By JAMES C. ALLEN
At the request of the President and Executive Committee of the State Bar
Association of Illinois, I have attempted to prepare a paper in response to
that request. In 1844, while residing in another and adjoining state, I had
occasion to visit some of the courts in what at that time was called the
Wabash Circuit, and while attending some of their courts, formed definite
impressions from what I heard and saw of its members while on these
occasional visits. These impressions were much strengthened after I became a
citizen of the state and a member of the Wabash Bar, from association with
its members, in the courts and in social life.
My first visit to an Illinois court was at Palestine, in Crawford county. I found the venerable justice, William Wilson, one of the Supreme Judges of Illinois, presiding over the Circuit Court, and found at the bar E. S. Janey and Augustus C. French, representing the local bar. Wickliff Kitchell, the first local member of the bar, had a short time before that removed to the western part of the state. O. B. Ficklin, then of Mt. Carmel; Justin Harlan and Timothy R. Young, of the Clark county bar; Usher F. Linder, of Coles county, and Aaron Shaw, of Lawrence County, were in attendance on the court. These men were at that time regarded as good lawyers and some of them as very able advocates.
Of Judge Wilson, the presiding judge, I can only say that he impressed me as a man of sound judgment; well versed in law as it was written in the books; courteous to the members of the bar; possessing the fine social qualities; always urbane and pleasant in his bearing toward others. He drove to the buggy in which he traveled the circuit a white mule, to which he was somewhat attached, of the good qualities of which he often talked to his companions while passing from one court to another. Justin Harlan says that, while riding with him from Paris to Danville, the Judge, in speaking of the good qualities of his white mule, said one of its qualities was never to leave the beaten track over which it had once traveled, and no matter what inducement or obstruction might lie in the way, it never required any guidance. While thus discoursing on the subject, the mule, not feeling the power of the line and tempted by the green grass that grew on the roadside, left the beaten track and wandered some distance from the road, gathering as it went mouthsful of luxuriant grass. When the Judge's attention was called to the fact he attributed its dereliction in this regard to want of proper food the night before, arguing that a man, however honest, when hungry would sometimes steal a meal. The Judge, while thoroughly equipped as a judicial officer, was somewhat deficient in his orthography, and many stories were told by the clerks and bar as to his deficiency in this line in making entries in his docket.
Justin Harlan, a native of Ohio, a sound lawyer, deeply versed in its elementary principles, while not an orator in the general acceptance of the term, possessed fine conversational powers, and before court or jury was a formidable opponent. His sound judgment and personal qualities made him popular in the profession. After the constitution of 1848 was adopted he was elected to the circuit bench and filled that position for two full terms with great acceptance to the bar and the people of the Circuit, and only left the bench when age and increasing infirmities rendered it, in his opinion, proper to retire.
Timothy R. Young, a native of New Hampshire, a citizen of Clark county, was a well educated lawyer and a man of much promise in his profession, but early in life he was elected to Congress from his district, and having great taste for the life of a farmer, at the end of his first term in Congress he left politics and the bar and became an "honest farmer". He lived till a good old age, more than four score years, and died respected and honored by all who knew him.
E. S. Janey, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, came to Crawford county and settled at Palestine shortly after the state was admitted into the Union. He was a gentleman of liberal education; well versed in the elementary principles of the law; was twice elected to the General Assembly of the state from Crawford county. After several years of successful practice he quit the profession and turned his attention to farming.
Augustus C. French, born in New Hampshire, came to Paris, Edgar county, and was shortly afterwards appointed Register of the land office at Palestine, and made that his home until later in life, when he removed to Lebanon that he might have the benefit of the college at that place for the education of his children. Mr. French was more of a politician than lawyer, and after a second term as Governor of the state he -abandoned the practice of law, although he possessed qualities that well fitted him for the bar.
Aaron Shaw, a native of the state of New York, came to Lawrenceville, Lawrence county, Illinois, shortly after the organization of the county. He was a fair lawyer in point of ability; was appointed and elected by the General Assembly, State's Attorney for the circuit, an office in which he exhibited great skill in the conduct of criminal cases. He possessed a sharp and incisive voice, and became a "terror to evildoers" while he held that office. He was twice elected to the House of Representatives of the state from his county; one term on the circuit bench, and one term to the Congress of the United States from his district. While State's Attorney he accomplished from a jury a verdict of "guilty" without a single witness upon the stand, a fact which is without parallel in modern criminal jurisprudence. Upon a call of the people's witnesses, no one appeared; he then called a jury and read the indictment, and stated that twenty-three grand jurors had sworn on their oaths that the prisoner was guilty and asked what was the use of introducing further testimony. Defendant's counsel had nothing to say; the jury retired and returned a verdict of guilty, very much to the astonishment of the court and bar. It is useless to say that the verdict was promptly set aside by the court. Mr. Shaw had a good share of civil practice on the circuit. He was a good financier; accumulated a nice property to leave to his family when he died. He was cordial with his friends, but rather unforgiving toward his enemies.
Orlando B. Ficklin, a native of Kentucky, came to Wabash county and settled at Mt. Carmel, where he remained for several years. Afterwards he located at Charleston, Coles county, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was, when I first met him, in the prime of life and manhood; a profound lawyer in the full tide of professional success on the Wabash circuit. He was a man of infinite humor and enjoyed the society of the judges and his associates at the bar as well as that of his very general acquaintance outside his profession. His knowledge of the law and his knowledge of human nature made him a successful lawyer. He was not only a good lawyer but a politician of considerable note in the state. While quite young he was elected to the Legislature from Wabash county. He was three times elected to Congress from his district, and might have remained there longer, but his taste and inclination led him back to the bar. He was plain in speech, logical in argument, and at times, when aroused, he exhibited great power over minds of courts and juries. He had a host of friends, including all who knew him, except such as professional jealousy might alienate. In the later years of his life he consented to go to the Legislature from Coles county, and though age was telling on him, his last great speech in that body in seconding the nomination of Gen. John C. Black for the office of United States Senator will be long remembered by those who had the pleasure of hearing it. He lived his four score years and died full of honors, to the regret of all who had known him in his active and useful life.
Usher F. Linder was a native of Kentucky, and a near relative of the celebrated John J. Hardin. He came to Charleston, Illinois, in the thirties, and practiced law in the Wabash circuit and courts of the state until a few years before he died, when he removed to Chicago. He was a lawyer of fine ability and obtained a first class reputation as such in Southern Illinois. He possessed two characteristics seldom found in the same individual. He was both a wit and a humorist. When addressing the court on some controverted question of law he was clear, logical and forcible. He was imaginative, and when inclined, was wonderful in tropes and figures; was an adept in posing and facial expression, could be ridiculous or sublime, as moved by the spirit within. He possessed a musical voice and could play upon the passions and emotions of a jury or an audience at his pleasure. As an orator, I think he excelled any member of the bar in Eastern Illinois in his time. He was all this when his surroundings were agreeable, but he had some failings that often destroyed the effect of his speeches. O. B. Ficklin, who knew him as well, perhaps, as any other man, once said of him: "That if it were not for his personal vanity and want of moral courage he would have been the greatest man in Illinois". An attack upon either his personal habits or arguments would render him for the time being helpless and incapable of parrying the blows. He was a Whig in politics while that party was in existence, then for a time became a Free Lance, but eventually allied himself with the Democratic party. He was twice elected to the General Assembly of Illinois and was an active member in that body. He died at his home in Chicago after more than half a century of active professional life.
In the summer of 1845 I had occasion to visit Mt. Carmel while the Circuit Court was in session. I found a young man who had located in Mt. Carmel, a graduate of a Maryland college, Charles H. Constable, a rising young lawyer, who afterwards became an important factor at the bar of Southern Illinois. He was a young gentleman of pleasing manners with a highly cultivated mind and fine social qualities, of sober and industrious habits, as I judged from the preparation of his cases in that court. He afterwards acquired a good reputation on the circuit as a safe counselor and an able advocate. Modest and unassuming in his demeanor, he became popular with his brother lawyers. In 1849 he left Mt. Carmel and took up his residence at Marshall, Clark county. He attended all of the courts of his circuit, as was the custom of that time with members of the bar, and in 1859 was elected to the Circuit bench, where he presided until his death. - His character for honesty and integrity was unimpeachable, and, possessing a judicial mind, he was a very popular judge, but he was stricken down in the midst of his usefulness before age came to impair his powers.
While at the Wabash court I met and made the acquaintance of Battice Webb, of Carmi, a Virginian by birth, a man then in the prime of life and enjoying in his circuit a lucrative practice. His father had been a noted lawyer of Southern Illinois. I was impressed with the idea that the son had a brilliant future before him, judging from his gentlemanly bearing and his evidently profound knowledge of the law, but he lived but a short time thereafter, and died lamented by all who were fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance.
In the fall of 1845 I had occasion to visit Greenup, then the county seat of Cumberland county. Circuit Court was in session in a little school-house in the south part of the village, Judge Wilson still presiding. I met Alfred Kitchell, a son of Wickliff Kitchell, a former Attorney General of the state. Alfred Kitchell was a graduate of the law school at Bloomington, Indiana. He located at Olney shortly after the village (now city) was adopted as the county seat. He had succeeded Judge Aaron Shaw as State's Attorney on the circuit. He made a vigorous prosecutor. His belief in the necessity of enforcing the law and his observance of the ethics of the profession rendered him popular with the courts and the people. He was elected for a term to the Circuit bench, but refused a re-election, preferring to return to the bar, having extensive property interests in and around Olney. He did much for the improvement of the county seat. Much to the regret of the people of Olney and vicinity, he sold his possessions in that place and located at Knoxville, Illinois, where he resided until his death in 1869, much respected and honored.
At this same term of court I met a lawyer from Springfield, who had been called to defend a man indicted for "an assault to kill." When I entered the court-room the the evidence had just been concluded and the State's Attorney was opening the argument for the prosecution. After its conclusion a gentleman of angular build arose to address the jury on behalf of the defendant. He had an earnest look in his face, but I was not impressed with his opening remarks. Later he seemed to gather up his mental forces and I listened with interest to his plain, common sense argument. He was not eloquent, but evidently knew how to touch the chords that move the hearts of the average juror, and when he concluded I felt that he was no common man. Upon inquiring I learned that it was Abraham Lincoln, whose fame afterwards reached the boundaries of the civilized world, and who fell a martyr to his love of country and of human rights.
I have thus given a brief sketch of the prominent members of the bar of the Wabash Circuit in 1844-5 from first impressions, as well as a more extensive acquaintance after I became a member of this bar in 1847. After this I made the acquaintance of a number of prominent members of the bar throughout Southern Illinois, of whom I cannot give notice in this article on account of its length.
Extracted 21 May 2019 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 446-450.