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Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 131-133

JOHN W. CARY was the lineal descendant in the fifth generation of John Cary, who came from Somersetshire, near Bristol, England, in 1634, and joined the Plymouth Colony, and a son of Asa Cary, who was born in Mansfield, Connecticut, in 1774.  He was born February 11, 1817, in Shoreham, Vermont.  Fourteen years later, his parents removed to western New York, where he attended the common school, assisting his father on the farm until, at the age of twenty, he entered Union College.  He supported himself through college, and was graduated with the Class of 1842.  Two years later he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of New York, and followed his profession in Wayne and Cayuga Counties until 1850, when he removed to Wisconsin, taking up his residence at Racine.  He took an active interest in educational matters, and as a School Commissioner was instrumental in developing the public-school system of Racine.  He was elected State Senator in 1852, and Mayor in 1857.   Two years later he removed his home to Milwaukee, and was at once engaged as solicitor and counsel to foreclose the mortgages given by the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railroad Company.  At the resulting sale, the property was purchased by the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company (now the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul), which he had incorporated, and of which he continued as the legal adviser and one of the controlling spirits to the day of his death, a period of thirty-six years.  Until 1887 he was the General Solicitor of that company, at which time the Board of Directors created the office of General Counsel, and he was then chosen to that position, which he continued to fill up to the time of his death.  He was not only the legal adviser of that company, counseling on all questions and conducting all its litigation, in which he was eminently successful, especially before the Supreme Court of the United States, but during all that time he was the chief counselor and adviser of the general policy of the company.  He stood high in the legal profession, and was regarded by all as one of the best equipped railway lawyers in the country.  Some of the cases in which he appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court of the United States, and in which he was successful, rank among the most notable cases of that court.  He argued before that court what is known as the Milk Rate case, which was the case of the State of Minnesota against the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company, decided in April, 1890.  The magnitude of that case, both as regards the principle involved and the moneyed interest affected, places it by the side of such cases as the Dartmouth College case, the case of McCulloch versus Maryland, and the Slaughter House cases.  The Supreme Court in that case held, as Mr. Cary had for many years contended, that the reasonableness of a rate of charge for transportation of property by a railroad company was a question of judicial determination, rather than of arbitrary legislative action, and that State Legislatures, in fixing the rates of freight, must fix reasonable rates; that is, rates which are compensatory, such as will permit carriers to receive reasonable profits upon their invested capital, the same as other persons are permitted to receive.

The success of Mr. Cary in this case is all the more notable from the fact that fifteen years previously he appeared as counsel for the St. Paul Company in what are known as the Granger cases, in which that court declined to adopt the rule which it afterwards established in the Milk Rate case.

Of the members of that court at the time the Granger cases were argued, but one remains, Justice Field, and of the leading counsel who appeared in those cases all have passed away except William M. Evarts.  It is a notable fact that Mr. Cary survived every justice who was a member of that court at the time of his first appearance therein, as well as the leading lawyers who were practicing in that court at that time.

It is told of Mr. Cary that he successfully argued fourteen cases during one session of the Supreme Court, against such men as Caleb Cushing, Matt H. Carpenter, Henry A. Cram, of New York, and other eminent men.

In 1872, while a member of the Wisconsin State Legislature, he was requested to draw a general railroad law for the state, which he did, and the statute which he prepared was adopted and is still in force, and has passed into history as one of the most important laws ever enacted in Wisconsin, and is regarded by all as a law fair both to the people and the railway companies.

No person in the State of Wisconsin was better or more favorably known than Mr. Cary.  His reputation as a lawyer of marked abilities, and his character for candor and integrity as a man, were enviable.  At all times and everywhere he maintained the honor of his profession and the majesty of the law.  Those who knew him best respected him the most.

He always took a great interest in political affairs, and was unusually well versed in national and political history.  Throughout his entire manhood he was a devoted adherent of Democracy, receiving in 1864 the nomination for Congress, and upon several occasions the complimentary vote of the Legislature for United States Senator.  During the long period in which the Democratic party was in the minority, which covered nearly the whole of his maturer years, Mr. Cary remained steadfast in his loyalty to its principles.  But for this fact his name would undoubtedly have found place on the pages of history among the most eminent statesmen of his generation.  A man of vast mental endowment, clear of judgment, and true as the needle to the pole was he to the right as he saw the right.

He resided in Milwaukee until 1890, when the general offices of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company were removed to Chicago.  At this time he removed his home to Hinsdale, a suburb of Chicago, where he resided until his death, which occurred in Chicago on March 29, 1895.

In 1844 Mr. Cary was married to Eliza Vilas, who died in 1845, leaving a daughter, Eliza.  In 1847 he was married to Isabel Brinkerhoff.  He has seven children living, namely: Eliza, who is the wife of Sherburn Sanborn; Frances, the widow of Charles D. Kendrick; Melbert B., Fred A., John W., Jr., George P. and Paul V.

In his intercourse with his fellow-men, and with his associates in professional labor, he was always considerate and gentle.   No unkind or reproachful word ever passed his lips.  He was true and faithful in friendship, magnanimous in his dealings with others, and every act was prompted by the highest sense of honor.  He was modest and unassuming, simple and unaffected in manner, and admired, trusted and loved by all who knew him.

“In his family and home life
He was all sunshine; in his face
The very soul of sweetness shone.”

                                -- Submitted on May 15, 2000 by Sherri Hessick ( )