Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 sev. eral 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 as yet no large influx of foreign emigrants, the question of the right of these persons 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 a 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

HENRY W. BLODGETT.

the court undoubtedly gave the State better trial Judges than those who had been displaced for political reasons.

It is also worthy of mention that all the four Judges on the Bench, when the case was first before the court, wrote opinions on the final hearing in favor of the Democratic construction of the Constitution, Judge Lockwood, although a pronounced Whig in his political faith, saying in his opinion: “There is no ambiguity in the word ‘resident.' Every man is a ‘resident who has taken up his permanent abode in the State.” And none of the newly made Judges wrote opinions in the case.

This episode in the history of the court demonstrating what we lawyers have often noticed, that with a clear minded, honest jurist, political considerations have very little influence -the only thought being the principle of law involved rather than the political effect of the decision.

It may, therefore, I think, be fairly said that while the Democratic Party gained nothing by its high-handed re-construction of the Supreme Court for political purposes, the people of the State were the gainers by a better quality of men who held the trial courts and sat in banc as a Court of Review.

The Convention that framed the Constitution of 1848, adopted the new principle of an elective judiciary. (If I remember aright, this is the first time any State had adopted that mode of selecting Judges).

By this Constitution the Supreme Court was reduced to three members, and the State divided into three grand divisions, in each of which the Judges were to hold one or more terms of the Supreme Court, and the term of office of the Judges was made nine years.

This mode of selecting the Judges continued in force until the adoption of the Constitution of 1870, by which the Supreme Court was re-constructed and made to consist of seven Judges, one of whom should be Chief Justice, and four should constitute a quorum; and the State was divided, as

REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON LEGAL HISTORY AND BIOGRAPAY.

under the Constitution of 1848, into three grand divisions, and also into seven judicial districts, each of which districts should elect a Justice of the Supreme Court, and we are now working under this Constitution.

It was also provided that the terms of the Supreme Court should be held in each of the three grand divisions as the same had been held under the Constitution of 1848; but power was given the legislature to change the place of holding the terms of the court, and in the exercise of this power the legislature, in January, 1897, provided a single place for the holding of the Supreme Court, which is at Springfield, the Capital of the State—and this change had been for many years a "consummation devoutly wished for."

Before the increase of the present facilities for travel there was some reason for providing these different places for the meeting of the court, but now Springfield is so accessible from all parts of the State that the reason for holding the sessions of the court in several places no longer exists, and all considerations of public policy seem to dictate that the court have but one local habitation and that at the Capital of the State.

The tendency of the old plan was to sectionalize the Bar and people of the State. The lawyers residing in, and whose business before the Court of last resort took them only into one of the grand divisions, naturally came to consider their Bar and their grand division as embodying the bulk of the learning, intelligence and integrity of the State, and led to a disposition to underrate the other sections of the State; while bringing the members of the Bar of the entire State to one common center tends to make the Bar more homogeneous, more liberal, and I might say, intelligent, with broader views of the law and of their own relations to our system of . administering justice.

It will be seen from what I have said that our State from the beginning had its own peculiar methods of selecting the

« PreviousContinue »