HON. MILTON HAY - Among the names that stand out most clearly on the pages of the history of Illinois is that of Hon. Milton Hay. Endowed by nature with strong mentality he developed his latent powers, and his recognized ability gained him prestige and renown equaled by few who have been members of the bar of this state. He was the friend and contemporary of many of the Illinois men who have won national fame, and while he never sought to figure in a public light and avoided all positions of political preferment, he was the peer of the ablest men who have practiced law in Illinois.
Milton Hay was born in Fayette county, Kentucky, July 3, 1817, and in his native state he spent his boyhood days, mastering the elementary principles of education while attending the public schools. A naturally receptive mind and retentive memory continually added to his knowledge in later years and his contact with distinguished men in his youth spurred his ambition to become worthy of the regard in which they were held. In the fall of 1832 he accompanied his father's family on their removal to Springfield, then a youth of about fifteen years. Six years later, in 1838, he began preparation for the bar, having decided to make the practice of law his life work. Accordingly he became a student in the law office of Stuart & Lincoln, composed of John T. Stuart and Abraham Lincoln, and after two years of preliminary reading he was admitted to the bar.
Mr. hay at once removed to Pittsfield, Pike county, Illinois, where he entered upon the practice of his chosen calling, in which he was destined to attain distinction. Hon. E. D. Baker, afterward United States senator from Oregon, then resided in Springfield and like many lawyers of that day traveled the circuit, visiting many county seats. He entered into partnership relations with Mr. Hay in Pittsfield, Mr. Hay being the local partner while Mr. Baker attended each term of court. As the years advanced Mr. Hay built up an extensive practice, showing his ability to handle with masterly skill the intricate problems of jurisprudence, and was soon recognized as one whose ability was sufficient to enable him to meet in forensic contest the ablest members of the bar. He had at the outset of his career, when his practice was small, engaged in journalistic work to some extent, although his growing clientage soon compelled him to relinquish labors of that character. During the first session of the legislature after the removal of the capital to Springfield he became a reporter for the Sangamo Journal, the leading Whit paper of that day, and reported the proceedings of the general assembly. As soon as the session of that body ended he returned to Pittsfield, where he resumed his practice. After securing as large a clientage as that town could furnish he resolved to seek a wider field in which to give scope to his energies and ambition, and opened an office in Springfield.
At that time Stephen T. Logan was recognized as one of the foremost lawyers of Illinois and Mr. Hay entered into partnership with him, the relation being maintained until 1861, when Judge Logan withdrew owing to advancing age. Mr. Hay then became associated with Hon. Shelby M. Cullom, now, and for many years, United States senator, and the late Antrim Campbell was also a member of the firm, but after a year or two he withdrew and the firm remained Hay & Cullom until 1866. Mr. Hay then formed a new partnership with the Hon. John M. Palmer, which was continued until the election fo Mr. Palmer to the position of governor of the state in 1868. During that year Mr. Hay became senior member of the firm of Hay, Green & Littler which was his business connection until December 31, 1879, at which date Mr. Hay retired from practice. He had for twenty-one years been an active member of the Springfield bar and his name figured in connection with the important litigation tried in the courts of this part of the state. He was renowned among lawyers for the wide research and the provident care with which he prepared his cases, and his logical grasp of facts and principles of the law applicable to them was another potent element in his success. In his presentation of a cause there was a remarkable clearness of expression, an adequate and precise diction which enabled him to make others understand, not only the salient points of his argument, but his ever finer gradation of meaning. There was no striking after effect, but a self-possession, a deliberation and a strength in argument which spoke a mind trained in the severest school of investigation and to which the closest reasoning was habitual and easy.
In 1870, yielding to the solicitation of his friends, he allowed his name to be used in connection with the candidacy for delegate to the constitutional convention and was elected. Many fo the wisest provisions of the organic law of the state were shaped by him as a member of the judiciary committee and as chairman of the committee on revenue. He was elected a member of the second general assembly after the adoption of the constitution which he had helped to frame and during his legislative career he served as chairman of the revenue committee and was a member of the commission by whom the last revision of the statutes was made. In 1885 he was selected a member of the commission appointed to revise the revenue laws of the state and acted as chairman of that body. The deliberations of this body, however, were nullified because the legislature did not adopt the proposed law. He had no political aspirations, however, and only his recognition of the obligations of citizenship caused him to accept the duties that were imposed upon him by his constituents at the polls. He felt the work of private life abundantly worthy of his best efforts and desired to concentrate his energies upon the science of law and its adaption to the questions arising in the courts.
Mr. Hay was married to Miss Catherine, daughter of James Forbes, of Pittsfield, Illinois. Her death occurred in 1857, and in 1861, he wedded Mary Logan, the eldest daughter of his law partner, Judge Logan. She died in 1874, leaving two children: Mrs. Stuart Brown and Logan Hay, both of Springfield. The closing years of Mr. Hay's life were quietly passed at his home in Springfield, and after his retirement from the bar his energies were devoted to supervision of his private personal interests and investments. He had become the possessor of much property, which made him one of the capitalists of the city, and thus in the evening of life he was surrounded by all the comforts and many of the luxuries which can add to the enjoyment of a person of refined and cultured taste.
Perhaps no better estimate of his character and career can be given that which appeared in an editorial in the Chicago Tribune: "Milton Hay was one of those few men who, while acknowledged by all to be well qualified to occupy any office, care for none. Those positions which he did consent to fill were accepted by him from a sense of duty and not from love for office. He became a member of the constitutional convention of 1870 because Sangamon county wished to send its best and strongest man there. And there was no member of that body who rendered more valuable service than he did. He was not one of the talkative members of the convention. His work was done in the committee room and not on the floor, and to his legal ability and ripe judgment are due many of the most excellent features of the organic law of the state. He had lived in Illinois for nearly forty years. He knew thoroughly its people and their needs. He was familiar with the
blunders, financial and otherwise, that Illinoisans had committed in the constitution of 1849. He knew the defects of that constitution, for he had seen its bad working for over twenty years, and he used all his energies successfully to eliminate them. He went to the legislature from Sangamon county in 1874, for his services were there needed. When his term expired his public life ended, though he remained what he had been for years - the cautious and wise adviser of the Republican party, which would have fared better on some occasions had it heeded his suggestions. For, while averse to office, he took a keen interest in politics, as was inevitable with a man whose active life began in 1840, and that interest he never lost. The caution, deliberation and well-balanced judgment which made Mr. Hay so safe an adviser in political matters contributed to make him one of the very ablest legal counselors in the state. He was a sound man, one whose conclusions regarding legal questions were accepted almost
without demur. He was not a splendid oratorical lawyer, like his first law partner, the brilliant Senator Baker. He could not have shone at the bar or in the senate like the latter, but every word which he spoke had weight under judge and jury. He had studied law under Abraham Lincoln and John T. Stuart, and such schooling made good lawyers. He would have made a great supreme judge. It would be well for Illinois if the state had more men of the same style of Milton Hay, who, while neglecting neither national, state nor local politics, and not thinking it beneath him to take active part in primaries and elections, was not consumed by a desire for office that would make him sacrifice all else to gain it." None was ever more respected and no man ever more fully enjoyed the confidence of the people or more richly deserved the esteem in which he was held. In his lifetime the people of the state, recognizing his merit, rejoiced in his advancement and in the honors to which he attained, and since his death
they have cherished his memory. He was one of the great lawyers of the Illinois bar who lives in the memories of his contemporaries as a man of gracious presence, profound legal wisdom, and purity of public and private life and the quiet dignity of an ideal follower of his calling. He died September 16, 1893.