by a large-scale rise in population, thanks to immigration. As a result, land settlement and agricultural production burgeoned. Hempstead sought to increase the population still further by appointing a "Commissioner of Emigration" in New York to foster new immigrants. But a committee of the House of Representatives reported adversely on the recommendation. Hempstead tried again in 1854 and again failed. He met with greater fortune in his recommendation to establish the Office of Attorney General, which was adopted by the legislature.

    Temperance was a major issue while Hempstead was governor. The only restriction on the sale of liquor was that it could not be consumed on the premises where it was sold. In 1852-1853 advocates of prohibition flooded the General Assembly with petitions favoring prohibition. But the governor apparently neutralized them by advocating "a judicious license system placed under the control of local authorities," and the legislature took no action.

    Hempstead's hatred of banks had not diminished since 1844. The Iowa Constitution of 1846 prohibited banking, and twice the governor vetoed bills to summon a convention to amend the state constitution so as to permit banking. He was more farsighted when he advocated "an asylum for lunatics."During his governorship, the Sioux Indians in 1851 signed a treaty giving up the last of their land in Iowa. Moreover, 46 new counties were formed.

    In 1854 Hempstead ran for the U.S. Congress but lost–according to editorial opinion, his opponent's support of prohibition decided the election. Back in Dubuque from 1855 on, Hempstead was repeatedly elected county judge until that office was abolished in 1869. Under his administration, the jail, poorhouse, and important bridges were built. Then he was county auditor until retiring due to ill health in 1873. Five years earlier, he had fallen on an icy sidewalk, which resulted in the amputation of his right leg. His wife died in 1871, and his daughter Olivia Richmond became his mainstay. He was never separated from her in his last years and often referred to her as his "aide-de-camp."

    In 1882 Hempstead—the grand old man of Dubuque—was honored by being elected justice of the peace on both party tickets. The following year he died at his daughter's home, and Governor Buren Sherman ordered that the flag fly at half-mast from the capitol and state arsenal.
Sources include "Stephen Hempstead," Iowa Historical Record 1 (1885), 3–12; Benjamin F. Shambaugh, ed., Messages and Proclamations of the Governors of Iowa (1903– 1905); and Eric McKinley Eriksson, "Masons in the Building of Iowa: V. Stephen Hemp-stead, Second State Governor," Grand Lodge Bulletin 28 (1927), 135–41.
Contributor: Richard Acton

Cite as: Acton, Richard. "Hempstead, Stephen P." The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 12 December 2017