Image of Palmer, John M.

Palmer, John M.

b. September 23, 1817, in Scott County, Kentucky; d. September 25, 1900, in Springfield, Illinois. Palmer came with his family to Illinois in 1831 and settled near Alton. In 1839, he moved to Carlinville, Illinois, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in December of that year. In 1843, Palmer was elected to the office of probate justice of the peace and held that position until 1847. Active in Democratic politics, Palmer served as a member of the 1848 Illinois constitutional convention and was elected a county judge under the new Illinois constitution. In 1852, he was elected to the state senate. Opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska bill, Palmer successfully ran for reelection as state senator as an independent Democrat. In May of 1856, Palmer served as president of the Bloomington Convention, which formed the state Republican party. The following month he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1860 he was a delegate to the Chicago convention that nominated Lincoln for President. Palmer served as a delegate to the 1861 Washington Peace conference. With the outbreak of Civil War, he began his military career as colonel of the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry and eventually attained the rank of brigadier-general before being relieved of his command in August of 1864. After the war, Palmer continued the practice of law and formed a law partnership with Milton Hay in Springfield, Illinois. In 1868, he was elected governor of Illinois. Palmer switched to the Democratic party, and in 1890, he became a United States Senator and held that position until 1897. He was the gold-standard Democratic candidate for president in 1896 but received very few votes. His later years were spent writing his memoirs and editing The Bench and Bar of Illinois.
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1964), 7:2:187-88; Mark E. Neely Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1982), 231-32; George Thomas Palmer, A Conscientious Turncoat: The Story of John M. Palmer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941); John M. Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1899), 1:429-41. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.