Among the many representative and prominent men of the state who have risen from obscurity into renown and commanding position, stands the name of John M. Palmer, ex-governor of the state of Illinois. Although not now an actual citizen of Macoupin county, yet it was here that his early struggles for position and reputation in his profession commenced; and to this people, whom he has always regarded, and will continue to regard, as his earliest and best friends, he acknowledges the debt of gratitude he owes them for their kindness and support given him when he first commenced the practice of law. He well recollects the trials and struggles in their midst as a young lawyer, and his efforts to provide the means of support for himself and family. And he also remembers the kindly words spoken, the encouragement given, and the outstretched hands ready to help him up the steep, rough road, and over the barriers that stood in the way between him and the high position since attained. To these kind friends he acknowledges his gratitude. On the other hand, the people of Macoupin county are proud of him. They point with pride to the man, and claim him as their friend and neighbor. It is with pleasure that they speak of him as occupying a conspicuous place in the history of the state. They claim him for "Old Macoupin". It is therefore fitting that the life and history of John M. Palmer, his early struggles, his great efforts in the cause of humanity, his patriotic and gallant conduct in defense and perpetuation of the Union, his honest administration of the affairs of the state, his ability as a lawyer, his worth as a man and citizen should form and become a part of the history of the county.
John McAuley Palmer, the third in a family of seven boys and one girl, was born on the Eagle Hills in Scott county, Kentucky, September 13th, 1817. His father and mother were natives of Virginia. The family is of English ancestry, and were among the first settlers of the state. Louis D. Palmer married Miss Ann Hansford Tutt, who was a native of Culpepper county. He was a cabinet maker, but subsequently and early abandoned that trade, and became a farmer. He was a man of much more than ordinary intelligence, and was a great reader. He expended all his surplus earnings for the works of distinguished and popular authors, and sometimes would go beyond and encroach upon means intended for the actual necessaries of life, in order to gratify his thirst for reading. He was a Jeffersonian democrat of the old school, and was opposed to the institution of slavery. He was a man who, when he believed he was right, was firm and unyielding. This trait of character has, in a great measure, been transmitted to the son.
While John was yet in his infancy, his father removed with his family from Scott to Christian county on the Tennessee line near the Cumberland river. Here he remained until 1831, when he left Kentucky, and came to Illinois, and settled in Madison county, where he purchased a farm and remained until 1844, when he removed to Jerseyville, and finally to Litchfield, where he died in 1869 in his 88th year.
The subject of our sketch spent his boyhood days in the log school house of his native state, and the summer months in helping to cultivate tobacco, which was the principal product of that section of the country. When not at work or in school, he roamed the woods in search of game, or haunted the streams with hook and line. He began his studies with Noah Webster's spelling book and Lindley Murray's grammar. He was a great reader. He was studious and made rapid progress. In his youth he had an impediment in his speech, which continued some time after he arrived at manhood. It was a source of great annoyance to him, as it gave the boys an opportunity of poking fun at him. This sport on the part of the boys continued until forbearance ceased to be a virtue, when he resorted to the fists to compel respect for his infirmities.
When the Palmer family came to illinois, John was in his fourteenth year. Two years later the mother died, which had the effect of breaking up the family. The subject of this sketch was then sixteen years of age. He began to look the world in the face. He realized that he had not sufficient education. He had progressed just far enough in his studies to awaken a desire and ambition to drink deeper at the fountain of knowledge. In a conversation with his father about it, the latter told him he could no nothing for him, but would give him "his time." This was gladly accepted. About this time the Alton College was opened on the plan of manual labor. Its purpose was to give an education to the poor, but industrious young men of the country, who had here an opportunity of performing labor, for which they received educational advantages and training in return. John and his brother Elihu entered the college in 1834. He arose at daylight, made the fires, swept the floors, and did other chores until school hours, when he prosecuted his studies. He labored hard to gain a good education, and he was successful in receiving a more thorough knowledge of grammar, geography, history and the higher branches of mathematics. He remained at college one year, at the end of which time he was compelled to abandon his studies in order that he might provide means to purchase clothing and books.
Upon his first entering the state, he made the acquaintance of Larkins Stark, who was a cooper living at that time in Madison county, but afterwards removed and settled on the prairie, near where Bunker Hill, in Macoupin county, now is. He offered Palmer board and clothes if he would learn the cooper trade. He accepted the offer, and soon learned to make barrels, after which Stark paid him wages. He soon became skilled enough to earn fifty cents per day. The money thus earned, after paying debts and providing suitable clothing, was spent in books and newspapers.
In 1837 he made the acquaintance of a clock peddler by the name of Henderson, who owned a number of wagons, and employed men to peddle clocks through the country. He made arrangements with him, and accepted an agency. He commenced the sale of clocks in Madison county, and afterwards sold in Fulton, Hancock, Pike, Scott, Green and other counties. He did a good business; but the freshness of this itinerant life soon wore away. He saw that if he amounted to anything, he must abandon that kind of life, and settle down and pursue some business steadily. After looking over the ground carefully, he determined to become a lawyer. Full of this resolve, he threw up his clock agency. He then purchased a copy of Blackstone's Commentaries and engaged to teach school near Canton in Fulton county. He taught during the day,, and read law after night. His determination to become a lawyer received force and direction from the following incident. In 1838 while yet in the clock business, he, in company with Sands N. Breeds, now of Fulton county, another clock peddler, stopped over night at a hotel in Carthage, Hancock county. They were assigned to the only vacant room in the house, in which were two beds. They retired, and were soon asleep, from which they were rudely awakened by the landlord, who, in company with two strangers, had invaded their room. "Sorry to wake you, gentlemen," said the landlord; "but here are two strangers, who want a bed. You two must sleep together, or share your beds with them". Palmer turned over, rubbed his eyes, and saw before him a short spare man with broad, expansive forehead and large, luminous eyes. The other was taller, fine looking, and had the appearance of being a college professor. The tall man inquired about their politics. "Well," replied Palmer, "my friend's a Whig, and I am a democrat." The landlord blew out the light and retired. "You take the whig, and I'll take the democrat," said the short man. They got into bed, and all were soon sound asleep. The next morning palmer inquired the name of his bed fellow. It was Stephen A. Douglas, the Little Giant of the west. His fellow traveler was John T. Stewart. Douglas was just entering upon his brilliant career, that in after years made him one of the intellectual giants, and the most conspicuous figures in American history. He was then a candidate for Congress in the district which included the whole of the state of Illinois north of Macoupin county, and now contains more than one and a half millions of population. He made friends with Palmer, who gave him his support, and cast his first vote for him in the ensuing election. The acquaintance thus made and the brilliant example before him changed the current of Palmer's life, and gave him fresh courage, impetus and determination to become a lawyer. In the spring of 1839, after his school closed at Canton, Palmer returned to Alton and then went to St. Louis. His brother, Elihu had in the meantime got married, and had entered the ministry as a Baptist preacher, and was stationed at Carlinville in Macoupin county. Palmer walked up there from St. Louis, and arrived in town March 29th, 1839. Through the influence of his brother, he entered the law office of John S. Greathouse of Carlinville, and commenced anew the study of law. He studied hard. He soon became involved in local politics. At the request of leading democratic politicians he became the candidate for county clerk. He made a vigorous canvass, but was defeated by 121 majority. In the summer of 1839, although he had not been admitted to the practice of law, he made his first appearance at the bar in the case of Broderick vs Walker. His client, the defendant, was charged with an assault with a knife. Notwithstanding the case looked dark for his client, he got a jury trial, and won the case.
In December of the same year he purchased a new suit of clothes, borrowed five dollars and a ride to Springfield, a distance of forty miles, to apply for license to practice law. In Springfield he again met Stephen A. Douglas, who received him with great favor, and presented his application to the court for admission to the bar. The court appointed Mr. Douglas and Hon. J. Young Seammon of Chicago as examiners. During the examination he was asked what books he had read, after which Douglas made a speech, dwelling with force upon the importance of a lawyer collecting his fees, which, by the way, he never did, and said: "You may not now be able to take charge of important law cases; but from the cut of your features and the set of your clothes, I'm satisfied you soon will be." The examination was soon ended. Douglas wrote the license, and presented it to the court, and it was signed by Judges Brown and Smith. During the evening following Palmer strayed around town and into a church, which was used as a state house, where a tall, long, bony man was entertaining an audience with a speech that was full of logic, anecdote and common sense. Palmer inquired his name, and was informed that it was Abe Lincoln. The next day he was introduced to him at the courthouse, and from that day to the death of Lincoln, they were warm, personal friends. They were frequently together in after years as counsel in law cases, and at other times opposed to each other, and political opponents for years; but the friendship formed at their first meeting in the old courthouse in Springfield was never broken.
Palmer returned to Carlinville a full fledged lawyer. He was poor, in debt and without law books, except Blackstone's Commentaries, Chitty's General Practice and Gresley's Equity Evidence. He, however, was fortunate in securing some old law books presented to him by David A. Smith, who had supplied himself with new ones. He was not at first successful. He was not a good speaker, but was rather a failure in this respect, owing to the habit of stammering. He was also naturally bashful, and diffident in the presence of numbers. He lacked that confidence that comes with experience. His manners were not particularly prepossessing. With these things against him it was clear that he was compelled to rely more for success upon what he said, than the manner of saying it. He would be compelled to charm his audience with his ideas, that they might forget his manners. Nature had endowed him liberally. He must gather up the latent forces, and concentrate them. Hard study was before him. It brought its reward in a mind that was trained to be clear logical, and persuasive. The gift of eloquence came gradually. In time, his stammering ceased. He clothes his ideas with imagery, and paints his words with beauty. He is always earnest and his great earnestness carries with it a resistless power.
In 1840 he supported Van Buren for the presidency, taking an active part in the canvass.
On the 20th of December, 1842, he was united in marriage to Miss Melinda Ann Neeley, who was born in Kentucky. Her parents came to Illinois in 1841, and settled in Carlinville. Two weeks after his marriage, he and his wife went to housekeeping. The whole cost of furniture, and everything necessary to commence housekeeping, amounted to nearly fifty dollars.
In those days the political discussions and arranging the canvass took place during the times of court. It was only necessary to see one or two of the leading men in each neighborhood, and get their support, and they would arrange that the programme was carried out in their locality. These leaders and representative men were always on hand in times of court. The lawyers were the politicians. They would fight their cases through courts during the day and make political speeches during the night. In 1843 Palmer was elected probate Judge of Macoupin county, by over four hundred majority. The next three years were spent in the office, and practicing his profession. His practice had become extensive and reasonably lucrative. The Mexican war broke out in 1846. Palmer raised a company and was elected captain. He tendered his company to Col. E. D. Baker, who was raising a regiment, but the regiment was full, and they were refused. In April, 1847, he was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention. While a member of that body, a resolution was offered by Mr. Bond, of Clinton county, which in substance was that the next General Assembly shall at its first session under the amended Constitution, pass such laws as "will effectively prohibit free persons of color from immigrating to and settling in this state, and to effectually prevent the owners of slaves from bringing them into the state for the purpose of setting them free." Palmer opposed this measure, and fought it to the end.
His term of Probate Judge expired in August of the same year. He was a candidate for re-election. The slavery men determined to defeat him. His speech before the Constitutional Convention was read at the polls on the day of election. This, although his personal popularity was great, defeated him by a small majority. The next year his opponent, Captain Gilmore, resigned, and Palmer was elected to fill the vacancy. In 1851 he was elected to the State senate, and was made chairman of the Committee of Incorporations. The slavery question at that day came up in various shapes. Palmer's sympathy was with the Free Soilers. He was decidedly Anti-slavery, but his respect for the laws kept him outside the ranks of abolitionism. His prominence as a Democrat, and his ability as a man, received recognition in being selected to renominate Douglas for the United States Senate in 1853. During the session John A. Logan, now United States senator from Illinois, introduced his well known Black Laws, which Palmer stoutly opposed.
In 1854 the Missouri compromise was repealed, and what was known as the "Kansas Nebraska troubles," commenced. The danger of the extension of slavery alarmed the people of the North. An extra session of the Legislature was called. Douglas determined upon having an endorsement of his course. There were eighteen Democrats and seven Whigs in the Senate. At first, a majority of the Democratic senators stood with him, and Douglas' object seemed likely to be defeated, but he succeeded in the end in obtaining an endorsement. For this act of Palmer's, it was determined to defeat him in his own district. At the District convention in the same year, a resolution was passed in substance, that no man should be nominated for State Senator who would oppose the Kansas Nebraska act. Palmer boldly joined issues with the convention. He announced himself as an Independent Democratic candidate, and on the broad ground that slavery was not Democracy, and that the Kansas Nebraska act should not be made a party test. He was opposed by major Beatty T. Burke, the most popular Democrat in the Douglas wing of the party. Palmer was elected by two hundred majority, in the district composed of the counties of Greene, Jersey, and Macoupin. The new senate at first contained four anti-Nebraska Democrats, viz: Norman B. Judd, Burton C. Cook, Uri Osgood and John M. Palmer. Geo. T. Allen and H. S. Baker represented the part in the House. A United States senator was to be elected in place of Gen. Shields. Mr. Osgood give in his adhesion to the Nebraska democracy, and the five men remaining held the balance of power. The Whigs nominated Abraham Lincoln, and the democrats Gen. Shields. Palmer had at the beginning of the session, offered to go into the Democratic caucus, provided the demand for the fealty to the Kansas Nebraska act was withdrawn. His offer was refused. He was told that he must submit unconditionally to the action of the caucus or retire. He put Lyman Trumbull in nomination. Several ballots were taken, the anti-Nebraska Democrats voting for Trumbull. After the fifth ballot, Gen. Shields was withdrawn, and ex-Governor Mattison placed in nomination by the Nebraska Democrats. It was rumored that some of the Independents who had refused to vote for Shields would vote for Mattison. Five of the Independent Democrats had adhered to Trumbull, and on the first ballot, one vote from the whigs, the member from LaSalle county. On the first ballot the vote stood, Shields 48, Lincoln 46, Trumbull 6. The whigs became frightened and moved to adjourn. It was voted down by the united democrats. Lincoln saw the crisis was at hand. He was satisfied that the Independents would stand by Trumbull for one more ballot at least. He passed around among his friends and insisted upon them voting solidly for Trumbull. They were at last bought to do so, and he was elected to the surprise and consternation fo the regular Democrats. This was a victory for Palmer over Douglas. He had met Palmer while the latter was a candidate for State Senator, and had urged him from sundown to midnight to vote for Shields. But Palmer refused. Both in the wordy contest lost their tempers. Douglas taunted him with going over to the abolitionists, and rumored that if he did so he would fill his place with plenty of good whigs. Palmer grew hot and retorted, "So help me God, I'll never vote for Shields. You know how warmly I have supported you. You now tell me that you are willing to part with me and that you can fill my place with your life long enemies. You demand that I shall surrender my personal independence and manhood, and threaten me if I refuse. From this time forward I will fight you, and will never speak to you until you are beaten, and lose your power to make and unmake men." The friendship then severed was not renewed until 1861, seven years later, when the governor of Illinois sent Palmer to Washington as a delegate to the Peace Conference. The morning after his arrival, Douglas sent a card to his room requesting an interview. The great statesman came in, and offering his hand said, "Well, Palmer, the time has come when by our own limitation we are to be friends. I beat you a long time ago, but it has taken you a long time to beat me. I'm glad to see you." "Yes, Judge," said Palmer, taking the extended hand, "You were a thundering hard man to beat." Then Douglas said, "You have always misunderstood me. Years ago I saw that Davis and others meant disunion. I sought to force the issue upon them in the Lecompton controversy, and would have done so if Buchanan had not proven false. Then, there was union feeling enough even in the South to crush them. They have had two years since, to educate the South into secession." Then rising, and in solemn prophetic voice he said, "And now you will see millions of men in arms before the question is settled." The friendship was again renewed, nor was it broken until the death of Douglas.
In 1856 the Republican party came into life. Mr. Palmer was president of the first Illinois Republican Convention, that met at Bloomington, and nominated a State ticket and delegates to the National Convention. He was also a delegate to the National Convention that met in Philadelphia and nominated Fremont. He entered the campaign of 1856, together with Lincoln and Trumbull. They were the leaders of the new party in the West. As soon as he announced his allegiance to the new party he resigned his seat in the State Senate upon the ground, that having changed his political connections after his election, self respect and a proper regard for the opinions of others demanded such a course. This act was so much out of the line, and at variance with the conduct of most men, that it won him hosts of friends.
The campaign of 1856 was the first open aggressive warfare upon the system of slavery. It required considerable courage to face the mob of howling men and publicly proclaim that the further extension of slavery must stop, and that freedom was the moral condition of the territories. Fremont was defeated. Then, two years later, came the memorable struggle between Douglas and Lincoln. This campaign developed the strength of the young party. Palmer lent a helping hand, and stumped the State for Lincoln, and did effectual service. The next year Palmer accepted the nomination for Congress, in this district. His personal popularity was great, and although the district was strongly democratic, yet there seemed to be some chance of capturing the prize; but the Harper's Ferry raid by John Brown, in October of the same year, had the effect to alarm the whigs and the timid and weak kneed republicans, and they swung into the democratic line, and Palmer was defeated by over four thousand majority. In 1860 the republican party was successful, and Lincoln was elected. Mr. Palmer as elector for the State at large gave him his vote. But with the success of the Republican party came war. State after state seceded from the Union. Many efforts were made to patch up a settlement of the difficulty, but without success. War was inevitable. AS a member of the Crittenden Peace congress, Palmer advocated the calling of a National Convention for the settlement of all difficulties. That proposition failing he finally favored compromise measures offered by the south. The firing upon Fort Sumter awoke the north from its lethargy. The call for troops to put down the rebellion was made. Palmer put aside his practice and was among the first to respond to the call. He organized the 14th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, and was unanimously elected colonel. The regiment was ordered to north Missouri, where it did gallant service. On the 23d of October, 1861, Gen. Hunter assigned Col. Palmer to the command of a brigade which marched to Springfield, Missouri, with Fremont, and afterwards as part of Gen. Pope's expedition to Milford, where a large number of prisoners were captured. On December 20th of the same year col. Palmer was made a brigadier general. He commanded a division in Pope's expedition against Island No. 10 and New Madrid, and did gallant and meritorious service in the capture of those important places.
After the attack at Fort Pillow Gen. Pope joined Gen. Halleck at Corinth. The corps was reorganized. Gen Palmer was assigned to the command of the First Brigade, First Division of the Army of the Mississippi. It included four regiments of Illinois troops and Hiscock's battery. At the battle of Farmington, May 9th, he narrowly escaped capture by the enemy. He had been directed to pass a swamp and camp near the above named place, and with this purpose in view he rode forward with a small escort in advance of the line to look out a suitable position for his command. When he reached the open ground near Farmington he found the enemy's infantry and calvary driving in the pickets. The cavalry seeing him in advance of his command on the top of a hill made a dash to capture him. They called upon him to surrender. After a rapid chase of nearly half a mile, he reached two companies of infantry who were concealed behind the hill. A volley emptied a half dozen or more saddles, and they scattered and fled. Heavy bodies of infantry made an attempt to seize a road through the swamp and cut off Palmer's command from the main army. He made arrangements to check this movement, when he received orders from Pope to retire across the swamp to camp. The road was filled with wagons and Loomis' brigade. Long lines of the enemy appeared upon the open ground and opened fire from three batteries upon him. Gen. Palmer determined to hold the enemy in check until he could clear his line of retreat and retire in obedience to Pope's orders. Hiscock's guns silenced one of their batteries, when the three divisions of the enemy came steadily upon them. They were met and gallantly resisted by the 22d, 27th, 42d and 52st illinois regiments. The immense force of the enemy was now developed, and Gen. Palmer saw his great danger. He acted with such great courage that the confederates supposed Gen. Pope's entire army was at his back and hidden in the swamp to support him. They therefore advanced cautiously. He held them in check for two hours. The road was now clear and he fell back. The brigade fell back and the confederates came through the woods within two hundred yards of Hiscock's batteries, and threatened to reach the entrance to the swamp before him. Hiscock had sent his caissons to the rear. He double shotted his guns with grape and canister, and fired into the approaching columns, producing great slaughter, and made rapidly for the road through the swamp. Gen. Palmer had disposed of such of his troops as remained in front of the swamp by placing them behind a hill in the edge of the woods, where they were hid from the enemy by the undulating ground. The confederates, sure of a victory, came on in a confused mass. Gen. Palmer stood behind his men on foot. When the enemy were within fifty yards he gave the order to fire. The volley carried destruction to large numbers. The open ground lay covered with the dead and wounded, and the enemy fled. Gen. Palmer lost 22 killed, and 151 wounded, and 10 taken prisoners. The confederate loss was 411 killed and wounded, among them Col. Ingraham, of Gen. Van Dorn's staff. Gen. Palmer's ability as a military man was fully established at the battle of Farmington. Soon afterwards, owing to illness, he was ordered home by Pope. He brought with him, as a personal attendant, a negro boy who had come into the lines at New Madrid. The colored boy nursed him tenderly through his sickness. The general soon regained his health and returned to the army. The negro boy, however, refused to go with him. He was therefore left in charge of the family at Carlinville. This was a gross violation of John A. Logan's infamous black laws. At the December term of the circuit court, 1862, the grand jury of Macoupin county indicted him for bringing Martin Taylor, a negro slave, into the state. Gen. Palmer being at home at the time the case was pressed, by the states attorney, for trial. The trial developed no evidence to prove that the negro boy had ever been a slave, and he being a negro was disqualified by law, and was not a competent witness. The result was that Gen. Palmer was found "not guilty."
After aiding in organizing a new regiment, Col. Palmer returned to the front, and was assigned by Gen. Rosencrans to the command of the first divisions of the Army of the Mississippi. He was ordered to join Gen. Buell at Nashville. He was then at Tuscumbia, Ala. It was a long and dangerous march. He arrived at Nashville with his command Sept. 11. October and the first days of November were employed in skirmishing with Wheeler and Morgan's cavalry and Breckinridge's infantry. In December there was an onward movement. The battle of Stone river followed, in which Gen. Palmer distinguished himself. During the battle, with the support of the artillery, he held the advance for hours after the right wing had fallen back. At one time, when occupying an extreme point, the firing of the enemy's musketry and artillery were concentrated upon his command. He fully appreciated his situation and the importance of holding his position. The advancing forces were held at bay. After several vain attempts to dislodge him from his position the enemy fell back, and that portion of the bloody field was saved. For gallant skill and heroic conduct on this occasion Gen. Palmer was made a major general, his commission dating from the battle of Stone River. Gen. Palmer remained in command of his division until the battle of Chickamauga, when his command remained unbroken and fought the enemy to the end. When Gen. Geo. H. Thomas succeeded to the command of the Army of the Cumberland, Palmer was placed in command of the 14th army corps and won fresh laurels at Mission ridge. After the battle of Peach Tree Creek and the investment of Atlanta, he was ordered to take a position in the rear of the Army of the Ohio and support Gen. Schofield. A question of rank arose between the two generals; Palmer said that rank made no difference to him on the operations then pending, that he was there to support the Army of the Ohio by order of General Thomas, and as Schofield was in charge of the movement, he held himself subject to his orders. Gen. Sherman met Gen. Palmer soon after and said to him that he thought he was wrong. Palmer replied that he had waived all question of rank for the purposes of the contemplated movement, and was awaiting orders from Schofield. Gen. Sherman rode on to Schofield's headquarters. On that night he sent a letter to Gen. Palmer, saying that his voluntary consent to obey Schofield's orders was not enough; he must acknowledge his inferiority of rank. Gen. Palmer asked to be relieved. Sherman replied that he could not properly ask to be relieved in the presence of an enemy. By the advice of Gen. Thomas, Palmer concluded to waive the question of rank until the end of the campaign. It was supposed that that would settle the difficulty, but on the following night, to his complete astonishment, he received a letter from Sherman saying that he (Sherman) understood from Thomas that he (Palmer) intended to offer his resignation at the end of the campaign. If so, he might fairly say, that the campaign was already closed, and resign. Palmer answered in effect that, "Yesterday when I asked to be relieved on a question of rank, you wrote I could not honorably do so in the presence of the enemy. Now you write otherwise. On this plain evidence of your unfriendliness, I conclude that I can be of no service under your command, and respectfully ask to be relieved, reserving to myself the right to determine whether it is proper to quit the service altogether." Sherman referred the letter to Gen. Thomas, and that great general told Palmer that in view of Sherman's feelings toward the Army of the Cumberland he though he could not do him a better service than to grant his application. Gen. Palmer returned home Aug. 10, 1864. He immediately tendered his resignation to President Lincoln, saying he neither wished to be one of his unemployed generals nor sent to relieve one who was doing good service in the field. Lincoln replied that he would let him know his conclusion hereafter. Soon after a question arose between the governor of the state and the war department, concerning the quota of troops to be raised under a fresh call. Palmer was sent to Washington in January, of 1865, to settle the question. The contest over, and the quota of troops settled, Lincoln told Palmer he had concluded not to accept his resignation, and offered him the command of the Department of Kentucky. Palmer protested against the appointment, but without avail.
He took charge of the department February 18th, 1864. Everything was in chaos. Kentucky was one of the states in which the Emancipation Proclamation had left a remnant of slavery. The state laws conflicted with the national. Army officers were arrested and brought before the civil courts for obeying the orders of their superiors; everything was in inextricable confusion. Added to this the state was overrun with Confederate deserters, and full of bushwhackers, and law and order was the exception and not the rule. The Negroes flocked to the cities looking for freedom. Out of all this confusion General palmer had to restore law and order. Had he been aided by the state authorities his task would have been comparatively an easy one. But they were hostile and refused to act in concert with him. He wrote to Col. John M. Harlan and said, "Will not your legislature do something to comprehend the colored people within your laws, regulate the subject of marriage, define the rights of husbands and wives, and give them the means of protecting themselves from outrage through the medium of courts?" This appeal was in vain. Palmer continued to correct masters who beat the wives of colored soldiers, and when black women or children came into camp whose husbands were not soldiers, they were received and cared for. He was asked by the mayor and other prominent citizens of Louisville to enforce the vagrant laws against the negroes in the city, their number being so great that a pestilence was feared. Gen. Palmer replied, "that the relation fo the negroes to the state ought to be defined anew with reference to existing and not past facts. They must be allowed to migrate at their pleasure and seek employment where it was to be found." The state refusing to act, Gen. Palmer was forced to provide means of relief. He issued an order requiring common carriers of passage to transport all colored people, provided with passes from certain officers, on reasonable terms.
This proclamation in effect practically freed the negroes. It relieved Louisville, but it also gave rise to innumerable lawsuits. Suits for damages were brought against him aggregating $70,000, and numerous indictments under the instruction of Judge Johnson and others were found against him for aiding in the escape of slaves. He promptly acknowledged the supremacy of the civil to the military law, and in October of 1865, appeared before Judge Johnson to answer to the charges against him, and submit to his jurisdiction. He thought his conduct in accord with both Federal and state laws, and offered, if necessary, to enter into recognizance for his appearance for trial. The Judge replied, that his voluntary promise was sufficient.
In December Alabama adopted the Constitutional Amendment prohibiting slavery. This filled the number of states required to give the Amendment validity. When Palmer was brought to trial all laws relating to slavery had perished, and Judge Johnson, taking the view of the case, ordered the indictments quashed. The proclamation of the Secretary of state, announcing formally the passage of the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, relieved Gen. Palmer of many of his troubles. He resigned the command fo the Department of Kentucky, February 19th, 1866, but was not relieved until May 1st, and he then returned to Carlinville. After remaining a short time he was ordered to North Carolina to act as President of a Court Martial for the trial of officers of the Freedmen's Bureau. His resignation took effect September 1st, 1866. In April, 1867, he removed to Springfield. Here closes the life of John M. Palmer as a citizen of Macoupin county. His history since that time is a part of the record of the state. His reputation has gone out and become the property of the whole country. His nomination and election to the high and honorable office of Governor fo the great State of Illinois by the largest majority ever given in the state, and his honest and efficient management and direction of the affairs of the state, are well known and need not be recited here.
At present he is engaged in the practice of his profession, which has become very large and lucrative. In personal character Gov. Palmer is without reproach. Here in Macoupin county, where people know him best, he is universally liked and respected. Even those who have differed with him in political or other matters, all accord to him the reputation of being a large, kind hearted gentleman, a good citizen, and an honest man. In his manners he is unpretentious and unassuming.
It is wholly unnecessary to pass any eulogium on John M. Palmer; his deeds speak more than words in whatever position he has been placed - whether as a lawyer, soldier, or statesman, he has always commanded a prominent and distinguished position.
In domestic life he has been blessed with a reasonably large family. Six children are living of the ten that have been born to John M. and Melinda Ann Palmer. Their names are, Elizabeth A., eldest daughter, the accomplished wife of Dr. W. P. Matthews, of Carlinville; John Mayo, the eldest son, a lawyer, and partner in the practice with his father, of Springfield, Illinois, married to Miss Ellen Robertson, daughter of Dr. W. A. and Nancy Robertson, of Carlinville; Margaret Ellen, wife of William Jayne, now of Springfield; Harriet, wife of E. J. Crabbe, of Springfield; Jesse Lyon and Lewis James Palmer, who are yet beneath the parental roof. Both Mr. Palmer and his estimable wife are members of the Baptist Church.