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HENRY W. BLODGETT.
REPORT OF COMMITTEE
HENRY W. BLODGETT, CHAIRMAN.
In all modern civilized nations it has been found necessary to make provision in some form for a tribunal or court of last resort, whose decisions shall be final and bring into harmony with the rules of equity and justice, the conflicting decisions of its subordinate or inferior tribunals; and it is my purpose in this paper to briefly trace the history of the Supreme Court of our own State through its various changes.
By the ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory, adopted by Congress on the 13th of July, 1787, provision was made for a court to consist of three Judges to be appointed by the President-any two of whom should form a court.
These provisions were in substance carried into the acts establishing the territories of Indiana and Illinois; and the courts thus established by the organic territorial acts were for the time being the Supreme Territorial Courts, and exercised appellate jurisdiction over all the inferior courts.
Under the provisions of the act creating the territory of Illinois, the President appointed Alexander Stuart, Obadiah Jones and Jesse Burgess Thomas, Territorial Judges. At a later date, Judge Stuart being transferred to Missouri, Stanley Griswold was appointed to succeed him; of whom Governor Reynolds in his memoirs of his “Own Times," says, "He was
REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON LEGAL HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY.
an honest man, a good lawyer; paid his debts and sung David's Psalms"-all certainly apt qualifications for a Judge.
I have been unable to find a report of any decision by this, our first appellate tribunal, and my conclusion is that no attempt was made to publish or preserve them, perhaps because the appetite for adjudged cases was not as strong then as in the present day; and if any decisions were written and filed, it is probable they were destroyed by the fire which burned the public records while the government was at Vandalia, it being undoubtedly considered sufficient that the parties to the suits so affirmed or reversed, became in some way informed of the decision.
On the 18th day of April, 1818, Congress passed an Act enabling the people of Illinois Territory, to frame a Constitution, and be admitted as a State into the Union; and in pursuance of this Act a convention was held and a Constitution framed, and the State admitted by Act of Congress on the third day of December, 1818.
By this Constitution it was provided, “That the judicial power of the State shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and such inferior courts as the General Assembly shall from time to time ordain and establish."
The Supreme Court was to consist of a Chief Justice and three associates, any two of whom should form a quorum. The number of Justices, however, was subject to be increased by the General Assembly after the year 1824.
The Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judges of the inferior courts were to be appointed by joint ballot of both branches of the General Assembly, and commissioned by the Governor, and to hold their offices during good behavior, until the first day of January, 1824, at which time their commissions were to expire; and until the expiration of their terms the Justices were required to hold Circuit Courts in the several counties in such manner and at such times, and have and exercise such jurisdiction as the General Assembly should provide.
HENRY W. BLODGETT.
The first Justices of the Supreme Court appointed were, Joseph Phillips, Chief Justice, and Thomas C. Brown, William P. Foster, and John Reynolds, Associate Justices. Foster is described by Governor Ford as “a great rascal and no lawyer," and held the office only about nine months, when he was succeeded by William Wilson, afterwards Chief Justice for nearly thirty years.
The personnel of the Court changed from time to time by the resignation of Judges and the appointment of their successors, until at the December Term, 1839, it consisted of William Wilson, Chief Justice, and Samuel D. Lockwood, Theophilus W. Smith and Thomas C. Brown, Associate Justices.
At this time the case of Spragins vs. Houghton, which was an appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess county, came up for hearing. The suit was brought to recover a penalty fixed by statute, which it was insisted had been incurred by Houghton, the defendant, while acting as one of the judges of an election held in Jo Daviess county in 1838, by reason of his having allowed one Kyle, who was of foreign birth and had never been naturalized, to vote at said election.
The Constitution of this State adopted in 1818, and then in force, provided that “All white male inhabitants above the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the State six months next preceding an election, shall enjoy the right of an elector in the county or district in which he shall reside.”
By common consent it had been the practice to allow all male persons without regard to their place of birth, who were over twenty-one years of age, and who had been actual residents of the precinct or voting district, for six months or more, to vote at all elections; and as there had been is yet no large influx of foreign emigrants, the question of the right of these per ns to vote had attracted very little public attention; but in 1836 our State entered upon large schemes for internal improvements, such as the construction of the Illinois and
REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON LEGAL HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY.
Michigan canal, a railroad from Cairo to Galena with a branch to Chicago, and two railroads across the State from east to west, and these public works had brought into the State a very large number of foreign laborers, and a very large majority of these foreigners were, I might say, eager to vote the Democratic ticket; although many intelligent citizens had doubted whether they had the right to vote, or were made voters under the Constitution.
It was obvious to all parties that if these foreigners had the Constitutional right to vote, they, under the circumstances, so far reinforced the Democratic Party that there would be no difficulty in its not only carrying the State at all elections, but holding the control of it perhaps indeterminately.
The question, under the circumstances, evoked an intense party feeling, and as it was involved in the case of Spragins vs. Houghton, then before the Supreme Court, and as the case had been instituted for the purpose of trying this question, the leading Democratic politicians were afraid to trust the court as then constituted with the decision of the case.
A suggestion of diminution of the record was therefore made, which continued the case until the December Term, 1840, and before the case came on for hearing the legislature passed an Act which legislated all the nine Circuit Judges out of office, and elected five additional Justices of the Supreme Court, care being taken in the election by the two houses that all the men so elected were of the Democratic Party, and thus made sure that majority of the court were in harmony with the construction of the Constitution contended for by the Democrats; and also providing that the Judges of the Supreme Court should hold the Circuit Courts.
The gentlemen thus introduced into the court were Thomas Ford, Sidney Breese, Walter B. Scates, Samuel H. Treat, and Stephen A. Douglas, all able men who did good service upon the Bench, and this change in the personnel of