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James Shields
United States Senator
from Missouri

In office
January 27, 1879 – March 4, 1879
Preceded by David H. Armstrong
Succeeded by George Graham Vest
United States Senator
from Minnesota

In office
May 11, 1858 – March 4, 1859
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Morton S. Wilkinson
United States Senator
from Illinois

In office
October 27, 1849 – March 4, 1855
Preceded by Sidney Breese
Succeeded by Lyman Trumbull
Personal details
Born (1810-05-10)May 10, 1810
Altmore, County Tyrone, Ireland
Died June 1, 1879(1879-06-01) (aged 69)
Ottumwa, Iowa
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1846 - 1848; 1861 - 1862
Rank Brigadier General
Battles/wars Mexican–American War
American Civil War

James Shields (May 10, 1810 – June 1, 1879) was an Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, who is the only person in United States history to serve as a U.S. Senator for three different states. Shields represented Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress. He also served as Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts from 1841 to 1843 and as Commissioner of the General Land Office from 1845 to 1847.


Early life and career

A descendant of the Ó Siadhail clan, Shields was born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. His uncle, also named James Shields and also born in Ireland, was a Congressman from Ohio. The younger Shields immigrated to the United States around 1826 and settled in Kaskaskia, Randolph County, Illinois where he studied and later practiced law.[1] He served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, beginning to serve in 1836, and then as an Illinois Supreme Court justice and in 1839 as the state auditor. (He was elected when not yet a citizen; Illinois then required only that a legislator have been resident in the state for six months.)

Duel with Abraham Lincoln

Shields almost fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1842. Lincoln had published an inflammatory letter in a Springfield, Illinois, newspaper, the Sangamon Journal that poked fun at Shields, the State Auditor. Lincoln's future wife and her close friend continued writing letters about Shields without his knowledge. Taking offense to the articles, Shields demanded "satisfaction" and the incident escalated to the two parties meeting on a Missouri island called Sunflower Island, near Alton, Illinois to participate in a duel (as dueling was illegal in Illinois). Lincoln took responsibility for the articles and accepted the duel. Lincoln had the opportunity to choose the weapon for the duel and he selected the cavalry broadsword, as Shields was an excellent marksman. Just prior to engaging in combat, Lincoln made it a point to demonstrate his advantage (because of his long arm reach) by easily cutting a branch just above Shields' head. The two participants' seconds intervened and were able to convince the two men to cease hostilities, on the grounds that Lincoln had not written the letters.[2][3]

Shields as brigadier general during the Mexican–American War

James Shields, photograph by Mathew Brady

Mexican–American War

Subsequently, Shields served as a Judge of the Illinois Supreme Court, and as Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. On July 1, 1846, he was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers to fight in the Mexican–American War. He served under Zachary Taylor along the Rio Grande. He commanded the 3rd Brigade, Volunteer Division, at the battles of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo, where he was wounded. He returned to fight at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, his brigade now part of the 4th Division. He was again wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec.

Senator from Illinois

Following the war, on August 14, 1848, he was nominated by President Polk, and confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as governor of Oregon Territory that was created that same day.[4] However, he declined the position and Joseph Lane was nominated and became the first governor of the new territory.[5] He resigned to run for the Senate from Illinois. His election was voided by the Senate on the grounds that he had not been a United States citizen for the nine years required by the United States Constitution; having been naturalized October 21, 1840. He returned to Illinois and campaigned for re-election, and won the special election to replace himself, and was then seated.

Senator from Minnesota

In 1855, he was defeated for re-election, so he moved to Minnesota. He was elected as one of the two first Senators from that state, but his term was only from 1858 to 1859, and he was again not re-elected.

He was the editor of the 1854 book, A History of Illinois, from its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847

American Civil War

Statue of Shields at the Minnesota State Capital

Shields then moved to California and served as a brigadier general of volunteers from that state during the American Civil War. He commanded the 2nd Division of the V Corps, Army of the Potomac (subsequently part of the Army of the Shenandoah), during the Valley Campaign of 1862. He was wounded at the Battle of Kernstown on March 22, 1862, but his troops inflicted the only tactical defeat of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the campaign (or the war). The day after Kernstown, he was promoted to major general, but the promotion was withdrawn, reconsidered, and then finally rejected. His overall performance in the rest of the Valley Campaign was poor enough that he resigned his commission, and his departure was not resisted by the War Department.

Senator from Missouri

In 1863 he moved to Mexico and operated mines, and then to Wisconsin, but in 1866 moved to Missouri, where he served as member of the Missouri State House of Representatives, and as railroad commissioner. In 1879, he was elected to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Senator Lewis V. Bogy. He served only three months and declined to run for re-election.


Shields died in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879. He is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Carrollton, Missouri. He represents Illinois in the National Statuary Hall.

See also


  1.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "James Shields". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 
  2. "Abraham Lincoln Prepares to Fight a Saber Duel", originally published by Civil War Times magazine
  3. Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009). A. Lincoln: A Biography. Random House Digital, Inc.. pp. 115–. 
  4. Senate Executive Journal: Monday, August 14, 1848. Library of Congress, retrieved September 13, 2007.
  5. Senate Executive Journal: Tuesday, December 12, 1848. Library of Congress, retrieved September 13, 2007.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Levi Davis
Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts
Succeeded by
William Lee D. Ewing
Government offices
Preceded by
Thomas H. Blake
Commissioner of the General Land Office
April 16, 1845 – January 6, 1847
Succeeded by
Richard M. Young
United States Senate
Preceded by
Sidney Breese
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
October 27, 1849 – March 3, 1855
Served alongside: Stephen A. Douglas
Succeeded by
Lyman Trumbull
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Minnesota
May 11, 1858 – March 3, 1859
Served alongside: Henry Mower Rice
Succeeded by
Morton S. Wilkinson
Preceded by
David H. Armstrong
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Missouri
January 22, 1879 – March 3, 1879
Served alongside: Francis M. Cockrell
Succeeded by
George G. Vest

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