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Trimble, Henry Hoffman
(May 7, 1827–January 9, 1910)

–lawyer, businessman, and politician—was born in Rush County, Indiana, to John Trimble, a carpenter, farmer, and merchant, and Elizabeth Hoffman Trimble. At the age of 16, he became a schoolteacher and began study ing law. He graduated from Ashby College (later DePauw University) in 1847 and served in the Fifth Indiana Infantry during the Mexican War. In 1849 he settled in Bloomfield, Iowa, after marrying Emma M. Carruthers in Shelby, Indiana. Eventually, five children were born to their union.

    In 1850 Trimble was admitted to the Iowa bar. A Democrat, he was elected county attorney for Davis County in 1851 and state senator in 1855. A follower of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, he ran for U.S. representative in 1858, but was defeated by Republican incumbent Samuel R. Curtis.

    With the onset of the Civil War, Trimble, a War Democrat, raised a cavalry company and became a lieutenant colonel in the Third Iowa Cavalry. At the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, he was severely injured while leading a charge. He resigned his commission and returned to Bloomfield, where he was elected district judge. In 1866 he was defeated in the Republican-controlled state legislature as the Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate seat. That fall, he lost his district judgeship to a Republican challenger.

    While Trimble's political life faltered, his professional life prospered. He undertook business endeavors and performed considerable legal work, especially for the St. Louis and Cedar Rapids and the Burlington and Southern rail companies.

    In 1868 Trimble supported putting more paper money into circulation. When Democrats and Liberal Republicans merged in 1872, Trimble again lost a congressional race as their candidate. The next year, he was among the Democratic leaders who embraced the antimonopoly movement. He also continued to call for the expansion of paper currency. In 1876 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and favored eventual vice presidential nominee Thomas Hendricks of Indiana for the presidential nomination because of Hendricks's stance on monetary policy and because Hendricks had tutored Trimble in law.

    In 1878 Trimble backed fellow Bloomfield lawyer and Greenback Party leader James B. Weaver for the Sixth District congressional seat, and Weaver did win with Democratic support. In the wake of Weaver's success and heightened Greenback agitation, the Democrats nominated Trimble for governor in 1879. However, he did not receive the endorsement of the Greenback Party, and he lost. Undeterred in his political activism, he again served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1880.

    In 1884 Trimble was once more a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which again nominated Hendricks for vice president on the ticket with Grover Cleveland, who became the first Democratic president since the Civil War. Cleveland lost the presidency in 1888, but won it back in 1892. An opponent of inflationary monetary policy, Cleveland opposed increasing paper money and silver coinage, fearing that they would deplete gold reserves as the nation fell into economic depression. Trimble forsook his earlier economic views and opposed inflationist William Jennings Bryan, who won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896. Trimble joined the "Sound Money Democrats," who ran Senator John M. Palmer for president. Republican William McKinley won the presidency, and Trimble lost much of his influence in the Iowa Democratic Party.

    Professionally, Trimble had continued to prosper over the years. He had moved to Keokuk in 1882 after being named chief counsel for the powerful Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as well as for a couple of smaller lines. He had founded three banks and owned more than 1,200 acres of land on which he raised prize livestock. His stature as an attorney had been recognized in 1877 when he was elected president of the Iowa State Bar Association. In all, at the time of his death, Trimble was a wealthy, highly respected lawyer and businessman, who for half a century had been an important member of the Democratic Party in Iowa and whose political and legal friends and foes alike acknowledged his accomplishments and contributions to Iowa.
Sources Information on Trimble is relatively limited and scattered. However, an account of his life can be pieced together from a variety of sources: newspaper stories, biographical entries, and works dealing with Iowa political history in the late 19th century. Basic information on Trimble can be found in Benjamin F. Gue, Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa (1899); History of Davis County (1882); History of Lee County, vol. 2 (1914); and Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (1915). The Keokuk Daily Gate City, 1/10/1910, contains a lengthy obituary.
Contributor: Thomas Burnell Colbert