Image of Scates, Walter B.

Scates, Walter B.

b. January 18, 1808, in South Boston, Virginia; d. October 26, 1886, in Evanston, Illinois. As a child, Scates moved with his family to a farm near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he attended school and helped on the farm. He later learned the printing trade in Nashville, Tennessee, and studied law in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1831, Scates moved to (West) Frankfort, Illinois, where he began practicing law. He served as county surveyor, state’s attorney pro tem from 1831 to 1834, and attorney general in 1836. In 1836 he moved to Vandalia, Illinois, and in December of that year, the state legislature elected him judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. Scates resigned in 1841, when the legislature appointed him to the Illinois Supreme Court, after it expanded the court from four to nine members. Each of the nine justices presided over a circuit court, and Scates was assigned to the Third Judicial Circuit. He resigned from the bench in 1847, and moved to Chicago. He served as a delegate to the 1848 Illinois constitutional convention. Again elected to the state supreme court in 1853, Scates became chief justice in 1855, and resigned from the bench two years later. During his two tenures on the supreme court, Scates was a justice in 133 cases in which Abraham Lincoln was an attorney.
With the outbreak of Civil War, Scates served in the military, and in 1862, President Lincoln commissioned him as a major on General John A. McClernand’s staff. Scates eventually attained the rank of brigadier general. Scates later declined President Lincoln’s offer of the governorship of the New Mexico Territory. From 1866 to 1869, Scates served as collector of customs for the port of Chicago, Illinois. He resumed the practice of law in Chicago in 1870 and continued until his death.
Arthur Charles Cole, ed., The Constitutional Debates of 1847, vol. 14 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Constitutional Series, vol. 2 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1919), 975-76; A Compilation of the Statutes of the State of Illinois (1856); A Compilation of the Statutes of the State of Illinois (1857); Frederick B. Crossley, Courts and Lawyers of Illinois (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1916), 1:319-20; John J. Duff, A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Bramhall House, 1960) 314-15; The Evanston Index (Evanston, Illinois), October 30, 1886, 3; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1899), 1:35-37; The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 76 vols. (New York: James T. White, 1893-1984), 12:209-10. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.