Hon. James Cameron Allen, one of the best known men in Southern Illinois,
and the most distinguished citizen of Olney, died on January 30, 1912, at
his home in this city. He was born on January 29, 1822, and had celebrated
his ninetieth birthday anniversary on the day preceding his death. Mr. Allen
was born in Shelby county, Kentucky, and was the seventh of ten children
born to Benjamin and Margaret (Youel) Allen, both natives of Virginia.
Benjamin Allen was educated and married in his native state, where in early
life he was engaged in the manufacture of sickles. Afterward he engaged in
blacksmithing and general farming. In 1802 he removed to Shelby county,
Kentucky, and from there, in 1830, he moved to Parke county, Indiana, where
he resided until his death, which occurred in 1847. From early life he was a
consistent member of the Presbyterian church, in which he was for over
thirty years an elder.
James Cameron Allen, his son, and the subject of this memoir, received his early education in the log school house common to the period in which he was reared, and later he attended a high school at Rockville, Indiana. Until he was nineteen years of age the greater part of his time was spent on his father's farm. He then commenced reading law in the office of Messrs. Howard & Wright of Rockville, Indiana, and in August, 1843, he was admitted to the bar. In the following December he removed to Sullivan, Indiana, where he was engaged in the practice of law until the autumn of 1845, and in that fall he was elected prosecuting attorney for the seventh judicial district of Indiana, holding the office for two years. In 1847 Mr. Allen removed to Palestine, Crawford county, Illinois, where he remained for twenty-nine years consecutively. In 1850-51 he represented Crawford and Jasper counties in the lower house of the state legislature. In 1852 he was elected to congress from the seventh congressional district of Illinois, and was re-elected in 1854. At that time the election was contested by Colonel W. B. Archer, of Marshall, Illinois. The evidence showed the election of Colonel Archer, but he offended the South American Faction by being made a vice-president of the convention that nominated Fremont, and the seat was declared vacant. Another election followed, at which Mr. Allen was elected. In 1857 he was elected clerk of the House of Representatives, serving during the Thirty-fifth Congress. In 1860 he was the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois, but was defeated by Richard Yates. In 1861 he was elected judge of the seventh judicial district, which position he held until the fall of 1862, when he was elected congressman-at-large for Illinois. In 1861 Governor Yates tendered him the command of the Twenty-first Illinois Regiment of Infantry, which he declined on the ground that he had no military training or inclination, but requested that U. S. Grant be placed in command, which was done. In 1862 President Lincoln offered him the command of a brigade, which he declined for the same reasons given Governor Yates. In 1870 he was a delegate to the constitutional convention of Illinois, and in June, 1873, was elected judge of the second judicial circuit. In 1876 he removed to Olney, Richland county, where he remained as a resident until the time of his death, and in the year following, 1877, he was appointed one of the appellate judges for the fourth district of Illinois. He held this office until 1879, when he resumed the practice of his profession.
Judge Allen was first married on January 22, 1845, to Ellen Kitchell, youngest daughter of Hon. Joseph Kitchell. Three children were born to them, all deceased. Mrs. Allen died in May, 1852. In June, 1857, Judge Allen was again married. His second wife was Julia Kitchell, a daughter of Harvey Kitchell. Seven children were born of this latter union. Judge Allen and his wife were members of the Presbyterian church.
The Judge was a staunch Democrat politically. In a speech at the memorial meeting of the bar, Judge E. Callahan thus speaks of the attitude of Judge Allen at the time of the war: "In congress he voted for every appropriation of men and money which was asked for by the administration for the prosecution of the war, though he did not fully approve of them. There was a line that he would never pass, and from which he later retreated. If he had crossed that line and given his full support to the administration of President Lincoln he might have won a senatorial toga, or seated himself in the gubernatorial chair. This was the hour of his opportunity but it was allowed to pass by.
"June 17, 1863, he was a speaker at the conclave of politicians at Springfield that resolved 'That the further offensive prosecution of the war tends to subvert the constitution and the government and entails upon the nation all the disastrous consequences of misrule and anarchy' and 'earnestly requested the president to withdraw the proclamation of emancipation.'
"In 1869 he was elected without opposition a member of the constitutional convention that formed the present constitution of the state of Illinois. He was chairman of the committee on the Legislative Department and was entitled to great credit for service wisely rendered in that capacity. He was one of the most prominent and useful members of the convention."
In connection also with the political career of Judge Allen, the Olney Times, following his death, printed the following interesting sketch concerning his political activities: "The younger generation of Olney does not know of an incident in the life of the late Judge Allen which came near changing the current of his existence and landing him in the presidential chair. Judge Allen was always fond of relating stories that referred principally to his colleagues of former times, while the incidents that affected him personally he seldom referred to. For this reason, it is only the older people who knew of the situation at the Charleston convention when the withdrawal of Douglas was the only thing essential to the nomination of Judge Allen for the presidency.
"At that time, 'Jim' Allen of Illinois was a national figure. His several terms in Congress and his four years as clerk of the national house, coupled with his great power as a public speaker, had brought him the notice of the entire country. He occupied a steadfast position, and his character was such that he drew the confidence of the people.
"As 1860 approached with its slavery agitation and its 'national conventions, there was a conflict growing between the northern and southern Democrats. The south became more distrustful of Senator Douglas of Illinois, who for three years had been conceded the Democratic nomination, and the Charleston convention showed that this hostility was so great that if Douglas were named the party would split. It was at this juncture that the southern Democrats urged Douglas to withdraw in the hope of keeping the party united. They made this proposition to the Illinois delegation: 'Induce Douglas to withdraw and we will join you in nominating Jim Allen.' Although facing division and defeat if nominated, the autocratic Douglas refused to listen to withdrawal talk and kept his delegates in line. Judge Allen was then nominated for governor of Illinois and made the historic race against Richard Yates, Sr.
"Judge Allen possessed all the elements of a great public man. Had he been nominated at Charleston or had he defeated Yates in 1860, his subsequent career would have been interwoven with national affairs for many years."
Extracted 13 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 History of Southern Illinois, pages 1608-1610.