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Biographical Sketch
John J. Ingalls
Atchison County, Kansas


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The following transcription is from a 750 page book titled "Genealogical and Biographical Record of North-Eastern Kansas, dated 1900.  These have been diligently transcribed and generously contributed by Penny R. Harrell, please give her a very big Thank You for her hard work!

Gold Bar

John J. Ingalls

John J. Ingalls is without doubt the most distinguished statesman, the most brilliant orator and the most fluent and versatile writer that the state of Kansas has ever produced.  No citizen of Kansas has ever represented this commonwealth so ably in the deliverative councils and in the legislative forum of the republic, or received such honorable recognition from his fellow citizens in the state and in the nation as has the man whose eventful life, distinguished public service and peculiar personal characteristics it is the purpose of this essay briefly to trace and portray.

The professional and political career of John J. Ingalls is contemporaneous with the entire history of the state of Kansas and is closely identified with the industrial development and the political vicissitudes of the same, while for over two decades he has been one of the ablest, most popular, most unique and most influential figures identified with the political affairs, the economic questions and the social problems of the entire American nation.

Ex-Senator Ingalls is the direct descendant of two noted Puritan families, coming on both his father's side and his mother's "from an unbroken strain of Puritan blood without any inter-mixture." His original ancestor on his father's side was Edmund Ingalls, who with his brother Francis came over from Yorkshire, England in 1628, and founded the city of Lynn, Massachusetts.

His father was Elias T. Ingalls, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who was characterized as a "typical New Englander, aristocratic, austere, devout, scholarly, successful in business and respected by all." Mehitabel Ingalls, a first cousin of Elias T. Ingalls, was President Garfield's grandmother.

On his mother's side Mr. Ingalls is related to the noted Chase family, of which the late Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase was a prominent member.  The original member of this family was Aquila Chase, who came to America in 1630 and settled in New Hampshire.  His mother, whose maiden name was Eliza Chase, is still living, at Haverhill, Massachusetts, at the advanced age of eighty-four years.

John James Ingalls was born at Middleton, Essex county, Massachusetts, December 29, 1833.  He was the oldest of nine children and was educated in the public schools until he was sixteen, after which time he continued his studies preparatory for college under a private tutor.  His literary genius had begun to manifest itself before he left the public schools and his "earliest intellectual activity found expression in verse."

He entered Williams College, at Williamstown, Massachusetts, in September, 1851 of which institution Dr. Mark Hopkins, at this time in the prime of his remarkable intellectual activity, was then president.  After his graduation at college, in 1855, Mr. Ingalls entered upon the study of law and was admitted to the bar in his native county of Essex in 1857.  The bold and fearless character of the statesman and the politician had begun to be foreshadowed in the college student, especially toward the close of his academic career.

Into his graduating oration he incorporated views that were objectionable to the faculty and which were cut out when the authorities revised his commencement production.  When he came to deliver it, however, he spoke it as originally written, for which offense his diploma was withheld until 1864, after he had begun to make a name for himself in the west.  Twenty years after granting him his first diploma his alma mater honored him and itself by conferring upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Mr. Ingalls emigrated to Kansas in the fall of 1858 and took up his abode at Sumner, where he began the practice of law, but moved to Atchison and opened his law office in that town.  Meanwhile the future statesman had entered upon his political career and was winning rapid promotion.  In 1859 he served as a delegate to the Wyandotte constitutional convention.  In 1860 he was the secretary of the territorial council.  In 1861 he was the secretary of the state senate.  In 1862 he was elected a member of the state senate from Atchison county.

Changing his activities from the political to the military field, he served as major, lieutenant-colonel and judge advocate of Kansas volunteers from 1863 to 1865.  In 1862 and again in 1864 he also ran as candidate for lieutenant-governor on what was then known as the Union State ticket in revolt against the arrogant assumptions of such tyrannical political demagogues as "Jim" Lane and his followers, whose overthrow was not accomplished until 1866.

For this course Mr. Ingalls was accused of being disloyal to his party, but the circumstances seem to have made his attitude not only justifiable but praiseworthy as well.  "For eight years after the war," writes J. W. D. Anderson, "Mr. Ingalls devoted himself to newspaper and general literary work: indeed, it was as a literary man that he first made a state reputation.  We learned to know and admire the classical style, the incisive method, the wealth of words and the fullness of information which have since made him so noted as an orator.

Much of this literary work was in praise in Kansas, and, as a genuine affection is nearly always returned in kind, Kansas soon came to love and to delight to do him honor."  For three years he was the editor of the Atchison Champion and subsequently won national reputation by a series of brilliant magazine articles upon themes of western life and adventure, the most noted of which were entitled "Catfish Aristocracy," "Bluegrass," "Regis Loisel and Cleveland, the Last of the Jayhawkers."

It is also of interest to note in this connection that Mr. Ingalls suggested the original design for the great seal of Kansas upon the admission of the state into the Union, together with the motto, "ad astra per aspera" (To the stars through difficulties).  Unfortunately, however, the simplicity and beauty of his original design were marred by the committee to whom it was submitted for adoption.

The history of this emblematic device can best be given in ex-Senator Ingalls' own characteristic words: "I was secretary of the Kansas state senate at its first session after our admission in 1861.  A joint committee was appointed to present a design for the great seal of the state and I suggested a sketch embracing a single star rising from the clouds at the base of a field, with the constellation (representing the number of states then in the Union) above, accompanied by the motto, "Ad astra per aspera," If you will examine the seal as it now exists you will see that my idea was adopted, but in addition thereto the committee incorporated a mountain scene, a river view, a herd of buffalo chased by Indians on horseback, a log cabin with a settler plowing in the foreground, together with a number of other incongruous, allegorical and metaphorical augmentations which destroyed the beauty and simplicity of my design. "

The clouds at the base were intended to represent the perils and troubles of our territorial history; the star emerging therefrom, the new state; the constellation, like that on the flag, the Union, to which after a stormy struggle, it had been admitted."

The first election of Mr. Ingalls to the national senate in 1873 came almost as a surprise to himself and his friends. Senator S. C. Pomeroy was a candidate for re-election, but he was suspected of dishonesty by some of the members of the state legislature.  His support, however, was so strong that there was no hope of defeating him and the opposition in his party had not even united on a candidate.

On the day that the houses met in joint session State Senator York secured the floor, accused Senator
Pomeroy of bribery, exposed the fact that he had offered to himself (State Senator York) seven thousand dollars for his vote and carried the money to the presiding officer's desk, requesting that it be used in prosecuting the offender. 

This sensation at once turned the tide away from Pomeroy, and Mr. Ingalls, who was in Topeka to argue a case before the supreme court and who had received but one vote in caucus the day before at once became a favorite candidate and was elected upon the first ballot.  Ex-Senator Ingalls' career in the upper chamber of congress is so well known that I may be readily passed in review in this sketch.

His record was so satisfactory to his constituents that he was returned to his seat in 1870 and again in 1885. In 1887, after the death of Vice President Hendricks, he was unanimously elected president pro tempore of the senate, and this election was later, by a special rule which has since been followed, made permanent until the inauguration of a new vice-president, or until, in case the vice president is living, the senate should have changed its political complexion.

While Senator Ingalls, therefore, was the president of the senate he enjoyed all the honor, dignity and distinction pertaining to the office of vice-president of the United States, and his family was accorded all the precedence and recognition belonging to this position.  His public utterances upon the floor of the senate were invariably marked by strong partisan bias, and his political opponents were frequently made to wince under his caustic and penetrating criticism and flood of withering sarcasm; but yet his speeches were, at the same time, always characterized by a certain distinct individuality and independence that marked the quality of their style and though as being peculiarly his own.

When, however, he was elevated to the office of acting vice president he at once rose to the full measure and dignity of the high position to which his fellow senators had chosen him, and as the president of the senate he performed the functions of that office with unusual grace and with absolute impartiality.  The defeat of the famous "force bill," which Speaker Reed had pushed with characteristic dispatch through the house, was attributed by many of his party colleagues to Senator Ingalls.

When he was requested to lend his aid as presiding officer to force the bill through the senate, he peremptorily refused to play this role, and sharply rebuked those who were attempting to resort to tactics not in keeping with the dignity of the senate.  As a mark of their high respect and of their appreciation of his uniformly calm, impartial and judicial attitude as their presiding officer, the senators, upon his retirement as the president of the senate, presented him with the clock that had counted time for the senate from 1852 to 1890, which memento now adorns the wall above the landing of the stairway in the spacious hall of the ex-senator's residence, while upon the wall of his library, artistically engrossed and appropriately framed, is found the original copy of the following resolution, upon which comment would be superfluous: "Resolved, That the thanks of the senate are due, and are hereby tendered, to Hon. John J. Ingalls, a senator from the state of Kansas, for the eminently courteous, dignified, able and absolutely impartial manner in which he has presided over the deliberations and performed the duties of president pro tempore of the senate. "Attest: Anson G. McCook, Secretary."

Mr. Ingalls first won national fame as an orator while serving in the senate and many of his forensic efforts upon the floor of that body will never be forgotten.  Whenever it was announced that the eloquent senator from Kansas was to make a speech the galleries and corridors of the senate chamber were always crowded, and those who were so fortunate as to hear him never came in vain. His speeches on "The Race Problem" and "The Financial Question," his eulogies on Senator Hill, of Georgia, and on Congressman Burnes, of Missouri, and his debates with Senators Voorhees and Blackburn are among his best known oratorical efforts in the senate.

Concerning his well known reply to Senator Voorhees it is worthy of mention that ex-Senator Ingalls regards it as the least creditable of all his performances, though it is undoubtedly the best remembered of all his public utterances, and he regrets that the occasion made such a speech in the senate necessary. He also claims that his critisms of McClellan and Hancock had reference not to their military records but to their political attitudes, and that his remarks were perverted by his political opponents for the purpose of placing him in a very disagreeable position.

His command of language is remarkable and his sparkling wealth of words seems to come to him as easily and as natural as the poverty of languages is a prevailing characteristic of most of his fellow beings.  He is equally fluent in conversation, upon the platform or with his pen.  As a public speaker, however, Mr. Ingalls' power of expression seem to have attained their highest range and their highest development.

He is, moreover, a scholar, a philosophical thinker and a close student of our social and political problems, as well as an orator and rhetorician.  Many of his oratorical productions, viewed in the light of their magnificent and forcible style, as also with reference to their thought content, may indeed be termed classical. 

A characteristic passage, taken from the introduction to his eulogy on Congressman Burnes, is here inserted for the sake of illustration: "In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. There is neither rank, station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave.  At this fatal threshold the philosopher ceases to be wise and the song of the poet is silent.  Dives relinquishes his millions and Lazarus his rags.  The poor man is as rich as the richest and the rich man is as poor as the pauper. The creditor loses his usury and debtor is acquitted of his obligation.  There the proud man surrenders his dignities, the politician his honors, the worldling his pleasures, the invalid needs no physician, and the laborer rests from unrequited toil. Here at last is Nature's final decree in equity. The wrongs of time are redressed, injustice is expiated, the irony of fate is refuted, the unequal distribution of wealth, honor, capacity, pleasure and opportunity, which makes life so cruel and inexplicable a tragedy, ceases in the realm of death. The strongest there has no supremacy, and the weakest needs no defense. The mightiest captain succumbs to the invincible adversary who disarms alike the victor and the vanquished."

In a similar compact epigrammatic style, is his oft quoted estimate of Lincoln: "Abraham Lincoln, the greatest leader of all, had the humblest origin and scantiest scholarship.  Yet he surpassed all orators in eloquence, all diplomats in wisdom, all statesmen in foresight, and the most ambitious in fame."

When Senator Ingalls fell a victim to the Populist upheavel in Kansas, in 1891, and was obliged, much to the regret of the country at large, to yield his seat in the senate to Mr. Peffer, his political adversaries took delight to refer to him by his self-applied title of "a statesman without a job." In this respect, however, their expectations were not realized, for the man of genius and industry is never out of employment.

They failed to recognize that a statesman must not necessarily hold public office in order to be either successfully or advantageously employed, and that if his services as a public man have been of consequence, men will not likely let his talent remain unemployed as a private citizen. 

Upon his retirement from public life Mr. Ingalls had a number of exceedingly tempting offers, both in the east and in the west, to accept the editorship of prominent newspapers, all of which he declined, mainly because their acceptance would require him to transfer his family and his citizenship out of his adopted state.

After his return from his trip to Europe, his library, his pen and the lecture platform have profitably occupied his time and talents, and a number of timely articles upon the principal economic, political and social questions of the period have appeared from his pen in the leading periodicals of the country.

His essays are always in great demand, are said to command higher prices than those of any other man in America, with the exception of Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, and are not only intensely interesting but highly instructive as well. They do not express ideas merely struck off at random, but embody the valuable results and conclusions of years of faithful study and ripe experience.

Mr. Ingalls has also been in great demand as a popular platform lecturer since retiring from the senate, his services in this capacity commanding the very highest prices, and as a lecturer and orator he has probably only two peers on the American platform, Depew and Watterson.

This field of activity opened to him spontaneously, unsought by himself, and contrary to the usual experience of the successful orator, it is, strange to say, absolutely distateful to him.  "Oak Ridge," located on a slightly wooded elevation overlooking the city of Atchison from the southwest, is the name given to Mr. Ingalls' beautiful and cultured home. 

He is the father of eleven children, seven of whom, three sons and four daughters, are sill living.  Mrs. Ingalls, to whom the Senator has always been a hero, has been to him a most loyal wife and helpful companion, and is, moreover, a most faithful and devoted mother to her family and ideal housekeeper in the management of her home and in the education and control of her children.  By the salutary power and influence that Mrs. Ingalls' is so constantly exerting over her family, the domestic side of Senator Ingalls' home, in spite of his long career in public life, has not suffered in the least.  His home is a cheerful and happy one, in which the higher literary and artistic tastes and the nobler ideas of life are assiduously cultivated, and in which the bond of affection is sincere and strong. 

The final history of the latter half of the nineteenth century and the final estimate of the character and achievements of the leading public men of this period, will not be written during the lifetime of the present generation, and they may not be written until a number of generations shall have passed away; but whenever the final account shall have been formulated, and whenever the final estimate of the most distinguished statesmen and foremost leaders of this epoch shall have been made, the name and fame of John J. Ingalls will occupy a unique and conspicuous place among the list of illustrious Americans of this eventful age who loved their country most and served her interests best.  (The above sketch was largely copied from a biographical record prepared by G. H. Meixell.)

  Gold Bar

Last update: Friday, January 13, 2006 23:16:30

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