John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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When the Greene county court first met after the death of Judge Hodges,
out of respect to 1 his memory court was adjourned and remarks were made by
many members concerning the one whom they had long known and honored,
the senior member of the profession in Carrollton. The chief speaker on that


occasion was Thomas Henshaw, who said : "Man has found it necessary in all
parts of the civilized world to institute tribunals called courts for the purpose of
protecting human rights and enforcing human laws. In order to aid the courts
in performing the great and sacred duties allotted to them, it was also found
necessary to establish the legal profession, whose members were called lawyers,
and who have, since the origin of the court, been officers thereof. When we con-
sider that the members of the legal profession are required to deal with, to care
for, and to protect the property, the lives and the "honor of their fellow beings ;
when we reflect that all that humanity labors for, lives for and hopes for in this
world, is at all times placed under the control and in the hands of the lawyers,
we are led to the inevitable conclusion that the true lawyer should be a man
whose character is above suspicion, whose legal ability is unquestioned, and
whose name is a synonym for honesty and integrity.

"Measured by this standard, Greene county is not and has not been without
her true lawyers. Among her true lawyers was one whose name is as familiar
to the inhabitants of this county as household words, and whose reputation as
an able jurist and a good man is held sacred through central Illinois. For half a
century Greene county looked to this true lawyer the Hon. Charles D. Hodges
for counsel and guidance in her affairs. During that period she time and
again honored him with official positions, and always found him true and faith-
ful to the trusts committed to his care. Successful as a lawyer, fortunate in his
business transactions, happy in his domestic and social relations, he was quietly
and peacefully enjoying the fruits of his labor when the angel of death called him
to the unseen. By the death of Judge Hodges we have a striking illustration of
the inevitable in this, that esteem, admiration, friendship or love can afford no
protection against the shafts of death. It has been truthfully said: 'It matters
not if every hour is rich with love, and every moment is jeweled with joy, each
and every life must at last end in a tragedy, as dark and sad as can be woven from
the web and woof of the mystery of death.' "

The general assembly, by act of March 28, 1873, divided the state into
twenty-six judicial districts, in each of which one judge of the circuit court was
elected on June 2, 1873, for the term of six years. Greene county was placed in
the eighteenth judicial circuit and Hon. Cyrus Epler elected to the office of cir-
cuit judge.

The general assembly, in 1877, however, reduced the number of circuits,
placing two together, and giving each circuit three judges. By this Greene
county became a part of the seventh circuit, having for judges Hon. Cyrus Epler
and Hon. Lyman Lacy, and on the election for the third judge Hon. Albert G.
Burr, of Carrollton, was elected. All three of these gentlemen were elected in

Albert G. Burr, of Carrollton, was one of the most able attorneys who ever
graced the bench and bar of central Illinois. He was born in November, 1828,
in the western part of New York, and died in Carrollton, in June, 1882. His
father was a nephew of Aaron Burr, and during the infancy of the Judge mys-
teriously disappeared when seeking a home for his family in the west. When


only a year old Judge Burr was brought by his mother to Illinois, a location
being made in Sangamon county. There was also a sister in the family. As
soon as old enough the son and brother was forced not only to earn his own
livelihood but also to aid his mother. He worked in brick-yards, or at other
employment which would yield him an honest living, and in the district schools
acquired a limited education, as opportunity offered. Of a studious nature he
eagerly sought advancement, in that direction and eagerly availed himself of
every opportunity to secure books. When quite young he became a teacher,
and, among other places, taught in the old capitol in Vandalia. While there he
married his first wife, a Miss Anderson, who died a few years later, leaving two
children, Louis J. Burr, of Chicago, and Mrs. Lucy B. McMillan, of Mount

In 1850 Judge Burr removed to Winchester, where he engaged in merchan-
dising. He also pursued the study of law with Hon. N. M. Knapp, and in 1856,
when twenty-seven years of age, was admitted to the bar and began the practice
of his chosen profession. He rose rapidly to distinction at the bar, and in the
year of his admission was the Whig candidate for state's attorney, but was de-
feated. In 1858, however, he was elected to the state legislature, where he served
two terms in a very able manner. In 1862 he was a member of the constitutional
convention, and later was elected on the Democratic ticket to the fortieth con-
gress. So acceptably did he discharge the responsible duties devolving upon
him, that his fellow townsmen returned him to the council chambers of the na-
tion, where he labored earnestly and conscientiously for the best interests of the

In the meantime Judge Burr removed to Carrollton, where on the expiration
of his congressional term he resumed the practice of law. He continued an
active factor in politics, was chairman of the Democratic state central committee,
was chairman of the state convention in 1876, and the following year was elected
to fill the short term upon the bench of the circuit court, created by the change
in the judiciary. In 1879 he was re-elected circuit judge, and was filling that
position at the time of his death. Such in brief is an outline of his political ca-
reer, in which he developed a capacity for public affairs and an insight into the
minutiae of everything that he undertook, which, together with his wonderful
command of language, made him formidable upon the stump and a power in his
party throughout the state. He possessed wonderful oratorical ability, which
was manifest in his political addresses, as well as his pleas in the court-room.
He impressed his ideas upon his audience by presenting them in every possible
light, repeating the same thought, clothed in every variety of language and illus-
trated so clearly that the dullest intellect could not but comprehend the subject
and bear away something to remember. His legal arguments were always ex-
haustive, and the opinions which he rendered while on the bench were invariably
accompanied by a thorough review of the case, and backed by as comprehensive
an argument as could have been made had he been counsel in the case, but at no
time was partiality or unfairness shown in the least degree.

Before his removal to Carrollton Judge Burr was married a second time,


Miss Mary Harlan becoming his wife. They had four children, all yet living.
His' home was to him the dearest spot on earth, and his great earthly happiness
was derived from his association and companionship with wife and children.
He was a very active worker in the church and in the cause of temperance, and in
his younger days frequently filled the pulpit of the Christian church. He held
office therein, assisted actively in the Sunday-school and in all possible ways
promoted the cause of the church and Christianity. He was an exemplary
member of the Odd Fellows and Masonic fraternities, which societies, together
with the bar, passed the strongest resolutions of respect for Judge Burr at the
time of his demise.

At the election of June, 1885, Hon. Lyman Lacy, Hon. Cyrus Epler and
Hon. George W. Herdman were elected to the bench.

The bar of Greene county has numbered among its members some who have
been an honor not only to the county, but to the profession and state as well.
So far as material was accessible, sketches are given of each attorney who has
practiced at the bar of the county, being residents thereof. Not one has been
omitted with intention ; and of some, more would have been gladly written were
the proper data at hand from which to do so. The peculiarities and personalities
which form so interesting and pleasant a part of local history, and particularly
of the lives of the members of the bar, are in some measure lacking, more from
the nature of the case than from a lack of interest and labor. Unlike the fair
plaintiff in the famous Bardell versus Pickwick, we have no painstaking "ser-
geant to relate the facts and circumstances of the case."

One of the first attorneys, if not the very first, to settle in Greene county
was Alfred W. Cavarly, who located in Carrollton as early as 1822. He prac-
ticed law there for many years and was quite a prominent figure in the political

James Turney, at one time attorney-general of this state, was a member of
the bar of Carrollton, coming here about 1828.

David M. Woodson, for so many years the circuit judge of this judicial cir-
cuit, was also numbered among the brighter lights of the Greene county bar. A
full biographical sketch of this eminent jurist is given in connection with the

courts of the county.

James Pursley, one of the legal fraternity of Greene county, came to Carroll-
ton about the year 1850. He was quite a politician and was elected to represent
the county in the nineteenth general assembly, which he did to the satisfaction
of his friends. He afterward removed to Memphis, Tennessee, where he died.

J. M. Woodson, a son of Judge D. M. Woodson, practiced law in Carrollton
for some years. He is now a resident of St. Louis, Missouri.

James W. English was bora in Mason county, Virginia, March 11, 1829.
His father Nathaniel English, was a prominent physician and married Hannah
Worth James was but eight years old when his parents moved from West Vir-
-inia to St Louis, from which point they made their way to Jacksonville, Mor-
gan county, Illinois, in 1836. In 1844 Mr. English entered upon a classical
course of study at the Illinois College, graduating with honor in 1848. He now


took up the study of law in the office of Richard Yates, afterward governor of
Illinois, and William Brown. In 1850 he was admitted to practice as an attorney
in the state of Illinois, in 1860 to practice in the federal courts, and in 1873 m the
supreme court of the United States. For five years the young but able attorney
struggled for a foothold among such legal lights as Murray McConnel and
others. In 1856 he came to Carrollton, where his ability was soon recognized,
and the following year he was elected to fill the responsible position of state's at-
torney. He served in this capacity in an able manner until 1860, entering upon
his law studies with renewed zeal. In 1871 he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas,
remaining a number of years. On being apprised of the mortal illness of his old
friend and colleague, Judge Woodson, of Carrollton, and at the solicitation of his
many friends in this enterprising town, he decided to return here. He practiced
here for a period of twenty years, and his course was marked by no ordinary
ability. Mr. English married Eliza Stryker, a daughter of Henry Stryker,
formerly a merchant of Jacksonville, October 6, 1852. Mr. English removed to
Jacksonville, Morgan county, Illinois. His death occurred about eight years

Benjamin Mason, an attorney, came to Carrollton about 1858, and remained
in practice until cut off by the hand of death, in 1866 or 1867. Asa Potter, who
removed to Brighton, Macoupin county, practiced here in Carrollton for several
years. Giles H. Turner practiced law at the bar of Greene county, and was a
resident of Carrollton for several years. He removed to Des Moines, Iowa.
Josiah Lamborn was a very bright and shining light of the legal fraternity of
Greene county, but, like many another man, he took to drink, and died of de-
lirium tremens.

John J. Fitzsimons, a young lawyer of much promise, died in Carrollton, in
1874, while holding the office of state's attorney. He had not been in practice
long, but gave evidence of rare ability and judgment. John J. Fitzsimons, de-
ceased, was born in county Meath, Ireland, on the ist of November, 1843, his
parents being Robert and Mary (Toney) Fitzsimons. His mother died before
he had reached the age of two years, and when John J. was in his twelfth year
he came to America, whither his father had preceded him some ten years. He
was transferred from school at Cork to the St. Louis University, and remained in
attendance at that institution until he graduated, at the age of eighteen years.
The Civil war had then come on, and he went into the Confederate service as a
clerk in the quartermaster's department. He remained in the service about one
year, when he was taken sick and brought home. He was employed in a clerical
capacity for a time in one of the federal army stations, at St. Louis, but, his
father being a sculptor, he went into the marble business at Belleville. From
there he came to Carrollton, where he was also employed for a time in the marble
business. This, however, did not agree with him, and he commenced the study
of law, and soon after gave up the marble business for the legal profession. He
studied with Benjamin Mason, and was admitted to the bar November 4, 1864,
at Carrollton. He continued the practice of his profession in this city until the
time of his. death.


In June, 1872, he was appointed by the governor to the office of state's at-
torney, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William Brown. At the
election in November following he was elected to the office by the people of the
county, on the Democratic ticket, and was holding that position at the time of
his death. He was married on June 16, 1874, to Mary Walker, a native of Chris-
tian county, Kentucky, and daughter of Joseph and Delia (Coffman) Walker.
Mr. Fitzsimons died on the i6th day of June, 1874. He was a leading member
of the bar, and was rapidly rising in his profession.

Edward P. Gilson came to Carrollton, enrolling himself among the legal
fraternity, in 1878 and remained several years. He was a native of Macoupin
county, Illinois, born in 1853. His father was a grain merchant at Brighton,
where Edward passed his early years. He graduated at Blackburn University in
1875 and, going to Chicago, studied law in the office of Lyman Trumbull. He
was admitted to the bar in 1877, and came to Carrollton soon after.

In 1878 a law firm, under the name of Root & Gardner, opened an office in
Carrollton and practiced for some little time. H. T. Root was a native of Michi-
gan, born November 5, 1853. When he was still young his parents removed to
New York state, but when fourteen years of age the subject of this sketch came
to Illinois. He took a preparatory course of study at Shurtleff College, but en-
tered Princeton College, New Jersey, in 1872, graduating two years later. He
then became a student at the Columbia Law Institute, where he graduated. J.
C. F. Gardner was a native of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and was also a gradu-
ate of the Columbia Law Institute.

S. G. Lewis came to Carrollton about the year 1880, and commenced the
practice of law. He removed from here to Taylorville, Christian county, where
he died some years since.

Edward D. Baker, who was afterward member of congress from this state,
United States senator from Oregon, and colonel of the First Cavalry, or Seventy-
first Pennsylvania Regiment, in the Civil war, and who fell upon the field of battle
at Ball's Bluff, in 1861, was long connected with the bar of this county, having
been practically reared in Carrollton. R. L. Doyle also was one of the legal fra
ternity of Greene county.

Among the lawyers who have practiced at the bar in this county was F. E.
Huddle. He was born at Tiffin, Seneca county, Ohio, March 6, 1856. He was
the son of Benjamin and Rachel (Kagy) Huddle. The father was a carpenter
and joiner by occupation. When four years old, his parents moved to Marion
county, Illinois, where a purchase of land was made. On the old homestead
young Huddle remained until he had attained his sixteenth year, when he re-
ceived full permission from his father to go out into the world. On leaving the
parental roof he had fifty dollars in money. Proceeding to Tiffin, Ohio, he en-
tered ^the Heidelberg College, where he worked for his board and tuition, re-
maining one year. In the meantime he received the news of a serious accident
that had befallen his father, and he returned home, where he obtained a position
as a clerk in a dry-goods store. Afterward, becoming a school-teacher, he took
up the study of law, the dream of the farmer boy being to become a successful


lawyer, and he accordingly applied himself with diligence. June 8, 1877, at the
June term of the supreme court, he was admitted to the bar at Mount Vernon,
Illinois. Locating at White Hall in July he entered upon a very successful
practice, when but twenty-two years of age. Mr. Huddle married Ida B. Lester,
of Marion county. He left the state a number of years ago, but subsequently
returned, and he is, at this writing, engaged in running the Bloomington
Through Mail, a literary magazine of no small merit.

Among the prominent attorneys of Greene county at the present time there
are the following gentlemen: H. C. Withers, J. R. Ward, Thomas Henshaw,
John G. Henderson, S. F. Corrington, H. H. Montgomery, E. A. Doolittle,
Leander R. Lakin and H. T. Rainey, in Carrollton ; W. M. Ward, in Greenfield;
M. Meyerstein, in White Hall ; and Patterson & Starkey, D. F. King and Dun-
can C. Mclver, in Roodhouse.

Henry C. Withers, a distinguished lawyer of Carrollton, and such men as he,
constitute the greatness of a state, men who are ever loyal to their country's
welfare, whose intelligent investigation into subjects of state and national im-
portance enables them to become leaders of thought and action, and whose un-
selfish natures ever hold the general good as paramount to partisanship, and
who seek national prosperity, rather than self-aggrandizement. It is a well at-
tested maxim that the greatness of a state lies not in its machinery of govern-
ment, nor even in its institutions, but in the sterling qualities of its individual
citizens, in their capacity for high and unselfish effort and their devotion to the
public good.

Mr. Withers was born in Garrard county, Kentucky, January 10, 1839. His
father, William Withers, was a son of Abijah Withers and a grandson of William
Withers, who at an early day removed from Virginia to Kentucky, where the
family resided thereafter for many years. His paternal ancestors, originally na-
tives of England and Scotland, came to America and located- in the Old Domin-
ion prior to the Revolutionary war. William Withers, the father of our subject,
was a farmer by occupation, and married Elizabeth Bruce, a daughter of Hon.
Horatio Bruce, a distinguished politician of the Democratic party in Kentucky.
Her mother, Mrs. Eliza (Beasley) Bruce, was a native of Ohio. Mr. Bruce was
one of the first men of Kentucky of any prominence to advocate a repeal of the
law imprisoning for debt, and it was mainly through his influence and exertion,
while a member of the legislature, that the repealing law was passed. He was
born in Virginia and at an early day removed to Kentucky. His father, John
Bruce, and eight sons, older than Horatio, served throughout the war for inde-
pendence under General George Washington, and Horatio fought for his country
in the war of 1812. He was a cousin of Henry Clay and an uncle of Judge Hora-
tio W. Bruce, of Louisville, Kentucky. The Bruce family has not only become
distinguished in military service but has produced many eminent lawyers and
jurists. Horatio Bruce, the grandfather of our subject, had eight brothers who
were lawyers, sorne of them especially eminent, and four of the number were also

It was an admiration for the high character and talents of his grandfather,


more than anything else, that influenced Henry C. Withers to choose the legal
profession. In 1846 his parents left Kentucky and settled on a farm in Greene
county, Illinois, where he attended the common schools through the winter
months only, working on the farm throughout the remainder of the year ; but so
great was his zeal and ambition that his progress was almost equal to that of his
classmates who attended school during the entire year. He had a constant crav-
ing for opportunities for higher intellectual attainments, and at the age of seven-
teen went to Berean College, of Jacksonville, Illinois, then under the manage-
ment of Rev. Jonathan Atkinson, in which institution he entered upon a classical
course of study. After two years' diligent application he had become quite pro-
ficient in the Greek, Latin and German languages and in mathematics, but lack
of means on the part of his parents made a further prosecution of his collegiate
course impossible. He subsequently taught a common school for three months,
near Alexander Station, Morgan county, and in the summer of 1858 worked on
his father's farm in Greene county. The following winter he entered upon the
study of law in the office of Hon. James W. English, of Carrollton, and was ad-
mitted to the bar in 1860. He has since resided continuously in Carrollton, de-
voting his energies to the practice of law, and in 1867 he entered into partnership
with Hon. David M. Woodson, a connection which was continued until the
latter's death in 1877. Mr. Withers was then alone until 1884, when he formed
a partnership with Thomas Henshaw, of White Hall, which relation continued
until Mr. Henshaw was elected state's attorney, the firm having an office in both
Carrollton and White Hall. He then formed a partnership with Henry T. Rain-
ey, of Carrollton, which continued until 1894, and he is now alone in the practice.
Mr. Withers is a lawyer of pronounced ability, well informed on the various
branches of jurisprudence, and has by his skill in argument, his logical utterances
and his convincing oratory won some notable forensic victories.

His political career has been conspicuous from the time he attained his ma-
jority. In 1865-6 he edited the Carrollton Democrat and through the columns
of the journal supported the men and measures of the Democracy. In 1860 he
became an active supporter of Stephen A. Douglas for the presidency and has
ever since been an earnest and active supporter of the party of which "the Little
Giant of Illinois" was so famous a leader. At the same time he favored the
emancipation of the colored race and the suppression of the Rebellion in the
most speedy manner and with the least bloodshed, and heartily acquiesced in the
several constitutional amendments on the slavery question. In 1866, at the age
of twenty-seven years, he was elected to the house of representatives from Greene
county; in 1872 he was a delegate to the Baltimore convention and endorsed the
platform there made; and in 1874 he was elected as an independent candidate
to the office of state's attorney for Greene county. He received the support of
the Democracy of Greene county in the Democratic convention for judge of the
supreme court at the time of the nomination of Jesse J. Phillips, and for ten years
was supported by his party in Greene county for the candidacy for congress,
commencing in 1881, when James W. Singleton was nominated by one vote on
the two hundred and forty-fifth ballot. This certainly indicates his popularity


among his own people, and the confidence which they repose in him. He was
very active in the campaign work of 1896 and spent the last two weeks just pre-
vious to the election in making speeches in Chicago in support of Colonel W. J.

Probably the most important work which Mr. Withers has performed in the
public service has been in connection with the scheme of deepening and widening
the Illinois river, and making it a great national waterway connecting the Great
Lakes with the gulf of Mexico. He is now attorney for the lower Illinois river
valley people in their great contention for the removal of the dams across the
Illinois river and the deepening of the channel by dredging, so that it will be

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 68 of 83)