John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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organization of the county on the 8th of that month.

The first lawyers who came here to make a living by their profession were
Giles Spring and John Dean Caton, who arrived here about June 18, 1833.
If they did not try the first lawsuit, they were engaged in the first prosecution
for larceny that ever occurred in our midst, which was made memorable by the
discovery of the stolen pelf in the toe of the criminal's stocking, after he had
denied all knowledge of the disappearance of the same, while in the very act of
denying it. Judge Caton was so enraged that he jerked off the culprit's stock-
ing, causing him thereby to disgorge and make profert of the plunder in open
court. It is needless to say that Judge Caton not only earned his fee, but got
it, while Spring, who defended this hapless wight, was left without anything.

Soon after, there came James H. Collins, Justin Butterfield, George Man-
ierre, Alonzo Huntington, Ebenezer Peck, James Grant, E. W. Casey, A. N.
Fullerton, Isaac N. Arnold, Henry Moore, Grant Goodrich, Buckner S. Morris,
William B. and Mahlon D. Ogden, Mark Skinner, Lisle Smith, N. B. Judd,
Thomas Hoyne, William H. Brown, Henry Brown and George B. Meeker. I
have not given the names of these lawyers in the exact order of time of the ar-
rival, but I believe, as just stated, that Spring and Caton came here in 1833;
Grant Goodrich, Buckner S. Morris, James H. Collins in 1834; William B.
Ogden, George Manierre, Alonzo Huntington, Ebenezer Peck, Jonathan Young
Scammon and Justin Butterfield in 1835 ; Isaac N. Arnold, John Wentworth,
Mark Skinner and Henry Brown in 1836; Lisle Smith, Thomas Hoyne, N. B.
Judd and George Meeker and Mahlon D. Ogden in 1837; Edward G. Ryan in
1836; Hugh T. Dickey in 1838. Calvin De Wolf came October 31, 1837;
John Wentworth October 25, 1836. William H. Brown came here in 1835.
In 1834 the number of lawyers was eleven, and their names were : Russell
E. Heacock, R. J. Hamilton, Giles Spring, John Dean Caton, E. W. Casey,
A. N. Fullerton, James H. Collins, James Grant, Grant Goodrich, Henry Moore,
and Buckner S. Morris. Five of these men reached the bench, and all attained
distinction. Judge James Grant removed to Davenport, Iowa, where he at-
tained great distinction, and died a few years since, crowned with honors.

The first meeting of the Chicago bar was held some time in July, 1835, and
was called to pay respect to the memory of Chief Justice Marshall, who died
July 6, 1835. The members present were : A. N. Fullerton, E. W. Casey,
Grant Goodrich, Buckner S. Morris, Henry Moore and Royal Stewart.

From 1834 to 1840 many young men of education and family distinction
came to Chicago to locate and engage in the practice of the law, but all who
thus came did not remain. Among these were Henry Moore; Joseph N.


Balestier, of Brattleboro, Vermont ; George Anson ; Oliver Beaumont ; Fisher
Ames Harding, of Rhode Island ; and Fletcher Webster, the son of Daniel
Webster. While here in 1837 Webster was at the head of the firm of Webster
& Harding. These gentlemen removed to Detroit, and both afterward returned
east. Harding became distinguished as a journalist, and Webster went as
secretary of legation to China. He was killed while in the service of his coun-
try during the late civil war. Edward G. Ryan, one of the most distinguished
lawyers that ever practiced at the Chicago bar, came here in 1836. He after-
ward removed to Racine, then Milwaukee, and was, I believe, at the time of
his death chief justice of the supreme court of the state of Wisconsin. He was
first associated in business with Henry Moore, then with Hugh T. Dickey.
In 1840 he dissolved with Dickey, went into journalism, and became editor of
a paper called the Tribune, the first number of which appeared April 4, 1840.

The celebrated Thomas F. Marshall, after a long public career, came to
Chicago just before the breaking out of the war, and engaged in the practice
for a short time, but not meeting with success, removed to some other state,
Minnesota, I believe, where he died a number of years ago. Joseph Black-
burn, for a long time a member of congress and senator from Kentucky, also
practiced here for a short time, in connection with his brother, just before the
breaking out of the Rebellion, but returned to Kentucky, where he has resided
ever since.

The career of Judge Caton is not only unique in our history, but is some-
thing extraordinary. He arrived in Chicago on the igth of June, 1833. He
was here when Chicago was nothing but a small collection of huts, before it had
been incorporated as a village, and before it had become a oity. No man within
our borders had such a varied experience as he. He prosecuted the first crim-
inal who was ever brought before a court of justice in Chicago, and commenced
and tried the first civil suit in a court of record in this county and was engaged
in the very first jury case ever tried in Will and Kane counties. He served as
a justice of the peace, a circuit judge and a supreme-court judge. In his early
days he traveled the circuit, penetrating into remote regions and meeting with
many and strange adventures.

Among the exciting and thrilling incidents in his early Jife was his defense
of one Pierce, at Hennepin, Putnam county, where he met for the first time
Judge Breese, who presided. Pierce was rather a weak and simple-minded
man with a bad woman for a wife, who had become infatuated with a ruffian
by the name of Thompson, who was known as a desperado, and between them
they formed a plot to get rid of Pierce, and they knew of no better way than
to charge him with a crime and send him to the penitentiary. Thompson
and Pierce's wife broke into a room near which a Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald
were sleeping, and it appears that they heard a disturbance during the night,
got up, and, peeking through a crack in the plastering, saw both Thompson
and Mrs. Pierce break open a box of goods and then take and put some of the
goods in a trunk. When the owner of the store discovered his loss he made
inquiries and was soon informed by Thompson who the culprits were, and


Mr. and Mrs. Pierce were arrested, and at the examination Pierce's wife per-
suaded the old man that it was his duty to save her and to say that he did it.
This he did and was bound over to the grand jury and sent to jail. Pierce's
wife got all the money the old man had and decamped, but Thompson was on
hand to prosecute and make good his charges. Pierce was indicted, and Caton
and a lawyer by the name of Atwater were appointed to defend. James Grant
of Chicago was at that time state's attorney for that judicial district.

Pierce asserted his innocence, but was without a witness, and he could not
be a witness in his own behalf as the law then stood. How to unravel the
mystery was the problem. Pierce declared he was not anywhere near the store
when the crime was committed, but was sick nigh unto death at his home and
that there. was a doctor and a woman, who was a friend of the family, who at-
tended him. These were hastily hunted up and corroborated everything Pierce
said, and he explained how his wife had besought him to say that he did the
deed in order to save her. The case excited a good deal of attention, but
Thompson was such a desperado that nobody seemed willing to speak out. As
Caton was walking along the street, on his way from his hotel to the court-
house, a man came up to him and, in a rather low tone, asked him if he was
defending Pierce, and Caton said he was. "Then," said the stranger, "there
are a Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, who live on the other side of the river about a
mile and a half away, who can give you valuable information in regard to that
crime," and then turned and went off.

Caton went back to the tavern and got out his horse, and, without saying a
word to anybody, mounted it and rode off as fast as he could, and was soon at
the Fitzgeralds'. He introduced himself as Pierce's lawyer to Mrs. Fitzgerald,
and asked her about the case, but she was not at first inclined to say anything.
Caton told her that if she knew anything that would clear Pierce she ought,
as a Christian woman and to save her soul, to tell it. This startled her and
she went and called her husband, who was as reticent at first as his wife, for they
were afraid of Thompson. Caton told them he would protect them, and finally
they made a clean breast of it and told all that they knew. Caton then hastened
back, told Atwater of his discovery, and subpcenas were got out for the Fitz-
geralds, and the next morning, when the case was called, all the witnesses were
in court. Neither Grant, the state's attorney, nor anybody else knew anything
about the disclosures, and Grant depended on Pierce's confession and Thomp-
son's testimony and supposed that the case would take but a few minutes, and
said so on the opening of the case, in other words, that the trial would be
a mere form and that the defendant would be shown to be guilty and would, of
course, have to go to the penitentiary.

Caton asked the court to allow him to postpone his opening until the state
had closed, which the court allowed. The owner of the goods gave his testi-
mony, in which he showed that the goods were nailed up in a dry-goods box
in an unfurnished room in the hotel and that they were subsequently found
in a trunk belonging to the prisoner. Thompson was then called, and took the
stand with a swagger and swore positively that he saw Pierce when he took the


goods from the box and placed them in the trunk. He was cross-examined
at great length and went into all sorts of details and made out the most com-
plete case ever heard of, but there were certain mysterious circumstances about
the case which he did not solve. When the state had closed, Grant, the prose-
cutor, and Judge Breese looked puzzled, and when Caton arose and made his
opening everybody stood aghast. He explained the so-called confession, the
flight of the wife, and then paid his respects to the bully and braggart, Thomp-
son, and said that he would show him to be not only an assassin, but an unmiti-
gated liar.

Caton called his witnesses, and one by one explained every fact and cir-
cumstance in the most satisfactory manner, and finally he put Mr. and Mrs.
Fitzgerald upon the stand, who testified that on the night of the theft they were
sleeping in a room near the head of the stairs and were awakened by a noise
in the room below, when they got up and crept softly down the stairs, on which
they seated themselves and saw plainly, through a crack in the lath, Thompson
and Mrs. Pierce take the goods and put them in the trunk. Piece after piece
the plot was unfolded, and before the defense had finished the excitement had
become intense, and Thompson had been stripped bare and was shown up in
all his wickedness and deformity.

When the evidence was all in the state's attorney was so utterly nonplussed
that he made only a few remarks and told the jury that he should leave the case
to them. Caton had become thoroughly aroused, and as it was the first case
that he had ever tried in Putnam county he conceived it to be his duty to
expound the villainy which had been disclosed fully and completely, and he
went at it with all the vim and vigor that he possessed. Mr. Caton, in describ-
ing the scene in after years, said :

While I was in the midst of this tirade I turned partly around to catch an expression
of the audience, and discovered behind me, and not more than two feet from me, this man
Thompson, with a heavy bludgeon in his hand, the perspiration pouring from his face, his
eye glaring fiercely at me, with a terribly fiendish expression on his countenance. I at
once concluded that he had crept up there in order to make a deadly assault upon me
when my back was to him. To say that this made me terribly angry is to put it mildly.
This was one of the few times in my life when I have been really mad. I felt instantly
inspired with a superhuman strength which would enable me to crush any living man to
the earth in a moment. I glared upon the supreme scoundrel a look of scorn and detesta-
tion and defiance, which I was told later seemed fit to wither a statue. I pointed my finger
in his very face and called upon the court and jury to look at the cowardly assassin, who
had not the courage to attack a child in the face, but must skulk up behind so he could
strike unseen. I then proceeded to pour out upon him denunciations and epithets which
rushed upon me faster than I could utter them. Terrible words of execration seemed to
i:oin themselves, and I poured them out with the rapidity of a tornado, constantly empha-
sizing them by fierce gesticulations right into his face, which was now red and now pale,
like the changing flashes of a boreal light. Some of these anathemas have been ringing
in my ears ever since. Their bare memory makes me shudder. What, then, must have
been their effect when poured out under such excitement?

The culprit stood this for a little while, with a bold, defiant expression, as if looking
for a good time to strike, but soon he began to weaken and show doubt and hesitancy
This expression grew upon him more and more for several minutes, when he backed to-


ward the door through the dense crowd, who shrank from his touch as if he had been a
slimy snake. I called upon the state's attorney to prosecute the perjured thief, now that
he knew who, for a certainty, was the guilty party. I called upon the sheriff to arrest the
scoundrel before he should reach the woods and hide his guilty head in the bushes. I
called on all good citizens to scorn and spit upon so loathsome a wretch. I advised all
decent women, whenever they saw him, to bar their doors and windows as against a leper,
whose very breath was contamination, and I kept shouting after him in this unseemly way
till he was fairly out of sight. I then paused and turned around and was silent for a few
minutes, and then every man in the court room, except the judge, was on his feet and
seemed half bewildered. I at length apologized to the court for the unseemly exhibition
which I made in a presence where dignity and moderation should always reign, and I
hoped he would find in the scene which had provoked me some apology for the breach
of decorum of which I was conscious I had been guilty. After a moment's pause Judge
Breesc remarked: "You can proceed, Mr. Caton." I then turned to the jury and apolo-
gized to them for having for a moment forgotten myself and the presence in which I was,
under a provocation which might have excited an older man. I then said the evidence had
made the prisoner's innocence so manifest that I did not think that his interest required
that I should longer detain them.

The state's attorney closed with a short speech which virtually gave up
the case. The jury retired without any charge from the judge and returned
at once with a verdict of not guilty. The verdict was received with manifesta-
tions of approval, and Caton was immediately surrounded by clients who were
anxious to secure his services, and it resulted in his being retained in several
cases of the greatest importance. Thompson was not heard from for some
time, but made his appearance a year or two after at Ottawa, whither he came,
as he said, for the express purpose of licking Caton, but Caton, being a stal-
wart and a giant in strength, put him to flight in an instant and he was never
heard of afterward.

Caton was engaged in many other cases which brought him into great
notoriety, and he became famous throughout the country, especially in Ken-
dall, Kane, Will, Putnam, and the Rock River counties. It would be inter-
esting to relate more of such incidents, but it is impossible. He prosecuted and
defended criminals of all sorts and conditions and was engaged in many im-
portant actions at law and suits in equity. He once defended one hundred and
twelve citizens of Ogle county who were jointly indicted for lynching some
desperadoes, who had shot and killed a well known citizen by the name of
Campbell. The judicial annals of our state are his monument, but he has left
us precious words of encouragement and an immortal benediction. His
domestic life was happy, and in his autobiography, which he put forth only a
few years before his death, under the title of "The Early Bench and Bar of Illi-
nois," he pays a graceful tribute to the partner of his joys and sorrows.

John Dean Caton was a man who had great strength of character and was
characterized by sound judgment and most excellent common sense. He was
not what would be called a skilled pleader and an adroit practitioner, but his
plain and rugged manner of presenting every question to a jury was something
which was highly commended by the old pioneers and commanded their ad-
miration. He was honest and fair, and despised anything that smacked of


trickery. He was appointed judge of the supreme bench in 1842, and resigned
in 1864. He possessed a judicial mind, and was inclined to take an enlarged
and comprehensive view of all cases which came before him. It is much to
be regretted that his example has not been followed by his successors.

James H. Collins came to the state in 1833 from Vernon, Oneida county,
New York, and took up a claim to some land at Holdenman's Grove, in Ken-
dall county, and for a short time engaged in farming, but his tastes led him to
the pursuit of the law, which he had studied before coming west, and at the
solicitation of Judge Caton. who knew him while residing in New York, and
who had studied in his office, he abandoned farming and entered into partner-
ship with him in the practice of the law in 1834. This arrangement lasted
but a year, when a partnership was formed between himself and Justin Butter-
field, under the firm name of and style of Butterfield & Collins, which soon took
a very high rank, not only in the city of Chicago, but throughout the state.
They were both well grounded in their profession, and were men of great de-
termination and perseverance. Collins became noted for his skill as a special
pleader and for the great care which he bestowed upon the preparation of all
cases, and he was as much at home on the chancery side as on the common-
law side of a court. Collins died of cholera, after a few hours illness, at Ottawa,
in 1854, while attending the supreme court at that place.

Collins was a man of iron will and of great determination. He was one of
the earliest and most violent abolitionists in the west, and was, as it has often
been said, as tenacious and combative as an English bulldog. He belonged to
that group of men like Dr. Charles V. Dyer, Ichabod Codding, Eastman, Freer,
Farnsworth, George Manierre, Carlos Haven, H. B. Hurd, Chancellor L. Jenks,
and the Lovejoys. He was engaged in the defense of Owen Lovejoy, the
brother of Elijah Lovejoy, who was foully murdered, at Alton, by a pro-slavery
mob in 1837, and who was indicted under a statute of this state for harboring
slaves. The case was tried in Bureau county, and was of the most interesting
and thrilling character. The history of the case, briefly stated, as narrated by
J. C. Conklin, is as follows :

At the May term, 1842, of the Bureau county circuit court, Richard M.
Young presiding, Norman H. Purple, prosecuting attorney pro tern., the grand
jury returned a "true bill" against Owen Lovejoy (then lately a preacher of the
gospel) for that "a certain negro girl named Agnes, then and there being a
fugitive slave, he, the said Lovejoy, knowing her to be such, did harbor, feed,
secrete, and clothe," contrary to the statute, etc.; and the grand jurors did
further present "that the said Lovejoy a certain fugitive slave called Nance did
harbor, feed and aid," contrary to the statute, etc. At the October term, 1842,
the Hon. John Dean Caton, a justice of the supreme court, presiding, the case
came up for trial on a plea of not guilty; Judge Purple and B. F. Fridley,
state's attorney, for the people, and James H. Collins and Lovejoy, in person,
for the defense. The trial lasted for a week, and Lovejoy and Collins fought
the case with a vigor and boldness almost without a parallel. The prosecution
was argued by the enemies of Lovejoy with an energy and vindictiveness with


which Purple and Fridley could have had little sympathy. When the case was
called for trial a strong pro-slavery man, one of those by whom the indictment
had been procured, said to the state's attorney : "Fridley, we want you to be
sure and convict this preacher and send him to prison." "Prison ! Lovejoy
to prison !" replied Fridley. "Your prosecution will be a damned sight more
likely to send him to congress." Fridley was right. Lovejoy was very soon
after elected to the state legislature and then to congress, where he was soon
heard from by the whole country.

The prosecution was ably conducted, and Messrs. Collins and Lovejoy
not only availed themselves of every technical ground of defense, but denounced
vehemently the laws under which the indictment was drawn as unconstitu-
tional and void, justifying every act charged as criminal. A full report of the
trial would have considerable historic interest. The counsel engaged were
equal to the important legal and constitutional questions discussed. Judge
Purple, for logical ability and wide culture, for a clear, concise style, condensing
the strong points of his case into the fewest words, had rarely an equal. Frid-
ley, for quaint humor, for drollery and apt illustration, expressed in familiar,
plain, colloquial, sometimes vulgar, language, but with a clear, strong common
sense, was a very effective prosecutor. Collins was indefatigable, dogmatic,
never giving up, and if the court decided one point against him he was ready
with another, and, if that was overruled, still others. B. F. Fridley, for fifty-one
years a lawyer of the Illinois bar, died May 29, 1898, over eighty years of age.
He was admitted to the bar November 19, 1841.

Lovejoy always suggested to me a Roundhead of the days of Cromwell.
He was thoroughly in earnest, almost, if not quite, fanatical in his politics.
His courage was unflinching, and he would have died for his principles. He
had a blunt, masculine eloquence rarely equaled and on the slavery question,
as a stump speaker, it would be difficult to name his superior. Collins and
Lovejoy, after a week's conflict, won their cause. Lovejoy himself made a
masterly argument, and Mr. Collins' closing speech extended through two days.
They extorted a verdict from a hostile jury. It is very doubtful, however,
if they could have succeeded with, all their efforts but for the accidental dis-
closure of the alleged owner, on his cross-examination, of a fact unknown to
the defense. He said he was taking the slave girl Nance from Kentucky to
Missouri through Illinois. He was ignorant that by voluntarily bringing his
supposed chattel from a slave state to a free state she became free. Messrs.
Collins and Lovejoy saw the importance of this fact,- indeed, the turning point
in the case. Lovejoy quoted with great effect the lines of Cowper, now so
familiar :

Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free
They touch our country and their shackles fall!

"And," said he, "if this is the glory of England, is it not equally true of
Illinois, her soil consecrated to freedom by the ordinance of 1787 and her own
constitution?" Mr. Collins, in his summing up, read the great and eloquent



opinion of Lord Mansfield in the Somerset case, an opinion which Cowper so
beautifully paraphrased in his poem.

Judge Caton's charge, which will be found in the Western Citizen of Octo-
ber 26, 1843, was ver Y fa' 1 "- He laid down the law distinctly that "if a man
voluntarily brings his slave into a free state the slave becomes free."

In February, 1859, at tne capitol in Washington, speaking of the acts which
led to this trial, there is one of the boldest and most effective bursts of elo-
quence from Lovejoy to be found in all the literature of anti-slavery discussion.
He had been taunted and reproached on the floor of congress and stigmatized
as one who, in aiding slaves to escape, had violated the laws and constitution
of his country. He had been denounced as a "nigger stealer," threatened by
the slave holders, and they attempted to intimidate and silence him. They little
knew the man, and his reply silenced them and extorted the admiration of friend

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