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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Young, Lafayette
(May 19, 1848–November 15, 1926)

–journalist, state senator and U. S. senator whose dual role as editor of the Des Moines Capital and chair of Iowa's Council of National Defense during World War I climaxed his career—was the son of John and Rachel (Titus) Young. "Lafe" considered Eddyville, Iowa, his hometown. But he was not born there, as most sources state. Instead, as his newspaper, the Des Moines Capital, would eulogize, he was born in Monroe County, Iowa, "in a rude little log cabin on Soap Creek near... Appanoose Count[y]."His family moved near Eddyville soon after his birth. But the Capital erroneously claimed that the only school education he ever obtained was secured "by tramping several miles to a country schoolhouse three winters."In fact, he also attended night school in St. Louis in 1868 and 1869.

    Young's life was shaped by his age in relation to his nation's wars. Too young to fight during the Civil War, he carried an enthusiasm for that conflict unmediated by the realities of actual combat. He was, however, in the Zouaves, a Monroe County Home Guard, which successfully protected Albia from a largely imagined threat of Confederate invasion. Young later appointed himself war correspondent to Cuba in 1899, where he became friends with Theodore Roosevelt, and to Europe in 1915, where a brief detainment by Austria, apparently because his first name sounded French, reinforced his support for the Allied cause.

    After serving as a copyeditor for the Iowa State Register in Des Moines, where he married Josephine Bolton on March 20, 1870, Young moved to the three-year-old town of Atlantic, Iowa, in 1871 to start the Telegraph. In 1873 he began representing Cass County in the state senate as a Republican. He would continue mixing journalism and Republican politics throughout his life, but his political viewpoint, moderately antimonopoly as a legislator, veered toward the conservative thereafter.

    In 1890 Young moved to Des Moines and acquired the Des Moines Capital, which he published and edited until his death in 1926. In 1893 he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor, and eyed it again in 1901, but what support he still had among progressives could not match that of Albert B. Cummins.

    In 1900 Young nominated Theodore Roosevelt for the vice presidency at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Young had intended to nominate Iowa senator Jonathan Dolliver, but after extended negotiations, Dolliver withdrew in favor of Roosevelt. Young thereupon tweaked his prepared speech and persuaded all delegates except Roosevelt himself to ratify the nomination.

    After Dolliver's death in 1910, Governor Beryl Carroll appointed Young to fill Dolliver's Senate seat until the legislature acted. Aside from breaking Senate precedent with a speech early in his term, his six-month stint in the Senate was unremarkable and overshadowed by the electioneering. The Capital 's claim that Young should be considered a Progressive because he was generous with his time and money did not change any votes. Progressive Republicans in the legislature were divided on a candidate but united in realizing that sending the election to a primary would assure Standpat candidate Young's election, which they forestalled at the expense of their principles. After a four-month standoff, with one vote taken every day of the session, on the last day the legislature selected William Kenyon, the last Iowa senator to be elected by the state legislature.

    Upon U.S. entry into World War I, Governor William Harding appointed Young to chair the Iowa Council of National Defense (CND). Young used his dual roles as editor and chief sedition hunter to fill the Capital with reports of disloyalty, and capitalized on those reports to seek increased repression. Even in an atmosphere of wartime hysteria, Young's strategy stood out: at the April 1918 meeting of state CND units in Washington, D.C., he called for stockading 5,000 Iowans, "or," he predicted darkly, "there will be a tragedy."

    But Young's rhetoric seemed almost moderate compared to that of Governor Harding, who made references to "baseball bats" and "necktie parties."In July 1918 Young compared Harding's "Babel Proclamation" (outlawing the public use of any language other than English) favorably to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

    In the summer of 1918 Iowa CND board member James Pierce attacked his fellow council members in Iowa Homestead editorials with titles such as "Raw Meat Eaters" and "Iowa's Reign of Terror."The question of whether Pierce could be legally removed from the council for his dissent apparently went unresolved when the end of the war made the point moot.

    Young died in 1926. His son, Lafayette Jr., succeeded him as publisher of the Capital, but the paper did not long outlast the senior Young, merging with the Des Moines Tribune in 1927.
Sources The State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, holds a collection of Young's papers, primarily correspondence. See also Des Moines Capital, 1890–1926; Dictionary of American Biography vol. 10 (1958); Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (1974); Thomas Ross, Jonathan Prentiss Dolliver: A Study in Political Integrity and Independence (1958); Thomas James Bray, The Rebirth of Freedom (1957); Eli Daniel Potts, "William Squire Kenyon and the Iowa Senatorial Election of 1911," Annals of Iowa 38 (1966), 206–22; Fleming Fraker Jr., "The Beginnings of the Progressive Movement in Iowa," Annals of Iowa 35 (1961), 578– 93; Edwin Percy Chase, "Forty Years of Main Street," Iowa Journal of History and Politics 34 (1936), 241–42; Nancy Derr, "Iowans during World War I" (Ph.D. diss., George Washington University, 1979); William Breen, Uncle Sam at Home: Civilian Mobilization, Wartime Federalism, and the Council of National Defense, 1917–1919 (1984); and Burlington Hawkeye, 1/22/1911.
Contributor: Bill R. Douglas

Cite as: Douglas, Bill R. "Young, Lafayette" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 11 December 2017