John N. Irwin, 9th Governor of Idaho Territory and 9th Governor of Arizona Territory

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John Nichol Irwin

Birthdate: (60)
Birthplace: Butler County, Ohio, United States
Death: December 22, 1905 (60)
Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Stephen Irwin and Elizabeth Martha Irwin

Managed by: Tamás Flinn Caldwell-Gilbert
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About John N. Irwin, 9th Governor of Idaho Territory and 9th Governor of Arizona Territory

Idaho Territory Governor, Arizona Territory Governor, US Diplomat. John Nichol Irwin, son of Stephen and Elizabeth Nichol Irwin, was born Dec. 25, 1845 in Butler County, Ohio and died Dec. 11, 1905 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, of Bright's disease. In 1856 the family moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where his father established the Irwin-Phillips Company dry goods store. During the Civil War, John was a sergeant in Company C, 45th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Technically he was a "commissary" sergeant, earning him the affectionate nickname (by his future wife) of "Commie" (nothing to do with "Communist"). After the war John graduated from Dartmouth College (1867) and worked for a short time with the Keokuk law firm of Miller and Rankin. In Keokuk on June 6, 1871, John Nichol Irwin married Mary Love Rankin, daughter of John W. and Sara D. Rankin. His wife Mary was born in Keokuk on March 1, 1852 and died in Keokuk on April 18, 1936. John and Mary Rankin produced four children: Alice White, Elizabeth Stephanie, Stephen (who died at 4 years), and John Rankin (Jack). John carried on the Irwin-Philips dry goods business, but is especially remembered for his various political posts and for his efforts in getting the high-head electric-power dam built across the Mississippi River at the Keokuk rapids, creating a mile-wide lake above the dam. He was elected Mayor of Keokuk in 1876, 1877, 1878, and 1887-8. In 1883 John served as the Territorial Governor of Idaho and from 1891 to 1892 he served as Territorial Governor of Arizona. In 1899 he was appointed as the United States Minister to Portugal, serving from 1899 to 1900. It was said that John would not stay too long a time away from Keokuk at a political post because he so very much enjoyed the top-of-the-bluff view of the broad Mississippi from the back-side porch of his large rambling 633 Grand Avenue house (not to mention the management of the dry goods business needing attention). The Irwin's Grand Avenue house is listed today in the U. S. National Register of Historic Places.

John Nichol Irwin (December 25, 1844 – December 22, 1905) was an American businessman, politician and diplomat. Among the positions he held were Mayor of Keokuk, Iowa, Governor of Idaho Territory, Governor of Arizona Territory, and U.S. Minister to Portugal.


Irwin was born December 25, 1844, in Butler County, Ohio, to Stephen and Elizabeth Martha (Nichol) Irwin. His family moved to Keokuk, Iowa, in 1856 and he was educated in public schools in both Ohio and Iowa before attending Miami University in his birth state. His education was interrupted by the American Civil War, when Irwin served with the 45th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and reached the rank of sergeant. Following the war he returned to his studies and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1867. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

After graduation, Irwin returned to Keokuk and studied law at the firm of Miller and Rankin. He additionally studied for a time at the University of Michigan Law School. On June 6, 1871, he married his mentor's daughter, Mary Love Rankin. The couple had three children, Alice, Elizabeth, and John R.

Despite his legal training, Irwin spent most of his efforts working at the family dry goods business. Performing occasional legal work, he also became a founder and director of the Keokuk Building and Loan Company. He served five terms as mayor of Keokuk and two terms in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Idaho Territory

Following the removal of John Baldwin Neil, Irwin was nominated as Governor of Idaho Territory by President Chester A. Arthur and commissioned on March 5, 1883. Arriving in the territory in April, he took a brief tour with Theodore F. Singiser before returning to Keokuk to handle personal business and prepare his family to move to the territory. At the end of a 60-day leave, he requested and received a 60-day extension. In August, news reached Idaho that Irwin had developed problems with his eyes. By October, the new governor was expressing his desire to soon return to his duties while at the same time expecting to undergo surgery to correct the problem with his eyes. Citing "personal reasons", Irwin submitted his resignation on December 20, 1883. During his tenure of over nine months as governor, he had spent less than one month in the territory.

An unusual aspect of his tenure was Irwin returning most of his salary, claiming he could not in good conscience accept the unearned pay. This action received widespread newspaper results due to its rarity – most political appointees of the day took all monies they could collect without question. It also created a problem for the Treasury Department which was unsure how to handle the situation. They initially attempted to place the returned money in the Conscience Fund, but this resulted in a protest from Irwin who did not wish the returned salary to be associated with monies returned by guilt-ridden criminals. The returned funds were eventually credited to the public debt.

Arizona Territory

Following the resignation of Lewis Wolfley as Governor of the Arizona Territory, President Benjamin Harrison took over a month to choose a replacement. Upon the recommendation of U.S. Senator William B. Allison, Irwin was nominated for the governorship on September 29, 1890, and confirmed on October 4, 1890. The new governor was however delayed in assuming his new position, being quarantined in his home after his son was diagnosed with scarlet fever till January of the next year.

Irwin was sworn into office on January 21, 1891. By this time the 16th Arizona Territorial Legislature was already in session. Secretary Oakes Murphy, as Acting Governor, had already given the session's opening address, so Irwin made his wishes felt through use of his veto. To help control the territorial deficit the governor vetoed an "outrageous" appropriation bill, forcing the legislature to pass a less ambitious spending plan. Irwin was however convinced to sign a twenty year tax exemption on newly constructed railroad lines.

Among the other actions of the 16th legislature was an act calling for a constitutional convention. In response to this act, Irwin called a special election to choose delegates. A constitution was written by the convention and approved by Arizona voters in 1891, but the document never received serious consideration by interests in the U.S. Congress due to its provisions supporting Free Silver, state control of rivers and canals, and state aid to railroads and other businesses.

On June 15, 1891, Irwin left for the East Coast. At the time of his departure the territory's bonds were selling for below par and the governor wished to negotiate with New York financial interests about the territorial debt. He also used the visit to extol Arizona's virtues during a July 28, 1891, dinner. Following his stay in New York he returned to Keokuk to continue his work of refinancing the territorial debt.

While in Keokuk, Irwin found his mother had taken ill. This prompted him to extend his stay and he did not return to Arizona until November 9, 1891. Irwin's mother became ill again in April 1892, prompting the governor to return to Iowa. Following his mother's death, Irwin submitted his resignation on April 18, 1892, to deal with resulting family business concerns.

Later life

After leaving Arizona, Irwin made his home in Keokuk. He remained there till 1899 when he was appointed Minister to Portugal. Irwin resigned his diplomatic appointment in June 1901.

Irwin's death occurred on December 22, 1905, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He was buried in Keokuk's Oakland Cemetery.

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John N. Irwin, 9th Governor of Idaho Territory and 9th Governor of Arizona Territory's Timeline

December 25, 1844
Butler County, Ohio, United States
December 22, 1905
Age 60
Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas, United States