PALMER, JOHN MCAULEY, former soldier, Governor and United States Senator, was born in Scott County, Ky., September 13, 1817, the son of Louis D. and Ann Hansford (Tutt) Palmer, the former born in Northumberland County, Va., June 3, 1781, and the latter in Culpeper County, same State. Louis D. Palmer was the third son of Isaac and Ann (McAuley) Palmer, both natives of Northumberland County, the former born November 1, and the latter in April, 1747, both of whom died in Christian County, Ky., within a few months of each other, being then the oldest persons in that portion of the State. The maternal grandparents, Louis and Isabella (Yancey) Tutt, were born about the year 1750, their ancestors being early settlers of Virginia, the Tutts, from England and the Yancey's from Wales. The grandfather Palmer was a soldier of the Revolution, being enrolled as a "minute man" and the receiver of a pension in his later years.
In 1818, Mr. Palmer's parents removed to Christian County, Ky., where the family remained until 1831, and where the children received their rudimentary education, one of their early teachers being Isaac Boone, a relative of the famous Kentucky pioneer and explorer, Daniel Boone. In the year last named, the parents removed to Illinois, settling in Paddock's Prairie in the northern part of Madison County, about ten miles northeast of Alton, where the father built a log house in which the family lived during the first year. The son John remained in Kentucky with his grandparents for the first few months, but in October following joined his parents, crossing the Ohio River at Ford's Ferry, and proceeding through Illinois by way of Equality, Mt. Vernon and Carlyle to Edwardsville, some eight miles northwest of which his parents had located. The youthful immigrant always retained a vivid recollection of this journey through Southern Illinois, especially of his first sight of a prairie landscape in the vicinity of McLeansboro, Hamilton County, and which grew in interest as he advanced northward. The Kentucky home being in the southern part of that State, during a period of much agitation on questions affecting land titles and the interpretation of conflicting laws, as well as at a time when the slavery issue was of growing interest, the impressions there received undoubtedly exerted a deep influence upon the mind of the future citizen of Illinois.
The first summer after arriving in Illinois was spent with his father in working on the new farm, during a part of the time being engaged in driving a team of four yoke of oxen, breaking the prairie sod with a twenty four inch plow. During one winter he and a younger brother devoted their time to cutting saw logs on government land, thereby earning forty-eight dollars, to which their father added two dollars more, with expenses in reaching the Government Land Office, enabling John M. to purchase forty acres of land in his own name, which later was deeded to the father. An accident which occurred about this time in the summer of 1834, is thus described in the "Autobiography of John M. Palmer" as published in "The Bench and Bar of Illinois," issued under the editorship of Gen. Palmer in 1899:
"One evening, while my father and self and younger brothers were discussing the subject of education and matters of that kind, my father said to me, in reply to some expression of a wish to obtain a good education: "Very well, sir, you owe me four years of service yet; I will give you that; go and get an education." I looked at him with an expression of surprise, no doubt, and asked in an excited, trembling voice, "When may I go, sir"? He seemed amused and said, "Tomorrow morning, if you like." I remember that I left the room to conceal my feelings. After recovering my composure, I returned to the room where my father was seated and sat for some time in silence, when he said with signs of emotion, "I have no money to expend for your education, but a healthy boy, as you are, needs no help; you may go tomorrow morning. I give you your time. Do not disgrace me. May God bless you!"
That this incident proved the starting point in the new career of the future lawyer, soldier and statesman, who, as he says in his autobiography, "had looked forward to the independence of manhood with eagerness of hope," and "had reveled in dreams of results to be accomplished," is shown by the fact that, after an early breakfast the next morning, starting out on foot, without money and without extra clothes, but - as he again expr3esses it - "with my newly acquired fortune, "my time," with all of its hopes and possibilities," the afternoon found him in Upper Alton, where recently had been established a manual labor school, which later became the nucleus of Shurtleff College. Here he immediately found employment in making and carrying mortar for a man engaged in plastering a house, thus earning enough money to pay his board, purchase some clothes and finally enabling him, with a surplus of five dollars, to enter college. For a while he paid his board by working on Saturdays, later in company with an older brother, earning some money by clearing a street of timber between Upper Alton and Middletown, a village between Upper and Lower Alton.
Fired by zeal for the independence of Texas from Mexico, in the summer of 1835 he enlisted in a band of "Revolutionists," but while on the way to take passage on a boat down the Mississippi, was fortunately prevented from carrying out this plan by a demand made upon him for the payment of a small debt incurred in the purchase of some clothes. His vacations were occupied in various kinds of employment, at one time (1838) being engaged in the peddling of clocks for a Connecticut firm. It was during this period, while in Hancock County, he met for the first time Stephen A. Douglas, who was then conducting an unsuccessful campaign for Congress against the late John T. Stuart of Springfield.
In the winter of 1838-39 he taught a three months' school near Canton, Fulton County, and while thus employed began reading law, thus marking a new step in his career. In March following, after visiting his father, he went to Carlinville, where he older brother, Elihu, was pastor of a Baptist church, and there entered the of John S. Greathouse as a student of law. Regarding this period (again quoting from his autobiography) Gen. Palmer says: "I of diligence, poverty." His admittance to the bar took place December 11, 1839, when he made a trip to Springfield for this purpose in company with his preceptor, Mr. Greathouse, there taking an examination by Stephen A. Douglas and J. Young Scammon, and receiving his license from judges Lockwood and Browne of the Supreme Court. While during a period of nearly sixty years, Gen Palmer enjoyed an extensive practice which brought him in close contact with the most distinguished members of the bar and jurists of Illinois, including such names as Abraham Lincoln, O. H. Browning, Stephen T. Logan, John T. Stuart, Milton Hay, and Judges Lockwood, Reynolds, Breese, David Davis, and many others, it is nevertheless his public and official life that will be of especial interest in this connection.
While still a student at law in 1838 he was an unsuccessful candidate for County Clerk of Macoupin County, but in 1843 was elected probate Justice of the Peace, serving in that capacity until 1847, when he was chosen Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of that year, serving in that body as a member of the Committee on Education. During the same year he failed of reelection as probate Justice, but in May, 1848, was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of his predecessor, and in November following was elected County Judge under the new Constitution which he had assisted in framing. In 1852 he came into greater prominence by election without opposition as State Senator to fill a vacancy, his political associations up to this time having been with the Democratic party. On the adoption by Congress in May, 1854, of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he took a pronounced attitude in opposition to that measure; in November of that year was reelected Senator for a full term as an Anti-Nebraska Democrat, and during the next session of his first term to the United States Senate. In Legislature (1855) bore a prominent part in securing the election of Lyman Trumbull for 1856 he resigned his seat in the Senate and, on May 29th of that year, served as President of the State Convention held at Bloomington, which marked the organization of the Republican party in Illinois. This event was commemorated by a reunion of surviving members of that convention and citizens of the State, held at Bloomington, May 29, 1900 - only a few months before Gen. Palmer's decease - in which he took a deep interest, delivering one of the principal addresses on that occasion.
In 1859 Gen. Palmer was a candidate for Congress, but as the outcome of a vigorous campaign in a strongly Democratic district, was defeated by John A. McClernand, the Democratic nominee. In 1860, however, he was chosen presidential Elector for the State-at-large on the Republican ticket, casing his vote in the Electoral college for Mr. Lincoln.
Chronologically this brings us to the war period, in which Gen. Palmer bore a conspicuous part. After serving as a member from Illinois of the Peace Conference which assembled in Washington on February 4, 1861, by invitation of the State of Virginia, in the hope of solving the issues presented by the secession movement - but which resulted in total failure - on May 9th following he was elected Colonel of the fourteenth Illinois, organized at Jacksonville, this being the second illinois regiment organized under President Lincoln's second call. A few months later he was promoted to Brigadier General and, on November 29, 1862, to Major General, serving until September 1, 1866, and taking part in some of the most notable battles of the war, including those of Stone River and Chickamauga. Not the least important part of his service, however, was rendered as Commander of the Department of Kentucky, to which he was assigned by order of President Lincoln in January, 1865, in which, during the last year of the war and the reconstruction period, he had to deal with a number of questions arousing the animosity of the civil authorities of Kentucky, and resulting in indictments for alleged violation of State law. In all of these he showed his courage and independence, as well as his determination to protect the rights of the colored classes. Most of these issues were solved, however, by the final adoption of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in all the States. During the latter part of his service he met Gen. Grant in Washington who offered to recommend his appointment to a position in the regular army, which he declined.
Returning to his home in Carlinville after retirement from the army, he soon after entered into partnership for the practice of his profession with the late Milton Hay of Springfield, removing to that city in April, 1867, which continued to be his home for the rest of his life. In November, 1868, he was the Republican candidate for Governor, receiving a majority of 50,099 over J. R. Eden, his Democratic opponent. During his administration he again illustrated his independence by vetoing probably a larger number of bills than any of his predecessors - according to his own statement, the number amounting to 112. The reasons generally given were bad policy, injustice or violation of the constitution, and, in many cases, where bills were finally passed over his veto, his position was sustained by decisions of the Supreme Court.
In 1872 Gen. Palmer was one of a large number of previous members of the Republican party in Illinois who supported the nomination of Horace Greeley for President on what was called the Liberal Republican Platform, and later acted in cooperation with the Democratic party. In 1888 he received the Democratic nomination for Governor as the opponent of Hon. Joseph W. Fifer, but was defeated. Two years later (1890) he was nominated by the Democratic State Convention for United States Senator, and after a sharp struggle in the session of the Legislature which followed - and in which three Farmer Alliance members held the balance of power - on the 154th ballot he was elected as successor of Charles B. Farwell. The first joint ballot was taken January 20th and the last March 11th, Gen. Palmer then receiving 103 votes to 101 for Cicero J. Lindley and one for Alson J. Streeter.
In 1896 Gen. Palmer received the vote of the "Sound Money" branch of the Democratic party for the Presidency, and while he failed to win a vote in the electoral College, his devotion to sound money principles was widely recognized. Retiring from his seat in the United States Senate in 1897, he resumed his law practice as head of the firm of Palmer, Shutt & Lester, but in declining health of his later years, devoted his last labors to the preparation of his "Story of an Earnest Life," which was completed a few weeks before his death.
Gen. Palmer was married (first) on December 20, 1842, to Miss Malinda Ann Neeley, with whom he spent the first year of their married life in a log house on the present site of the court house in the city of Carlinville. Mrs. Palmer died May 9, 1885, having borne her husband ten children of whom the three following survive: Elizabeth, widow of Dr. john Pitt Matthews, of Carlinville, Ill.; Harriet, wife of E. G. Crabb, of Corpus Christi, Tex.; and Jessie Palmer Weber, Librarian of the State Historical Library. John Mayo Palmer, his eldest son, was his law partner and was with him during the Civil War.
April 4, 1888, the General married as his second wife, Mrs. Hannah M. Kimball, a daughter of James L. Lamb, a former prominent citizen and business man of Springfield. The General's death occurred at his home in the city of Springfield, September 25, 1900, his second wife still surviving him. Mr. Palmer was a member of the Baptist church.
Besides the last address of his life delivered at Bloomington, on May 29, 1900, in celebration of the forty-fourth anniversary of the convention held in that city for the organization of the Republican party in illinois in May, 1856, other memorable speeches and addresses of Gen. Palmer's later life included a speech before colored citizens on the seventh anniversary of the issue of Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation proclamation; an address, May 31, 1871, on the reinterment of Gov. Bissell's remains in Oak Ridge Cemetery; the welcome to en. Grant, May 5, 1880; a speech in the Hall of Representatives in honor of Gen. John A. Logan, in February, 1887; an address at Snodgrass Hill on dedication of Chickamauga Park, September 19 1895; and an oration delivered at Galesburg, October 7, 1896, on the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in that city. A zealous supporter of the doctrine of "State Rights", he was always an earnest advocate of the rights of the citizen without regard to "race, color or previous condition of servitude."