John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

The bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) online

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E. G. Ryan, Thomas Hoyne, Isaac N. Arnold and E. C. Larned were not
only great lawyers, but were great orators, and could at times carry all be-
fore them. Isaac N. Arnold was, in my judgment, one of the finest trial and
jury lawyers we ever had, and for many years his success was phenomenal.
He was possessed of polished manners, was courteous to court and counsel
and never failed to get on the right side of the jury. Corydon Beckwith, al-
though not in one sense an orator, was a great trial lawyer and his presentation
of any case and argument made in regard to it was as effective as the most
powerful advocacy. Robert Hervey was, in his prime, I think, the equal of
Arnold in almost every respect, and he had this advantage over him, he was a
Scotchman, highly educated, with a great knowledge of English and Scotch
literature at his command, and when he could not bring down the house with
"Tarn O'Shanter" he was sure to do so with Walter Scott. He had at his com-
mand a great fund of quaint stories and ludicrous incidents which he could readily
refer to on an instant, and in this way was sometimes very effective.

Tradition has invested the name of Samuel Lisle Smith with a halo of glory.
It is claimed that he was possessed of the most extraordinary mental endowments
and the highest oratorical powers. At first he was likened to Curran or Grattan,
but that claim has been surrendered, and it is now asserted that he was the S. S.
Prentiss of the Chicago bar and was without a peer. I would not detract one
iota from his well earned fame now that he has gone, but it is evident that a good
deal of extravagance has been indulged in in regard to him and that if I were
now to pass upon his capabilities, his accomplishments and his achievements a
juster estimate would probably be arrived at, which would reduce somewhat the
claims of those who have declared that he never had his equal in the forum or
on the platform, and was positively without a peer. He arose at a time when
effusive speaking, or what is known as stump oratory, was at its height ; when
Tom Corwin, Tom Marshall, Ed. Baker and Henry Clay had been exalted to the
very highest places in the pantheon of fame, and a great wave of eloquence was
sweeping over the land. The competitors for public favor were numerous and
no one would be long listened to who could not thrill them with delight or hold
them spellbound in his grasp. The style for all popular assemblies was florid
and an unlimited command of words indispensable. Mr. Smith's style was florid,
and he knew how to touch the fancy of an audience as well as Paderewski does
the piano or as Ole Bull did the violin. Naturally of an imaginative and poetic
'turn of mind, his thoughts were clothed in the most beautiful imagery. He
was a word-painter before he was an orator. Everything that he read was treas-
ured up for a purpose and that purpose was to construct beautiful and striking
sentences. His stock of words was great and his command of language won-
derful. His. manner was charming and he was often enchanting, but he lacked


the power of expressing great thoughts or of making a great argument. He
dazzled and hypnotized his audiences and then held them spellbound. He was
in no sense either a Choate or a Webster, and he could not be ponderous if he
had tried never so hard. He dealt with complicated questions somewhat after
the manner that Michael Angelo painted the walls and ceilings of the Sistine
chapel, and when the painter's brush had passed over them, covering them with
"the shadowed livery of the burnished sun," they became like the floors of heaven,
"thick inlaid with patines of bright gold" with "angels quiring to the young-eyed
cherubim." He was gorgeous in perspective and sometimes rose to sublime
heights, caroling as he rose. Knowledge, to him, "her ample page rich with the
spoils of time, did ne'er unroll" without there was spread out before him the
changing pictures of the starry heavens and visions like those which John the
Revelator saw in his last hours at Patmos or sounds of heavenly music ravished
the ear like those

"Where, through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault.
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise."

He possessed, it is said, a marvelous power of memorizing, and, like S. S.
Prentiss, sometimes made use unconsciously of the words and sentences of others
without knowing where they came from, but this was not strange, for he had
been an extensive reader, and anything that took his fancy became imbedded in
his memory. His perceptions were quick and his flow of language great. In
stature Mr. Smith was about medium size, with a slightly florid complexion,
rather light hair, active in his movements, rapid in speech and graceful in his
gestures. His imagery was fine and he was capable of holding an audience spell-
bound by his pathos. None of his speeches have, to my knowledge, been pre-
served, but it is said that he made one at Springfield, before a political convention,
of surpassing eloquence, and the one that he made at the great "harbor and
river convention" has always been referred to as something wonderful, taking
precedence over that of Edward Bates, of Missouri. Some have gone so far as
to affirm that Henry Clay once said that Smith was the best orator he had ever
heard, but I think that is doubtful. Ordinary litigation of suits at law was not
to his taste and the trial of lawsuits was evidently out of his jurisdiction. I
never heard him say anything in court but once, and that was upon a motion to
quash an indictment when his wings were folded. It was altogether too dry a
subject to excite his fancy, for it was treated in the most commonplace and per-
functory manner and attracted no attention whatever. He delivered one lecture
in the old Warner's hall, I think (on Randolph street between Clark and Dear-
born, on the south side of the street), on the escape of Kinkel, the revolutionist,
from a German prison, which excited a good deal of admiration. But his days for
oratorical display were about over in 1853, and he did not figure much in public
after that date. He died suddenly, of the cholera, in 1854. He was naturally very
polite and polished and was generous to a fault. It is no wonder that tradition
should have invested him with almost supernatural powers, and that his memory
is cherished with such affection bv all who knew him.


John J. Brown was, in some respects, as noted as S. Lisle Smith and possessed
oratorical powers of the very highest order. He was a Virginian by birth and
originally settled at Danville, as early as 1839. He was the opponent of William
Fithian for state senator, but was defeated by a most despicable trick on Fithian's
part, but was elected to the same general assembly. He removed to Chicago
about 1846 and for a time taught a law school. He was regarded as a well
trained lawyer and capable of great things, but life with him was not cheerful,
but was always clothed in a dark and somber robe. He was naturally a retiring,
misanthropic man,and,as one who knew him well, said, "the lenses through which
he looked at life seemed to be ever clouded, the glimpses of sunshine rare." In
all of his forensic efforts, when mounting to the very highest flights of fancy, his
golden wings were mottled with dark and somber colors. His countenance was
leonine and his hair tawny. His eyes, when excited, burnt like coals of fire. His
tongue was keen like a razor. His sarcasm was withering and his irony remorse-
less. His gestures were sometimes vehement and his powers of denunciation tre-
mendous. Had his natural temperament been different life would have undoubt-
edly been more roseate and he might have made for himself a highly honored
name. We know not the particulars of his death.

Usher F. Linder was one of the most unique characters that have ever figured
in public affairs in this state. He was a natural-born orator, having a great fund
of wit and humor, and was one of the greatest trial lawyers of his time. He was
born March 20, 1809, at Elizabethtown, Hardin county, Kentucky, not far from
the birthplace of Lincoln. He came to Illinois in 1835, when the population did
not much exceed one hundred and fifty thousand, settled in a little village called
Greenup, in Coles county, named after Col. William C. Greenup, the secretary of
the constitutional convention of 1818, and knew personally most all of the leading
men of that day. He served several terms in the legislature with Abraham Lincoln,
Stephen A. Douglas, James Shields, Archy Williams, Ninian Edwards, John J.
Hardin and Sidney Breese, and was elected attorney general in 1836. Mr. Linder
was attorney general of the state at the time of the Lovejoy riots, and at the time
when Elijah P. Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob at Alton, on the night of
November 7, 1837, and the course that he pursued on that occasion subjected
him to the gravest criticism and censure. Lovejoy was a man of education and
a clergyman of the Presbyterian denomination. He had most decided convic-
tions upon the subject of human slavery and had established a paper at Alton
called the Alton Observer, in which he expressed his opinions freely, but tem-
perately, as he had a right to. Three presses had been destroyed in succession,
and a fourth having been procured, public meetings were called to determine
whether Mr. Lovejoy should be permitted to set up that press and re-establish
his paper and pursue his business like that of any other citizen. Linder sympa-
thized with the pro-slavery element, which was not only low and mean, but des-
perately wicked and revengeful. He was a fluent speaker, and in one of his
addresses to the people he, among other things, said that "it was a question
whether the interest and feelings of the citizens of Alton should be consulted or
whether we were to be dictated to by foreigners, who cared nothing but for the


gratification of their own inclinations and the establishment of certain abstract
principles, which no one, as a general thing, ever thought of questioning," and
concluded by offering the following resolution :

Resolved, That the discussion of the doctrines of immediate abolitionism, as they have
been discussed in the columns of Alton Observer, would be destructive of the peace and
harmony of the citizens of Alton, and that, therefore, we cannot recommend the re-estab-
lishment of that paper or any other of a similar character and constructed with a like

This resolution was adopted by the pro-slavery citizens, who had obtained
control of the meeting, and either that night or the next night after, the ware-
house where the printing press was stored was broken into and while Mr. Love-
joy was protecting his property he was shot and killed. Not long after this a
grand jury, composed wholly of pro-slavery men, was organized and a judge,
who, from all accounts, was rightly named, known as Judge Lawless, harangued
the jury, and they proceeded to indict the owner of the warehouse and eleven
others who were with Lovejoy in the building, or who were associated with him,
and when they were arraigned Linder appeared to prosecute them, in connection
with the prosecuting officer of the local municipal court of Alton. George T. M.
Davis, Esq., and Alfred Cowles appeared for the defense and demanded a separate
trial for Winthrop S. Oilman, the owner of the warehouse, which, after consider-
able trouble, was granted, and, after a long and tedious trial, he was acquitted,
when the prosecuting officer, becoming convinced that nothing would result from
prosecuting the others, entered a nolle prosequi on their indictments and the
matter was then dropped ; but the infamy of the whole proceeding, from beginning
to end, was in strict accord with that which characterized the persecution and
assassination of Lovejoy, and was disgraceful in the extreme to all concerned
and to everybody who had anything whatever to do with it. This occurrence
proved to be a most disastrous thing for the prosperity of Alton, but was the
beginning of one of the greatest conflicts that the world ever saw.

Owen Lovejoy went to his brother's grave and, kneeling down by it, lifted up
his voice to Almighty God and cried for vengeance upon his murderers. A wave
of indignation swept over the land, and a great meeting was held in Faneuil Hall
to denounce the outrage, but the "dough-faces" and southern sympathizers
obtained control of the meeting, and the attorney general of the state not only
apologized for those who had destroyed Lovejoy's printing press, but claimed
that if men would become agitators they must take the consequences. Then it
was that the voice of Wendell Phillips was for the first time heard, and he
denounced the pusillanimous course of the attorney general in such language as
had never before been heard within the walls of that grand old cradle of liberty.
Then it was that John Quincy Adams declared that if this country was to be pre-
served in its integrity that the essential principles of the Declaration of Independ-
ence must be upheld, and from that day to the close of the late civil war the
agitation against slavery was kept up and never ceased until that accursed insti-
tution was annihilated and swept from the face of the earth. Mr. Linder was a


well trained lawyer. He rode the circuit and tried cases in many of the southern
counties of the state and was probably the most renowned advocate that ever
appeared in that region. His experiences on the circuit and during his life would,
if written out, fill volumes. He was a great stump orator and was in many
respects more like Thomas Corwin of Ohio than any man that I ever met. He
removed to Chicago in 1860 and died here on the 5th day of June, 1876. His
"Reminiscences of the Early Bench and Bar of Illinois," which relate prin-
cipally to those who flourished in the southern portion of the state, abound in the
most interesting incidents and are a valuable contribution to our early history.
The late Joseph Gillespie says in his introduction to "Linder's Reminiscences"
that he was "a man of transcendent abilities in the forum and at the hustings.
He had his failings and he was his own worst enemy, but he was a good citizen,
a kind friend and an affectionate husband and father. He filled a large place in
public estimation and rendered an important service to the country, which will
be better known and appreciate^ hereafter than it is now or has been during his

Mr. Linder made one of the most thrilling and remarkable speeches at the
bar meeting of the Chicago bar (which was called to give expression to their
feelings at the time of the assassination of President Lincoln) that I ever listened
to. He knew Lincoln well and had been at various times engaged in public ser-
vice with him, and his references to those whom he had known and had passed
away, and of the great kindness that he had at various times received from Mr.
Lincoln, were very interesting. It abounded in pathos and was a masterpiece
of eloquence. It was the speech of the occasion and no other compared with it.

E. W. Tracey was another man who was possessed of great natural endow-
ments, but he neither husbanded his resources nor applied himself diligently to
business, but gave way to drink, and in this manner threw away both fame and
fortune, which only awaited his stretching forth his hand and grasping them.
He was highly educated, of commanding presence, and Websterian in his com-
mand of language and reasoning powers. He had a wonderful capacity as a
reasoner and expounder of the law. I recollect one incident in his career which
I think has never been related. In 1853 or 1854 Mr. Tracey had an office
42 or 44 Clark street, with the late Charles S. Cameron, while I was located in
the Davidson block, at the northwest corner of Lake and Clark streets. The
telegraph office was at that time in an office next to mine and the next one to
the corner office. Emory Cobb was the manager. Jules Lumbard and Bob
Rankin were operators. A contest had arisen among the stockholders as to the
right of control over the line and, if I mistake not, Judge Caton was interested
in the same.

Ezra Cornell, after whom Cornell University is named, and an old gentle-
man by the name of Stone undertook to obtain possession of the telegraph line
and the office one day while Mr. Cobb was at dinner. He was surprised on his
return to find Cornell and Stone in complete occupation and control of the same
and doing a flourishing business. Cobb consulted me, and as Tracey was a man
of large experience and had a level head, he was called in to advise what should


be done in the emergency. Cobb was a man of nerve and Lumbard a stalwart,
and it was resolved, after due deliberation, that the correct thing to do was to go
in and throw them out. Cobb assembled his forces in my office and it was ar-
ranged that Cobb should go in and engage in an argument with the "marauders,"
and at a given signal that Lumbard, Rankin and one or two others should rush in
and overpower them and put them out bodily at any and all hazards. Cobb went
in and it was not long before he raised a warwhoop. The reserves were ordered
up ; Tracey and myself advised moderation in the onset and not to resort to
physical violence, but to seize Cornell and Stone around the waist and carry
them out. This programme was followed to the letter and in five minutes the
cruel war was over, and Cornell and Stone, with hats off and hair disheveled, stood
panting outside of the office, while Cobb and his cohorts were in full and com-
plete possession. This action led to serious litigation, but it was settled and
compromised, and Mr. Cornell afterward became a millionaire and a philan-
thropist, and is so known to this day.

Mr. Tracey was in his time a very sharp practitioner and at one time was
pitted against Isaac N. Arnold in a trespass case which had been taken by change
of venue for some reason to Naperville. In the course of the trial it became neces-
sary to introduce a certified copy of a summons or writ of capias with the
sheriff's return upon the same, and Mr. Arnold argued that it was defective and
that something had been omitted, and that the only thing that could be done
was to introduce the original, and that was not there, so that it seemed that the
case would be thrown out of court. 'The court sustained Mr. Arnold's objection,
and when that was done business ceased for a moment, and the court very
blandly asked Mr. Tracey what he proposed to do next. Mr. Tracey said that he
proposed to proceed by "due course of mail," and, reaching his hand around to
the pocket in his swallow-tailed coat, remarked that he was not accustomed to go
to sea without his sailing papers, and that he would now introduce the original
which Mr. Arnold was so desirous of obtaining. This was, after some sparring
and bantering, admitted and the case proceeded and he obtained a verdict.
Tracey was a man not easily taken aback and could he have controlled his appe-
tite might have achieved great things, but he could not, and so died miserably.

Henry Frink, Robert S. Blackwell and Andrew Harvie, of a later period,
were men of a somewhat similar cast of mind and for a time commanded great
attention, but finally yielded to temptation and laid down their lives without
having reached the goal of their ambition. Wirt Dexter and Leonard Swett
were fine trial lawyers and men of great resources and would rank high any-
where. Edwin C. Larned was not only a very fine lawyer, but a most cultivated
and scholarly man, and at times rivaled Wendell Phillips in his presentation of
any popular question of a philanthropic or patriotic character. He did great
service in arousing public opinion against slavery prior to the breaking out of
the rebellion, and when the war came devoted all of his energies in upholding the

Wirt Dexter died in the month of June, 1892, while yet in his prime, in the
midst of his life work, from heart disease. The shock to the community was


great, for no warning had been given and no one suspected that such a massive
and compact form could be shaken and fall without a struggle, but death came
unheralded and stole noiselessly into his apartments and beckoned him away.
It was my fortune to become acquainted with Mr. Dexter almost from the day
of his arrival in our city, and our friendship remained unabated until his life was
closed. He was the son of Judge Samuel Dexter, a pioneer jurist of Michigan,
and was born at a town in that state bearing his father's name. now somewhat
over sixty years ago. His grandfather was Samuel Dexter, of Boston, secretary
of the treasury during the administration of John Adams, and he was distin-
guished both as a lawyer and statesman.

Wirt Dexter studied law, and was admitted to the bar in his native state by
the time he had attained his majority. He had spent some time in the lumber
camps and was interested in the lumber business, but however engaging that
business might have been to him, he was fascinated with the law. His taste was
for the law and he sought a wider field and for a location more favorable to his
tastes than the small town where he was born, in order that he might exercise his
talent and make his influence felt. He came to Chicago in 1853 an d, joining the
firm of Walker, Van Arnam & Dexter, soon became prominent. I was very
early thrown into his company by being associated with him in the defense of
Devine, an iron foundryman, who had shot one of his employes in an alterca-
tion, and was struck with his great powers as a lawyer and an orator. The case
referred to was one that excited a great deal of attention in the community,
and was brought to my partner and myself, owing to the fact that the parties were
Scotch and my partner, Robert Hervey, was the leading Scotch lawyer in the
city of Chicago and the northwest. His speech at the trial was one of great
power and excellence, and carried all before it and gave him great eclat. He was
next engaged with Van Arnam in the celebrated Jumpertz case and distinguished
himself in that case, and then in the Hopps case, which is the leading case in-
volving the doctrine of insanity and the rule relating to the burden of proof.

As time wore on he was engaged in several civil cases of great importance,
notably Ward's will case at Detroit and the Newberry will case in this city. His
partners, J. M. Walker and Mr. Van Arnam, had been in the employ of the
Michigan Central Railroad before coming here, and he soon drifted into rail-
road and corporation law. Mr. Walker was chosen the general solicitor for the
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company, and he succeeded him upon
his death. But Mr. Dexter did not confine himself strictly to law business, but
took part in almost all of the great public movements, educational, charitable
and religious, that engaged the attention of our people. He was liberal in his
views and was one of Professor Swing's mainstays and backers, when he with-
drew from the Presbyterian church and set up an independent church, with ser-
vices at Central Music Hall.

He became president of the Relief and Aid Society at the time of the great
Chicago fire, in 1871, and performed invaluable services in ameliorating the con-
dition of the people, who suffered the untold miseries arising from that great
calamity.' He possessed not only a kind heart, but a great heart, and, as one of


his biographers has said, "No great work for the upbuilding of Chicago or for the
establishment of her libraries, schools or her hospitals during the last thirty
years has progressed without his helping hand and persuasive tongue." He
read much and enriched his stores of knowledge by extensive foreign travel, but
what was the most wonderful thing about him was his steady growth as an orator
and public speaker. He was endowed by nature with a fine physique, a com-
manding and noble presence and a magnificent voice, which could penetrate
easily into the farthest recesses of our largest halls, and when he spoke he not only
arrested the attention, but impressed everyone by his power. He resembled
more nearly Edmund Burke in the wealth and exuberance of his fancy and the
majesty of his oratory than any man which history describes, and had he lived he
would unquestionably have achieved a national reputation. He sometimes spoke

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 9 of 83)