On July 24, 1908, The Daily Journal carried a photograph of Henry E. Schmiedeskamp, not yet 30 years old, with his request for votes in the Aug. 8 Democratic Party primary election for state’s attorney of Adams County. He told voters that he “is a native of Quincy and descends from the sturdy conservative German people from whom he inherits the conservatism and other good qualities of that race.” His “well known traits of character”, he said, “have made friends for him in every section of the county” and “thus make him a strong candidate with the people.”
Born in Quincy July 11, 1879, he moved with his parents to a Concord Township Farm, graduating from Maplewood High School in Camp Point at age 14. In 1900, after “reading law” with attorney William Schlagenhauf, he entered the University of Michigan law school, and, in 1902 joined the office of former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joseph N. Carter in Quincy’s Blackstone Building. He married Leanora Deege on June 15, 1905, in her parent’s farm home in the Five Points community east of Quincy.
The voters did not elect him state’s attorney in 1908. Almost 60 years later, The Herald-Whig reported that Schmiedeskamp was “sometimes known as a champion of unpopular or lost causes.” A 1967 headline — again with a photograph — reported that on his 88th birthday, he was at his law office desk. One unpopular cause Schmiedeskamp denounced, one month after he became old enough to vote, was “the menace of imperialism.” On Aug. 11, 1900, the Daily Herald prefaced his guest column with a headline that a “prominent Republican” — referring to his initial political persuasion — “deserts his party — Henry Schmiedeskamp of Camp Point tells the Herald why he can no longer support” the foreign policy of President William McKinley.
Schmiedeskamp was protesting United States foreign policy after the Spanish-American War of 1898. The historian and future president of the University of Wisconsin, Fred Harvey Harrington, has written, “The anti-imperialist movement…opposed the annexation of the Philippines and the other islands placed within reach by American victories over Spain. It sprang out of devotion to an abstract political principle. With few exceptions, the anti-imperialists did not base their opposition to expansion on commercial, constitutional, religious, or humanitarian grounds; rather they set themselves against it in the sincere belief that annexation and administration of backward tropical areas would mean the abandonment of American ideals of self-government and isolation — ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. This abandonment, they felt, would spell the doom of the republic they had known and loved.”
Schmiedeskamp became and remained an “independent Democrat," following what he considered Thomas Jefferson’s precept that those governments which govern least govern best. In 1924, he pursued a second lost cause when he campaigned for Congress. He reminded voters that 38 years had passed “since an Adams County man” had been elected to Congress, and it was time to “send an honest, capable, industrious native son” who had risen “from the ranks” and achieved “success through his own unaided efforts” to stand as “a watchdog in Washington.”
His platform included a promise to pursue construction of a “free federal bridge” connecting Quincy to Missouri, but Schmiedeskamp lost amid the overwhelming Republican victory of incumbent President Calvin Coolidge. There was no bridge until 1930, which did not become tollfree until 1945.
Before his 84th birthday in 1963, he recounted a third lost cause, telling The Herald-Whig that he — a lifelong teetotaler — had been one of the authors of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution imposing Prohibition, He emphasized that he hoped “to live long enough to do it again.” His claim of part-authorship is supported by a Nov. 13, 1918, Daily Whig article identifying him as “a member of the National Council of the Anti-Saloon League of America,” a group monitoring ratification of the amendment.
He remained hopeful about the future, however. Having just returned from a 3,600-mile trip through 12 states with his wife and a niece and observing the emergence of the civil rights movement in the South, he told the reporter that Black people would eventually have “their day in the sun,” but “only if there is good will on both sides.”
Schmiedeskamp often represented farmers, who, The Herald-Whig wrote, admired “his hard-driving tactics and his ability to capitalize on details overlooked by others.” Lawyers and judges who knew him likely would have considered that description an understatement. According to the newspaper in 1968, farmers said, “I want him on my side: I’d be scared to have him against me.”
When the July 11, 1968, Herald-Whig deemed him the “dean of attorneys,” he reflected, “I have been around 89 years of mornings,” and “I’ve got a nice day for a start on my 90th year.” For years, this elder lawyer had instructed, guided, or influenced many Quincy lawyers and judges. At Henry Schmiedeskamp’s death on Jan. 11, 1969, almost 70 years had passed since he first appeared in a courtroom as an advocate, knowing lawyers who still practiced much as Abraham Lincoln did before the Civil War, traveling by buggy to rural courthouses. Now lawyers practice with computers, smartphones, video and social media.
His contemporary colleagues would probably have agreed that, as with the candidate in 1908, Henry Schmiedeskamp’s “well known traits of character” would still make “friends for him in every section of the county” and would “thus make him a strong candidate with the people.”
“Democratic Candidate For State’s Attorney.” Quincy Daily Journal, July 24, 1908, 7.
Harrington, Fred Harvey, “Literary Aspects of American Anti-Imperialism 1898-1902,” The New England Quarterly, December 1937, pp. 650-51.
“Henry Schmiedeskamp, Dean Of Attorneys, is 89.” Quincy Herald Whig, July 11, 1968, C8.
“Mrs. Henry Schmiedeskamp Dies After Long Illness.” Quincy Herald Whig, January 22, 1967, A8.
“The Menace Of Imperialism.” Quincy Daily Herald, August 11, 1900, 5.
Newkirk, Joseph, “Presidential Candidate John W. Davis Held Huge 1924 Rally.” Quincy Herald Whig, October 25, 2020.
“Now is the Opportunity.” [ad] Quincy Whig-Journal, November 3, 1924.
“Ratification To Be Complete By March.” Quincy Daily Whig, November 13, 1918, 3.
“Services Wednesday For Dean Of Lawyers.” Quincy Herald Whig, January 12, 1969, A10.
“Spends 88th Birthday At Law Office Desk.” Quincy Herald Whig, July 11, 1967, B8.
Wilkey, Keith L., “Henry Schmiedeskamp Closely Identified With Ag Interests.” Quincy Herald Whig, April 9, 1968, A8.