Sangamon County 
 Historical Society





Sangamon County Historical Society

The Bar of Sangamon County--County History Vignettes

October 16, 2013 12:05 PM | Deleted user
The October edition of our ongoing County History Vignettes series highlights a section the massive History of Sangamon County Illinois, published in 1881, titled "The Bar of Sangamon County" (pages 76-80).  The chapter details the evolution of the legal system in Sangamon County and gives a biographical sketch of some of the best legal minds and most colorful characters in the earliest decades of the county's history.  This excerpt details John Reynolds.  Though he later became governor of the state, Reynolds gained the trust of local citizens as a lawyer and judge.  In this exchange, one is struck by the civility with which Reynolds pronounces sentence on a condemned man and settles on a date of execution.  

Chapter V

The Bar of Sangamon County

The Bar of Sangamon county has ever been a subject of pride among her citizens. Some of the best legal minds, fairest logicians and finest orators of the age have practiced before her courts, many of whom have claimed a residence in the county. In reviewing the history of the Bar, it must be born, in mind that as the prosperity and well-being of every community depends upon the wise interpretation as well as upon the judicious framing of its laws, it must follow that a record of the members of the Bar must form no unimportant part in the county’s history.

 [The history goes on to provide sketches of some of the more prominent members of the bar. Some of the sketches were brief biographies, but some provided a glimpse of a personality as did the one for  John Reynolds, one of those lawyers listed in the first decade of Sangamon county records.]

John Reynolds is well known to every student of the history of Illinois, having been Governor of the State, member of Congress and Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois. He was a ripe scholar, a man of great natural ability, yet withal modest, seeming more disposed to conceal than to blazon forth his accomplishments to the world. An amusing story is told of the Governor which occurred while holding a term of the circuit court at Edwardsville. At that term a man named Green was tried before him on the charge of murder, and was convicted. Reynolds, who was always seeking popularity, desired the ill will of no one, even of a murderer, and after the verdict of guilty had been read by the clerk in open court, turned to Green, his face all beaming with sympathy, said:

         'Mr. Green, I am truly sorry for you; the jury have found you guilty of murder, and I suppose you know you have got to be hung.’

           ‘Yes, Your Honor,’ said Green.

           ‘Mr. Green, I want you to understand that this is none of my work, but of a jury of your own selection. I would take it as a favor of you if you would communicate this fact to your friends and relatives. The law makes it my duty to pass sentence upon you and carry out the verdict of the jury. It is a mere matter of form, Mr. Green, so far as I am concerned, and your death can in no way be imputed to me. Mr. Green, when would you like to be hung?’

         'Your Honor,; said Green, ‘if I had any choice in the matter, I should not like to be hung at all; but as it seems I have not, I have no preference of one time over another.’

          Reynolds then turned to the clerk and said:

        ‘Mr. Conway, look at the almanac and see if the fourth Friday in December comes on Sunday.’

         Conway, being a man of considerable humor, gravely turned to the almanac, and then looking up, said:

          ‘I find, your Honor, to my utter astonishment, that that day comes upon Friday!’

           ‘So it does, so it does,’ said Reynolds. Turning to Green, he said:

          ‘Mr. Green, the sentence of the court is that on the fourth Friday in December, between the hours of ten o’clock in the forenoon and four o’clock in the afternoon, the sheriff of Madison county will take you from the jail to the place of execution, and there, Mr. Green, I am sorry to say, he will hang you till you are dead, dead, dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul. And don’t forget it, Mr. Green, that it is not my work, but that of the jury which tried you.’”


  • October 27, 2013 6:37 PM | Nancy Chapin
    Looks like no one is interested in this series. It probably should be dropped.
    Link  •  Reply
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