Heyburn, Weldon Brinton, 1852-1912.

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1852-05-23
Death 1912-10-17

Biographical notes:

United States senator for Idaho, 1903-1912.

From the description of Papers, 1889-1911. (University of Idaho Library). WorldCat record id: 42928855

A native of Pennsylvania, Weldon Brinton Heyburn was born near Chadds Ford, Delaware County, on May 23, 1852, the son of Sarah Gilpin and John Briton Heyburn. Both parents were of English Quaker stock. He was educated in the public schools and Maplewood Institute, Concordville, Pennsylvania. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied civil and mining engineering, metallurgy, and geology in addition to his pursuit of law. In 1876 he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar and began his practice in Media, Pennsylvania.

From 1878 to 1882 he lived in Leadville, Colorado; then in the winter of 1883, lured by the newly developed mining interests in the Idaho Territory, he moved to Shoshone County, where, in addition to his legal practice in Wallace, he also engaged in mining ventures. In 1884, in partnership with H.E. Dennis and L. Matheson, he recorded the Polaris, Southern Cross, and Omega lode claims, these being among the first lode discoveries on the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. In 1886 he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Sierra-Nevada Consolidated Mining Company.

The year 1903 saw both Heyburn's marriage to Gheretien Yeatman of Chester County, Pennsylvania and his election to the U.S. Senate. Heyburn's political career spanned over 20 years. When the committee that framed the constitution of the State of Idaho met in 1889, Weldon Heyburn was among the delegates, and was chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary. He was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions at Chicago in 1888, Minneapolis in 1892, Philadelphia in 1900, and Chicago in 1904. He served as National Committeeman for Idaho from 1904 to 1908.

Letters written to Heyburn reveal his high standing in the Republican Party. Many people wrote asking him to use his influence in getting them patronage positions. Upon forwarding these requests, with his recommendations, to Senator Shoup in Washington, the Senator, in a letter dated December 26, 1896, replied, "You can rest assured that those persons recommended by you will have first consideration...."

Heyburn was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat in the 56th Congress in 1898. In 1902 four men were being considered for the Republican Senate nomination, W.E. Borah, W.B. Heyburn, G.L. Shoup, and D.W. Standrod, but the real contest appeared to be between the progressive Borah and the conservative Heyburn. When the Republican legislative caucus met on January 7, 1903, to nominate its candidate a stalemate was reached by the fourth ballot. By shifting their support to Heyburn, Shoup and Standrod assured his nomination. On January 14, 1903, the Republican controlled legislature of the State of Idaho elected Heyburn to his first U.S. Senate term. In reporting the election of several new Western Senators, the Oregonian, in its March 6, 1903, issue commented, "Judge Heyburn comes nearest the Senatorial ideal, for he is a statesman in thought, habit, method, and training."

Following his re-election in 1908, Fred Dubois, in a February 16, 1909 letter to Harry Day (Hercules Mining Company Records, MG 236) said, "I do not know whether Heyburn appreciates the fact that you were more largely instrumental in his re-election than any one else. I know the word you sent and I also know the thin ice on which Heyburn was standing. You were extremely wise in foregoing your personal feelings against Heyburn. You and I both know his faults, but at the same time he has virtues. One of the se is that he will be outspoken and fearless in protecting all the industries of Idaho, and you can talk to him very freely on matters of that kind."

The legislation Heyburn is most remembered for is the Pure Food and Drug Bill which passed the Senate in February 1906.

On two occasions Heyburn's vote defeated the Joint Statehood Bill for Arizona and New Mexico. Although favoring the admission of all territories of the United States to statehood, he opposed the consolidation of any territories for admission on the ground s that such a consolidation would eliminate geographical divisions in a way that would reduce the representation of the West in the U.S. Senate.

Opposition to the forest reserve system was centered in the Western states where most of the reserves were located. Heyburn thoroughly disliked the reserves and, after his election to the Senate, became the spokesman for the opponents of the system, a position which was directly opposed to that of the Republican President.

While in the Senate he was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures and of the Joint Committee of Senate and House on the Revision and Codification of the Laws of the United States. He was a member of the Committees on Immigration, Public Lands, Mines and Mining, Public Buildings and Grounds, Coast Defences, Geological Survey, Privileges and Elections, Conservation, and the Committee on the Philippines.

In March 1912, he collapsed in the Senate after delivering a speech on the arbitration treaties. He ignored repeated warnings to rest, and literally worked himself to death. At 8 p.m., October 17, 1912, he died at his Washington home of complications of diseases of the heart and kidneys. His last words were, "I have lived my life as best I could within the power of human limitation...I am worn out in the service of a great cause."

Funeral services were held in his Washington apartment on October 19; burial was near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania on October 20. Memorial addresses were delivered in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 23, 1913, and in the Senate on the first day of March.

From the guide to the Papers, 1889-1911, (University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Idaho
  • Government and Politics
  • Legislators
  • Legislators--Correspondence
  • Legislators--United States--Correspondence

Occupations:

  • United States senator for Idaho, 1903-1912

Places:

  • Idaho (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Idaho (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Idaho (as recorded)