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Wright, George Grover
(March 24, 1820–January 11, 1896)

–judge and U.S. senator—was born in Bloomington, Indiana, the fifth son of John Wright, a mason, and Rachel (Seaman) Wright. He had a difficult childhood. His father died when he was five, and an illness left him with a permanent limp. His county chose him to attend Indiana State University free of tuition fees, and the other students referred to him as a "charity scholar."He graduated in 1839 and then studied law at Rockville, Indiana, under his brother Joseph A. Wright, later a U.S. congressman, governor, and U.S. senator from Indiana.

    In 1840 Wright was admitted to the bar and then settled at Keosauqua, Iowa, where he practiced law. In 1843 he married Hannah Mary, daughter of Thomas H. Dibble, who had been a New York legislator and was later elected to the 1846 Iowa constitutional convention. The couple had seven children.

    In 1845 Wright was appointed prosecuting attorney for Van Buren County. Then, in 1848, he was the Whig candidate for the state senate. His Democratic opponent was none other than his father-in-law. Wright emerged victorious. In 1850 he was a member of the joint Committee on the Revision of Laws and was prominent in the making of the Iowa Code of 1851. He was responsible for the provision abolishing prison sentences for debt and for the "homestead exemption," which prevented the sale of a homestead for debt.

    Wright was nominated in 1850 as representative to Congress for southern Iowa, but was defeated. In 1853 he received the votes of the Whig members of the Iowa legislature to be U.S. senator, but was again defeated. However, in 1855 he was elected chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Wright served on the court first as a Whig and then as a Republican until 1870, with a six-month break in 1860. He was chief justice for six years in all.

    During Wright's tenure, the court had to contend with great changes, such as the Code of 1851, the Constitution of 1857, the revised Code of 1860, the new banking system, and the development of railway corporations. Wright wrote many leading opinions on such legal matters as contracts, family law, libel, procedure, and the local option law. The distinguished Judge John F. Dillon wrote of Wright in 1898: "He had no equal among the State's chief justices or judges in her judicial history."Dillon pointed to Wright's zeal and conscientiousness, his knowledge of statute law and judicial decisions, and his outstanding executive ability.

    In 1870 Wright was elected to the U.S. Senate and resigned from the supreme court. In the Senate, he served on the Judiciary, Finance, Civil Service, and Revision of the Law committees, and chaired the committees on claims and retrenchment and reform. He was very active in 1876 at the time of the disputed presidential election between Hayes and Tilden. He strongly supported the congressional electoral commission that resolved the election in Hayes's favor. Among Wright's principal causes in the Senate was the expansion of paper currency to develop the West.

    In 1877 Wright declined reelection to the Senate, and with his son Thomas founded the law firm of Wright, Gatch, and Wright. In 1879 he became a director of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company. Then, in 1882, he retired from his law practice and became president of both the Polk County Savings Bank and the Security Loan and Trust Company. He was president of the American Bar Association in 1887-1888.

    Undoubtedly, one of Wright's proudest achievements was founding, with Judge Chester Cole, the Iowa Law School at Des Moines in 1865. In 1868 it became the law department of the State University of Iowa in Iowa City. Except for his years in Washington, D.C., Wright lectured there until the end of his long life. He gave his final lecture, "The Pioneer Bar of Iowa," just months before his death. Wright was a much-loved man, especially by his students.

    On one occasion, arriving at the Iowa City railway station to lecture, he found his students gathered on the platform. They chorused a fitting epitaph: Rah! Rah! Rah! Law! Law! Law! Who's All Right? George G. Wright, George G. Wright! Judge Wright!
Sources include George G. Wright, "The Writings of Judge George G. Wright," Annals of Iowa 11 (1914), 352–54; Josiah L. Pickard, "George Grover Wright," Iowa Historical Record 12 (1896), 433–50; Benjamin F. Gue, "Judge Geo. G. Wright," Proceedings of the Pioneer Lawmakers Association of Iowa. Reunion of 1898 (1898); and George G. Wright Jr., "Judge Wright and His Contemporaries," Sixtieth Anniversary of the College of Law 1865– 1925," Bulletin of the State University of Iowa, no. 372 (1926), 32–44.
Contributor: Richard Acton