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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
Early History of Illinois

Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p. vii  Preface

The late Hon. Sidney Breese died on the evening of June 27, 1878. He had resided in the State since the year 1818, when Illinois was admitted by Congress into the American Union. Upon his first entrance into the State he located himself at Kaskaskia, the then capital, and found an office to pursue his professional studies with the late Hon. Elias K. Kane, to whom, as his early instructor and friend, he afterward dedicated, in 1831, the volume of Breese's Reports, the first volume of law reports ever compiled in this State, and the first book ever printed in Illinois.

From that day until the day he died he was in active professional, judicial and political, employment. His public life from its commencement was contemporary with that of the State. As United States Attorney, as a Member of the General Assembly, as a Senator of the United States, as a Circuit and Supreme Court Judge, of which latter court he filled the office of Chief Justice at three several periods, he had been in the public service of the State for a period of nearly sixty years at the time he died.

Judge Breese did not live to accumulate a large property. His whole time was too exclusively absorbed in  p. viii his public duties. He was distinguished by his close application to his literary and professional labors. At Carlisle, in Clinton county, where he so long lived, he owned a modest homestead — a house and furniture, with two or three small farms in the immediate vicinity. His last will and testament, written by himself, covered but a single page of legal cap paper.

After desiring his funeral expenses to be confined within the most reasonable limits, and his debts to be paid, he gave, to his friends Thomas Hoyne, Melville W. Fuller and Henry S. Monroe, his library of law and miscellaneous books to be sold and the proceeds thereof to be given to his wife or invested for her use. Afterward the will leaves her all his estate, real and personal, of every kind and description.

It was hoped by nearly all who had known Judge Breese and his high literary culture, together with his large opportunities to obtain information, his intimate knowledge of the early settlement of the State, his long experience, and his mature judicial habits of mind, that he had written up for the generation he was leaving behind him some history or sketch of his own times, including many of the public men with whom he had been so long associated. In this respect, however, his literary executors and the public at large are greatly disappointed.

His executors, however, did find among his papers the copy of a historical discourse, delivered before the General Assembly of this State, at their request, in December, 1842.

It proves to be a most useful and highly interesting narrative of the earliest period of any regular, permanent and civilized community settled in the State. It embodies all of the social and domestic life of Kaskaskia for a period of ninety years, while Illinois was under the jurisdiction of the French government. It takes in what the  p. ix author describes as the earliest epoch or cycle of our State history.

Beginning with a graphic and historical account of the order of Jesuits in Europe he follows them to the American Continent until they are found traversing the unbroken solitudes of the lakes and forests of the West; and, he takes in the entire period from the discovery of the Mississippi, in 1673, by Marquette and Joliet until the territory passed under the dominion of Great Britain, in 1763. It is especially interesting to the citizen of this State as it brings before him the daily life, the customs, occupations, opinions and laws of the earliest civilized people who became inhabitants of the territory upon which we live. He leads us with Marquette and Joliet in their first voyage from the Wisconsin river down the Mississippi in 1673, and afterward describes to us the foundation and progress of Kaskaskia. Here was planted what became the first capital of the Illinois territory and also the first capital of the State when she entered the Union. He gives us, as if he had been a personal observer, life-like sketches of that primitive French population who seemed to live in one of the most simple and innocent seasons of the world, a pastoral life under the government of the grandest monarch of France. This narrative and this epoch no other writer has attempted. Some writers have, it is true, described the labors and trials of the same missionaries and their missions, followed them to their tragic ends, and described the fearful sacrifices made by them as men who in that age carried the knowledge of Christianity, at the peril of their lives, to savage tribes at every remote distance, but the special history of Illinois as a part of the North-west is not followed. Here the whole field is covered by Judge Breese, as it was for this purpose his narrative was written.

 p. x  He no doubt intended his narrative to be followed, if he did not himself intend to note the progress made in the same locality, after the English obtained possession of the field in 1763. This period, it will be noted, comes close upon the movements of the American colonies in 1775 and 1776, when the same territory falls under the jurisdiction of the American Union. In 1778 it will be remembered George Rogers Clarke made his capture of Kaskaskia as the military subordinate of Governor Patrick Henry, who claimed Illinois as a county of the State of Virginia.

Among the papers of Judge Breese which furnish the text of his narrative, the editor found a note in which he says: "All who are acquainted with the history of Illinois know that it has several distinct epochs, each with its own peculiarities and marked characteristics. The first comprehends that portion of time when France exercised dominion over it, commencing with its discovery and terminating by the treaty of Paris, February 10, 1763. Another would be from that time to the capture of the county of Virginia, on the 4th of July, 1778, including its cession by that State to the general government in 1784, and perhaps its organization with the North-west territory in July, 1787, under the celebrated ordinance of that year. And, another including the period between that time and the erection of Indiana territory in May, 1800 — the erection of Illinois territory in 1809, and finally in 1818 the erection of the State government by its admission into the Union in December, 1818."

In the part written up by Judge Breese he covers only that first period of ninety years. He has left one hundred and twenty years of periods since elapsed to be covered by those who now follow him.

At the request of the editor, Hon. Melville W. Fuller has revised his admirable address delivered before the  p. xi State Bar Association of this State at their invitation upon the death of Judge Breese and furnished it for publication in this volume.

It is a full review of the life and services of Judge Breese, answering the purposes of a biography which it was supposed at one time the late Mr. James W. Sheahan would be able to prepare for this purpose. His recent and very generally mourned death has deprived us of such a contribution. Mr. Fuller does his subject full justice. While his labor is of great value, in filling the place which even Judge Breese himself could not fill in this portion of our history on account of his personal agency in the transactions that have been recorded, Mr. Fuller reviews his subject from all points of his career as a great jurist and a great statesman. His long judicial career before and after his six years' service in the United States Senate enabled him to leave nineteen hundred judicial decisions, or opinions, in the volumes of our Law Reports, including the 89th volume. His learning and his eloquence, illustrating, as they never failed to do, the practical axioms of his wisdom, furnish for his fame a monument of his labors which cannot perish. Le me here cite his own language as respects monuments of the distinguished dead. He says: "Jurisprudence and law are more durable than marble or brass; the lofty column or colossal statue. These crumble and decay, but law and jurisprudence the printing press makes eternal. The rubbish of centuries collects around and obscures other mementos, but the printing press makes its objects eternal."

The writer may be pardoned for calling the attention of the reader to one service of Judge Breese in the United States Senate which failed to receive the recognition to which it was entitled from his own State, and which the people of the United States seemed to have forgotten,  p. xii when, in 1869, they celebrated with public rejoicings the completion of the Great Pacific railroad.

Twenty-three years before, on the 31st day of July, 1846, Senator Breese, as Chairman of the Committee of Public Lands, made to the United States Senate the first report ever made upon the subject. Upon a map accompanying it were delineated the lines of the route afterward adopted. A portion of this report is given in the appendix and will repay the reading.a

Many will be surprised to learn that a report containing such a mass of facts and figures, so much useful knowledge of the histories of China and Japan and the wonderful industry displayed in collecting statistics, upon which the author ventures predictions, that have since been verified, was nearly overwhelmed in the Senate by ridicule and incredulity. Senator Benton opposed the printing of the report and succeeded in preventing the accompanying map from being published. St. Louis shows a statue in her board of trade of her great Senator pointing out the way westward to the Pacific as a reward for the support he afterward extended to a similar enterprise from his own city. Senator Breese lived and died in Illinois, suffering the neglect proverbial in all times of the "Prophets without honor in their own country." Is it not time that Chicago should have a monument of the author of the Pacific road? Why should not Illinois recognize the fact that the first congressional effort to build the Pacific railroad originated with a Senator of her own State?

Thomas Hoyne

Note. — Mr. Hoyne completed his editorial labors upon this book on the 25th day of July, 1883, and having left Chicago on the next day for the east to pass his accustomed vacation, met his death through a railroad casualty  p. xiii on the night of Friday, July 27th, near the village of Carlyon, in the State of New York.b

Born in the city of New York, in 1817, Mr. Hoyne came to Chicago in 1839, was admitted to the bar in 1839, and pursued the active practice of his profession until so suddenly called away. He became eminent in his chosen walk in life through his marked intellectual ability, coupled with the learning and culture, which untiring industry enabled him to attain, but he was chiefly remarkable for a sincerity of conviction, and an intrepidity of utterance so unusual, as in themselves to insure distinction. Of unswerving integrity, the simple honesty of his character was as marked as its fearlessness, and in a just sense he kept himself unspotted from the world, whose corruption he regarded with indignant hate. Impetuous in action, his instincts naturally led him in the right direction; impetuous in speech, his speech was naturally in support of that which was true and honest, and of good report.

He acceptably filled the offices of City Clerk, Probate Judge, United States District Attorney, United States Marshal, and acting Mayor of the city of Chicago.c1 He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, of the Chicago Astronomical Society, of the Chicago Historical Society, the Mechanics' Institute, the Chicago Bar Association, the Citizens' Association, and the first President of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Public Library. He took a leading part on the Democratic side in advocating the Mexican war; was a member of the Union Defense Committee during the four years of the Civil contest; and although never a candidate for office,c2 was always foremost in all political, social and business movements.

Judge Breese and himself were intimate friends for many years, and the preparation of this volume was to him a labor of love.

No citizen was more beloved, no citizen more conspicuous in the display of those qualities which render their possessor deservedly eminent. His death touched every heart with a sense of personal loss, and is mourned as a personal bereavement.

Thayer's Notes:

a Committee Report on Senate Bill 246 (1846). The Senate did not print the map, and I don't reproduce it either: see Biographical Memoir, p36, and my note there.

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b The train accident was one of the worst in American history. For details, see the contemporaneous report in The New York Times, July 29, 1883.

[decorative delimiter]

c1 c2 Technically, Thomas Hoyne was never mayor of Chicago, acting or otherwise, his election having been voided within a few months: that much is certain. Beyond that it would be imprudent to make any statement at all without looking into reliable print authorities: on this particular topic the Web is entirely inadequate, such pages as treat it being very vague or wildly contradictory.

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