John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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The Morrisons and Rails, represented in the person of W. R. Morrison,
were numbered among the earliest settlers of Illinois, coming here, as they did,
prior to the commencement of this century. The Morrisons, who were of Scotch-
Irish extraction, came to this state from Pennsylvania, and the Rails, of English
descent, emigrated from Virginia. Judge John Morrison, the father of our sub-
ject, was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, in the first year of this century. He mar-
ried Anna Rails, whose birth had occurred in 1804, in Monroe county. From
the date of their marriage until death claimed them they made their home in
Monroe county. The mother died in 1845; the father in 1873. Judge Mor-
rison was a man of prominence in his own locality, serving, at various periods, as
a justice of the peace, school commissioner, sheriff, member of the state legisla-
ture and as judge of the county court, of which office he was in tenure at the


time of his death. He was a patriotic citizen; in the Blackhawk war he was a

William R. Morrison was born September 14, 1825, in Monroe county, Illi-
nois, and was reared upon a farm near the eastern border of the county. In 1851
he removed to Waterloo, the county-seat, having but lately returned from Cali-
fornia. He had set out, in the spring of 1849, across the plains, and for nearly
two years had sought, with fair success, for the precious metal which attracted
multitudes to the Pacific slope. The love for adventure and sight-seeing which
inspires young men of a certain age had been gratified during the four years of
hardships which he had encountered while in the Mexican war and in the far
west, and he was now ready to settle down to earnest, persistent work.

The education of W. R. Morrison was limited to that afforded by the public
schools and two or more years in McKenclree College, in Lebanon, Illinois. Be-
fore he was twenty years of age he gained valuable experience by assisting his
father in his official work, and several years prior to his admission to the bar he
took up the study of law, but was frequently interrupted by outside enterprises.
He wrought out his own success, and for many decades has occupied an enviable
place in the esteem of his associates and countrymen. In accordance with his
principles, he has never been connected with any society or organization, save
that he has always given his earnest support to the Democratic party. In all
his views on law, religion and general matters he strives to be practical and
broad-minded. He has never identified himself with any church organization,
though his mother was a Baptist and his loved and devoted wife is a faithful
Methodist. He recognizes the good in both and in other creeds as well. He
has been twice married. The wife of his youth was Mary J. Drury. They were
married in 1852 and in less than four years the young wife Was borne to the
tomb. In 1857 Mr. Morrison married Eleanora Horine, of Waterloo. She is
still living, and to her loving cheer and sympathy her husband attributes much
of his success. Two children, Joseph and William R., born to the first union
of our subject, died in early childhood or infancy. Another child, William R.,
the second of the name, was born to the second marriage, but he, too, died in in-

Hon. Hiram Rountree was born in Rutherford county, North Carolina, De-
cember 22, 1794. When he was but a few months old his parents moved to Ken-
tucky, in which state he grew to manhood. He served as an ensign in the war
of 1812. In 1817 he removed to the territory of Illinois, and in the following
year was married to Miss Nancy R. Wright. His first residence was in Madison
county, where he followed the occupation of school-teacher and began his official

For several years he was engrossing and enrolling clerk of the house of rep-
resentatives of the state general assembly of Illinois. In 1821, being appointed,
by act of the legislature, one of the commissioners to organize the county of
Montgomery, which was cut off from Bond county, he removed to the new coun-
ty. He was elected first clerk of the county court, and on the I5th of October,
1821, the first court was held in Montgomery county. It was conducted in the


log cabin of Joseph McAdams, the building being eighteen by twenty feet in

John Reynolds was the judge, and the bench which he occupied was the
bed, while Mr. Rountree kept the records on a table made of puncheons. The
grand jury, after being sworn, retired to a log in the woods for deliberation, while
the petit jury retired to the shade of a tree to make out the verdict.

In the following year the court resolved to build a court-house of which the
following is a description, as copied from the records in the hand-writing of Mr.
Rountree: "To be built of hewn logs, twenty-four feet by twenty, the logs to
face one foot on an average ; the house to be two stories high ; lower story to
be eight feet, and upper story to be six feet, clear of the roof ; to have two doors
below, with one window above and one below ; to have plank floors, to be jointed
and laid down rough ; the roof to be shingled ; the cracks to be closely chinked
and then daubed with mud ; doors to have good strong plank shutters ; the win-
dows to contain twelve lights, or panes of glass, eight by ten inches, all to be
completed by the 1st of December next, in a strong manner."

The modern reader will doubtless smile at the description of this primitive
temple of justice, and especially at the minuteness of detail, but be it known that
at the time there was not a saw-mill within seventy-five miles of the place, and all
the plank that was used had to be sawed with a whip-saw, by hand hence the
necessity of the express conditions in the order of the court that the floors and
doors were to be plank. Without such conditions the builders would have used
puncheons, or slabs split out of logs and smoothed with broad-axes, so as to look
like plank, not unlike clapboards split out with a frow, only thicker for the floors ;
and clapboards for the doors, because there was not then one house in a hundred
that had any other kind of doors and floors. The greater part of the labor, and
drudgery, as well as the management of county affairs, fell upon the shoulders of
Mr. Rountree and he continued to carry it for many years. In short, his was the
leading and guiding spirit, so far as questions of county policy were concerned,
during his entire life, and the influence of his example and precedents will doubt-
less be felt therein for many years to come.

At one time he held the following offices and performed their duties with
the utmost satisfaction to the people, as indeed he did everything with scru-
pulous care, and methodical exactness, and promptness, namely : postmaster of
Hillsboro, clerk of the county commissioner's court, clerk of the circuit court,
county recorder, justice of the peace, notary public, master in chancery and coun-
ty judge, or judge of probate, as well as clerk in the legislature. There is an
anecdote on record relative to a gentleman who came from some of the older
states on business to Hillsboro, and who, in conversation with a citizen enquired,
"Who is the clerk of your circuit court?" The answer was "Hiram Rountree."
"Who is your recorder?" "Hiram Rountree." "Who is your judge of pro-
bate?" "Hiram Rountree." "Well! who is justice of the peace in town?"
"Hiram Rountfee." "Why, hang it ! you must all intend to go to Rountree
when you die."

Hiram Rountree filled the several offices above mentioned for sixteen con-


secutive years, and retired from them in 1869. In 1847 ne was elected to the
convention called for the purpose of amending the constitution of the state, and
in 1848 he was elected senator for the district comprising the counties of Bond,
Fayette, Shelby, Christian and Montgomery.

In politics the Judge was generally esteemed a Democrat, but he was never
a strict party man, voting generally for the men he thought best fitted for the
office. His long continued term of official life was due to the conviction in the
minds of a majority of the voters of the county that he could more safely be en-
trusted with the care of their public interests than any other man. In 1852 he
was first nominated for county judge, by a Democratic convention, but had no
opposition. In 1861 he was again nominated by the same party, and elected
over Henry Richmond, the Republican nominee.

In 1865 he was nominated by the Republicans and elected over Ephraim Gil-
more, the Democratic candidate. The last and most important official act of the
county court under his administration was the erection or, as it is facetiously
called, "the repairing" of the court-house, which is now one of the most pictur-
esque and commodious structures of the kind in the state. By his consummate
skill and ability the work was so managed as to cost the people of the county
nothing, swamp-land funds being utilized. By his management these lands were
withheld from market, on one pretense and another, until they were worth as
much as any other lands, and were finally sold on easy terms to actual citizens
for cultivation, at prices varying from twenty-five to forty-five dollars per acre,
and thus yielded some three hundred thousand dollars, out of which the court-
house, worth one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, was built by day
labor. There was no jobbing or speculation about it. Besides this, bridges and
other public buildings were constructed, and there was left a balance of nearly
forty thousand dollars to be added to the common-school fund. Thus, from .a
log cabin, eighteen by twenty feet, in which the first court of the county was held,
he had the satisfaction of seeing completed under his own administration a
structure of solid masonry, of the most ornate and approved design in the state,
convenient in all its arrangements, and worthy of the county. The structure will
stand for years, a crowning monument of his successful management and emi-
nent wisdom.

In his official career Judge Rountree was distinguished for his rigid economy.
He held office in Montgomery county consecutively for fifty years. His manner
of giving legal advice to his clients was altogether unusual. After, listening to a
client's statement of case, he would go to his library and, taking down either the
statutes or reports, he would turn to the law or a report of a similar case and tell
his client to read for himself, in this manner he avoided the responsibility of

Judge James M. Davis was prominently known as a lawyer, jurist and states-
man through the important epoch in our national history when the question of
slavery and its extension, and the preservation of the Union, agitated the entire
country. He was largely instrumental in forming public opinion in Illinois, and


during that period was also regarded as one of the ablest representatives of the
legal profession of the state.

Born in Barren county, Kentucky, October 9, 1803, he was endowed with
splendid physical and mental faculties which enabled him to attain a prominence
reached by few. He never received the cultivation and polish that education in
colleges affords some men, but nature made him great. He came to Illinois in
1817, when it was still under territorial government, and when the country was
almost an unbroken wilderness. He first located in Bond county, with his
father, and it is said he taught the first school opened in that county. He had
no wealth to secure him advancement in life, but by his own exertion he elevated
himself to an enviable position in the social and intellectual world.

As a political leader Judge Davis had no equal in the state of Illinois. In
him intellect, eloquence and courage united to form a character well calculated
to lead and command. He fired with his own enthusiasm, and controlled by his
amazing will, individuals and parties. No reverse could crush his purpose, nor
could defeat reduce him to despair. For years he was the confessed leader of the
old Whig party in Bond county, and brought it from a great minority to a very
large majority. On its dissolution he joined the Democratic party, with which
he was connected until his death. He was repeatedly elected to represent his
district in the state legislature, serving in both branches, and was one of the most
active members of the constitutional convention of 1847. He was also register
of land in Illinois at one time, and his name is intimately blended with the history
of the state, while to her public honor and prosperity he contributed his full
share. His interest centered in the commonwealth, and he could tell when every
county in the state was organized, the number of churches and schools in each,
and who were the leading men of each county. He took particular delight in
recalling reminiscences of the early settlement of Illinois, and his memory of
those days was most perfect. His addresses and conversation were most in-
structive as well as entertaining, on account of the great amount of historical
knowledge they contained. He spoke to instruct, not to please or amuse, and he
always received the most profound attention. He was frank, bold and intrepid,
always said what he thought, and did not stop to ask whether it would please or

As a lawyer Mr. Davis was eminently successful. He not only had a com-
prehensive knowledge of the principles of law but also possessed a higher and
nobler power. He was a most perfect judge of human nature, and could read
a man through and through at a glance. His ability in the legal profession was
as a jury lawyer, in which capacity he had no superior. In selecting a jury, pre-
senting his cause and making his appeals he was eminently successful. Securing
his services in a case was equivalent to a victory, and be it said to his credit, and
the records will show it, that he hardly ever lost a cause he brought himself.
Every juror believed his word, for they knew he was strictly honest. He was a
man of the greatest truthfulness and not a person of his acquaintance ever
doubted his veracity, wherein, in a great measure, lay the secret of his success.
He died at his home in Hillsboro, September 17, 1866, at the age of sixty-three


years, and thus passed from the stage of earth's activities one whose ability made
him an important factor in the public life, and whose high principles ever
prompted him to use his power for good.

Benjamin R. Sheldon, one of the ablest jurists who ever sat upon the su-
preme bench of Illinois, was born in New Marlboro, Berkshire county, Massa-
chusetts, April 15, 1811. His boyhood days were passed in New England, and
were quiet and uneventful, nothing of special importance affecting the regular
routine of that period of his existence. Adopting the law as his profession, he
came west in the early days and began practice in Galena. Being young, indus-
trious and full of ambition, he was soon recognized as a young man of more
than ordinary ability, and when but thirty-six years of age he was elevated to
the bench as judge of the circuit embracing a line of counties beginning on the
north with Jo Daviess and extending southward along the Mississippi river. In
1851 Jo Daviess county became a part of the circuit which included Stephenson
and Winnebago counties, and in that year Judge Sheldon first presided over the
court in Rockford and entered upon what was destined to become a famous
judicial career. His service on the circuit bench brought him prominently be-
fore the public, and in 1870 he was selected as a candidate for the supreme bench.
There was but little opposition to his candidacy. All recognized his eminent fit-
ness for the honor, and the members of the bar throughout the circuit, and the
supreme district as well, were practically unanimous in their advocacy of Judge
Sheldon. At the expiration of his first term of office he was re-elected, but when
his second term expired he declined to again become a candidate. He felt the
weight of years, and though his faculties were unimpaired, and, in fact, shining
with brighter luster than ever, yet he felt that to younger men should be en-
trusted the arduous duties of the position, and he therefore retired to private life,
returning to Rockford, where he had made his home since 1871. His large
property interests demanded much of his time and attention, and therefore he
devoted his declining years largely to the management of the business connected
therewith. In the spring of 1897 he had an attack of la grippe, and. after an
illness of several weeks, the end came on the evening of the I3th of April.

The following brief review of the public services of Judge Sheldon is given
in the proceedings of the Illinois State Bar Association for 1895 before the death
of Judge Sheldon. It is from the pen of Hon. R. H. McClellan, of Galena, long
a warm personal friend of Judge Sheldon, and the estimate of his character and
abilities is extremely just. He writes :

"Amongst the distinguished members of the early bar of Jo Daviess county
during the period \ve are considering, there is no name more honored than that
of Benjamin R. Sheldon clarum et venerabile nomen. Mr. Sheldon is a native
of Massachusetts and a graduate of Williams College. Possessed of a clear, well
balanced and powerful intellect, thoroughly disciplined by years of close and
severe study, of wide reading in history and literature, he was exceedingly well
fitted for his future career. Modest, diffident and unassuming, without the ad-
vantages of the gift of oratory, for he seldom spoke in public, he had to make his
quiet way solely by merit and his profound knowledge of the law. But though


never conspicuous in the trial of causes in the courts, it was not long before his
great learning and extensive reading became known to the other members of the
bar, and his advice as counsel in important litigation was much sought after. It
was soon perceived and universally conceded that he had in him all the qualifica-
tions of a great judge, and so when Judge Brown's term as judge of the circuit
court expired, in 1848, Mr. Sheldon was the unanimous choice of the bar as his
successor. He discharged the duties of judge in the circuit with distinguished
credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of the bar and the people until
1870, when he was elected to the supreme bench. "What has been his history
since then, how manifold and useful his services in the cause of justice is not for
me here to relate. That is a large part of the legal history of the state. Judge
Sheldon's mind is distinctively and emphatically judicial. He possesses in an
eminent degree the quality so much admired by Burke : 'the cold neutrality of
the impartial judge.' If the classic maxim, 'Poeta nascitur, non fit,' be true of
the poet, it is not less true, slightly modified, as applied to the judge 'Judex nasci-
tur, non fit.' The real judge is born a judge, not made. The elements of logi-
cal acumen, absolute fairness, inflexible firmness, infinite patience and uncon-
ditioned impartiality, essential to constitute the modern judge, must be innate;
they can never be acquired. These characteristics were Judge Sheldon's mental
inheritance. Great learning, of course, he had, and necessarily must have had,
but the divine essence and quality of judgeship, wanting which, learning would
have been useless, he did not acquire from books or men. This was inborn, a
part of himself.

"But it is not for me to pronounce his eulogy. Happily the time has not
yet come for that. Judge Sheldon still lives, the Nestor of the bar and bench of
Illinois. He is almost the sole survivor of that band of illustrious men who were
members of the Galena bar when he first began the practice of law. Though
yet living he has builded his monument. His judicial judgments are his monu-
ment,- more lasting than brass ; more enduring than marble. Judge Sheldon
is spending the evening of his long and laborious life in serene and philosophic
retirement, in the possession of an ample fortune, and, what is better, in the
enjoyment of 'All that should accompany old age, as honor, love, obedience,
troops of friends.' '''

William Granville Cochran, who is now occupying the bench of the sixth
judicial circuit, and who has attained to prominence entirely through his own
well directed efforts and ability, well represents the judiciary of Illinois. He
was born in Ross county, Ohio, November 13, 1844, his parents being Andrew
and Jane (Foster) Cochran. The former was of Scotch and Irish lineage and
was a son of Andrew Cochran, who was born of Scotch parentage. On the 7th
of October, 1849, Andrew Cochran, Jr., removed with his family to Moultrie
county, Illinois, where' he carried on agricultural pursuits for many years. His
death occurred 'at the age of eighty-two years, and his wife passed away at the
age of seventy-six. She was of Irish descent, and her parents were natives of

Judge Cochran was only five years of age when brought by his parents to


this state. In his youth he pursued his studies in a log school-house, where he
was instructed in the rudimentary branches of education, but his privileges in
that direction were very meager, and that he is now a man of broad general in-
formation is due to his extensive reading, ready observation and keen perceptive
faculties, combined with a retentive mind. His father was a justice of the peace,
and as a boy William G. became deeply interested in the proceedings of the little
court, and resolved to one day become a member of the bar. Years passed,
however, before he saw the fulfillment of this hope. At the age of seventeen he
responded to the call of his country for aid, and enlisted in Company A, One Hun-
dred and Twenty-sixth Illinois Infantry, serving for three years as a private. He
joined the army July 31, 1862, and was mustered out August I, 1865, after a
loyal and faithful service, in which he defended the starry banner on many a battle-

Returning to the north, he resumed farming and stock-raising and devoted
his energies to agricultural pursuits until January i, 1873, when he removed to
Lovington, where he engaged in merchandising until February 23, 1876. All
this time the desire to enter the legal profession had never left him, and on the
latter date he put aside all other interests, determined to study law, come what
would. On the 23d of May, 1879, he was admitted to the bar, and he has since
been active in the work of his chosen calling. He has steadily worked his way
upward, his abilities, both natural and acquired, entitling him to distinction as
one of the foremost lawyers of his district. He always enjoyed a liberal clientage
until his elevation to the bench, and has been connected with much of the im-
portant litigation of the district through the past twenty years.

On the 6th of November, 1888, Mr. Cochran was elected to the Illinois legis-
lature, and by re-election has been continued in the general assembly since that
time, one of its most honored, distinguished and influential members. On the
27th of July, 1890, he was elected speaker of the house, was again honored in
that manner June 27, 1895, and while presiding he won the respect, confidence
and regard of all parties by his extreme fairness and impartiality. He is a splen-
did parliamentarian, and the judicial qualities of his mind enable him to view a
subject without personal bias. Dignity and justice characterized his control of
the assembly, and his rulings were ever in strict accord with the highest laws that
govern legislative bodies. On the 7th of June, 1897, Mr. Cochran was elected
judge of the sixth circuit for a term of six years, and his previous career fore-
shadowed his faithful and commendable service on the bench. He has ever been
a firm believer in Republicanism, and stands stanch in support of the sound-
money and protective principles of his party, but political preference or personal
opinions never color his opinion on the bench. He is active in campaign work
and his effective labors have largely advanced the party's interests. In addition
to the other offices he has filled, he is now serving as a trustee of the Illinois
Soldiers' Orphans' Home, at Normal.

On the I3th of September, 1866, Mr. Cochran was married to Miss Char-
lotte A. Keyes, of Moultrie county, and they have five children, three sons and

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 50 of 83)