Jacob Piatt Dunn

Jacob Piatt Dunn

Jacob Piatt Dunn Jr. (April 12, 1855–June 6, 1924) was an American historian, journalist, and author. A political writer and reformer, Dunn worked on ballot reform issues based on the Australian ballot system, authored a new Indianapolis city charter, and served as adviser to Indiana governor Thomas R. Marshall and U.S. Senator Samuel M. Ralston.

Born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Dunn grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in 1874, and received a law degree (LL.B.) from the University of Michigan in 1876. Dunn briefly practiced law in Indianapolis, then moved to Colorado in 1879, where he and his brothers prospected and looked after their father's mining interests. It was in Colorado that Dunn discovered an interest in journalism and history.

In 1884 Dunn returned to Indianapolis and completed his first book, Massacres of the Mountains: A History of the Indian Wars of the Far West, 1815–1875, published in 1886. Dunn continued to research and write about state and local history, including Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes (1910), his most important work. Other notable books include, Indiana: A Redemption from Slavery (1888) and Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood (1919). As an ethnologist, his main concern was that of the Miami tribe of Indiana and the preservation of its language. Dunn compiled a Miami-English dictionary, which remains a valuable resource for researchers. Although Dunn was not trained as a historian, his writing on American history topics are still used and respected for studies of Indiana and Indianapolis history. Dunn's interest in history also led him to join other historians in revitalizing the Indiana Historical Society into an effective organization. Dunn served as its recording secretary from 1886 until his death. He also served two terms as the state librarian (1889 to 1893) and was appointed to the Indiana Public Library Commission, serving from 1899 to 1919 (and as its first president from 1899 to 1914).

Dunn's career as a newspaper journalist provided his primary source of income. He often wrote in support of Indiana's Democratic Party politics. His involvement Indiana's political history is most notable for his crusade for election reform. Dunn supported the Australian ballet system, which helped to eliminate vote buying. In addition, Dunn and others drafted a new city charter for Indianapolis, which was approved after further amendments in 1891. Dunn was appointed for two terms as the Indianapolis city controller, from 1904 to 1906 and from 1914 to 1916, and served two years as chief deputy to the Marion County treasurer, from 1910 to 1912. Dunn ran for Indiana's Seventh Congressional District in 1902 as a Democrat, but lost to the Republican incumbent.

Dunn's service was not without controversy. As the Indianapolis city controller, he was criticized for using the interest earned on guaranty bonds for personal gain. Although there was no law prohibiting this practice, the mayor asked for Dunn's resignation, but he was never prosecuted. As a political advisor to Indiana governor Thomas R. Marshall, Dunn drafted a new Indiana Constitution, which expressed nativist views and racial bias. Dunn placed even more restrictions on voting than the version that already existed at that time. The proposal passed the Indiana General Assembly, but the Indiana Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional and it failed in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1913. Following a trip to Haiti and Santo Domingo in 1921, where Dunn hoped to identify profitable manganese mines, Samuel M. Ralston, newly elected to the U.S. Senate, chose Dunn as his secretary for his Washington, D.C. office. Dunn became ill while serving as Ralston's chief aide and died in 1924.

Read more about Jacob Piatt DunnYouth and Education, Early Career, Marriage and Family, Political Reformer, Author and Ethnographer, Later Years, Legacy, Selected Works

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