Henry Clay Caldwell

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Col. Henry Clay Caldwell of the 3rd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry

Henry Clay Caldwell (September 4, 1832 – February 15, 1915) was a United States federal judge and Union Army officer.

Early years[edit]

Caldwell was born in what is now Marshall County, West Virginia, in 1835, in what was then Indian territory, and was largely self-educated, a circumstance credited with the cultivation of a homespun philosophy.[1] He moved with his parents to Iowa in 1837, where his father, Van Caldwell, once a wealthy Virginia farmer, took land in the "Black Hawk Purchase" at Bentonsport and operated the first licensed ferry on the Des Moines River; his mother was Susan Moffit Caldwell. He was educated in the common schools of Iowa, and began reading law in the offices of Knapp and Wright in Keosauqua, Iowa, at the age of fifteen. He was admitted to the bar in 1857, according to some sources, and became a junior partner in the firm.


He was a Prosecuting attorney of Van Buren County, Iowa from 1856 to 1858, and a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from 1859 to 1861.[2] In 1854 he married Harriet Benton. He enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry in the United States Army, rising to the rank of Colonel, and attained command of the unit. He served with distinction at the Battle of Kirksville, and he led the cavalry forces that captured Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 10, 1863. He was nominated for promotion to general officer, but the territory required his judicial expertise more than his military ability and he resigned his commission June 4, 1864.[3]

Subsequently, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Caldwell to both the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas on May 2, 1864, both seats having been previously vacated by Daniel Ringo. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 28, and received commission on June 20. He served on that bench for over twenty-five years.

Then on February 27, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison elevated Caldwell to the United States circuit court for the Eighth Circuit, filling a seat vacated by David Josiah Brewer. Caldwell was confirmed by the Senate on March 4 and received commission the same day. But just a year later, on June 16, 1891, he was reassigned to the newly created United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, where he became that court's first Chief Judge.

Caldwell retired on June 4, 1903, and died in Los Angeles, California, in 1915. At his death, Judge Caldwell was hailed as the most prominent citizen of Little Rock, the city he had once captured. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery, Little Rock.



Known as Clay to intimates, Caldwell was mildly progressive as a jurist. He once gave law books to Scipio Africanus Jones, a young black man with the (ultimately very successful) ambition to become a lawyer, who dropped in on him one day unannounced. He ordered the release of the radical journalist Moses Harman, who had argued for the abolition of government, religion, and marriage, on a writ of error.

His minority opinion in Hopkins vs. Oxley Stave Company (1897) is cited as an eloquent defense of the right to trial by jury, which, he observed, is always regarded with hostility by wealth and aristocracy, corporations and trusts: "A distrust of the jury is a distrust of the people, and a distrust of the people means the overthrow of the government our fathers founded. Against the exercise of this jurisdiction the Constitution of the United States interposes an insurmountable barrier [...] These mandatory provisions of the Constitution are not to be nullified by mustering against them a little horde of equity maxims and obsolete precedents originating in a monarchical government having no written constitution."


  1. ^ Richard S. Arnold, George C. Freeman, III JUDGE HENRY CLAY CALDWELL 23 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 317 Winter, 2001
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Henry Wilson Scott, John James Ingalls. Distinguished American lawyers: with their struggles and triumphs in the forum ...pp 115-116 [2]


  • "Railroad Receiverships in the Federal Courts of the United States: Remarks of the Hon. Henry C. Caldwell before the Greenleaf Club." St. Louis, 1896.
  • "Trial by Judge and Jury." American Federationist, vol. 17 (May 1910), pp. 385–389.

Further reading[edit]