John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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1881 he was appointed secretary of war by President Garfield, and was solicited to
retain the position under President Arthur, to which he acceded. Upon his re-
tirement from the office of secretary of war Mr. Lincoln returned to Chicago to
practice law. In 1889 he was appointed, by President Harrison, as minister to
England, acceptably filling this position until the second inauguration of Grover
Cleveland to the presidency of the United States. Since that time Mr. Lincoln
has resided in Chicago practicing law. September 24, 1868, he married Miss
Mary Harlan, daughter of United States Senator James Harlan, of Iowa, by
whom he is the father of three children.




THE characters and abilities of the early members of the Freeport bar can be
better appreciated if considered in connection with the time, place and cir-
cumstances the theatre of action, in other words where their talents
were displayed. It seems appropriate, therefore, to first briefly state the organ-
ization of Stephenson county and its courts, and to outline the judicial system of
the state which existed at that time.

Stephenson county was created and its boundaries were defined by an act
of the legislature of Illinois, passed on the 4th day of March, 1837. This act pro-
vided for county officers to be chosen at an election held at the house of William
Baker, in Freeport, on the first Monday in May, 1837, and named three com-
missioners who were authorized to locate the county-seat. A site was first
selected in the present southeastern limits of the city, near the Arcade addition,
but as Mary Myott, an Indian girl, had the right, by an act of congress, to enter
upon any unoccupied public land, she claimed to have made her location upon
this site, and the commissioners accordingly chose the claim of William Baker as
the county-seat and located the court-house upon the public square, where it
now stands. At this time, as far as the records show, there were no lawyers
living in Freeport or elsewhere in Stephenson county.

At the time Stephenson county was created the state had been divided into
nine judicial circuits, in each of which a circuit judge was elected and required to
hold annually one or more terms of court in each county included in his circuit.
Prior to its organization Stephenson county was attached to Jo Daviess county,
then in the sixth judicial circuit. To legally hold court in Stephenson county
it became necessary for the legislature to designate the district to which it
should belong, and the terms when the court should be held. Accordingly, by
an act passed February 22, 1839, tne county was placed in the sixth judicial cir-
cuit, which included Jo Daviess, Boone, Winnebago, Whiteside, Rock Island
and Carroll counties. Subsequently, at the same session, and on the second day
of March, terms of the court were directed to be held on the third Mondays of
April and September. The court records, however, show that the first session
of the Stephenson county circuit court was held at a special term on the 27th day
of August, 1839.

The court was opened by Daniel Stone, judge of the sixth judicial circuit,
and the term was continued for three days. Hubbard Graves was sheriff and
John A. Clark was clerk of the court. Judge Stone attended and presided at the



two succeeding terms of the Stephenson county circuit court as circuit judge,
but before the next April term was legislated out of office by an act of the legis-
lature passed February 23, 1841. This act, probably for reasons stated by
Governor Ford in his history of Illinois, abolished the circuit judges, rearranged
the judicial circuits, appointed additional supreme-court judges and required
them to hold circuit courts. Thomas C. Browne was by the same act appointed
judge of the sixth judicial circuit, to which Mercer and Henry counties were
added. He continued to hold the circuit court of Stephenson county until August,
1846, at which time a law had been passed providing for the election of circuit
judges, and Benjamin R. Sheldon had been chosen judge of the sixth judicial

Upon the adoption of the constitution of 1848 the courts were reorganized
and additional judicial circuits were created. The counties of Jo Daviess,
Stephenson and Winnebago, previously in the sixth, were made the fourteenth
judicial circuit. Judge Sheldon, residing in Jo Daviess county, was a resident no
longer in the sixth but in the fourteenth judicial circuit. He therefore became
a candidate for judge in the new district, was elected and held the position by
successive elections for over twenty years, and until his election, in 1870, as one
of the justices of the supreme court of the state.

It is a pity that no photograph or picture of the old court-house exists to
give us a visual representation of the old two-story frame building, with its plain
clapboard sides and shingle roof, as it stood in the public square, surrounded by
a rough board fence. The court-room where Judge Sheldon presided in 1855,
sitting upon a raised platform behind a pine desk, had on its right two tiers of
seats for the jury. Fronting the judge, and beyond the railing that enclosed the
table and chairs for the privileged lawyers, were rows of pine benches, ruthlessly
disfigured by witnesses and spectators, whose incessant whittling was only tem-
porarily checked by the warning of the judge not to mar the court-room. In
winter a hot stove occupied the center of the room. The windows had to be
raised frequently for ventilation, and again lowered to exclude the cold air,
and bench and bar were alternately roasted and frozen. I can yet hear Judge
Sheldon give his order, "Mr. Sheriff, raise the window," or "Mr. Sheriff, lower
the window," as he feared suffocation from odors or dreaded cold chills from the
sharp winter air. The dilapidated appearance of the building was felt to be a
discredit to the city and county. In 1854 the loosened clapboards were shaking
in the wind and the sky was visible through the broken plastering. The room
was at that time procured fot the use of Fred Douglass, the colored orator, to
make an anti-slavery speech. Although accustomed to plantation life and to
uncomfortable and unsightly audience rooms, he said in his opening remarks, "I
have spoken in England in the finest halls, and in this country in churches and,
where no better accommodations could be had, in barns, but of all the God-for-
saken places, this beats them all !"

One evening at Plymouth hall (the site of the present opera house), while
M. P. Sweet was making a speech, the cry of "Fire!" was heard on the street. It
was reported that the court-house was burning. Mr. Sweet paused and said, "It


is the old court-house ; let it burn." The audience cheered and remained
seated, but the fire was extinguished.

It was a great relief to the members of the bar, as well as to the citizens ot
Freeport, when the building was removed in 1870 and the attractive and com-
modious structure that now occupies its site was erected.

Of the many names of those who afterward composed the Freeport bar, the
court records of the first term in 1839 mention only Martin P. Sweet, Seth B.
Farwell and Thomas J. Turner, the latter merely as party plaintiff in one and de-
fendant in three suits. Mr. Sweet was then a resident of Winnebago county.
Mr. Turner had not been admitted to practice. Mr. Purinton arrived in Free-
port four months later, and if a Freeport bar then existed, and Mr. Farwell lived
in Freeport, he was its only member. But there were other lawyers in attend-
ance at this term of court, and the names of Campbell, Drummond, Kemble,
Tomlin appear upon the court docket as attorneys for plaintiff or defendant.
Seventeen of the thirty-five cases on the law docket were appeals from justices
of the peace, and thirteen of them were dismissed for want of jurisdiction because
improperly taken to that court. In the short three-days session the grand jury
returned four indictments, two criminal trials were had, six judgments were
taken by default, and one judgment rendered in an appeal case for $3.183 and

The business of the court could not have been much greater at the second
term, held on the 7th of April, -1840, for it adjourned on the second day. S. F.
Hall, state's attorney, and Jason Marsh were in attendance from Winnebago
county, Campbell and Drummond from Jo Daviess county and George Purinton
and Martin P. Sweet, who had become residents of Stephenson county, appeared
as attorneys in several suits. As to the standing, ability and eloquence of those
lawyers from abroad who practiced for a brief period in Stephenson county at its
first organization, we can judge from the statements of those who then heard
them and from their subsequent successful careers. Those who listened to
Thompson Campbell and E. D. Baker in the noted trials at the old court-house,
still speak of their wit, readiness in repartee and wonderful power in addressing
a jury. Eloquence in those early days, as in these later ones, must have exer-
cised its magic influence when E. D. Baker, fresh from Springfield, had but to
unstrap his trunk at a Galena hotel and, without the aid of patronage or local
friends to start his boom, could by voice and speech win, as he did, his nomination
and election to congress from this district. It is not more surprising that after-
ward a brief sojourn on the Pacific coast sent him. to the United States senate,
and that he there acquired a national reputation as an orator and statesman.

Thompson Campbell, who repeatedly addressed juries in the old court-
house, was afterward elected state's attorney for the judicial district, and a mem-
ber of congress in 1850. Subsequently he became secretary of state for Illinois,
and in 1853 was appointed by President Pierce commissioner to settle land claims
under the treaty with Mexico. He removed to California, where he died.

In the many cases at the Freeport bar which Judge Drummond managed
and argued, he must, to some extent, have exhibited the legal knowledge, sound


judgment and argumentative ability which later characterized his rulings and de-
cisions as a federal judge.

James S. Loop, who was state's attorney in 1845, was a frequent attendant
during all this period. He was acknowledged by all his contemporaries to be
able to state his client's case more clearly and to present its salient and winning
points more concisely than any other advocate at the bar.

Marsh, Burnap and Wight, considered the ablest chancery lawyers in the
circuit, attended from term to term. E. B. Washburne, who appeared for a friend,
prosecuted his suit with the same zeal and tenacity that he displayed in after years
in political life.

With such associates and antagonists it is not strange that Martin P. Sweet
and Thomas J. Turner grew to become and to be ranked among the foremost
advocates and most successful lawyers in northern Illinois. Their selection as
candidates of their party for high honors Sweet in 1844, and again in 1850, and
Turner in 1846 shows the popularity they attained at this period and the high
estimation of their abilities.

As the settlement and population of the county and legal business increased,
Freeport became an inviting field. As early as 1850 many of the lawyers had
been admitted to practice and had become prominent residents of Freeport,
among them being Thomas J. Turner, Thomas F. Goodhue, Charles Betts, F. W.
S. Brawley, Charles F. Bagg, John A. Clark, John Coates and Charles Clark.
Before 1857 these, with Hiram Bright, U. D. Meacham, J. B. Smith, Samuel
Sankey, J. C. Kean, E. P. Barton and J. M. Bailey, all now deceased, and those
at present living, constituted the Freeport bar.

The year 1856 was the most prosperous in the history of the city. The
impetus given its growth by the completion of the two railroads to the town, and
the project for the building of another, had increased not only its population
but the market value of its real estate. High rates of interest had attracted
foreign capital and investment, secured by the personal guarantees of prominent
citizens in manufacturing enterprises, hotels and business stores. But within a
year the condition had changed. The failure of the Ohio Life & Trust Company,
in 1857, and the consequent panic shocked credit and depressed values from one
end of the country to another. The mutual distrust of the banks caused them
to lock up the money in their vaults, and depositors as well as borrowers were
for many weeks denied any portion of it. Merchants received little cash from
sales, and consequently their notes went to protest. This was, judged by the
number of suits instituted, the harvest season of the Freeport bar. The cases on
the circuit-court docket for the December term, 1857, numbered at common
law three hundred and two, and forty-nine in chancery, and at the April term,
1858, the number had risen to three hundred and ninety-two at common law, and
the next year to one hundred and eighty-three in chancery, many of the latter
being mortgage foreclosures. But the money paid the fees and costs mostly
came out of the pockets of the creditor plaintiffs and not from the assets of the
debtors, some of whom subsequently went into voluntary bankruptcy.

This is a marked contrast to the business of the circuit court at the present


time. Although the number of lawyers is considerably increased, scarcely one-
fourth as many cases are now entered upon the docket. It is claimed that there
is much less legal business and litigation in Stephenson county than in the ad-
joining counties. While this is injurious to the profession, it is no loss to the
community. Lawsuits, though sometimes necessary to ascertain and settle
legal rights, entail loss of time besides pecuniary costs and loss upon witnesses
and juries attending court temporarily withdrawn from productive employment.
The discouragement and decrease of litigation is therefore beneficial. The
county is to be congratulated that the cases on the court docket have diminished.
This is not all due to the character and disposition of the people of the county.
Many who formerly practiced at our bar were noted for compromising and dis-
missing suits which they had commenced. Blessed are the peace-makers.
Those lawyers deserve this blessing for their successful efforts in adjusting and
settling, rather than litigating, conflicting claims.

The lawyers of Freeport, and especially those who came here at an early day
and grew up with the county, have always taken a leading part in matters that
concerned the prosperity of the city. Scarcely one of our business enterprises
has been planned and consummated without their counsel and assistance in
giving it legal shape. They were associated with business men and often selected
as spokesmen for them in all efforts made to secure the location of public build-
ings and institutions, railroads to be built and manufactories to be established.

Thomas J. Turner, by reason of his prominence, is entitled to be mentioned
among the first of the early members of the Freeport bar. His name does not
appear on the court record as an attorney earlier than 1841. He had previously
been elected one of the associate county justices of the peace, had studied law
and had been admitted to the bar. The court-house, which he had in Decem-
ber, 1837, contracted with the county commissioners to build, was completed by
him in 1838. Subsequent litigation growing out of this contract and his election
as probate justice doubtless induced him to abandon his occupation as millwright
and builder. It was not long after his appearance that he became one of the
leading lawyers not only in Stephenson county, but in all the neighboring
counties. He was tall, erect, athletic and graceful. His manner, voice and de-
livery commanded attention even when discussing subjects of minor importance.
He was most effective as a jury lawyer. He enlivened his arguments with apt
illustrations and entertaining anecdotes, stowed in an unusually retentive mem-
ory or pictured in his fertile imagination.

In 1845 he was appointed by Governor Ford state's attorney for the sixth
judicial circuit, which then included Stephenson as well as Rock Island, among
other counties, and at the three succeeding terms of the Stephenson circuit court
his name is entered as attorney for the people on the criminal docket. He man-
aged, or assisted, in the trial at Rock Island of the murderers of Colonel Daven-
port. His ability and fearlessness in prosecuting the gang of murderers and
horse thieves that at that time infested northern Illinois, made him hosts of
friends and admirers in this congressional district. His nomination and election
to congress in 1846 was a natural consequence. Upon the organization of the


town of Freeport, in 1850, Mr. Turner was elected a trustee and president of the
board of trustees. In 1854 he became an active and leading opponent of those
who supported the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas and Ne-
braska Bill. He replied briefly to a four hours' speech in its justification made by
Stephen A. Douglas in front of the old Pennsylvania House, then standing on the
present site of Munn's building. He was sent the following fall to the legis-
lature as an anti-Nebraska Democrat and helped elect Trumbull to the United
States senate, voting at first, however, for Lincoln for senator. He procured the
passage of a bill introduced by him to create the city of Freeport by special
charter, and was afterward elected its first mayor. Early in 1861 he was a mem-
ber of the peace conference that met at Washington, and soon after its adjourn-
ment he was elected and commissioned colonel of the Fifteenth Regiment of Illi-
nois Volunteers. He continued in the service until compelled to resign, in 1862,
on account of failing health, having become so enfeebled from the exposure and
hardships of southern campaigns that his life was despaired of.

In 1864 he was chairman of the Republican state central committee of Illi-
nois. He was an influential and valuable member of the convention that framed
the state constitution of 1870, and was elected to the first legislature that met
after its adoption.

He removed to Chicago in July, 1871, and was there during the great fire
in November of that year, which consumed his office and valuable library. He
died on the 3d day of April, 1874, at Hot Springs. He will always be remem-
bered as one of the pioneers in the early settlement of Stephenson county, and as
contributing, by his personal efforts, as much or more than any other citizen to
the prosperity and permanent growth of Freeport.

Martin" P. Sweet, who settled in Freeport in 1840, was one of the earliest
members of the Freeport bar and doubtless its most eloquent orator. He had a
finely modulated voice, and its tones, whether he was attempting to soothe or
arouse an audience, were responsive to his feelings and thoughts. As an advo-
cate he was at that time unsurpassed. He was especially skillful in examining
witnesses and an adept hi using words that would lessen or intensify the effect of
their statements. In political addresses he never failed to entertain his hearers
and excite the enthusiasm of his party friends. He was popular with the masses
in northwestern Illinois and twice was nominated for member of congress. In
1844 he expected to be elected, and probably would have obtained the coveted
position but for the Mormon vote, which was solidly cast against his party. His
second defeat, in 1850, by a small majority must have been a sore disappointment.

The exclusion of slavery from the territories "free soil" had become in
the minds of many a subject of paramount importance for congressional action.
The irrepressible conflict between freedom and slavery had arisen in the Galena
district. Party ties were weakening and many voters desired before casting their
ballots to have the opinions and pledges of the candidates. A series of questions
were submitted to each. Mr. Sweet made candid answer, outlining his views of
the proper legislation. These, though strongly against slavery, were not framed
to suit the extreme radicals of his party. On the other hand his opponent,


Thompson Campbell, an adroit politician, gave them more satisfactory answers
regardless of the policy of his party. It is reported that he said he would "out-
nigger Sweet," which he effectually did, but he paid no attention to these pledges
after election. Disheartened, Mr. Sweet withdrew from politics and closed his
law office and during the next five years was an earnest and devoted minister of
the gospel. In 1855 he resumed practice at Freeport, where he continued to
reside until his death.

George Purinton was the best educated of all the early members of the Free-
port bar. He was graduated from Bowdoin College, Maine, in 1836, and the fol-
lowing year was for a few months a professor in Baltimore College. He became
a student in the office of Judge Wilson, one of the supreme judges in 1838, and
was soon after admitted to practice in all the courts of the state. In 1848 lie was
elected county judge, the duties of which office he creditably discharged. Al-
though not distinguished as an advocate, he was always regarded as a sound
lawyer and a safe counselor.

No lawyer in Stephenson county was more successful than Thomas F.
Goodhue in winning the verdict of a jury in a doubtful case. He had obtained
his knowledge of legal principles and the rules of practice from study in his
early years and by experience in the courts, and he was not accustomed to look
for, nor to depend upon, reported decisions. He assumed that what common
sense and justice dictated to be done was law, and upon that foundation he
rested the rightfulness of his client's case and built his arguments. His reason-
ing was so convincing that frequently the jury gave him a verdict even when an
adverse court instruction denied his propositions and favored the other side. He
died at his home in Freeport November 3, 1889.

John A. Clark was for several years clerk of the circuit court, at first by ap-
pointment of the judge, in 1839. He held the office until 1852. Afterward,
as a lawyer, he gave his attention principally to office and probate business,
which, if not at that time lucrative, was remunerative for the time employed. His
genial and kind disposition gained him warm friends. In early life he was a
surveyor, and located many of the township and section fries in northern Illinois
and southern Wisconsin. In 1866 he was appointed suweyor general of Utah,
and subsequently was railroad land commissioner at Kansas City, where he died.

Among the most promising young members of the bar during this period
must be mentioned Charles A. Clark, who was spoken of in the highest terms of
commendation by his associates in the profession, and whose early death was
universally deplored. Had he lived it is probable he would have ranked among
the ablest lawyers of the Freeport bar and would have taken some of the positions
and honors that were after his death attained by others.

John C. Kean came to Freeport in 1851 from Meadville, Pennsylvania,
where he was educated at Allegheny College and where he studied law and was
admitted to the bar. Soon after his arrival here he took a leading part in local
politics and became an influential and popular member of his party. He was
elected a justice of the peace in 1856, alderman of the city in 1858, and city


attorney in 1862, which last office he held for several succeeding terms. Dur-
ing his service the city ordinances were twice revised and compiled by him.

U. D. Meacham settled in Freeport in 1852 and entered into a partnership
with Thomas J. Turner, which continued for two years. For eight years before
coming to Freeport he had practiced law at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and it was not
difficult for him, soon after his arrival here, to obtain a leading position at the
bar. He was elected in 1856 state's attorney for the fourteenth judicial district,
and in 1862 mayor of Freeport. His success and strength as a lawyer lay in his
dogged tenacity, which seldom permitted him to acknowledge or be conscious
of defeat. If overruled by the court upon one proposition he suggested addi-
tional reasons or precedents to sustain his views, and he often argued with the

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 80 of 83)