HON. WILLIAM E. SHUTT, SR. - Admitted to the bar on attaining his majority, and serving as mayor of the city at the age of twenty-six, William Edward Shutt, Sr., thus early showed forth the elemental strength of his character and ability and the promise of his early life has been more than fulfilled, while the favorable judgment which the world passed upon him at the outset of his career has been in no degree set aside or modified, but has rather been strengthened as the years have gone by and Mr. Shutt has by his ability given proof of his right to be classed among the leading members of the bar in the capital city.
A native of Loudoun county, Virginia, born May 5, 1842, he was one of the family of nine children of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Shutt, and on the paternal side comes of German ancestry, while in the maternal line he is of Scotch-Irish extraction. In the year of his birth his parents removed with their family to Springfield, Illinois, where Jacob Shutt engaged in merchandising, successfully carrying on his business for a number of years, but enjoyed his declining years in retirement from business activity. His death occurred in 1866. He was a man of high personal worth, incorruptible integrity and other estimable traits, among which were the characteristic German love of music and of the home. To a liberal education in books and a broad knowledge of affairs, together with practical methods in business, he added unusual refinement of manner and taste and superior skill in musical performance, especially on the flute. His accomplishments contributed much to the pleasure of home life and the entertainment of his friends. He studied political questions from the standpoint of a public spirited and patriotic citizen and gave his support to Jeffersonian-Democratic principles.
William E. Shutt received a practical business training as a clerk in a store, which he entered at the age of twelve on leaving school. For seven years he was employed in a mercantile capacity, but the work was not congenial and at the age of nineteen he took up the study of law under the instruction and in the office of Judge James H. Matheny. His studies were prosecuted with diligence and understanding so that he was equipped for the practice of law before attaining his majority and upon his admission to the bar he at once became an earnest member of the profession. Within a short time he was elected city attorney. The faithful performance of his official duties brought him into favorable public notice and resulted in his election to the office of mayor of Springfield, when he was but twenty-six years of age. This was in 1868.
At the close of his term of office Mr. Shutt practiced alone for a short time and then formed a partnership with two prominent lawyers, James C. Robinson and Anthony L. Knapp, both of whom had been representatives in congress. In 1881, after the death of Mr. Knapp, there was a reorganization of the firm and in 1886 John M. Palmer, the distinguished ex-governor and afterward United States Senator, joined the firm under the name of Palmer, Robinson & Shutt, this partnership being maintained until the death of General Palmer. Mr. Shutt's interest in affairs of state and his taste for politics combined to make him a party leader while his ability well qualified him for office and he was three times elected state senator, serving therefore for twelve years, while for eight years of that time he was the president of the Democratic senatorial caucus. At least four of the measures which secured his active and earnest support in the senate deserve special mention - the appropriation of funds for a new capitol, the consolidation of the state supreme court in the capital city, the establishment of Camp Lincoln and the appropriation for the Lincoln monument at Springfield. He gained the reputation of a progressive and useful legislator. In 1893 he was appointed United States attorney for the southern district of Illinois, by President Cleveland, and during his term prosecuted some very important cases on behalf of the government. One against Daniel Benton, alias William Newby, was noteworthy because the ability of the counsel employed, the examination of five hundred witnesses and the similarity of the case to the celebrated suit in England, some twenty-five years ago, against Tichborne, the fraudulent claimant of a title and estate. The prosecution was so ably conducted by Mr. Shutt as to attract the attention of the department of justice in Washington and received favorable mention in the attorney general's annual report.
In 1897, upon his retirement from the federal office, which he had filled with much credit to himself and to the satisfaction of the government, Mr. Shutt resumed the practice of law, associated with Mr. Palmer. During the same year John G. Brennan was admitted to the partnership and remained with the firm until he was appointed district attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad. His successor in the firm was Robert E. Hamill, who in 1900 withdrew to become general counsel for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, removing to Cincinnati. In the summer of 1900 Senator Palmer died and Mr. Shutt then became the senior partner of the firm of Shutt, Graham & Lester, his partners being James M. Graham and Andrew J. Lester. He has long made a specialty of corporation law, the firm being at the present time local counsel for the Illinois Central and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Companies. Few men have broader knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence than has William E. Shutt. He is regarded as one of the ablest members of the Springfield bar and has been retained on many of the most important cases which have come up in the courts during his long connection with the bar. As a lawyer he is sound, clear minded and well trained. He is at home in all departments of the law from the minutiae in practice to the greater topics wherein is involved the consideration of ethics and the philosophy of jurisprudence and the higher concerns of public policy. But he is not learned in the law alone, for he has studied long and carefully the subjects that are to the statesman and the man of affairs of the greatest import, - the questions of finance, political economy and sociology - and has kept abreast with the best thinking men of the age. He is not an orator, swaying his auditors by the power of rhetoric, but is felicitous and clear in argument, thoroughly in earnest, full of the vigor of conviction, never abusive of adversaries, imbued with the highest courtesy, and yet a foe worthy of the steel of the most able opponent. In August, 1898, he was appointed by the late Judge Allen of the United States court, to the position of referee in bankruptcy for the southern district of Illinois and is now serving in that capacity.
In New Orleans, on the 11th of January, 1866, was celebrated the marriage of William E. Shutt and Miss Ella Viola Collins, a graduate of one of the best schools of the south and a lady whose culture, charm of manner and gracious hospitality soon won her leadership in the social circles of the city, while her broad sympathy and benevolent spirit have made her an active worker in many of the public charities of Springfield. Two children were born unto Mr. and Mrs. Shutt; Margaret Taylor Shutt, the daughter, was graduated in the Cornell University Medical college with the highest honors of her class and not only gained the degree of M.D., but also won the purple seal from the New York board of regents, conferred only in recognition of the highest merit and ability. She is now serving on the staff of physicians of St. John's Hospital, of this city. The son, William E. Shutt, Jr., prepared for the bar and was one of the youngest city attorneys ever to hold the office in Springfield. In November, 1900, he was elected states attorney on the Democratic ticket and is certainly destined to high professional honors because of his natural talent, his close application and his strong mentality, his official service having already won him high commendation.
Such in brief is the life history of William E. Shutt, Sr., who from his boyhood days has been a resident of Springfield and who from the time he entered upon his chosen life work at the age of twenty-one has left the impress of his individuality upon the public mind because of his keen insight into the questions of the day, his devotion to the general good, his fearless defense of his honest convictions when in office and his careful upholding of the dignity of the profession which stands as the conservator of all human rights and privileges.