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About Albert Baird Cummins
Albert Baird Cummins (February 15, 1850 – July 30, 1926) was the 18th Governor of Iowa, U.S. Senator and two-time presidential candidate. Cummins was perhaps the most influential leader in Iowa politics in the first quarter of the 20th century. However, for many years he was a polarizing figure, leading the Iowa Republican Party's progressive wing to power at the expense of its "old guard" of more conservative "standpatters" who had controlled the party almost since its inception. Shortly before his death, Cummins was defeated by an even more progressive adversary within his own party.
Cummins was born in a log house in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania to Thomas L. Cummins, a carpenter/farmer, and Sarah Baird (Flenniken) Cummins. He lived in Pennsylvania until about 1869, and attended Greene Academy. As a young man, he worked as a carpenter with his father. He attended country schools and completed a four-year course in two years at Waynesburg College, but did not graduate because of a dispute with the College's president. After leaving the College, he initially was a tutor and taught at a country school.
At age nineteen, Cummins came to Iowa, working in a county recorder's office in Elkader, Iowa. He then became a civil engineer and helped to build railroads in Indiana. After moving to Chicago, where he studied law, he was admitted to the bar in 1875. After practicing law in Chicago for three years, he and his brother set up a practice in Des Moines. In his most famous case as an attorney, he represented a group of farmers in an attempt to break an eastern sydicate's control of the production of barbed wire. However, historians consider his representation of farmers in the barbed wire case to be an anomaly, because more often he represented corporations or businessmen.
In 1887 Cummins was elected to a single term in the Iowa State Senate representing Des Moines. He was asked to serve as temporary chair of the 1892 State Republican Convention. He unsuccessfully pursued a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1894. In 1896 he was active in the William McKinley campaign, and was appointed as Iowa's representative on the Republican National Committee.
1900 candidacies for U.S. Senate
In 1900, Cummins was passed over twice for the U.S. Senate. In early 1900, when the Iowa General Assembly exercised its former power to choose a U.S. Senator (for the Class 2 seat, to serve from 1901 to 1909), Cummins was the opponent of incumbent Republican John H. Gear, but withdrew when it appeared he lacked the votes to win. After Gear suffered a fatal heart attack in July 1900, Governor Leslie M. Shaw rejected numerous appeals to appoint Cummins to the vacancy, and instead appointed Jonathan P. Dolliver. Cummins initially vowed to seek the seat again in the 1901 legislative session, but instead focused on winning the 1901 election for Governor of Iowa.
Governor of Iowa
Cummins served as Governor of Iowa between 1902 and 1908. He was the first Iowa governor elected to three successive terms. In the third election he won tight races for the Republican nomination against George D. Perkins, editor of the Sioux City Journal, and in the general election against Democrat Claude R. Porter. While governor he led efforts to establish compulsory education, a state department of agriculture, and a system of primary elections.
Cummins became identified with an approach to tariff-setting known as "the Iowa idea." The “Iowa idea,” as stated in the Iowa Republican Party’s 1902 platform, favored “such amendments of the Interstate Commerce Act as will more fully carry out its prohibition of discrimination in ratemaking, and [such] modifications of the tariff schedules [as] may be required to prevent their affording a shelter to monopoly.” The "idea" embodied the principle that tariff rates should accurately measure the difference between the cost of production here and abroad, but not set rates higher than necessary to protect home industries.
In June 1908, Governor Cummins ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by William B. Allison, who was seeking a record seventh term. Cummins was accused of breaking an earlier promise not to challenge Allison, and lost by over 12,000 votes. However, Senator Allison died August 4, 1908, two months after the primary and before the Iowa General Assembly chose among the primary winners. In November 1908 a second Republican primary was held, which Cummins won decisively. Later that month (and again two months later, in January 1909), Cummins was appointed by the Iowa General Assembly over democratic rival Claude R. Porter. He served as a United States Senator from Iowa for 18 years, from 1908 until his death in 1926. He served as President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate between 1919 and 1925. He also chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce.
Cummins generally supported President Woodrow Wilson's initiatives to regulate business, and authored a clause of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Although Cummins voted in favor of the 1917 declaration of war against the German Empire when Wilson requested it, he sided most often with his party than with Wilson on other foreign-policy issues, opposing the arming of merchant ships in early 1917 and U.S. membership in a League of Nations in 1919-20.
It was as Interstate Commerce Committee chair that Cummins sponsored the Esch-Cummins Act of 1920, establishing the conditions for the return of the railroads to private control after their government operation during World War I. Labor activists complained that the bill perpetuated harsh limits on collective bargaining, including provisions making it a crime to encourage a railroad strike, in the absence of a wartime emergency. It symbolized Cummins' postwar break with the progressive movement, which would ultimately contribute to his defeat.
Pursuit of the presidency
In January 1912, Cummins announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. He was a candidate through the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1912. During the turmoil of the convention and the walkout of Theodore Roosevelt's supporters, Cummins' name was not placed into nomination. In the general election, Cummins supported Roosevelt rather than Taft, even though he opposed Roosevelt's creation of a third party.
In 1916 Cummins again ran for the Republican nomination for president. This time, with no incumbent president of his own party, delegates were split among over a dozen candidates on the first ballot (on which Cummins finished fifth). After Cummins again finished fifth on the second ballot, he released his delegates, contributing to the third-ballot victory of Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes.
Defeat and death
In June 1926, insurgent Smith W. Brookhart defeated Cummins in the Republican primary for Cummins' Senate seat. Two months earlier, Brookhart had been removed from the Iowa's other U.S. Senate seat when a majority of his colleagues in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted in favor of Democrat Dan Steck's challenge to the outcome of the 1924 Brookhart-Steck race. Cummins had refused to take a position on the election contest, knowing that if Brookhart were unseated he would likely run for Cummins' seat.
The month after his primary defeat, Cummins died in Des Moines. He is buried at the Woodland Cemetery there.