George Caleb Bingham. Major James S. Rollins. 1973. Oil on canvas. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MO, USA. More.
In 1832 he enlisted in the militia force organized to fight the Native Americans in the Black Hawk War, where he was promoted to Major. He attended law school in Kentucky shortly after the end of the war, from which he graduated two years later, in 1834, and almost immediately began a career as a lawyer. His first involvement in politics happened in 1836, when he was selected to represent several Missouri railroad companies in a petition to Congress. Around this time he also met and married his wife, Mary Elizabeth Hickman Rollins, with whom he would raise seven children. It was also around this period that he met famous Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham, with whom he became life-long friends and supported many of his endeavors.
In 1838 Rollins ran and was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, which launched his political career. One of his first actions in his new position was to help find a suitable location for the establishment of the University of Missouri. After narrowing the possibilities down to six counties, the matter was given up to a contest of which county could raise the most money towards the university. Rollins avidly promoted fundraising in his own county, even selling some of his own land to donate to the cause, which ultimately helped secure the establishment of the university in Boone County.
Rollins was first elected to Congress in 1860, and then again consecutively in 1862. As a slave owner was opposed to abolitionism, but was against secession. Thus when the Civil War erupted in 1861 he swore allegiance to the Union, although he still contested many bills for blacks’ rights such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. However, he later changed his stance on the latter after President Lincoln personally asked him to support its ratification, and helped pass it through Congress.
After the Civil War, Rollins chose not to run for Congress, instead limiting his political activities to his state of residence, where he was elected Senator in 1868. Besides the occasional politics, he occupied himself primarily with supporting the University of Missouri that he’d helped establish and his lawyer career. Rollins died 9 January 1888 in Columbia, Missouri