Sangamon County ILGenWeb © 2000
In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, data and images may be used by non-commercial entities, as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or for other presentation without express permission by the contributor(s).

By Joseph Wallace, M. A.
of the Springfield Bar
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, IL

Page 168

J. MCCAN DAVIS - John McCan Davis, of Springfield, is a native of Illinois, having been born in Fulton county, November 19, 1866. His early education was supplied principally by the common schools of this state. In boyhood he developed a taste for journalism, becoming at fifteen years of age a regular contributor to a weekly newspaper. Soon afterward he began the study of shorthand. Stenographers then were less numerous than now, and with the aid of such textbooks as were obtainable he was his own instructor. He was able to report speeches with a fair degree of accuracy before ever having seen any one else who knew anything of the stenographic art. Then for a brief time he was a school teacher, but before attaining his nineteenth year he had left the schoolroom to become "local editor" of a weekly paper at Canton, Illinois. For more than two years he was connected with Canton newspapers and during part of that period he was the official circuit court stenographer for Fulton county, being the first one appointed in the county under the law providing for court reporters. Going to Iowa he was engaged for a short time in newspaper work in that state, serving for a few months as managing editor of the daily paper at Council Bluffs. In the fall of 1888 he returned to Illinois and located at Springfield where he has since resided.

In Springfield he was connected first with the Illinois Sate Journal. IN 1889 he became resident correspondent of the Chicago Times and subsequently of a number of other metropolitan journals. Since 1890 his newspaper connections have been almost exclusively with the papers of Chicago, St. Louis, New York and Boston. He was appointed correspondent of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat January 1, 1891, and has represented that paper in Springfield without interruption since then. For several years he has held the position of manager of the legislative bureau of the Associated Press. He has a wide acquaintance among public men and an intimate knowledge of the "inside" of Illinois politics.

For a time (1895-99) Mr. Davis was a practicing lawyer, having read law and secured admission to the bar while regularly engaged in newspaper work; but other interests made such demands upon his time that he closed his law office. In 1897 he was appointed secretary of the state board of arbitration - his only public office, and one which he still holds. He has become an authority on industrial conciliation and arbitration, and in 1900 he was called before the United States industrial commission at Washington as an expert witness on that subject. He drafted the acts passed by the legislature in 1899 and 1901 amending the arbitration law - a statute which had many imperfections as originally enacted, but which now, in its amended form, is regarded as the most efficient law of the kind possessed by any state in the Union.

Mr. Davis has achieved distinction by his contributions to the literature pertaining to Abraham Lincoln. His newspaper writings on this subject, based on original research, attracted the attention of McClure's Magazine, which was then (1895) about to undertake the publication of a series of Lincoln papers under the editorial direction of Miss Ida M. Tarbell of New York, and he was invited to prepare several papers touching the early life of the Great Emancipator, more particularly the sic years which he had spent at the pioneer village of New Salem. A change in the plan and scope of the work necessitated the use of Mr. Davis' material, in a more or less fragmentary way, throughout the series. The larger part of the Illinois material was contributed by him. In the course of the work he made many important discoveries, particularly of Lincoln documents and letters hitherto unpublished. In 1900 the Century Magazine published from his pen an article based on information furnished by the late Governor Richard J. Oglesby, giving for the first time the true history of the "rail movement" of 1860, which was so important a factor in the nomination and election of Lincoln to the presidency. In 1901 he brought out "A. Lincoln - His Book" - a most unique publication, being a reproduction in facsimile of a diminutive scrapbook made up by Lincoln, with annotations in his own handwriting, for the use of Captain James N. Brown, a candidate for the legislature in 1858.

In the course of his Lincoln researches, Mr. Davis explored thoroughly the records of the county clerk's office in Springfield and found therein many papers either written by Lincoln or directly connected with his early career. Most of these were wrapped in packages which had remained unopened for sixty years. The danger that, from neglect, from theft, from fire or accident, all eventually would disappear was apparent; and in order that these valuable documents might be preserved for future generations, Mr. Davis took steps to have them removed to the State Historical Library. Accordingly, in 1897, he drafted a bill which was introduced in the house by Representative L. Y. Sherman, of McDonough county, and in the senate by Senator W. S. Edwards, of Fulton county, for "an act to provide for the better preservation of official documents and records of historic interest." This bill became a law, and subsequently, through the joint efforts of Mr. Davis and Mrs. Jessie Palmer Weber, librarian, the county board of Sangamon, acting under the authority of this law, authorized the transfer of the Lincoln papers to the State Historical Library in the state house. There the documents are now preserved, forming one of the most interesting collections of Lincolniana extant.

Mr. Davis has devoted much attention to Illinois history, and in January, 1902, he was elected secretary of the Illinois State Historical Society - an honorary position from which he retired after a year's service.

In January, 1904, Mr. Davis entered the investment business, opening an office in the Pierik building, and devoting his attention principally to the sale of high grade municipal and corporation bonds. Soon after beginning business, he was made the local fiscal agent of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient railway, in course of construction from Kansas City southwestward through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and old Mexico to the Pacific coast. It is his business policy carefully to exclude from the line of securities handled everything of a doubtful or purely speculative character. As stated by a New York financial Journal, in April, 1904, "Mr. Davis specializes in securities adapted to the requirements of that class of investors to whom the safety of their principal is the paramount consideration, making a feature of railroad, interurban, gas and electric light first mortgage bonds."

Mr. Davis is married, his wife having been formerly Miss Florence Flower Packard, of Canton, Illinois. In 1898 he built a home on North Sixth street - one of the most imposing and beautiful in Springfield.

Return to 1904 Biographies Index
Return to Sangamon County ILGenWeb