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Springer, Francis
(April 15, 1811–October 2, 1898)

–judge and president of the 1857 constitutional convention—was the son of Nathaniel Springer, a shipwright, and Mary (Clark) Springer, daughter of a ship's captain who took part in the Boston Tea Party.

    Springer was born and raised in Maine, but when he was 11, circumstances separated him from his family, and he went to live with a childless farming couple in New Hampshire. He worked on their farm for six years and attended the winter district school. When he was 17, he spent a term at the Rochester Academy and received a teacher's certificate. Springer taught for four years and then returned to Maine and read law with William Goodenow in Portland. There, in 1838, he was admitted to the bar.

    Together with his young lawyer friend Edward H. Thomas, Springer felt the tug of the West. On December 28, 1838, they wound up at Wapello, Louisa County, in the Iowa Territory, with 50 cents between them. They were the first lawyers to reside in the county. Courts were held in log cabins, while the grand jury met in a nearby ravine.

    Within 18 months, Springer had entered public life, for he was nominated as Whig candidate for the Territorial Legislative Council (the upper territorial House) and was elected in 1840 to represent Louisa County, Washington County, and the country west. He was reelected in 1842. In December 1842 Springer married Nancy R. Colman. They had six sons and two daughters. One son, Frank, became a distinguished attorney, businessman, philanthropist, and crinoid scholar.

    When Iowa became a state in 1846, Springer was elected to the new Iowa Senate for a four-year term. Then in 1849 and 1850 he was appointed special agent of the U.S. Post Office. He collected money from the post offices in Wisconsin and transferred it to St. Louis. Thereafter, from May 1851 to May 1853, he served as Register of the U.S. Land Office at Fairfield, Iowa. Next, he moved to Columbus Junction in Louisa County, where he developed two farms.

    In 1854 Springer was elected prosecuting attorney for Louisa County, and on the death of the county judge succeeded him ex officio. The following year he was elected county judge in his own right. In 1856 a call went out for a convention to meet in Iowa City to organize a state Republican Party. Springer represented Louisa County and was among the most influential members of the platform committee. Moreover, he was chosen vice president of the delegation to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that nominated John C. Frémont for president.

    The following year, 1857, Springer was chosen as Louisa County's delegate to Iowa's constitutional convention in Iowa City. Before he arrived, the Republican delegates had chosen Springer as their candidate for president of the convention. In a straight party-line vote, Springer was elected president by 20 Republican votes to 13 Democrat votes. With his considerable legislative experience, he proved a fine choice, urging a spirit of cooperation from the outset. The delegates praised him for "his fairness, impartiality, and unfailing courtesy."

    In 1858 Springer was elected judge of the district court of the First Judicial District, comprising Des Moines, Henry, Lee, and Louisa counties. He was reelected in 1862 and 1866. John F. Dillon, who was an outstanding Iowa Supreme Court judge while Springer was on the bench, stressed in a published letter how high an opinion the judges of the supreme court had of Springer's learning and judicial ability: "There was a strong presumption that any decision or judgment by Judge Springer was correct, and it so proved, for he was rarely reversed."Springer left the bench in 1869 and became Collector of Internal Revenue for the First Collection District of Iowa. He retired in 1876.

    Springer spent his retirement on one of his farms with his daughter Nellie and her husband, Hilton M. Letts (his wife had died in 1874). In 1882 Springer relived the great days of the constitutional convention of 1857 by organizing a reunion of the survivors at Des Moines–25 years after the event. Once more he presided, once more he ordered the call of the roll, and once more he spoke with pride of Iowa's constitution. He lived on until his death at age 87.
Sources include W. Blair Lord, ed., Debates of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Iowa, Assembled at Iowa City, Monday, January 19, 1857, vols. 1–2 (1857); "Recollections of Judge Francis Springer," Annals of Iowa 2 (1897), 569–85; and In Memoriam Francis Springer, at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.
Contributor: Richard Acton