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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Lacey, John Fletcher
(May 30, 1841–September 29, 1913)

–Civil War veteran, lawyer, Iowa assemblyman, and U.S. congressman—was born at New Martinsville, Virginia, the fourth of six children of Eleanor (Patten) Lacey and John Mills Lacey, a brick and stone mason. In 1853, when Lacey was 12 years old, his parents moved to Wheeling; two years later they continued west, settling in 1855 on a farm along the Des Moines River a few miles from Oskaloosa. Although his mother had taught him to read and write, Lacey received his first formal schooling in Wheeling. After the family settled in Iowa, Lacey worked on the farm and attended private academies during the winter months. Beginning in 1858, he taught school during the winter, but also continued his own studies.

    When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Lacey volunteered for service in the Third Iowa Voluntary Infantry. Within the year, he was taken prisoner but was later released and then discharged from service. Back in Oskaloosa, he read law under the tutelage of Samuel Rice, the state's attorney general, until early 1862, when Lacey reenlisted along with Rice. For the next two years First Lieutenant Lacey served as assistant adjutant general to Colonel Rice, his commanding officer. After Rice was fatally wounded in the Battle of Jen kins' Ferry (Arkansas), Lacey joined the staff of General Frederick Steele. He mustered out of service in 1865 bearing the rank of brevet major and returned to Oskaloosa.

    Within a few months, Lacey was admitted to the Iowa bar, opened a private law office, and married Martha Newell. He served one term in the Iowa General Assembly (1870- 1872); until the late 1880s, however, he devoted most of his attention to the law and his family, not politics. Between 1866 and 1876 four children were born to the Laceys, two of whom, Eleanor and Berenice, lived to adulthood. In tandem with building his law practice, he also published the Third Iowa Digest (1870), a compendium of Iowa Supreme Court decisions, and his two-volume Lacey's Railway Digest (1875, 1884), a widely used encyclopedia of railway case law covering the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.

    In 1888 Lacey was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. Defeated in his first reelection bid, he was returned to office in 1892 and held his congressional seat until 1906. During his first term, Lacey secured passage of the Mine Safety Act, which gave the federal government broad authority to improve working conditions in coal mines on territorial lands, and the Yellowstone Park Protection Act, which empowered the Interior Department to protect the park's natural resources from humandestruction. Lacey wielded his greatest influence in Congress as chair of the House Committee on Public Lands (1894- 1906). A strong advocate of federal responsibility for resource conservation in the public domain, Lacey championed the establishment of game preserves in Yellowstone and other public lands, including Alaska, the Grand Canyon, and the Olympic Range; worked to establish bison breeding grounds in Yellowstone and the Wichita Forest Reserve (Oklahoma); and advocated scientific management of forest reserves and preservation of scenic wonders.

    Lacey's name is especially associated with the 1900 Bird and Game Act, also known as the Lacey Act, which prohibited the interstate transportation of wild animals or birds killed in violation of state laws. It earned him wide respect among prominent sportsmen, who made him an honorary member of the Boone and Crockett Club. Lacey himself regarded the 1900 law as "one of the most useful of all my Congressional acts," although he acknowledged its constitutional limitations for protecting wildlife from market hunters. Lacey also played a key role in securing passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the first federal historic preservation law, which authorized the president to designate as national monuments archaeological sites, historic landmarks, and other objects of historic or scientific interest located on public lands.

    Despite Lacey's progressive legislative record on conservation, he aligned himself locally with Standpat Republicanism, which led to his defeat in 1906. Taking his loss in stride, Lacey returned to Oskaloosa and resumed his law practice. He was elected president of the Iowa Bar Association in 1913. Following his death later that year in Oskaloosa, the Iowa Park and Forestry Association honored his conservation achievements by publishing the Major John F. Lacey Memorial Volume (1915).
Sources Lacey's collected papers are located at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines. Selected speeches and excerpts from his autobiography appear in the Major John F. Lacey Memorial Volume (1915). See also Annette Gallagher, C.H.M., "Citizen of the Nation: John Fletcher Lacey, Conservationist," Annals of Iowa 46 (1981), 9–22; and Rebecca Conard, "John F. Lacey: Conservation's Public Servant," in The Antiquities Act: A Century of American Archaeology, Historic Preservation, and Nature Conservation, ed. David Harmon, Francis P. McManamon, and Dwight T. Pitcaithley (2006).
Contributor: Rebecca Conard

Cite as: Conard, Rebecca. "Lacey, John Fletcher" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017