Caleb Baldwin: Fairfield IA, lawyer for Abraham Lincoln

November 1, 2010

Caleb Baldwin (1824-1876) Fairfield, IA lawyer.

In the early 1850s Fairfield lawyer Caleb Baldwin occupied the “office in the Brick Building over Sargent & Gibson’s Store,” now 57 E. Broadway, with his law-partner Samuel Clinton. Caleb must have negotiated the stairs to his office with some difficulty; at 340 pounds he was one of the largest men in Iowa.

Though his immense girth caused him embarrassment all his life, it also combined with his mental acuity to accord him universal attention and profound respect. Tender-hearted, gentle, musically talented – he played the piano as well as the largest French horn in Fairfield’s band – and a wonderfully intuitive judge of men, Caleb Baldwin served as the county’s prosecuting attorney in 1854 and 1855, and became district judge in 1856, whereon his partner Clinton became prosecuting attorney.

Like many Fairfield pioneers, Caleb came here from Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1824. After graduating from Washington College in 1842, he taught school for a year in Paris, Kentucky, and then returned to Pennsylvania to study law with Hon. Thomas McKean Thompson McKennan. After being admitted to the bar, Caleb came in 1846 to to practice law in Fairfield, where his older brother John had settled shortly earlier. In 1848 Caleb married Jane Barr, with whom he eventually had six children.

Caleb was also postmaster here in 1850-1852, keeping the post office at 52 North Main, a property he bought in 1850 and sold to Christian S. and Joshua Monroe Shaffer in 1857. The teen-aged mail-carrier James Baird Weaver later recalled, “I frequently rode up to the post-office door and threw the mail bag into his hands. He was a young man of enormous size, weighing three hundred pounds, active and powerful, and completely filled the door as he appeared to receive the bags….”

Caleb built a house at 501 South Main about 1852; before it was finished, Abraham Lincoln engaged him to try a case in Omaha — the only case recorded with Lincoln as a client. Between 1852 and 1855 Caleb served successively as secretary, vice-president, and president of the Jefferson County Agricultural Society.

After living in Fairfield for eleven years, in 1857 Caleb moved to Council Bluffs, where his brother John had moved earlier. There Caleb was selected a judge of the Iowa Supreme Court in 1859, becoming chief justice in 1862. In 1865 President Lincoln appointed him U. S. district attorney for Iowa.

Between 1863 and 1868 Caleb partnered with Nathan Phillips Dodge in the banking firm of Baldwin & Dodge, which had been founded by their older brothers, John T. Baldwin and Grenville Mellen Dodge. From 1868 to 1874 Caleb Baldwin and his new partner George Franklin Wright were attorneys for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, the Burlington & Missouri, and the Union Pacific railroads.

President Ulysses S. Grant then appointed Caleb Baldwin one of the five judges of the court of the Alabama Claims Commission in 1874; he died in Council Bluffs on December 15, 1876.

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