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David Bremner Henderson
David B. Henderson

39th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
December 4, 1899 – March 4, 1903
President William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Thomas B. Reed
Succeeded by Joseph G. Cannon

Member of U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1883 – March 4, 1903
Preceded by Thomas Updegraff
Succeeded by Benjamin P. Birdsall

Born March 14, 1840
Old Deer, Scotland
Died February 25, 1906 (aged 65)
Dubuque, Iowa
Political party Republican
Alma mater Upper Iowa University
Profession Law

David Bremner Henderson (March 14, 1840–February 25, 1906), a ten-term Republican congressman from Dubuque, Iowa, was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1899 to 1903. He was first person representing a district west of the Mississippi River, and the only Iowan, to serve as Speaker.

Personal background[]

Henderson was born in Old Deer, Scotland on March 14, 1840. He emigrated to the United States with his parents, who initially settled in Winnebago County, Illinois, in 1846. His family soon moved to a farm near Clermont, in Fayette County, Iowa in 1849. He attended the common schools, and the Upper Iowa University at Fayette, Iowa.

Civil War service and wounds[]

He served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was wounded severely twice, once in the neck and later in the leg, which resulted in progressive amputations of that leg. He initially enlisted in the Union Army on September 15, 1861, as a private in Company C, 12th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was elected and commissioned first lieutenant of that company. In the Battle of Fort Donelson, he was shot in the neck in the final charge over the breastworks.[1] After returning to the Regiment in April 1862, he lost one foot and part of one leg at the Second Battle of Corinth in October 1862.[2] He was discharged on February 26, 1863 due to his wounds, and returned to Iowa. After serving as commissioner of the board of enrollment of the third district of Iowa from May 1863 to June 1864, he re-entered the Army as colonel of the new 46th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the "Hundred Days Men" regiments, and commanded the Regiment until it was mustered out in September 1864.[3]

Law practice[]

He was a successful lawyer prior to pursuing his political career. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1865 and commenced practice in Dubuque. He was the collector of internal revenue for the third district of Iowa from November 1865 to June 1869, when he resigned to accept a position as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, where he served until 1871. He was in private practice in Dubuque until 1882.[1]

Congressman and chairman[]

In 1882, he was elected as a Republican to represent Iowa's 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House. He served in the Forty-eighth and the nine succeeding Congresses, from March 4, 1883 to March 3, 1903. He first ran for Speaker following the 1888 elections,[4] finishing well behind Thomas Brackett Reed and runner-up William McKinley.[5] Prior to his election as speaker, he served as the chairman of the Committee on Militia (in the Fifty-first Congress), and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary (in the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Congresses). He was also the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Appropriations during the period of Democratic control, but when Republicans returned to control of the House after the 1894 elections, Speaker Reed departed with tradition by returning the chairmanship to Joseph Gurney Cannon, who had served more nonconsecutive terms in the House and would have outranked Henderson had Cannon not lost his House seat for two years.

Speaker of the House[]

Henderson was elected to succeed Reed as Speaker following Reed's resignation from the post in 1899. Republicans were in control in the House, a majority of members of the House Republican Caucus were from what was then considered "the West," and Henderson was the only serious candidate for Speaker among western members.[6] When serving as Speaker in the Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Congresses, by longstanding tradition Henderson also held the role as chairman of the Committee on Rules.

During his four-year tenure as Speaker of the House, many of his peers lobbied him to run for the presidency even though the United States Constitution forbade it because he was foreign born.

On September 16, 1902 - with the next Congressional election less than two months away - Henderson surprised nearly everyone by announcing that he was withdrawing from the race for re-election (and thus from Congress).[7] Various explanations for his abrupt withdrawal have been offered. Henderson's letter announcing his decision referred to "a growing sentiment, among Republicans, that I do not truly represent their views on the tariff question."[8] Some attributed his decision to the lingering effects of his war injuries.[1][3] In a letter to Henderson’s successor Joe Cannon dated three days after Henderson's announcement, former House Clerk Henry H. Smith stated that "there can be but one explanation of the reason for his action [the resignation] . . . they relate not alone to poker playing, but to his alleged intimacy with a certain `lobbyess' who is reported to have some written evidence that would greatly embarrass the Speaker. . . . He seemed to have lost all control of himself and become reckless. . . . This is not mere guesswork at all but private and reliable information which I am sure you will recognize when I tell you the name." - [9] Whatever the cause, Henderson's resignation ushered in the beginning of Cannon's famous tenure as Speaker.

Death and honors[]

After leaving Congress, Henderson practiced law in New York City until health problems caused him to retire to Southern California.[1] Henderson died in Dubuque on February 25, 1906, aged 65. He is buried at Linwood Cemetery in Dubuque.

His portrait hangs in the speakers' room in the U.S. Capitol, and statues of Henderson by J. Massey Rhind are found the collections of the Iowa State Historical Society and in Clarmont.[1]

"Allison-Henderson Park," in Dubuque, shares his name with that of six-term U.S. Senator William B. Allison, another citizen of Dubuque.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Brigham, Johnson Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens, pp. 595 (S.J. Clarke, 1918, Iowa History Project).
  2. "The Operation Successful," New York Times, 1894-02-12 at p. 1, and Logan, Guy E., Roster and Record of Iowa Troops In the Rebellion, Vol. 1, 12th Infantry Regiment.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Logan, Guy E., Roster and Record of Iowa Troops In the Rebellion, Vol. 1, 46th Infantry Regiment.
  4. "M'Kinley is in the Lead," New York Times, 1888-12-07 at p.1.
  5. "Counting their Votes," New York Times, 1889-11-24 at p. 1.
  6. "National Capital Topics: Henderson's Election as Speaker Considered a Certainty," New York Times, 1899-06-04 at p. 13.
  7. "Surprise in Washington," New York Times, 1902-09-17 at p. 1.
  8. "Speaker Henderson will not run again," New York Times, 1902-09-17 at p. 1.
  9. Waltzman, Forest, and Lawrence, Eric, "Why Did Speaker Henderson Resign? The Page 799 Mystery is Solved," 41 Public Affairs Report No. 4, September 2000, accessed on 2009-09-19.
  • David B. Henderson at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-10-01.
  • Hoing, Willard L. “David B. Henderson: Speaker of the House.” Iowa Journal of History 55 (January 1957): 1-34.
  • Schlup, Leonard. “Defender of the Old Guard: David B. Henderson and Republican Politics in Gilded Age America.” Julien’s Journal 22 (January 1997): 22-24.
  • "100 Years Later, Henderson still remembered as a hero", Dubuque, Iowa Telegraph Herald, (February 25, 2006): 1.
  • "Red-Light District: Working the Intersection Of Sex and Power," Lily Burana, Washington Post, (May 6, 2007): Page B01.

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Thomas B. Reed |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
December 4, 1899 – March 4, 1901;
December 2, 1901 – March 4, 1903 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Joseph G. Cannon |- |}


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