History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/4/John H. Gear
JOHN H. GEAR, tenth Governor of Iowa, was born at Ithaca, New York, on the 7th of April, 1825. He had no educational advantages in his youth but acquired, unaided, his knowledge of books. The country about Ithaca was at that time a wilderness and the father and mother lived in a rude log cabin, surrounded by Onondaga Indians. In 1836 the family removed to Galena, Illinois, then a frontier post in the Indian country, where lead mining was the principal attraction and business. Two years later the father, having been appointed chaplain in the regular army, took his family to Fort Snelling, a frontier military post in the wilds of Minnesota. Always on the extreme frontier, enduring hardships and privations, amid the rudest surroundings, the son grew to nineteen years of age with none of the advantages of civilization, but with the lessons of economy and self-reliance fully learned. In the fall of 1843, young Gear descended the Mississippi River and on the 25th of September landed at the new town of Burlington on the Iowa side which was ever after his home. Here for the first time the young man worked for himself, first on a farm, then as clerk in a store. In 1845 he secured a position in a store and at the end of five years was made a partner and five years later was able to purchase the store. In 1863 Mr. Gear was chosen mayor of the city and in 1871 was elected by the Republicans to the House of the Fourteenth General Assembly. He was reëlected at the close of his first term and nominated by the Republicans of the House of Representatives for Speaker. The members were equally divided politically and for two weeks neither were able to elect, but on the one hundred forty-fourth ballot Mr. Gear was elected. He was an able and eminently fair presiding officer, was reëlected and again chosen Speaker. In 1877 he was nominated for Governor of the State by the Republicans and elected. He at once brought to the service of the State that executive ability which had led him to success in every undertaking of his self-reliant life. He made himself thoroughly familiar with every department and public institution of the State, suggesting numerous reforms in the methods of conducting business. At the close of his term he was reëlected by an increased majority. In 1886 he was elected to the National House of Representatives and in two years was reëlected, serving on the committee on ways and means. He was defeated at the next election but was appointed by President Harrison Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and resigned to take his seat in the Fifty-third Congress to which he was elected. Governor Gear was a delegate in the Republican National Convention of 1892 which renominated Harrison and in 1896, which nominated McKinley. In the summer of 1893, he became a candidate for a seat in the United States Senate. Among his competitors were W. P. Hepburn, John F. Lacey, George D. Perkins, then members of Congress, A. B. Cummins and John Y. Stone, prominent lawyers and L. S. Coffin, a well-known farmer. The contest was animated but Governor Gear was nominated by the Republican caucus of the General Assembly and elected for six years from the 4th of March, 1895. He was a prominent member of the Senate committee on Pacific Railroads, where he was largely influential in securing to the Government the payment of the bonds issued in 1802-3 to aid in the construction of the subsidized roads. In the winter of 1900, a powerful effort was made to nominate A. B. Cummins of Des Moines, to succeed Governor Gear in the Senate. The contest was waged with great vigor and determination but the host of old friends of the popular Senator, who was serving his first term, rallied to his support and secured his reëlection. While in Washington serving out his first term Senator Gear died suddenly, on the 14th of July, 1901. His death was sincerely mourned by the people of the entire State, regardless of party.