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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Dean, Henry Clay
(October 27, 1822–February 16, 1887)

–Methodist minister and political activist—was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, one of three sons of Caleb Dean, a stone mason, and Jermina (Indsley) Dean. Henry Dean attended Madison College in Pennsylvania, paying for his education by working as a stone mason, a teacher, and a bookkeeper for an iron manufacturer who provided him with room and board as well as use of his private library. Dean harbored a great interest in literature, especially the classics and history, which helped him to complete a law degree. (In later years, Dean amassed a personal library of 3,000 books, which much to his great dismay was destroyed by a fire.)

    While furthering his education, Deandeveloped a strong religious faith, and in 1845 he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church of Virginia and became a minister. In 1847 he married Christina Margaret Hargler. Seven children were born to the marriage.

    Dean moved his family to Iowa in 1850. He settled first in Pittsburg and then in Keosauqua as he preached in the Fairfield Conference. He moved next to Muscatine, West Point, and finally Mount Pleasant, where he eventually also served on the board of trustees for Iowa Wesleyan College.

    Dean's acquaintance with Iowa Democratic Senators George Wallace Jones and Augustus Caesar Dodge, as well as Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, led to his one-year appointment in December 1855 as chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Dean, who had been involved in politics since he was 16 years old, became a Democrat because of his new political con nections and because of the demise of the Whig Party. He left the active ministry for political activity, distinguishing himself by helping Democrat Henry Wise win the governorship of Virginia.

    Dean carried his Methodist values into campaign frays. He supported temperance and opposed the extension of slavery. He opposed the Lecompton Constitution written by proslavery Kansans and supported the popular sovereignty view of Stephen Douglas. He did not support the continuation of slavery in the nation, but he believed that slaves should be freed through government purchase over time.

    When the Civil War began, Dean opposed secession but also voiced opposition to the war. In turn, he became known as an outspoken Copperhead Democrat as he made speeches denouncing the war and the actions of President Lincoln. His views made him many enemies, who saw him as a traitor; a mob in Keokuk even threatened to hang him. He was then imprisoned for 14 days, although no charges were filed against him. His experiences convinced him even more that Lincoln and the Republican-controlled government violated the Constitution in their policies and actions.

    With the conclusion of the war, Dean became a spokesman for Democrats in opposition to Radical Republicanism. In 1867 he began to advocate "soft money" inflation and payment of the national debt through the continued printing of paper money. In doing so, he became a founder of the Greenback movement among western Democrats. Dean vociferously promoted Greenbackism, decried the National Bank system, and denounced bondholders. He also again offered stinging criticism of Lincoln's wartime actions. He brought his views together in Crimes of the Civil War and Curse of the Funding System (1869).

    Dean also practiced law after the war and became known for accepting the cases of poor clients. At the same time, he also accepted many invitations to lecture, especially in Iowa. Perhaps his best-remembered oratory was his "Mistakes of Ingersoll," offered in reply to "Mistakes of Moses" by nationally noted popular lecturer and opponent of religious belief Robert Ingersoll.

    In 1871 Dean moved his family to an 800 acre farm, Rebel Cove, just across the Iowa state line in Missouri. He died there of heart trouble.

    Described as "short, stout, with a big head, black hair, rather deep set eyes, a musical voice, and a heavy face," which was covered by a full beard and moustache, Dean loved to eat and to drink enormous amounts of coffee and would be seen with food stains on his notorious slovenly attire. Consequently, his detractors dubbed him "Dirty Shirt Dean" and "the great unwashed."Regardless of petty partisan criticism, Dean left a legacy as a contentious fellow, dogmatic yet honest in his views, possessed of admirable abilities as a forceful and eloquent orator. As such he was a significant person in the political and religious life of Iowa during the 19th century.
Sources No book-length biography or autobiography of Henry Clay Dean exists, and there is no collection of his papers, but information on Dean can be found in Suzanne Beisel, "Henry Clay 'Dirty' Dean," Annals of Iowa 36 (1963), 505–24; J. W. Cheney, "Glimpses of Henry Clay Dean, a Unique Individual," Annals of Iowa 10 (1912), 320–30; J. R. Rippey, "Henry Clay Dean," Annals of Iowa 8 (1908), 299–304; Geo. F. Robeson, "Henry Clay Dean," Palimpsest 5 (1924), 321– 33; Boyd B. Stutler, "Henry Clay Dean- Inconsistent Rebel," West Virginia Review (1932), 188–90, 211; and Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (1915).
Contributor: Thomas Burnell Colbert

Cite as: Colbert, Thomas Burnell. "Dean, Henry Clay" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017