John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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is highest and best in the ethical standards of the legal profession. This dis-
position made him a peacemaker. He probably made more amicable settle-
ments of law suits than any of his contemporaries, and this was especially true
of suits against the railroads which he represented. He could not tolerate, much
less countenance or encourage trickery, deceit, meanness or corruption in the
practice of law, or in the rivalries of business or politics. Though born and
reared in a slave state, until the defeat of Henry Clay as a candidate for presi-
dent, he was an ardent supporter of all public measures which looked to the
immediate restriction and ultimate extinction of slavery. When Clay was de-
feated he foreswore active participation in party politics for the rest of his days,
and kept the vow. While Levi Davis held the office of United States com-
missioner, a fugitive slave was brought before him on an application to have her
restored to her master. The case stirred up abolition sentiment in Alton to
a frenzy of excitement. The woman had lived in Illinois for years, and pub-
lic clamor against sending her back to her owner became furious. Judge Davis
was himself at heart an abolitionist, but he knew that when acting officially
he was the mere agent of the law. His oath required obedience to the will of
the law-maker, and did not permit him to make his own will the law. Odious
as the fugitive-slave law was to him, it was clearly and plainly his official duty
to enforce it in case the evidence proved the woman to be a fugitive slave.
Though every impulse of his nature revolted, though friends importuned him
and a mob threatened him in behalf of the fugitive, he was unyielding in the
discharge of his official duty. Tradition says that nothing more dramatic than
the delivery of his opinion in that case ever occurred in any court. He re-
viewed the evidence and found that it made out a case clearly within the pro-
visions of the law. He then gave indignant expression to his abhorrence of
slavery, and his detestation of laws that deprived human beings of God-given


rights, and compelled the enemies of slave power to become their instruments
for enforcing them.

The death of Judge Davis occurred when he had reached the age of eighty-
nine, in the fullness of years and well earned honors.

Joseph Gillespie, an historic figure in the annals of Illinois, was one of the
heroic band of pioneers who in the formative period of the state, as well as in its
later progress and advancement, left the impress of his strong and upright
character upon the public life of the commonwealth. Only a year after the
admission of Illinois to the Union he took up his residence within her borders
and for sixty-six years he exerted an influence in public affairs that largely
shaped her destiny. In legislative halls, at the bar and upon the bench he won
high honors and his name is inscribed high on the roll of eminent men who
made Illinois one of the brightest stars in fair Columbia's crown. Therefore
an enumeration of those men who have won honor and public recognition for
themselves, and at the same time have honored the state to which they be-
long, would be incomplete were there failure to make prominent reference to
the one whose name initiates this paragraph. He held distinguished pre-
cedence as an eminent lawyer and statesman, a man of scholarly attainments,
a valiant and patriotic soldier, and as one who occupied a trying position dur-
ing one of the most important epochs in our political history, in which con-
nection he bore himself with such signal dignity and honor as to gain him the
respect of all. He was distinctively a man of affairs and one who wielded a
wide influence. A strong mentality, an invincible courage, a most determined
individuality rendered him a natural leader of men and a director of opinion.

His life was noble, and the elements so mixed in him
That Nature might stand up and say to all the world,
"This was a Man."

Judge Gillespie was born in the city of New York, August 22, 1809. His
parents had emigrated from Ireland to America two years previously, and in
1819 they came to Illinois, locating in Edwardsville, Madison county. Their
son Joseph was then a lad of only ten summers, and Illinois had been a mem-
ber of the Union for only one year. Its vast prairies were largely unculti-
vated, its rich natural resources were undeveloped, and even the most far-
sighted could not have dreamed, much less realized, the wonderful changes
which were so soon to transform it, making it the leader of the nation in many
of the most important interests of the entire country. In Madison county
schools were the exception, rather than the rule, and the teachers were largely
unprepared for their responsible task of training the young minds. For this
reason, and also because of the cramped financial condition of his parents, Judge
Gillespie completed his education within the walls of a school-room when in his
eleventh year. He was, however, an earnest student throughout his entire life,
and his extensive reading, quick observation and wonderful power to assim-
ilate what he read made him one of the scholarly men of the state. Like Lin-
coln, of whom he was a warm personal friend, his youth was one of poverty,


but in the school of experience they learned the lessons which fitted them for
duties that made the one the deliverer and preserver of his nation, the other
a most important factor in framing the policy of his state. Judge Gillespie
always ascribed to his mother the credit of giving his mind a literary turn,
and by her encouragement a thirst for knowledge was awakened in him. At
the same time she laid the foundation of his moral character, without which
all his subsequent acquisitions in the field of knowledge would have been in-
jurious rather than a blessing to his country and to society.

Thus engaged at labors which enabled him to provide for his own main-
tenance the childhood and youth of Judge Gillespie passed, but his earnest pur-
pose and upright life attracted the attention of Hon. Cyrus Edwards, who in
1831 became his benefactor and warm personal friend. Mr. Edwards was a
lawyer whose reputation extended far beyond the confines of this state and was
a ripe scholar and a polished gentleman of the highest social and political con-
nections. For two years he directed Judge Gillespie in a course of law read-
ing, and at the same time our subject pursued two terms of lectures in Transyl-
vania University, of Kentucky, acquiring a ready familiarity with the elemental
principles of the law, upon which in after years, at the bar, and on the bench,
he was wont to rely. In no instance had Mr. Edwards cause to feel other-
wise than gratified with the course of his protege. From the time he entered
the lists of the profession, his conduct, his ambition and purpose were a pro-
tracted vindication of the good opinion formed of the inexperienced and un-
educated lad. They sat together in the state legislature in 1840, and their
mutual confidence, friendship and esteem, begun so early, was maintained dur-
ing their respective lives, and in 1877, when Mr. Edwards died, at an advanced
age, and his will was probated in the county court of Madison county, it was
found to contain a parting testimonial of continued confidence in his early
pupil by nominating Joseph Gillespie as one of the executors of said instru-

On the 6th of December, 1836, Joseph Gillespie was admitted to the bar.
At that time but one of the one hundred and eighty volumes of Illinois re-
ports had been published, and it was six years before the second volume ap-
peared, containing decisions of the supreme court up to 1840. This indeed
was a slender foundation for a case lawyer, one depending upon precedent for
his legal opinion. It is needless to say that no lawyer in that early day could
possibly have been successful in his profession except by a thorough familiarity
with the text-books, and Mr. Linder, himself a most prominent attorney, said of
Judge Gillespie : "He had read Coke's Commentaries on Lyttleton, and had
made himself familiar with the black-letter law of England. He had studied
Chitty on Pleadings with passionate fondness and was perfectly at home in the
science of pleading." Immediately after his admission to the bar Judge Gillespie
opened an office in Edwardsville and continued in active practice save when
official duties claimed his attention. The year following his admission he qual-
ified as probate judge of Madison county, which position he occupied for two
years, and then became an active practitioner in those early days when the


lawyers and the judge rode the circuit, necessitating an absence from home of
several months.

There were no railroads in those days and court was held in various centers
to which the lawyers would travel, sometimes in buggies, but more frequently
on horseback, a pair of saddlebags containing all the needed law books, and
their clothing as well. Judge Gillespie once very forcibly contrasted the older
mode of travel with what we now enjoy. He said he remembered the time
when, in going to Springfield to attend sessions of the legislature and supreme
court, he was as long on the road as Jonah was in the whale's belly ; and all the
time he would gladly have exchanged places with Jonah ! "Now," he would add,
"I can leave home after breakfast, get to Springfield in time for dinner, and all
the while be quite as comfortable as I would have been in my own parlor."
But aside from the discomforts of travel those were very pleasant days, for the
lawyers made the journeys together, stopped at the same hotel or tavern, ate
together, and often slept in .the same bed, and, of necessity, were more social
and better acquainted with each other than lawyers at the present day. Their
mutual hardships begot a brotherly attachment for each other akin to that which
the soldier feels for his comrade. This is borne out in the statement made by
General U. F. Linder, mentioned above, who said : "We formed an acquaint-
ance and friendship which lasted through many years and has grown with our
age ; and if there is any man in Illinois who is not a blood relation of mine, whom
I love and esteem more than Joe, I cannot call him to mind at this moment.
Joe and I were more like brothers than any two men who ever lived who were
not brothers."

Judge Gillespie early attained eminence as a practitioner by reason of his
comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence and his
ability to apply them to the points in litigation. For many years he was con-
nected with the most important suits heard in his section of the state and in the
supreme court, and in the Illinois Reports his name frequently appears in con-
nection with those of Abraham Lincoln, S. T. Logan, Lyman Trumbull, O. H.
Browning, William H. Bissell, David J. Baker, W. H. Underwood, Gustavus
Koerner, U. F. Linder and others whose distinguished ability made the bar of
Illinois famous even in the first half of the century. That his legal ability was
recognized by the greatest man this century has produced is shown by the fol-
lowing letter :

Springfield, January 19, 1858.
Hon. Joseph Gillespie:

My Dear Sir: This morning Colonel McClernand showed me a petition for a man-
damus against the secretary of state to compel him to certify the apportionment act of
last session, and he says it will be presented to the court to-morrow. We shall be
allowed three or four days to get up a return, and I, for one, want the benefit of con-
sultation with you. Please come right up. Yours as ever,


He had a high sense of his duties and obligations as a lawyer and never
hesitated to discourage litigation when there was a chance of settling the matter
in dispute .outside the court-room. He attached more importance to the honor


and dignity of his profession and its instrumentality for good than he did to the
fees he could make. Had he practiced law for the money there was in it he
would have left his loved family as rich as his memory is honored ; but they are
richer in the possession of that which wealth cannot buy, the inheritance of an
honored and untarnished name. On the occasion of the meeting of the Illinois
Bar Association in 1884, the Illinois Register, of Springfield, said: "The most
prominent of the lawyers in attendance at the present session of the Illinois
Bar Association is the honored pioneer, Judge Gillespie."

In 1840 he was elected a member of the twelfth general assembly of Illinois,
and in 1846 was elected to represent Madison county in the state senate. In
1849 the constitutional convention redistricted the state, adding Clinton county
to the district, which he represented in the senate of the sixteenth, seventeenth
and eighteenth general assemblies. The apportionment of 1854 added Mont-
gomery county, and the new district re-elected Judge Gillespie to the senate of
the nineteenth and twentieth assemblies. He therefore had fourteen years' ex-
perience as a legislator, extending over the most important period in the history
of the state, the period when the laws were molded and crystallized into per-
manent form ; the period when her railroads and colleges were chartered and
built, and her charitable institutions created. His ten years' service in the senate
began at a time when Illinois was almost bankrupt. She had undertaken to
carry on the most expensive system of internal improvements, which had, in the
end, to be abandoned in a most incomplete condition, but not until the state was
eighteen million dollars in debt, and having a population less than the present
population of Chicago. To institute measures, pass laws and execute them so
as to relieve the state from her embarrassment was a matter calling for the
highest financial wisdom and patriotism. Prior to 1857 there was no measure
originated bearing directly upon the payment of the internal-improvement debt,
but in that year, while Judge Gillespie was a member of the senate, measures
were passed which proved of great benefit to the state in this regard, and he was
an important factor in support of the same. He was also prominently concerned
in the construction of railroads in the state, and while the majority of people were
bitterly opposed thereto he stood firm in their support, believing that commer-
cial, agricultural and industrial interests would thereby be greatly advanced and
that large districts, hitherto unsettled, would become populous communities.
Time has proved the wisdom of his foresight. In 1850 the charter for the Illi-
nois Central Railroad was granted, and it was therein provided that the road
should pay into the state treasury every year five per cent of its gross earnings,
and as state taxes, at the rate of seventy-five cents per hundred dollars ; and if
that did not equal two per cent of the gross earnings the company should pay
such additional sum as would insure the state not less than seven per cent of the
gross earnings. Judge Gillespie was very zealous in support of that measure in
the state legislature and active in causing it to be grafted into the charter,
against the wishes of the railroad company. With several others he stood firm
in its support, and the state has since had a splendid source of income in the
percentage of the gross earnings of that road. Other important railroad charters


were also granted about that time and he was ever active in support of railroad
building, realizing fully how beneficial it was to the state, although personally he
never owned a dollar's worth of railroad property. He was also one of the strong
supporters of the plan to compel railroads crossing the state to terminate at such
points as would build up large cities in her own border. He thus wished to
build up Alton at the expense of St. Louis, or rather prevent St. Louis from
ruining Alton as a commercial center, and ably did he stand by the interests of
the latter city. In his devotion to what he conceived to be his duty, he faced
without flinching the opposition at his own home, where his pecuniary interests
were, and other parts of his district that were more interested in getting a rail-
road for themselves, though it led to St. Louis, than they were in building up

In his official relations as a member of the legislature he was also actively
interested in the formation and adoption of the present school system of the
state, to which interest, more than any other, Illinois owes her present proud
position. To have been one among that array of noble sons of Illinois who were
most instrumental in relieving her of her enormous debt, preserving our financial
integrity, developing our material resources, giving to her the school system we
enjoy, and to have lived to witness the splendid fruition that followed those labors,
was a source of great happiness to Judge Gillespie.

In 1861 he was elected to the bench of the twenty-fourth judicial circuit,
and by re-election held that office for twelve years. As a judge he was industri-
ous, honest and upright, never lost sight of the grave responsibilities that rested
upon him, endeavored to hold the scales of justice evenly balanced, and if he
made erroneous decisions they were on virtue's side. He believed that there
were instances wherein mercy bore richer fruits than strict justice. He pos-
sessed another notable characteristic as a judge, the ability to rise above the
influence of popular clamor. He did not in his decisions stop to consider what
effect they would have upon his own popularity or his chances of re-election.
His judicial opinions were marked by great clearness, exhibiting great research,
careful analysis, a sound knowledge of elementary law and great erudition in his
chosen profession, as shown by the limited number of reversals by the highest
courts during the twelve years of his administration on the bench. He was
always very helpful to young men in the profession and extended to them the
hand of assistance instead of taking advantage of their mistakes and unpro-
fessional acts, even in trial at the bar.

As a citizen Judge Gillespie was always progressive and public-spirited. He
took a lively interest in all scientific discoveries and labor-saving inventions, and
was not only a student of law but also pursued a wide and liberal course of study,
being very conversant with the histories of other countries and people, ancient
.as well as modern. He was perfectly familiar with our own political history.
He loved his country with a fervent and patriotic devotion that was not con-
fined to Illinois, but extended to the whole nation. In March, 1880, he read a
paper before the Chicago Historical Society entitled Recollections of Early
Illinois and Her Noted Men, and from a historical point of view there was never


a more valuable and interesting paper read before that organization. He was
familiar with the entire history of the state from personal experience, had worked
in the lead mines at the time of their earliest development, had participated in
the Black Hawk war when the Indians had taken this vigorous means of protest
against the settlement of the state by the "pale faces," and had not only noted the
.marvelous changes which have occurred since that day but had also borne an
important part therein.

Judge Gillespie was married in 1845, in Greenville, Illinois, to Miss Mary E.
Smith, who, with five children, survives him. Their home life was ideal. In the
family circle he put aside the cares of his profession, and was a genial, jovial and
kindly man, who was friend and companion as well as husband and father in his
home. He made friends wherever he went and had the happy faculty of drawing
them closer-to him as the years passed by. His tender, sympathetic nature and
the uprightness and honesty of his motives could only be fully appreciated by
his intimate friends. He passed away January 7, 1885, at the age of seventy-six
years, and at his death memorial services were held in the county and circuit
courts of his district and in the state senate, and resolutions of respect were
placed upon the records of those bodies, one tribute closing with these words :
"He died without spot or blemish upon either his private or public life. Many
have attained greater eminence, but few have made more of their opportunities,
none ever left a more unsullied name. May the example of his life exert upon
us an ennobling influence !" A portrait of Judge Gillespie appears on another
page of this work.

Henry S. Baker was a distinguished factor in the political history of the
state during the period when the question of slavery agitated the country and
gave rise to the Republican party. He was also a lawyer and judge of unusual
ability and his life record forms an essential part of the annals of the state.

He was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, November 10, 1824, and died in his
seventy-third year. His father, David J. Baker, was an eminent man of his time,
attaining prominence at the early bar of Illinois. He came to the state in 1818
and died in Alton in 1869.

The son, Henry S. Baker, having laid the foundation for an education in the
public schools, attended Shurtleff College, and later was a student in Brown
University, at Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent four years and was
graduated in 1847. Taking up the study of law under the direction of his
father, he was admitted to the bar in 1849 an ^ at once entered upon practice.
His fitness for leadership, his splendid oratorical ability and his close study of the
questions of the day naturally called him into political prominence, and in 1854
he was elected to the state legislature. He acted with the "anti-Nebraska"
Democrats in the assembly, and was one of five members whose influence in
that body defeated Abraham Lincoln and elected Lyman Trumbull to the United
States senate. The Whig friends of Lincoln never became reconciled to the
course taken by Trumbull and his friends in that contest, but Lincoln himself
said of it that "subsequent events greatly tended to prove the wisdom, politically,
of his defeat at that time :" that the election of Judge Trumbull strongly tended


to sustain the position of that portion of the Democrats who condemned the
repeal of the Missouri compromise and left them in a position to join in forming
the Republican party, as was done at Bloomington in 1856. Judge Baker was
secretary of that now famous Bloomington convention. It was the first Repub-
lican convention ever held in Illinois, and to it is ascribed the birth of the national
Republican party. Lincoln made the most impassioned speech of his life to that
body, a speech that was considered- too radical and too full of passion for publi-
cation at that time, but which has since been produced and would now strike
no one as incendiary in tone or expression. The same convention nominated
Colonel William H. Bissell for governor of Illinois, and accomplished the over-
whelming defeat of the Democrats in this state and put the reins of power in the
hands of a party that retained them for more than thirty years. In 1864 Judge
Baker was chosen as one of the presidential electors of this state, and in 1876
he was a delegate to the national convention that nominated Rutherford B. Hayes
for president of the United States, and the same year ran for congress in this
district as the nominee of the Republican party, but was defeated. In 1864 he
also presided over the Republican state convention of Illinois, which met at

With these exceptions Mr. Baker's career was that of a lawyer and judge.
He was elected judge of the city court of Alton and held the position continu-
ously for sixteen years from the first election in 1835. A fact that attests his
popularity is, that although an avowed Republican he was elected four times con-
secutively in a city which always gave Democratic majorities at political elec-
tions. Judge Baker had oratorical gifts of a high order, and was an irresistible
pleader before a jury, always gaining a good case and often winning the verdict
in cases of doubtful legal merit. But he was also a learned lawyer, sound in
judgment, and a persuasive and convincing advocate in the trial of cases even
before the court without a jury. He made a record as a judge so highly credit-
able and satisfactory that clients and lawyers and the general public, after the

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 13 of 83)