Image of Koerner, Gustavus P.

Koerner, Gustavus P.

b. November 20, 1809, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany; d. April 9, 1896, in Belleville, Illinois. Koerner graduated with a law degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1832 and began to practice law. Wounded during the Frankfurt Revolt of 1833, Koerner fled to France and then to the United States, where he settled in St. Clair County, Illinois, among other German immigrants. He studied English and entered the law school at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1834. The next year, Koerner gained admission to the bar in Illinois and began to practice in Belleville, where he formed a law partnership with James Shields. In 1842, he was elected to the state legislature and was one of four lawyers appointed to investigate charges of incompetence levied against supreme court justice Thomas C. Browne. In 1845, Governor Thomas Ford appointed Koerner to the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of James Shields. The general assembly elected Koerner to the supreme court that same year. He resigned from the court in 1848, when the new state constitution reorganized the judiciary. Lincoln appeared before Gustavus Koerner in the Illinois Supreme Court in fifty legal cases. He served as lieutenant governor under Governor Joel Matteson from 1853 to 1856. Originally a Democrat, Koerner switched to the Republican party in 1856. He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and assumed responsibility for some of Lincoln’s law cases after Lincoln became president. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Koerner minister to Spain. Returning from Spain in 1864, Koerner dropped out of politics by 1876 and focused on literary work that included the writing of his autobiography.
Belleville Weekly Advocate (Belleville, Illinois), April 17, 1896, 1, 8; The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Illinois of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing, 1875), 192; John J. Duff, A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Bramhall House, 1960), 88; John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:860-61; Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1964), 5:496-97; Usher F. Linder, Reminiscences of the Early Bench and Bar of Illinois (Chicago: The Chicago Legal News Company, 1879), 188-91; Thomas J. McCormak, ed., Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896, 2 vols. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Torch Press, 1909); Mark E. Neely Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1982), 175-76; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1899), 1:47-50, 405; United States Biographical Dictionary: Illinois Dictionary (Chicago: American Biographical Dictionary, 1876), 53-54; Albert A. Woldman, Lawyer Lincoln (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936), 262, 269. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.