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declared that the election was wrong. "What business,” he asked, "has such a stripling with such an office? he is no lawyer, and has no law-books." A few months sufficed to change the judge's opinion, and a few years more found him recognized as one of the ablest practitioners at the bar of the Supreme Court. We have seen it stated on high authority that during the time Mr. Douglas filled the office of state's attorney, not a single indictment drawn by him was ever quashed; and there was probably not a term of the court in any one of the many counties comprising the large circuit in which there were not more or less criminal cases, embracing, in the aggregate, crime of almost every grade. His success as a public prosecutor, and his personal deportment at the bar, and socially with the people of the several counties to which the duties of his office carried him, rapidly confirmed the high opinions expressed by his friends, and gradually removed all the prejudice which had been created against him by opponents at the time of his election.
An incident that took place during the early days of his attorneyship will illustrate the difficulties he had to encounter, and the promptness and energy with which he met and converted what was intended as a painful humiliation into a proud personal and professional triumph. It was his first term in M'Lean County. There had been some local law violated, and the number of offenders were numerous. The attorney proceeded in the discharge of his duty with great zeal. He sat up all night writing his indictments, and actually closed the business in a short time. The Grand Jury found the bills as prepared, and were forthwith discharged. The bar, having obtained a hint that the new attorney was to be caught and publicly disgraced, waited the denouement with anxiety. The morning after the Grand Jury had been discharged the crisis came. A member of the bar, then, as now, one of the most distinguished lawyers of the state, at the opening of the court, moved to quash all the indictments found at that term, fifty in number, on the ground that they alleged the offenses charged in them as having been committed in "MClean County," a county unknown to the laws of the State of Illinois, the county in which the court was then sitting, and in which the parties were residing, being "M'Lean County." In other words, that the prosecuting attorney had misspelled the name
of the county. The objection, if valid, was a fatal one; and the Grand Jury having been discharged, there was no opportunity to correct the error in spelling. The triumphal glances of the bar, the sharp inquiry of the court if the state's attorney had any thing to say, would have disheartened even a more practiced attorney. The objection was stated in clear and forcible terms; not a lawyer at the bar could see how it was to be overcome; and when the counsel who made the motion took his seat, the laughter and merriment at the counseltable was only equaled by the loud satisfaction expressed in the lobby by the friends and neighbors of the accused. The motion was an entire surprise to the attorney—at least he so expressed himself. He insisted that before the court should decide the question, the original act of the Legislature establishing the county should be produced; when that was done, he informed the court he would possibly have something to say on the motion, if, indeed, that motion was persisted in. This was said with so much confidence and earnestness, and, withal, the position taken was so correct, that the court decided that the attorney was entitled to what he had asked, and that, as the proof required was so easily obtained, counsel should produce the act establishing the county. A number of acts of the Legislature were at once produced, all referring to the county as "M'Lean" County, and the evidence that that was the proper legal name of the county, and had been so recognized through several years of legislation, was positively overwhelming. During the reading of these acts, the remarks of counsel, the emphasis with which the orthography of the name of the county was delivered, was terrible. Several persons approached Douglas and whispered that he would save himself much useless mortification by giving up the contest, and allowing the indictments to be quashed. He refused. There happened at that time to be no copy of the statute establishing the county in Bloomington; Mr. Douglas insisted that the name of the county could only be determined legally by the recital of that act, and, until it was produced, he must insist that the court could not decide that the indictments were fatally defective. He bid the counsel who made the motion, as well as the crowd who seemed to think the escape of criminals but a small matter compared with the professional discomfiture of an attorney, to beware of the consequences of
thus pandering to a contempt of the appointed officers of the law. He rejected promptly the proposition to accept the series of statutes read as defining the proper name of the county. The matter dropped for the present.
That night, and the next day and evening, the legal fraternity, including jurors, witnesses, and litigants, were made merry over jocular criticisms upon schoolmasters turned lawyers, upon schoolmasters being unable to spell the name of one of the largest counties in the state. Witticisms flew fast and thick, and counsel repeatedly urged that they dare not proceed with business until the question was settled how to spell the name of the county. Mr. Douglas kept his own counsel: that he felt the importance to him personally and professionally of this point was evident to all. His friends could not understand the courage with which he met the motion, nor the boldness with which he repelled every open assault. They imputed his defiant tone to bravado, and his demand for the statute as a mere excuse for delay, to gain time in which to make up his mind whether to resign his office and leave the state, or to go back to keeping school. In the mean time, messengers had been sent to Peoria and elsewhere for a copy of the acts of 1830-1.
The one party was confident that its production would be the last nail in the professional coffin of an aspiring individual who, a few months ago, had defeated one of the best lawyers in the state, and had attained the best attorneyship in the gift of the Legislature. The court was in session when the messengers returned; one glance at the book, and counsel rose and asked the court to dispose of the motion to quash the indictments. All was excitement. The state's attorney had also glanced at the book. He rose as defiant as ever, and demanded the reading of the statute. Lawyers crowded around the counsel who held the statute in his hand, and were perfectly astounded at the effrontery of the prosecutor. Profert of the statute was made; the court asked counsel to read it, and counsel read, amid profound silence, the words, "An Act to establish M'Lean County," and turned triumphantly toward the attorney for the state. That gentleman, instead of being annihilated by the tone or manner, or by the words read, quietly stated that the title of the act was not the act itself, and demanded that the whole act should be read. The court
said that counsel must, as it was demanded, read the statute. He at once read the first section:
"Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly, that all that part of country lying within the following boundaries, to wit, Begin'ning," etc., etc., "shall constitute a new county, to be called McLean."
There was a pause-a suspension of public opinion-and the silence was broken by the demand of the prosecutor that the other sections be read. Section 2 did not contain the name of the county; section 3 repeated it twice, and each time by the name of "McLean;" sections 4 and 5 made no mention of the name, and section 6 and last named Bloomington as the “seat of justice of said county of McLean." The attorney, in drawing his indictment, had omitted the apostrophe, and capitalized the C, using a small 1. He had employed the exact letters of the body of the statute; the other side, seeing a capital C, a small 1, and no apostrophe, had been caught in the very trap in which they thought the attorney had placed himself. Of course, the motion was overruled. The joke was turned, the laugh was on the other side; and the crowd, now regarding the whole thing as a most dexterous plan deliberately laid by the prosecutor to catch the able lawyers with whom he had to contend, gave him an applause and a credit vastly increased in enthusiasm by the previous impression that he had been thoroughly victimized by his opponents.
In the winter of 1835-6-the one following his election as state's attorney-the expediency of uniting the party, and ef fecting an organization so as to concentrate its powers, and enable them to elect the candidates to be chosen at the succeeding election, was duly presented by Mr. Douglas. The Jacksonville News, editorially and by communication, urged the propriety of holding a county convention to nominate candidates to be supported by the whole party. The result of these proceedings was that the Democracy did unite, did effect an organization, and did call a county convention, the first ever held in Morgan County. It was a new and hazardous moveThe county was entitled to six members of the Legislature, and the county offices to be filled were valuable. It had been customary for all candidates to run relying upon their personal popularity and their personal exertions to ob
tain support. The proposition to limit the number of Democratic candidates to one individual for each office was a startling proposition. Often as many as ten or fifteen candidates would be before the people for the same office, and Mr. Brooks assures us that he has seen no less than eighteen names announced as candidates for the office of sheriff. The county was decidedly Whig, and the only hope of success was to unite as far as possible the Democracy upon one candidate for each office.
The county convention was held in April. The day having arrived for its assemblage, Jacksonville was filled with people, drawn thither by the novelty of the occasion. The Whigs were there in large numbers; they confidently expected that Douglas would be defeated in his effort to reduce the aspirations of individuals to the measure of party success. The failure of the convention was predicted from the beginning. The candidates to be selected were numerous: two senators, six representatives, one sheriff, three county commissioners, one coroner, and perhaps others of minor importance. The number of aspirants for these nominations was large. The convention was conducted with great dignity and decorum. The nominations were received with great approbation, every precinct being represented by delegates, and by a large attendance of lookers-on. Much to the disappointment of the Opposition, there was but one dissatisfied man-one of the candidates for sheriff "bolted" the nomination, run as an independent candidate, and, though personally popular, and encouraged in his course by the Whigs, suffered a most inglorious defeat. The Whigs, alarmed at the union of the Democrats, united upon a ticket also. At the head of the ticket for representatives they placed the gallant John J. Hardin. There was no man on the Democratic ticket who was able to oppose Hardin in debate. Douglas at once took the stump, and met Hardin every where. He was asked why he, who was not a candidate, should canvass the county when the whole Democratic ticket was afraid to meet their opponents. The taunt at that time had its force. The Democracy wavered. At length, so disastrously did the contest appear, that one of the candidates on the Democratic ticket consented to give way, and, by unanimous desire, Mr. Douglas was placed on the ticket. He then met Hardin, and together they canvassed Morgan County as it